Saturday, December 17, 2016

Operations Versus Running with a Purpose

Switching the Fort Frances yard.

I have a confession to make: I really don’t like operations.

I don’t know if you are allowed to say that out loud. But it’s true.

For some reason, the idea of creating car cards or implementing a software program to govern the movement of every piece of rolling stock on the layout just never took hold with me.

I tried it. On my first layout, I conscientiously created cards for every car I owned. I labelled every industry and spur.

I gave it a valiant effort, but it just didn’t take. (I actually recycled all the old cards this year.)

With the M & M Sub., my second layout, I didn’t even bother trying.

But even though I didn’t want to do operations, I still wanted to run trains on the layout with a purpose.

That is, I wanted trains to run realistically, as if they were going somewhere. I also wanted a plausible reason for them to drop off and pick up cars in the main yard at Fort Frances.

At first, I tried the wheel report method, popularized by Jim Hediger. It worked fine, but even that proved to be more paperwork than I was interested in.

Since that time I have tried other simple methods, but lately have settled on a simple scheme where trains do pick-ups and set-outs in the yard.

That is, trains headed east and west drop off cars for destinations that originate I Fort Frances (Peace River, International Falls, the Peace River Mill, local), and pick up cars headed east or west.

The beauty of this scheme is that cars in the set-off/pick-up track don’t actually have to be delivered to a different destination.

When a train arrives, it can be assumed the cars in the pick-up track are ready to go, even if they were dropped off earlier and never delivered anywhere.

If I want, I can assemble them into trains for various locations and deliver them. Upon return, I can then put cars for set outs into place after doing some switching.

Switching the Peace River RR interchange.

Not prototypical, but it gives me a sense of purpose, and permits some action in the yard.

As for governing train movements, I do that on my easy-to-make dispatcher’s panel, which is located in the storage room above the dispatcher’s mainline panel.

In keeping with the theme of simplicity, I use it to govern a sequence schedule. All trains in the upper staging yard need to move to the bottom, and vice versa.

(In a sequence schedule, trains run in sequence. It can take two days, two weeks or two months to run them all sequentially.)

Or, to put it another way, the blue tags need to move to the bottom and the red tags to the top (or the other way around).

Again, the purists might have a heart attack. But it works for me.


  1. John,
    I understand your thoughts on Operation- I've often thought about the type of card driven- timetable set up...and to be honest the last thing I'd want from my Railroad is a pile of paper work and related stress and worry...I'm with you- as long as there is some logical movement of freight about a model railroad - -a sense of purpose- then there IS time for fun and Montana Railroad will be a very simple affair - yet I see enough switching to make it entertaining and relaxing. Cheers. KEV.

  2. I am an ops guy, it makes sense to me, but I have a friend building a layout and he isn't an ops guy. I think your Running with a Purpose concept may be perfect for him. Thanks for sharing the idea!