ModelStory: Set in Stone

IMG_2885The fossilized footprints of a tiny, undiscovered Triassic dinosaur secreted away in Felicia’s enormous backpack will one day leave a permanent impression on her life.

She chipped them from the Chinle Formation – inside Many Lost Ways National Park – so if the small square of stone is found out, it’s a $10,000 fine and three years imprisonment.

But she sees herself as a scientist and isn’t she here doing research for her BS in geology?

She closes her eyes and daydreams with the sun on her face.

Yes, a scientist and one day that stone, carefully polished and mounted, will hang behind her desk and students will marvel at its beauty and the brilliant professor who collected it.

That’s the dream but here’s the problem: Felicia is a struggling student. Geology isn’t her passion.

Cutting and polishing stone is and she’s darn good at it. She has a remarkable eye for the textures and colors, which suits her more to a career in countertops or terrazzo floors – good paths in an age of diminishing craftsmanship – but we’ll get to that.

First she needs to graduate.

(Don’t worry about the Federal Penitentiary. She won’t get caught.)

Felicia is carrying a 2.73 grade point average. It is her final semester. She needs every one of the 20 credits on her schedule to receive her degree.

Fifteen credits are actual classes and she’s pedaling hard for four Bs and a C. The other five credits are the self-study “senior symposium” she sold to the guidance office.

Add Working the System to polishing rocks. She’s good at that, too.

She’s convinced the school that a seven-day backpacking trip with her friend Cameron (an actual geology student) is worth five credits. They’ll co-write a paper, give an oral presentation and voila, she’ll walk the stage with a 3.0.


Then a half-hearted effort at getting into grad school, but she doesn’t really want it and she can’t overcome her transcripts anyway. She will apply to three schools and be accepted by none.


There’s a guy who loves her and they’ll do well. She’ll fall back on her Way with People and sell corrugated packaging, adjust claims and eventually inspect worksites for OSHA. (Good thing that Federal background check came up clean).

Years from now she and hubby will move into a new house. The granite countertop guy will be there when the movers split open a fatigued old box and the fossilized footprints of a tiny, undiscovered Triassic dinosaur will tumble out.

A pot of coffee and a long conversation later, she’ll partner with the countertop guy and the little contractor will do $7 million the next year.

During that year, Professor Cameron will lead her annual “senior symposium” to Many Lost Ways. Secreted in her giant backpack will be the fossilized footprints of a tiny Triassic dinosaur. She’ll have a decision to make: Discovering them would define her career, but she will probably just leave them behind.

(Scratchbuilt Play-Doh backpacks, Preiser figures.)


Operating the FCFL: Globe, Gallup and the End of a Long Day

Last week the Herbst Junction turn was returning to Salvation Point after working the Red Earth Co-op and the Salvation Point industries. This week the operating session comes to a close with runs to Globe and Gallup, and the Phoenix-Salvation Point-Durango train passes through to clean everything up for next time.


Globe is not modeled on the layout, but is merely a destination in Southwest Staging. It’s a simple out-and-back operation, with a little work to do at Herbst Junction.

The crew of train SPG31 heads west from Salvation Point Yard and descends into the Benjamin-Henry Canyon. Arriving at Herbst Junction, the crew picks up any Globe-bound loads spotted there by the Herbst Junction turn.



With everything coupled up once again, the crew selects the diverging route toward Globe and gets underway.



In staging, the inbound loads are cut off and the locomotive is backed up to the outbound train we placed during setup.


SPG31 crosses back to the main at Herbst Junction and highballs back to Salvation Point.



The Gallup turn is the only eastbound local. SPL41 rumbles out of Salvation Point Yard and up the hill toward Many Lost Ways National Park.



At Northeast Staging, the train pulls to a stop just short of the outbound Gallup loads we spotted during setup. The staging yard is a fiddle yard, so the locomotive is simply picked up and turned around, then coupled to the outbound train.


The inbound cars are manually removed from the track. Their assignment cards are turned to the next destination, and they are staged as the outbound train for the next operating session. Train SPL41 then rolls back to Salvation Point.

PSPD12 – The Last Train Done Left Town

While the Gallup crew is heading out of Northeast Staging, the last train of the day is getting underway in Southwest Staging. PSPD12 was also staged at setup, with freight for Durango up front and loads to be handed by the Salvation Point locals in the next session out back.

The long freight heads across the Benjamin-Henry River enroute to Salvation Point.


The Salvation Point yard crew has set out all of the outbound Durango freight. When PSPD12 arrives in Salvation Point, the crew pulls the locomotives and the cars continuing to Durango forward, then backs onto the siding where the outbound Durango work awaits.



When that’s hooked up, the train regains the mainline and powers up the hill to Northeast Staging. Its arrival there marks the end of another long day on the FCFL’s Four Corners Division.


Filler Traffic

The layout is nearly ready for more formal operating sessions with more operators. I need to work out the timing to allow the trains to run on a schedule rather than just sequentially. I will also include in the schedule Amtrak’s Badger State, the steam tourist shuttle, and a Union Pacific coal drag that runs on trackage rights over the FCFL. This will add an extra challenge as crews will have to wait for clear track and give way to priority trains.

Here SPL41, a Gallup local, waits for a UP coal train borrowing FCFL power to clear the main:

Adding even a low-key operating system like mine adds to the fun of any model railroad!

Operating the FCFL: Salvation Point Industries and Herbst Junction

IMG_2787When we left off last week, the Flagstaff local had just arrived in Salvation Point, and the yard crew was sorting out the freight.

Now the yard crew has assembled another challenging local job, Train SPH21, which switches the local industries in Salvation Point as well as Red Earth Co-op in Herbst Junction.

A Push-Pull Operation

The Red Earth Co-op siding faces west, so a locomotive pulling cars from Salvation Point would need to perform a runaround maneuver to pick up and spot cars. The passing siding at Herbst Junction can accommodate no more than three cars, so to work the co-op the train has to be pushed from Salvation Point. This is a long push move on the main line, so a caboose is employed to protect the train. It’s not really necessary, but I like a caboose now and then and it adds a little complexity to the work.

There are two industries in Salvation Point. Paul Power’s spur faces east while Midtown Construction Materials faces west. The train is blocked with the Paul Power work on the west end and Midtown’s cars to the east.

The crew runs the locomotive around on the passing siding and couples on to the caboose, shoves the train up to Midtown and switches the inbounds and outbounds.

IMG_2793The locomotive is run around to the east end of the train again at the passing siding, and backed down to Paul Power to work the traffic there.




The train is reassembled and the caboose leads the way down into the Benjamin Henry Canyon.


At Herbst Junction, the crew works the Red Earth Co-op spur. Any loads bound for Globe are spotted on the short siding by the depot.



This Red Earth Co-op hopper (with patches) is bound for Globe. Rather than haul it to Salvation Point, it is spotted in Herbst Junction for the Globe Local to grab later.

The train is reassembled and the crew returns to Salvation Point in time for lunch.


Next week: The Globe and Gallup locals, and the end of a long day on the job.

Operating the FCFL: Salvation Point Yard and the Flagstaff Local

yard composite horiz

FCFL’s Salvation Point Yard

Last week train DSPP10 dropped a string of cars at Salvation Point on its way to Phoenix (AKA Southwest Staging). This week the Salvation Point yard crew gets to work sorting those cars and building the “local” trains that will deliver them to cities and industries across the layout.

Yard Work

IMG_2692The busiest locomotive in the fleet is the MP1500DC switcher assigned to Salvation Point Yard. The yard crew cuts apart the string of cars left behind by the Phoenix-bound DSPP10, and sorts them by destination: Flagstaff, Salvation Point industries, Herbst Junction, Gallup, Globe. The crew then builds the local trains that will work those destinations.

SPF11 – The Flagstaff Local

The first local on the schedule is the Flagstaff turn, Train SPF11. Flagstaff presents some challenging switching, with industrial spurs facing east and west. Just getting to Flagstaff from Salvation Point requires the train to reverse direction. To help the crew manage it all efficiently, SPF11 is built with a locomotive at each end. Here is where Digital Command Control (DCC) is essential.

With the Flagstaff cars sorted, the power is brought from the hostler track. The locomotives are cut apart, with one placed on each end of the train:


Engine 5601 (DCC address 56) and 5630 (address 30) are set up for multiple unit operation. While in a “consist” like this, both units respond to the same throttle commands.



The consist is broken, allowing the engines to operate independently.



The locomotives are cut apart, and one is sent down the line to be on the head end of the train.




The other locomotive pulls the Flagstaff cars from the yard and shoves them up to couple with the first locomotive. The consist is re-established and the train is ready to roll.



The train heads east, downhill into the Benjamin-Henry Canyon and pulls up short of the crossover at Herbst Junction.

The crew selects the diverging route and pulls clear of the turnout on the branch line.

IMG_2780Taking up residence in the locomotive now facing west, the crew throttles up and heads through The Cell into the longest tunnel on the FCFL.


Arriving in Flagstaff, the locomotive consist is broken again. One engine switches the industries with east-facing sidings, the other works the west-facing sidings.



With the inbound cars all spotted and the outbound cars all pulled, the train is assembled with a locomotive on each end for the trip home.


The reverse move at Herbst Junction is repeated, and the train finally arrives back in Salvation Point.


Next Week: We work the local industries in Salvation Point and make a run to Herbst Junction.