Saturday, September 17, 2016


The weekend after Labor Day, some 75 boomer-operators gathered in the Salt Lake City area for three days of operations on seven great model railroads for Great Basin Getaway (GBG).  Twenty-seven years after it started, GBG is one of the most senior model railroad operating events on the calendar.  Begun by Lee Nicholas with his Utah Colorado and Western (, GBG has fostered other operating events and provided a now-biannual gathering. 

I was fortunate to secure an invitation through the good graces of several folk I operate with here in the Willamette Valley.  Lee Nicholas has been very influential on several of the local layouts.  Similarly, several of my local friends regularly operate at Lee’s and even have structures named after them on the UCW. 

This was my first major operating event as a participant, though I had helped host an early Bay Rails when I lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Now that I have retired, built a house, and built my own railroad empire to operating status, it was time for me to participate in operating gatherings.  GBG-2016 was a great way to begin that journey.  Over the next several blog posts, I will provide highlights of the operations and other activities that were part of my experience.

I was fortunate to be assigned to operate on Lee Nicholas’ UCW on the first day.  Use the link provided above to get more details on Lee’s layout and a listing of published articles detailing the layout and its features.  The photos document some of my experience, albeit with a hand-held camera in modest light.  Better photos are available on Lee’s UCWRR website (above) and in the published articles.

Lee N. greets guests as they enter the layout space via the stairwell at the back of the picture.  The opening to the right leads to the crew lounge, dispatcher and agent desks, and shop and “mole” staging space.  The UCW is in an old basement with very low ceilings.  My 6 ft-4 in frame had my head firmly against the ceiling for most of the operation.  Reflecting a major industry along the Wasatch Front, the grain elevator to the right is one of many on the layout.

Flanigan represents the western end of the modeled railroad.  Eastbound trains enter the layout from staging behind the camera.  A major switch job serves industries here and helps exchange car blocks with passing freights.

Around the curve at the end of Flanigan is Watercress.  Another local switch job spent all day working this area.  Dulaney Milling is named for an operator friend here in Oregon.  J. Dulaney usually serves as the mole operator for GBG, but he was unable to make it this year.

Another view of the Watercress aisle.  The CB&Q line to Wyoming enters the layout at the upper right at Tres Pinos.

The railroad has worked around from Watercress, through Crusero and around a peninsula to Sage Hen on the right.  On the left is East Yard which will be discussed later.

From Sage Hen, the UCW mainline in the foreground enters Jiggs, while the CB&Q has its station of Clayton seen here in back.

The UCW Jiggs Junction station is just around the corner.  This area features significant interchange between the UCW and The CB&Q.  A lot of that involves the sugar mill in the next photo.

This gorgeous sugar mill is on a peninsula in the area of Jiggs.  The mill must be seen in person to truly appreciate the modeling!

Cobre on the back lower level is served by the CB&Q.   The UCW mainline is on the upper level.  Depressed against the backdrop on the right is a visible portion of staging track coming from the east end (Denver) of the UCW.

The UCW mainline works its way around the wall and backdrop spine to enter East Yard.  This is the major classification yard on the UCW. 

Sweeping around the curve from East Yard are the engine facilities and the eastern entry/exit from the railroad.  This area is controlled by Likely Tower, providing a key crewmember to interact with the Dispatcher and staging operator (mole) and call crews.

“Boomer” Jim S. serve as Dispatcher for our session.  The CTC panel was reconditioned from an actual RR panel.  It interacts with a computer via the CMRI (Dr. Bruce Chubb) interface.

This was my first time operating on a model railroad with full Centralized Traffic Control (CTC).  I have committed my own SP Cascade Line to a similar system.  I am happy to report I was well-pleased with the CTC operation and am enthused about getting it installed on my own railroad!

Lee N. is sitting at his workbench, talking with one of my fellow “Boomers” (travelling operators).  Behind them is the staging area for the UCW—the “mole.”  Mole operator for our GBG sessions was Oregon friend Chuck C.—another layout owner heavily influenced by Lee.

I had a great time.  Thanks to our host, his local crew, and my fellow guest operators for a wonderful experience.

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