THE BLACKBOARD

Engine terminal operations are driven by a blackboard, just as was done in the era of my interest.  The blackboard is a Numbers (Apple) spreadsheet made up to look like an old-time blackboard.  It is broadcast on my flat screen tv for operations.

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Above is a typical operating session blackboard, although a little lighter than we operate currently.  We usually start at 10AM; note there has been action since 8:15AM.  Locomotives are constantly cycling through Fillmore Avenue Roundhouse, so one may find one at the pits, or coaling tower, inside a stall, anywhere.  I draw up the schedule prior to the operating session.  I keep copies so that they can be modified or re-used.

Roundhouse inbound tracks are designated Inbound 1 & 2; ready tracks are Ready 1 & 2.

Turning a steam locomotive usually takes 1-1/2 to 2 hours, just like the prototype.  Typically it takes 1 hour to go from the inspection pit to the turntable: 20 minutes inspection, 15 minutes coal/sand, 25 minutes ash pit/wash pit.  After that, the engine pulls into a designated stall for lubrication which takes 30-45 minutes.  The Lead Hostler must ensure that the engine is at the correct ready track on time.  There the locomotive is assigned to a train and, when called for, moves off to Central Terminal station platforms (staging).

We use real time (no fast clock), however there is plenty to do with up to twelve locomotives being serviced (plus terminal service trains) in a two hour operating session.  The pace allows time for conversation, but is not boring (I hope); there are short periods where there may be a lot of activity as well.  The Staging Master is the busiest job by far.

The Staging Master takes his cue from the “Due In” column.  Because he also represents road crews, he runs the locomotive from staging to the inspection pit.  He also watches the “Due Out” column for when to pick-up an engine for return to staging.

The Lead Hostler/Assistant Hostler manage the servicing times with the help of timers (more on this in a later post).  Shown below are the timers for the coaling operation.

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In our sample blackboard we can see a steady flow of steam locomotives being and about to be serviced.  We can make things a little more spicy in a few simple ways:

  1. Fault Cards – when a locomotive gets inspected, the Assistant Hostler draws a card from a stack.  If “NO FAULT” is selected, the engine makes the normal circuit and is assigned a lubrication stall by the Roundhouse Foreman.  If there is a fault, it is called out, along with the time it will take to repair, to the Roundhouse Foreman.  He will then assign a repair stall for that engine.  These unexpected changes to the schedule mimic real life and keep the Roundhouse Foreman busy reworking the blackboard.
  2. Priority servicing – like Mohawk 3006 for a Troop Train.  Getting this engine ready quickly places a sense of more urgency to the normal operations.
  3. Running terminal service trains – we can see from the blackboard that the full ash car at the pit is scheduled to be exchanged with an empty at 10:15AM.  Inbound 1 must be kept clear for this to happen.  Later on, at 10:55, a plow extra will drop X662 on one of the garden tracks beside the roundhouse.  In addition, just before that, switcher HH600 677 from the coach yard is coming in for refuelling at the pad beside Ready 2.  The plow movement and the diesel refuelling both need the turntable, so part of the fun is making this happen.

As locomotives are returning to staging, the entries on the blackboard are “erased” by the Roundhouse Foreman.  For better illustration, in a future post, we’ll work through a complete cycle.

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