Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Quarry operations

A few weeks ago I was saddened to learn that my Okie friend Roy "Rip Rap" Miller had passed away. Roy worked at the Dolese Bros. quarry at Big Canyon between 1950 and 1963, and over the past 15 years or so generously provided me with a lot of information about his time at the quarry, along with a bunch of photographs (that can be found on Dwane Stevens' flickr site here.)

Way back in 2003 Roy wrote to me: 
"At the time I worked at Big Canyon, there was a local train which ran from Gainesville, Texas to Purcell Oklahoma, and one from Purcell to Gainesville every day. Which ever one arrived in Dougherty first usually switched out our loads and set in empties somewhere around noon each day. The Santa Fe also ran a night switcher which came sometimes from Gainesville and sometimes from Purcell to switch us at night. The cars were dropped in Dougherty where they were billed to destination and shipped from there. We gave the billing info over the phone to Dorty (our usual short term for Dougherty.) Bills of lading were made up later and taken to Dorty to be signed. The first thing I did each morning was to do a yard check to see the number and kinds of cars we had on hand for loading. Then I worked up a noon switch list, sometimes ordering kinds of cars mixed in depending on estimates of what kind of cars the plant might need. As an example, I might order 3 coal cars, one hopper, 3 more coals and 2 ballast and so on for each track. We asked that the train of empties be made up like that in Dorty to save switching in our yard. Sometimes I actually guessed right and got the various types of cars in the right order. But sometimes one material was produced at a faster or slower rate than I thought and another kind of car had to be switched in. Before I left in the evening, I had to do the same thing for the night switch, or the night clerk had to do it if we were running a night shift. Later I was  promoted to Ass't Supt and turned that all over to someone else. It was a mad house sometimes but was also fun. I told you that the most cars I remember loading in one day was 128 but a usual day was somewhere between 65 and 80 cars per day."

(Note: I asked Roy what he meant by "coal cars" and he said that was the term they used to refer to drop-bottom gondolas.)

Under my current operating schedule the quarries at Dougherty and Big Canyon are switched by a twice-daily local freight that runs north from Gainesville (actually, south staging). In addition to its regular consist of empty gondolas, on its northbound run it stops at Ardmore and collects any cars that are for delivery to Gene Autry or Dougherty. When it returns to Ardmore it drops off any cars being shipped from those locations (apart from the loaded gondolas from the quarries, which it takes back to Gainesville.)

When I introduced the current system, the Ardmore/Gainesville local was handling about a dozen cars at the most, and it made sense to have the one train handle all the traffic. Since then I've added more cars and the train is now quite long as can be seen in this photo from my last operating session:

So I've decided to separate the quarry traffic from the other freight.

Once the change is implemented, the current twice-daily locals between Gainesville and Dougherty will be replaced by:
(i) a twice-daily turn operating from Ardmore to Dougherty and back, handling all freight apart from gravel loads from the quarries; and
(ii) a morning south-bound train, and an afternoon north-bound train operating between Purcell and Gainesville (acually, between north staging and south staging), switching the quarries as described by Roy.

Following this change I will rebuild the Gene Autry part of the layout so that I can increase the size of the Ardmore Air Base to better reflect the fact that it was a busy air force base during the '50s. This map from Historic Aerials shows the layout of the rail sidings as they were in 1965, by which time the airbase had become a civil facility.

The change will also allow me to add a few more gondolas so I can increase the traffic from the quarries, and to that end I've already bought some Caswell gondola kits:

Caswell gondolas were very plentiful on the ATSF during the '50s, but the photos that I have from Roy show that a wide variety of cars were loaded at Big Canyon. Here are some pics that I cropped from larger images:

The images appear to show a variety of cars apart from (possibly) Caswell gons and Hart ballast cars. Right in the middle of the second image there's what might be a two-bay composite hopper. I'll be studying these photos carefully to see what other car types I might be able to add.

Thanks for looking.


January operating session, and other stuff

January operating session

Back on the 18th of January I hosted another ops session on the GC&SF.  As we were an operator or two short, I ran the yard at Ardmore. Between that busy job, and responding to requests for help, I forgot to take photos of the session. Fortunately, Rod took several to help us remember the event.

John C (centre) did a great job running the yard at Pauls Valley, and during my post session tidy-up I didn't find a single thing wrong with the cars and trains that he had worked! Graham (right) is running the Pauls Valley local freight, and here he is doing some switching at Wynnewood.

Peter is running the Ardmore local freight, which also serves the quarries at Big Canyon (shown here) and Dougherty.

Bill is running a southbound passenger train, behind my sound-equipped BLI ALCo PAs.

This bloke with terrible posture and fat stomach is, sad to say, me. I'm using a tethered throttle because my wireless throttle was giving me too much grief.

Unfortunately, nobody took any photos of Rod. So here's one from a previous session:

Wireless woes

As I mentioned, my wireless throttle was giving me some grief during the afternoon. I thought that it might be because my rechargeable batteries (which are now quite old) don't hold charge very well.  However, all my batteries still registered over 8.5vdc on my multimeter the day after the session, and since then I've done a lot of train running to restage the layout, and the batteries have been fine.

This isn't the first time that I've had problems with wireless operation during a session. The fact that I don't seem to have those problems when I operate on my own makes me wonder whether there is merit in Brendan's idea that the "wet blobs" (operators) in the room are interfering with the radio signal. The UR92 panel is located under the layout, immediately behind me in that last photo, so anybody who is switching Ardmore, Gene Autry, Dougherty or Pauls Valley is likely to be standing directly between their throttle and the UR92. And with seven or more operators in the room, there's a good chance that there'll be at least one other person also blocking the signal. When I'm feeling industrious, I will relocate the UR92 (possibly into the ceiling directly above where I'm standing in that last photo), to see whether that improves things.

New freight cars for the GC&SF

Between 1935 and 1950 the Santa Fe rebuilt more than ten thousand of its older USRA refrigerator cars using their massive steel underframes. For a long time now I've been wanting to get some of the Intermountain models of these unique cars, and I finally bit the bullet at the end of 2016. Most of these rebuilt cars were modernised during the '50s, and it's probably unlikely that in my era (1960) many still survived in the form modelled by Intermountain. However, in 1960 only about 3% of the Santa Fe's reefers were mechanical cars, and rebuilt ice reefers continued to serve well into the'60s.

Rightly or wrongly, the GC now runs six of these cars, which I picked up on eBay:
These cars are quite low, with an internal height of less than 8 feet (7'3" according to my reference book, but 7'9" is printed on the car side.)  The plug doors were a mere 68" (5'8") tall. For comparison, here's one of the Intermountain reefers alongside an Atlas PS1 box car:

Continuing along the path of buying cars that ain't quite right for my period, I also bought some ATSF Ft-V flat cars released by BLMA.

These cars are so nice looking that they put all my other flat cars to shame, and I quickly removed most of them (the others) from the layout. My only 'complaint' is that the wheel flanges are so small that just the slightest bump can (and probably will) derail the car.

Unfortunately, the Ft-V class flat cars were converted into pulpwood flat cars during the mid 1950s. 
Memo to self: do research before buying new cars.

Thanks for looking.