Layout Operations

AFTER YEARS OF PRIMARILY WORKING on my layout and building structures and equipment, I began realistic operating sessions on my layout in 1998. During such operations, we follow actual prototype Yosemite Valley Railroad operating practices and procedures and use prototype forms. If your main interest is in replicating prototype forms, scroll down to the section on Forms.

General Orientation

If you have been invited to a formal operation session, here are some of the guidelines which will be discussed prior to the operating session. However, I don't expect visiting operators to remember all of these items.

Handing Equipment

Please note that (with few exceptions) I do not allow visitors to handle equipment, whether re-railing a car or pushing a stubborn engine. Please let me know if you have a problem. If a car continually has problems, let me know and Bad Order the car at the nearest siding.

TT/TO Operation

Some general notes:

Station Names

All station names referred to in the Timetable are labeled on the fascia. You are always looking north when looking at the layout. Trains headed to El Portal\Yosemite National Park are thus running eastbound.

Turnouts and Derails

All turnouts are controlled by slow-action Hankscraft stall motors. Turnout controls (toggle switches) are on the fascia and are color-coded:

The handle indicates the direction of the turnout points except for the green ones for the wye (the green ones are equivalent to two-way switches and can also be controlled from a small control panel near the Merced station). Generally, all of the toggle switches are in line with the turnout points. Note that the Special Rules require that all mainline turnouts be left lined for the main. To help, all mainline toggle switches have red and white “targets” above/below the toggles to help indicate the correct position when lined for the main (i.e., the toggle will be pointed toward the white target, like a prototype switch stand target, when it is lined for the main). Non-mainline turnouts (blue toggle switches) can be left lined for either track.

The wye turnouts at Moss Canyon (which are difficult to view at eye level) have working switchstands for all three turnouts which can be seen from the aisle (including the west switch). The position of all of the turnouts comprising the wye can be also be determined from the LEDs on the control panel near the Merced station.

The DCC wiring and turnout toggles for the wye automatically handle “polarity” issues and no attention is needed when running through the Moss Canyon wye.

The two derails at El Portal are working derails and also have working targets. Be sure to line them in the non-protected direction before switching these two spurs and leave them lined in the protected direction when work in the area is complete.

Clearance points are marked on most spurs and sidings with orange paint.

AT&SF Diamond

The crossing of the YV with the ATSF just east of Merced is fully functional with working derails and semaphores as well as control rods. As you approach the interlocking plant, you should hear the sound of the alarm bell in the tower. Stop short of the semaphore.

There are four push buttons on the fascia, each one aligned with a derail or semaphore. The push buttons are black and may be hard to see but they are to the right of the LEDs. The top LED shows the position of the derail or semaphore blade; red for open derails and Stop signals on the semaphores. Push the button for the far derail and after it closes, push the button for the near derail. Once it is closed, push the button for the semaphore facing your locomotive. Once the semaphore blade has dropped, proceed through the plant.

Once through the plant, push the buttons to reset the semaphore and derails. All of the top LEDs should be red.

Make sure that the derails are closed (with green LEDs showing) before proceeding through the interlocking plant. An open derail WILL DERAIL your locomotive and a locomotive with a Soundtraxx CurrentKeeper might just keep going and end up on the floor!

Circuit Breakers and Shorts

Instant circuit breakers protect each of the main yards (Merced, Merced Falls, and El Portal) and the main track (four “blocks” total). Note that some of the rail gaps at switch frogs are a scale 10’ or more from the frog. If a switch is lined against you, it is easy to get too close to the frog before letting your brakeman off to line it for you.

Uncoupling Cars

Uncoupling is accomplished using bamboo skewers.

Taking Water

All engines are to take water upon arrival or before leaving the water tanks at Merced, Merced Falls, Bagby, and Moss Canyon. (Assume that your tender is full when it has been assigned to you.) Where there is a water column, the water column is animated. The “taking water” sound effect for the Tsunami decoders is “5”. There is a note on the fascia next to each water station reminding operators of the function number. Pressing 5 will turn on the water sound effect and pressing it a second time will turn it off.

At the Bagby water column, spot the tender at the column, and then use the toggle switch to swing the water column over the will stop when fully swung out. Be sure and use the toggle to swing the water column back into stowed position before leaving! At Merced Falls, the water column is between the main and house track. The toggle is a double-throw/center-off switch and can thus swing the water column over either track. Push the toggle switch up to move the water column over the mainline or down for the House track. Be sure to center the water column between the tracks before leaving.

Have Fun!

This probably sounds like a lot of stuff to remember! However, controls are obvious and the layout completely linear. There will be plenty of time to get your jobs done in a prototype manner. You will spend considerable time waiting for meets (another indication of the abundant time built into the TT) and still have time to wait for your brakeman to throw switches and make a standing brake test after making up your train. If everyone is on time, toward the end of the operating session there will be a three-way meet at Merced Falls with a sawby.

I only insist that operators respect the equipment and layout by not handling the equipment or putting elbows or papers on the layout. I also encourage operators to not chat with each other while waiting for meets. If you do talk, it should be about 1939 events. It is not a hard and fast rule but I do it to help maintain a feeling that you are operating a real train in a real place in a warm day in August 1939. I like operators do get completely immersed in the time and place…

Safety first and have fun!


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.

Rules and Regulations - This is my standard Rule Book. 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 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. My version of the timetable shows all freight trains as timetabled trains; the Locals may be run as Extras under a different timetable, depending on the desires of the operators...however, few groups of operators have chosen this option.

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 when that option is chosen. For all other operating sessions, Train Orders are rarely needed. If Train Orders are issued, the Dispatcher can remotely raise a train order board at any of the stations on the line.

Switch List - Rather than waybills, 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 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 look of my form. Note that the yellow lines print gray on a non-color printer.

Job Card - The crews who worked on the real YV did basically the same job each day after spending time learning it from an experienced man/mentor. After a person has held the same job on my layout for several days in a row (which, of course, never happens), they wouldn't need a mentor anymore either. To aid new operators on my layout, I have Job Cards for each position. They give some general directions for each job, much like mentor might do if he was sitting in the locomotive cab with you.