Operation: 1st Night

By   August 6, 2015

After 10+ years of planning and building it has finally come to this. It’s ‘Operations Night’ on the Winter Valley. The much feared and often put off meet is upon us and friends are invited over for the upcoming Wednesday evening. They’ll be given a quick ‘show and tell’ about the layout, the engines, the rolling stock and the T5000 throttles.

Few of the members of our HO scale group have used Train Orders and fewer still are familiar with large-scale models and how mass and gravity effect train movements. Most though have used the Digitrax installation at our club layout even though many prefer their NCE throttles.   Both of these systems use the same digital control concepts used in the T5000 so they’ll all be familiar with most of the keys.

The first job.

While I rile against collecting cars and engines that will never run as well as using yards as places to show off our ‘stuff’ the years have found me filling every inch of track rather than building a storage area for the extra cars. Truth is, I have 8 engines and 40 cars. I need 2 or 3 engines and 25 cars. Tops.

I took the easy way out. I bought up a dozen pieces of wire shelving at the local Home Despot. Un used cars and engines sit on there nicely. There’s no track and so they don’t run off the end.

These are very sturdy. I had no trouble filling the shelves with 20+ cars and 5 engines. I left plenty of room between the shelves so I could reach in behind the front row and pick out those behind without stress – or damage.


The installation cost me less that $70.00 and I got it up in less than a half hour. My surprise was in finding the contractor had used 24-inch centers on the stair well rather than the 16 inches I expected. I had to juggle the support columns a little and I’ll use screws and plugs to support the ends even though it’s really unnecessary.

Cleaning up the Yards

The most frustrating part of the preparation was creating empty yards so we could actually move trains. That would of course mean selecting only the engines are cars I would use for the big night. A difficult choice. I loved them all.

I played ‘musical boxcars’ for days. The criteria were simple enough. Every car moving from place to place had to have a realistic reason for being there. At least in my own mind. But some of those cars were my favourites for obscure reasons known only to me. I had to use my TH&B boxcar no matter what. Well maybe not. But the grain hopper was a must. This went on for some time.


Those British Columbia Railway plug door boxcars would just have to be spotted in front of the prairie grain elevators because the PGE/BCR was near and dear to the heart of some of our members.   Making the guests feel comfortable over ruled all else.

But as seen above, the yard in Winter Valley was now empty except for those cars, a CN combine 7210, a flat car at the warehouse and a Ontario Carbonate tank car stored on a siding. The boxcars, the flat and the tank car would be moved out. The combine would be set in front of the station and grain hoppers would be spotted at the team track.

My plan was to run two trains. One east bound and one west bound. I would offer one crew the opportunity to put some hours on my CN GP38-2w and the other crew could fire up a consist of two Winter Valley GP9’s. Each train would consist of five to 6 cars and a caboose. This gave the operators a chance to pass the other train at 2 or 3 locations.

One train would start out in Pearson and head to Colder and beyond through Hudson’s Mill. The other would start in Winter Valley, do some switching there and then wait in Colder for the eastbound GP9’s. Colder yard had also been pretty much emptied for the occasion.


I had envisioned Colder as a mine site and the configuration of the basement was such that I had room for a nice long, straight yard. Too large for just the mine and a bunch of open hoppers, so it became an interchange yard as well where mixed freights could be sorted and rerouted east and west. This would be the first location where the westbound GP38-2w number 5604 would have to wait while WV Extra 8106 East passed through on it’s way to Winter Valley.

The fun begins in Colder

The mine in Colder doesn’t get the attention is deserves. The scene is a huge part of the fist impressions visitors have when they enter the layout room. It has visual impact for sure but I wanted it to be operationally important as well. In order to do that I would have to use the long sidings to the fullest.


The photo above shows the caboose of Winter Valley 8106 East sitting on track 2 at Colder. The van will be pushed back a few hundred feet clearing the switch lead into the mine. The two hopper will be extracted and become part of the consist heading out over the pass and down again into Winter Valley.

The layout was unintentionally built for west to east running. The shape of the basement, the direction of construction and the availability of specific turnouts dictated there would be 4 more facing one direction than the other. A part of the challenge then is to remove cars from spurs and place them in sidings for trains from a different direction.

During the scripting of the operation session I had a ‘contact with terrain’ event that I sure hadn’t expected. Hard to believe that after all these years I had never run this pair of GP9s into the short siding at Colder. A large rock adjacent to the turnout got very much in the way and I managed to snap off a sizable chunk of plastic.   Easily fixed and an embarrassing moment was avoided.


WV 8106 (8124) East is leaving the yard at Colder with Jim and Kit at the controls. The yard, straight and long, was designed to switch coal hoppers but the Winter Valley has morphed into a mixed freight railway supporting the oil and lumber industry as well so just about any sort of traffic can be found here.

For the operators the long slow descending curve into Winter Valley is a time to go over the next switching moves. One of the challenges will be obeying the local rules regarding the use of the bell and the interruption of traffic on Main Street. The spotting of the caboose is also an issue in Winter Valley.

Working in Winter Valley

Shifting cars in Winter Valley is easy if there is only one train in the town.   The main line, two long sidings and industrial and team track spurs in both directions easily support most switching chores.

The issue is complicated today by the requirement to move a combine into the station platform but apart from that the warehouse, the team track and the grain elevators are pretty straightforward.


Paul and John have set out the hoppers on the team track and picked up a flat car at the warehouse carrying a new diesel engine to the shops in Grand Prairie. There are also two loaded cars to be picked up at the elevator. As usual, empty grain cars will be set out there by the next west bound train.

The town of Winter Valley is built on a long peninsula. It’s 5 feet wide and 28 feet long and it’s easily accessible from both sides. There was a problem in the past because the 1st rendition was track powered using plug in throttles. The newer DCC type system offers radio control and so everything is very easy to get at.

 In and out of Pearson and Grizzly Junction

The yard here, or what looks like a single yard, consists of the main line and a single siding in front of Pearson station and a main line and two factory spurs at Grizzly Junction.   For operations, the two turnouts between those main lines are not in play.   They are treated as separate yards.

As a result of that little operational issue these communities can see two trains at the same time and never have to make allowances for cars crossing over between main lines.

In this photo the caboose of CN 5604 West in resting at the station in Pearson after setting a single car on the siding west of town. WV 8106 East is just coming into ‘Grizzly Junction’ on its way to shift cars at the packinghouse and canning plant.

At the other end of the Pearson CN 5604 West sits just east of the ‘not in play’ crossover between the Pearson yard track and the Grizzly Junction track. The caboose is on the grizzly Junction track bringing up the end of WV 8106 East.


It’s kind of exciting when a moving train rumbles over the tracks next to yours without any notification. Operators will likely look for some guidance here but never fear. Never the “twains” shall meet.

It can get a little busy though – and noisy. The bell must be used in Pearson during reverse movements and Home Street must not be blocked for longer than 5 minutes. This applies to westbound trains in particular. East bound trains at Grizzly are shifting cars well away from the business area.

For visitors, the two crossovers come into play when I’m running long trains for show and tell sessions. They provide a nice display once around the whole layout and/or once around ½ the layout.

Shifting traffic at Hudson’s Mill

Around at Hudson’s Mill there is an elevator siding and a spur that serves a factory outlet. The elevator demands service every day and sometimes twice a day because the siding is short and growth is constrained by the river. The curved spur is very tight and is restricted to 40-foot cars.


I found it’s much easier to service the siding with eastbound trains as the turnout supporting westbound trains is hidden behind the factory. It was an awkward reach before the wires went up on the poles and now it’s worse. Just something I overlooked I guess. I don’t want remote turnouts but this might be an exception down the road.

There are some really tight spaces around the elevator and the factory building. I let the construction get away from me in this space. The grain terminal is just fine where it is and only uses up 8 inches of wall space. The small wood frame building was dropped in across the tracks from the terminal because I was given one of those big, beautiful Caterpillar APUs. I had to use that. Right?


This photo shows pretty clearly that space is limited in Hudson’s Mill. By ‘space’ I mean space to uncouple cars and make turnouts. The worst area is right behind the factory. I offered to do the switching there so it would be me who knocks down utility poles and not my guests but both crews wanted to be ‘hands on’ and they did a great job.

…and over at Grand Prairie.

The accessible yard at Grand Prairie has a long, curved main line and siding as well as two spurs. One feeds the small engine house and the other feeds the big grain elevator. There is another spur that’s home for M of W equipment and the companies prized snowplow.


I wrote the Train Orders so that CN 5604 would spot the flat car with the small diesel on it at the engine house while WV 8106 waited on the main. Once the CN Extra had moved out there would be room for the two GP9s to spot a hopper at the UGG and pick up the CP boxcar with the lumber.

As 5604 approached grizzly Junction and 8104 left Grand Prairie the ‘ops’ session on the Winter Valley came to an end. I’m hoping this small working group, in this quiet place, would get an itch to do more of the same down at the club layout where there is 700 or more feet of track with all the appropriate scenery and infrastructure to support it.

I’m already planning a second operating session. It will be a lot easier the next time.