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Top 10 "Operator Error" mistakes that you hate making

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Top 10 "Operator Error" mistakes that you hate making
Posted by BNSF UP and others modeler on Sunday, April 15, 2018 10:59 PM

I was curious, do people make and hate the same model railroading mistakes that I do? Here are ten among my many:

1. Installing a coupler upside down.

2. Being oblivious and leaving a metal tool on the rails while track power is on.

3. Buying the wrong size/scale of things like ballast, figures from China, etc.

4. Dropping that mint brass 4-8-8-4 (haven't done that yet, but I dread it).

5. Loosing that pin sized detail to the abyss below the work area.

6. Getting mad at your locomotive, then you realize you are programming the wrong CV.

7. Drop your throttle and rip years off of its life.

8. Buying something after meticulous bargian hunting, and then find it cheaper.

9. Purchasing something that you think is a splendid deal, but then find out you bought junk.

10. Buying a part, decoder, peice of hardware, etc and finding out it is the wrong one.

Also feel free to share other funny stories/disasters!

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Posted by NWP SWP on Monday, April 16, 2018 12:59 AM

I once dropped the tender of my Pennsy T-1 from about chest height (I'm 6' 2") onto the floor at one of my clubs, they have tile floors so you can imagine the impending horror, luckily only a step broke off and I was able to locate it, it's in a box awaiting to be reattached.


Crooner, Imagineer, High School Graduate, living with Aspergers, President of the Republica Pacifica micronation,  President of the NWP-SWP System.

Hook'em Longhorns! 

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Posted by gmpullman on Monday, April 16, 2018 5:16 AM

BNSF UP and others modeler
5. Loosing that pin sized detail to the abyss below the work area.

Ha!  I just did that only moments ago! Removing the handcar pump handle from the sprue of the Tichy hand car kit. Didn't know part of the molding was cracked and it flew off to... somewhere.

My cure for that is one of the newer versions of the Dustbuster type cordless vacuum with the easily-removable dust container. I vacuum the area where I dropped the part, then shake out the bits into a large white pan and play "Where's Elmo". My success rate is about 85%.


BNSF UP and others modeler
9. Purchasing something that you think is a splendid deal, but then find out you bought junk.

Or you bring your "fantastic deal" home only to find the identical item already on your shelf. Happens more often that I'd like.


 #11. Forgetting to re-align switch points after a switching move and running the main-line passenger train into the turntable pit! (Just did that the other day Embarrassed !)

Cheers, Ed

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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, April 16, 2018 6:43 AM

Installing KD couplers that are missing the knuckle spring


COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, April 16, 2018 7:04 AM

 Couplers upside down - the very first time I went along on an exhibition of the club modular layout, I was switching in the coal yard and I noticed one of the Athearn hoppers lost its coupler. One of the other members asked if he should take care of it but I said no, I got it, turned the car over, and proceeded to install the coupler upside down. Note at this point I was not actually some newbie model railroader, this was only about 8-9 years ago, and I had been installing kadees in my own trains for at least 20 years by that point. I don't think I've EVER put one in upside down at my own workbench.

 ANother one, I learned long ago to mark the scrap side of a cut so you cut to the right side of the line. Nothing like carefully lining up the saw blade, making the cut and then - oops, even though the big X was right there and visible, you cut to the wrong side. Try again, this time pay attention to which side has the X, dummy!



Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's


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Posted by snjroy on Monday, April 16, 2018 7:51 AM

Thinking about actual operations:

1) pushing on the turnout button thinking that the car had cleared the turnout - but did'nt!

2) pushing on the wrong turnout button!

3) having two locos couple to the same set of cars during a switching operation

..and oh yes, forgetting a tool on the track happens a lot here too!!



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Posted by nealknows on Monday, April 16, 2018 7:56 AM

4, 5, & 10 are in my book for sure! The best one is when I was installing my O scale around the room track and supports. I wanted to see the clearance of the first section of wood along with the track and O scale passenger car. I put up the wood, laid down a piece of track and put the passenger car on the track. However, I forgot the piece of wood was not secured to the wall supports, nor was the track and the passenger car was free-wheeling. The car rolled off the end as the wood tipped down and did a swan dive to the hardwood floor and crashed into many, many pieces. Car headed to the scrap yard and I headed to the LHS for a replacement car. Lesson learned…


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Posted by gmpullman on Monday, April 16, 2018 8:59 AM

Couplers upside down -

It can happen to the best of 'em!

I recently opened my brand-new Genesis SDP40Fs and went to couple them up for a trial run:

 IMG_0300_W by Edmund, on Flickr

Aint' gonna happen. Fortunately, those squishy plastic couplers were headed for the scrap pile anyway, no big deal.

Things happen! Ed

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Posted by BRAKIE on Monday, April 16, 2018 9:16 AM


Installing KD couplers that are missing the knuckle spring



Been there, done that with KDs fresh from the package.


While I have a very tidy work desk things can still go missing for several days and is usually found where this old man placed it out of the way----meaning in a desk drawer or in a parts holding box.Ashamed




“Shut one’s eyes tight or open one’s arms wide, either way, one’s a fool.” Flemeth-the witch of the Wilds.
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Posted by angelob6660 on Monday, April 16, 2018 9:25 AM

I dropped ATSF F7s into the ground (2 out of 4). They still work, with scratching paint.

I dropped numberboards into the carpet. Also lost details, couplers, springs. Etc. Yes carpet gets parts lost. Can't see black parts within brown.


Modeling the G.N.O. Railway, The Diamond Route.

Amtrak America, 1971-Present.

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Posted by Attuvian on Monday, April 16, 2018 9:29 AM


While I have a very tidy work desk things can still go missing for several days-----

I have a not so tidy work desk that went missing itself for a couple of days ------
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Posted by dknelson on Monday, April 16, 2018 9:58 AM

This is not a complete list.  

1.  Having something - a freight car kit, tool, decal sheet, detail part, whatever - on my swap meet "Want List," finding it at the swap meet and buying it, but forgetting to cross it off the list.  So at the next swap meet ..... you guessed it.  This is how I ended up with three NYC boxcars all with the same number.  (sigh).

2.  Related to #1 above, gathering the large capacity fabric bags I take to swap meets, only to sense that one feels a tad heavier than it should.  Oops, forgot to empty the bag after that swap meet and the stuff I bought is still in there.  HOPEFULLY I didn't go out and buy it later at the LHS thinking I still needed it.  HOPEFULLY I hadn't bought a carton of milk to drink and put it in the bag ....  But there are flyers for other events I intended to get to but forgot about.

3.  Pushing the wrong button at operating sessions at someone else's house (meaning the throttle is not familiar to me) and bringing the whole system to an abrupt halt.  This is embarassing.  Especially the fifth time it happens in the same evening.

4.  I have not installed Kadee couplers upside down, at least not that I know of (do I need to open every box to make sure?).  But one evening after a nice dinner that was washed down with a more than decent red wine, I decided that I shouldn't tackle anything more ambitious than one of the remaining shake the box kits on my shelves.  I followed the instructions such as they were to the letter - which means I installed the supplied horn hook couplers.  Doh!  At least I didn't weather them first.

Dave Nelson



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Posted by bearman on Monday, April 16, 2018 10:03 AM

Number 5, definitely

Bear "It's all about having fun."

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Posted by Heartland Division CB&Q on Monday, April 16, 2018 10:24 AM

My most common operator error is running over a misaligned turnout causing a derailment. 

Also, now that I have DCC, I sometimes enter the wrong locomotive number in the controller which can cause an accident. 

I try to avoid running trains off of the layout by installing protective barriers at the edge of the layout. However, I once had a new layout section without the barrier installed yet. I laid some papers across the tracks (dumb), and ran a train into the papers. The train derailed, and an SD9 became a "floor model". 




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Posted by Paul3 on Monday, April 16, 2018 11:25 AM

One of my pet peeves is making a nice, neat solder connection and then realizing that I forgot to put the heat shrink on the wire first.

Dropping things and/or having them shoot out of the tweezers is the other big one.  It got to the point where I now have a white canvas apron clamped to the underside of my workbench.  When I'm working with little parts, I put the apron strap around my neck.  If I drop anything off the bench, the apron will catch it (usually).

Of course, this can lead to another pet peeve.  Namely, trying to stand up and walk away with the apron strap still around my neck.  I don't get too far...

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Posted by Lone Wolf and Santa Fe on Monday, April 16, 2018 11:55 AM

Dropping a tiny part onto the carpet under my desk….never to be seen again.

Modeling a fictional version of California set in the 1990s Lone Wolf and Santa Fe Railroad
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Posted by maxman on Monday, April 16, 2018 3:21 PM

mark the scrap side of a cut so you cut to the right side of the line. Nothing like carefully lining up the saw blade, making the cut and then - oops, even though the big X was right there and visible, you cut to the wrong side.

No, that's not dumb.  Cutting it wrong the second time is dumb.

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Monday, April 16, 2018 4:10 PM

Applying a drop of 30-second CA to a small part. Picking it up with the micro-tweezers just ever so and carefully, slowly reaching into the model . . . only to realize you have to install that other part first.



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Posted by SpaceMouse on Monday, April 16, 2018 4:26 PM

I dunno, some time ago on a previous layout I assembled 3 Digitrax UP5 throttle jacks backwards. They worked fine on my 4x8 layout, but while reusing them on my current layout, they were giving out all kinds of wierd and disturbing readings. 

After a week of testing, two forums, and throwing good money after bad, Randy figured out what was going on. I reversed them to the way they should be (took about a minute each) and everything worked as they should have. 


Building the Rock Ridge Railroad with the slowest construction crew west of the Pecos.

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Posted by ricktrains4824 on Monday, April 16, 2018 5:54 PM

Leaving something on the tracks and either shorting out everything, or, if it's not metal, hitting it and the resulting issues from it.

Running through a closed turnout, the wrong way.

Sending small parts off into "never-never land", where they are never-never to be seen again. (Managed to do this with a old BB motor brush spring recently.....)

Forgetting to hook up the feeders on your freshly laid track.

Dumping a coal drag that contained live loads onto the ground. (I no longer use live coal loads....)

Doing a nice paint job on a model, and then forgetting that the paint is still wet and leaving a big old gigantic sized fingerprint in its nice new paint.

Related - Forgetting to clean the fingerprints off a model before painting it.

Misplacing parts and pieces ecause you set them aside when you got interrupted and forgetting where that somewhere was.

Forgetting to glue something down and then trying to clean it with a vacuum.....

Gluing something into place, and then realizing that it was upside-down/backwards, or both....

Ricky W.

HO scale Proto-freelancer.

My Railroad rules:

1: It's my railroad, my rules.

2: It's for having fun and enjoyment.

3: Any objections, consult above rules.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, April 16, 2018 6:24 PM

It's got to be running through a turnout set the wrong way for me.  Despite having almost all turnouts clearly visible from where I run the trains, and having signals to show how the turnouts are aligned for many of them, I still do this occasionally.

I don't consider losing a Kadee coupler spring in the carpet to be a major problem.  I have plenty of them, and my time is more valuable.  If a quick search won't find it, there are plenty more in the small parts box.

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

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Posted by chatanuga on Monday, April 16, 2018 7:46 PM

Probably the biggest one for me recently is running through a misaligned turnout.  Either a train will go onto a wrong route, sometimes colliding with a train on a parallel track, or I'll pull or back a train through a trailing point turnout that's lined for the other route.

Years ago when tuning up one of my Athearn blue box locomotives, I put it back together and found that it was running backwards.  When I looked at the other Athearn models, I saw that I'd reversed the trucks.  Oops.


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Posted by herrinchoker on Monday, April 16, 2018 10:02 PM

Carefully applying glue to a surface, only to discover it is the wrong side---

Working on (pick a name) need (name the implement) to finish the job. You know for fact that you own two of said item (s). They no longer exist at the location you are at--OK, drive 40 miles for said item, upon returning, as the pile is moved to make room for said project, lo-and behold--as if by magic-------!!

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Posted by Eric White on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 10:27 AM

Cutting a bunch of parts for a project. Benchwork, a model, it doesn't matter.

I need to cut one more part, pick up what I think is a random scrap of material, cut it to size, then realize during assembly that last piece was cut from another, already cut piece.

I hate when that happens.


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Posted by blabride on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 2:12 PM

Waking up in the middle of the night to a strange roaring noise and then remembering you forgot to turn the air regulator and compressor off upstairs in the train room for the umpteenth time.

Mixing up the wrong weathering bottles and putting solvent based paint over acrylic with melting results.

Forgetting to differentiate the miniatronics bulb wires you meticulously threaded through the cab and interior of a Genesis GP locos headlights.

Forgetting to glue those same bulbs and having to take the cab off a third time.

Forgetting to drill holes in the speaker housing for wires after you have already applied glue to it.

Absent mindedness must be age related.


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Posted by CNSF on Thursday, April 19, 2018 11:45 AM

#5 should definitely be #1 on the list. It's almost in a special category of its own.

I've had a P2K Alco PA take a dive about 4 feet off a recently-completed helix to a concrete floor below. Damage was amazingly minimal, but barriers started going up the next day anyway. Now, years later, nothing's ever hit the barrier - of course.

As for leaving turnouts misaligned and such, if my railroad were the real thing I'd have been fired so many times and killed so many people it would make your head spin.

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Posted by Eastrail11 on Thursday, April 19, 2018 12:35 PM

Laugh Laugh Laugh

I have only dropped a Superliner onto the floor from about 3 feet up, barely any damage, just a bent ladder. I consider myself lucky!

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Posted by PED on Thursday, April 19, 2018 6:59 PM

Lots of good examples that I am sure we can all relate to. Just proves we are human.

Paul D

N scale Washita and Santa Fe Railroad
Southern Oklahoma circa late 70's

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Posted by dualgauge on Thursday, April 19, 2018 7:00 PM
Picking up the wrong throttle and wondering why engine will not move. Throwing the direction switch, uncouple from train and throwing switch again coupling up to train. Throwing wrong switch and going right back where came from.
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Posted by SouthPenn on Thursday, April 19, 2018 7:40 PM

All the above.

South Penn

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