Saturday, May 19, 2018


Continuing to fill in the terrain around Salt Creek Canyon, the next major element was the ridge penetrated by Tunnel 12.  On my railroad, this is the first major tunnel RR-West of the Salt Creek Trestle and the first of two located high on the wall opposite Wicopee and the turn-back lobe formed by the trestle.  This is a large ridge, helping to fill the large space created by a track plan with a 42-inch radius turn-back lobe.

The size of the ridge and the depth of the scene demanded access hatches. The ridge is flanked by a pair of formal access hatches.  These eventually will have hatch covers mounted on sliding rails to allow easy access for clearing derailments and maintenance.  As I worked in this area, I also found it desirable to provide additional removable hatch sections that will permit working on the scenery on the top of the ridge and then coming down from the ridge into the creek canyon.  I eventually plan on covering the hatch edges as I work down with final ground cover, but for now, the edges show up as ugly scars in the terrain.

I used the same basic terrain construction for the ridge as the previous efforts for Tunnels 3 and 5.  Basic scenery formers were applied to the wall and at scenery break points.  The intervening terrain was formed from four-inch-wide planks of pink insulating foam.  The difference for this ridge is that it is formed on one permanent section against the wall and two sections on the removable scenery hatches.  

Terrain for the Tunnel 12 ridge has just begun being formed between the tunnel portals and the two permanent access hatches on the right.

The second section of the Tunnel 12 ridge has been formed between the two permanent access hatches.  Spray foam insulation has been applied to gaps between foam planks and to help form rock outcroppings.  Formers for the lowest portion of the ridge are in place on top of the lower scenery hatch.

The terrain has been filled in with pink foam slabs and shaped.

Final base terrain applied for the Tunnel 12 ridge and Salt Creek below it.

A massive effort with Sculptamold application covered over the pink foam for most of the area created by the Salt Creek Trestle turn-back lobe.  I try not to leave the terrain in the "pink foam snow storm" appearance for long.  Regular operating sessions plus the up-coming NMRA Pacific Northwest Region Convention in Portland serve as incentive to move this process along.

An OGEUY (Ogden to Eugene manifest freight) drifts down grade out of Tunnel 12 and onto Salt Creek Trestle.  Scenes like this keep me moving ahead on converting my railroad from a "Plywood Pacific" into something more recognizable as the SP in the Cascades.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Joining the railroad along Salt Creek is the Willamette Pass Highway, Oregon Hwy 58.  Salt Creek Trestle spans both the creek and Hwy 58, providing easy access for viewing railroad action on that trestle.  The highway is an important part of the scene.  

One challenge faced by my model scene is that I compressed out of the scene many miles of creek and highway.  While I planned for the highway to pass under the trestle, I needed to have it disappear from the scene.  The prototype Hwy 58 passes through a tunnel further up the pass.  Having my model highway plunge into a tunnel would be a good way to disguise its exit from the overall scene.

I laid out my Hwy 58 on a broad curve that sweeps under the trestle and then curves off to disappear into the tunnel under the roadbed for Wicopee. Viewing from the edge of the layout, this makes for a sweeping left curve.  I laid out the curve on cardboard and cut that to represent the highway--about 25 HO-scale feet wide.  This was then transferred to hardboard and cut out as the initial form of the highway. 

Highway 58 route laid out.  The Salt Creek Trestle towers were removed for scenery work around the piers seen in the upper portion of the photo.

As I worked with the highway scene, I needed to have it rise a bit from Salt Creek Trestle, just as the prototype highway climbs toward the pass. I formed the initial road grade using the insulating foam used for terrain formation.  Some of this needed to be sliced to thinner profile and then smoothed to make a good road grade base.  I then added a subroadbed of hardboard that I could sculpt into the terrain using Sculptamold.  The "final" highway (hardboard) could lay on top of this allowing removal for further highway pavement treatment.

Rough highway grade.

Slicing the insulating foam to the desired thickness.  A belt sander was used to further smooth and shape this road grade.

Once the highway was prepared, I built the tunnel.  I used blocks of three-inch thick insulating foam to form the tunnel.  Laying out the tunnel arch with a pen, I cut out the desired shape using a bandsaw.  I created a cut stone face to the tunnel portal by drawing it onto the foam with a pencil.  The pencil embossed the foam. I painted the tunnel interior gray and then added a thin  mixture of Sculptamold to the portal.  I needed to go over my "stone" embossing so it would show through this thin covering.

Highway 58 tunnel segments joined.  The portal has been embossed using a pencil to form the cut stones used on the prototype Highway 58 tunnel.

Highway 58 tunnel fit into the terrain. Spray insulating foam was used to fill cracks and form rock outcroppings around this area.  Most of the white spray foam seen here was trimmed back before the Sculptamold was applied.  The hardboard highway subroadbed can be seen in the foreground.

Highway 58 tunnel installed within the terrain.

With Highway 58 installed, I can move on to other parts of the Salt Creek scene.

Friday, April 27, 2018


Continuing to sculpt terrain for my railroad, I decided to tackle the terrain surrounding Salt Creek Trestle.  This should become the signature scene for my railroad.  With a layout tour scheduled as part of the NMRA Pacific Northwest Region Convention in Portland May 30-June 2, I needed to fill in around the trestle.  

My original plan was to fill in the terrain to cover the plywood platform that supports the trestle.  This plan quickly developed to a far more extensive project encompassing most of my Salt Creek canyon.  I needed to define the terrain that flows into the opening for the trestle.  I began by creating a raised platform for the terrain that would fit around the trestle tower bases.  This led to a more extensive support frame filling the gap that has been between Wicopee on the aisle side of the trestle and the tunnels against the wall.  The terrain platform was built with 1x2 support and scrap hardboard panels.

Scenery platform surrounding the Salt Creek Trestle towers.

Salt Creek Canyon support framework.  Wicopee is on the left.

With the supporting framework built, I cut a series of profile panels from cardboard.  These helped me see the space in three dimensions while providing an easily modified profile before I commited to wood or foam.

Salt Creek Canyon profile panels.  Blue tape is on the wall to represent the terrain profile along the wall.

With the basic terrain profile designed, I set about building support structures for that terrain.  This included foam strips along the wall, several plywood profile panels for the two access hatches, and a "front" profile foam panel for Tunnel 12, my first tunnel up from Salt Creek Trestle.  The access hatches will be described in a subsequent post. I then set about filling the space with foam panels and strips.

Salt Creek Trestle base terrain filled in with pink insulation foam panels.

The pink foam was shaped further using knives and a Surform scraper tool. Then it was time for Sculptamold! Once again, I mixed batches of Sculptamold with paint.  This provides a base color right away and provides a color other than white for any chips or dings.  I used gray for the Salt Creek streambed and rock outcropping locations, and tan for general earth terrain.  The trestle towers were removed for a couple of days to allow installation of Sculptamold around the tower bases, blending the tower piers into the terrain. Finally, a new fascia panel was installed over the original fascia to fill the gap below the new terrain platform and the trestle base.

Salt Creek Trestle surrounded by terrain.

Salt Creek Trestle RR-West abutment and towers blended into terrain.

I'll discuss other parts of the scenery in this overall area in subsequent posts.  For now, my major railroad engineering feature--Salt Creek Trestle--is anchored within terrain. I look forward to seeing trains rolling through this scene!

Thursday, April 19, 2018


I must pause from my regular reporting on building and operating my dream model railroad to offer a tribute to my four-legged companion of the past five years--our dog Phreddie.  Phreddie was a Brittany--a wonderful breed!  He was ideally suited to us and us to him.  In retirement, we could give him the attention he craved.  In return, he provided companionship, comfort and love. He alerted us to folk coming to the door, especially our regular UPS deliveryman.  He greeted my operating crews with a friendly face and attentiveness.

Early this year, we noted a growth on his right rear leg.  The lump is just visible in the photo above.  The veterinarian diagnosed cancer and gave him a short time.  He outlived that diagnosis by a considerable margin, but inevitably, the cancer took its toll and gradually reduced his mobility.  He adapted well for quite some time to ever more limiting use of that right rear leg.  When Phreddie could no longer be himself--a field dog, we knew it was time to end his suffering.  

On walks (at least two a day, rain or shine), Phreddie showed his spaniel nature--always sniffing, looking for game.  Squirrels and quail were favorites.  I found myself following his nose.  He loved a regular routine, but that still meant checking all of the usual spots every day.

In spite of being a field dog, Phreddie was a house dog.  Likely that was because he wanted--needed by breeding--to be close to us.  He provided us seemingly endless entertainment and mirth.  Every day provided at least one new laugh at some action on his part. Yes, as with all dogs, he sought any food scrap that might come his way.  He kept us on schedule.  Once we did an activity a second time, he expected that as part of his daily routine. 

The inexhaustible love shown by a dog is but a reflection of that shown by our Creator--God.  I hope we will meet again "on the other side."  Rest in peace loyal friend and companion.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


My railroad has been operating quite a bit over the past month, with sessions every two weeks—first with the regularly scheduled “First Saturday” sessions and then with the special session in mid-March associated with Winterail. I held a regularly-scheduled operating session this weekend on my SP Cascade Line.  I have been trying to restrain myself from reporting every such session, but sometimes, the session compels itself to be reported.  This one also had crew members asking for such a report! My railroad was built for operations, so herewith is the report on the latest operating session.

I expected a smaller crew for this session, as a number of the regular crew were out of state for a privately arranged operating event.  This opened up operating slots for a number of infrequent operators on my railroad.  The expected smaller operating crew also led me to develop a lower train density line-up. With several trains annulled, my retired SP Dispatcher mentor Rick K. noted it was more of a weekend line-up.

The session began with several trains still out on the line, left over from the end of the mid-March special session.  The RR-West EUOAY (Eugene to Oakland manifest) was at Wicopee, with a helper entrained.  The RR-West EULAY (Eugene to Los Angeles manifest freight) was at Oakridge, ready to have its helper cut in.  Also at Oakridge was the RR-East WCEUY (West Colton to Eugene manifest freight).  We began the session with a “bang!”

The EUOAY climbs up to the Summit Tunnel (Tunnel 3) with the rear of the train still crawling through Tunnels 5 and 7.  Conductor Clive E. watches his train from the Cascade Summit platform while Helper Engineer Craig L. manages his locomotives from the main floor.

The helper locomotives have been cut into the EULAY at Oakridge and it is preparing to depart.  Helper Engineer Pete H. is closest to the camera and is watching his locomotives’ performance.

The WCEUY works RR-East toward Springfield under the control of Engineer Richard C. (right rear) and Conductor Mike R. (back to camera).

Dispatcher Craig P. works his Train Sheet and Block Authority Sheet. This was Craig’s first time dispatching my railroad.  He did a fine job in spite of traffic challenges that developed in the middle of the session.

At Eugene, Scott B. reaches over intervening tracks to uncouple a car as he works the Eugene City Switcher in the distance.  West Switcher Tom D. works his end of the yard as Yardmaster Chuck C. organizes the yard work.  Closest to the camera is East Switcher Ken R. Meanwhile, a RR-West train with TOFC is working through the depot area on the main track.

The Eugene Yard was loaded with work left over from prior operating sessions.  Critically, the Eugene City Switcher was called to work the industries near the depot. The Eugene City Switcher had not been called for several sessions, so a considerable backlog of work had developed. Eugene yard operations were blessed with a full, experienced crew.

After the initial wave of traffic left out on the line at the end of the previous session, operations settled down into a more normal pattern of road freights working from one end of the railroad to the other.  This next wave of trains included a couple of RR-East freights: the RVEUY (Roseville to Eugene Manifest) and OGEUY (Ogden to Eugene Manifest—a train that came over the Modoc Line), and a RR-West:  the EUCIY (Eugene to City of Industry <Los Angeles area>).  

The RVEUY has taken the siding at McCredie Springs for a meet with the EUCIY.

The EUCIY rolls through McCredie Springs with Engineer Richard C. (closest to camera) at the head end and Helper Engineer Craig L. (Dark red shirt on the left) watching his unit’s performance and controlling the slack coupler point in the train.  The crew for the RVEUY: Clive E. (left-rear) and Dick K. (right-rear) watch the EUCIY roll past.

Mark K., Conductor for the OGEUY, monitors his train and lines it out of Crescent Lake.  

Engineer Brigg F. watches the head end of the OGEUY as it rolls through Cascade Summit.

Next up was a pair of hot trains with auto racks and trailer-on-flatcar (TOFC).  The BRLAT (Brooklyn—SP’s Portland, OR, Yard—to Los Angeles Trailers) was up first, departing Eugene just after midnight on the fast clock.  Adding spice to this event was the need to add a private car to the rear of the train at the Eugene Depot.

BRLAT Conductor Dick E. copies his clearance while the Eugene City switcher adds the private car to the rear of the train.  Adding this car to the train led to an interesting discussion of prototype railroad operating practices.  It also led to cooperative switching moves involving the Eugene City Switcher and the Eugene West Switcher.  

As the BRLAT worked its way RR-West on the railroad, other traffic needed to make way.  The BRLAT was the hottest (highest priority) train on the railroad during its travel from Eugene to Crescent Lake.  This eventually led to threading through congestion at Cruzatte where the BRLAT ran around the EUCIY and met a light helper set tucked into the house track. Another RR-West freight followed the BRLAT.  The fourteen locomotives, including eight with sound, involved in this congested set of moves left my power system panting.  I will need to monitor the current draw for this sort of situation with an eye to further breaking up the power district and perhaps adding another booster or two.  

Congestion on the Hill!  Three trains and four helper sets are drawing power as the BRLAT threads its way past lower priority trains on its way uphill.

In the end, I had nineteen operators participate in this session—close to a normal crew size.  We took advantage of the somewhat lighter line-up of trains to fully staff the trains with two-man crews.  We also doubled up the Dispatcher with a first-timer and a mentor.  The smiles on faces and banter among crew members indicated a good time being had by all.  Success!

Saturday, March 31, 2018


The major project for me this Spring for my railroad is fleshing out three-dimensional scenery elements.  The first such effort dealt with the Summit Tunnel, Tunnel 3.  ( )  Continuing downhill, the next tunnel on my railroad is Tunnel 5, including its rock shed on the RR-West end.  As with the Summit Tunnel, Tunnel 5 occupies another corner of the alcove space of my main layout room. 

I began the scenery shell over Tunnel 5 in much the same fashion as the Summit Tunnel.  I attached support plates to the inside of the fascia contour and to the wall.  I then spanned the gap with four-inch wide plates of pink insulation foam, cutting these into triangular pieces to work around the corner.

Forming the corner mountain shell for Tunnel 5 and its Rock Shed.

Having turned the corner, I built the rest of the shell for the tunnel and rock shed with more planks of pink insulation foam.  Arriving at the portals, I shifted to stacking vertical planks of foam cut to the desired terrain contour.  I used this technique to fill in the wall gap between the portals for Tunnels 3 and 5 and then extending further downhill from the RR-East portal of Tunnel 5.  The foreground between the track roadbed and the fascia was filled with horizontal foam planks with vertical contour planks used on top of that where needed.  I also added foam blocks on top of both the “fan-shape” above the Tunnel 5 Rock Shed and on the ridge over the top of Tunnel 5.  This helps break up the flat areas and provided a base for rock outcroppings.

Tunnel 5 rough terrain shell.  Note the large foam blocks above the rock shed “fan” on the left and on top of the ridge for the tunnel (area above the vacuum cleaner).  Also note the use of both horizontal and vertical foam planks to form the terrain along the wall to the right from the tunnel portal.

I experimented with spray insulation foam to add to the rock outcropping blocks and to suggest more rock outcroppings along the walls.  With a new material and application method (spray cans of insulating foam), I had a learning curve.  I found the foam came out of the spray nozzle as about a one-inch diameter extrusion that I needed to apply to the desired locations.  I snaked this around the rock outcropping areas.  I also used the spray foam to fill several gaps between foam planks I had left.  I then discovered the spray foam continued to expand for several minutes after the initial application.  This left much bigger “snakes” of foam. 

As I noted in my discussion of the Summit Tunnel terrain base forming, one becomes a sculptor, removing material that was intentionally (or unintentionally with the spray foam!) “overbuilt.”  In the case of the spray foam, I removed a lot of material.  In some cases, perhaps 10-15% of the spray foam initially applied remained after carving and then scraping.  The pink foam was installed to be close to the desired contour.  The spray foam needed to be carved back with a knife to get the rough size and shape desired.  In both cases, the final shaping was done with a Stanley Surform scrapper—a very handy tool!

Terrain shell carved and shaped.  The tunnel portals and track have blue tape applied for protection, particularly during the spray foam process.

The final step in forming the base scenery shell was the application of Sculptamold .  Once again, I mixed Sculptamold with paint for color within this covering.  In addition to my base tan color, I also used gray paint for areas that will show rock outcroppings.  Much like frosting a cake, I lathered this onto the foam base with a spatula.  I am not yet confident in my rock carving technique, so I intend adding plaster rock castings to the scenery base for the rock outcroppings.  Meanwhile, I have another tunnel and stretch of wall with the scenery base installed.

The EUOAY led by SP9183 emerges from Tunnel 5 and its rock shed as it nears the summit of the Cascades.

The EUOAY and SP9183 approach the RR-East portal of the Summit Tunnel.

The helper set for the EUOAY approaches the RR-East portal of Tunnel 5.