I attended the National Convention and Train Show in Long Beach, California and it was a fantastic experience. If you ever get the chance to go to a NMRA national convention, do go. It is an experience you will long remember. I attended many clinics and saw many sights. It was great to go to Cajon and watch trains and the clinics that I attended were informative. I learned many things—from appropriate weathering for freight cars during the steam era to how to re-motor a brass engine so that it will run well. I also attended a few clinics on operations.
One of the things that I learned at an operations clinic was that the railroads use words that have meanings that can be easy to figure out and use, but at other times these words will not necessarily make sense. For instance, if you thought a “yard” meant that there were multiple tracks around and perhaps a switcher or two, you would be wrong. When I found this out I was amazed. And I know this is true because this was told to me in a clinic not by some model railroader who works in a non-railroad job during the day, but by an engineer who started out hand firing Santa Fe engines over Cajon.
A yard is “a system of tracks within defined limits provided for the making up of trains, storing of cars and other purposes, over which movements not authorized by time-table, or by train order, may be made, subject to prescribed signals and rules, or special instructions.” Sounds similar to what I used to think of as a yard, until it was explained by a real railroader.
There are two tracks owned by the Santa Fe which snake their way through Cajon, over Summit and down into the Mojave Desert. These tracks diverge at Cajon, California. Because the mountains are so steep, Santa Fe had to use helper engines. (The two different Santa Fe tracks are at 2.2% and 3%, also known as Santa Fe “Easy Way” and Santa Fe “Hard Way”.) The crew of a helper engine consisted of two men, an engineer and a firemen. On the west side of the pass the helpers were stationed at Cajon. A station was there with a telegrapher, as well as a small coaling area and water tank so that the helpers always had sufficient coal and water to tackle the steep grades.
When the helper stopped at Cajon, it would block one of the two tracks. According to the rules (Rule 99 in my 1940 version of the Uniform Code of Operating Rules), when a train stops on the main, the flagman must go back immediately and place two torpedoes and lighted fusees a sufficient distance from the rear of the train in order that any train coming from the rear will have time to stop and avoid hitting the train on the main. The head end brakeman or fireman must do the same for the front of the train to avoid the same results for any train approaching from that direction. Therefore, when the helper crew was at Cajon, according to the rules, they would have to flag protect their train. But if they did this, who would put the coal and water in the tender or get the orders from the telegrapher and sign for them? There are only two men on the helper engine.
Well, the railroad created a yard at Cajon by simply declaring it so. There were only two tracks at Cajon and they are both mains. But the advantage is that in a yard the main track can be used without flag protection against all but first class trains. Second and inferior class trains had to move through the yards at restricted speed, which is defined as proceeding prepared to stop short of a train, obstruction, or anything that may require the speed of the train or engine to be reduced. Thus the helper crew only had to get out of the way of the passenger trains. Everybody else had to be careful when approaching Cajon. Since all but passenger trains stopped here to pick up a helper, this worked out great. (Sometimes even passenger trains used the helpers though.)
The railroads used the definition of a yard to alleviate an operating problem. The railroads did this so that they would not have to hire two more men for each helper engine working over this stretch of the railroad. It increased the efficiency of the crews because while the fireman took care of the engine, the engineer could get his orders and get his engine out of the way of the next train coming down the mountain or get his engine ready to help the next train needing a shove over the mountain. The railroads got around our usual perception of a yard by the phrase “and other purposes” in the definition of yard. This was the other purpose. Numerous railroads did this whenever confronted with a similar problem.
If your railroad does not have the money to hire two additional flagmen to protect your trains in helper districts, do what the prototype does. Declare the area where your switchers wait for trains a yard. Then you do not have to go and hire them (not to mention paint them.)
I’ll let you know more about what I learned in Long Beach in future columns. Until the next time I hope all the signals that you see are green over red!