Skagit Valley and Whidbey Clinic Kicks Off 2014-15 Season

Rich Thom

The Skagit Valley and Whidbey (SV&W) Clinic got off to a great start at its first meeting in Oak Harbor on September 10th, with Chairperson Rich Blake welcoming everyone back after the summer break. Actually most members met in August at John and Felicia Marshall’s home for a BBQ, also featuring John’s growing (they always do!) outdoor G-scale railroad. This added “bonus” meeting has become a tradition thanks to the Marshalls’ hospitality.

Rich noted tonight’s attendance was 27, a good beginning for the season (last year’s average was 28). New member Steve Shelley—modeling in HO scale—was introduced and welcomed. Rich reviewed the season’s clinic topics and regional calendar of NMRA and other events. Clinic members again plan to support many of the events such as the Pacific Science Center Show, the Monroe Train Show, and others.

Rich Blake presented the evening’s clinic, “The Art of Ops.” Several members already host regular operating sessions; and others plan to. The theme of Rich’s talk was how guest operators should prepare themselves to help make the session run smoothly. It also improves your chances of getting invited back!

SV&W Clinic 9-10-14

Homework Before the Op Session

If you are invited to operate on an unfamiliar layout, there’s a lot you can do before showing up, anxious to move your first train. Most hosts have abundant material available describing the things you need to know about their railroad. They will email it to you, refer you to a website, or perhaps reference published articles. In addition to this layout-specific information, guest operators should know basic railroad operating practices.

• Prototype or Theme/era for the Layout—The host will tell you the location and timeframe his layout recreates, and will appreciate guests having some basic familiarity with it, which can be researched on the internet.
• What, When, Where and How—The host will almost always provide a Track Plan, Timetable, or often an entire Employee Timetable. Study these carefully. There’s nothing more frustrating than being handed a throttle and told to take a train from A to B, and not having the slightest idea where A and B are.
• General Rules of the Road—Be familiar with general rules, such as can be found in the General Code of Operating Rules, which can be downloaded from the internet.
• Layout Owner Rule Set—Sometimes provided in advance, sometimes not. If they are, read them. How are cars uncoupled on the layout? Is sound used, and does the host want you to use realistic whistle signals? (Know them.) Does he want you to not touch his cars and locos under any circumstances? Does he wish nothing to be placed on the layout, even “harmless” paper? Owners can be very sensitive about such things, and guests should know them.
• Train Control—How is traffic controlled, TT&TO, Track Warrants, CTC etc? Know the basics of these methods, and refresh yourself with the details of the one used.
• Car Forwarding—The host will usually specify the method used: car cards, switch lists, tab-on-car, etc. Know how to use them beforehand.
• DCC/DC—The host will specify whether he uses Lenz, Digitrax, MRC etc. If you are not familiar with the manufacturer’s equipment, do your homework. Instruction manuals can be found on the internet. Also don’t forget how to operate on a DC layout—there are still some around!

At the Layout

Encountering an unfamiliar layout, especially a large and fully-scenicked one, you’ll usually be wowed and start looking at all the details. But right after the orientation tour, you’ll be expected to run a train. Focus on what is operationally important first!

• Electrical Panels—Some are user friendly with clear diagrams, others less so. Ask if some are confusing to you.
• Turnout Controls—Know where they are and how to use them.
• DCC/DC—Locate the DCC plug-in panels.
• Signals—Know the indications! On a CTC layout, for example, if you don’t know what yellow over red means, ask the host for a cheat sheet. Most have them available.
• Problem Trackwork—This refers to complex, not poorly laid, track. Locate complex trackwork that you will need to negotiate, such as three-way and slip switches. If they are aligned by the road crews, know how to throw them to avoid embarrassment when your train gets there!
• Defer admiring the layout until after you are comfortable with the things above.
• Self-Prep—Take with you the accessories that you may need. Operating usually requires four or five hands, to hold train orders, throttle, radio, car cards etc. Pack an apron with pockets and/or neck lanyard; small flashlight; pens/pencils, spare uncoupling picks. If you take your own throttle, pack spare batteries.
• Give Feedback to the Host—He will appreciate knowing the bugs that you’ve encountered. Remove bad order cars, and fill out bad order forms if provided. Blue flag problem trackwork. Identify any locos that need attention. Taking photos of bad order items and sending later also works. Always stay for and contribute to the debriefing at the end of the session.

And Slow Down!

The final section of Rich’s talk addressed slowing down for more realistic operation, illustrated with video clips, some of which Rich shot on his On30 modules. It’s common to see switching moves performed in an op session at a speed impossible in the real world, without brakemen moving at the speed of light that is. Using “one potato two potato” counting to insert simulated time for releasing hand brakes, uncoupling, walking to and from ground throws, etc., Rich demonstrated how these operations can be done much more realistically, more than doubling the time usually seen in typical sessions. Simulating brake tests, setting retainers, and other prototype operations can also add interest and slow things down. Finally, several video clips showed some of the bad habits that even experienced operators can develop over time. One of the best: grabbing a freight car with your left hand to create slack (probably moving the loco at the end of the cut in the process) while uncoupling with a pick in your right hand

Operating can be fun for both guests and host, but guests need to do their half of the work: do the homework!

Inaugural Mount Vernon Clinic is Next Week

Al Carter

The inaugural meeting of the new Mount Vernon Clinic, sponsored by the Fourth Division, is next Tuesday, September 23, 2014.  The meeting is at the Mount Vernon Senior Center, starting at 7:00 p.m.  The address of the Senior Center is 1401 S. Cleveland Street, easily accessible from I-5 via the Kincaid Street exit. Click here for a map and directions.

Our first program will be by long time Fourth Division member Ted Becker, titled “How To Hobby Shop Outside the (Hobby Shop) Box.  We’ll learn about sources for modelling stuff not found in a hobby shop.  A lot of old ideas, maybe some new ideas and, best of all, ideas new to you that you can use.

We encourage attendees to bring along a model they’ve completed (or even models in progress) to share with the group.  Perhaps it will inspire others to start a new project.

We cannot unlock the door nor are we permitted to leave it propped open, but we will have someone at the entrance until 7:00 p.m.  If you arrive after that, please ring the “Model Railroaders” doorbell that will be on a board by the door and wait for someone to come and let you in.

If you have any questions, call me at 360-399-1226, or email email hidden; JavaScript is required.  If you wish to be on the list for the monthly e-mailed newsletter, email Roger Johnson at  email hidden; JavaScript is required or call 360-770-5944.

We hope to see you there!

Board of Director Position Open

Russ Segner, Division Superintendent

The current 4D Board Secretary, Tina Ferguson-Brikoff, has submitted her resignation. Both Tina and Alex, her husband, have increased responsibilities outside the hobby and have had to step away for a while.

It is my responsibility to appoint someone to this very important position. Here is how the Secretary position is described in the 4D Policy Manual:


The duties of the Secretary include, but are not necessarily limited to:

a.    Keep minutes of all Board of Directors and General Membership meetings.

b.   Provide copies of such minutes to others as prescribed elsewhere in the Bylaws and in the Policies and Procedures Manual.

c.    Maintain corporate records as prescribed elsewhere in the Bylaws and in the Policies and Procedures Manual.

d.   Perform other secretarial duties deemed necessary or specified in the Bylaws and in the Policies and Procedures Manual.

The Secretary is also the Registered Agent with the State of Washington.

If you are interested in serving, this is a great opportunity to help our membership. The Board meets six times each year, usually in Kent, and last about two hours. The next Board meeting is October 25 at 9:00 a.m.

Please contact me as soon as possible: 425-228-7327 or email hidden; JavaScript is required. I intend to make my selection no later than October 1st.

Eastside Get-Together Clinic Receives National Recognition

Al Lowe

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The 4th Division’s very own JJ Johnston was recently honored in the August issue of the national NMRA Magazine, in the Division Business Car section. In case you missed it, here’s a scan of the article.

Remember: when you’re traveling, check the Magazine’s Club Car section for clinics to attend. This month’s Eastside Get-Together will include an NMRA member from Texas who is traveling in this area!

Last Day to Save on Sn3 Symposium

Russ Segner, Convention Chair

Sn3 2015The 30th Annual Sn3 Symposium will be held in Bellevue, Washington next April 16 – 19, 2015. If you REGISTER TODAY, you’ll save big bucks!

It will be hosted by the same bunch that brought you the great 2012 National Narrow Gauge Convention. With over 15 narrow gauge layouts, 16 great clinics, and lots of time with fellow narrow-gaugers. At least seven Sn3 layouts will be open for operating sessions, with slots filled first-come, first-served.

Held at the excellent Bellevue Sheraton, there will be plenty of room for clinics and contest entries. 75 rooms have been reserved at very good rates for attendees.

For more information, see, or email Registrar email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Today is the last day to get the early registration rate!

Wain Miller Surgery Update

Mike Highsmith

Wain Miller ended up having a quadruple by-pass and was in surgery for nearly 6 hours. He came out of it very well and will be in ICU for at least 24 hours. He reports a sore throat but is able to speak and the doctors are very pleased with how things have gone. The family wishes to thank the railroad community for its kind words, thoughts and prayers.

Anacortes Antique Machinery Show Sept. 13

Keith Sternberg

I’d like to invite all 4th Division members to the annual Anacortes Antique Machinery Show this Saturday, September 13, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at 6th and Market, near the old Great Northern depot and the sternwheel steamer “W T Preston.”

Keith Sternberg's model 4-6-0

Keith Sternberg’s model 4-6-0

There will be exhibits of steam power (both stationary and marine), antique tractors, model builders with engine models, and a handcar operating on the old Great Northern track along Market Street. I will have a temporary short-line railroad of 7-1/2″ gauge track alongside of the steamboat “W T Preston.” My coal-fired ten-wheeler will be in steam with a single-car train. There will be several steam launches on display, wood-fired and oil-fired boats of 18 – 25 foot length. The “W T Preston,” a fine old steamboat built for the Army Corps of Engineers in 1914, will be open for visitors. She has cylinders about 14″ bore and 6-foot stroke, and a locomotive-type boiler.

Admission to the show is free. Admission to board the “W T Preston” is $3.

I built the locomotive using castings from Allen Models. It is 9′ long overall and weighs about 600 pounds. The boiler is state-inspected and allowed 150 psi. Cylinders are 1-3/4″ bore and 3-1/4″ stroke. I often pull a passenger train at the Great Northern & Cascade Railway at Skykomish. I have fired with several types of coal, lately a mix of Pennsylvania anthracite and Utah bituminous. A full head of steam is easily maintained all day, no matter how heavy the load.

I hope you come by Saturday for some really large-scale model railroading!

Wain Miller Hospitalized

Mike Highsmith

One of the 4th Division’s best friends and most active members, Wain Miller is facing at least triple by-pass surgery Monday morning at Swedish.  Many of us have friends and family who’ve gone through this and know the road ahead. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family at this time. I will update you on his progress.

Carsten Publications Purchased

Don Smith

Rumors have swirled recently that the long-time publisher of Railroad Model Craftsman was in financial difficulties and would cease operations. Good news! Carsten Publications announced that they have been purchased by White River Productions, which will honor all current subscriptions.

Complete details are on their website.

Gene Methven Passes

Ed Liesse

Eugene (Gene) R. Methven, 92, passed away early in the morning of August 10, 2014. He lived in MapleValley and attended the Tacoma Clinic often and occasionally the Eastside Get-Together. He rode with Henry Holowedel and, after Henry’s passing, stopped attending because of not driving at night.

There will be a celebration of Gene’s life on Sunday, September 7 from 1:00–3:30 p.m. at the Wilderness Villa Clubhouse, 24100 221st Place, Maple Valley, WA 98038.

See Gene’s complete Seattle Times Obituary here.

Seattle-North Clinic – No Meeting in September 2014

By Jeff Moorman

Hope you all had a good summer. For a couple of reasons we will forego our September meeting this year and start up the clinic season on October 2, 2014.

Unfortunately this summer we lost our long time liaison with the church. It has taken some time to reach a new understanding of our meeting needs. We’ll still be meeting the first Thursday of the month, but will be moving up to the main floor. In fact, please check the meeting notices carefully for the next several months. We may need to make further temporary changes to accommodate some scheduled renovations in the building.

Also, traffic and travel is expected to be cumbersome throughout the Seattle area on September 4 due to the Seahawk’s home opener.

We meet at the Ronald United Methodist Church, 17839 Aurora Avenue North, Shoreline, WA. That is on the west side of Aurora (State Route 99) between 175th and 185th Streets and more specifically, between the Cadillac dealer on the south and Deseret Industries to the north. Going southbound on Aurora, make a right-hand turn into the church driveway immediately after passing the Deseret location. The parking lot is at the rear of the church. For regular meetings go up the steps to the  entrance and go to the Fireside room which is immediately to the left inside the door.

Meetings are the first Thursday of each month, usually September through June. However in June we often do something different, so there may be no “regular” meeting. Doors open at 7:00 PM and the program starts at 7:30.

Remember that there is no meeting this September. The next regular evening meeting is October 2. Hope to see you there or at least sometime on down the line.

Skagit Valley & Whidbey NMRA Clinic September 10

Allen Frasch

Whidbey ClinicThe Skagit Valley & Whidbey Model Railroading Clinic will meet in Oak Harbor on Wednesday, September 10th at 7:00 p.m. to begin the new model railroading season.

Rich Blake and team have some great clinics scheduled for your enjoyment and edification this year, beginning with this month’s clinic by Rich himself.

OPS CRAFT — The Art of Operating Model Trains

In preparation for the upcoming OPS season (a.k.a. Model Railroad Operations), get a primer on train operations and how to make your ops participation more fun and realistic. This is not a how-to for setting up an operating session, we will focus on how to participate as guest or owner.

Whidbey2We spend considerable time modeling and developing our own operating method for our layouts but, when it comes time to operate on another’s layout, it can be confusing and difficult. We will show how to make life easier during an ops session while emulating the prototype. If time allows, we will also cover car forwarding methods using JMRI.

Remember: come to Summer Hill in OakHarbor on September 10 by 7:00. We will have our customary pre-clinic get-together at 5:15 at the San Remo restaurant, 421 NE Midway Blvd, OakHarbor. Come early and enjoy some great pizza and conversation.

Sn3 Symposium Discount Sign-Up Ends Soon

Russ Segner, Sn3 Symposium Coordinator

Sn32015Do you have a fondness for narrow gauge trains or just admire fine modeling? Then you can’t miss the annual 2015 Sn3 Symposium to be held in Bellevue next April 16! This is a national event with participants from all over the world.

The Symposium committee has lined up 16 layouts in several scales, most of which are not usually open. There will be several operating sessions available; clinics by nationally-recognized modelers; a model and photo contest; and vendors from across the nation. The Bellevue Sheraton has been selected as the convention hotel, with easy access to freeways and free parking.

Take advantage of the early registration rate of just $45 until September 10! Check out our website to see all that we have in store for you.

My Pal Al Passes

Bobj Berger

Long time active 4th Division member Alfred S. Robinson, 88, passed away from a heart attack on July 30th (as reported to me this week by his wife Doreen). Al often used the term “Pal” as a term of endearment and because of that I always referred to him as “my Pal Al.” He was one of my favorites and a mentor.

Al was perhaps best known for his many years of managing the Seattle Clinic Mart, back during the days of our Beacon Hill meetings, which is where I first met him about 30 years ago. Since the Seattle-North Clinic moved to the current meeting location, he has been unlocking the church doors, preparing the room for the clinic, and participating in the clinic events. Doreen, in the spirit of continuing volunteerism has offered to continue to unlock the building for the Seattle-North Clinic if we will call and remind her! Al was the founder of the 4D G-scale module program, and he was largely responsible for those modules morphing to become what is today’s Puget Sound Garden Railway Society. He and my (then 12-year-old) daughter Ashley were featured on Spokane TV news stories during the 1991 Railfest Northwest PNR Convention with those G modules.

He had been fighting diabetes, liver failure and cancer the past couple of years, and once said to me (while discussing his diagnosis) that he’d had a wonderful life. This was quite evident when I met with his supportive family over the weekend.

The family is planning services to be held at the Ronald United Methodist Church (same location as the Seattle North Clinic) on Saturday, August 30th at 2 pm. The church is located on the west side of Hwy 99/Aurora Ave N, just North of 175th, between the Cadillac dealer and the Deseret Thrift Store (where Al shopped before every clinic!).

Al had spent much of the past couple of years selling a large part of his train collection, but was still buying up to the day he passed. A true model railroader! The family and Railfun are currently working on an in-house estate sale of his collections of G, On30, HO and other train related items, as well as his extensive military collection of tanks, uniforms, and other items. This may occur near the end of September. Another notice will be sent out when the date is chosen.

Grab-Iron Now For ALL Members

Al Lowe

When we created the Digital Grab Iron a few years ago, we made it “opt-in,” which meant that you must actively request inclusion. Now the 4D Board of Directors believes every 4D member should be notified of all the Division’s news. Starting today, you will receive a short notification whenever any new article is posted.

Just click the link in the email to read the full article or, if you’re not interested, delete the email. It’s as simple as that. But now, all members will know what’s going on in our active Division.

Of course, if you absolutely never want to know anything, we understand. <grin> Send an email to email hidden; JavaScript is required and I’ll remove you. But you’re going to miss some of the best of what your NMRA dues cover: what’s happening locally.

PSC Model Railroad Show Asks For Your Help With Magazine Storage

Bobj Berger

Ask not what the Annual NMRA Pacific Science Center Show can do for you, but ask what you can do for our Annual NMRA Pacific Science Center Show! For 40 years this model railroad show has been the primary source of 4th Division funding of member services and projects such as the clinics, module program, and video library (to name but a few of our member services). We have been able to do this because of the volunteer efforts of the committee and those displaying their hobby work, and the staff of the Pacific Science Center.

Each year we have magazines to give away at the NMRA-PNR-4D Membership table. These magazine “gifts” have always been well received by the kids and adults (and even a few members too!). A couple of years ago “Railfun Model Railroad Estate Services” began storing and then donating the magazines from the estates we had under contract for the show. We have not run out of magazines to give away during the show.

This year we have a new problem because we have over 15 estates in contract, another 3-4 pending, plus we no longer have one estate storage locker that was used for both trains and magazines. We are buried in model trains and related items and have run out of space to store the magazines for the PSC Show donation.

We need someone to step up and agree to store about 20 cardboard boxes of Trains, Model Railroader, MRC, etc the next 5 months until the January 2015 show. We could even store them in more than one place if one person does not have room for all 20 (or so) boxes. Currently they are stacked on my front porch and the Truly Unpleasant Mrs Berger has indicated her dissatisfaction with this arrangement! These are all clean non smelly magazines and all they need is a dry place to sit until the show. We can deliver even if need be.

So how about it, are you ready to step up and participate in the best model railroad show in the Northwest and possible the entire country? You even get to read them yourself!

Call PSC Show Board Member Bobj at 206-948-0862 or email at email hidden; JavaScript is required and begin your volunteering for your hobby. Thanks for your consideration, and keep on model railroading.


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