The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 154


© June 24, 2010   

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Shellrock Shortline Switching Operations


Written by Bob Drenth,
edited by Rick Henderson

Shellrock Shortline has been around since 1980. While most of the run days are just "bumper tag", following the leader running in circles, I have the ability to also operate trains.

Only one track is designed as an fulltime industry spur, built to be a replica of a 1900 era rural farm town stop. The depot area includes a machinery dock, grain elevator, coal sheds and bulk oil dealer. Planning for the future of the community, space is available for stock yards for better times when stocks cars may work the line. For now we work the industries at hand.

The Shellrock Shortline is not big by any standard; 1400 feet once around the loop. The main track is laid to the shape of a letter "C" with a double crossover at the NE corner terminal area, where trains may be turned. This allows for continuous loops or turning trains each time you reach the double crossover.  Turning on each trip around the big loop, turns the layout into a 1000 ft main line with reversing at each end. 

The four-track storage shed on operation days becomes the interchange for up to four railroads connected to the Shellrock Shortline. The tracks may also be designated as industrial spurs to enhance operations. To start, pulling out of storage you are actually a part of the day's assignments. Sometimes the cars all arrive in storage as part of the operation windup.

Reliable Operation
The number one necessities of a good operation is reliable equipment, trains and track. Every car must be able to couple to either end of every other car. Switches must also be up to the task. Nothing kills the fun in switching faster than constant derailments or mismatched couplers.

Another factor in way-freight switching on a small layout is time and traffic. You would be amazed to find that one train with three or four stops can eat over an hour. If orders call for more than single move at each stop, one car to set out, one car to pick up, it doubles the time that mainline is restricted. Another issue is how familiar is the operation crew with the railroad. Just as with the prototype railroads, we learn as we run, this is part of the operating fun. Once the names are familiar the pace will pick up, unless the guy gets flustered and decides never again.

The Orchard community spur

Paperwork, the Backbone of a Railroad

Paper work to control the car movement may be handled in multiple ways. Switching how we handle offers a variation for operations to keep them interesting.

Plan A is the basically to decide where to move next. Take a index card, to make a waybill. Across the top, the name and number of the car it controls. Along the side make a list of stations or customer tracks. Then use a paper clip to mark the location the car should go next. Normally start at the top and work the clip down as it moves from town to town. Leave the card at the station when the car is left. Next crew can stop, look at the cards. If/when the car is at the proper location, move the paperclip to next location and pick up the car to start that move.

Double crossover near terminal area. A little snow does not stop operating

Now, not every entry on the list in towns needs to be a new station. Some that were marked “Hold-Part Load”, some marked, “Do not move” (as a coal hopper with the doors open when being unloaded.) This meant any car behind it on a spur will be delayed a turn. Such events help make car movements more random. A variation, write the name & number in pencil, then change that from time to time, so the same old car doesn't show up every time.

Plan B (our current waybill system) Cut the end off a envelope, make it shorter than a index card.....put the car name & number on the top where open end is. Again a index card is used to make the movement waybill, but this time one town/industry is entered across the end of the card so when in the envelope it sticks above the top to display a station and the customer, below that maybe the commodity-or empty status. I mark the four card ends A-B-C-D so you have a idea which end should be turned up next. Again not every entry need be a new town, and not all four "trips" need be used. Coal cars shuttling between a mine and power house would only have two places to go, and if the cars ran in sets the envelope could carry all the numbers of the unit move, which would cut your paperwork.

Plan C Another way to indicate car movement.  Make a List of the cars on a train, give each a place to go, and crew will leave them as directed. The ‘Dispatcher/Yardmaster’ will also need to give a crew the list of cars to be picked up. This is a lot of writing for one man, who must keep track of every car system wide, just as the real railroad computers do.

Each of the above plans has a shortfall. I still like Plan B the best, as it is quick & easy to send a car to new destinations by switching index cards between envelopes. It however also takes the most time in getting all those cards written out and envelopes cut up. In the basement, on the indoor HO system I have, I also used color of the card to indicate a condition- such as red waybill card a hazardous load, could not be next to engine or caboose. Yellow meant perishables, move without delay or race when necessary.

 Waybills will need a box-or clipboard to left in, or each station...Terminals should have a place divided for each track.

The snow removal crew keeps the track open in 10 scale feet of snow


Written by Bob Drenth,
edited by Rick Henderson


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