PAGE 30a – OCTOBER 2004


Everything You Always Wanted
To Know About a Car Repair Shop


WEBMASTER’S NOTE: Every so often an e-mail arrives that is so full of interest and fun that it calls for a special issue to tell you about it. Here’s one that arrived the other day, from a railroad worker who calls himself Rip Traxx. Rip works in a RIP (Repairs In Progress) Track — a car repair facility — in the western part of the U.S. Though he shows he’s a bit of a Pocatello Yardmaster (“been there, done that”), his story and layout design are filled with authentic details. I think you’ll enjoy them! We’ll start with the prototype…


Blue Flags (left) mark the limits of the RIP Track yard.
Derailer (right) puts runaway cars on the ground to prevent escape.

(Artwork by Rip Traxx. Photo by Pete Brown, on Western Maryland RR in West Virginia)

RIP’S TALEHow the Shop Works
(References point to prototype plan above)

The “One Spot”
Here’s a description of how a One Spot, RIP track works. Let’s take a trip through the shop during a not so typical day, which just happens to be most days of the week. Today, as the new guy, you are assigned to the gang on 5 Track, working over the medium bad orders that the company has put over to your track. These cars need a little more love than the the typical, light, bad-order car carries (usually a pair of wheels, a bolt or two, and an air test).

Startin’ the Day
To make sure that you’re ready for the day’s assignment, you head to to your locker to get your personal protective equipment, or PPE. It consists of leather gloves, helmet, safety glasses and hearing protection, cutting jacket, coveralls, and steel toed boots.

You head out to the shop floor to find two decrepit, tired-looking coal cars spotted inside the shop with no bad order cards on them. This usually means a train crew found something obviously wrong with them, and instinctively shoved them in a spur, somewhere in the bowels of the yard, with the rest of the bad order cars.

After that track fills up, the morning switch crew gathers them up and swings them over to the 1 Track, so the foreman can figure out which cars are a priority to fix, and which ones can wait.

Sortin’ Junk from Loads
Sometime during yesterday’s shift, the foreman, who we affectionately call Tex, decided that these two coal cars sitting in front of you are just the biggest pieces of junk he’s seen since he got bumped off the Katy. Knowing 5 Track’s affection for breathing life into decaying cars, he directs swing shift to spot them up for you.

Now, not all cars are created equal. Some cars are natoriously “junk”. Others, that are practially brand new and haven’t even accumulated any graffitti, often come in for what the old timers would term “chicken [feed]” bad order, a minor repair that could have been performed in the yard.

Depending on the severity of the repair, and how hot the load is inside the car, the foreman will determine which track each car needs to go to. Typically the better equipped 2 & 3 Tracks will work on the hot loads, while 5 Track, the track you’re working on today and which has equipment reminiscent of the “good ole days”, will work on the cars that are not so much of a priority.

Movin’ Cars
During the day, the other tracks have been working light bad orders. Typically they will switch or move cars several times a day as they finish repairs, and today is no exception. After they move the cars, or “kick them out the door”, they pull some more off of the 1 Track and spot up two more cars in the shop to work on. Since 5 Track is the step-child of the organization, it does not have a car mover of its own, owing to its production (or lack thereof).

In order to properly upset the old-head working over on 2 Track, it’s your responsibility to “borrow” their car mover about five minutes before they need it. Please remember to leave it parked on 5 Track when you’re finished, for maximum effect.

Sometimes, on days when there is a loaded car deep in the cut of cars on the 1 Track, the foreman will call apon you and your partner to sort out the cars in front of the load and get that hot load over to 2 Track so that the old head can get it out before quitting time. In order to accomplish this task, some creative switching must take place.

(Continued in next column)


For a good small layout, I’d model the west end of the RIP track. Why? Because inevitably anyone who wants to build this layout will come to the conclusion that the darn thing is too long. The east end is just a typical ladder track. Most of you British folks would probably want to put one of those transfer table gadgets [traverser] on the east end of the shop to recycle the cars back to 1 Track (good idea). Most of the switching puzzle is on the west end. Here are some basic, common sense rules of the game.

Rules of the Game

1. You’re not allowed to pass the blue flags on either end, which means if you want to take cars over to 5, 6, or 7 Track from 1 Track, you need to do it two at a time (unless you’re pulling liquid petroleum cars, 89-foot flats, autoracks, or some other insanely long car that you have to do one at a time).

2. Double-stack or those really high 22 ft Autoracks are never allowed in the shop — NEVER. These cars were designed long after the shop was built. Even though the shop doors can accommodate high cars, if you attempt to push these cars through the shop you will inevitably wipe out a door and be called on the carpet. You must fix them on the lead, at one of the crossings, or on 6 or 7 Track.

3. Never ever ever open the derail switches of any track without the permission of the entire workforce on that track. They must know if you’re going to make a move. You are allowed to use the space between the derail and the switch — like 3 or 5 track — to sort cars. Of course, you can use 4 Track, unless it is full. Or you can use 5, 6 or 7 if you don’t mind taking cars acroos one or two at a time.

4. The 4 Track is a storage track. This track can be a help or a hindrance. If you do not use it wisely it will fill up very fast. Don’t forget, you must leave a gondola close to the building on the track so that the guys can dump scrap into it. The garbage has to go somewhere.



Rip’s model version of his RIP Track focuses on the west end of the yard, and is designed to fit in an HO space of about 60×16 inches (150×40 cm). An extension to the left will facilitate adding or removing cars on the layout.

The layout is designed to accommodate large, modern cars. The car mover that Rip mentions (see sketch below) would be a great modeling project, but other motive power is also used in the real thing. Rip cmments, “I have seen a SW-10 spot cars, we spot cars with trackmobiles, and, if the load is hot enough, road power with three or four big EMD’s spot a car straight from a train, so we could get to it faster. I have seen an intermodel train leave from the RIP Track with one car — yes, a one car train. It was that important.”

The traverser at the east end is used to move finished cars back to the front track (1 Track) for removal. The short siding (upper left) is for wheel and axle storage, and to provide a parking place for the gondola that gathers all the scrap. Essential for scenery: tools, materials, and parts should be lying around everywhere!


Rip’s sketch of his condensed RIP Track layout views the shop building from the east.

OcarshopAn O Scale Version

by Carl Arendt
I couldn’t resist designing a version of this appealing prototype in O scale. It’s necessarily simplified and requires only 54×12 inches (135×30 cm). An extension is needed to the right.

The layout is designed with Roco #6 switches. With these generous curves, this little pike can handle the largest modern rolling stock — but the small size would probably indicate that it should perhaps represent railroading in the 1950’s, with 40-foot cars being repaired. With a little imagination, you can have a lot of switching action on this tiny facility!


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