September 2015 operating session

SAR 147 shunt

Continuing the theme from the August 2015 operating session posts … it really, really is hard to believe that so far this year, eight sessions have been undertaken on the Border District – four for the 02:00 to 14:00 (am) session and 14:00 to 02:00 (pm) session! This month’s session saw the latter of these completed – the “pm” shift. A number of apologies were received ahead of the session, but on the day we returned to the “fantastic four” format with the three most “regular” operators – Mark, Iain and Craig – joining myself for an afternoon of train running – 1970s VR and SAR style. The image above (captured by Mark) gives a great illustration of this, with the Tatiara Downs yard pilot engine for the session, VR EMD diesel electric Y169, going about making up and breaking up a number of trains.

As is now seemingly common place, Iain took on the branchline crew role – no complaints from me given the way he does so, but there were some threats to rename Jameston “Iainston”! Craig relished the chance to not be lumbered with the Train Control role (a position not used when the crew size numbers four or less) to take on one of the mainline crew gigs and did a great job – though does need the write out “I must take my car cards with me” to help him remember this important task! Mark bravely took on the sole Tatiara Downs role (mainly as Head Shunter, but a little as Station master too) and despite a few moments of “cold sweats”, did so well in the role that he finished ahead of everyone else, which has me thinking that maybe the Tatiara Downs Head Shunter job is too easy! I enjoyed the chance to take on the second mainline crew role, as well as dropping into “pseudo Train Control” a few times and general giving assistance and advice, sometimes requested and sometimes not!

Y and 720

The above image, captured at Tatiara Downs, sees Y169 still going about pilot duties and SAR “Big Mikado” 730 sitting in the platform road, ahead of SAR TN 282 passenger service to Naracoorte. The steamer is under the control of Iain, who initially worked the train down the branch to Jameston (as SAR TN 281, which makes a connection with the ex-Adelaide Mt Gambier passenger train at Naracoorte), turned the loco, added a passenger brake to the consist and now heading back from whence he came! The VR shunter is in Mark’s capable hands. Not only did Mark finish the Tatiara Downs job ahead of schedule, he also had the time to take plenty of pictures … in fact, all images in this post are courtesy of Mark!

Below, more of Mark’s multiple talents are on display – undertaking some shunting to make up VR TN 880 fast goods, but also taking some happy snaps of himself in the process – who said that Tatiara Downs job is too hard and complicated? Loading on this shunt is from the goods shed, flour mill, livestock loading and the farmers’ co-operative and once added to the train (which also includes loading from South Australia, brought in on SAR TN 87 roadside goods), Craig will add a VR B class diesel to the front end, undertake a brake test (by checking each card card for wagon number and waybill destination) and wait for a green signal to head east … good fun!

VR 880 shunt 2

The session was another very, very  enjoyable one with lots of good chat … and some gentle ribbing at times. However, all twenty-six workings were completed in record time – we even tried using the NCE fast clock and finished the session more than two “fast clock” hours ahead of time (however, the sequence timetable was developed using a 6:1 ratio, and we ran the fast clock at 4:1, given there were four crew in total). With eight sessions this year under the belt, I feel that “five” might be the ideal number of operators – adding an overall Train Control/Station Master role to the four roles we used this session to help coordinate the sometimes complex movement and interchange of trains and wagons. It was great to see all operators checking notes and the train graph … and taking on extra workings and operations where and when needed to keep things flowing. We even managed a couple of timetabled train crosses very late in the session … thanks men – another great afternoon and session!

The September operating session also saw the debut of the much anticipated and awaited “Southern Aggregates” facility … but I feel this is significant enough to warrant its own blog post – however, to say reception of “Southern Aggregates” was positive would be an understatement. Continuing the theme of “positive”, Iain shared stories and (lots of!) pictures from his trip to Adelaide to attend the “Modelling the Railways of South Australia Convention” this year – leaving us very much “wowed”. These two factors combined to show just how much modelling potential there is, and just how much quality modelling is out there also. In a final image from the session (below), Mark is just about at the end of his trick, working some empty flour pots and vans from the yard to the mill siding at Tatiara Downs …

Mill shunt

August 2015 operating session … part 2

TD shunt

Following on from “Part 1”, the August 2015 operating session once again raised the question of just how much work for the crew at Tatiara Downs is too much?! The image above, captured by Mark, gives some indication of the “carnage” that can be felt here … three trains are concurrently being made and/or broken up, creating a good deal of work for both the head shunter and also another crew, who are at the helm of the VR T class diesel. Tatiara Downs is conceived to be located at the centre of five different destinations/origins: Adelaide, Mount Gambier, Melbourne, Portland and Ararat (and hence northern and north western Victoria too). Paperwork to assist those that only visit the Border District once a month to operate continues to be refined and revised – with plenty of positive input from the crew.

TD stockyards

I thoroughly enjoy the challenge that is routing wagons and commodities from one of these five destinations to another … and while the layout is very much “proto-freelanced”, I have been able to use actual Murray Bridge Division (SAR) and Western and South Western Victoria (VR) Working Timetables to build from what really was. However, many an operator has commented how challenging working the yard at Tatiara Downs can be … it is usually the last job “grabbed” and often falls to your truly! I’m very grateful that Mark was willing to take on the role at Tatiara Downs last session, as though I know it created some moments of angst, I also saw a few “tricks” from him to expedite movements that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. The image above, captured by Mark, shows one of these – empty grain wagons having been shunted briefly to the stock loading siding, clearing the way to pull the loaded hoppers out first.

Despite the operational challenges at Tatiara Downs – which probably give me the most pause for thought and possible change between sessions, a few structures continue to be added here to enhance the experience. Already shared in this post (and others) are the stockyards at Tatiara Downs, courtesy of Mr Don Bishop, which has really started to “set the scene”. At our most recent session though, a mock up of another much anticipated structure was displayed for the first time – the goods shed. Mark has offered to build this and is using the goods sheds at Naracoorte and Mount Gambier as inspiration. A significant challenge in this structure though is that the goods shed is to be modelled as an “open” building, given its location and proximity to the edge of the layout. The image below gives a taste of what is to come … very exciting!

Goods Shed mockup

Shunting at Nankiva can also be a challenge – and again, to some degree this is deliberate. The Victorian Railways were very fond of single and double slips, but in many locations the former proved even more popular than the latter. This is certainly the case at Nankiva on the Border District, where single slips at either end of the yard ensure that shunting isn’t as simple as many would hope it could be. The image below is taken facing to east and shows the single slip located at the entrance to the goods shed road (and oil unloading location beyond), as well as the current limit of ballasting in this location. To the right is the stock siding and SEC timber pole unloading siding, while to the left, the very edge of the platform at Nankiva can be seen.

NAN goods shed

During the August session, both Craig and Keith operated train that were required to shunt  (and in some cases terminate) at Nankiva … and from this I’m confident that the operations here aren’t too hard, but also aren’t too easy. Below, another image of Nankiva can be seen, taken a little further back (and a little lower) than the previous one. The 280hp Walkers railmotor has worked VR TN 29 passenger service from Hamilton, and will “lay over” until the next session, when it will work back to Hamilton as VR TN 28 passenger service. The two images of Nankiva also reveal the “value add” that scenery will (eventually) bring … at least there is some painted and weathered track and ballast here – unlike Tatiara Downs and Jameston!

NAN RM and wheaties

On matters of Jameston, I confess that there scenic progress here is possibly at its slowest. Yes, a new station building, gangers’ shed, water tower and coal stage have all been added in 2015 (with sincere thanks to Don Bishop) … but I have really stalled in completing the narrow gauge track work and wiring that would allow this entire area to “look” as I imagine it … like Millicent in the 1970s if the narrow gauge had never been removed. While the scenery may be slow, the operations here are possibly the most successful of anywhere on the “District” … three trains per session head down this branch and Iain continues to excel in making Jameston his own!

JAM yard

Finally, I’d again like to thank all those friends who continue to avail themselves of the opportunity to recreate some SAR and VR style 1970s operations one Saturday afternoon each month. It is hard to believe that regular operating session are a reality .. and even more that there have already been seven operating sessions this year! Roll on the September session …