One type of operation many Model Railroaders (myself included) enjoy involves starting with a list of freight cars that need to be moved from their current location to other locations, then proceeding to move them there with a reasonable degree of efficiency, while observing at least a few of the rules real railroads must observe, e.g. no moving them by hand.
But how to decide which cars should move? There are many ways of deciding that, none of them "right" or "wrong" (This is supposed to be a hobby, after all!) and each Modeler has his or her favorite.
For this reason, traffic flow on the Hillside & Eastern is initiated and regulated by waybills (documents somewhat akin to train tickets for loads of freight) generated by PTG, a computer program of my own design. I give it a database listing the types of traffic my railroad handles and the demand for each type, an example being alloy bar steel for the XYZ factory, 4.6 loads per month. The program determines for me what loads should move on any given day, and prints out the appropriate waybills, which I then match with suitable available cars. That steel load for the XYZ factory would appear every six or seven operating sessions (each operating session is a day.)
As of May, 2002, I had over 300 types of loads in the database, which results in a different mixture of waybills for each operating session. Some of the days have more traffic that others, but I haven't had a day yet that I couldn't handle.
The effect of the traffic peaks and lulls tends to be evened out by the tickler file system I use to determine how long a car is left at a location before it moves on. The after-math of a peak is thus spread out over several days, most of which are on the quiet side.
Since I was also intrigued by the concept of seasonal flows of traffic, my waybill program has twelve "levels" for each type of freight traffic, one for each month of the year. Given that, it was a simple matter to have the computer put a date on each waybill, and for me to take those days one at a time, one for each operating session. I keep track of the days on a 1938 calendar. (No, not an antique, a new one generated by a computer program like this one.)
A recent development on the Hillside & Eastern is the addition of daily L.C.L. traffic to transfer houses on the NYC and CB&Q. For these movements, I use two permanent, double-sided waybills, one for movement to and from the CB&Q, the other for movement to and from the NYC. The timing is such that the car coming from the east, once empty, is immediately loaded with freight headed west, and vise-versa. The waybill program kicks in an occasional second car of L.C.L. during high-traffic periods.
Many Model Railroaders operate their layouts with the aid of a fast clock, a device that allows them to compress a shift, or even an entire day's worth of operation on their railroad into a few hours. This has the added advantage of making trains take "longer" to transverse the too-short distances most model railroads have between stations. Along with the fast clock, there is usually a schedule, giving arrival and departure times for trains at each station. The operators are expected to keep the trains running on schedule. I've done this at other Modeler's houses, and it's a lot more fun than it sounds.
I don't have a working fast clock at my house, and only one station, but I have worked out a schedule of train arrivals and departures for that station, based on real time. With real time, you see, I can use my pocket watch instead of a clock on the wall.
As noted above, however, time does pass differently in Danville: at a rate of one day per operating session. I began operations several years back (probably 1987) with the Danville date set in mid-July, 1937. Because I average far less than one operating session a day, the weeks and months have passed much slower on my model railroad than they did in the real world. As of June, 2002, I have gotten as far as early March, 1938.
So there you have it, folks: Some model railroads operate by fast clock; mine operates by slow calendar.
Most of the work in Danville is done by an 0-6-0 switcher. On weekdays, the switch crew's first task is to deal with the just-arrived morning commuter run, putting the coaches away and using the combination coach (half baggage and half smoker) to make up a mixed train to head west, come mid-morning. In the winter months, this train requires a caboose, as the "combine" must be next to the locomotive to get steam for heat. It can be quite challenging for the crew to locate and gather all the westbound cars in time, for westbounds that fail to make the morning mixed must be stored until tomorrow, and shippers start calling, making thinly-veiled references to motor trucks. Neither does it pay to keep the mixed past the usual departure time; time lost here results in delays throughout the remainder of the day.
All scheduled trains are usually pulled by an Ex-Northern Pacific T-1 2-6-2, and the morning mixed is one of those. After the last cars are in place, the switcher withdraws to the engine service area, and the freshly turned and serviced Prairie moves out to take her place at the front of the train as the passengers board. At the appointed time, the morning mixed whistles off and departs, leaving the stage empty for the switcher to finish the remaining work of picking up empties and eastbound cars from the various industries, while distributing cars picked up from the car cleaning and service tracks and the NYC interchange.
There is usually more than enough time to accomplish this and eat lunch too, and after the last car is spotted and the last switch is thrown, the switcher again retires toward the engine service area to fill the tender and clean the fire.
The tempo increases again in the late afternoon, when the mixed train returns, bringing with it more cars. The switcher distributes these while making up the westbound commuter run, which must be ready to go before passengers begin to arrive in the early evening. More often than not, if there have been no delays in the schedule, everything is ready in time, and our commuters will not have to endure burnt dinners and tearful wives.
In the process, of course, the switch crew must avoid blocking grade crossings for extended periods, make sure there's still water in the tender, obey speed limits, and observe all other rules or restrictions imposed upon them by the managers in the carpeted offices downtown.
On days when the Prairie is due in the shop, she's replaced by a small Consolidation type, left over from earlier times and kept around as a fill-in for regular trains, or as motive power for work extras and the occasional extra dimension load special. Try as she might, however, her small drivers are no match for those of her larger sister, and schedules and dinners often suffer as a result.
On Saturdays, there is no commuter service, only a mixed train that arrives eastbound in the late morning, and another that departs westbound in the evening.
There is neither passenger service nor scheduled trains on Sundays, but there is usually a freight extra or two. Very often the switch crew is not called at all that day, and the road engine handles the switching. Inasmuch as the Prairie is restricted to tracks with curves broader than those of many of the industrial tracks, the crew must often resort to using a "handle" of empties to reach cars spotted at the far end of some weed-grown track. The job is made easier by the relaxed schedule and city streets empty of traffic.