Saturday, October 5, 2019

Freight Symbols Over Tehachapi (Part 8) - Logistics and Planning

In the previous six posts I've laid out the system of freight symbols that the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe used over the Tehachapi Pass 'Joint Line' between Bakersfield and Mojave.  Now that the foundation is laid, I'll be launching into the discussion on the Logistics and Planning sides of the operation.  The La Mesa Club is one of the few clubs in the country operating a scale model of a railroad operation, with many logistical considerations also modeled in real time with humans, not computers, providing the routing and traffic movements.

Clerks' paperwork for a TT/TO 1950's serssion in Nov 2004.

The symbols and schedules relating to them are not in public or employee timetables.  These 'schedules' are on an agents symbol schedule with cut-off times and show the number of days between certain points for each symbol.  This was used as a marketing and logistics planning schedule, but it did not convey any 'Timetable Authority' to move trains.

LMRC's ATSF "Valley Division" Symbol Freight Train Schedule of 'Cutoff' times. (Note this is the 12-hour version)

The symbol's 'schedules' formed a pattern of regular movements for the priority symbols.  Something like the BK Auto-block runs in the mid morning, after the WGFX with the auto block from Richmond arrives and the transfer from the SP of their auto parts are moved over, then the car inspectors and carmen need to fix any minor problems (usually takes an hour or two minimum) and then the train is 'scheduled' out.  As long as the SP's cars make the cutoff time shown in the symbol schedule then the Santa Fe has no excuse if they don't move on the 'scheduled' connection that day.

LMRC's SP "San Joaquin Division" Symbol Freight Train Schedule for 'Cutoff' times. (Note this is the 12-hour version)

The symbol schedule also gives the framework for the symbol date system.  When exactly does NCP out of Los Angeles leave?  Until what point does the NCP of the previous day run on that date and when does the Advance-NCP of the next day start, before the regular NCP cutoff time?  Should the Chief Dispatcher call another NCP today and run a Second NCP for today, or should the cars be held until tomorrow's NCP cutoff?  How many traffic is expected to arrive before the NCP cutoff time?  Does all of that justify a second NCP to run today?  Do we forward the extra cars on something other than an NCP... maybe a VXW.

These are the questions that having a symbol schedule helps sort out for the logistical people in the Traffic Dept, and the Chief Dispatcher.  From the plan each shift of each day, every 8 hours a new 'Lineup' is formed for the next 8-24 hours, with the information getting more vague the further out in time the line up goes.

Serious Game or Real Work?

I often describe the 'Operations' at La Mesa Model Railroad Club as, "A game of 4-dimentional team chess with 30-50 people, over 1800 playing pieces, and almost 8000 square feet of 'game board'."  The challenge really becomes working with every other 'teammate' against the railroad or 'Manificent Monster' (as some call it) as it tries to trip up the operating crew with all sorts of challenges from DCC, to failing switch motors, to dirty track, to bad handwriting!  I often compare the layout to a 'sleeping dragon' when talking to folks when the layout's in the 'normal' weekday operations and not under TT/TO conditions when it truly 'comes awake and breathes fire'.

Situation Card - 'Turntable Fails for Three Hours.' = "Oh boy! I can't use any of those engines...."

In this game, situation cards aren't used or needed.  Nothing can 'simulate' the failure of a turntable motor better than the turntable actually failing in the middle of operations for three hours until one of the electrical department crew shows up and tinkers on it for an hour.  One of our regular crew commented on this that what he'd really like is an "Anti-situation Card", basically a 'Get out of Jail Free' card.  Which can be played once or twice when you look at the situation and just say, "No, we just can't have that fail right now... I'll burn my 'Super card' on this problem."

Operator at Kern Jct., one of five stations operators who function as the Dispatcher's eyes and mouth.

Communication, I believe, is the most critical aspect of operations on a railroad, and so it is also true on our scaled down version of the real thing.   Let's look at some of the positions people who (almost) never touch a throttle, but through their choices make the railroad run.

Chief Dispatcher

Eastward Chief's Sheet for Jan 7-8, 1953

The LMRC's shift Chief Dispatcher can best be described as the 'Layout Owner'.  This position functions as the main nerve center position for the operation of the whole system.  I've not seen very many operating layouts where the choices for assignment of train symbols, engines, crews, and combinations of symbols is made on the fly by someone other than the layout owner or the 'head of operations'.  The Chief Dispatcher position at LMRC is a skilled position requiring a working knowledge of engine ratings, freight train symbols, priorities for movements, and crew management.

Westward Chief's Sheet for Jan 8th, 1953.

The Chief Dispatcher works off of his own 'train sheet' where he records the 'soup' information for each planned train.  Filling in the symbol with date and section, engine(s), cars, caboose, crew names, helpers, where the helpers are going to be operated and return to, and any other special instructions or notes required.

From this Chief's worksheet, 'Soup Tickets' or call slips are made up with carbons to be given to the crew of the train and to the 'Trick' Train Order Dispatcher.  The crews take their copy with them when they show up for the train at the yard and show it to the Yardmaster and pickup their engines from the roundhouse.   Meanwhile the telegraph operator for the station is informing the TO Dispatcher that the crew is there and the status of the train, including an estimated time of the train's being ready to leave.

Car Clerks / Traffic Department

The LMRC currently uses two 'Clerks' who are qualified after learning all the car routing and flows relating to the modeled car fleet, the train symbol system, and industries, both modeled and off-layout.  These two positions mark switchlists and route the cars in trains to destinations.  The clerks also work with the Yardmasters and the Chief Dispatcher in planning movements out of the East and West Staging yards.

Switchlist for the BFX-7 which will be broken up at Bakersfield, for photo see below in the Staging section of this post.

This planning means talking with the Chief Dispatcher about what symbol materials they have in the staging yards and developing a plan for what to make up for departures in the next 3-6 hours.  Real Chief Dispatchers generally plan 8-24+ hours out.  On the model however, we can really only plan about 6 hours out at the longest.  Beyond that it becomes "After this time, and that shows up, this symbol will run."  The Chief will often give the information about incoming trains so that the Clerk can plan anything that will need a longer connection to get all it's pieces before returning.  Normally this would be done by a teletyped lineup sent to the whole subdivision every 8 hours just before shift change.

The Car Clerks are always at work shuffling paperwork! - Jason Hill, November 2006.

The Staging Crews and Car Clerks learn how to work the open loads for the club as well.  The loads are both determined by the routings and dictate the routings.  The various open loads simulate various types of loads moving generally in one direction over Tehachapi Pass.

An example of removable loads for an F&C F33 heavy-duty well-hole flatcar.


M.P. Bording works his papers and switchlists at Bakersfield on January 8th, 1953.

The LMRC has three Yardmasters who keep track of the cars in their yard, supervise switcher crews and direct movements of trains through their yards.  They also ensure the local freight traffic makes the cutoff times for certain scheduled connections.

SP Bakersfield Yardmaster

SP Yardmaster and crew at Bakersfield.

The SP Bakersfield YM is certainly the most personnel-management intensive of the three YM positions.  Often the SP YM has three to five crews working under him.  The SP Yard Jobs are best described in my post Busy Times at Bakersfield (Part 1) Roundhouse and (Part 2) SP Yard Overview.

Santa Fe Bakersfield Yardmaster

Santa Fe Bakersfield Yard

The Santa Fe YM deals with a smaller yard, but with lots of classification to do, it's always a hotbed of activity.  One of the critical things for the 'Trick' Chief and Train Order Dispatchers to remember is that there's not a lot of extra yard departure track capacity in the Bakersfield Santa Fe yard.  Once a train is called and the yard crew says its ready, it should be moved out as soon as possible by the Kern Operator and Train Dispatcher. 

The distance from the Bakersfield Santa Fe Yard to Kern Jct. is about 1/4 what it should be in scale, resulting in the longer Santa Fe trains not being able to leave the yard without fouling the east yard crossovers if the train is not cleared through Kern Jct.  Often larger Santa Fe freights are 'held in' until Kern confirms that the departing train has its Clearance and will be able to move east onto the Joint Line.

SP Mojave Yardmaster - Foot-board

Classic view of a 'footboard yardmaster', in this case riding on the engine instead of the footboard!

The Mojave Yardmaster is really a one-man show.  He works by himself as needed around the yard.  He keeps the arriving and departing trains directed and 'herds' (routes) correctly if he can be at the required end of the yard for their movements.  Sometimes two movements are required in the yard at the same time, so he directs the other movement verbally to enter a given yard track, etc.

The Mojave Yard job usually works about five through trains a day and also classifies a like number of locals to leave.  About half the trains are depart at night and half during the day, resulting in a nicely paced operation, with some dead times, and some insanely busy times when everything happens at once.

The Mojave YM works with the East Clerk who marks the lists in Mojave for car routing and can give additional direction if there's questions regarding the operations.  Sometimes during the 'dead times' the Mojave Yard crew can actually take a 'short' helper and assist a freight up to Summit and return before he's needed again to do switching.  This can be done since it's all in one aisle and any switches in Mojave are roughly centrally located during the helper operation.

Staging Yardmasters

About as photogenic and realistically sceniced as the real Famoso... here SP westward freights become eastward freights.

The LMRC uses active staging where crews re-stage trains continuously during operations.  This allows for unlimited staging of the railroad as trains finish their runs and are recycled into historically accurate trains.  Three people are needed to cover the positions in live staging:

East Staging - Boron/Lancaster & East Clerk

The East Staging YM is usually combined with the East Clerk position.  This job works on re-blocking arriving eastward trains to return.  Combining this job with the East Clerk makes since because the job requires being able to quickly look at a string of freight cars coming in and understand what pieces those can be turned to become for outbound trains.

The East Staging YM also needs to direct road crews in picking up their train from one of several staging yards east of Mojave.  Often outbound road crews are asked to make a couple of 'moves' to get their trains together or arriving crews are directed in breaking down their train to help re-blocking for outbound trains.

East Staging Yards

The yards that the East Clerk/YM uses to restage the eastern end of the railroad includes: Six roughly 100-car tracks for freight trains and five tracks for passenger trains.

The "East Staging" Yard (Lancaster-Boron) with some 'upper level' plywood over part of the body tracks. - Nov 2009.

I liked to have freight trains arrive onto Freight Tracks 1 & 2, which have mid-yard crossovers which allow for up to four 50-car trains to be held and have blocks switched around.  This usually requires 'unscrambling' the PFE or SFRD reefers off the head-end of merchandise blocks, then recombining the merchandise into realistic symbols to go westward.   Then I'll re-stage them onto the other tracks as needed.

The switchlists for trains with merchandise blocks which will be worked either en route or at Bakersfield are prepared while the blocks are on Tracks 1 & 2, while they are easier to see.

Usually my method of track assignment at the 'East End' is to have Tracks 5 & 6 (the longest) reserved for building the ATSF "Drag" (Empty SFRD Reefers) and the SP BK-OK-R (Empty PFE Reefers) blocks.  The SP's large empty lumber drag, the XUMG, is also built on one of these tracks.  Usually only two of these three symbols are in East Staging at any one time.  If all three will be there, then Track 4 is used as well.

Track 3 & 4 are usually used to store up to two trains each which are either complete or do not require consist changes before they can go back west again.  I should note here that these are the 'ideal' track assignments.  Sometimes things don't go as planned!

Passenger trains are worked from the 'headend' while facing eastward, before being turned around on the 'loop'.  This is where most of the work occurs.  At some point in the future I'll do a post about the SP and ATSF Passenger Train work in Staging.

West SP "Valley" Staging

The West Staging crew are split between the SP and ATSF in theory.  However during operations sometimes both crew are needed on the same RR or one will work both 'short' valley staging yards while the other goes 'deep' to get a train into or out of the more remote staging yards.

SP freight AW-7 departs Bakersfield for the 'Valley' and will soon return as an AE-symbol freight.

The SP Valley Staging crew works from Bakersfield Yard west via Oil Jct, Saco, and Famoso to the reversing loop.  Freight trains are staged westward in Famoso Yard and passenger trains are stored after looping, pointed east short of Saco.  At Saco a freight siding is provided for holding SP freights outside of Bakersfield if the yard can't take the train immediately.

The SP "Valley" Staging yard at Famoso consists of six roughly 100 car freight tracks and three passenger train staging tracks.  Unfortunately the Famoso Yard does not have any of the mid-yard crossovers as the East Staging Yard does, therefore all re-blocking must be done on the west ladder of the yard.

The freight re-staging usually consists of mixing the FN-OK-Rs (reefers), and "Valley Shorts" or TMW's (manifests) into suitable returning blocks for the 'Valley Haulers' from various towns, BFX (eastward Shorts & "junk"). 

Usually the cars from westward TMW and XMUG are rotated mixed so the consists don't become 'stale'.  These cars then form the eastward loaded lumber traffic for Adv-PSS and PSS (lumber blocks 40-70 cars), mixed with merchandise cars from Oregon the OCM, and lumber traffic for Bakersfield local industries, East to ATSF destinations (SCX, BK), and SP's "Mojave Shorts" trains.

Also of note, there is a substantial amount of Santa Fe interchange traffic at Bakersfield coming over to the SP for destinations in the Bay Area.  These cars move into 'Valley' staging on AW (Altamont West) or the TMW.  The traffic is switchlisted, possibly re-blocked, and returned on AE (Altamont East) and BFX to Bakersfield for reverse routing on empties.  Santa Fe's hot 'Automobile & Parts' blocks are included in this and are the "cutoff block" for for the AW-symbol.  These auto blocks do have regular 'cutoff' times and a pseudo-schedule to move on.

Thankfully the 600+ car capacity of the Famoso Yard allows for large blocks of cars to be 'stored' here awaiting re-blocking and movement back on to the railroad.

West ATSF "Valley" Staging

The Santa Fe's Valley Staging crew works west of the Santa Fe Bakersfield Yard through Landco to the Rosedale reversing loop.  The Rosedale loop is rather limited in capacity to only two 60-car tracks plus the main track.  The two or three yard tracks at Landco are planned to be used for passenger trains once the Bakersfield Roundhouse for the Santa Fe is operational.

Both ATSF and SP 'Valley' Staging Yards do connect and allow for movement to 'deep' staging.  The deep staging is planned to be used for the long term storage of trains that don't immediately return to Bakersfield, this usually includes the various 'all day' valley locals, which will be out for 12 or so hours.

Restaging at the ATSF "Valley" Yards mostly consist of converting AT "Drag", 1st District Locals, BKW, and possibly NCX trains into appropriate eastward symbols of various WGFXs, SCX, and "Fruit Pickups" from various towns.  Merchandise cars off of the 59/49/99 symbols can also be shifted over to the CWE, and WGFX symbols for classification at Bakersfield and beyond.

Train Dispatcher

The Timetable & Train Order Dispatcher works 'the sheet' and actually issues and receives the orders adjusting the movement authority of both SP and ATSF trains over the Tehachapi Sub-Division.

In the video clip above the Dispatcher is working with five train order offices in real time, receiving reports of trains passing those locations.  The communications also cover the status of trains preparing to enter the Tehachapi Sub. 

Also during this clip the Dispatcher is starting off by preparing holding orders for three westward trains at Caliente (Extra 6135 West) so the KI Local can make the run to Bena and return (SP 5303 East).  However he quickly realizes that the SP 6135 is already at Caliente. 

The Dispatcher then dictates Order 71 to the Extra ATSF 226 West, the Extra 6245 West, and the Extra 5303 West giving the Extra 5303 East right over the Extra ATSF 226 West and Extra 6245 West Bena to Caliente.  He also makes note in the order that Order 71 is to Extras ATSF 226 West and 6245 West at Caliente.  The latter statement is to warn the Extra 5303 East that the trains waiting at Caliente may (probably) will be holding on the main track.

The Caliente Operator then reads back Order 71 to the Dispatcher to confirm that it is correct.  Then the Operator prepares the clearance for Extra 5303 West.  However before the clearance comes in, the Woodford Operator breaks in to give an OS report of a No.7 with ATSF 66.  The Tehachapi Operator then catches up his reports by reporting when No.7 was by his station.  Unfortunately I was hoping to get more video of the Dispatcher working, but alas, my memory card chose that moment to fill up!

From this breif 7 minute clip, we can see the various chores the Dispatcher keeps track of throughout the day.  Crew call slips are also handed to the Dispatcher by the Chief Dispatcher with all the information about upcoming trains: Crew, engines, car count, caboose, helpers, where the helpers are cutting in, out, and ordered to go after helping the train.  All of this data is then transferred to the Train Sheet for permanent record.

Learning more about Dispatching

Cover of 19 East, Copy Three.

More information about Dispatching trains in TT & TO style operations can be found by picking up and reading "19 East Copy Three - by David Sprau" by NMRA OpSIG<- Link to buy a copy.

Wrapping Up

Back in the "Early 2000's" LMRC's operation sessions were getting back on their feet after two years of construction (building the upper deck) and the future extensions above Tunnel 8 were still under construction, which would more than double the size of the railroad.  In the photo below all of the prepared and cross checked switchlists are layed out.  These were the days when all the lists were done ahead of time as the sessions were less than 8 hours.  In the next 15 years the operations have expanded and in some ways 'slowed down' to a comfortable pacing.  We now do these lists in 'real-time' and have the option of 'continuous operations', although not many folks have volunteered for the 'night shift' to keep the trains running for a straight 36-48 hour session!

CTC Dispatcher's office with all the switchlists and papers for a TT/TO session in 2004. - It's grown since then!

Hopefully this post will help you understand some of the 'behind the scenes' positions that are needed to make a historical recreation of railroad operations function in 'real time'.  Hopefully this will also open some doors for future posts where I'll be going into some more detail about certain aspects of the freight car flows and operations at LMRC.

Jason Hill

Related Articles:

Freight Symbols Over Tehachapi - Index Page

Busy Times at Bakersfield - Part 1 - Roundhouse Operations

Busy Times at Bakersfield - Part 2 - SP Yard Overview

A Trip Over Tehachapi on the SCX-BI - A rather 'normal' trip over the pass on a low-priority Santa Fe freight train during a 1950's TT/TO session at LMRC.