AFTER YEARS OF PRIMARILY WORKING on my layout and building structures and equipment, I have finally also begun having realistic operating sessions on the layout. During such operations, we follow actual prototype Yosemite Valley Railroad operational practices and procedures. Not only are strict rules enforced but also scale speeds.

GENERAL ORIENTATION - This Adobe Acrobat .pdf document provides a general Orientation outline for the layout including turnout controls, use of the throttles, paperwork, etc. and is worthwhile for potential operators on the layout.

OPERATION - Control is via a North Coast radio control DCC (Digital Command Control) system. I use Soundtraxx decoders (which include full steam sound effects including steam exhaust, whistle, bell, etc.) in each of my steam locomotives. Either a 9:1 or 8:1 scale clock is used during operation depending on the skill of the crews; the Timetable was developed using a 10:1 scale clock which automatically provides some slowing of the operation. 

As part of my effort to duplicate realistic operations of the prototype Yosemite Valley Railroad, I require crews to "take water" at the water tanks at Merced, Merced Falls, Bagby, and Moss Canyon on the layout just as crews did 60-70 years ago. Each of these water tanks has a push button on the fascia next to the tank to activate the sound effect of topping off a locomotive tender; the sound effects include the water spout being pulled down, filling the tender with water, and the hatch lid being dropped back in place on the tender. This sound effect has been digitally recorded onto an IC recorder/player for each water tank. It was originally recorded at the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad. This digital .wav file is available for downloading if desired.

Operation on the layout is via Timetable and Train Order (TT/TO). As with the prototype, there is no signaling on the layout. Instead, the Dispatcher (located in the adjacent room) communicates with train crews via telephone and by remotely setting train order boards at the stations along the line when needed.

The general operating scheme involves four timetabled trains (a pair of log trains and a pair of limestone or "rock" trains) and a pair of Local freights. At the option of the operators, the Locals can be timetables trains or run as Extras. (Refer to the sample Timetable linked below.) Although shown on the timetable, I am not yet running passenger trains.

Sessions typically start with Train No. 8 running light eastbound from Merced to Merced Falls to pick up the empty log cars spotted there. At the same time, another train (No. 11) runs light westbound from El Portal to Emory to pick up the loaded hopper or "rock" cars there. These trains meet at Bagby. Eastbound No. 8 continues on to Incline, drops the empty log cars, and then proceeds to Moss Canyon and turns on the wye, becoming Train No. 9 (just like the prototype). Meanwhile, No. 11 drops downgrade to the Portland Cement spur where it leaves the loaded rock cars.  It then moves on to Merced and turns the engine on the turntable and heads back to Portland Cement as No. 12 to pick up the empty rock cars there. At the same time, the log train has picked up the loaded log cars at Incline and has continued westbound to Merced Falls.

At the same time these movements are taking place, the two Locals have been assembling their trains at Merced and El Portal respectively. After picking up any orders and Clearance Cards, the El Portal Local heads out westbound from El Portal while the Merced Local, when ready, heads out eastbound from Merced. (On the prototype, the El Portal and Merced Locals typically left their originating stations at around 4:00 p.m. each day, finally tying up at around 2:00 a.m. the following morning.)

If all of the trains stay on schedule, there will be a 3-way meet with a "sawby" at Merced exciting operation to watch and execute toward the end of the session!


op01.jpg (22463 bytes)     

A System One "hammer head" throttle for the DCC system; note that these tethered throttles have since been retro-fitted by North Coast Engineering (NCE) as radio-controlled throttles. The various buttons are labeled for control speed, direction, sound and lighting effects, etc. Programming of a locomotive can also be done "on the fly" using these throttles.


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A closeup of the System One throttle.  On the top line is the Locomotive No. (Engine 29 in this case) and the scale time (9:21 A.M.). On the lower line is the direction (FWD for Forward or REV for Reverse) and the speed (the current reading is 0). The dashes will indicate when various lighting or sound effects are turned on. I insist on scale operating speeds -- multiplying the "speed" number by 2 gives a close approximation of the scale speed.


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One of the telephones, this one at Merced Falls. The phones connect stations with the Dispatcher via a "party line". To the right of the phone is a push button to signal the Dispatcher. The toggle switches control the turnouts (red for mainline and blue for other locations.) "White" spots above or below the mainline turnout switches indicate the "normal" position for each turnout toggle; rules require that all turnouts be left lined for the mainline just as on the prototype.


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An overall view of the Merced yards. In the background is the 10-stall roundhouse and turntable. The flat car in the foreground is on the House Track next to the mainline (see the back of the Switch List for track names.)


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An overall view of the yards at El Portal. Like other yards on the layout, the layout of this yard follows the prototype very closely. The station and train shed are in the background. Highway 140 heads toward Yosemite National Park and the Arch Rock Entrance Station in the extreme right rear of the photo.


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The tracks at Emory consist of a run-around track and a single-ended spur serving the storage bunker. The westbound Rock Train will pick up the loaded rock cars (hopper cars) on this spur and then spot them at the PCC spur near Merced.


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The PCC spur east of Merced just beyond Black Rascal Creek. This was a mile-long spur on the prototype.


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Incline consists of a passing track (sometimes blocked by cars spotted at the small freight shed, much to the frustration of operators) and a loads/empties track pushed up against the hillside. 


op09.jpg (21685 bytes)     

Like the prototype, Bagby consists of a passing track on a long reverse curve. The water tank and water plug (which works, complete with sound effects!) on the mainline. Note the train order board in front of the station. Operators must carefully watch these train order boards in case the Dispatcher issues orders which might effect them.

FORMS - For those interested in operations or for those who have been invited to operate, here are the various forms which are used during these sessions. All of these forms are in Adobe Acrobat .pdf format. Most are very small files that download quickly; the Rule Book is the largest file at only 151K.

Rules and Regulations - This is my standard Rule Book which must be carried by all employees and operators. Except for size, it follows the same format and includes the same rules as the prototype YVRR Rule Book but with the addition of Supplemental Rules and Instructions related to the model operation of the layout. The Rule Book also includes track plans for the lower and upper decks of the layout.

Timetable - All employees and operators are also required to carry a current timetable. Since I model and operate in August 1939 (using the current day of the month tacked onto August 1939), the current timetable is No. 103, which was in effect as of Saturday, May 27, 1939. This version of the timetable shows all freight trains as timetabled trains; the Locals may be run as Extras depending on the desires of the operators.

Clearance Card - Like the other forms, my Form 325 Clearance Card follows the prototype form. Clearance cards are issued prior to leaving a station and list all applicable orders for the train crew. The actual form is 4.5" by 5.5" wide.

Form 31 - Form 31 Train Orders are used by the Dispatcher to issue orders to train crews. The most common train orders are those issued for the Extra trains which typically operated each day except for Sundays.

Switch List - Rather than way bills, I use switch lists to indicate which cars on the layout are to be picked up and set out by train crews. My switch list follows the prototype form but includes a schematic diagram of the layout printed in landscape on the reverse side of the form, along with station and siding names. (When setting out cars on my layout, you do not need to concern yourself with specific setout spots on any particular siding as long as the car is set out on the correct siding.) The .pdf file has the front of the card printed on the left (or top) of the page and the back of the form on the right (or bottom) side of the page and is in landscape mode (as is the back side of the form). If you print the file and fold the 8.5x11 paper lengthwise, you will basically duplicate the looks of my form.

Bulletins - Bulletins were used by the YV management to provide special instructions to employees and train crews.  This is a typical bulletin issued in 1939. Other bulletins may be issued during operating sessions by the Dispatcher advising employees of special restrictions or conditions.

Bad Order Forms - Bad Order forms were used to identify cars or equipment which need to repaired. I use these forms, which follow the prototype forms, for the same purpose.

Engineers on the prototype YVRR learned their craft over a long period of time. However, modelers usually don't have this luxury. I have therefore developed a Job Card for each train.  These Job Cards provide a basic overview of the run including where to pick up and set out cars, make meets, etc. On the reverse side of the card are common whistle signals.  For further help, I have a two-page summary entitled Learning from the Old Timers. This summary gives operators some hints and suggestions that they might have learned over the years from the old timers on the line.

Web page development, design, and content copyrighted by Jack Burgess 2003. E-mail: Jack Burgess