Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

First Ops session scheduled, what's needed before they arrive?

1426 views
24 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • 1,052 posts
First Ops session scheduled, what's needed before they arrive?
Posted by saronaterry on Thursday, August 22, 2019 3:53 PM

Hi all.

The first ever ops session with friends /friends of friends has been scheduled for next month.None of the invitees have visited the basement, but all are excited to attend.They are all MRR's. They are aware that this is session #1 and I'm new to hosting.

 The layout has been debugged, rolling stock/locomotive problem children have gone to the RIP track , an operational plan has been tested and retested and in place.  The layout runs almost flawlessly( leaving room for Mr. Murphy).I think the basics are covered.

But what I need help with is the "when they knock on the door" stuff.

Never hosted an ops session. Do I offer food/ drinks? Kinds? Have a sit down and go over the layout and ops  plan first, best way to assign trains, etc. That kind of non-railroady stuff.

Any help or tips gratefully accepted.

Terry

Terry in NW Wisconsin

Queenbogey715 is my Youtube channel

  • Member since
    September, 2004
  • From: Dearborn Station
  • 18,143 posts
Posted by richhotrain on Thursday, August 22, 2019 5:08 PM

Terry, no help or tips from me since I have never hosted an ops session, but I am looking forward to the replies from those who have done so.

Good luck with that ops session.

Rich

Alton Junction

  • Member since
    February, 2005
  • 595 posts
Posted by davidmurray on Thursday, August 22, 2019 6:21 PM

Terry:

A walk around so the everyone gains some idea where each town or yard is.

Explanation of car forwarding system.

I use card in carcard system, with sequential operation by trains direction cards.

My sessions last two hrs or so, then tea or coffee is offered, and a discussion of what worked, what did not work follows, with suggestions for improvements.

The fist few sessions will see many things not understood, so keep a sense of humour.

Dave

 

David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada
  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • From: Omaha, NE
  • 9,555 posts
Posted by dehusman on Thursday, August 22, 2019 6:24 PM

Generally I serve non-greasy, non-sticky, non-crumby snacks (pretzels and M&M's) and soft drinks (water and soda).  Some people also serve beer.

I start with a welcome and a safety and comfort talk.  Go over exits, what to do if there is fire or an injury, where are the bathrooms, where is food, where are drinks.  If they are people you haven't met before ask if there are any medical things you need to know about.

Go over the overall concept of the layout, concept, era, locale.  Stuff that will set the tone of the operation (its a sleepy branch vs. a busy urban terminal) and help them feel the vision.

Do a walk around pointing out the important locations : yards, junctions, connections, branches, major industries, control panels, things to help them navigate.

Describe the various jobs.  Non train jobs (dispatcher, pure yardmaster, clerks, operators, etc), yard jobs, local jobs, road jobs.  This can be combined with the walk around or a separate part of the briefing.

Describe the paperwork and operating rules.  How they read the lists or CC&WB, what the codes mean or how to decipher the codes, how to get main track authority, how they know which engine to use or which train to take, how they know where to go, how to know where to spot a car, how to know if a car gets picked up.

Describe the physical controls.  How the throttles work, how to gain control of an engine, how to release control, how the switches are lined, how the cars are uncoupled, how the control panels work, how indicator lights work and what they mean.

Describe what to do if something goes wrong if they have a question.  What to do if a car derails, what to do if a switch breaks, who to ask if they have a question on car routing or the work a train does.

There are two basic ways you can assign jobs:
1.  Jobs to people : call out the jobs and ask who wants that job.  If they are regular operators, that generally works, if its new people there are a lot of awkward silences.  You can also use that to assign jobs to people you know are a good fit for the job.
2.  People to jobs : Have people draw numbers or playing cards and then ask them in order which job they want.  Forces people to choose, but you can get people who aren't necessarily the best fit on critical jobs.

After jobs are assigned, there may be a little mini-briefing required for the more complicated jobs, the yardmaster might need a turnover of the yard and the dispatcher a turnover on the line up of trains.

During the session keep note of where peopl get confused and what questions you are asked and use that info to update your documentation, briefing or processes for the next session.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • 1,052 posts
Posted by saronaterry on Thursday, August 22, 2019 6:37 PM

Wow! Thank you, Dave and Dave! That is exactly the stuff I was hoping to get!!

This is a really good start for me.

Keep them coming!!

Terry

 

Terry in NW Wisconsin

Queenbogey715 is my Youtube channel

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Central Vermont
  • 4,147 posts
Posted by cowman on Thursday, August 22, 2019 7:08 PM

Another non host here, but I have been to a couple.

Depending on your aisle space, do you allow drinks while operating?

If you have a long session, do you want a break for all at one time or plan individual crew breaks.

If you have a good break area snacks can include small sandwiches and other similar h'oursderves. Homemade cookies and snacks are  always a hit.

Good luck,

Richard

  • Member since
    August, 2006
  • 1,206 posts
Posted by trainnut1250 on Friday, August 23, 2019 11:55 AM

 

Terry,

 

I host OPs at my house a couple of times a year and have been to many Op sessions over the years.

 

From your post it sounds like the important things are covered. Probably the biggest things after that are:

 

Deciding about food - whether you will allow it in the room, whether it is available all the time or just at the break.

 

How long the session is supposed to last?

 

Is there seating for those who need it?

 

All of Dave's ideas are good.

 

In my experience,

 

Usually we meet at around 9:00 AM and guests chat and look around the layout while waiting for others to arrive. There is usually coffee and donuts (no one said this was a healthy experience). Current issues of the model mags are on a table and usually someone brings a project they are working on to show and tell/get advice. This part can go on forever as the guys in our group have known each other for years. Usually the problem is getting people rounded up to get started.

 

After all he operators are there, a brief talk to make operators aware of any changes from the last session and then we assign trains. Most of our group has been doing this for a while so they know what the various trains do and what each one entails. Certain trains are more sought after than others, but generally there is polite agreement about who wants to run what.

 

Sessions start when the dispatcher is briefed and set up.

 

We run for about 3 hours and then the session ends. At my house we have lunch, at others in the group we hang out and talk until everyone leaves usually somewhere around 2 PM or so...

 

The most important thing to keep in mind for me is: Things will go wrong in the session. Murphy will show up. Layout hosts generally see these problems as a much bigger deal than the operators do. So relax and roll with it. Some of the most fun at sessions is when things go awry and create unusual and different situations. Don't let the gremlins prevent you from having a good time. I’m sure your guests will enjoy themselves no matter what happens on the layout.

 

Here is a link to a video about a car card system that I put together, near the end there are a bunch of tips on ops sessions that might enjoy

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbuesdFW4Xc&feature=youtu.be

 

Have fun,

 

 

 

Guy 

 

 

see stuff at: the Willoughby Line Site

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 9,967 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Friday, August 23, 2019 3:02 PM

Hey Guy!!

Very timely post and great video.

Our club is in the initial stages of setting up operations. We haven't had a layout that was condusive to operating for years, but our new layout is finally at the point where we can start to do more than just run around in circles on the mainline. Only a few members have any operating experience so we will be starting with a very simple system. It will very much be a "shout and yell" operation if I can steal your phrase.

I must tell you that the prospect of actually operating has caused a lot of interest amongst the club members. During the construction of the new layout over the past two years, getting most members to take on tasks has often been like having them volunteer to have their teeth pulled. Most of the work on the layout has been done by only a handful of members. However, once we announced the formation of the Operating Committee, almost everyone jumped right in! That has caused it's own problems but I won't get into them here.Bang HeadSmile, Wink & Grin

Thanks,

Dave

  • Member since
    August, 2014
  • 142 posts
Posted by Eric White on Friday, August 23, 2019 3:45 PM

I've been to a few operating sessions since I started here at MR, and I'll offer this:

The only thing that really causes a problem at an operating session is if the electrons don't behave. Make sure your control system is as close to bullet-proof as you can make it. Think of the craziest thing someone could do that would upset the system, then see what happens and what you have to do to recover from it.

All of Dave H's suggestions are right on target - and I can tell you he's a good host!

And keep in mind the point of doing all this is to have fun.

Eric

  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • 1,052 posts
Posted by saronaterry on Friday, August 23, 2019 5:00 PM

Thank you, guys!

I'm getting a better feel for this. Please keep the help and ideas coming. I'm pretty confident on the layout behaving. I have 2 grandsons who love to run trains. Seems they have found a way to surprise Papa more than once resulting in a unexpected "what the heck happened??"

I have run two trains/six engines and a couple switchers in the yard at one time with no apparent issues.I anticipate maybe 3 more engines running at the same time. Seems like the Digitrax system will handle it. Especially after I give a sacrificial car to Mr. Murphy. Ha!

Thanks again!

Terry

Terry in NW Wisconsin

Queenbogey715 is my Youtube channel

  • Member since
    March, 2002
  • From: Milwaukee WI (Fox Point)
  • 10,041 posts
Posted by dknelson on Friday, August 23, 2019 5:11 PM

I agree with Eric: mechanical/electrical problems can be a prime source of op session frustration.  While indeed you should troubleshoot the layout thoroughly, follow Tony Koester's advice from a column a few years back: DO NOT make any "improvements" to wiring or track that cannot be thoroughly tested well before the session.  Like a week.  Nothing major that day other than perhaps cleaning track and wheels.

For new operators, or experienced operators on an unfamiliar layout, I think folks like to work in pairs.  At least that way there is one other person to feel sorry for themselves with.

Have a pre-session talk through but don't get so bogged down that guys get fearful.  Model railroad layouts are like lions and viscious dogs: they can smell fear.

 I would also say try not to asign yourself a particular job or position during the session such as chief dispatcher or yardmaster.  Be prepared to be the roving helper to all.  If wheels need to be cleaned, YOU clean them.  Only you should touch the locomotives.  Others may know how but they'd feel sick if they damaged your stuff.  So would you of course but self blame is better than stifled resentment.  

Couplers.  What kind?  How do you uncouple?  Do you permit operators to touch the cars to uncouple (i.e. do you have super detailed delicate cars that MUST NOT be touched).  Set the rules on touching cars.  I can tell you that some very famous names in this hobby uncouple by picking up one end of the car - as they did in dummy coupler days!  Even if you supply picks!

Do not expect those new to DCC to consist or enter in their own locomotives no matter how intuitive or easy it has become to you.  Perhaps limit the number of locomotives to the number of throttles.  If  you have a DC block system, find out if anyone in your group is familiar with block control and make them the "block king" even if ordinarily operators walking around would control their own blocks (some layouts are set up that way).

If you have wireless throttles, is there a way to have them hang from the neck by a strap?

If you use Timetable and Train Order operation, try to run with a very simplified version - it is too much to learn in one night particularly when everyone is new to the layout.  Once you have some experienced operators then you can go all-in even with a newbie because the newbie will work with someone else who does know.

 

Regardless of operating system or rule book, if direction is important (e.g. eastbound trains are superior to westbound of the same class) post little signs in lots of places with arrows saying east or west (railroad east or west of course).  Many excellent layouts have such signs as permanent parts of the fascia. 

An overall map or track schematic is always appreciated and they might like to take it home to study, especially if they want to return.  Or email it to them in advance?

I'd deliberately limit size of trains and put away most if not all cars that won't be part of that night's operation even if they help make the layout look nice and even if the layout can handle really long trains.

Related to that if you have multiple cars with the same numbers and you have car forwarding systems that use car numbers, I'd remove the duplicates for this session.  Even if you assure them it is OK or doesn't matter which car they take it makes people anxious unnecesarily.

Food and drink.  Is there a place for soda cans/water bottles?  I assume top of layout is off limits but if there are areas with no scenery, would that be OK to you?  Set the rules on that.  Food: most guys I know supply pretzels, period.  With garbage cans strategically located.

If you have a fast clock and can control the speed don't make it so fast in an effort to give more people trains to run that the poor yardmaster(s) cannot do their work while arriving trains are bombarding them.  This is a common problem even for experienced operators and layouts.  Speaking as a guy who likes being yardmaster, I am no fan of fast clocks even though I understand their role in realism.

Even if you can dim the lights and simulate nighttime and that looks really neat and visitors ooh and aah, keep the lights on for this session.  Save that for layout visits and experienced crews who know the layout.

Final thought.  Lay in a supply because you might want a good stiff drink once everyone leaves.

Dave Nelson

  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • 1,052 posts
Posted by saronaterry on Friday, August 23, 2019 6:12 PM

Thanks, Dave! I'll try to address your thoughts.

No improvements or changes are planned. Except trying to finish some scenery. Ha!!

I've been running trains forwards, backwards and sideways to locate issues.

Digitrax, 6 utility throttles for visitors and 2 DT400 for yard work.

2 guys per train planned.

Pre- op overview planned with history, theme and track plan handout. Then a walk-through in basement before start.

Schematic/ trackplan/overview e-mail is an awesome idea!! I might do that instead!

I figured I'd be the trouble-shooter helper guy.

If there's an issue with cars, pull it and car card and set it anywhere convenient. I'll come get it.

All KD couplers. Skewers to uncouple. Fine to GENTLY pick up.Most of my stuff is BB, but I am replacing as I can. Branchline, Accurail, McKean Intermountain and Athearn RTR.

All locomotives are consisted, no changes planned. They all have the same consist address.

Car cards and waybills. There is only one local that traverses the layout, the rest are run-through or exchange cars/ engines at Spooner Yard and continue on the way. Busy class one RR. Takes about 10-12 minutes to traverse the entire layout at scale 30-40MPH.( 40' box passing a powerpole in one one thousand, two one thousand. Pretty scientific, huh!?!??)

When facing railroad, you are always looking west. North to your right.

Good ideas on food and drinks. There's shelves around the facia for sorting CC's, but maybe I should add more.

 Nope. No fast clocks for this old guy! Sequential running, about  25 trains per session. Takes me a good day alone, so I'm hoping 3-4 hours with 6-8 guys operating. Less hours wouldn't hurt my feelings for the first time out. I'd like to have a cool down/ what's right and wrong session. Skin's pretty thick and I want them to come back. No night running(yet...).

Hope I covered it!

Terry

 

Terry in NW Wisconsin

Queenbogey715 is my Youtube channel

  • Member since
    August, 2006
  • 1,206 posts
Posted by trainnut1250 on Friday, August 23, 2019 6:12 PM

hon30critter

Hey Guy!!

Very timely post and great video.

Our club is in the initial stages of setting up operations. We haven't had a layout that was condusive to operating for years, but our new layout is finally at the point where we can start to do more than just run around in circles on the mainline. Only a few members have any operating experience so we will be starting with a very simple system. It will very much be a "shout and yell" operation if I can steal your phrase.

I must tell you that the prospect of actually operating has caused a lot of interest amongst the club members. During the construction of the new layout over the past two years, getting most members to take on tasks has often been like having them volunteer to have their teeth pulled. Most of the work on the layout has been done by only a handful of members. However, once we announced the formation of the Operating Committee, almost everyone jumped right in! That has caused it's own problems but I won't get into them here.Bang HeadSmile, Wink & Grin

Thanks,

Dave

 

 

Dave,

Glad you liked the video. It can be stopped if it moves too quick or played at 1/2 speed using the youtube tool box.

Nice to hear that the club is interested in OPS. Now the fun begins when you try and decide what that means to the club members. TT& TO, track warrants, CTC, Waybills, switchlists etc....What kind car routing / card system to use etc...All fodder for discussion.

I presume that you guys have designed a layout to support OPS right?? Go through with an imaginary train and see how it works. Are there passing sidings? places to store trains off scene? Run arounds at switching locations? Lots of things that can make a big difference in OPs must be baked into the design...

 

Regardless, it is lots of fun,

 

Guy

see stuff at: the Willoughby Line Site

  • Member since
    December, 2004
  • From: Bedford, MA, USA
  • 18,425 posts
Posted by MisterBeasley on Friday, August 23, 2019 9:39 PM

If you have battery powered anything, have spare batteries.

Paper towels, because something will spill.

Have a Bright Boy handy.  Guess what.  You missed a spot.

 Have a camera to document the whole event.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 9,967 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Friday, August 23, 2019 10:14 PM

trainnut1250
I presume that you guys have designed a layout to support OPS right?? Go through with an imaginary train and see how it works. Are there passing sidings? places to store trains off scene? Run arounds at switching locations? Lots of things that can make a big difference in OPs must be baked into the design...

Hi again Guy,

I think the GP suggested lalayout has most of your requirements for operations. There are multiple passing sidings. There is a staging yard which was originally intended as a place where members could simply place their cars on the track. There is a main yard with 5 tracks, all of which can be se

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 9,967 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Friday, August 23, 2019 10:17 PM

trainnut1250
I presume that you guys have designed a layout to support OPS right?? Go through with an imaginary train and see how it works. Are there passing sidings? places to store trains off scene? Run arounds at switching locations? Lots of things that can make a big difference in OPs must be baked into the design...

Hi again Guy,

I think our layout has most of your requirements for operations. There are several passing sidings. There is a staging yard. It was originally intended as a place where members could simply place their cars on the track, but we are now considering using it as a second operating yard. There is a main yard with 5 tracks as well as an AD track and a yard lead. Most importantly, we have lots of sidings where cars can be spotted and picked up. I don't have a count yet, but I'm going to guess that we will have 30+ places to spot cars when all the sidings are complete.

Dave

  • Member since
    December, 2004
  • From: Bedford, MA, USA
  • 18,425 posts
Posted by MisterBeasley on Saturday, August 24, 2019 10:53 AM

I would suggest a clipboard, with a pad of paper and a tied-on pen or pencil.

Use it to write down things that went wrong, and even things that went very right.  No one will remember everything, so the notes will help improve your next session.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • 1,052 posts
Posted by saronaterry on Saturday, August 24, 2019 7:27 PM

Thanks, Mr. B! I will!

Terry

Terry in NW Wisconsin

Queenbogey715 is my Youtube channel

  • Member since
    August, 2015
  • 214 posts
Posted by Autonerd on Saturday, August 24, 2019 8:45 PM

One of my fellow club members does regular op sessions on his garage-sized layout. No preliminaries, we just get stuck in and start operating, but your post makes me realize how inhospitable he is! :)

In all seriousness... for daytime op sessions he has an optional meet for lunch at a local place beforehand. No food/drink in the layout room -- a good policy that your friends will understand. 

I'd definitely clean the track before your op session, or get volunteers to do it.

Knowing where the bathroom is is always important (and securing pets if you need to -- we say you haven't participated in his op session if you haven't been bitten by his very territorial dog, but he's trying to end this questionable tradition.

Our host gives everyone a train order sheet (I forget what program he uses), and usually verifies that the cars are were they ought to be. He started a new tradition where we pick numbers at random to determine what train we run.  

He has a rulebook and timetable, but we don't really use them. Dispatching used to mean yelling "I'm coming to Descanso, anyone have a problem with that?" but now he does some modicum of dispatching himself -- we tell him when we're ready to leave and he directs traffic.

He also lets us run our own power with no restrictions (assuming it'll make it around corners and behave itself). I once ran his 1964-era local with my first-ever DCC conversion... a Walthers F40PH.

We always have a great time and I am grateful to him for sharing his layout and opening up a new aspect of the hobby. And on that same note, Terry, good on you for doing the same. Generous folks like you are what make the hobby great. As for my friend -- he never runs at his op sessions -- it's clear he takes great job from watching others enjoy his creation.

Aaron

  • Member since
    October, 2008
  • From: Canada
  • 1,125 posts
Posted by cv_acr on Monday, August 26, 2019 9:42 AM

dknelson

If you have a fast clock and can control the speed don't make it so fast in an effort to give more people trains to run that the poor yardmaster(s) cannot do their work while arriving trains are bombarding them.  This is a common problem even for experienced operators and layouts.  Speaking as a guy who likes being yardmaster, I am no fan of fast clocks even though I understand their role in realism.

I take some issue with the "problems" people oft quote with fast clocks.

Using a different clock doesn't make time any faster or slower. If you can't keep up it's because the layout owner has failed to schedule things properly, end of story.

Think of it like measuring distances in feet instead of meters. Feet gives you a bigger number, but it's the same distance. A "fast" clock simply measures time with a different unit, to give the *cosmetic* effect of doing a day's work. But the work done has to be scheduled in the time it takes to do it. If it takes an (actual) hour to do a job, then you have to schedule that much time. If you're using a 4:1 "fast" clock, that's 4 "fast" hours. I don't care if the prototype you're modeling could have done it in 2, on your railroad it takes you 4, so you need to schedule that. Using a 1:1 or a 12:1 clock doesn't really change how much time you need to do something.

And never, ever adjust the schedule by just changing the clock speed when the layout's schedule has been designed for a specific ratio.

  • Member since
    February, 2008
  • 6,672 posts
Posted by maxman on Monday, August 26, 2019 9:16 PM

My opinion is no food around the railroad.  I've not seen any snack food that isn't either greasy or crumbly.  Those treats should be in another area.

If you want to allow drinks, then make sure you have some of those facia mounted can holders at strategic locations.  It's pretty hard to operate a throttle and perform switching with two hands and hold a soda can unless you have a third hand.  So the can will get put down somewhere, probably on the railroad.

 

 

 

 

  • Member since
    February, 2018
  • From: Sparsely populated Nebraska
  • 539 posts
Posted by York1 on Monday, August 26, 2019 9:20 PM

saronaterry
The first ever ops session with friends /friends of friends has been scheduled for next month.

 

I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping you will post a report after the session.

Saints Fan John

  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • 1,052 posts
Posted by saronaterry on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 6:47 AM

York1
I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping you will post a report after the session.

I sure will!

Thanks for the additional ideas. I'll be going with the no food/drinks rule.

I don't use a fast clock. I've never tried it. Trains are run in sequential order, so if Murphy shows up I can stop the session and fix what's wrong. Then pick right back up. Works good when I am alone, too. Stop anytime. I assume you can do the same with a fast clock. Perhaps in the future I can give it a try.

Terry

Terry in NW Wisconsin

Queenbogey715 is my Youtube channel

  • Member since
    February, 2008
  • 1,231 posts
Posted by kasskaboose on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 11:28 AM

I've also not hosted an ops session but have been to two.  Keeping expectations low is invaluable.  You might want to give people advanced notice (even before the op session) of general rules.  Ensuring everyone is one the same page is critical. For example, can they bring food to the layout, what is off limits, when to ask questions/make comments, etc. 

No need to treat it like school but have some rule re-stresses the first rule: it's your layout.

  • Member since
    June, 2007
  • From: Grew up in Calif, left in 84, now in Virginia
  • 6,928 posts
Posted by riogrande5761 on Tuesday, August 27, 2019 11:52 AM

Sounds kinda stressful.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road  - Focus 1977-1983

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Users Online

There are no community member online

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!