Thursday, December 13, 2012


Track is the fundamental infrastructure for a railroad.  Model railroaders have long observed that effort spent to ensure track is laid to precise standards pays off throughout the life of the layout.  A layout the size of my SP Cascade Line depends on high track-laying standards to keep annoying derailments and other issues at bay, thereby keeping the maintenance required at an acceptable level.  Selection of track-laying techniques was an important early decision during the design process.

Surveying the state-of-the-art of model railroading over the past decade-plus led to an easy decision to use Micro Engineering (ME) flex track.  ME track is well-detailed—better than I could do hand-laying (individual ties, rails and spikes).  Further, I need to lay a lot of track.  Flex track represents an important time and labor saver.  Little did I realize at the time (more than a decade ago), my choice to use ME track would also plant me firmly into using a US-made product while other suppliers have gone off-shore.  Current supply issues for other track brands have not impeded my track-laying.

One issue with Micro Engineering track is establishing curves.  Though ME track flexes, it does so “reluctantly.”  A positive result of this is that it holds a curve once established.  The challenge of forming curves was neatly solved for me by my local hobby shop owner as he handed me a plastic block with grooves molded into it, made by MLR Mfg. Co. (Walthers 479-5001).  The flex track rails fit into the grooves, so the block can be used to form a curve.  I use my hardboard curve templates--laid out and cut out to help with full-size track planning--to help guide my forming of a curve.  Once I am close, I follow up with a Ribbonrail curve gauge (170-xx, where “xx” is the curve radius in inches).  The Ribbonrail curve gauges have been around the hobby for ages.  They have remained available because they are so good at curving track to a consistent radius. 

Flex track curve-forming using MLR track tool, hardboard curve template, and Ribbonrail curve gauge.

The other critical track component is a turnout or switch.  The NMRA test of ready-made turnouts on the market, published a couple of years ago, was very revealing.  Most manufacturers failed on multiple dimensions in a turnout.  Micro Engineering came close, with only a relatively minor flaw.  Upon inspecting a couple of samples, I decided to use ME turnouts where they fit into my track plan.  Fortunately, about 2/3 of the turnouts for the SP Cascade Line will be #6, fitting perfectly with the ME products available.

Unfortunately, ME makes only #6 turnouts.  I needed longer turnouts for my mainline.  I looked closely at other manufacturer’s products, but was disappointed by both the NMRA test results and my direct inspection of their construction methods.  The solution is to make my #8 turnouts using Fast Tracks jigs.  Fast Tracks is one of two turnout jig makers to receive NMRA standards conformance warrants—very high praise!  My investment in several jigs and tools will easily be amortized over the other 1/3 of the turnouts required for the SP Cascade Line.  The issue here is not so much cost as it is that the track (turnouts) conform to NMRA standards.  Further, as I am personally verifying now, the speed of construction to those high standards is important as well. 

Fast Tracks turnout jigs, tools and assembled turnouts.

The Fast Tracks system consists of jigs for forming the frog, points and stock rail notch, printed-circuit board ties, and a precision-machined aluminum plate jig for turnout assembly.  The large plate jig has precise rail guides milled into it for the specific rail used, hence a jig for code 83 and another jig for code 70 turnouts in the photo.  Inserting the ties into the jig plate, followed by the rail and then soldering the rail to the ties results in very precise turnout geometry. 

My original plan was to use Central Valley switch tie kits for the turnouts to be located in very visible areas such as my current work at Eugene Depot, Springfield and Oakridge.  I have been so impressed by the ease and precision of the Fast Tracks system that I have discarded that idea.  Instead, I will use Fast Tracks “Quick Sticks” ™ switch tie plates for all Fast Tracks turnouts.  As seen in the photo, the Quick Sticks ties have cutouts for the pc board ties, so the jig-built turnout just drops into place. 

One addition I made to the Fast Tracks system was to create a modest styrene jig (holding device) for filing the insulating notches in the pc board ties.  I simply glued a strip of .040x.060 inch strip to a base plate on either side of a tie.  This holds the tie while filing the notches in the conducting face foil of the pc board. 

I am very impressed by the Fast Tracks system.  Count me as a satisfied customer.  Fast Tracks can be found at:  I’ll place this upl on my links page, as well.  

Friday, November 16, 2012


With the subroadbed panels built and the backdrop spine fabricated and basic sky treatment painted, the time has arrived to begin laying track!  I had planned to begin in Oakridge, but chose instead to begin in Springfield, the middle of the three station locations in the current construction.  Springfield will use conventional cork roadbed (Midwest Cork), whereas Oakridge and Eugene Depot have sheet cork installed.  Springfield actually serves as a better prototype installation for the rest of the railroad. 

The 12” floor grid was transferred up to the subroadbed panels.  A four-feet long level served as a plumb bob for the transfer and a straight edge for connecting lines.  Once the 12” grid was lined onto the subroadbed panels, sections of the full-size track plan, with the same grid drawn on them, were moved up to the table top.  A little bit of fiddling was required, but the important dimensions were preserved.  Once the station siding end switches were located, much of the rest was simply filling in between those points. 

Track was then laid out on top of the full-size plan, beginning with the switches.  I am using Micro Engineering Code 83 on the main and Code 70 for everything else in Springfield.  For turnouts (switches), I am using Micro Engineering for #6 switches, used for most anything not on the mainline or impacting the mainline curvature.  An example of the latter is the mid-station cross-overs that connect a siding on the south side of the main to the drill tracks on the north side of the main. 

I will fabricate #8 turnouts (switches) for the mainline switches.  I have Fast Tracks jigs for the #8 turnouts, but will use a hybrid construction technique for these very visible turnouts, employing Central Valley switch tie kits for most of the ties, replacing appropriate ones with printed circuit board ties.  Joe Fugate demonstrated most of this in his article in the September 2011 issue of Model Rail Hobbyist (  For the #8 turnouts, it looks like the full Fast Tracks jig can be used for at least the ties and rail around the frog. 

As I’ve noted previously, the Springfield plan developed into a very interesting switching area during full-size track planning.  The track schematic shown below illustrates this.  The plan is inspired by the 1977 SPINS (Southern Pacific Industry Numbering System) diagram for Springfield.  Most of the track on either side of the mainline in 1977 will be present.  I trimmed out a third drill track for Rosboro Lumber and added or modified several tracks at the RR-East end of Springfield.  Notably, I added switch leads on both sides of the mainline.  I also moved Borden Chemical to service off the siding and switch lead.  It actually diverges from the mainline, but there is a high incentive, particularly on a CTC railroad, to moving as many industry spurs to switches off sidings rather than the main.  I added a spur RR-East of the depot, off the house track, to service a yet-to-be-determined industry.  The space was there, just begging to be used.

Springfield track layout viewed from RR-East end.  Springfield rock quarry (gondola on spur) and Rosboro Lumber (pair of boxcars) are in the foreground.

The Marcola Branch diverges from the RR-West end of Springfield.  On my layout, the Marcola Branch is not very long, but it does curve around to the other side of the backdrop, separating it visually from most of Springfield.  The branch features a pair of tracks for interchange with Weyerhauser Lumber—a major traffic source.  Three additional industries have spurs or a siding off the “Marcola Main.”  The siding for “Neste Resins” likely will have two industry models built: the modern wood chemical plant and a post-WWII government-funded wood alcohol plant.  I plan to place a cannery on a spur off the Marcola tail track—another fictional industry, but one well within the broader context of Willamette Valley industry.

Marcola Branch diverting off the RR-East end of Springfield.   The mainline is the outer track followed (outer to inner) by the Weyerhauser interchange tracks, Marcola main, and industry spurs and sidings.

Next steps for Springfield include removal of the full-size track plan (to be replaced by track centerlines), cork roadbed installation, and building the #8 turnouts. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012


With the backdrop spine installed for the middle third (“Valley Core”) of the layout,  it was time to apply the full sky effect.  Though the backdrop was primed with a light blue, the full sky effect needed to blend from a deeper blue at the top of the backdrop to a near-white haze layer near the horizon.  I reviewed backdrop painting techniques in print, video, and what I could remember from live demonstrations (thanks MFK!).  I am not a trained artist, but I understood the desired blending effect.  The best technique—one even a “mechanical” person such as me could accomplish—was provided by Pelle Soeborg in his “Mountain to Desert” soft cover book for Kalmbach Publishing. 

Pelle created six shades of blue by mixing varying amounts of his sky blue color and white.  He then applied them as six color bands and blended each band to its neighbors with a brush.  This technique is as close to “paint by numbers” as most of us will get for the desired sky blending effect.

 Band 4 of six blue bands being applied to the backdrop.

 Blending Bands 4 and 5 with a brush.

 Blending Bands 1 and 2 near the backdrop base.

As the pictures illustrate, I found it best to start with the top color band (my Band 6) and work down.  I also found it best to work in sections of about six feet length (arm length to arm length for me).  This kept the paint edge wet long enough to come back with the blending brush.  I also used a latex paint extender to lengthen the drying time.  I used both 2” sash brushes and other 2” and 3” brushes for blending.  I’ll probably pay for additional sash brushes for subsequent sky treatments.  The sash brushes were that much better to use.

I mixed six cans of paint ranging from my chosen sky color, Sherwin Williams “Blissful Blue,” to an almost white using the white base as the other color of the mix.  I used simple ratios: 6:0, 5:1, 4:2, 3:3, 2:4 and 1:5, blue to white.  Though I obsessed about the sky blue color for weeks, studying photos and the actual sky, in the end I selected a compromise color, using Sherwin Williams paint (not a lot of blue cards in their line) as the local store personnel were very helpful and knew their product.  I mixed the paint in quart cans supplied by my paint dealer.

I labeled all of the paint gear with the paint ratios (paint cans, mini-roller trays, mini-rollers) and the brushes used for the blending (e.g. 2-3 for Bands 2 and 3).   Clean up was a chore.  Six cans of paint, six mini roller pans, six rollers, six brushes.

The completed backdrop sky seen in the image below is fairly well blended, though some color banding still appears.  Addition of other backdrop details (terrain, cities) and clouds will complete the blending.  For now, I am very happy with the six-band sky treatment and blend.  It’s a good non-artist technique.

Completed backdrop sky in the Eugene Depot area.  Note that the post  (with thermostat mounted on it) blends into the backdrop even though the right side of the post has a firm end with the backdrop inset on this side just beyond the post.

Friday, October 19, 2012


An important aspect of modeling an actual location is access to historic and technical research materials.  For an SP-based layout, this begins with the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society.  The Society  web address is:  This is a great place to begin, as the website has links to many websites.  The Society publishes a number of books, notably the SP Passenger Car series (five volumes) and several other books on SP subjects. 

The society has entered into the scale model production business with acquisition of the former Red Caboose dies for the F-70-7 flat car.  Additional die molds have been created, now covering three bulkhead types, including the “definitive” 1962 bulkhead with an 8’-6” height above the flat deck.  A new kit released at the SPH&TS convention in Ventura is for an F-70-10 welded flat car with deck and parts for the early trailer on flat car (TOFC) conversions of the mid-1950’s.  Check the SPHTS website for details.

As has been my custom for a number of years, I attended the SPH&TS Annual Convention.  This year it was held in Ventura, CA, October 10-13.  Convention Co-Chairmen Dave Coscia and Bruce Morden put on a good convention with a focus on the SP Coast Line.  Most conventions try to focus much of their presentations and tours on aspects of the SP in the immediate area of the convention venue.  Highlights this year included tours of facilities and railroad attractions near Ventura, CA.  Thursday featured morning presentations on the citrus industry along the Santa Paula Branch and SP depots of Ventura County.  This was followed in the afternoon by a train ride on the former Santa Paula Branch, now operated by the Fillmore and Western.

 SPH&TS 2012 Ventura Convention Train Trip, stopped at Santa Paula depot on the (now) Fillmore and Western.

Friday featured a full slate of presentations, most with a focus on the SP Coast Line or operations along it.  Of particular note was PFE modeler Dick Harley’s excellent two-part presentation on PFE’s mechanical refrigerator cars and how to model significant classes from the Red Caboose and Intermountain kits.  Scott Inman presented on detail enhancements to an MTH SP Daylight articulated chair car for a mid-1950’s appearance..

Saturday featured two outstanding slide shows.  John Roskoski’s  “Surf” show, first seen (and repeated since) at Winterail many years ago, reminded us of the SP Coast Line during a glorious period of traffic activity in the 1970’s and 80’s.  This show ranks at the very top of rail slide and music shows.  Should you ever get a chance to see it, drop all else and DO IT!  Saturday afternoon featured Charlie Lang’s “Milepost Memories #3” with pictures he shot around Santa Barbara in the 1970’s-80’s.  This was another good show, further reminding us of the SP that once was.

The SPH&TS Conventions are an excellent source of information and networking.  I find myself now going more for the people connections than the excellent information presented.  Both are important, but rubbing shoulders with fellow SP enthusiasts creates a special charge of personal enthusiasm for getting back to the layout and model construction.

The SPH&TS Convention wrapped up with “going home” layout tours on Sunday.  Four layout locations were on my “bucket list” for this convention.  My regular SP travel companion and I started at Bruce Morden’s “Santa Barbara Subdivision” layout:  Bruce is a long-time friend from SP and Layout Design SIG meets.  I finally got a chance to see his layout in person.

 Bruce Morden and his SP Santa Barabara Subdivision layout.  Carpenteria is on lower deck behind Bruce.  Surf is on the upper level.

Next up were the pair of layouts at Gary Siegal’s home.  Inside was his HO-scale L&N Eastern Kentucky Division.  Though not SP, this is an excellent rendition of a time and place with good model railroad operations.  Outside, Gary has created a marvelous G-gauge layout representing a “what if?” the SP had retained and operated the Santa Cruz (former South Pacific Coast) line over the Santa Cruz mountains into the 1970’s.  I’ve known of Gary’s work for a long time via articles and his regular attendance at the Bay Area LDSIG/OpSIG meets.  It was great to finally get a chance to see both layouts in person.

 Gary Siegal’s HO-scale L&N Eastern Kentucky Division.

Gary Siegal’s G-gauge (1:32) SP Santa Cruz Division.

For our next layout, we had to backtrack through Ventura to get to Jon Cure’s HO-scale SP Inyo Subdivision.  Jon has another “what if?” railroad featuring the former narrow gauge line, now standard-gauged in the Owens Valley and over Montgomery Pass.  Jon has a good operating model railroad with lots of industry tied to that area. 

Jon Cure’s SP Inyo Subdivision.  Left to right, Mike O’Brian, Jon Cure, Dave Coscia.

Finally, I separately arranged to visit Jeff Abbott’s N-scale Espee Oregon Division.  I met Jeff through his blog:  Jeff and I share an interest and passion for the SP Cascade Line.  Jeff has done an outstanding job of capturing the look and feel of the climb up over the Cascades.  He even has his signal system up and working!

 Jeff Abbott and his Espee Oregon Division N-scale layout.

The trip to Ventura and back consumed most of the past two weeks, but it was well worth it for the information gathered, old friendships renewed and new friends made, and layouts toured.  I continue to find such meets and visits recharge my creative batteries, making me eager to get back to my own model work.

Friday, October 5, 2012


My plan for the HO scale SP Cascade Line features a “C”-shaped peninsula that forms the “Valley Core.” (;postID=8623016313855752576)
The Oakridge and Eugene Depot scenes are separated by a backdrop which continues to wind through the middle of the peninsula as it curves around to Springfield.  This backdrop spine needed to be installed before track laying.  Indeed, I spent a fair bit of time up on the subroadbed “table” installing the back drop frame work, sheathing that frame with hardboard panels, spackling the joints and applying a first coat of paint.  Far better to do all that work now before track gets underfoot.

The backdrop spine was formed from strips of plywood cut to 2 ¼” wide.  Much of the spine is straight, but it does include the broad curve separating the Willamette River crossing from RR-East Oakridge and Westfir.  I also placed an “S”-curve in the section between the Eugene Depot and Oakridge Depot scenes.  Top and bottom pieces for the frame were cut from two slabs of plywood, joined temporarily by screws.  As seen in the photos, the frame is a simple box frame of top and bottom pieces joined by straight vertical pieces.  The backdrop is 3 feet high on top of the 48” benchwork and roadbed base level.

Backdrop frame behind Eugene Depot.

Even at the framing stage, the introduction of the curve sections, including the “S”-curve provided a fairly rigid structure.

Another feature of the backdrop frame is the installation of conduit to provide electrical runs to the top of the backdrop.  These will be used for signal repeaters.  A couple of conduits at the basement’s central post will be used for the NCE throttle radio antenna and for a fast clock to be mounted on the post.  The conduits are made of sections of “smurf” tube (named for the blue color) that I had left over from a cable run installed in the basement ceiling as the house was built.  The conduit width (installation hole is 1 1/8”) set the overall width of the backdrop spine at 2 ¼”, leaving adequate material on either side of the installation holes.

Backdrop termination at end of Springfield peninsula.

The backdrop spine running down the Springfield peninsula needed to be terminated.  At the suggestion of Seth N., after a visit , I elected to flare out the backdrop to a relatively broad cylinder as a terminator.  I used a concrete pier form, which is 8 inches wide.  One cannot see both sides of the backdrop simultaneously.  Indeed, one cannot look directly down the plane of the backdrop.

The backdrop is sheathed using 1/8” tempered hardboard.  I chose this “old school” technique because I was well familiar with it and willing to do the joint filling work.  The backdrop is quite long, so joints would have been necessary for most any material.  The Springfield peninsula backdrop terminator is sheathed with a scrap of vinyl flooring, using the smooth underside of the flooring on the outside. 

Backdrop spine with hardboard sheathing.  The backdrop “S”-curve between the Eugene Depot and Oakridge scenes is shown.  Also shown is a flare on the Oakridge side that meets the edge of the main house support post.

I started by attaching the hardboard panels to the top of the spine with wood screws.  The bottom and some of the edges were attached using 5/8” brads with a staple-brad gun.  I eventually tired of being super-careful with the screws and attached most panels with the brads.  These mechanical attachments were needed only long enough to allow the construction adhesive applied to the framework to set.  The problem with the screws is that 1/8” hardboard does not leave much margin for the screw countersink while still leaving enough material to hold it all together. 

After at least two coats of vinyl spackle and sanding, the backdrop was ready for paint.  I primed the backdrop using the same light blue applied to the basement walls.  The color used is actually about halfway between the sky color well above the horizon and the almost white haze layer seen closer to the horizon.  As such, it is a good primer.  The fade between “upper” sky blue and horizon haze will be a project in the near future.

Backdrop with first coat of primer.  A modest-length train has been placed into the Eugene Depot area to help with visual scaling.

Monday, September 24, 2012


Sheet cork roadbed was glued down for Oakridge and the Eugene Depot yard areas.  Both of these areas involve a lot of track and switches, so I decided to use sheet cork as roadbed.  A quick Google search netted several suppliers of sheet cork in a variety of lengths.  I ordered a pair of 48 feet long by 4 feet wide rolls of ¼” cork.  Though a 100 feet long roll was available, keeping it to the shorter rolls made for easier shipping (My UPS driver appreciated that!) and easier handling by me. 

I rolled out the cork on the subroadbed and then began transferring key dimensions for the track from the full size track plan, which is still on the floor, to the cork.  I then trimmed the cork using a large hobby knife.  The rough trim will be sufficient to permit track laying.  A final trim will follow the final track position. 

Sheet cork placement and trim for Oakridge.

After studying a couple of alternatives, I settled on using basic wood glue to affix the sheets to the plywood subroadbed.  I poured glue from a gallon container and spread it using a cheap plastic putty knife set.  After the glue was spread for the first 8-10 feet, I began rolling the cork back onto the glue.

Glue spread for Oakridge cork sheet.

With glue spread for the full area and the cork rolled out, weight (mostly strips of plywood) was laid on it to hold the cork in position.  Edges not well covered by the plywood were held down by push pins.

 Cork sheet held in place by plywood and push pins.

Other areas will receive Midwest Cork roadbed strips.  This is all basic model railroad cork roadbed installation.  The point of this post is simply to show the progress and document what I did. 

Progress over the past two weeks has been modest due to family obligations, but the pace is picking back up.  The next project is creating frames for the backdrop spine that separates Eugene from Oakridge and around through the middle of the Springfield lobe.  

Friday, September 7, 2012


Subroadbed panels were placed, joined and firmly attached for the Eugene Depot scene, which also includes the area for the Eugene classification yard.  Gaps between the Eugene panels and the Oakridge panels were filled and spackle used generously.  Streambed panels have been mounted for the Willamette River crossing and the Salmon Creek area just RR-West of Oakridge.  With the exception of the stream area at Westfir, the “Valley Core” is now complete!

Eugene Depot subroadbed panels.

Development of the river scenes prompted initial structure construction.  In this case, it was the bridges.  I have had a Walthers single track through truss bridge kit (933-3185) since its introduction.  As the Willamette River scene developed during the full-size track planning stage, it became clear that a second such bridge would be the correct choice.  Unfortunately, those kits were not available this past Spring, so I began researching alternatives.  None were satisfying for either the necessary visual weight (and modeled bridge capacity) or length.  I was contemplating the more involved task of building the desired bridge from Central Valley bridge components.  While visually satisfying, this would claim important time and effort needed elsewhere for the layout construction to proceed on schedule.  Fortunately, a second run of the Walthers kit was produced this summer, so I now have the pair of bridges needed for the scene. 

Willamette River crossing with two Walthers through truss bridges.

I am now fitting Micro Engineering deck plate girder bridges (50 ft.: 255-75501, 30 ft.: 255-75502) into the scene to connect the through trusses to the shore.  Though I currently have only one 50 ft. bridge, I’ll probably use this length at both ends of the river crossing.  I will need to modify the benchwork in this area to provide for a better river bank slope.  Fortunately, the L-girder structure is easily modified. 

I continue to work with the scene at Westfir.  The Walthers sawmill kit (933-3058) and outbuildings (933-3144) provide a useful core for representing Western Lumber.  The Walthers kits are based on the last steam-powered sawmill in the US, located south of Corvallis at Alpine, Oregon.  This mill has been the subject of books and video.  Several pictures of it appear in the Kalmbach book:  Industries Along the Tracks 4.  Though condensed, compressed and simplified, they do capture important elements of the prototype and will serve well for my use as Western Lumber.  Space and track access issues remain, so the mock-up is important.  The SP bridge over the North Fork of the Willamette is an important part of the Westfir scene.  I am wrestling with that bridge, the river level and the sawmill log pond, with the latter requiring both space and vastly different height than the river.  Stayed tuned for future developments here.

Westfir Scene Mock-Up.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Upon completion of the first phase of benchwork structure, ¾” plywood panels have been added for subroadbed.  The primary, mostly full sheet, panels for Oakridge and Springfield have been placed, joined and attached to the stringers. 

Oakridge subroadbed with wye in foreground.

Springfield benchwork and primary plywood subroadbed panels.

Gaps have been left that will be filled by roadbed width strips of plywood and bridges.  Three streams must be crossed: 1) Salmon Creek on the RR-west end of Oakridge (crossed by both the mainline and the Pope and Talbot mill lead), 2) the North Fork of the Willamette River at Westfir, and 3) the full Willamette River between Springfield and Eugene. 

Westfir subroadbed panel.  Curve templates are placed where the mainline and one of the Western Lumber spurs will be located.

A design choice has been to keep all of the “valley core” from Eugene to Oakridge on one base level.  The actual railroad climbs almost 1000 feet from Eugene to Oakridge.  The plan for the stream crossings has been to place a plywood panel well below the main subroadbed level to serve as the streambed. 

As I begin implementing this design and construction, I am wrestling with how to scenic the stream areas.  The larger stream areas at Salmon Creek and the full Willamette crossing should have sufficient space to create a believable slope to the stream banks.  The Westfir gap appears too short.  Further, the backdrop treatment in this area needs to be considered.  One idea to help the scenery in this area is to slightly raise the mainline through Westfir.  Introducing a modest track profile hump, centered on the Westfir mainline switch might help the overall scene, but might not have much effect at the stream crossing. The actual bridge is fairly deep, as truss bridges usually are, and still has good clearance above the river.  An option under consideration is to replace the deck truss bridge with a simple girder, perhaps even a through plate girder.  This may become “a bridge too far” so the stream crossing might be eliminated.

As the space for the railroad becomes occupied by benchwork and subroadbed, it is becoming obvious that I will need to add lighting.  This can be seen in the Oakridge and Westfir photos.  Much of this was expected and planned for.  There are light fixture junction boxes intended for connecting track lighting strategically located in the ceiling.  Future construction, notably the backdrop spine weaving through the middle of the valley core, will further impact lighting.  Lighting additions will be considered as the railroad gets built.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Considerable progress has been made in the past two weeks with the benchwork base for the “valley core” of the HO scale SP Cascade Line.  The table saw help by Dennis R., previously reported, netted a stack of plywood “dimensional lumber” that now has found its way into benchwork.  Legs were attached to the first L-girder which was attached to the central post and a wall in the basement on July 31.

First L-girder mounted to basement wall and post.

A couple of great ideas were gleaned from a visit with Jerry B. and the Corvallis Society of Model Railroaders.  The CSMR currently is in the midst of benchwork construction for their new, second layout in their Adair Village facility.  Jerry suggested rounding over the sharp bottom edges of the L-girders.  My back already appreciates this idea.  It is well worth the modest effort with a router.  Jerry also suggested ripping 2x6 into 2x3 for legs.  Good idea, but my execution with poor lumber choice was reported previously.  Jerry’s good idea for legs that has worked out is the use of lag screws for leg height adjustment.  No matter how “perfect” one’s carpentry, adjustments still are necessary.  Thanks Jerry!

 Inverted L-girder section on left shows bottom edges rounded with a 1/8” round-over router bit.  2x3 leg on right has 3/8 inch lag screw in bottom for height adjustment.

With the first L-girder mounted, it was relatively easier to erect additional L-girders alongside the first the flesh out the base structure for the Eugene Depot and Oakridge yard areas, which are back to back, surrounding the central post in the basement.

Cross bracing has been applied to leg pairs using 1x2 furring strips.  The 1x2 furring is cheap and easily managed by me.  It also comes with rounded edges so I did not have to spend time with the router on it.  With stringers attached on top of the L-girders and cross bracing on the legs below, the benchwork is VERY solid!

Cross bracing.

With the first major spine built for Eugene and Oakridge, base benchwork construction proceeded around to the Springfield lobe.  Stringers are now being attached to this new section. 

Springfield lobe benchwork.

Base benchwork as seen from Westfir corner.

Stringer placement is assisted by the track plan on the floor.  A couple of stringers have been moved a bit to avoid switch machine locations.  This is the beauty of L-girder construction, as it is easy to move a stringer and reattach with a few screws.  The principal alternative of open grid benchwork has its place, but is not so easily modified.

Note that all of the benchwork assembly of the past two weeks has been done by me alone.  Clamps, work jigs and a bit of thought has found solutions where a second set of hands ordinarily would have been used.   The positive aspect of this singular construction is that I have the time to think through construction issues and develop solutions without impacting others.

The next steps are completion of stringer mounting, adding base plates and other structure for the river areas (three are within the general area of this construction), and mounting the ¾” plywood subroadbed.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Actual building of the HO scale SP Cascade Line has begun!  The first step was cutting up plywood into “dimensional” strips for use as L-girder and stringers for the base level of the railroad. 

Plywood is being used for dimensional stability.  Too many folk (local and nationally) have reported problems with solid lumber warping, often well after initial construction.  The alternative of kiln-dried lumber is both expensive and can be unsatisfactory as well.  The initial delivery of K-D lumber to be used for legs was rejected as it had far too many defects (knots and edge of trunk cuts) to serve my intended use.  I hand-selected the replacements.  The lumber industry has changed a great deal from when I was growing up here in timber country—Oregon.  Plywood largely overcomes the warping issue of solid lumber, albeit at the expense of alternative edge joining techniques.  Screws don’t hold as well in the edges of plywood compared to solid lumber.

Plywood loaded into truck prior to becoming “dimensional lumber.”  Underneath the ply are rejected 2x6 intended for legs.

Eleven sheets of seven-ply A-C plywood were cut into “dimensional lumber.”  Most were cut to 3-7/8 inches wide to serve as L-girder webs (vertical piece) and stringers.  Two sheets were cut into 1-7/8 inch strips to serve as the L-girder flange (top cap).  This should be enough to support the base level of the railroad.

July 30, 2012 became a red-letter day.  The first L-girder was assembled!  Construction truly has begun!  The first L-girder will be attached to the central post, on the Eugene side.  It is composed of four 8 feet lengths of 3-7/8 inch wide web and 1-7/8 inch top cap with offset joints.  Glue and screws were used to attach the top cap to the web.  The coarse thread wood screws should be sufficient to hold the top cap in place as the glue sets.

First L-girder resting on stringers. 

L-girder detail