Originally presented as a clinic at the 1998 NMRA National Convention
This is an opportunity to look at my memory of how one particular prototype operated. The focus of this clinic is first, on the operations of prototype yard crews in the time period from 1957 through 1961 and second, on how prototype operations can influence what we do as model railroad operators. This discussion will center on personal experience as a summer employee of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (CRI&P) during those years. At that time nearly all operating crews whether yard, local or through freight, consisted of 5 men. The duties of each member of the crew were clearly defined by operating rules, union agreements, and, to some extent, custom or tradition. This clinic is by no means the definitive be-all end-all of prototype operations but I hope it will provide some understanding of how the 1:1 scale operated and provide some ideas for scale model operations. This handout will provide some basic background on the prototype and a lot of questions for discussion of model operations. The clinic will give us an opportunity to explore, discuss and develop ideas for applying prototype operations in a model setting. I expect to learn as much from this clinic as those who choose to attend.
I grew up on the Rock Island. My father began his career with the CRI&P was clerk to the superintendent in Kansas City. Over the years he served as Trainmaster, Superintendent and ended his career as Asst. Superintendent for Safety and Operating Rules. His job meant that I lived in seven states and eight cities over a period of nine years. I grew up hearing about hot boxes, rip tracks, wrecks, and Rule G. The summer of 1957, at age 16, I went to work for the Rock Island section gang out of Carrie Ave. yard in St. Louis. I also spent time working on the freight dock and then as messenger out of Carrie. After graduation from high school, 1959, I worked two summers as a diesel locomotive fireman and one additional summer as a yard switchman in Armourdale Yard in Kansas City, Kansas. Most of the summer as switchman was spend as foreman of the train yard crew working the 3 to 11 p.m. turn.
Crew Size – During my time as a railroader crews consisted of 5 men on nearly every job. Road turns had three men: engineer, fireman, and head brakeman, in the lead unit, and two men, conductor and flagman (rear brakeman), in the caboose. Yard crews also consisted of 5 men: engineer, fireman, foreman, switchman, and pin puller. The job titles for road and yard crews really did identify the duties and responsibilities of each man.
Crew Duties – The engineer was the “driver.” The fireman checked locomotive condition, passed signals, and got “on-the-job” training for movement to the engineer’s side. The foreman was the “boss.” He got assignments from the yardmaster , planned the simplest, most efficient way to get the needed moves done. The switchman walked the lead or ladder track and aligned switches. The pin puller was low man on the totem pole. He “pulled the pin”, set handbrakes when necessary and did most of the walking.
Crew Assignment – Whether the yards was small, a la Carrie Ave., or huge, a la Armourdale, there were specific jobs assigned to specific crews. For example, there was a crew assigned to the “train yard” job in Armourdale on each shift. They worked a straight 8 hour turn with no hope of overtime. Other crews were assigned to transfer pulls, the freight house, the hump yard, and to “hobo” or “sweeper” jobs. Some of these had a new crew coming on every 8 hours. Others worked 8,10, 12 or more hours until the job was done or they “hogged out.” Depending on the season, car movements, and the overall condition of the yard, “extra crews were called as needed. The yardmaster was responsible for seeing that each crew got assignments and each crew got the assignment done.
Special Jobs – In addition to the standard 5 man crew jobs there were also some assignments that did not require a full crew. Hostlers were drawn from the fireman’s seniority roster. The moved motive power in and out of engine servicing, to and from Union Stations, and handle power moves for incoming and outbound freights. In Kansas City the Rock Island had a produce yard job. Motive power for that location was a 44 tonner, referred to as a “one armed bandit.” The job used a full switch crew (3 men) but the “engineer” was actually drawn from the fireman’s roster.
Crew Communication – In my time all communication among the 5 man crew was done by hand, lantern, or fusee signaling. Communication between the yardmaster and the foreman was done using talkback speakers located throughout the yard. Locomotives had radios but they were used primarily for communication with the roundhouse in case of mechanical problems, hog law limits, doubling over, or other special circumstances. Reception on these cab radio units was often pretty poor anyway.
Safety and Operating Rules – The rule book spelled out how the job was to done “safely.” The reality of the rule book and actual operating practices were very different. If the game had been played strictly by the rules yards would have been constantly plugged and every day would have been something like the recent UP “meltdown.” Some rules, like Rule G, were strictly enforced. Other rule, like those relating to getting on and off moving equipment and switching on the fly were quietly ignored.
I have some purely personal ideas about how various aspects of prototype operations can be adapted to model operations. The questions which follow are intended to serve as a starting point to discuss what we can do, might do and probably cannot do. There are potential advantages and some potential disadvantages in adapting from prototype operations to model railroading which we will discuss in relation to these questions.
Crew Size and Duties – How many operators do we need/want for each train and each yard job. Given that the most precious commodity many model railroads seems to be aisle space it is pretty obvious that we can operated with five man crews. (Nor do we need 5 man crews.) However, in my opinion, operating session will be smoother and be more fun if we use two man crews on nearly every job. What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages.
Crew Assignments – The prototype used seniority and bid sheets to determine who got the job. Until you had been on the list for a while you worked only part of the year. Firemen had to work their way up to get off the extra board while switchmen could be bumped off the extra board onto a regular turn. Do we want seniority and bid sheets? How will we determine seniority? Do we want an extra board, and if so, firemen’s model or switchman’s?
Crew Jobs – What jobs are essential? What jobs can’t possibly be implemented. On the day turn in Armourdale (7 to 3 and 8-4) there must have been at least a dozen crews working. For most of us, our yards aren’t big enough to accommodate that kind of crew load. How do we decide what is essential and what is not? Do we need a yardmaster? Is he in control of all yard operations? What does this job add to operations and what might it take away?
Special and Extra Board Assignments – What about hostlers and sweeper crews? Do you have a produce yard or industrial district that needs a full time crew? Who handles transfer pulls and moves in and out of staging?
Crew Communication – Can we/should we replicate the talkback speaker system for communication between yardmaster and foreman? What would it add? What about requiring that the proposed two man crews only communicate by handsignals?
The Book of Rules – Is it important for model railroad crews to have a book of rules? What rules are absolutely essential and strictly enforced? Should we have rules, like the prototype, which are tacitly ignored? If there is a rule book then there needs to be a trainmaster to conduct periodic rules classes, examinations, safety tests, investigations, demerits (known as brownie points on the Rock Island), suspensions and so on and so forth?
I don’t believe there are definitive answers to any of these questions but I believe a discussion of these issues will help each railroader to move his/her operating sessions closer to prototype operation and can add some enjoyment as well.
It was brought to my attention by my best friend and severest critic, my wife, Venita, that when I talk about my years on the railroad I tend to lapse into “railroadese.” In an effort to assist those who are unfamiliar with some of the terms I unconsciously use or who has experience on another railroad (or in a different time frame) I offer the following glossary.
lcl – less than carload. Used in reference to railroad operated freight loading facilities where small shipments were accumulated into a full car load.
pinpuller – person responsible for lifting the uncoupling lever so that cars could be “kicked” or uncoupled. The reference to pin comes from the fact that when the lever was lifted the pin in the center of the knuckle coupler was lifted and thus allowed the couple knuckle face to open and cars to separate
kicking or kicking a cut – switching cars “on the fly” without going into the track, stopping, uncoupling, and then reversing the locomotive back onto the lead for the next move. The purpose of kicking was to allow a string of cars being sorted or classified to be sent in ones, twos, threes down a series of classifications tracks on the same lead without the need to stop, back up, and then go forward again.
on the fly – switching cars without having the locomotive come to a complete stop after each move. This was done to speed the process. A good crew could switch a “cut” of 10 to 12 cars along a multi-track lead without the locomotive ever coming to a complete stop.
cut – a number of cars pulled from a whole train or simply a longer block of cars
drag – similar to a “cut”. This term is very similar to “cut” but was generally used to mean a completed, sorted block of cars to go into a train. It was also used in reference to one or more cars and a caboose being transferred from RI, Armourdale to another railroad in the Kansas City area.
hobo crew, sweeper crew – locomotive and crew assigned to do the odd jobs, find lost cars, spot the house track or rip track. Every shift had at least one crew that had no specific job assignment and were assigned odds and ends by the yardmaster.
house track – the track (and sometimes more than one) associated with the railroad operated freight house. Trucks brought freight for rail shipment and/or picked up goods arriving by rail. Some of this freight was “lcl”.
rip track – repair in place. Cars needing minor repairs were “spotted on the “rip track” for those repairs.
doubling over – working an 8 hour shift or “turn” and being assigned another turn immediately. For example, on many occasions I worked an 8 am to 4 pm turn and would be notified by radio before the turn ended that I was going to work a 4 pm to midnight turn.
hog law – nickname for federal regulation limiting operation crews to a maximum of 16 consecutive hours of work. This law was done to prevent crew members from working so many hours that their fatigue contributed to accidents and injuries. After 16 hours you stopped working regardless of where you might be.