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Going Trackside

As model railroaders we can learn a lot by going trackside to observe the prototype. A few months ago I was able to do some railfanning with my friend Brandon near Athens, Georgia. You never know what you are going to see, and sometimes you get a real treat as these photos show.

As we were checking out some cars in a small yard I heard a faint horn off in the distance. The horn sounded strange, but it was blowing the grade crossing cadence so I figured it might be a highrail vehicle. A few minutes later a old CSX caboose came along being used as a shoving platform protecting a long shove move for the local CSX switch crew. The caboose was equipped with a single chime air horn and provided a safe platform for the conductor guiding the shove move. This type of operation would be great to model on a modern era layout if you want to be able to use a caboose.

The next surprise was the pair of locomotives in the center of the cut of cars it was switching. It just goes to show that having cars on each end of the locomotive is prototypical when you are conducting your switching operations. The pairing of the two of locomotives was unique as it consisted of CSX road slug #2343, and “mother” CSX #6410, a GP40-2. A road slug can be identified by not having radiator openings on the side of the long hood. In addition, next to the fuel tank filler is stenciled, Do Not Fuel. A road slug is a locomotive with no prime mover and receives its power from another locomotive, called a mother, it is consisted to. The road slug does have traction motors and increases the pulling power of the mother locomotive. Most road slugs carry ballast to improve traction. Many crews prefer to operate the consist from the road slug as it has controls, but is quieter due to not having a prime mover.

A few minutes later, the crew conducted a shove move with the conductor riding the side of an old Southern wood chip hopper car. Note the red flag in the rear coupler and conductor wearing his high visibility safety vest, which indicates this is a modern era photo.

Brandon also photographed some excellent details on a siding that serves National Cement. The siding has a blue light on a post near the derail and head of the siding to the industry. The blue light serves as “blue flag” protection for the cars on the siding. Blue flags on a railroad indicate that cars are not to be coupled to or moved as personnel many be on, under, or around the cars, or they could be connected to unloading hoses. If the light is illuminated the local switch crew must contact the facility and have them check the cars and turn off the light if it is safe to do so. In the photo also note the red painted tie prior to the derail and the wheel spray kicked up on the underside of the sloped sheet of the covered hopper car.

In this yard photo, Brandon was able to photograph it from an elevated position. What really stands out are all the details that can be seen. Note the storage of track supplies near the yard, all in separate piles. You can also see on the right side of the photo, a turnout has been removed and the yard track just ends short of the yard lead. Clearance points for the yard tracks have ties that are painted yellow to indicate when the cars in the clear of the adjacent track. Finally on the left side you can see how the ties are spaced further apart on the yard tracks and that a few new ties have been installed. The end of the track is protected by ties crossed and inserted between the rails. These are all excellent details that can be added to your layout.

I hope you liked seeing some prototype photos and that they inspired you to improve the little details on your layout that makes it more realistic. Remember to safely observe the prototype, and never trespass on railroad property.

Until next time stay safe and enjoy model railroading.

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Michael Armstrong
Michael Armstrong
Feb 13, 2021

Nice write-up, Tom, with great photos. Thank you!


John Buckley
John Buckley
Feb 13, 2021

Details, details. That's what brings a model railroad to life. Thanks for sharing, Tom.

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