The DW&LS operations have been streamlined in an effort to create a more realistic June 15 to July 15 1929 setting for an all steam mix of working local freights and through freight and passenger trains. Timetable and Train Order operation with a 2:1 clock ratio. Three main yards and several industry jobs with staggered starting times according to location and duties. Bring Fred and Wilma, maybe Dino. Control is DC with rotary switches in keeping with earlier era. HO scale.

Report on op session by Mike O'Brien.


I have admired operations on this layout since the late 1980s when John first wrote about it for Prototype Modeler magazine. I began my interest in prototype operations--as opposed to model railroad play ideas--because of those articles. I believe the idea for 4-sided waybills in car card pockets came from this layout.

I enjoyed an all-day op session here in April 2006 as part of an operations convention in Chicago. This is a larger version of the old layout, and makes full use of the basement space available. There is no helix, as the mainline wraps around the basement a couple of times gaining elevation. It is walkaround, of course, with all trackwork within reach of the generous aisles. The layout has an "in-progress" feel, with construction proceeding along gradually at most places. Obviously, the operations system takes precedence over scenery construction.

Operationally, the layout owner is very serious, and all the various rules are expected to be strictly obeyed. I like it that way. We are trying to simulate a real railroad. Though the DW&LS is freelanced, it tries to be as real as possible.

We had a crew of 19 people NEW to this layout. Imagine being a layout owner and having to orient all these folks and get them to run such a complicated RR successfully! We kept John busy all day running around and helping us. It worked great and we all had a good time. I hope these photos give you an idea of the operations experience.


This layout is complex and seemingly built for operation, not for pretty looks. However, this particular area is scenicked and makes a nice setting for John's excellent kitbashed locomotives.


The layout winds around the basement, from lower staging near the floor to upper staging overhead near the ceiling. A branchline takes off into its own aisle. The lower deck here is so low it is operated from a chair.
George Maulsby is standing by a cab control panel, in black, with color coded tracks and five rotary switches. Each rotary switch has seven positions, for throttles A-G.


The dispatcher sits in the far corner of the layout, by himself and mostly undisturbed. Dispatching is by timetable and train orders. All orders are dictated to the operator, who is on the far side of the layout from here. FRS radios substitute for a dedicated phone line. Today's dispatcher is Jerry Dziedzic from New Jersey, an excellent dispatcher.


I guess there's something wrong with me, but I kind of like model railroad paperwork.
Here's how John organizes his dispatcher's area.


The sole operator sits near the center of the layout. He copies train orders and clearances dictated by the dispatcher over an FRS radio. A radio is located at each open train order station. The radio is used exactly as a telephone line was on a real railroad. Train crews stop at each train order station and use the radio there to OS to the dispatcher, as if they were the local operator. They walk over to the operator to receive train orders and clearances when necessary. Today's operator is Bill Miller, from Maryland, who did an excellent job.


The operator uses green train order pads, and white clearance cards.
Train orders are in pads for easy use of carbon paper for multiple copies.



Paul Catapano, from California, works the upper yard, standing on a platform reached by several steps. The upper staging is visible beyond, suspended from the ceiling.


This tidy rack holds cards for trains in upper staging. The buttons at right line turnouts.


This area has three levels. The top level is near the ceiling and is a major yard, OJ Yard. The lower level also has a large yard, Defiance Yard. The middle level has open running on double track.


The low level yard. Plenty of aisle space. Mary Miller from Maryland is yardmaster here with Dennis Storzek--a local regular operator--assisting her.


John Swanson, the layout owner, accesses the upper level using a step stool. This is the yard at the upper end of the layout. Beyond here the track swings around into staging tracks near the ceiling.


The upper level here is the junction with the branchline. The car cards for the upper level are mounted on the lower level fascia. At the right is the duckunder entrance to the layout area. The lower deck at the duckunder pivots out of the way, like a door, but not during operations.


A station along the right of way.


The radio throttle rack. There are seven cabs. They are lettered A-G.
When a throttle slides into its rack it contacts a microswitch, visible just below the A-G letters.
I do not know the function of these microswitches--perhaps for recharging?
The red neckstrap is a good idea.


The central yard, with the seated Operator writing train orders at the far end.


The main yard in the middle of the railroad is on the center deck, of three decks. Mike Peters, from Missouri, is pondering a yard that looks pretty plugged.


Uh oh, more paperwork to look at. This is at the junction with the branchline.
The clipboard is apparently the master train lineup/locomotive/throttle assignment
list for the day, laid here temporarily.


The car cards and waybills are simple, as you can see. Efficient. No extraneous writing.


The car cards are large--compare with the HO train. Larger than the commercial ones commonly used today.


When the coal runs out, the locomotives don't leave the terminal.


John makes beautiful locomotives, and has written many articles about them.


Email contact: mike at (@) -- Mike O'Brien, Pasadena, CA