Operating Session – September 2018

I held another solo operating session during the month of September 2018, and produced a 5-part series of videos documenting the session.

If you want to watch the entire series, you can view this playlist.


In the introductory video, I talked about the changes I made prior to this session. They included the introduction of switch lists rather than using the destination inserts in car cards, as well as the introduction of a VIA train into the scheduled lineup of trains.

Episode 1

The “episode 1” video features three trains:

  • CN 214 – a through train
  • CN 403 – works the CP interchange in Georgetown and the Cargill grain elevator at Helene
  • CP 976 – branch line train from Minnedosa to Winnipeg

Episode 2

Episode 2 featured three more trains: CP 949, VIA 1 and CN 404. This was the first appearance of a VIA train in one of my operating sessions.

Episode 3

Episode 3 had the last three trains of the day: CP 948, CP 975, and CN 215. CP 948 had a lot of switching to do.

Switching Cargill

As kind of a postscript to the operating session, I included a video of leased unit CN 4497 switching the Cargill grain elevator after the session.

You can view the entire series on YouTube.

Other operating sessions I’ve published:

Operating Session – July 2018

I held a solo operating session during the month of July 2018, and recorded the session for your viewing enjoyment. I operated eight trains.

The session includes every scheduled non-VIA train on my layout, which includes:

  • CN 214 – a through train
  • CN 403 – works the CP interchange in Georgetown and the Cargill grain elevator at Helene
  • CP 976 – branch line train from Minnedosa to Winnipeg
  • CP 949 – westbound train doing switching in Georgetown
  • CN 404 – switching work in Georgetown
  • CP 948 – lots of switching work in Georgetown
  • CP 975 – branch line train from Winnipeg to Minnedosa
  • CN 215 – a through train

Part 1

The first video features CN 214 and CN 403. The latter train is the highlight as it switched the CP interchange and did work at the Cargill grain elevator.

Part 2

The second video features three trains. CP 976 comes out of staging, runs around its train, then heads to Winnipeg. CP 949 then departs Winnipeg (staging) and does a drop and pickup in Georgetown before continuing on to Brandon. Finally, CN 404 did a pickup from the Irving Oil siding. There was some complexity there because the siding was full, so the crew had to work around that.

Part 3

The third video features CP 948, CP 975 and CN 215 and is the longest video. CP 948 did a lot of switching in Georgetown before continuing on to Winnipeg. CP 975 went from Winnipeg to Minnedosa (staging), running around its train in Georgetown. Finally, CN 215 – a through train – just zipped through the layout without stopping at all.

Lessons Learned

I learned a few lessons from this operating session:

  1. Some of my locomotives are junk. Specifically, CN 3125, CN 5542 and CP 1341 – all Athearn blue boxes – are not reliable. They don’t start well, and need a little “push” now and then to get moving again.
  2. My Bowser C630M – CP 4505 – runs like an absolute dream compared to the rest of my locomotives.
  3. I need to be thorough in cleaning the track. I thought I did a good job, but there are some areas around the switches that need work.
  4. I’m pretty sure my EMD leaser EMDX 769 has a broken axle. It also needs its couplers checked, as they didn’t want to let go.
  5. I need to consider making switch lists ahead of time. My car cards work, but it’s unrealistic for the crew to not know what work is ahead of them.

On the positive side, I think the car card system works well for me, and I’m satisfied with the number of industries and the amount of work for each train.

Watch my operating session


Nothing Ever Goes As Planned

Nothing ever goes as planned
It’s a hell of a notion
Even Pharaohs turn to sand
Like a drop in the ocean
Styx (from their great album Paradise Theatre)

I had a little solo operating session on my layout a few weeks ago. It was really a positioning move for a “real” operating session I hope to have soon.

I wanted to place some grain cars at the Cargill elevator so I wrote up a Work Extra 3665 and sent it along with a half dozen grain cars and a caboose from Winnipeg to Helene to deliver the cars.

The move to Helene went OK, but while doing the switching moves at the elevator, I hit some dead track with the locomotive and everything stopped.

I tried cleaning the track but that didn’t help, so it must be an electrical issue. I think that section of track could use a set of feeders. Currently it gets power from an adjacent piece of track. The peninsula can shift a bit and maybe the connection to the next piece of track is loose enough now that it isn’t conducting electricity. Something to work on.

Anyway, here’s the video. I hope you like it!

A Giveaway!

Over on Confessions of a Train Geek I am giving away a copy of Eric Gagnon’s new book, Trackside with VIA: Research and Recollections. The instructions to enter are at the bottom of my book review or you can sign up for my mailing list for a chance to enter. The deadline is the end of May 8, Central time!

See Also

Operations with Nick

My oldest son Nick came to visit for Thanksgiving. He’s attending the University of Waterloo so it was nice to have him around for a few days. We did our traditional visits to the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada and to Marway Militaria. Nick has a fair amount of N scale equipment (some from my dad’s collection) and hopes to build a layout someday.

He expressed an interest in operating on my layout, and I jumped at the chance. I had never had anyone operate on my layout before!

After cleaning the track and a few locomotive wheels, we were ready for action.

Nick decided to take CP and I took CN.

First up for him was the VIA RDC off the Minnedosa subdivision into Brandon, followed by CP 976, also off the Minnedosa to Brandon.

As he ran his trains, I ran mine. CN 404 was first, working the Manitoba Pool Elevator and Irving Oil.

Working the Manitoba Pool elevator
Working the Manitoba Pool elevator

CN 404 was pulling some cars out of the Pool track before putting the grain cars in.

In the following clip you can see it rolling into Winnipeg (staging) after doing its work. It was pretty long for my layout!

Nick was working Georgetown with demonstrator 769. Unfortunately it derailed due to a misaligned switch. The crew easily rerailed it and carried on.

The roadmaster had a little chat with the engineer afterward about speeds in the yard!

Later, CN 403 was working in Georgetown while a CP freight was also working in Georgetown. This has never happened before, since I can’t run two trains at once by myself!

CN and CP working Georgetown
CN and CP working Georgetown

Note the single grain car spotted at the elevator by CN 404 earlier.

After working in Georgetown, CN 403 proceeded to Helene to work the Cargill elevator. One more clip, showing the train backing into track HI01 with the full train.

Nick shows the finer points of using a tool to uncouple cars…

Uncoupling pick
Uncoupling pick

We operated for about an hour and a half and finished everything up. It was great to have a guest operator and the fact that it was my son made it extra special. Thanks, Nick!

See also:

Operating on the Bayside & Tidewater

055I was on Prince Edward Island recently for work. Shortly before I left Manitoba, I mentioned to Chris Mears and Taylor Main that I was headed for the island, and they invited me to join them for the Half Nuts operations group on Sunday evening. They meet regularly and operate on one of two layouts in the Summerside area. I was pleased to accept the invitation and I met them in Charlottetown for a carpool to Summerside to visit Scott Jay’s Bayside & Tidewater Railway.

056In their last operations session they had some issues with the wireless control system, so the layout was halfway through an operating session. Because of that, this session would be shorter than usual.

I met Scott and he introduced me to the other Half Nuts present… more than half a dozen! I wish I was better with names but I did meet Trevor Delaney, and Scott of course.

Scott assigned roles to everyone on the railway. He asked me if I would like to operate or to observe. I said I’d love to operate, so he assigned me to the Bayside yard.

Bayside Yard Diagram
Bayside Yard Diagram

Many of the yard tasks were already done, but I had a few jobs left to do:

  • sort the incoming wayfreight into the appropriate tracks
  • build the US-bound train on the “Build” track
  • sort the other incoming train wayfreight into the appropriate tracks
  • service a couple of local industries

For switching power I had switcher CP 7111, equipped with DCC and sound.

CP 7111
CP 7111

Scott uses the WiThrottle app to wirelessly control the layout. There’s an app to install on your phone (iPhone or Android) and then you use the app to connect to the appropriate locomotive (or consist) and drive the train using your phone! It worked very well and it didn’t take long for me to get used to it.

The first wayfreight arrived from Tidewater, and after they cut off the power, I began sorting the freight cars. Since there is no actual track after Bayside, the cars are sorted into one of three tracks: boxcars, reefers, and “other”.

A view of Bayside yard
A view of Bayside yard

CP 7111 drilled the yard, putting cars into the appropriate tracks and picking out the few cars that were going onto the US-bound train. I also stuck the power for the US-bound train onto the train to get it completely ready.

Only a few minutes after I finished that, the US train operator showed up and took the train away. At this point I had nothing to do until the second wayfreight showed up, so I took a walk around the layout to see what other people were doing.

CP 8407 and another loco were working in Stevenville. This area has a lot of switching action.

Stevenville switching
Stevenville switching

There was a lot of action at the Tidewater yard as well. Scott has made the most of the room to incorporate two yards as well as a couple of significant towns. You can see his full track plan here.

Action in Tidewater
Action in Tidewater

Scott has used a lot of backdrop buildings to add industrial switching areas and use the most of the space. I was mentally taking notes for my own layout!

Here’s a view of one end of the layout, with Tidewater on the left and Chappellton on the far right.

An overall view
An overall view

Chappellton was my favourite area, with lots of switching possibilities as well as a rail car ferry to work.


Anyway, back to work. The second wayfreight arrived in Bayside so I had to put its cars away as well. It was a tight fit putting that last boxcar in its track but it did fit. Scott has a custom program developed to route his cars and it produces paperwork like this.

It's all about the paperwork
It’s all about the paperwork

The crossed out cars were already dealt with before I arrived. The far right column indicates what train is to carry it (E1 and E2 are the wayfreights). After I put the second wayfreight away, I had to deliver the Mainzy cars to the nearby industries. It was a fairly simple job to deliver them and then put the switcher to bed.

Good night!
Good night!

You can see how the boxcar track was chock full.

It was a real pleasure to operate on Scott’s railway. Everything ran very well, the emphasis was on operation (my favourite) and the layout is nicely laid out and provides a lot of operational interest. Most of the layout has scenery with only a few bare spots where track revisions are being made / remade.

Thanks to Scott for being such a gracious host and letting this transplanted Maritimer operate out east for a bit. Visit Scott’s web site to learn more about his layout.


Third Operating Session – CN 403 and 404

Over the past few weeks I have held another solo operating session. This follows the CP operating session I had. I ran CN 404 and then CN 403 through the layout, doing some local switching along the way.

CN 404

On my layout, train CN 404 runs east from Melville, SK to Winnipeg, MB. This train performs local switching in Georgetown, the town that is the main focus of my layout. CN 404 switches the Irving Oil spur and the Manitoba Pool grain elevator, when required.

In this session, CN 404 spotted a tank car at Irving Oil and exchanged grain cars at the Pool elevator.

Please note that I had the train number wrong in the video. In Canada eastbound trains have an even train number and westbound trains have odd numbers.


CN 403

As you might guess, CN 403 on my layout runs from Winnipeg to Melville! The train also does local switching in Georgetown, but only switches the CP interchange track as required. It also switches the Cargill grain elevator in Helene.

I had to split the videos to get them under the 15 minute limit.

In the first video, CN 403 switches Georgetown. It had one car to drop off for CP and picked up three cars.

The second video shows CN 403 working the Cargill elevator.

Thanks for watching!

PS if you want to see the real train CN 404, I happened to catch it in Winnipeg in March.

CP 949 and CP 975

After the last operating session, I had two more trains to run:

  • CP 949 (Winnipeg to Brandon via Georgetown); and
  • CP 975 (Brandon to Minnedosa)

Both are fairly limited in the switching they do in Georgetown, so they were quicker than CP 948 in particular to run.


CP 949

The instructions for CP 949 specify that it runs from Winnipeg to Brandon, picking up any westbound cars from the siding and dropping any Georgetown-bound cars in the siding. As it happens, it did both!

Here’s the video showing CP 949 from start to end:

I also recorded a short “on board” video using my cell phone in a very Rube Goldberg style mount on a gondola.

Check out the setup:

Rube Goldberg would have been proud
Rube Goldberg would have been proud

Note the weights clamped on to the right to counterbalance the phone. This made for a very wide load and it is not ideal. I’d appreciate any suggestions for inexpensive on-board cameras…


CP 975

The last train was CP 975, the Minnedosa local returning to Minnedosa.

Its switching instructions for Georgetown are to spot any Georgetown-bound cars, pick up any Minnedosa-bound cars, and head out on the Minnedosa subdivision to staging.

The train did have a car to spot on the interchange track, but it had nothing to pick up, so it was a quick stop in Georgetown before going to staging.



That’s the end of the CP trains that operate on my layout! The four trains that operated were:

  1. CP 976, Minnedosa local, from Minnedosa to Brandon
  2. CP 948, eastbound mainline freight, from Brandon to Winnipeg, with a lot of switching in Georgetown
  3. CP 949, westbound mainline freight, from Winnipeg to Brandon
  4. CP 975, Minnedosa local, returning from Brandon to Minnedosa

The only train I can see adding on the CP side of my layout would be a VIA Rail RDC to run on the Minnedosa subdivision. I don’t have room in CP’s staging for a full size passenger train.

Next I will be working on the scheduling for CN trains, and then I’ll be running those. I might work on coordinating the schedules to have a meet or two in Georgetown rather than just running them in sequence.


Second Operating Session with Car Cards

After my first operating session with car cards, I made one significant change, then started running some CP trains. Here are a few videos showing the trains.

Train Information Card

Train Information Card from second operating session
Train Information Card from second operating session

I added a train information card to the front of the card packet. This gives the train number, origin and destination of the train, departure time, and switching instructions en route.

I’m not using the maximum cars yet, and the departure time is only used to determine the sequence of trains. At some point I’ll jiggle the times to set up meets in Georgetown.

I’ve seen one problem already – the train number is hidden by the clip. Rev 2 will be better!

The Minnedosa Local

CP 976, aka the Minnedosa Local, was the first to run. The train had GMTX 768, five cars and a caboose, which is about the longest train you can stash in the Minnedosa sub / staging without the head end being visible.

CP 976’s instructions are to proceed west to Brandon, dropping any eastbound cars in the Georgetown siding and picking up any westbound cars from the Georgetown siding. As it happened, the train had two eastbound grain hoppers that it had to drop. There was nothing to pick up so it was a relatively short run.

CP 948

CP 948, the Brandon-Winnipeg (eastbound) train was next. This is the busiest of the four CP trains I have on my layout.

CP 948 runs from Brandon to Winnipeg through Georgetown, and works Georgetown industries while it’s there. The switches to the three CP-based Georgetown industries (warehouse, team track and grain elevator) and the CN-CP interchange track have eastward-facing points, so an eastbound freight can work them easily.

948 was short coming out of Brandon, with only three cars and a caboose behind big MLW CP 4505. They had one BN car for the CN-CP interchange, an eastbound scrap gondola, and a centerbeam flatcar for the team track.

There was lots of work to do in Georgetown. The three boxcars at the warehouse had to come out, the interchange track had two cars and a locomotive to remove and deal with, and the team track had a car that was heading out.

I had to split this into two videos to stay under the 15 minute YouTube limit.

In part 2 they switched the warehouse and put their train back together before continuing on to Winnipeg.

Next Up

The next train is CP 949, the Winnipeg-Brandon train, followed by CP 975, the local going back to Minnedosa. Neither of them have much work in Georgetown so they should be quicker to operate. Read on!

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


First Operating Session with Car Cards

I did my first operating session on my model train layout with car cards. I took video with my phone and here are the videos. I broke the video in two because it was too long to upload and I wanted to edit out a few bits where I put the phone down to throw switches.

The main reason I wanted to show these videos was to show how I use the car cards I described in the previous post.

Part 1

In part 1 I brought CN 3665 and train into Georgetown and did some switching. The train had a CP locomotive and a car to drop at the CP interchange, a grain car for the UGG elevator in town, and a caboose.

The work done was to service the CP interchange, pull the loaded cars from the UGG grain elevator, and drop the empty grain car (plus two other grain cars that were in the siding) at the UGG elevator.

Part 2

In part 2 I pulled two cars from the Irving Oil siding, and delivered one of those to the CP interchange, then collected up the train and left Georgetown for Winnipeg.


So – what do you think?

Personally I think I will use a tripod arrangement next time so the video isn’t so shaky, and I’ll be able to have two hands free – one for the throttle and one to throw switches and uncouple. I also need to look into a skewer or something similar to uncouple cars. So many things… so little time.