Thursday, November 8, 2018


An important part of my efforts to preserve the heritage of the Southern Pacific Railroad is participation in the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society (SPH&TS).  I regularly attend the SPH&TS Annual Conventions.  This year that event was held in Monterey, CA. South of the San Francisco Bay Area, I have family and personal connections to Monterey, making this year's event a priority.  

Convention organizers put together a great slate of presentations on the railroad history and operation on to the Monterey peninsula.  Those operations also included the development of a resort hotel, the Del Monte, which became a destination for the rich and famous.  The rise and fall of rail service to the peninsula was described in detail.  Important to this service was the Del Monte passenger train, the longest-serving named train on the SP.  It provided comfortable travel to the resort long before the automobile and served right up to the beginning of Amtrak.  

SPH&TS Convention attendees await the next presentation.

A special extra fare event was organized for Sunday, following the convention with a brunch and guided tour of the Del Monte Hotel.  The Del Monte Hotel was taken over by the US Navy in 1943 for wartime pilot training.  After the war, the Navy held on to it, eventually purchasing it outright in 1947 to serve as the site for the US Navy PostGraduate School (USNPG). The "PG School" has a good reputation inside and outside the military, conferring both Masters and Doctoral degrees.  I had professional dealings with the school during my NASA career.

Our guide for the tour was John Sanders, retired Public Affairs Officer for the USNPG School.  He gathered and organized the history of the Del Monte property during his paid career and continues to expound upon it in retirement.  The Navy has done a great job preserving the history of the property and continues to use the central hotel buildings as guest quarters for visiting military.

Main entry to the historic Del Monte Hotel.  Currently named Hermann Hall.  The main entry was built in 1926 in Spanish Revival style after a fire destroyed its predecessor.  Hotel wings on the sides (the east wing is visible on the right) remained from its 1887 predecessor, saved by explosive demolition of connecting arcades while the main building burnt.  

As noted with the entry photo, the Del Monte Hotel suffered a couple of major fires, reemerging each time.  After the second major fire, the remaining Swiss-Gothic hotel wings were covered in stucco to better match the new central structure built in Spanish Revival style which was quite popular in the 1920s.  

The Del Monte served as a major destination for the rich and famous. Heads of State, including US Presidents up through Teddy Roosevelt stayed there.  What began as "Crocker's Folly," rapidly became THE destination on the California Coast.  The hotel had been a project for CP-SP co-founder Charlie Crocker.  It was owned by the Pacific Improvement Company, a creation of "The Big Four."  Even in its post-1926 form, preserved by the US Navy, the hotel provides a window into the Gilded Age.

Main Lobby of the Del Monte Hotel.

The Arizona Garden--established and renewed after the 1887 fire by Charlie Crocker. Garden materials were gathered from the Sonoran Desert and brought to the Del Monte to form this exotic garden on the California Coast.  

Sunday Brunch for our tour group in the La Novia room, just of the main ballroom at the Del Monte.

La Novia room back-bar.  The cabinetry is set into a load-bearing wall.  This is just one example of the many pieces of fine art decorating the hotel.

The Del Monte tour was a fitting capstone to a great convention. It provided a window into the past, when train travel often ended at exotic destinations.  

Sunday, October 28, 2018


After a year of bridge, trestle, tunnel, and terrain work, I find myself shifting gears to other projects.  Specifically, I have resumed fleshing out the industry served by the railroad.  My recent work on the banks of the Willamette River between Eugene and Springfield inspired me to launch into a major industry along the Willamette at Springfield--Borden Chemical.  Yes, this is the same Borden known to generations of children and adults as makers of white glue.  Borden has been involved in many types of glues and adhesives, including plywood glue. That brings us to the Borden plant in Springfield.

Borden established their Springfield facility in 1960.  Though spun off to Momentive today, in the fashion of railroaders everywhere, the historic name sticks.  I took a number of photos of the facility in 2013--all from public sidewalks.  Still, my photos served as a useful modeling guide.

Momentive chemical plant in Springfield.  The Cascade Line mainline is on the right, with the Willamette River bridge showing in the distance.  Note the cooling tower with two fan housings near the photo center.  Also note the tan steel structure next to the cooling towers. Many of the plant structures follow this scheme.

Chemical plant detail--lots of refining towers, pipes, and even a rail tank car.

Paging through the Walthers catalog for suitable industrial structures, I came upon the corn ethanol plant series issued by Walthers in their Cornerstone series.  Both plants process plant materials to extract useful chemicals. Though the scale of some of the tanks is off and the implied chemistry modeled is certainly lacking in detail, these kits provided a good base for representing the Momentive facility, at least as it can be seen today.  Absent more specific knowledge of both the plant and its historic appearance, I chose to use today's appearance as my guide.

Walthers kits used for this project included:
933-2976, Processing Center
933-2977, Fermentation Tanks
933-2978, Energy Center
933-2979, Cooling Tower Facility
933-4037, Four Modern Loading Racks

Although the Walthers ethanol series was produced only once and is now absent from the catalog, one can find many of these kits on the secondary market yet. I missed obtaining a detail kit for some of the tanks, but will find other ways to add those details later. For now, what I have is sufficient to convey a sense of a large wood chemical plant.  To these Walthers kits, I added two of the Vollmer oil refinery kits (770-5525).  These added the refining towers and more modest-sized tanks to my facility.

The cooling towers were a relatively late addition to my facility. Looking at photos, such as the one at the top of this article, I realized I should try to add this function. Fortunately, I was able to acquire one of the Walthers cooling tower kits which matches fairly well to the prototype facility.  I needed to cut the kit down from four fan housings to two, per the prototype.  I did this by cutting both ends off the long walls and cutting an appropriate length roof with fan housings to match. This was necessary because of a center bracing structure for the bottom inlets on the kit walls.  This needed to be in the center of my structure. Similarly, I needed to slice the ends off the kit base to retain the center section.

Prototype cooling tower with two fan housings.  Although this structure has aluminum-colored walls, I chose to retain the "company look" with tan walls for my model.

Cutting the cooling tower base to fit the shortened (two fan) structure.

Model cooling tower.  This part of the model facility is furthest from the river and closest to the rest of the Springfield scene, somewhat like the prototype placement.

Borden Chemical in place at Springfield on my HO-scale SP Cascade Line.

I still need to add more piping connecting the many pieces of this facility.  Still, the vast bulk of the Borden Chemical (Momentive) facility has been built and occupies an important space and function on my railroad.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


My terrain forming efforts have enclosed the full mainline with completion of the ridge over Tunnel 7. This is the tunnel at the RR-West end of Shady Creek Trestle.  This was the final mainline tunnel to be enclosed.  All ten modeled tunnels have been encased.

Closing in Tunnel 7 awaited fine-tuning of the roadbed in this area resulting from the trestle installation.  In contrast to the other trestles on my railroad, I had to cut-in a new spine for Shady Creek.  Inevitably, this upset the roadbed alignment in the area, notably through the area to be enclosed as Tunnel 7.  It took a couple of fine-tuning efforts and then successful train operations through the area by my regular operating crew to approve this area for tunnel enclosure. The key test of the roadbed was that the operation needed to be done by someone other than me, the builder.  This is similar to the concept that one cannot proof read one's own writing.

An added challenge for this terrain effort was that the RR-East end of the tunnel sits atop the area where the terrain from both lower and upper deck merge.  The transition is necessary but complicated by minimal scene depth.  This leads to vertical terrain walls.  I needed to make it somewhat believable and then distract attention to either side.  Fortunately, Shady Creek Trestle dominates the scene, so I will live with the vertical rock walls.  Subsequent addition of trees on the lower deck should help.

Construction of the tunnel enclosure followed my standard pattern, documented in blog posts over the past year.  The first step was to ballast the track through the tunnel.  Second, a tunnel liner was constructed for the inner tunnel. The portals and end liners were built and placed during my earlier tunnel end effort.  Multiple posts a year ago covered the portals, liners and rock sheds.

Tunnel 7 foundations.  The tunnel liner is in place and the first step off fascia panel installation has been done.  Still to come is curving the lower tail of the fascia around to attachment to the wood blocks just below the RR-East face of the rock shed portal.

Closing in the tunnel with slabs of insulation foam began with contour supports on the back wall and the inside of the front fascia.  Then, it was a simple job to fill in foam slabs around the tunnel portals and then build the ridge.  Once the basic landform was created with slabs of insulating foam, spray foam was applied to fill gaps and add additional rock formations.  The foam was then carved to the final configuration. This was particularly important with the spray foam, as it expanded considerably after the initial application.

The fascia panel has been fully-mounted.  Contour panels are mounted on the wall (right) and back of the fascia panel (left).  The RR-West portal has been encased in insulating foam slabs and panels for the ridge now span between the fascia and wall.

Insulating foam slab construction for the RR-West portal of Tunnel 7.

Spray foam fills the gaps and helps further form the terrain.

RR-West McCredie Springs terrain, including the transition to the upper deck terrain.

Sculptamold applied to the slab foam base.

SP9320E operating as the 05-RVEUY <Roseville to Eugene manifest freight> passes through Tunnel 7 and onto Shady Creek Trestle.

SP9320E stretched out from Shady Creek Trestle back through Tunnels 7 and 5.

Tying it all together, SP9320E is shown below entering the RR-West end of McCredie Springs while SP8283 climbs out of Cruzatte and through Tunnel 7.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


My HO-scale SP Cascade Line achieved an operating milestone with its thirtieth formal operating session using the full mainline.  This session marked the first time my crew operated with most of the terrain fleshed out on either side of the track.  The crew greeted this with excitement and lots of smiles.  They no longer needed to imagine the Oregon Cascades from bits of wood, paint and track. 

This operating session used my usual format for formal sessions, beginning with arrival in mid-morning.  The initial gathering represents important social time, as the crew comes from the full length of the Willamette Valley.  Most of the crew drives an hour-plus, while the Eugene contingent faces a two-hour drive.

Crew arrival with the usual potluck spread on tables while our chili pots simmer away.

My in-brief focused on radio procedure and a review of Direct Traffic Control as applied to my railroad.  Around 11 am, trains began to roll.  I started the fast clock at 10:30 pm, picking up where the last session in early August left off.  The session began with a couple of trains out on the line, ready to "resume" their journeys.

David L. guides the EUCIY (Eugene to City of Industry manifest freight) over Salmon Creek Bridge, just out of Oakridge.  His train received mid-train helpers in Oakridge before starting the climb here.  This train began the session in Oakridge, ready for the helper to be entrained.

Jeroen G. serves as engineer and Mark K. serves as conductor on the 04-RVEUY (fourth Roseville to Eugene manifest for the date) as their train exists Tunnel 20 headed RR-Eastbound toward Eugene.

Meanwhile, the Eugene Yard crew gets to work.  Jim M., hidden at the far end, drew the Eugene City Switcher and has a string of cars on the track closest to the depot on the left. Randall P. works the RR-West end of the classification yard, while Yardmaster Rick A. organizes the work and RR-East Switcher Pete H. works another cut of cars.

Santa Clara Tower Operator Vic N. organizes his work in the Eugene Arrival-Departure Yard.

Craig L. brings the 03-LAEUY (third Los Angeles to Eugene manifest freight of the date) down over Noisy Creek Trestle.

The 03-LAEUY has made it down to Salt Creek Trestle.  Note that I hang inspiration photos below the major scenes on my railroad, as seen here in the lower left.

David L. has the EUCIY approaching Montieth Rock while helper engineer Scott B. controls the slack point ahead of his helper locomotives.

David L. proudly displays his photograph of the Montieth Rock scene--an important inspiration photo for me, now recreated in HO-scale.

An important feature of the midnight portion of my line-up is a fleet of RR-West priority trains with trailer equipment designations.  This fleet of three priority trains eventually gets met by a RR-East trailer train out of Los Angeles (LABRT--Los Angeles to Brooklyn <Portland, OR> trailer train).  This creates a busy period for the Dispatcher, as none of these trains should be delayed.

Dispatcher Dave H. records data on the Train Sheet.  The track schematic in front of him is laid out on a steel panel, so magnetic tags can be used to help visualize the traffic.

Helper engineer Mike L. watches his train as the BRLAT (Brooklyn to Los Angeles Trailers) crosses Noisy Creek Trestle.  The BRLAT was the first of the RR-West fleet of priority trains. With 89 foot cars in the train, the helpers go on the point (front of the train).

The BRLAT climbs through Cruzatte with helper engineer Mike L. and road enginer Mike B. (hidden behind Mike L.) watching their train.

Mike B. watches the BRLAT pull out of Tunnel 5 toward the summit. The train extends back through Tunnel 7 in the foreground.  This operating session successfully tested the trackage through Tunnel 7 and over Shady Creek Trestle.

The BRLAT enters Cascade Summit as both Mikes look on.

Mike L. cuts his helper set off the point (front) of the BRLAT as the RR-Eastbound RVEUE (Roseville to Eugene Empties--an "XMUG") occupies the Cascade Summit mainline.  Dick E. and Dave C. are the crew for the RVEUE.

Jeroen G. and Mark K. guide the middle of the three priority RR-West trains, the BROAT (Brooklyn to Oakland Trailers) over the Willamette River Bridge and into Springfield.  The developing Borden Chemical plant beside Jeroen will be the topic of a future post.

David L. rolls through Cascade Summit (above, left) with the LABRT, the RR-Eastbound priority train that must work against the RR-West fleet of priority trains.

The CZLAT (Crown Zellerbach to Los Angeles "Trailers") pauses in McCredie Springs as helper engineer Scott B. looks on from the Cascade Summit and Conductor Mark K. copies block authority from the Dispatcher and Engineer Jeroen G. awaits that clearance.  The CZLAT was the focus of an article in the just-arrived Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society "Trainline."  This was a mostly boxcar train carrying CZ paper products to the Los Angeles area on a priority schedule--hence the "T" symbol in CZLAT.

The BRLAT (above at Cruzatte) and CZLAT (below, exiting Tunnel 20 before entering Wicopee) move toward a meet. 

The CZLAT continues to climb over Salt Creek Trestle toward the meet with the BRLAT at Cruzatte.  The Dispatcher has properly given the RR-Westbound CZLAT priority over the otherwise equal RR-Eastbound BRLAT.  This follows the timetable assignment of "West is Best" between otherwise equal trains.

The lunch break is an important part of an operating session. It provides nourishment, rest, and plenty of social interaction.  We were blessed by good Fall weather, so we could convene outside for lunch.

Seventeen operators joined me for this thirtieth operating session. The railroad is living up to its design focus for hosting such events.

Saturday, September 29, 2018


As I worked on major terrain forming along the mountain grade of my railroad, one spot in the valley portion of the railroad commanded similar terrain attention.  The Willamette River crossing between Eugene and Springfield was one of my earliest efforts with paint defining a scene.  The bridges were installed five years ago during the early part of mainline construction.
This area also saw some of my earliest artist attempts to both represent the Willamette River and expanding the scene onto the backdrop.  This river crossing also served as the first significant scene for photography as a scene (as opposed to bare plywood and track). With my terrain forming skills well-honed over the past year, it was time to fill in the river banks.

As I noted in my early posts on this scene, space was limited, just as it is almost everywhere on a model railroad.  The early efforts took note of the need to use a shorter bridge than the prototype.  Still, an acceptable solution was found by doing what a railroad engineer would do--order a pair of standard bridges to span the river.  The limited space also impacted the space for the river banks. I extended the cut into the plywood subroadbed on both sides of the river as far as I thought I could.  As I looked at this scene more carefully, I found I could trim a bit more of the plywood, helping expand the river banks a bit more.

Willamette River crossing much as it has been for the past five years. The plywood subroadbed on both sides has been trimmed back a bit more--about an inch or so on the right side in this view.  This makes the approach trestle span a bit more believable.

With the plywood banks cut back, I installed a base for the terrain on the Springfield (right-hand side in the photo above).  I then began filling in the gap with Styrofoam slabs and wedges , starting with the area around the trestle.  With the "fiddly-work" done around the trestle, the rest of the job was fairly straightforward with layers of Styrofoam placed and carved to create the river bank slopes.  Gaps were filled in with spray foam insulation, although that process proved a bit too vigorous.  I had quite a bit of spray foam I had to carve back to the desired terrain shape.

Terrain forming begun for the Springfield side of the river, beginning with filling around the trestle approach.  Note I also angled the edge of the plywood subroadbed to provide a better transition for the eventual covering of Sculptamold.

River bank carved and shaped.  A selection of knives and the Stanley Surformscraper I use for this step.  I find the shreds of foam easier to clean up than the dust mess made with conventional plaster scenery--I have done both.

I mixed three batches of Sculptamold to cover the foam terrain.  I mixed in quite a bit of burnt and raw umber with the tan paint for the lowest level--closest to the river.  I mixed in less and less of the umber as I worked up the banks.  Although this provides distinct color bands right now, it will provide a good base for more detailed scenery later on.

River banks created.

SP9236W crosses the Willamette River, headed from Eugene to Springfield and on toward the Cascades and then California.

I am glad to have filled in the terrain around this important scene on the railroad.  

Thursday, September 20, 2018


Moving down from Montieth Rock (, I filled in terrain the rest of the way to Oakridge, including the mainline crossing of Salmon Creek.  I use the "Pryor" name for this area, as that is un-modeled siding located between Oakridge and McCredie Springs.  Ironically, I originally planned to begin my terrain forming efforts here.  Instead, this major stretch of landscape became one of my last.  The tunnels and trestles of this past year simply "commanded" my attention.  

This relatively simple stretch of terrain went swiftly.  I installed the pink foam slabs and then covered the surface with Sculptamold in about a week of work.  Most of this terrain was my basic sloping hillside, formed by slabs of Styrofoam at my desired angle.  That angle is steeper than most natural ground.  Consider that artistic license to compress the scene within the available depth.

Pink Styrofoam panels installed for the terrain leading down to Salmon Creek in the distance to the left.

I filled in terrain around the mainline bridge crossing Salmon Creek. The foreground terrain awaits bridge construction for the Pope and Talbot lumber mill spur.  Filling in around the mainline bridge allowed the terrain to fill in against the back drop continuously through this area.  I used vertical slabs of Styrofoam for the creek area terrain, as that more easily allowed me to form my desired terrain.

Terrain forming for the mainline bridge crossing Salmon Creek.

I created a small hill on the RR-East side of the creek and then got carried away with terrain forming against the backdrop.  I carried that hill too far into the Oakridge scene. Overnight, I wrestled with this and concluded a change was in order.  I needed to open up the RR-West end of Oakridge more to fit the real scene and, critically, to provide space for Oakridge's Beech Street and the signals at that end of Oakridge.  Quick work with a putty knife and a carving knife removed the offending terrain.  I then formed a new end to the hillside and cleaned up the backdrop.  I patched the basic backdrop paint after the Sculptamold was applied.

Salmon Creek hillside extending too far toward the RR-West end of Oakridge.

Excess hillside against backdrop has been removed and the hill reformed.  A ramp for Beech Street has been formed to ensure I do not forget about this feature!

With terrain formed, I applied Sculptamold.  Most of this used my tan earth color, though some areas, especially around Salmon Creek, received a gray paint filler.  I exhausted my supply of Sculptamold with about six square feet of hillside left to cover.  I had placed an order for more last week, right after the Montieth rock exercise. This order arrived the next day after my major Sculptamold effort.  I immediately returned to complete the scene and take pictures before my regular Tuesday night railroad operating group met.  I also was able to cover additional terrain I had formed in the Salmon Creek area.

Montieth Rock and terrain extending toward Salmon Creek.  Note the pink foam patch still awaiting a fresh supply of Sculptamold.

Finally, it was time to run a train through the freshly completed scene.

SP9236W rounds the curve and starts the climb out of Oakridge as it crosses Salmon Creek.

SP9236 climbs toward Montieth Rock.

I have just a couple of major patches of terrain yet to go.  The missing areas require some other activity before I work on them.  One of those is Cascade Summit, immediately above the just-completed scene from Salmon Creek to Montieth Rock and McCredie Springs.  Evident from the photos here, the open areas for the rear part of the summit scene overhead provide open light paths right now.  Lighting for the "land down under" is one of those "other activities" that must precede terrain work for Cascade Summit.  Meanwhile, my crews can enjoy their trains rolling through more completed terrain.