Above: Double mustard pots – well, sort of! Narrow gauge Alco 869 holds court with the Jameston Station Master’s prized vehicle, prior to the commencement of the March operating session …
The March 2018 operating session on the Border District saw the layout once again come to life, circa 1976 and Victorian and South Australian Railways style. With eight people in attendance, the session equalled the “most ever operators” mark on the layout – and nearly set a new record/benchmark, with one late apology received that would have seen a new record of nine operators be set.
Of the eight operators, there was a great mix of experience and “youth”. The three most seasoned and long term operators were present – Mark, Brendan and Iain, with over eighty collective ops sessions on the layout between them! At the other end of the spectrum were three “Border District beginners”, with Malcolm and Ian (Jeff’s dad) attending only their second ever session on the Border District, and Duncan attending his very first session. That said, Duncan is no stranger to operations – his UP/BNSF Joint Division empire is somewhat a Mecca for operations “USof A style” … and you can check out his blog here: UP/BNSF Joint Division. For all three “rookies”, their knowledge of operations and/or the prototype saw them settle in fairly quickly to life on the ‘District.
For the March session, Mark bravely took on the role of Train Control – normally falling to yours truly – and did a great job of managing trains and traffic, designed by someone else and without any appropriate induction or training first! Iain and Malcolm took the two SAR crew roles, while Ian, Jeff and Duncan took VR crew roles 1-3 respectively, Brendan and I shared the load at Tatiara Downs, with Brendan looking after Station Master responsibilities while I took on the shunter’s job.
Below: Operations can be a bit of a blur. Somewhat artistic, somewhat poor focus – a very quiet and fairly empty western end of Tatiara Downs yard at the start of the session. By mid session, every one of the six through yard tracks here was full …
The session didn’t start as planned, nor did it even start on time! In a somewhat serious shortcoming from the host, six “driving” roles requires there to be six “throttles” to drive with … and I only own four throttles. Brendan kindly brought his throttle along, but we were still one short of the six needed to run the session. As I started to think about which role or roles to change and which trains to cancel, Malcolm saved the day by undertaking a quick dash home to his place to grab the sixth throttle – thanks Malcolm! The later start meant a later finish – but all 34 workings planned were undertaken and completed, with all wagons and car cards ending up in the right place – well done team!
After the late start, the layout also didn’t perform at its best for the crew, with one loco being a complete (and somewhat inexplicable) failure, requiring the fairly ungracious and completely unprototypical “0-5-0” removal from the situation … though at least the replacement loco was worked correctly from the nearest station to save the day. A dowel-thrown point also lost its piano wire actuator during the session … and while repaired (thanks Brendan!) it was, of course, one of the hardest to access to do so. The three-way point in staging – a great space saver – continued to cause frustrations with “trouble free running” and is likely to find itself removed/replaced. Perhaps this is what happens for operating sessions held on St Patrick’s Day – a combination of both the luck of the Irish and Murphy’s Law?!
There were, however, a couple of positive additions to the layout and session. One of these was the recent expansion of the Grain Elevators’ Board (GEB) sidings at Nankiva – providing a more simplified look at this station, but also significantly increasing the operating potential here. The other was the inclusion, for the first time, of “loads” for all trains that worked the Southern Aggregates facility at Border Junction – no more needing to guess/remember which wagons were loaded and which were not.
Below: A very grubby 950 gets the final train of the session, SAR Train Number 312, away from Tatiara Downs, having received a “red over green” clear medium speed signal.
The session probably showed – or perhaps even “confirmed”, because I fear I may have been in a state of denial – that eight operators might just be too many. This is not so much for the layout itself – which could support as many as ten “roles” I think – but more for the space available for operators (two narrowish “pits” – one serving Nankiva/Border Junction/staging and the other Tatiara Downs/Jameston – separated by high but wide duckunders).
I look forward to viewing (and sharing) Brendan’s time lapse capture of the March session as I feel it will confirm my thoughts – people generally enjoying the session, but being a little too close for comfort at times to really enjoy any sense of surrounding “personal space” – with the warm weather possibly also another contributing factor in this matter.
The irony is not lost on me that the changes I made in response to viewing Brendan’s time lapse capture from the previous session (here if you are interested or didn’t catch it from the January op session blog: Border District Jan 2018 time lapse) has resulted in somewhat of an over-correction – from too many operators in the Tatiara Downs/Jameston pit to too many operators in the Nankiva/Border Junction/staging pit. Finding that “sweet spot” in operations is often a bit of a balancing act, which is certainly how I feel after an enjoyable March session …
Below: How many operators can you fit in one pit? From left to right, Jeff, Mark, Duncan, Malcolm and Ian test the limits of what the “maximum” is for numbers in an operating pit on the Border District. There were times during the March session when six bodies were present here – perhaps not quite a case of being “not so squeezy” (with apologies to a 1980s truck commercial …)?!