Great Lakes Getaway Operations Weekend

Every two years since 2003, there is one operating event that stands out for model railroaders across the U.S. It’s the great Lakes Getaway operating weekend. It now features 8 different layouts for 40 invited operators to explore. Each operator gets to select 3 railroads to visit during the weekend. Doug Tagsold and Bruce Carpenter started this operations weekend as a way to provide guests with quality rather than quantity in the selected layouts.

These kinds of events, are for more than only running trains. Dinner with other model railroaders is always great time. It is a chance to recall all the fun from the days operating sessions and to plan for the fun that’s coming the next day. Doug Tagsold arranges for a motel in Dundee Michigan for all the operators so they have the opportunity to get together for impromptu discussions. Many of the railroaders only see each other at these operating events.

Here, Doug Tagsold is getting ready to brief the operators on his railroad, the Colorado & Southern. Doug uses an operating scheme that requires a timetable & train orders. There are no signals on the layout and operators have to follow the timetable to move across the layout without delaying a 1st Class train. Each operator gets a clearance form and train orders with instructions for the train he is running. It’s the operator’s responsibility to make sure the line is clear ahead by following the timetable.

Phil Monat seems to be enjoying his job as Denver yardmaster. As you can tell from the picture the C&S is a double deck layout, not that Phil is sitting down on the job!

Here is a passenger train Number 57 that I was running. As a 1st Class train we had right over all other trains in this direction. All the freights had to clear the main for this train.

Doug uses HO standard gauge equipment as narrow-gauge trains in 1:72 scale. Both 1:72 military scale and 1:64 S scale figures and vehicles are used.

It took about 10 operators to make the C&S come alive. Most of the participants, like Tony Koester (standing) and Perry Squier (seated) have railroads of their own and are very experienced operators. There are always a few modelers who are just getting started in the hobby of operation, but most of the people at these events are already members of the Operations Special Interest Group of the NMRA. Check out the website here.

The next day, I went to see Mike Burgett’s double-decked Chesapeake & Ohio Clifton Forge Division that runs between Virginia and West Virginia. This was my third operating session on the railroad. You can learn more about Mike Burgett’s Chesapeake & Ohio in Volume 63 of Great Model Railroads.

Here Mike is getting ready to explain the workings of this HO scale railroad. Mike is a professional railroader who is Division Engineer Signals for the Michigan Division of the Canadian National. His territory runs from Chicago to Pittsburgh. If you count the sidings and spurs that’s about 2,000 miles of track that requires signals.

Since I was here two years ago, Mike has completed an addition to his house that allowed for an extension of the C&O in the basement and an enlarged CTC machine on the first floor. As a signaling expert Mike did all the electronic work required to make the CTC machine, signals and turnouts fully functional.

This is the expanded CTC machine that Mike built. The left side was added after the layout grew into another room. Since he is a signal expert you can be assured that this is as real as it gets!

One of the really amazing things about the C&O is the simulated tower room located in a separate building from the layout. The tower controls the signals and turnouts at Lynchburg Junction. The operator can see trains passing through the junction on a large flat screen monitor that is disguised as a window.

On the left is the complete operators desk with an antique scissors phone, a telegraph sounder and key and paper for record keeping. On the right are the levers and switches that actually control the interlocking through the junction.

Here, Otis McGee is operating the Clifton Forge yard on the lower level with the help of a regular operator on Mike’s C&O. Above is the line into Lynchburg. Otis came all the way from the San Francisco area to operate this layout. He is a former official with the OPSIG organization.

Jim Dahlberg, the past president of the OPSIG, operates a train on the fully scenic-ed upper level.

The C&O has phones located around the layout for communication with the dispatcher who operates the CTC machine one floor above the railroad. As you can tell by this shot, the layout room is a comfortable place to be. It boasts thick carpet, HVAC, and a well detailed and operating railroad. What more could you ask for?

Operating sessions at Great Lakes Getaway generally run about 4 hours or so. It’s a leisurely experience that keeps operators coming back every time they can. These sessions feature some of the most well-known and skilled operators in the hobby, yet the sessions are not pressure intensive, because we all make mistakes on the layouts of other modelers. I know I even make mistakes on my Bluff City Southern which we have operated since 1999.

Here’s an overall look at the spacing of the two decks. You’ll notice that the lower deck is deeper than the upper deck and the distance between the two levels is about 2 feet. The yard on the lower level allows the yardmaster to utilize a chair.

Before everybody goes home, we all get together for dinner and drinks at a local restaurant. Socializing is a big part of these operating sessions. You may only see these men every year or two and that leaves a lot to talk about. Progress on layouts, new operating schemes, new electronic gizmos and tricks for improving equipment are just a few of the topics to discuss. These are the guys who write the articles and books on model railroad operation. So, if you keep your ears open there is much to learn.

Have something to add to the story? Leave a comment or connect with us on Facebook.

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

Make a comment:
characters remaining

2 Responses to “Great Lakes Getaway Operations Weekend”


    Looks like a great way to operate on fellow modeler's layouts and build new friendships. Greg

  2. Robert LaGoe

    My hats off to you. Clear the tracks and keep on rolling.