Sunday, March 9, 2014

Prairie Rail 2014 - Part 2: Kevin Leyerle's OKT-MKT

Crew reports for duty
Full scale crew for first session of the weekend. Howard Gillespie (far right foreground and a layout owner, too) was a tremendous help. I missed seeing his layout this trip, but I will definitely keep an eye out for his Seaboard Air Line rail-marine operations.
First up for Prairie Rail 2014 for me on Friday afternoon was Kevin Leyerle's OKT - MKT layout. Kevin's layout is housed in a basement (being from Texas, I'm of course, jealous of the notion of having an actual cave for a man-cave), and it is a superb layout to operate. With the help of Howard Gillespie, the full scale crew settled in quickly and began a fun operating session only a little behind schedule.

Layout diagrams in every town make for great reference all through the session for visiting crews

I signed up for a yard job at El Reno at the west end of the layout after no one else jumped in. Yards are always more fun for me because of the high operating time to session length ratio. A yard is almost always busy from start to finish, and I feel like I get my money's worth in playtime this way. The downside, however, is that I didn't get to chat much with anyone. El Reno is off in a secondary space, and I only saw people as they passed through my yard when things were busy. No worries, though, as it is sometimes really nice to just play with trains off in the corner by oneself.

El Reno yard - my home for the evening. Standard car cards and boxes with an appropriately-sized work shelf made the process for working comfortable. A dispatcher's sheet with highlighted events of my concern made prioritizing and strategizing several moves ahead possible. (iPhone panorama)
The yard at El Reno is double-ended with a couple of A/D tracks and about 4 classification tracks. Trains to the North and South on the OKT arrive and depart here transferring cars between the OKT and Katy. My instructions form the shift boss were to send everything destined for the Katy East and anything I didn't recognize the name for to the OKT. This worked fine for awhile, but then I mishandled several cars setting them up for the interchange that were actually going the other way. It took me several moves to sort this out, which kept me behind the eight ball the rest of the evening.
Across the aisle from El Reno - I confess I have no idea what that town is, but I know there was a fair bit of activity going on behind me most of the night...
El Reno on the left, and some mystery town (I think this was Council) to the right. When your head gets buried in a yard, the rest of the layout might as well be invisible.

Opposite view.
Portland Ave in Council

I thoroughly enjoyed the equipment in El Reno. I was given a choice between a sweet little leased Southern Pacific unit and a highly detailed and weathered double lash up of Katy locomotives. I decided that using the home town power was the appropriate answer, and I'm glad I did.  They were smooth-running and I loved the sound provided by a layout-standard SoundTraxx decoder.

One of the unique features on Kevin's layout is the use of the brake function for operating. For this, the momentum is turned way up, and it becomes necessary to pay more attention to the operation of the locomotive itself while trying to learn the railroad, keep up with the job and keep an eye out for traffic headed your way.

This all forced me to slow way down in my moves. Some of it was the information and coordination overload, but at the beginning, most of it was just getting a feel for the locomotive. When set up with braking required, you can run up the rpms before releasing the brake, get to your desired (slow) yard speed, and then shut the rpms down and glide from one end of the yard to the other. It was really a unique sensation! Much more realistic than slammin' and jammin' cars together. Then, while coasting in neutral, you can play the brake to come to a very precise and gentle nudge to couple up with a car.

Standard car cards and card racks helped a lot for this visitor. The directional sorting cards were life-savers!
It takes focus and concentration to do this, and it makes running a locomotive more of a challenge. I bet most people wouldn't like this - I can hear a chorus of, "I don't want operating to be like work", but this is more like a video game type of fun. I found myself really tuning in to the sound of the locomotive in order to get a better sensory idea of what was going on. Hand-eye coordination also really comes in handy using the break function, and coupled with the aforementioned items, this single feature makes the entire experience more realistic, involved and enriching. And because of all that, I found it quite fun. I enjoyed it, and I will suggest this is a desirable way to operate here in town...

View of El Reno from the East. The crossing bells got a bit old when I was trying to sort cars from this end. Next time, I'll use the West ladder more...

A functioning lock out feature for the road crossings. I tried to get it to time-out, but I think I kept triggering it by moving back into the yard ladder too far. I gave up, but interesting feature nonetheless.
Staging below El Reno. Didn't have too many conflicts with departing or arriving trains since the throat was out from under the yard. Interesting use of polychromatic paint scheme on the support legs at staging. I think it works.
There was also a nice little switcher (maybe an SW or NW...) available at the grain elevator that really helped make quick work of shifting cars around. The variety of using a different locomotive was good. Scenery was straightforward and supportive of operations. Everything was neat and nicely detailed and finished with lots of autos and trucks, structures and topography. The Katy green fascia is clean and functional.  I'm a fan of the green and yellow Katy scheme, which is very similar to my Hoboken Shore livery colors, and it works well to define the layout and flavor the environment. It is, however, an intense green and might become overwhelming in this large quantity with daily exposure. :)

Entry lift-out with trestle
El Reno was a bit difficult to operate as a visiting crew. It has only a few class tracks, so a couple of tracks need to be stacked with multiple destination groups. This made blocking out of the question for a newbie, and it also required a higher level of planning and more consistent work. Not fully remembering the train destinations and order or call times also hurts efficiency for a rookie.

S&S Feeds
The main yard at Oklahoma City
Card sortin'
Some GRR (Georgetown Railroad) limestone gravel cars headed back to the quarry in Georgetown, TX.
The dispatcher's desk
The call board sign up sheet
Lloyd, Kevin and Bill
Standard Iron and Metal and a concrete industry
The Katy crossing
Nathan, Lloyd, Bill, Kevin and Eric(?)
I will offer that El Reno yard is good for the intermediate to advanced visitor, or a "3" on a scale of 1=easy and 4=challenging for first-time crews. One more session here, though, and I would drop the difficulty rating down to a very comfortable 2.5 - challenging enough to be interesting, but not overly taxing or frustrating, since everything is clear, well thought out and presented.  

As I didn't get to experience the rest of the layout, my overall comments may not be as valid as they could be, but having said that, I think that this is a superbly operating layout. The operating scheme made sense, the instructions were clear with plenty of reference materials, the neatness, consistency and craftsmanship of the layout made for a distraction-free environment, and the host was gracious, patient, and genuinely interested in how the layout was being interpreted by a visiting crew.

Kevin is a class-act and has created a great layout in the amazing model railroad town of Kansas City.

Stay tuned for Part 3 coming 'soon'.

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