Sunday, February 3, 2019


Over the past month, I made and reported on a couple of enhancements to my railroad aimed at improving and enhancing operations.  Notable was the track realignment at RR-East Springfield ( aimed at clearing a chronic source of derailments.  Another project created moveable track assignment tags ( use by yard crews.  Both projects needed testing by my operating crew.  I am happy to report both enhancements were resounding successes!

No new trouble tags were generated at RR-East Springfield.  This marks clearing a major trouble spot.  The moveable track use tags received even more glowing reports. The yard crews working in both the Eugene Classification Yard and the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard were quite enthusiastic about those tags.  Switch crews no longer needed to refer to the car card slots with their destination tags or ask the Yardmaster.  As noted in the earlier blog post on this topic, the ends of these yards are away from the car card slots.  Indeed, they asked for additional destination tags to cover destinations or classifications not provided in the initial set of tags.  They also resolved the question of label tape format.  Conventional black lettering on a white background was more easily read and comprehended than white letting on a black background.

Chuck C. (near) and Brigg F. (far) work both ends of the Eugene Classification Yard.  Destination track tags are placed at the near end of tracks 2 and 3 (Right to Left count).  Indeed, two destinations have been designated for Track 2.  In the far distance to the right of this view, a through freight effortlessly passes through the RR-East end of Springfield.

The Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard crew (Santa Clara Tower job) composed of Scott B. and Craig P. is all smiles as they keep their work organized and efficient through use of the track tags.

While the big news of the just-completed 33rd full operation of my SP Cascade Line was the improvement made by this pair of operations enhancements, the rest of the operation provided plenty of enjoyment and satisfaction for the full crew.  Herewith additional photos from this Groundhog Day session.

Early in the session, the Oakridge Turn worked Westfir (left, lower) on its way back to Eugene.  Meanwhile, the LABRT crosses over Salt Creek Trestle (right, upper) as it descends toward Eugene and then Portland (SP BRooklyn Yard).

An EULAY winds its way around the Marcola Branch area on its way up the mainline toward Westfir and Oakridge.  The S-curve in the mainline is a favorite railfanning spot.

Tom D. and Jim M. work the Springfield-A job on the depot side of the mainline at Springfield.  The Springfield jobs are split by the mainline and phased to keep both the mainline and a passing siding clear for mainline traffic.

The EUKFY works through Westfir on its way to Oakridge while traffic on the mountain grade is at Wicopee and working through Tunnel 12 and Salt Creek Trestle.

The EUKFY gets a helper placed mid-train in Oakridge.  Dick K. serves as the helper engineer.

The helper power is removed from the EUKFY at Cascade Summit.  At Dispatcher's discretion, this move often is most easily done by using the Lake Siding (outer edge--left), allowing easy access for the helper into the Beattie Spur (actually a double-ended siding) where it can rest awaiting Dispatcher permission to return downhill to Oakridge.

A helper set returns light downhill crossing Shady Creek Trestle.

As my railroad, equipment, track, and operations mature, I find myself hosting full operating crews to the point where I must turn away late responders to the crew call.  This is a happy condition to be in!

Thursday, January 31, 2019


One of the challenges for operating crews is organizing yard tracks for efficient switching.  Our operating crews are not "on the ground" at scale size where they would be able to read switch target labels.  They also do not do this job day in and day out.  One of the ways I have tried to help my yard crews was to provide track number labels at each end of the yard tracks.  This at least conveys a common understanding of the track numbering, but still does not convey use of those tracks.  Even the track number labels disrupt the visual flow, but I view that as a necessary evil to promote a common reference for operating crews.

Most model railroads have limited classification tracks.  Mine is no exception.  The practical limit for number of classification tracks often involves arm-reach distance and viewing distance.  The consequence of this is the multiple use of classification tracks during an operating session for sorting to different locations or trains.  With a yard crew of more than one, this means communication, often from the person designated as Yardmaster to the person or persons designated as switch crews.  An important part of the Yardmaster's job is organizing the yard for the work at hand.  My Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard also finds tracks serving different locations so it also has constantly changing yard organization.

For most of the life of my railroad, I have used card slot identification tabs that can help a Yardmaster keep track of cars and destinations.  This is fine as far as it goes, but the switch crews need something more to help with the immediate task of remembering what destination is assigned to what track.  The card slot boxes are located in the middle of the Classification Yard, often obscured by the Yardmaster.  The Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard card boxes are mounted on the layout fascia away from the switch control panels--the remaining fascia space that was available.

Car card slot box for the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard with slot identification tabs showing for (L to R) Ogden, Roseville, Los Angeles and Oakland. A "temporary" tag indicates track 12 holds cars for classification.

One effective way of conveying the current organization of a yard is the use of an erasable panel (e.g., a whiteboard), mounted in a convenient, visible spot such as an overhead valence.  I chose to build my railroad without valences as I find them confining and difficult to set heights for, especially for taller folk.  My operating crews reflect a fairly full spectrum of heights, with several of us significantly above six feet tall.  I thought clipboards hanging from the aisle shelves along my fascia might serve the communication and reminder purpose, but my crews have ignored these.  

One of my Santa Clara Tower operators (responsible for the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard) suggested removable labels to be placed inside the rails of the yard tracks.  I finally took time to create a set of destination labels.  I cut my label backs from 0.020-inch styrene sheet that I cut into half-inch wide strips.  I made labels that I applied to these strips and then tapered the ends of the strips, much like a track rerailer.  

Removable track labels at the RR-West end of the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard.  Crew feedback should let me know the preference for white-on-black versus black-on-white labels.

My initial use of the labels confirms they pose no derailment hazard. They are handy for keeping track of the yard track use/designation, especially when both ends of long tracks (my classification yard) or reverse loop tracks are involved.

RR-East end of the reverse loop tracks of the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard.  Ah yes, the infamous "Work Mastodon" lingers from last April 1.

Track labels used in the Eugene Classification Yard.

I look forward to crew feedback on these labels at the next operating session.

Monday, January 21, 2019


A chronic operating headache has been the RR-East Switch at Springfield. Most every operating session has generated at least one trouble note on a Post-It .  My six-axle road locomotives just kept stumbling--derailing--at this switch.  Try as I might, I just could not identify the problem.  It took the experienced craftsman eyes of one of my regular operating crew to spot the cause. He found my mainline track kinked relative to that East Switch.

The RR-East end of Springfield with lots of trouble notes at the troublesome mainline switch.

The kink in the mainline alignment entering the switch becomes a bit more evident when a straight track tool is aligned with the straight route through the switch.

Several correction techniques were suggested by my craftsman and myself. These included ripping out the switch and putting in a new switch. This was suggested by the fact that the Springfield mainline switches are the earliest examples of switches I built using Fast Tracks tooling.  My craftsman friend suggested I try relaying just the stock rails, one at a time, leaving the rest of the switch in place.  While tempting, I resisted for a couple of months--and operating sessions. Finally, I decided to remove the mainline track RR-East of the switch in preparation for either replacing those stock rails or realigning the mainline.  

The stock rail replacement and even the switch replacement options were attractive as my current thinking about track laying suggests building switches with extended stock rails.  This would result in hand-laying (spiking) those extended stock rails into a better easement into the usual curves on my railroad.  This is one of those "lessons learned" that one acquires over the course of building and operating a model railroad.

When I loosened the mainline track from the roadbed, I found I still had a firm joint formed by the insulated rail joiner and gap filler that formed the joint between the switch and the mainline flex track.  Insulated gaps isolate mainline switches such as this one to create OS blocks for my planned CTC system.  While I could break that joint, I decided instead to exercise my third option--realigning the mainline track.

Realigning the track required a broader sweep to the curve leading to the Willamette River Bridge than originally laid.  This required expanding the width of the cork roadbed.  I expanded the roadbed by gluing another piece of roadbed to the outside of the curve upside down to match the existing roadbed profile.  Once the glue set, I shaped the new cork to the old roadbed using a Stanley Surform plane and sanding blocks.  This also cleaned off most of the remaining residue of the old adhesive caulk used to lay track.  I found myself adding more and more roadbed extension as I worked with the mainline track to form a new curve with easements at the ends.  I eventually pulled up and realigned all of the track between the troublesome East Switch and the Willamette River Bridge.  

Roadbed width expansion underway with new cork roadbed glued to the outside of the curve.  The new piece is upside down to mate the roadbed edge slopes.

Expanded roadbed shaped to match the thickness of the existing roadbed.

I reformed--realigned--the flex track, adding an additional short section in the middle to account for the now slightly longer track alignment.  I pulled out my Ribbonrail track gauges to help the realignment. I began with one of my ten-inch straight gauges at the bridge end and used the five-inch gauge at the switch end.  I then used a 48-inch radius gauge at the switch end to help create a better easement into the curve.  The bridge end was formed by eye, though checked with the broader curve gauge, as well.  I was pleasantly surprised to find I could form the major portion of the curve using my standard 42-inch curve gauge.  I expected I might need to tighten the curve to 40-inch radius, but I was able to maintain my mainline standard of 42-inch radius.  

Finally, it was time to apply caulk and glue it all back into place. The Ribbonrail track gauges were left in place at the ends and at track joints as the caulk set.  I also held down the track with my standard method using cans of baked beans (or any other canned goods).

Realigned track in place with track gauges ensuring critical spots maintain the desired alignment.

New track electrical feeder holes were drilled for both the existing feeders (pulled out of the way during track-laying) and new feeders for the new piece of track placed in the middle of the curve.  This maintains my construction standard of a feeder soldered to every piece of rail.

Finally, the moment of truth arrived to test out the new alignment.  I ran several of the most troublesome locos over the new track alignment. Most of the trouble tags identified the loco that derailed--an important part of the troubleshooting process.  Many of the chronic offenders were SD45T-2 models.  I have no explanation for why these and not the equal frame-sized SD40T-2s or of the other SDs with the same six-axle truck dominated the tracking problems.  I just accept that those were the troublesome units.  A final check was done with an EULAT train I needed to re-stage up to Crescent Lake for the next operating session.  This added 89-ft. autoracks and TOFC to the mix.  I am happy to report all have passed through the reworked track just fine. The next operating session in a couple of weeks will be the "acid test."

An EULAT passes through the reworked curve and approach to the RR-East switch at Springfield.  Success!

Sunday, December 30, 2018


Back in the days of steam, Cascade Summit had a wye for turning helpers for their return trek down to Oakridge.  Fitting the wye into the geography at Cascade Summit, placed between Odell Lake and the summit of the Cascades, required a bit of creativity.  Specifically, the tail of the wye had to go back into the mountain.  This required a tunnel--a very unique one with only one portal! Adding to its unique nature was that the wye tail track tunnel was fully wood lined and had a wood portal.  All of the tunnels on the mainline above Oakridge had concrete portals and entry liners.  For reasons as yet unknown, the SP and its contractor chose to build the wye tail track tunnel using wood-only.  

The limited photos I have seen of the wye tunnel indicate it follows SP Standard Plans for a wood tunnel and portal.  Fortunately, the relevant plan sheet was reproduced in Volume One of the Southern Pacific Lines Common Standard Plans, published by Steam Age Equipment Company of Dunsmuir, CA, in 1992.  I adapted the SP C.S. 1750 plan to my model use with 36-inch radius curves leading to the wye switch.  I chose a portal width of 2.5-inches, which was the standard I used on my concrete portal masters.  This turns out to be quite close to dimensions specified in the plans for tight radius curves.  I drew my own tunnel profile plan and then built a simple assembly jig on that plan.

Armed with these standard plans, I built my model of the tunnel liner and tunnel portal using Evergreen styrene strip and scribed sheet.  I chose to build only the first (actual) foot of the tunnel liner to the SP plan and will line the rest of the tunnel with my usual foam core board liner used for previous tunnels.  

Tunnel plans, assembly jig and sections of portal.

The tunnel portal uses a simple post and crossbeam with diagonal corner braces matching the top corner bracing of the tunnel liner.  Another detail just showing in the plans in the photo is the diagonal braces for the front of the tunnel portal.  With additional side sheathing, these form wing walls for the tunnel portal.  

Once the portal pieces were built, I started building tunnel liner braces. The five pieces were fit around the assembly jig and glued.  I began liner construction by gluing scribed sheeting between end liner braces. Sides, top and top corner diagonal liner pieces were attached to form the basic structure.  Once this set, I began inserting liner braces at four-feet spacing.

Initial Liner construction.

Installing liner braces.  Wood clothespins make a great clamp for holding styrene joints for gluing.

Completed, but unpainted, tunnel liner in place around the summit wye. This unpainted view shows the diagonal front braces for the portal and the nut-bolt-washer detail applied to the specified joints.  The rear half of the tunnel liner will remain removable for maintenance access as will the yet-to-be-built foam core tunnel liner.

Completed tunnel portal and liner assembly.

As seen in the photos, the tunnel portal was located at the wye switch points.  The mountain geography forced a very tight installation.  Most steam helpers on the Cascade Line were cab-forward articulated locomotives.  Light helpers would be backed into the tunnel, keeping the crew close to the tunnel face and clear air.  In spite of that, there are tales of cab forward locos trying to lengthen the tunnel, usually as a result of a brake system failure.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


Befitting the season (December), I have begun making trees. The Cascades are blanketed by a carpet of Douglas Fir.  Harvesting those trees and processing them serves as a foundation for the forest products industry which long served as the base of the Oregon economy.  Modeling those forests involves both two-dimensional (backdrop paint) and three-dimensional trees.  With the base terrain created for my railroad, it is now time to begin filling in the scene with trees.

Contrasting with the airy pines of other regions, Douglas Fir has a branch and needle structure that is fairly dense.  Surveying tree modeling techniques, I have elected to use "furnace filter" trees.  These use a trunk (shaft) on which disks of "filter" material are placed and glued.  Some trimming and shaping usually is needed.  These filter disks are sprayed with adhesive and confer green ground foam sprinkled on them.  The result can/should be a fairly full tree shape that rises toward a cone at the top. 

Although there are other makers of beautiful models of individual trees, my search for materials led me to Coastmans Scenic Products (, located along the southern Oregon coast at Port Orford.  Coastmans produces trunk shafts tapered from Port Orford Cedar dowels. Much earlier in life, I knew Port Orford Cedar as an excellent arrow shaft material, so these trunks will remain straight and strong.  Coastmans also supplies the other key component--the "filter" mat. What they actually supply is coconut fiber mats similar to mats used with hanging flower baskets.  Coastmans' mats are dyed green and have a layer of conifer green ground foam glued to the surface.  While my internet search for suitable furnace filter material came up blank, Roger Rasmussen's clinic at the NMRA PNR convention in June, in Portland demonstrated his complete package of supplies for these trees.  This is one good place for me to spend some money in exchange for time.

It has been almost twenty years since I last made "furnace filter" trees using different materials.  As with any artistic endeavor, it can take a little time to develop one's technique.  Bear that in mind when looking at photos of my first trees in the current crop.  

Tree production.  

Roger Rasmussen wisely advises working over and within oven roasting pans.  This captures much of the ground foam and other material that falls off during the course of construction.  A similar bit of advice places the spray adhesive operation within a dedicated cardboard box.  

Completed trees with ground foam attached with spray adhesive.  Trees can be enhanced with a few bare branches (included in the Coastmans kit) below the main foliage.

Decorated tree at the Eugene Depot.  'tis the season!

Tree production has begun.  My layout likely will consume thousands.  I figure on producing some number a month, much as I produced most of my switches during the track-laying phase of construction.  

As a final note, this is my two hundredth blog post!

Friday, November 30, 2018


As I prepared for the next operating session, I found myself further developing my planning system.  A couple of years ago, I developed a master line-up of train symbols for my mid-1980s operations.  The twenty-four hour line-ups for east and west traffic provided a framework for planning individual operating sessions.  The master line-up was based on both John Carr's website listing of Southern Pacific train symbol history ( and on recollections of my former SP Dispatcher friend and mentor.  While I have tried to follow this master listing closely, I always find reasons to diverge.

RR-West Master Line-Up

Time at EUG
BR  Time
1201 a
600 p
Former TOFC Special
On duty 1230 am at Oakridge for return to Eugene
100 a
100 a
Carr lists Portland call as 1 am
200 a
1159 p
Carr notes TOFC plus other traffic
230 a
Via RSV and WC some TOFC
City Switcher goes on duty
330 a
Former EUHOY
400 a
First Springfield Turn
530 a
645 a
730 a
Carr lists an EURVW at 400 am
930 a
Could be anytime plus or minus
AMTK No. 14
1028 am Departure for Portland
1130 a
Carr has one at 1 pm  --delete????
200 p
Eastbound to Oakridge
300 p
400 p
Ogden to UP
430 p
Marcola Turn
500 p
530 p
Second Springfield Turn
615 p
AMTK No. 11
642 pm departure at Eugene Depot
730 p
900 p
City of Industry  (EULAY)
1005 p
Via Roseville and Ogden
1100 p
1130 p
600 p
Another Roseville train-

RR-East Master Line-Up

Time at CJ
1215 a
1230 a
On Duty at Oakridge for return to EUG
100 a
200 a
300 a
500 a
630 a
815 a
AMTK No 14
1028 am at Eugene
900 a
1100 a
1215 p
100 p
230 p
410 p
600 p
700 p
800 p
930 p
1030 p
1130 p

A key point for me to remember when using my master line-up is that it is just a guide.  Times on duty and trains run on any given day did vary. The latter point -- the trains run often needs to be edited to fit the actual conditions experienced on my miniature railroad and the crew-size  available for any given session.  One key adjustment has been spreading the three Springfield-area locals throughout the twenty-four hour day.  Best practice has only one of these in Springfield at any given time, which frees up a siding for use by the Dispatcher.  

Another adjustment to the master line-up has been planning for the expected crew-size for the next operating session.  For smaller crews, I might run only one local freight.  For large crews, I might run two or even three locals.  Part of this also depends on the amount of local traffic accumulated and classified at Eugene in the classification yard.  I had several low-count crews over the summer, ran only one local, and then found I desperately needed to call the Eugene City Switcher, as it had not run for some time and the yard was becoming choked on cars served by that job.

Over the past year, I have taken to plotting out the crew use as a means of adjusting train call times and ensuring sufficient crews for the trains on the line-up.  We have found most RR-East trains take three fast-hours, while RR-West trains take four fast-hours due to adding helpers at Oakridge and taking them off at Cascade Summit.  Allowing 1.5 fast hours for a light helper to return to Oakridge has proven a useful planning factor as well.  Using these planning factors, I have fallen into a pattern of using five road crews and two helper crews for most operating sessions.  As noted, the expected crew-size impacts the number of locals run.  There also is one point in the master line-up--in the early morning hours--when the RR-West fleet of three priority trains run in fairly quick succession requiring a third helper set.  We have managed so far with me occasionally needing to take up a throttle to run that third helper.  That is a rare event for the layout owner, who usually is called away to trouble shoot some issue.

Planning for the next session prompted me to articulate a new planning factor.  This session will begin at noon on the twenty-four hour line-up. As such, the OABRT (Oakland to Brooklyn--Portland Trailers) "should" run right away.  This ran into conflict with my desire to get a late returning Oakridge Turn out onto the line plus handling other trains that included cars destined for on-line industry on the modeled railroad.  As I worked to resolve this issue, I finally recognized that my planning for an operating session needed to use an inverted priority scheme.

Ordinarily, railroad management prioritizes train movement based on the value of the freight rates earned for different types of traffic, regulation and law (Amtrak legally must be given precedence), and a general desire to keep the long-distance traffic moving expeditiously.  This results in Amtrak getting top priority (1), trailer traffic getting the top freight priority (2), ordinary long-distance freight traffic getting a modest priority (3), and local freights and some long-distance freights getting low priority (4).  

Model railroad operations are different, though.  Many model railroad operators enjoy very much local switching.  The "fun" factor of such work overrides the "management" set of priorities.  Further, some local switching needs unobstructed blocks of time on the mainline to complete the work.  A prime example of this on my railroad is the returning Oakridge Turn, which switches the sawmill complex at Westfir on its way back to Eugene.  

Recognizing the importance of the local freights and their needs (mainline track and time and a steady supply of cars to be switched) I recognized I needed to begin session planning with an inverted priority set--the reverse of that used by management for governing Dispatcher decisions.  

As I planned the next operating session, I began with the returning move of the Oakridge Turn. This led to loading RR-West moves with a pair of trains "in-process" at Oakridge and Cruzatte and just a single RR-East train, perhaps delayed, originating at Crescent Lake at session start.  I started creating a mainline occupancy block for the Oakridge Turn by calling the next RR-East train out at 2pm. Originally, this was going to be the OABRT.

My initial placement of the OABRT with a call at 2pm at Crescent Lake created problems, however, as I had two RR-East trains at Crescent Lake left over from the previous operating session.  Both contained traffic that needed to get to Eugene to begin classification toward forming locals for the next day.  I planned one to start at session start-up, but the other one would be delayed by both the "operating hole" for the Oakridge Turn at Westfir and then by the OABRT.  The solution became that of slipping the OABRT to a later slot in the afternoon. The needs of the local traffic took precedence over "ordinary" management priorities--indeed, just the inverse priorities.

Using these planning factors and the crew use train graph, I was able to put together the line-ups for my next operating session.

Crew Use Graph for December 1, 2018 operating session.

Time at EUG
Lead Loco
1201 p
SP 8283
1201 p
SP 7474
1201 p
SP 6673
130 p
SP 8251
330 p
SSW 9057
515 p
615 p
AMTK No. 11
AMTK 375
642 pm dep. Eugene Depot
700 p
830 p
900 p
945 p
City of Industry  (EULAY)
1100 p

RR-West Line-Up for December 1, 2018 operating session.

Time at CJ
Lead Loco
1201 p
Beattie Spur
SP 5314
1201 p
SP 5348
1210 p
CJ 11
SSW 9264
200 p
CJ 10
SP 9363
300 p
CJ 9
SP 9325
430 p
CJ 8
SP 8572
600 p
CJ 7
SP 9180
730 p
CJ 3
SP 7480
1000 p
CJ 6
SP 9236
1130 p
CJ 5
SP 9232

RR-East Line-Up for December 1, 2018 operating session.