Get Ready

It is customary in our area to provide snacks and beverages to our operators.  Deciding what to serve and making sure you procure the items is just one of many steps one goes through before hosting a model railroad operating session.

The preparation begins weeks in advance.  There are usually pieces of rolling stock that need minor repair such as couplers replaced or loose parts re-glued.  Locomotives, especially those Athearn ones, may need non-working headlamps replaced with new LEDs. Perhaps there was a turnout (switch) or a section of track that caused some problems during the last section, and needs a bit of attention.  There may be a little clean-up of operations that needs to be done from the last session.  Was a particular job not finished?  Should I leave it for the next session, or just enjoy finishing it myself and starting fresh next time?

Aside from maintenance and repairs, there are always new projects to work on between OPS sessions.  A model railroad is rarely 100% complete.   This area needs scenery, that track needs ballast, I want to upgrade this scene or add a new building in the industrial park.  How about those crossing gates I still haven’t installed?  New signals need to be added to that control point that has been in dark territory for too long.  Did I change anything since the last session that requires new signage?  If so, better get those made and installed prior to upcoming session.

The Eagle River Division uses JMRI software for operations and dispatching.  This means whenever a new piece of rolling stock is introduced to the layout, details about it , including location, need to be added to the computer.  The same goes for new locomotives.  If something is retired, that also requires a change to the database.  Changes like the addition of new signals need to be added to the CTC panel in the computer, and logic programmed.

Are the cars (rolling stock) where they are supposed to be?  Using computer-generated switch-lists and manifests successfully requires that a boxcar is indeed where the computer thinks it should be at the beginning of a session.  That means making sure all cars ended up where they were supposed to be at the end of the last session.   This is one of the “issues” that critics of computer-generated switch lists frequently point out, however I find little difference between doing this versus making sure all car cards and waybills correspond with the cars in an area.  When this task is finished, it is time for me to start building train manifests on the computer, using JMRI.  Sometimes I am not satisfied with the first build the computer generates, so I may go in and tweak a few things to make a job have a little more substance, and then re-build.

Once the manifests are built, it is time to start assembling the staged trains according to those manifests.  If I’m feeling especially energetic, I will build a train by switching cars on the track.  If I’m in a hurry, I will use the five-fingered lift method of placing cars where they need to go in the staged trains.  When all trains are staged for the next session, it’s time to make sure all the paperwork is in order for each one.  This includes the manifest and/or switch-list, and any special instructions for a particular job.

We’ve finally arrived at the part I have the most distaste for.  Cleaning the track, dusting the layout, and putting all the supplies and tools away from the various projects.  However, I am always happy to see the layout room cleaned up because it means another OPS session is almost here.

Don’t forget to stock the railroad crew room refrigerator with bottled water and soda this evening.

All I have to remember the morning of the OPS session is to make coffee and put out the snacks.

Now let’s run some trains!


Mike enjoys family, friends, music, art, model railroading, trains, travel, craft beer, fine food and wine.

Comments are closed.