Thursday, March 15, 2012


The Southern Pacific Cascade Line seeks to capture major features of the SP mainline in Oregon:  the Cascade Hill climb, major forest products industry, and a smattering of other industry in the Willamette Valley.  The resulting layout plan reflects those priorities with highest emphasis (and space devoted) to “the Hill.”  Doing justice to the mountain mainline left no room for other features of the SP in Oregon, including the coastal branches or the original Siskiyou Line.  The mainline “bug” bit me early in life and remains the core inspiration for modeling.

Southern Pacific’s Oregon mainline was dominated by the 44 miles of 1.8% grade from the help station of Oakridge to Cascade Summit, along Odell Lake.  This was the longest sustained mountain climb on a railroad renowned for tough mountain climbs (Donner, Tehachapi, Beaumont, Cuesta).  In the days of steam power, SP’s signature cab forward ACs were standard power on the Hill.  They were supplanted by hoards of “covered wagon” F-7 diesel-electrics and SD-9 “cadillacs” before yielding to even larger six-axle EMD locomotives: SD-40s and SD-45s of straight, “flare” and “tunnel” configurations.  The deep thrum-thrum of heavy power in “Run 8” (maximum throttle) echoing off forested mountain walls left a lasting impression of heavy duty railroading.

The following images, captured in September, 1973, capture the essence of the scene as SP X-9132-West climbs out of Heather to cross the Slat Creek Trestle and Highway 58, lifting another drag of forest products toward California markets.

As the lead power disappears uphill toward Wicopee, the mid train helper storms into view.

My HO scale SP Cascade Line seeks to provide a stage for recreating such scenes, serving as a tribute to the land and the people of Oregon and the SP.

The prototype Cascade Line was completed in 1926, spanning the then-existing gap between Oakridge above the Willamette Valley and Kirk on the east side of the Cascades, north of Klamath Falls.  This “Natron Cutoff” replaced the original Oregon mainline of the Siskiyou Line.  The new line reduced total distance, climb, gradient and curvature, providing the SP with a line better suited to the heavy forest products traffic that developed with the improved transportation.  The line between Eugene and Crescent Lake formed the Springfield Subdivision of the Portland Division of the SP.  With the 1964 reorganization into the Oregon Division, this section of railroad became the Cascade Subdivision.

My HO scale model railroad concentrates on the Springfield Subdivision between Eugene and Crescent Lake.  The layout schematic below shows the emphasis of station selections focused on the mountain grade between Oakridge and Cascade Summit. 

Stations were selected based on operational significance and are roughly evenly spaced up the Hill:

Oakridge: steam era helper station

McCredie Springs: Maintenance of Way base

Wicopee: major water stop and still the site of an operating water plug

Cruzatte: wheel cooling stop for downhill steam trains

Cascade Summit: top of the mountain grade

Wyes are used for turning locomotives at Oakridge and Cascade Summit. 

In addition to the helper locomotive facilities at Oakridge, two large lumber mills were served:  Pope and Talbot, just geographic east of town and Western Lumber at Westfir, just geographic west of town.

Springfield has long served as a major forest products industry hub and will do so on the model railroad.

Eugene provides a concentration of forest products, agricultural and other industries and served as a major operating hub for the Southern Pacific once the Natron Cutoff was completed.   Eugene provided major yard facilities for sorting freight and originating trains.  A difficult design challenge for the layout plan was to capture features of the historic Eugene RR facilities while keeping it within the layout space available and its function with respect to the rest of the model railroad.  A future post will describe many of those design choices.

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