Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Maintenance Modeling

We've touched on this before here, but one of the interesting parts of railroading that many modelers could emphasize more is modeling the maintenance crews that keep the railroad in good repair.  Every era has them, and with the evolution of mechanized maintenance as well as 'personal protective equipment' (PPE) and safety rules, including some maintenance can help set your era as well.

On the Onondaga Cutoff, Conrail uses custom machinery to help crews maintain track, signals, structures, bridges, and the right-of-way.  Thanks to some custom resin-cast truck cabs and masterful build jobs by my buddy Mark, and to the modification of several of Bachmann's HO scale ballast tamper and hi-rail utility truck, we can model track outages during some operation sessions which adds tremendously to the variety in the operation.

Here Foreman Lee is starting up the tamper, which was left overnight on blue-flag protected track in Onondaga Yard.  The boom truck will drive over in support of the tamper operation.  Ballast tampers on the prototype are used to groom and adjust the ballast beneath and around ties, keeping track level and the ride smooth for passing trains.

As the sun rises and the machine warms up, the crew gets set to head to the worksite.  This involves paperwork for permission to occupy track - a 'Form D' under the Conrail and 'NORAC' (Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee) rules, akin to a train order, since maintenance equipment cannot be relied upon to shunt signal systems.  These are normally given verbally via the radio, and it's fun to hear that conversation on the radio during a session - it adds nice variety and 'audible scenery' to the atmosphere.

Consider modeling some maintenance equipment for your railroad!


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Warm Nights on the Railroad

One of my primary goals in layout construction on the Onondaga Cutoff is to capture the atmosphere I remember from the 1990's on a healthy, busy Conrail. The second definition of the word is as follows:

Atmosphere noun: the pervading tone or mood of a place, situation, or work of art

Being a professional railroader, and just as significantly being a life-long fan of sitting trackside, has acquainted me with the atmosphere around the tracks. It's exciting anytime but the mystique builds into the night. Add in some warm air, sounds of summer or early fall, the expectation of things to can almost feel the emotion in it.

A few recent images, in my opinion, capture it pretty well. These are taken all in the same few minutes during a recent operation session, and all show train ELSE (Elkhart, IN to Selkirk, NY) waiting and then beginning to work at Onondaga Yard.

For just a moment you can feel like you're back in time, 25 years ago, trackside on Conrail's Chicago Line, while the cicadas and crickets and tree frogs make a racket. For me, I was in love with the railroad and with a wonderful girl; my brother and sister and parents were doing well. The band I was in was playing good music, friends were close and camaraderie all around.  The summer was full of excitement and promise, problems seemed far away and pale in the distance. All of those emotions are tangible again here. The sounds and the feel of locomotives, the smell of warm creosote ties and diesel exhaust, the weight and humidity in the air- these are things that we can almost sense just in allowing ourselves a few minutes to gaze at the images.

Enjoy the last days of the summer, and may your memories bring you back to the atmosphere of good times remembered!


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

On the Cover of Model Railroader!!!

Continuing with the theme of balance in the wake of a challenging few months, I am thrilled to announce that the Onondaga Cutoff has been featured in an article published in Model Railroader magazine! 

While I knew the article was coming, I had no idea that it was in consideration for a cover shot, and so that will live as one of the best surprises I've had, ever.  I am still in a state of shock weeks after the author copy arrived in the mail.  I'm so thankful to be able to contribute, and hopeful that perhaps somewhere a young person will see this and be inspired as I was so many times in my youth.  Coming from a non-model railroad family, this magazine was a wonderful source of excitement for me when I was able to get my hands on it. 

Regular readers will remember the article published in Model Railroad Planning ('MRP') 2018, which gave an overview of the layout and its origins.  That one got the train rolling, so to speak, and I was able to build on that momentum to develop several article concepts for the main magazine.

This article is the first of those to be published.  It is part of the September 2019 issue of MR, on the shelves now, which has several articles coordinated around the idea of running model trains over '24 hours' including simulated dusk, darkness, and dawn, as well as with the lights on.  One of the early goals for operating trains on the 'OC' was to simulate a rolling schedule on the railroad, including round-the-clock operation and the challenges (and mystique) that changing light conditions bring to prototype railroad operations.  This has proved very popular with operators on the OC, so my writing is centered on getting your room and layout surfaces lit for operations, with photos and some ideas to help it come together.   

As a subscriber for some 35 years, it's one of the life goals I have had, and now it's on the books!  Thanks for your support.  This is a wonderful hobby to share.  More to come as always, but this highlight will remain for a long, long time!