Sunday, October 8, 2017


We just held a highly successful regular operating session, the twenty-second one using the full mainline.  I was trying to cut back on posting too many of my operating session reports, but this one was so enjoyable—successful—that it begs reporting.  I have been reflecting upon what makes for a “successful” session and thought readers might want to see my thoughts.

Greg P. guides the 01-RVEUY over the new bridge at Westfir while Richard C. works the Oakridge Turn in the background.  Concentration and smiles are indicators of an enjoyable operating session.

Seventeen folk joined me for this regular October operating session.  This was a few less folk than often show up, but that lower number was one of the contributors to the session success.  Three of those operators were either new to the layout or had been away for quite some time.  We formed four two-man road crews and had two single-man helper engineers.  The Eugene yard complex was staffed fully and we had a Trick Dispatcher and an Assistant Chief Dispatcher.  I had one “observer”—a fellow layout owner who wanted to observe and take note of my maturing operating scheme.  He picked a great session to observe!

The four road crews were a couple of crews less than we often run.  A consequence was that we did not run as many trains.  Similarly, we had two helper crews instead of three, but with the lower traffic level, the two helper crews were sufficient for the traffic.  A major positive result of less train crews was reduced radio traffic.  This contributed mightily to a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone.  Sure, we did not run all the trains I had set-up on the Line-Up—we rarely do—but that is not the measure of “success.”  Instead, I look for the quality of the experience for all.  I would rate that as very high for this session.  Comments from many of my crew for this session were similarly positive.  “More” is not necessarily “better.”  The road crews ran at least two trains each, each with good trips.  Similarly, the helper crews each had two or more runs up the Hill and back.  I need to consider this carefully as I construct future operating sessions. 

We had an experienced crew running the Eugene Yard complex, although one former switch crew member became the Santa Clara Tower Operator—a new position for him.  The yard work proceeded logically and without a rushed sense often associated with heavy yard activity.  Both the Classification Yard and the Arrival-Departure Yard activity were well-paced, which kept up the paperwork to go with the car movements.  The crew found two car cards that had gone missing for a couple of sessions and several other clerical errors.  With five hundred or so cars on the layout, a few such paperwork errors are expected.  It was great to have them found and easily corrected.

Eugene Yardmaster Rick A. works between his two switch crews, Jim M. (far end) and Pete J. (near).

RR-West Switcher Jim M. uncouples a car as he works at Eugene.

Santa Clara Tower Operator Scott B. uncouples a caboose as he works the Arrival-Departure Yard.  The teamwork between the Classification Yard and Arrival-Departure Yard was very smooth—a tribute to the experienced crew.

Train dispatching and overall management were handled well by experienced crew members.  The Assistant Chief Dispatcher (and Crew Caller) position professional railroader Rick Kang introduced to my railroad has contributed greatly to efficient use of train crews and timely crew calls.  This relieves a task for me as layout owner.  My job is that of trouble-shooter (fortunately very little of that) and overall manager and host.  Both operating roles are important.  With a large crew, having another person managing the tactical operating level—the Assistant Chief Dispatcher—is a huge help, as that person stays focused on the information flow and timely crew calling.  This relieves both me (layout owner) and the Trick Dispatcher.

Conductor John B-1. (near) and Engineer Richard C. (green shirt) guide the Oakridge Turn around Marcola.  Assistant Chief Dispatcher Rick K. is walking toward the main layout area, likely on his way to the Crew Call Board on the wall out of sight to the left.

Radio communication was a lot more relaxed for this session.  As noted, the lower traffic volume on the railroad contributed to lower voice communication over the radio.  In addition, we have been emphasizing radio procedure, including the vital use of “over” and “out” at the end of transmissions.  Radio is not like a telephone.  Only one person can be talking—transmitting—at a time.  Telephone (including cell phones) allows both parties to talk at the same time.  We have to retrain for radio use.

Trick Dispatcher Dave H. enters data onto the Block Authorization Sheet.  This is a prime document for the Dispatcher when using Direct Traffic Control.

The more relaxed traffic level on the railroad (and radio!) allowed everyone time to railfan the railroad.  I saw a number of cell phone cameras come out during this session.  Indeed, an early such use prompted me to grab my camera to record images for this session.  This was a very good sign.  I also had the chance to talk with the crewmembers and reflect on a number of aspects of model railroading.  In particular, both the crew and I were able to enjoy a layout designed and built to be a representation of a real piece of railroad. 

The constant struggle for model railroaders between adherence to a specific prototype versus broader railroad interests creates its own tension and second-guessing.  I am happy to have landed in the prototype camp, even though it theoretically constrains some of my modeling efforts.  Not to worry, I have a huge empire to render into four dimensions (time included).  Modeling a prototype actually makes some of the model choices easier.  I just need to research a given topic for the solution.  Fortunately for me, there are good research resources available for the SP Cascade Line, augmented by my relative proximity (a couple hours away) to that line and, even more, access to railroaders who worked or are now working that line.

A meet underway at Cruzatte.  Helper Engineer Mike Y. (on the platform to the right) looks on as Bill M. and Anthony O. watch from the main floor.

The other Helper Engineer, Craig P. chats as the meet goes on behind him, with Anthony O. and Mike Y. watching over the Eastbound train in motion down-grade.

Another Westbound train headed up hill at Cruzatte, with Engineer Dave C. (his former real job, as well!) and Helper Mike Y. watching.

Action on the railroad!  John B-1. (right) is working the Oakridge Turn.  Greg P. (green shirt) is guiding his train through Oakridge.  Bill M. (seated in the distance) is awaiting his next Helper assignment.  Up above, on the Cascade Summit platform are Dick E. (left) Conductor on the Westbound train at the Summit, Helper Mike Y., and Engineer Dave C.  The helper is about to be cut out at Cascade Summit.

John B-2. works the Marcola Turn.  In the background, Mike Y. and Dick E. watch their train at Cruzatte.

The Oakridge Turn rounds the bend at Westfir, about to cross the North Fork of the Willamette River as it passes the Western Lumber sawmill.  This scene is rapidly becoming another railfan favorite.  I need to keep working to flesh out this scene to make it worthy of those photos!

We had a great time for this operating session.  This is what this layout owner has worked hard to create.  My vision is becoming real.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


With the railroad running well and with no critical construction or repair tasks to support operations, I have been turning to model-building projects to enhance the scenes around the railroad.  One of those tasks has been completing and installing the bridge at Westfir.  A “temporary” plywood span has been in place since the original construction of my railroad.  Several items needed to fall into place for me to replace this temporary span with the permanent bridge and its supports.

First and foremost, I needed a suitable deck truss bridge.  The prototype span features a ballasted deck supported by a pair of deck girders for the approaches and a deck truss for the main span.  See the photos of Joel Ashcroft’s “Southern Pacific in the Cascades” website, where the bridge at Westfir is used as the title page image for the website section on structures:  I considered adapting an Atlas “train set” deck truss, but it was too short for my purposes and definitely not detailed enough for the location very close to the aisle.  A second option was to scratch-build using bridge girders from Central Valley. I was somewhat willing to do so, but other tasks always took a higher priority.  This past year, Walthers introduced a new line of bridge kits, including a deck truss bridge (933-4520).  Although not an exact match, this bridge kit was close enough to do the job. 

Deck truss bridge over the North Fork of the Willamette at Westfir.

 With the central deck truss bridge settled, the rest of the bridge started falling into place.  The approach span girders are Tichy girders.  These are shorter (forty scale feet long) than the Micro Engineering spans (fifty feet long) I have used elsewhere.  I needed the shorter spans to fit the space I allowed for this scene.  The ballasted deck was built using my standard technique using 0.040 inch thick styrene for the deck with 0.125 x0.125 styrene strip for the cross beams.  I used this technique for other ballasted deck bridges such as the deck girder bridge over Salmon Creek, at the other end (RR-West) of Oakridge:  I have chosen to use the earlier style wood bridge railings on my railroad versus the pipe stanchion and cable “railing” used in more recent years.

Bridge abutments and piers were built up from styrene sheet and strip.  This allowed me to capture the 12:1 batter (slope) of these supports and to control height.  This also is the way I built these supports for the Salmon Creek bridge: 
Different for the Westfir bridge was that I chose to mount/support the end abutments using the “river” plywood plate that undergirds the entire scene.  I was able to select styrene strip thicknesses to adjust the height of the abutments to match the required geometry.

Bridge abutments and piers for the Westfir bridge.

As I built the pieces for the bridge, I also needed to address roughing-in the overall scene.  Critically, I needed to sort out the log pond and river.  My base plate provided too deep a scene for the log pond, but that same depth was needed for the deck truss bridge.  Fortunately, the prototype Western Lumber created their log pond using a series of dams on the North Fork of the Willamette River.  Although I rearranged the relative location of the bridge and the pond, the prototype inspiration remained.  I was able to raise the pond and the river beside it by the thickness of a 2x4 on the flat (1.5 inches thick) plus a hardboard sheet for the new water level.  This provided more acceptable geometry for the log chain leading to the de-barker and sawmill.  Still, I needed to rough-in a stepped-down set of levels leading from the sawmill to the log pond.  This needed to be done before the bridge was installed. 

View of Westfir bridge scene with log chain leading up from the log pond through the de-barker to the sawmill.

SP 8529 leads a RR-East train over the new bridge over the North Fork of the Willamette River at Westfir.  Behind the locos is a tunnel portal mock-up for Tunnel 22 which penetrates a ridge leading into Oakridge.  The final model portals are in the packaging propped up against the backdrop.

Another view of the new bridge at Westfir with the sawmill and its support structures in the foreground.

The two-month break in my regular operating schedule caused by the Labor Day Weekend impact on my normal First Saturday schedule provided the final element needed for installation of the bridge.  With a two-month break, I felt more confident in my ability to reassemble the railroad in time for the next operating session. 

The entire scene at Westfir is an important one to my railroad.  It is good to be fleshing it out at last!