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April 14th- On the Shoulders of Giants- Pt-8

posted Apr 15, 2017, 9:02 AM by Sue Line RailRoad

This time I want to share with you a “Giant in the Hobby” that has had an influence on me in a different way: Chuck Hitchcock, a soft spoken, elegant gentleman who lives in Kansas City, Kansas.

Chuck Hitchcock at his US&S dispatcher's panel in Kansas City.

I recall the first time I went down the stairs into the basement in Chuck Hitchcock’s home. Suddenly, just like Dorothy and her ruby slippers, I was in Kansas, specifically, Holliday, Kansas.  There were several magnificent trains passing by my view.  Immediately, I noticed they were not local or through freight trains, but rather sleek, beautiful passenger trains. They had the distinguished appearance of A-B-A units on the lead or a beautiful and graceful steamer. This was in about 1974, shortly after Chuck Hitchcock had begun the railroad in 1965. The details of that railroad were presented in the December 1983 issue of Model Railroader.

Prior to this visit, I had considered that passenger trains were made up, stored in a staging area, and periodically run to give the other engineers and the dispatcher something else to consider, but not on the Argentine Division! Chuck Hitchcock explained that passenger cars also had many services that were needed to keep them running.  Dining cars had to be stocked at commissaries. Mail cars had to be loaded and unloaded.  All cars had to be cleaned and they had to be arranged in a specific order for a specific train. The stainless steel coaches did not just pull into the yard to await the next run. There were things to do and places they had to go. This was my introduction into the world of passenger cars movement. Chuck Hitchcock pointed out that he used the Official Railway Guide of 1949 to plan his consists and switching. Even the computer-generated paperwork had the look and feel of his year of operation. The date was the day’s date, but the year was 1951.  An operator visiting on November 12, 1991 would have paperwork dated November 12, 1951.

Chuck Hitchcock was a magnificent host and there was an elegant “crew lounge” area near the town of Morris, in which half way through the session there were refreshments and beverages supplied by the host. The normal crew was two yard operators for Argentine Yard (one freight and one passenger), a dispatcher, four mainline engineers and a local switcher in the town of Ottawa. One of the interesting aspects of operation on this layout was that while the crews were “on break”, Chuck Hitchcock would move all of the cars which were inbound at the massive grain elevator “A” so that they were now outbound as if they had been loaded during the break.

Grain elevator "A" on the Argentine Division of the AT&SF in Kansas City.

In the February 2007 issue of Model Railroader, Chuck Hitchcock revealed that the magnificent railroad I had viewed no longer existed and had been upgraded to a railroad with NO mainline, but plenty of operation. It was now the Argentine Industrial District Railway.  He felt that the old Argentine Division of the Santa Fe was about as finished as it could get and he wanted the challenge and excitement of building something new. The time was now 1960. The railroad was made up of six yards and industrial switching areas connected by “running tracks”. All trackage was yard limits with a 20 mph speed limit. Holliday was gone, but the fun was not.

Today, the Sue Line runs in a post-1971 era with the recent loss of Amtrak service due to government cutbacks.  Local leaders are making an attempt to get the service to return, but we’ll see if that comes to fruition or not.  With lessons learned from the Argentine Division and the Industrial District, the Sue Line now operates a massive yard operation with yard jobs that hand off lots of work to one another in a constant flow of traffic all the while being fed a steady diet of cars from mainline trains.  To keep operators coming for weekly sessions for years, you have to have different levels of challenges and this particular feature keeps those high volume switching guys happy.  At the same time, there is plenty of action on the main where you can just enjoy watching a train roll by.

Chuck Hitchcock helped me by showing that attention to operating details and being a serving host are a components of what can bring a model railroad operating session to life.

Chuck Hitchcock operating on the Sue Line.

I may not be in Kansas anymore, but the lessons learned from Hitchcock have helped me make the Sue Line home.  And thanks to him, there’s no place like it.