Just Playin’ With Trains…

I’ve gotten into a little round-robin group with some fellow narrow-gaugers — Chris McChesney, Gary White, my old friend Matt Matthews, and myself. Of the four of us, three are Maine modelers. We get together on Tuesday nights for dinner, and then work on each others’ layouts, shoot the breeze, or just plain play trains. Last night, we were at Matt’s house, and the evening was spent talking about future plans, and a little impromptu operating session on a nifty little switching layout Matt had built for his son.

Matt’s N-scale “Keeney Creek Lookout” module/switching layout under construction. Photo: Matt Matthews.

The layout is similar to the classic Inglenook Sidings arrangement that’s a whole 1 foot by 4 feet in N-scale. (Yes, last night was old farts switching in N-scale. Man, those couplers are small! And the MicroTrains coupler clones made by Atlas and Bachmann are horrible!).

On Matt’s variation of Inglenook, the main line (where the train “comes in” and “goes out” is the long track curving off to the far right. It’s long enough for a single locomotive, seven hoppers and a caboose. The “track-to-be” in the foreground is the lead, and holds the engine and two cars. The remaining two tracks are coal tipple tracks, and each can just hold seven cars.

It took us about a half hour to run the scenario — our train was to bring in three empty cars and take out seven loads from the tipple. At the beginning of the operating session, one of the tipple tracks had three loaded cars, the other had four. The “rules” dictate that time must be allowed for the brakeman to walk between the switches and cars, and also to set the brakes as needed.

On the way home, it occurred to me to build something along these lines, most likely in a larger scale like HO or On30, for a little operating fun, and as a display layout to show off the dead rail gear in the On30 Guy’s train show booths.

C&S #6’s Visit to the Deep Run Railroad

I spent a good chunk of the day at an ops session on Stephen Fisher’s Deep Run Railroad. I took #6 down with me to give it a thorough workout, and was extremely pleased with the results. The loco was in powered up for nearly five hours, and was in motion for much of that time. Recharge time to full charge was about 20 minutes.

JMRI Operations

Some of you may be familiar with the excellent DecoderPro DCC programmer that is a part of the JMRI project. But, quietly included in the latest stable release (version 2.4) is an applet for generating switching lists. I’ve been working for the past few weeks getting it all set up for operating sessions on Steve Fisher’s On30 Deep Run Railroad, as a replacement for the error-prone, manual, hand-written switching lists we had been using. Yesterday, we ran the first session using the new software. It was an undeniable success, and seemed to be one of the smoothest operating sessions we’ve ever had. And the best news: It’s Free!

Here’s an example of a switching list (called a train manifest in JMRI operations) generated by the program:

Deep Run Railroad Manifest for train (WB1) Westbound 1 Valid Fri Feb 20 21:33:19 EST 2009
 [ ] Engine DRRR 55 (Forney) assigned to this train
Pickup engine(s) at Chestertown, Loco Facility
Scheduled work in Chestertown, departure time 07:30
 [ ] Pickup DRRR 42 Boxcar 25' ----- from Track 1 
 [ ] Pickup DRRR 6 Caboose 20' ----- from MOWCABPASS 
Train departs Chestertown Westbound with 2 cars, 83 feet, 91 tons
Scheduled work in Still Pond, estimated arrival time 07:34
 [ ] Pickup DRRR 34 Gondola 25' ----- from Wharf 
 [ ] Pickup DRRR 44 Boxcar 25' ----- from Bessicks Furniture 
Train departs Still Pond Westbound with 4 cars, 141 feet, 189 tons
Scheduled work in Kennedyville, estimated arrival time 07:44
 [ ] Pickup DRRR 52 Boxcar 25' ----- from Sawmill 
 [ ] Drop DRRR 34 Gondola 25' ----- to Sawmill 
Train departs Kennedyville Westbound with 4 cars, 141 feet, 189 tons
Scheduled work in Marydale, estimated arrival time 07:54
 [ ] Pickup DRRR 132 Stock 25' ----- from Cattle Company 
 [ ] Drop DRRR 42 Boxcar 25' ----- to Cattle Company 
 [ ] Drop DRRR 52 Boxcar 25' ----- to Slaughter House 
Train departs Marydale Westbound with 3 cars, 112 feet, 140 tons
Scheduled work in Chestertown, estimated arrival time 08:07
 [ ] Drop DRRR 132 Stock 25' ----- to Track 1 
 [ ] Drop DRRR 44 Boxcar 25' ----- to Track 2 
 [ ] Drop DRRR 6 Caboose 20' ----- to MOWCABPASS 
 [ ] Drop engine(s) to Loco Facility
Train terminates in Chestertown

In addition to the switching lists, reports can be generated for each town on the railroad, so that station masters and yard masters can easily determine their work for the session.

Car movement is pseudo-random, meaning that while the car requests are not based on “demand” and load/unload times, industries can be restricted to receiving only appropriate car types. Additionally, restrictions may be set such that an industry only gets served by trains traveling in a specified direction, thus eliminating facing point switching when a run-around track is not available nearby.

I did find what was seemingly a minor bug in the software, which is already being addressed by the developers (one of the huge advantages of open-source programs), and we found a few tweaks we need to make to the operations. Once those are done, I expect operations to be even better and more fun!

Right Under My Nose!


I most recently mentioned that I was looking for software for model railroad operations. Well, it turns out that a good, free program was right under my nose all along! JMRI is well known for the excellent Decoder Pro application for programming DCC decoders. But, it’s also a suite of Java applications for model railroads. In addition to the DCC decoder programmer, there are control panel design and DCC interfacing; a dispatching system; maintenance scheduling; and a fully functioning car forwarding system that really works and keeps good track of where all the cars are at each op session.