New Year…New Layout…Running Trains


No, not a new layout for me, but for one of my friends, Pierre Oliver, who hosted a group of us on the weekend for his “New Year’s Levee”, a couple of days late to be the first “full” operating session on his Southern Pacific Railway “Clovis Branch” layout. Along with my friend and chauffeur for the day Trevor Marshall, we met up at Pierre’s with Hunter Hughson and Robin Talukdar to be the first to run a full two train session, the regular wayfreight that operated the line, and a “reefer extra” to service some of the packing houses on the line.

IMG_1104A panoramic overview of Pierre’s basement, from Fresno at the left to Friant at the extreme right.

To start off, I still find it to be an honour to get invited to others homes to operate on their layout. Its only happened for me in the past couple of years that I have made enough friends and contacts that I’m getting these opportunities, and being invited to the first official attempt at an ops session on a layout was a double treat. I really look forward to being able to offer return visits to my layout when it reaches the point where I can run a train and not be inviting friends for free labour!

The operating scheme required Trevor as my conductor, and myself to wait around a bit at the start of the afternoon while Robin and Hunter took the wayfreight to Clovis. Once they finished the first part of their work, the stationmaster (in this case Pierre getting to sit back and watch his friends try to mess up his layout) signaled that the first half of the line was clear for our extra.

IMG_1106The easrtwhile Mr. Murder (Robin) and Hunter are pulling their power out of the Fresno Roundhouse while Trevor sorts car cards into the order they are in within the reefer extra.
First Train of the Day, Robin and Hunter take the wayfreight through East Fresno en route to Clovis and eventually Friant, while Trevor and I wait with the reefer extra for them to leave Clovis and free up the line for us.

Once we had the line for the reefer extra, we were off from Fresno yard to do some work in East Fresno, and then Clovis. In East Fresno, we had to pick up six loads, and drop six empties. That was a straighforward task, shove the six loaded cars to one end of the spur where the packers are, uncouple them, and leave them for when we get back. Then we could spot six empty reefers at the three packing firms. The packing firms are on a double ended siding, so we could leave the loaded cars for us to pick up on the way back, so that we didn’t unnecessarily bruise the fruit or bring extra cars to get in our way to Clovis.

After East Fresno, it was off to Clovis for the main event. We had ten empty reefers with us, and had to replace all the loaded cars in town with them, and take the new cars to be iced. With Trevor as my conductor, when we arrived in town, we were able to quickly assess the situation, and Trevor came up with our plan of attack. We would arrive, and place our empties at the ice house, then run around the train, grab the caboose, and dump it at the station out of our way. We would then systematically replace loaded reefers with empties, taking the loaded cars not to the ice house, but to another double ended siding where other packing firms also had loaded cars, that way, at the end, we wound up with with a string of ten loaded cars at the ice house, and three empties on the main to then shunt into the final siding where we had been storing the loads. After that, we recovered our caboose, attached it to the end of the string of loaded reefers, and departed for East Fresno. With us clear, the Clovis stationmaster (our overlord and host Pierre), could let the wayfreight crew know the line was theirs, and they could return from Friant to Clovis to complete their work there, and then return home to Fresno.

Trevor works on our first switching work in East Fresno, with his home made styrene clipboard. Followed by switching at Clovis by the ice house, and some guy getting ready to drive our train out of Clovis for the return to Fresno.
Nearing the end of our work in Clovis, the string of loaded reefers is pulled out to be backed into the ice house for icing before we depart back to Fresno and the fresh produce makes its way across the country.

Our return trip once we were done in Clovis was pretty straight forward, pick up the six loads we left in East Fresno, get back to the yard, put the caboose on the caboose track, and then move the loaded cars from the run around track back into staging. With our train out of the way, we returned our Valley Malley Mogul to the roundhouse, and proceeded to use our down time to heckle the other crew as one does when you have downtime!

I lay on the whistle as we arrive through a screen of trees into street running in East Fresno, I suspect I was a bit over the appropriate line speed arriving into town and into the middle of a street!

All in all, the two trains took just under four hours to operate. The reefer extra crew had a lengthy break at the start waiting to start our run, but we were then busy for a solid 2.5 hours going out and back. Our work held up the wayfreight crew for a while, and while Trevor and I messed about in Clovis, we heard tall tales of railroading and armour modelling from the lounge area near Friant. That did at least keep the peanut gallery from being overly critical of our decisions in how to switch the packing houses.

IMG_1133.JPGAt the end of our run, we tied 1736 up back in the shed an retired for a delicious home cooked meal. Thanks Kate for that!

Pierre’s layout occupies about 80% of the basement of his house, the other 20% is his workshop for building models. Two years ago, he made a tough realization, the prototype he was modelling wasn’t working for him. He wasn’t going to be able to operate the layout the way he wanted, and with some enabling from the “Model Railroad Enabler”TM Trevor, who strangely had both Southern Pacific locomotives and structures and a line in his back pocket that could be modelled using the benchwork Pierre had after his previous layout was scraped off. The pictures below show various scenes of his new layout, and the partially completed scenery. Its going to be gorgeous when its all done based on the work to date!

Scenes from the sceniced areas of the Clovis Branch, Clockwise (Fresno Roundhouse, bridge over a dry creek-bed, vineyard (no vines yet), Friant overview, working scale track in Friant, and a packing house in Clovis.

All in all, it was a great day with friends, and I can’t wait to see the layout on its way to completion, as there is still a further peninsula to build to create more work for a wayfreight crew, and lots of scenery to go. I look forward to hopefully many years of getting down to Pierre’s to see the layout evolve and to operate on it!

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