Here’s what I do to set up for an operating session….

We operate on Sunday mornings, and mid-week prior I review the blackboard (engine terminal schedule).  The blackboard is just a dressed-up spreadsheet that I broadcast on my flat screen tv.  I save a copy of each one we use, so I have a number to choose from. But I find it is an evolutionary process and I typically take the latest one, copy and modify it.  Here is an example:


On the blackboard, we’ll begin at 10:00AM and operate until 12:30 (with a ten-minute break at 11:00).  There is no fast clock – all times are actual.  It takes 1-1/2 hours to service a locomotive from inspection pits to ready tracks, just like the real thing.

Late Saturday afternoon I start in on the setup.  My layout tucks into a corner of my living room.  The cloth cover keeps out much of the dust, but some fine stuff still gets in.  It isn’t much and I vacuum the layout once a year or so to keep it pristine.  Here we see the layout in the stored configuration.


The layout is pulled out to the operating position, about 26” away from the wall and the cover is rolled over to one side…



…then it is folded and put away.


The brass wire “hoops” are removed and stored inside the layout.


Next, rubber floor mats are assembled and laid on the floor for us to stand on.  This has made it much more comfortable for standing long periods.


The hardboard sides, that protect the models inside from knocks, are lifted out and stored inside the layout one at a time…


…and are replaced by Plexiglas safety panels (they store on hooks inside the layout).


The tray holding the command station & booster and layout lighting switches is opened and locked and the antenna is mounted on the wall…


…the turntable control unit is swung into position and locked.


I have stools for my pals to use if needed and they are placed as shown below (there is one for the Staging Master behind this photo).  The middle stool, for the Assistant Hostler, is inside the layout to keep the way clear.  It can be pulled out when needed.  The stool at the far end (by the control tray) is for the Lead Hostler – it is needed to more easily spot locomotives entering the roundhouse.


The staging is stored in another room; the engine terminal staging elevator is wheeled out and attached to the layout first.


To ensure nice parallel transfer table-like rail heights, the staging units run on a horizontal beam since my floor is not level.  If the motion is a bit tight, I rub a dry bar of soap on the beam for lubrication.


The rear wheel locks are set (to prevent castering – the front ones are raised off the floor due to the beam)…


… and lighting and track power connections are made.


The staging elevator, in particular, usually needs to be “tuned” to find the right rail height on each level due to seasonal changes.  I make the adjustment using the screws.  Then, just before ops next morning, I check it again and adjust it some more if needed.


The staging fiddle yard (if used) is then added the same way except that tuning for rail heights is done with shims and tightening a pair of bolts/nuts.


The Roundhouse Foreman’s “office” is setup: the MacBook connected to the tv via HDMI cable, and the blackboard called up.  Look who gets the “comfy” chair!


Then the locomotives and rolling stock are staged based on the blackboard.  I’ve been putting away the locomotives and rolling stock after each operating session – until recently they have been few and far between – but I could just as easily leave them on the layout and in staging after ops.

While doing all this, I freshen the charge in the 9V batteries that are used in the throttles.


That’s about it for this evening…oh yes, don’t forget to make ice for the lemon aid!

Next morning, after checking the staging elevator rail heights again, I put batteries into all the throttles, plug them into the LocoNet, and place each into an appropriate pocket.

I also install batteries into the timers (they don’t have “off” switches) and place each into its designed spot.


These timers are used to help the hostlers manage the time a locomotive spends for each of the three servicing stations (inspection/water-20 min, sand/coal-15 min, ash/wash-25 min).  Once the engine goes into the roundhouse, the Lead Hostler takes timings from the blackboard.  The defaulted servicing times are entered into each timer.  If an engine is at a station at the start of the session, then I can program the time it has left for service without disturbing the defaulted entry.

Lastly I fire everything up and make some final checks.  I like having Fillmore sound busy as my guests arrive!  I give myself a good 10-15 minutes to settle down.  Doors open at 9:00 AM, briefing starts at 9:45, so I make sure that there is some time for a little chit-chat to see how everyone is doing.

Briefing takes as long as necessary – I’ve got a really good crew so it is normally a “what’s new” and an overview of the mornings blackboard.  When we are ready to go, I set the clock on the wall to be five minutes before start time.


This gives everyone a chance to settle in and think about their initial moves.  Later when we take our lemonade, I reset the clock again to carry on as if there were no break.


When not helping out, I’m usually at the roundhouse foreman’s desk, watching the action.  In railroad modeling terms, there is nothing better than to see the layout run well and your friends having a good time!

This looks like a lot of work, and I guess it is.  But, I don’t mind and enjoy it.