Assiniboine Valley Railway is a privately owned club of 1:8 scale railway enthusiasts. They own 6,400' of 7.5" gauge track on 7 acres of land near the Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg. The club was founded in 1995. For years cofounder Bill Taylor operated a Christmas run until his death in 2013. That was a huge setback for the club but they are coming back in 2015 with a lot of events.
I spotted a notice on the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club blog about a public "fun run day" where one could operate their trains as a conductor or engineer for two hours for $5. I jumped on this and signed up for the 9 AM-11 AM session.
I arrived a few minutes before 9 and met a few of the club members, including Dwight and Len, and we were joined by another "newbie", Chris. After a quick tour of the facilities we were shown how to operate the trains, couple and uncouple cars, and then were given car cards and sent off on the main line. Chris started out as engineer, I was conductor and Dwight came along as brakeman to help point out the different locations.
This was our train before we headed out:
The cars are pretty sizable. You could lift one with difficulty. I had to lift one end to re-rail a car after we ran over a branch, and it wasn't especially light. While the train is moving, you are sitting on these cars so they are a decent size.
Our power was boxcab #25.
The boxcab is full of batteries that provide the motive power. Note the control box sitting on the engineer's seat. It is much like a model train's controller, with a rotary dial for the throttle, a forward/reverse toggle, a bell toggle, a horn button, and most importantly a dead-man's button. If you don't keep the button held down, the train stops... good for when you have passengers on board!
On the road... this was my view sitting on a bench in the hopper behind the engineer and brakeman, who were on the flatcar behind the locomotive.
They operate using car cards. Each named location on the "layout" is represented by an envelope, and one or more cards representing a car on your train is inserted into each envelope. These are the cars you must place ("spot") at the named location. As well, there is an envelope marked "pickup" containing one or more cards for cars that are "out there" that you must find and bring back to the station.
Throwing switches, coupling and uncoupling is much like full-size trains without so much momentum! Sometimes it was easy to drop a car off or pick one up, but
sometimes we had to run around the train or do a few moves to get the right car in the right place. Fun!
We returned to the station after an hour to trade places and organize our paperwork. By this time another train was on the south track, waiting for the 11 AM crew.
Then it was my turn to drive. It did not take long to get used to driving the train, but like the full size trains you have momentum involved so you have to keep that in mind. There are no brakes on the train other than the resistance of the locomotive when you throttle down, so you don't have to deal with air at all. On occasion I had to put my foot on the ground to hold the train when we were stopped on a slight grade. You can't do that at 1:1 scale!
Here we were doing some switching. We had pulled the two gondolas out of the spur and I was pushing the boxcar into the spur. Chris on the left was on his way to spot me, and Dwight was supervising the move.
All too soon, we returned to the station, shortly before 11. When asked if we had any questions, my first was, "how do I do this again??" I signed up as an associate member and we'll see how that goes.
I invite you to take in any of their public events - very inexpensive and lots of fun!