Thursday, April 20, 2017

Op session No.8 + stuff

A foam core and Photoshop mock up of the small freight house.

Lots going on at the PoNY, and not enough extra time to talk about it as of late. We've hosted another op session and progress is being made on lighting, scenery, structures, photography, and operations fronts. 

The highlights include Op Session No.8 that is in the books. Our regular crew from David Barrow's slipped in a session on the PoNY during the regular op night. I managed to take no pictures, which could mean things were so bad I was scrambling putting out fires, or that it was so enjoyable it didn't occur to me to snap any pics. I'm happy to report it was the latter. A crack yard crew proved that a full work shift is possible, and job balancing seems to be consistent across the board which makes tweaking possible now. 
track tools employed at 14th St
Before the session, I realigned the 14th St track towards the front of the layout to make reaching it easier while making it possible to get in the track to the engine house and US Testing. The great thing about gluing down track is that it is easy to move.

I also started testing LED strips for layout lighting on the 27th Sta. module. This one that I had on hand from another project is not bright enough. The challenge here is that there is a 19 story building that is going to be on top of it. That mean some hidden lighting to operate in the buildings as well as the general lighting. Interesting problems.
Behind the scenes

While I've been at all this, I'm also getting familiar with my camera and lights for shooting photos for articles. LEDs are a game changer here as well, as they are getting cheaper, produce daylight color temperatures, and don't get so hot like the old photo floods did. 
Assembling the mock up small freight house

Workers don't seem to mind that it is only a mock up. They are already hard at the business of the railroad - moving stuff.
The small freight house mock up only took a couple of hours to put together. I found some corrugated metal textures at, arranged them in Photoshop,printed and pasted for a satisfying stand in/test fit. I'm not going to tell anyone that I accidentally made it too big. That's what happens when working while under the influence of allergies late at night. I can fix it easily enough, though.
Don't these guys ever take a break?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Op session no.7

We had a great visiting crew last weekend for the largest operating session, yet. Nine operators put the railroad through their expert paces. Some minor hiccups, but nothing catastrophic, so I will count that as a success.

Most (all?!) played the Brakeman! game with the newly created action figures:

The Brakeman! game is about modeling the actions of the train crew. If there is an action like throwing a switch, uncoupling or coupling a car, unlocking a gate, etc., there must be one of the crew on the ground within an uncoupling tool's length in order to perform that action. In conjunction with momentum and braking in effect on the locomotive, this slows operations down a lot.

Following are some candid shots from the session:

Keith Jordan and Lance Mindheim debate the merits of something. I think we decided the world would survive.
Tom Pearson repairs several cars in place while Denny Taylor and Larry Sternberg switch the Docks Job. Jim Diaz and Kirk Baer work the Float job. 
Chuck Hitchcock and Tom Lawler figure out the HBS yard - the hardest job on the layout...?
Maneuvering the slip switch ladder in the middle of the HBS Yard. 

Kirk eyes the next move while Jim drops float cars in the float yard.
At Maxwell House Coffee Plant: "I'm pretty sure that car goes here." "Are you really sure?" "My brakeman doesn't want to walk all the way over there unless you are sure."
Denny guides Larry to the American Export docks.
"Maxwell House has too many outbound cars for this little 44-tonner." 
Paul Dolkos weighs in on the serious discussion. 

Later that same day... the yard crew at Tommy Holt's was Kirk, Keith and Paul. The GGM, AP, EXP trick in the schedule went really smoothly. No switching on Diner Siding (Tommy was looking), but eastbound trains did depart through there to keep the B Lead clear. It was a really smooth session and everyone left with all of their fingers and toes.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Op session No.6

A quick recap of op session no.6:
Mike Barrett at 27th Street clears the car float, then fills it up again.

The Harlem Station after Barrett's completion of work before he moved over to 27th St. 
Steve Jackobs heads out of the yard to switch the HBS industries.
David Petersen (left) and Steve Jackobs (right) dropping their pickups in the HBS Yard.

Barrett, Jackobs, Petersen were on shake down duty operating the new 27th Street Lehigh station, Erie Harlem and the HBS industry jobs, but no yard this time. This was a last minute gig that conflicted with a large train show an hour away, so I didn't expect to get a lot of takers, but I needed to have trains run to find some more problems before the next session. The original idea was to have a stress test since I can now handle 11 people, which is what I was gearing up for the following weekend.

No big surprises, and mostly it confirmed work load balancing and how much time it takes to complete jobs. After this is was back to work on converting another locomotive to battery power, adding a car float and a bunch of battery charging for the next session...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Lehigh Valley 27th Street Freight Station - Pier 66

I've finally started on the 27th Street Freight Station of the Lehigh Valley Railroad - and I "finished it" the next day. Well, operationally, anyway. I needed another 2 operating slots a little earlier than I had in my master plan of layout construction, but pending visitors will do that to a schedule. :) So in a couple of days, I was able to go from nothing to completed yard while watching the Olympics.
Just the essentials: TV remote, glue, architecture history and Dr Pepper (not necessarily in that order.)

On the way home from work on Friday afternoon, I stopped off at the local big box hardware store and picked up a 3/4" sheet of blue rigid insulation board. I sliced it into three 2-ish feet by 8 foot pieces, laminated those together with Elmer's glue (I know not the most sophisticated glue around, but it seems to have worked!), and I let dry for about 24 hours. I then finished off the three exposed edges with black Gatorfoam board to match the Harlem baseboards. I glued this and then screwed with black coarse threaded drywall screws to hold it until it dried. Then the next day while watching some inspirational Olympic competition, I covered with black flooring underlayment left over from the Harlem Station pocket terminal.
I get by with a little weight from my books, and furniture to secure the track while it dries.
Lots of turnouts including two double slips and also 4 crossings, which will make for some fun switching maneuvers. Black flooring underlayment is my subsurface for gluing down the code 75 Peco track. No insulated rail joiners here, because I run battery powered locomotives.
This material, as far as I can tell, is very similar to Woodland Scenics' roadbed. I am using the underlayment mainly for sound absorption, and it seems to accept Elmers glue well, which is how I glued down my track after letting the underlayment dry for a couple of hours.

The completed track work.
If you go have a look at Phillip M. Goldstein's amazing web site on all things New York freight railroading, you'll see some great diagrams of the track over the years and some history of the building that inhabits the air space above, the Starrett-Lehigh Building. I will somehow model this so that the lower floors are accessible for operation (maybe just have structural columns) and then have the full building above. The unique feature of the Starrett-Lehigh Building is that it had truck elevators that would carry delivery trucks to the upper floors for loading and unloading. This will be pretty cool to model!

Also go check out David Ramos' excellent New York Harbor version. I referenced his translation and research material to create my version, which is pretty close to his. Great minds...

Slotted into an existing bookshelf at the same height as the rest of the layout for car float compatibility.The top shelf will be gone soon to make room for backdrop and building model.After the track
Relationship with existing Harlem Station pocket terminal. A car float will transfer cars between these yards and the Hoboken Shore portion of the layout in the other room.

Locomotive eye's view of the two yards.
This lightweight baseboard/bench work technique goes extremely quickly, and it is as light as you can get for a layout that needs to be movable. I think the black provides a very finished looking unfinished platform to operate on until the scenery goes in. Much better than bare plywood with no muss and no fuss to get that way.

At some point I may provide strategically located handles on these rotating pocket terminals. The idea is to keep building them and then swap them out for different operating sessions. This allows me 1) to forever keep expanding my layout while remaining in the same size physical space, 2) to try out different techniques of construction, scenery, etc. in a confined area, 3) to keep buying new locomotives ad infinitum for any railroad on the east coast, and 4) to provide new operating interest and challenges for the operating crew. 

Up next is some locomotive work on the Lehigh switcher that will be based in this yard, and then it will be ready for some operations! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Job balancing

Remember while reading this that I operate very slowly with momentum and braking and brakemen, so it doesn't take long trains and huge staging tracks to eat up considerable time playing trains. Here's how the traffic balancing gets thought about and implemented on my layout.

I have an AM and a PM switch list for each operating area, and I have up to 11 operating positions now in 7 operating areas on my 500 (+ 200) sf layout. (I am slowly taking over the hallway, which has gone from temporary to permanent so slowly that my wife is just now realizing after 2 years what has happened with that extra 200 sf...ssshhhhh!)

The operating areas are yard, Bethlehem Steel, Maxwell House Coffee, float yard, docks and two remote pocket terminals Harlem Station and Lehigh Valley West 27th St Yard. I'll pick those pocket terminals off first as low hanging fruit explanations. 

My current car float holds 6 cars, so they have 6 cars to place and 6 to pick up and put on the float. That sets each 'round' at 12 car movements, which takes about 1.5 hours for Harlem Station, which can hold about 50 cars max. (I haven't operated the 27th, yet) from what I can tell after a couple of sessions. I can cycle that twice for a 3 hour session. Those cars are coming from the float yard on the HBS, so I know I need to get about 6 cars for each yard there half way through - or more likely, already have at least some of them there. I'll probably have float cut-off times that need to met when/if I have a clock. So the pocket terminals are easy.



Most of the switch lists for the last operating session

For the next operating area, the yard has shorts inside the yard to work, which has about 2 dozen spot locations. I have about 1/3 of that filled with cars at any given time. The last switch list for AM was the 14th Street job which had 5 pickups and 4 set outs.

The PM list, which is made up of cars from the Interchange Yard that should be there by the PM, was for the yard short job with about 2 dozen spot locations, which are industries not on 14th St and are accessed in the yard. There were 5 pick ups and 7 set outs. This job wasn't even started last session, because they yard was busy. No problem, it is ready for next time.

With all those available spots, it is easy to balance pick ups and set outs and not overfill anything. Cars that don't get moved this session I will know should be moved next session, but it doesn't really matter to anyone but me who is keeping track of those things...

So the other areas are basically governed by the ruling 18" radius curve on the layout which restricts my 44 tonner train lengths to about 10 cars due to friction. At Bethlehem I have 12 spots, so I move half each switch list - I just randomly pick which cars to move. On the last switch list there were 5 set outs and 5 pick ups. I just made sure no track would get too full. 

Since this is a busy industrial operation, cars could actually get loaded/unloaded during a session and move again without much operator angst. (I am thinking about having a timer.) In fact, I want to model some of that at Maxwell House where empties and full cars would get shuffled during a session like Chuck Hitchcock's grain elevator operational design element. Again, train lengths are about 5-6 out and 5-6 in from Maxwell.

I have 4 areas on the 'main line' that get served by up to two, two-man crews. I alternated them so there is less aisle crowding. Rinse and repeat for those 4 jobs with the philosophy that these locomotives are running back and forth all day on this short railroad with a handful of cars each time. The YM simple keeps writing switch lists for crews to work as soon as they get back to the yard. 

I believe I could operate for 6 hours straight without re-staging if I try. I can always re-stage in the middle of a session just by doing some mole activity in the Erie Weehawken Yard. There are 12 spots there and 16 in the Interchange Yard, plus I don't know how many in the HBS Yard. If I maxed out everything, I could operate that 6 hours easily. I should try some day having back to back crews in... hmmm.

So all of the balancing is about each job and it takes place in my head, but it is a small railroad, so that's not too hard. I think it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to stage. 

As far as keeping track of things in the yard, I may use a chalkboard at the pocket terminals to keep track of things, because that's how they did it. Then the crews can make up their own switch list from there, or just look at the chalk board... Maybe the same in the yard so the switchers can see it, too.  I don't know, yet... Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Viewer mail: Switch list generation

From a response I gave to a fellow industrial switching devotee's email question about how I handle generating switch lists on the PoNY. I thought some others may be interested as well:

For my switch lists, I simply walk around and make them up prior to a session. My railroad is small enough that there is no need to involve a computer or car cards. My mantra is "simplicity". I am a designer/architect and was by profession/am at heart an academic, and one of my favorites in that world is John Maeda who used to head MIT's design research lab and wrote about the Laws of Simplicity.

For my layout, I try to make everything as simple as possible. Battery power means no wiring, no track cleaning, no shorting, no etc. The prototype I chose means no signalling, CTC panels, telephones or radios, etc. Then, I am trying to be really rigorous by choosing no car cards and only using switch lists, not having a double deck, no hidden staging, no dcc, no plug in throttles, etc.

So for filling out the switch lists, I know which spots take what kind of car and how many. I have an idea of the traffic flow I want to create. My operator jobs are compartmentalized, and I don't use car cards, so the process takes only as long as it takes me to write the lists. Now the yard is something I have not quite worked out, yet. 

I don't want car cards, and unfortunately, those are very helpful in a yard as they are physical, self-correcting, and have a one-to-one relationship with the actual car, etc. I am trying to use wheel report sheets kept in real time by the Yardmaster who then makes up switch lists from there. I have the "staging" area, which is just Erie yard tracks that connect to the HBS, on one sheet by track with all the cars listed. Then as they are brought into the interchange yard, they are written on the sheet according to what track they get put on. Ideally, the cut of cars should come with its own switch list from the Erie operator. I'm still working this procedure out.

Inline image 1
Wheel report sheet for the HBS (above).
Inline image 2
Interchange wheel report sheet (above). The Erie tracks at the bottom are "staging" and the 4 tracks shown are the interchange yard. The idea is that the Erie operator and the HBS YM will jointly use this sheet to move cars back and forth between railroads.

Once in a track in the interchange yard, the YM can make up a drill order for his yard crews to sort the cars. Then they get put on a classification track for later, or in a track being made up for one of the local jobs. Once that is accomplished, the yard wheel report sheet is updated, and a switch list for the train is made up that the conductor will take with him on the job. When the car reaches ts destination, it sits until it happens to move according to my balancing the work of each operator job. 

As mentioned, jobs are compartmentalized, so traffic flow is first and foremost about a single operator's work. The consequences are felt in the yard, of course, but in a session, not too much can really go wrong, because there is enough room in the yard for the traffic, and we operate so slowly, that we have yet to really test the flow of cars on and off the railroad to the Erie. Crews are having enough to handle with the industry switching. I expect this to change as operators get more experience, but because operations are so slow, I doubt there will be problems.

I am having a session in September with lots of experienced operators visiting from all over, so that will be a good test. It will also be the most operators here at once - 11. So far I have only hosted 8 maximum. I do have another pocket terminal completed (pictures coming) that adds two operators without affecting the rest of the layout, so I am not anticipating any particular new problems...