Operating on the BNML, Round 2

This past Sunday, I spent 4 1/2 hours operating on William Brillinger’s layout. What fun! You may recall I operated there once already, so this was round 2.

After I arrived at Bill’s house at 1 PM, Bill offered me the choice of operating CN 532, stopped at Letellier, or a BNSF grain train from Noyes to Morris.

For background, Bill is modeling the CN Letellier subdivision between Morris, Manitoba and the US-Canadian border at Emerson, plus the BNSF track between the border and Noyes, MN, with staging at both ends (track plan).

Following Bill’s advice, I elected to take CN 532 while Bill took BNSF. After seeing what was on the train, I brought it forward into Emerson. Bill is modeling the border crossing procedure so his app covers the customs procedures required to obtain clearance to cross into the USA. You can follow that link to see the procedures. I used the app to “contact BNSF” and “request clearance”. It worked very well and seemed realistic to me.

I had a bit of work to do before crossing the border.

As I completed the crossing procedure, Bill was ready to cross the border into Canada with his train. We had to meet somewhere, so I pulled into one of the Emerson yard tracks and he passed by on his way north to Morris.

I crossed over the border, pulling slowly through the VACIS machine – a giant X-ray machine, essentially. The app told me that three cars had to be set out for further inspection by Customs. I set them out and pushed the rest of the train into a yard track behind the cars waiting for me to bring into Canada. Here’s the video for that movement:

Bill is visible in the distance, and I make a cameo as I checked to ensure the movement was able to clear the standing cars.

Once I dropped my cars, I picked up the Canada-bound cars, did the brake test (also in the app) and executed the Canadian customs procedures to cross over. I did a bit of work in Emerson and then carried on to Letellier to switch the ADM Corn Processors plant (and the Agricore elevator) there.

The ADM plant is a challenge to switch, as it has two tracks of tank cars with 5 spots each. The challenge is that the tank cars can’t just go in any location on the two tracks – each car may have a different product and products can only go in certain spots, so there is a lot of pulling and respotting cars.

William Brillinger's car cards
William Brillinger’s car cards – photo by Bill

Once I finished there, I carried on to Morris as there was no more switching to be done. Bill uses car cards, like I do, although his system is a little different. The car cards he uses incorporate the “to” and “from” and other details, whereas I use a car card with a pocket that holds the “to” slip. On my layout I don’t track where they came from.

Each car card also has a blocking code in the bottom right. This is a handy indicator to show where on the layout the car should go. In many cases the code indicates an off-layout (staging) location. Bill explains it here.

After my pickup in Noyes and the switching in Letellier, the train was a jumbled mess. I had to do switching in Morris to block the train so that all of the blocking codes were together in the train. This took a fair amount of time and the challenge is increased because there are limited siding tracks in Morris and several crossings you have to blow the horn for. I confess I forgot to blow the horn a few times. Fortunately, no train-vehicle collisions occurred.

Once the train was finally sorted, I ran around it to couple up to the head end and pulled it north out of Morris and into staging.

Note I didn’t do the mandatory brake test… oops.

Somewhere in the middle we broke for the traditional Allagash Lemon Cake with Bill’s wife and son. They are very tolerant of Bill’s train “play dates”… maybe because they get to eat cake too.

After the operating session was over, I bought a couple of tank car kits from Bill, along with one of his Simple Switch Machines that I am eager to try out. I’ll write a review once I assemble it.

On my way home up highway 75, I encountered the 1:1 scale CN 533 just north of St. Jean-Baptiste, and I photographed it approaching Morris, and passing the older Paterson grain elevator in Morris itself.

The full size CN 533 passing through Morris
The full size CN 533 passing through Morris

Thanks, Bill, for a great session and for inviting me to your layout again!

Read about my first visit


Visiting the BNML

William Brillinger at Morris
William Brillinger at Morris

I had my first ever operations session on someone else’s layout today! I was invited to an operating session on William Brillinger’s BNSF Manitoba Limited (BNML). After driving the icy highway 75 south around noon, I arrived at Bill’s house and saw the BNML for the first time in person. Bill’s layout occupies the top floor of his house and has a nice long main line run (track plan). The layout models the CN Letellier subdivision from Morris to the US border at Emerson, and the BNSF Noyes subdivision from Noyes on the other side of the border south.

Bill and I were the two operators today, as a third operator wasn’t able to make it. He gave me the choice of running CN 532 or the BNSF train, and I chose 532 because I was familiar with the area he was modeling (Morris). I’ve never been to Noyes, MN.

We started with CN 532 in staging just north of Morris.

CN 532 in staging
CN 532 in staging

CN 4775 and CN 4805 were the power on this long train.

Bill uses the RailPro system to control his trains. It’s a radio control system (not DCC) with its own controllers and locomotive modules. This was my first experience with it but it was very easy to understand and use.

I had to lay a bit of sand to get 532 up the grade into Morris as it was a long train [aka Bill gave it a bit of a push].

We had some work to do in Morris to sort the train to make it easier to service the customers farther down the line. At first I tried to be the engineer and the conductor but I found it a bit much so I asked Bill to be the conductor. I ran 4775 back and forth as we drilled the small yard in Morris, blowing horns at the crossings and trying not to block the crossings for too long (sorry, model car drivers). At one point we had a 22 car train and it was taking a bit of time to run around it!

CN 4775
CN 4775 on the main in Morris

Bill uses a car card system to track the cars on his layout. I haven’t decided what to use on my layout yet, as I wanted some experience with car cards to decide if they were right for me. So far so good! The car cards are pretty clear and Bill has made some attractive cards for his cars. He’s made some great looking card boxes, too – and I understand he’ll be offering them for sale soon. Watch his web site for details!

Car card boxes
Car card boxes

That FGEX car was a red herring – there was no car card for it so it wasn’t clear to me what needed to be done. Fortunately, Bill has developed a clear employee timetable and other documentation, so a quick consult showed this phrase “Improperly billed equipment: contact Car Control for instructions.” Since Car Control aka Bill was standing right beside me, the answer was quick – take it back to Winnipeg. Since 532 was heading south, we stuck it in the yard at Morris for pickup by 533 when it came back through.

Here’s an example of Bill’s excellent documentation. This chart shows where each location is on the layout as well as the siding capacities. The blocking code is shown on each car card so you can match them up.

CN Letellier sub blocking and maps
CN Letellier sub blocking and maps

One industry we didn’t switch in Morris was the Paterson elevator. It was to be serviced by a light engine BNSF run but that didn’t happen this time.

Paterson elevator, Morris
Paterson elevator, Morris

We finished switching Morris and headed out on the main toward Letellier. At this point I ran out of time, as I had to be back in Winnipeg so my wife and daughter could go see the latest Hunger Games movie.

Fortunately I did have time to enjoy a piece of Allagash Lemon Cake with Bill’s family before heading out.

I swiped Bill’s photo of me operating the layout.

Me operating on the BNML
Me operating on the BNML

Check out the rocking Movember moustache I have! (feel free to support Movember and men’s health)

Thank you very much, Bill! It was great to get to know you better and to operate on your layout. I look forward to operating there again.

See also:

BNSF 12580

Someone pointed out that Overland Models is coming out with a model of Operation Lifesaver caboose BNSF 12580. This caboose is a semi-permanent resident of Winnipeg at the BNSF short line in town.

The model will be “only” $300! I don’t think I will be ordering one.

Here’s a shot I took of BNSF 12580 in Winnipeg on a cold December 28, 2004.
BNSF 12580