Saturday, August 31, 2013


Most model railroads require as much time spent below the layout surface as above it.  Typically, the “fun stuff” is at the surface and above (track, trains, structures, scenery), but vital elements are underneath: wiring and switch machines.  With track for the Eugene depot and classification yard laid, the past few weeks have been spent in “the land down under.” 

Fifty-one switch machines—both Tortoise ™ power machines and Blue Point manual throws—were installed for the Eugene switches. 

Wiring is now underway with the depot tracks complete.  The depot tracks comprise a single power district connected through a PSX circuit breaker.  The depot tracks are divided into ten power blocks, with six of these blocks wired for potential detection.  Detected blocks require the block sub-bus to maintain separation between its two wires.  “Dark” (undetected) tracks have block sub-bus wires “gently” twisted.  Proof of successful wiring can be seen in the photo where the loco is lit and a DCC brakeman (made by former “DCC Lunch”-mate John Plocher) has a lit lantern. 

Eugene Depot tracks wired.  Depot tracks are the four furthest tracks in plus the industry spurs between the depot siding and the backdrop.

As I began to run the test loco on the depot tracks I had to trim the switch machine throw rod projecting through the throwbars.  I clipped the music wire rods close with a hard metal nipper and then trimmed them the rest of the way with a cutoff disk.  Therein lay a problem.  I recently replaced the Sears motor tool I used for five decades with a new two-speed Dremel.  The high speed for the cutoff disk produced too much heat in the rod for the surrounding plastic throwbars of a pair of commercial turnouts.  These were among the few remaining Micro Engineering turnouts I had in stock after my switch to Fast Tracks jig-built.  They are just visible on the left side of the photo of the depot tracks, in front of the brakeman.  The throw rod heated up by the cutoff disk melted right out of the throwbar.  This is a potential problem for any commercial turnout with a plastic throwbar.  I just encountered it following my change of motor tool (presumably with a higher speed). 

Original plastic switch throwbar has a melted out hole for the throw rod.

The melted out hole in the plastic throwbar necessitated a throwbar replacement.  I’ve had to do several of these for various reasons.  My experience with Fast Tracks jig-built turnouts means I have the skills, tools and materials to do such replacements quickly and easily.  Two new printed circuit (pc) board ties got insulating notches filed in them.  The original plastic throwbars were removed and the new pc-board ties inserted.  The switch points were then soldered to the new throwbars.  The switch machines were remounted with new throw rods (A longer throw rod is needed to aid the installation process.).  The new rods were trimmed and I now have two fully functional switches.

Turnout with replacement printed circuit board throwbar installed.

Monday, August 19, 2013


As I build the SP Cascade Line, I find the layout “speaking to me” about track changes.  My past experience with layouts prepared me for this, so it is expected.  Forma planning and drafting for the layout focused on the major features impacting the mainline: location of towns or sidings , mainline curves (maintaining minimum radius), and a general sense of where major trackwork with switches fit.  More detailed planning at full size was done for critical trackwork such as the throat and yard ladders at Eugene.  Details of where industry spurs would be placed and what industries were to be served was left for the construction stage, knowing that I had allotted “adequate” (there is NEVER enough room!) space. 

Once the primary trackage was laid for Eugene Depot and Classification Yard, I stepped back to survey the scene for additional possibilities.  Meanwhile, I have been studying books on dispatching as part of training on Time Table and Train Order (TT&TO) operation.  Reading through Thomas White’s book: “Elements of Train Dispatching,” reminded me of yard activities beyond basic origination, termination and classification.  Specifically, I was reminded of the need for a R.I.P. (Repair In Place) track for maintenance of freight cars.  I recalled that RR-author and retired SP engineer Tom Dill includes a R.I.P. track and a track scale in his regular model railroad operations.  Clearly, adding a scale track and R.I.P. tracks would enhance my own yard operations.  That led to investigating the possible addition of those features on my layout.

I grabbed several switches and began looking at likely spots beside my Eugene Classification Yard.  I quickly determined I had space for both at opposite ends of the yard, tied to the run-around track.

 RR-East Eugene Classification Yard.  Space for a scale track might be created with a table addition to the right of the run-around track off the switch lead.

RR-West Eugene Classification Yard with a long run-around track segment providing space for a pair of R.I.P. tracks.

I set to work making the track changes.  Along the way, I went back to core reference material:  “The Southern Pacific in Oregon” by Ed Austin and Tom Dill.  (See Research Resources Blog Post:  Ed and Tom include a pair of track diagrams for Eugene for 1930 and 1969.  Since I am not modeling the hump yard represented by the 1969 diagram, I find myself often referring to the 1930 diagram for inspiration.  In the case of the R.I.P.-car shop, I spotted an additional spur along the car shop, presumably used for stores and supplies for the car shop.   A bit more fidgeting with switches found a way to add that track, as well.  Now I have places for additional switching in my Eugene Yard.

Eugene R.I.P. tracks and stores spur.

Eugene scale track.  Plastic base for Walthers scale track kit (933-3199) is in place underneath the temporary scale track.

I recently added a tab for track schematics to this blog’s home page.  These schematics augment the full track plan, providing better track and use detail for the three towns/stations laid so far.  Industry names are provisional, though most are based on actual industries served by the SP in their respective towns in 1977.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Official start of construction on my SP Cascade Line was August 1, 2012.  To mark that anniversary, I thought a tour of the layout as it exists today would be appropriate.  Follow along with a train head railroad westbound (toward San Francisco in SP direction).


Track laying at Eugene was reported in the previous post (   Bridges and track still need to be completed over the Willamette River between Eugene and Springfield.  Most switch machines are in place (44 so far).  Wiring is next.

Eugene Depot and Classification Yard


Springfield was the first station completed.  I learned a great deal as I built switches, laid track, installed switch machines and wired it for DCC control and eventual signaling.  Most of this construction involved new techniques for me or employed skills long dormant.   Note the layout fascia has been installed and hand-throw switch linkages have been installed.

SP Extra 7623-West passes through Springfield.  Phreddie, our just-acquired Brittany rescue dog  has accompanied me through layout construction this past week.


Our SP westbound freight takes the mainline passing by the Marcola Branch trackage.  The grain elevator was a Campbell kit, built four decades ago while I served in the Army in Virginia.  It has survived moving around the country and has earned its way onto this railroad.  The “PAW” (her nickname for me) sign in the background was a Father’s Day gift from our daughter.


Westfir development awaits building construction using the Walthers sawmill and other structures representing Western Lumber.  The railroad bridge over the North Fork of the Willamette River awaits construction with the gap filled by a temporary arrangement.

Extra SP7623-West passes parts for the mill complex at Westfir.


Oakridge was the second major station laid on this railroad.   Switch machines and track wiring are in, but switch linkages and local controls are yet to be installed.

Extra SP7623-West enters the RR-East end of Oakridge on the mainline.

Extra SP7623-West at Oakridge awaits a helper and clearance to start the climb up the Cascade “Hill.” 


We just added a rescue Brittany to our family.  “Phreddie” quickly selected me as his principal human and has been a welcome companion during railroad construction.