Clinchfield Railroad Museum Opens in Unicoi, TN

Back in the early spring of this year, I had read that a Clinchfield Railroad Museum was under construction in the Erwin, TN area. On my last trip to Clinchfield Country in the spring, a railfan friend and I looked for the location in Unicoi. We found the location for reference to visit on a future trip once the museum opened.

According to this article, the Clinchfield Railroad Museum opened June 3, 2011. As a long-time fan of the CRR, I can’t wait until my next visit to the Erwin area to visit this museum!

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xkcd Features Model Railroading in HO Scale (or is it H0?)

If you’re an engineer, software developer, mathematician, or scientist, you’re probably already familiar with Randall Munroe’s excellent webcomic xkcd, which is one of my favorite comics. If you’ve never heard of xkcd, you might want to check out the most recent xkcd comic, which features model railroading by exploring the possibility of nesting HO (or is it H0?) layouts.

You can visit the xkcd web site to see this comic and many others, but I’ve also embedded the comic here:

For alternate text, visit

This xkcd comic embedded under the terms of the xkcd license, which is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

NOTE: When reading comics on the web site, be sure to hover your mouse over the comic long enough to see the alt-text pop-up for the image. There’s usually additional humor there as well. You might want to see the alt-text popup for this model railroad comic by visiting the xkcd website.

For more about Randall and xkcd, visit the about page on

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Update on Using Wireless Phones

Over the past few months, several folks have asked about the wireless phones I use for communication among the “management” positions during CSX Shenandoah Division operating sessions. Accordingly, I thought I’d provide some updated information.

I’ve been very happy with the VTech phones. We use them as our regular house phones when not operating. The intercom ring is different from the incoming call ring, and the system does not have to connected to your home telephone network. The base unit does need to be powered using the included wall wart.

When I researched wireless phones, I knew that I wanted an easy to use intercom system. I looked at several different types of phones, but I decided on the VTech phone because of the straightforward operation of the intercom system. These phones are simple to use, especially with the station number cheat sheet I put on the back. To initiate a call, you simply press the INT button followed by the number of the station to call (1-6 in my case). To answer an intercom call, you simply press the INT or TALK button. To end the call, you can either push the INT or OFF button.

I’ve never encountered any interference on these handsets, either as an intercom or as a phone. I’ve also experienced no interference between the phones, the FRS radios, the wi-fi network, and the Digitrax radio (simplex only) network.

I investigated many wireless alternatives, and the VTech phones seemed to have the best balance of features, price, and ease-of-use. The only negative thing about these phones (and it’s a quite minor negative for me) is they do not have a headphone jack. Not having the headset jack has been fine during op sessions, but a headset would be convenient at times when used as a regular phone. This particular VTech model is expandable up to 12 handsets, which would likely be sufficient for all but the largest of layouts.

I got my phones from the OfficeMax web site when they were on sale just before Christmas 2009. The phones have also been available from warehouse clubs and online retailers, such as Amazon. I’ve seen the 5 phone set priced between $79 and $99, depending on the vendor and any special pricing.

These phones supplement the existing FRS radios used during an operating session. The dispatcher and train crews still use FRS radios to communicate, while the “management” positions (the Supervisor of Train Operations, SD Dispatcher, North Salem Yardmaster, and Superintendent) use the phone/intercom network to communicate. Having the phones available has reduced the radio traffic for the road crews. The fifth phone from the original set serves as the crew call phone for the “crew lounge” (i.e. family room) when we have enough operators present to have off-duty train crews.

Since my initial purchase, I added one more phone at S.E. Catawba, which gives me a total of 6 VTech phones now. This additional phone represents a call box at the south end of the Catawba passing siding. The crew of southbound trains that terminate in the North Salem Yard use this phone to call the North Salem Yardmaster for yarding instructions.

Posted in Operations, Tips and Techniques | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A White Christmas at the Shenandoah Division

I’ve lived in NC all of my life, and I don’t ever recall snow on Christmas Day before in this part of NC. I can’t remember for sure, but we may have had a flurry occur on a prior Christmas. And according to official weather records, there’s no accumulation since 1947. This past weekend changed all that.

After having lunch with my parents, Cherie and I headed over to her folks’ to have supper on Christmas Day. Rain, sleet, and snow had been forecast for the afternoon of December 25. Nothing actually fell during the afternoon, but we kept an eye on the sky. The rain started after we ate supper at Cherie’s parents’ house. We took my sister-in-law and my nephew home, and while we were saying good-bye in their driveway, the rain changed to snow.

We headed towards home, and as we got closer, we noticed the snow started sticking to the grass and trees. By the time we went to bed, there was a light dusting on the ground. However, there was enough accumulation to record 0.4 inches at the airport’s official weather station.

We woke up on Sunday morning to find the storm had dumped quite a bit of fluffy white stuff from the sky. There was roughly another 6 2/3 inches on December 26, giving us a grand total of about 7 inches. That’s a fairly significant amount of snow for us, and we usually don’t get any significant snowfalls outside of January, February, or early March. This storm was our fourth “winter event” already in December–the prior three didn’t really have any significant accumulation, though.

What does this have to do with the Shenandoah Division? Not much, other than this: I never thought I’d see snow on Christmas at Shenandoah Division World Headquarters!

Bruce standing in front of Shenandoah Division "World HQ" on December 26, 2010.

Here's how the back yard at Shenandoah Division "World HQ" looked on December 26, 2010.

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Crew Safety and Operations Orientation on the Crandic

With the help of several of his crew members, my friend Pat Lana has produced a Crew Safety video for his N scale Crandic Route. About 10 minutes long, the video is:

…a crew safety training film shown to new crew members on the railroad.  It discusses train orders, signaling and radio discipline, in addition to showing a run of a train on the railroad.

This training video provides an excellent overview of Crandic operations, and it also covers several introductory topics about operating on a model railroad. I’ve operated on Pat’s Crandic Route several times over the past few years. Still I did learn a new thing or two, especially what to do after a dangerous situation occurs.

Watch it when you have a spare 10 minutes. Be sure to stick around at the end for the credits.

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