Author Topic: Always something (commentary for a OPS layout)  (Read 472 times)


  • The Second
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  • Jay Gould
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Always something (commentary for a OPS layout)
« on: November 05, 2011, 01:02:03 PM »
I had to chuckle this month when I opened up the Model Railroader and read Tony's Trains of Thought column.  It was basically about making major changes to a layout right before a major event.

As many know and for those that don't, I've long been into the OPSIG (Operating model railroad) group, I host regular operating sessions on my layout.  But I'll dig back to the old layout, the CIOR (Central Indiana & Ohio Railroad). 
The CIOR was a fully signaled, computer dispatcher controlled layout.  Lots of trains and lots of local action working all over.  Took 12-20 people to make it tick properly.  Several years back we hosted our first ever OPSIG event, called CIRROPS.  We had people coming in from all over the country, I literally had people from Colorado to South Carolina, Michigan to Texas coming in for this thing.  I had 2 different sessions to host, Friday and Saturday.  With that the mad rush was on, with help from my regular operators, we quickly got the layout ready to go.  As they say "dressed to impress".  The issue I saw was the layout currently had a dead block (while detected they weren't signaled yet).  In order to signal that section I had to tie in the remaining signals to the CMRI system (Computer model railroad interface).  While at face value its simple.  Simply hook up 3 wires per signal, or 6 per track, 12 per direction and 24 per interlocking, but add in 2 sets of dwarfs, giving me another 6 signals, so 30 wires.
No biggie, each output card has 32 lines and I already knew the bit source for each line.  Not a problem, RIGHT?

So one friend Mark was over working and I asked him to be ready to do signal testing.  The new code was in place and all should work, but I need to route line everything and drop the circuits (much like in real life) aka FIELD TESTING. 

So I power down the signal system, reset and turn it back on.  NOTHING, then FEAR.  because NOTHING was working I mean NOTHING.  I had not a thing signal wise lit up.  But the board on the computer showed all was fine.  It should be working but isn't.  FRUSTRATION is a mild term for this.  I'm less than 24 hours from a major OPSIG event and the signal system that was working is now DOWN. 
What made this worse was, I was IT when it came to trouble shooting and that was on purpose.  Its much easier in my mind to have it simple and sweet and the big problem is NO ONE CAN HELP YOU OUT THEN!

I spent the next 20 minute in shear panic.  Mark was doing everything he could to control the situation and settle me down, but nothing would work.  I finally got upset enough that I powered down the system and unhooked the card that was controlling that Control Point.  I decided that I would unhook it and then fire up the system and check it out.  So I did, guess what, it all came back to life. 

I looked at Mark and said "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH" and just figured we would use the principle of asking the dispatcher like we did for other OP sessions.  In the end, it worked out fine and to the end of the CIOR we never did hook up CP-Newman to the CTC as planned. 
It wasn't until we tore down the layout that I figured out what the deal was.  It was a dead short.  Apparently when we had a "Wire pulling session" as we have had many (the only layout had roughly 12,000feet of CAT5 cable alone!) we caught one of the bundles on a screw and it caused a dead short.  Had the time and patients been there I'm sure I would have figured it out eventually.

I guess the lesson that I knew and learned again was never do anything major before a major event.  Sure, its simple in principle and theory, but in practice, its near impossible. 

I did learn a great many things while building and tearing down the CIOR.  One was that you never rush a step in building a layout!  You never rush a step....PERIOD.  I laid every bit of track and 2 years later still have no scenery.  I decided to host op sessions and make sure it all worked well before I put one bit of plaster down.  Once the track is all ready, it will be on to the signal system.  I want to have it all in and functional before I cover that over.  Much easier to work on the stuff above the layout. 
Finally scenery will come along.  I figure that is the finishing act of any railroad.


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Re: Always something (commentary for a OPS layout)
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2011, 09:48:53 PM »
It seems like the PRRC suffers this curse traditionally everytime we schedule an open house  :P  The DCC system starts acting up, a yard ladder refuses to function properly, someone blows a fuse killing power for half the club rooms (and the Union building is so old, even the maintenance folks never get it right the first time they try to find it.

We had picked up a bad habit of getting too busy with school stuff and then making a big rush the last week before a show - but as you said, over the past year we've made a strong effort to keep in mind you can't rush it.  Still have trouble trying to convince some members this  :-X
-Representing the Purdue Railroad Club