Sunday, November 18, 2018

Frustration, Change of Pace and Improved Operations

Improving operation immersion...

You probably all found out my writing output on this blog took a plunge in the few last week. With no surprise, this was due to recurrent health issues and not lack of content. Unforunately, writing in an other language when you're not feeling well can quickly become extremely challenging and it was the case.

In terms of layout construction, nothing really happened since. Trying to wire DCC, sound and lighting in locomotives proved to be a nightmare. The SW1200RS project is also hellish even if it was supposed to be more straight forward (beware of undecorated Rapido locomotives would be my advice).

To be honest, model railroading can be very frustrating when the results aren't matching the amount of effort put into something. Over the last few months, I've been trying to replicate as close as possible locomotives that ran on Murray Bay Subdivision during the early 2000s. I my mind, if you have the right locomotives for a layout it means you're half way toward completing your vision... but maybe I'm somewhat wrong in my claim. It's not my goal to rant here and thus, I won't share these angry feelings clouding my mind, but I think you can easily understand them.

However, I prefer to share the positive outcome with layout operation.

A switchlist, a pen, some keys and a cell phone (to run TrainCrew app)
Two weeks ago, after wasting an entire afternoon on locomotives, we decided to finally inaugurate the "new" layout using JMRI Switch Lists for the first time. Donohue Switcher and trains #522 and #523 were scheduled and everything worked fine.

Using FRED... made from a Peco insulating joiner and some red tape.

It's great to not have to create switch lists by yourself and I'm not saying it for lazy reasons (programming JMRI is everything except easy). After years of operation, my pattern were extremely predictable and I didn't take advantage of several opportunities. I would put together a train and Jérôme could almost blindlessly spot each cars effortlessly. Also, having to work a list made by the computer helps a lot in the immersion process because you don't know in advance what to do with the trains. That's a big plus for me.

Jérôme and Louis-Marie switching Donohue

We worked in tandem and it was great to stop at moments and start planning the next moves instead of being on autopilot due to our biases. To slow down things, we used the TrainCrew application to make sure we took our time to respect the railroad rules. Among many tasks, correct number of handbrakes were applied, air brake tests performed. Wieland, with it's two small sidings was now a really busy spot on the railroad. Not so long ago, running this part of the layout was a matter of a few seconds. Now it takes at least ten minutes. Just setting out cars at Villeneuve is now a significant task. All that made the layout feel really big and in such a manner we really did have the feeling to have worked a full day. Once again, it proves us very little is required to keep some guys entertained for a while. It certainly confirmed me that such a diminutive layout like my Temicouata project will provide a lot of fun. As for Harlem Station, I can already predict operating sessions on that layout will be extremely challenging.

An old trick in the book: using scale figure to better visualize what is happening.
Then, it was decided to finally implement a real office for Wieland. A desk, an old laptop, a banker lamp and an old wooden rolling chair did the trick. We are also eyeing an old desk to complete the area. A printer will also be added soon to print switch lists on the spot. Meanwhile, Jérôme dug out original CFC timetables and employee instructions. These have been valuable to improve our understanding of how things were done back in the days.

Wieland office... up and running

JMRI Operations was also altered to add CN Limoilou yard as the effective staging area. This new location represents the rolling stock storage cabinet under the layout. Far to be a gimmick, this enable us to replicate in a more prototypical fashion how cars were swapped at D'Estimauville between train 522 and train 523.

Miniature padlock used to lock turnouts and derails

Fast forward to yesterday. Following a Facebook advice, I acquired several miniature padlocks on Ebay to secure turnouts, derails and fence gates. They have been temporarily mounted on the benchwork at this point, but will be better implemented later when working on scenery. It looks silly right now, but it had a tremendous impact on how the operating session went on. It drastically slowed down operations, but also forced us to better plan our moves. As a matter of fact, it was impressive how the layout stopped to be a toy and became a real game. Once again, implementing all these little details on a layout can make a real difference...

So, at the end of the day, wiring locomotive is extremely frustrating, but on the other hand, the layout as modified and now operated is far better than what we did in the past. In all honesty, it seems to support the idea that a fun and rewarding layout isn't that much grounded in the prototype or scope of the project, but rather how you approach you concept and put it in action.

Silly? Maybe, but quite useful.


  1. Matthieu, as a fan of prototype RR operation applied to model RR, I fully support the concept of padlocks as the prototype.
    I'm building a modern switching layout where any locally controlled switches are protected by padlocks. My inspiration comes from Lance Mindheim and his Downtown Spur layout and Trevour Marshal's Port Rowan, where All "local" switches are electric motor driven however the facia mounted activation switch is enclosed by a lockable flap cover ( Homebase item) Indeed Lance takes it to the level of locking industry gates etc, again the servo activation switch is covered by a lockable flap but the same principle can be applied if mechanical drive ids used. The advantage of mounting lockable covers on the facia removes the out of scale padlocks from the layout. Trevour has lockable boxes for Waybills and switches
    Slow it all down to prototype pace is the maxim makes the layout and train run longer. Thanks for the blog, I will follow with interest John Pearson Chester UK

    1. John, thank you for taking time to reply about your own experience. Trevor and Lance are also my inspiration behind this concept. The flap cover is indeed a very useful way to do it, we've got many gates to install on the layout it is high on my list to make them operable. I've yet to figure out how things will play out on the fascia. I must admit putting the padlocks directly on the layout was out of temporary necessity, but also a way to boldly make a point through humor. It was great to see my friends operate with padlocks. It not only slowed the game a lot, but also improved communication between them. For two hours, they were a real team and definitely had a blast.

  2. On my shelf layout, I not only have padlocks for the turnout, derail, and gate, but I ALSO mounted garden hose spigot wheels for each of the three 'spots' at the industry. While none of these actually "control" what is on-layout, the act of physically locking/unlocking and spinning brake wheels really brings 'real time railroading' to the table. Another option, for rolling stock placed where there are no fences, is to use a cable that runs through the brake wheels, and use locks on those.

    Bon chance!

    1. Thanks for the hint Brian! We also thought about the brake wheels. However, space limitation makes it hard to implement for each spots on the layout. It would require a few dozens wheels, thus we thought about having only one wheel per location/industry. We are already using CFC rules and that would certainly be much more engaging if this action was physically done instead of relying solely on sounds.