Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Let's Go Railroading!

I'm going to guess that nearly all model railroaders, when they are starting out, are fascinated by the sight of trains going round and round. That was and continues to be true for me. There's a problem, though-no matter how much space we have, it's not enough. In a matter of a very few minutes (for most of us) or maybe half an hour (for the very lucky few with access to a huge layout) we will be right back where we started. And it seems that with each successive revolution, a little of the magic slips away.

Faced as I was with the prospect of less space for a railroad than I previously had, thoughts turned to ways to make that space do more-visions of peninsulas and multi-deck layouts danced in my head. I went so far as building a helix, as much to prove to myself I could do at as because I had a fully developed idea of how it would be used. That desire to solve the helix problem illustrates my relationship with model railroading in a microcosm. I absolutely LOVE the problem-solving aspect of the hobby. Faced with how I was going to move trains from one level to the next, I couldn't stop myself from diving right in to helix construction, because the opportunity to "figger out how to do it" was so attractive.

I remember feeling the same way the first time I installed a hard-wired DCC decoder, or an LED headlight, or during my initial track ballasting attempts. I've spent many, many joy-filled hours figuring out what works for me when it comes to painting backdrops. I've loved puzzling out how to build a functional drop bridge for entering the layout room or testing various designs for manual turnout controls. Just the feel of a garage sale sign and the smell of MEK brings a smile to my face. The problems and their solutions-MY solutions-are the attraction for me.

So I needed to come up with a way to create more problems for myself. I've always thought that the next step for me was to figure out how to make my layout operated like a railroad in minuature, rather than a toy train. My opinion is that even the finest looking and operating equipment is missing something if it doesn't have some imaginary work to do. The roadblock has always been finding a way to generate the work randomly, yet retain some semblance of reality and logic as the work is performed.

I am happy to announce that I may just have finally figured that out.

I don't believe I will ever again HAVE to watch trains run around in circles. My tiny trains now have a purpose-they move imaginary freight over an HO Scale transportation system according to directions received from a virtual traffic department in a way that makes as much sense as anything I can imagine.

The Twin Ports Terminal Railway has implemented a new, computerized, state-of-the-art freight car forwarding system known in the industry as JMRI Operations. This digital workhorse helped me with the process of defining the locations served by my railroad, entering information on the rolling stock into a database, configuring routes that serve the various locations defined earlier, and finally, creating trains that follow these routes as required to provide the service needed in my 1/87th scale world. When I want work to do on my railroad, all that is required is to open up the "Trains" screen in JMRI Operations, pick which train will be run, click on the "Build" button, and print out a manifest I will use to move the proper cars to the locations they are needed by my industries.

With the train manifest in hand, it's up to me to pick up the power, figure out the best way to assemble my train to perform the required tasks, and move the cars across the railroad. Every car that will be moved is identified, with it's current location and intended destination shown. The proper types of cars are directed only to tracks where they should show up-grain cars to the elevator tracks, for example, and boxcars to the Can track, where canned dog food is loaded. Since the cans are heavier than the bags we also make at my dog food plant, Hi-cube cars are only loaded on the bag track. The program handles that, helping me to maintain that thin veil of realism that I have long been searching for when playing in the train room.

Sometimes, the work is complex and time consuming. Other times, it is easier and faster. Funny thing, it seems to me real life is like that too. The variety is a good thing, in my mind. If I was moving 2 boxcars and 3 grain hoppers every job, that would get boring, but it's almost part of the fun waiting to see what your work for the day is like.

And one more thing. My current layout is shown below. (Click on the image for a better view)

 
It's tiny, compared to my last layout, and even compared to what I have the space for now. But it's the most fun I have ever had operating. Last night I had to pick up two cars from the plant and exchange them for three cars on Tuffys Siding. By the time I got the three cars spotted in the plant, I had killed well over half an hour. That's to move a grand total of 5 railroad cars a cumulative distance of probably 30 feet. Of course, I had to shift around a few cars that were in the way in the process and place them back where they were needed. I also had to run around some of the cars to get on the proper end of them. It was a lot of work, and a lot of fun. After that was done, I got to run a Transfer job between the Duluth yard and Tuffys Siding, to pick up the cars from Tuffys and drop off a few for the next Plant Switcher.
 
I'm still inspired to build, but for a different reason that before. I want to share the fun with other model railroaders. Now I have a long term goal-get proficient enough at this that I can hold operating sessions that will allow others to participate as well.
 
I intend to make a series of posts over the next few weeks that share some of what I have learned about JMRI Operations. If anyone who has experience stumbles across this, please feel free to chime in in the comment section.

5 comments:

li lindal said...

What does little birdie say,
In her nest at peep of day?
---------------------------------
Guild Wars 2 Gold or Diablo 3 Gold

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