Operating the C&S Northern Division

Jim is the engineer as train No. 41 crests the grade in Broomfield.  A summer thunderstorm is blowing in from the mountains as leased CB&Q engine No. 6306 heads into the sunshine on June 8, 1958.
Rice Yardmaster Brian clearly enjoys the power of his position, while Tom signs the register for his train, AT&SF No. 53, departing for South Denver.  No. 53 is typically a monster, as it's the only daily Santa Fe train out of Denver, and it frees up a lot of yard track when it goes.  Perhaps that's the true reason for Brian's mirth.
It's after 10 PM as Train No. 29, the northbound Shoshone, drifts downgrade into Louisville — only a flag stop for this Pullman-equipped passenger train.  Engineer Bill has already checked for flagging passengers — none tonight — as he blows for the crossing.
John is a visiting operator, a boomer, holding down the Station Operator desk.  From his smile, he appears to have things well in hand.  In my experience, boomers can bring a high skill level to their jobs, and I often learn a thing or two from them.
Chuck is Rice Yardmaster for this session, and is an accomplished Pennsylvania Railroad modeler from Santa Fe.  He's got his eye on the progress of his switch engine as it brings a caboose to the far end of the yard.  There he'll tack it on to the train behind the engine on the bridge, preparing for a northbound departure.
Sometimes, the unexpected happens.  It appears that Engine Foreman John has just had that experience.  When stuff happens, just remember model railroading is fun.
Train No. 32 is waiting in the siding as northbound superior train No. 23 rolls by on the main track at Valmont.  Dave is the engineer riding the diesel E unit on No. 23, and he's very pleased to find No. 32 safely out of the way.  Southbound No. 32 had fallen behind on its schedule, and tucked in at Valmont when it could not make it in time to the scheduled meet with No. 23 in Broomfield.
C&S veteran Bill brings train No. 31 downgrade into Valmont, while sharing a laugh with also-veteran Denver Union Station Assistant Yardmaster Doug.  Doug has the station switch engine idling, so he's already built the consist for train No. 17, a southbound leaving Denver at 1:15 PM.    Train cards, arrival/departure announcer and Doug's throttle are on the fascia; and his train lineup is tacked below the Longmont staging yard.
Birds-eye view of Rice Yard as it awaits the next operating session, from left to right:  A steam engine stands on the main track, with a switch engine at the other end;  The track to Union Station peels off to the left, with the flagmen gathered on their brick patio between the tracks;  A northbound freight and a string of hopper cars stand on the arrival/departure tracks;  Five classification tracks have a mix of cars, with the fourth track empty;  Tracks of the engine facility are on the extreme right.
Rice Yard Assistant Yardmaster's desk:  Card boxes to the left, one per track, with industry locations and car routing job aids attached below;  Yard Throat selector and switch engine throttle on fascia at right;  AYM's switch engine with tender on bridge.  The AYM job position comes with a beautiful view of Cherry Creek, and usually of the boss's (Yardmaster's) face beyond.
Rice Yardmaster's desk:  Genuine plywood, with train cards, session paperwork, and two drink holders (it's good to be the boss!);  YM's Yard Throat selector (coordination with the Assistant YM required), arrival/departure track switch controls, YM's switcher throttle, and Track Scale panel along the fascia;  the Rice Yard register hangs below the Track Scale.  This job also comes with a view of Cherry Creek.

Bringing the C & S Northern Division to Life

I wanted more than a model railroad that looked like the Colorado & Southern Railway — I wanted it to act like the C&S too.  Luckily, Boulder County and the Denver area is alive with model railroad operating enthusiasts that are ready to help.  Many have become good friends.

For C&S Northern Division operations, crew members sign up on the Extra Board for train assignments.  Others act as Dispatcher, Station Operator, Yardmaster, Assistant Yardmasters, and Engine Foreman.  Following the procedures described in the guides below, they bring the C&S Northern Division to life.

Whit is putting Consolidation No. 629 through its paces as the Valley Local switches industries at Fox.  C&S locals carry two flagmen when they start their run; here the Valley Local's head brakeman rides the tender.

Rocky Op, an Open Operations Weekend

Operating a model railroad is the social side of this creative hobby.  It's a gathering of like-minded friends to enjoy recreating the action of a current or historical, or even fictional railroad.  It's been compared to a role-playing game, or a re-enactment, or a weekly poker game.

In alternating years, a dozen or more layouts in the Denver-Boulder metro area come together to offer an operating weekend we call Rocky Op.  This is an open event, taking signups on a first-come-first-served basis from around the country.  Spreading the joy of operating on some amazing layouts is our collective contribution to this hobby.

Bob brings train No. 32 to a gentle stop in Boulder on a summer afternoon.  A heavy 4-6-2 Pacific, engine No. 372, is on the point.  Bob is a visiting operator from Santa Fe — a boomer.  Boomer is slang for railroaders that move around the country, working briefly for different railroads as they follow seasonal demand or booms.

Time Tables and Train Orders and Bears, Oh My!

A word about the Northern Division's operating scheme:  in 1958, the C&S Ry used Time Table and Train Order (TT & TO) operation, and so does the Northern Division.

If you are new to TT & TO operation and want to know more, check out this fine Time Table and Train Order tutorial from the NMRA Gateway Division.  I've also created this summary of TT&TO practices on the Northern Division to provide a quick refresher.

With time tables and train orders, Dean and Chuck control the action as through freight No. 41 thunders past a busy Local at Fox on the Colorado & Southern Ry. Northern Division.

Need to Know:  The New Crew Packet

I send this packet to first-time operators a week before their first Northern Division session:

  • Operations Summary  This tutorial gives new operators the background they need to mark up on the Extra Board.  Following this guide ensures a fun and relatively prototypical experience.
  • Layout Overview  — a brief summary of design, construction, animation, and operations.
  • Track Plan
  • Time Table  — the schedule of trains and other information operators need to know when riding the "high iron" or main line.  Print double-sided and fold in half.
  • Train Manifest and Station Maps  The Train Manifest and Station Maps orients operators to the C&S Northern Division's modeled geography and operating scheme.  It includes a diagram of the modeled portion of the C&S Ry., a listing of passenger and freight trains, and simple track and industry diagrams of each town on the railroad.

    While I keep a Manifest available in the crew lounge, operators can create their own:  Print double-sided and fold each sheet in half.  Use the page numbers to guide assembly.  The western US map is the centerfold.

Rice Yard Engine Foreman Jim watches Asstant YM John classify freight during a rare lull at the roundhouse.  In the background, Yardmaster Brian checks car spots at the CB&Q Freight House, and Union Depot Assistant YM Doug readies a consist for the next passenger train departure.

Crew Position Guides

Some experienced operators that are new to the Northern Division may want a challenging key job.   For those looking for the thrill of running a very busy yard or sitting in the Big Chair, I provide the following guides.

  • Yardmaster Guide  The Yardmaster Guide covers operations in Rice Yard.  These are the four busiest operating positions on the railroad, and the cornerstone of a good session.  While not suitable for novice yardmasters, veteran boomers will find this very enjoyable.
  • Engine Foreman Guide  This explains Rice Yard operations for the Engine Foreman, a busy position with a pile of enjoyable animation that keeps motive power flowing during the session.
  • Dispatcher & Station Operator Guide  The Dispatcher and Station Operator keep the trains moving on the Main Line.  As I always learn something from a good boomer DS, I'm open to those interested in dispatching this TT&TO railroad.
  • Dispatcher Strategy Guide with Forms of Train Orders Reference  This voice of experience gives insight into unique aspects of dispatching this layout, along with a handy reference.

Rod works as Station Operator (SO) for Broomfield, Louisville, Boulder, and Niwot.  Four closed-circuit TV screens are displayed in front of him, giving him a view of each station so he can report the passing of trains to the Dispatcher.

The SO also copies orders and clearances at the direction of the Dispatcher and delivers them to train crews.  The white–paneled box behind Rod sets and clears train order boards at the stations; the black–paneled box above it alerts him to trains at those stations in case he's not watching the screens.

Some Special Operating Sessions

Rocky Op


Boomer Weekends

First Session


April 2000

Session No. 100!


November 2015

Masked Ops

Aisle Views

In the Time of COVID