Wednesday, December 31, 2014


As we close out 2014, I can look back at a great deal accomplished on my HO-scale SP Cascade Line.  I got the middle core of the railroad into operation.  As expected, those operations pointed to a few track and rolling stock issues, but otherwise confirmed a sound foundation for the railroad.  Important as well was the development of the local freight operating scheme, in particular adding a second Springfield switcher.

With the operating core of the railroad settling into functionality, I began expanding beyond that core.  Roadbed and track was extended up from Oakridge to the first mountain siding (station) at McCredie Springs.  I also began the upper level over this area with Cascade Summit.  October and November saw a major milestone: construction and elevation of the roadbed panels for Crescent Lake.  The twelve-track staging yard in a reverse loop has been laid at Crescent Lake.  Construction literally is downhill from here.

I wish I could report great accomplishments for December.  Such is not the case.  Occasionally in the life of a project one hits a proverbial “brick wall.”  Such has been my case for the past month.  Between breaks for the holidays and family activities, I have made little visible progress.  Some of this has been “think time,” but much has been taking a break. 

I did begin moving the mountain of moving and storage boxes from the basement east wall.  This will clear the way for roadbed for the mountain grade connecting McCredie Springs to Cascade Summit.  My lifetime accumulation of rolling stock does get in the way at times!  Slowing the box moving process is that I have been opening each box to confirm contents listed on the box ends.  Several interesting surprises greeted me with equipment I had lost track of.

Boxing Day (December 26) along the basement east wall.  This is the area of the remaining mountain grade.

As we recover from various injuries and general exhaustion from the holidays, we wish all a Happy New Year!

August 2015 and the NMRA National Convention in Portland are approaching rapidly!

Friday, December 12, 2014


With track laid at Crescent Lake, I’ve taken a break from intense new layout construction.  Part of this was to focus on the Thanksgiving holiday and house guests.  Further, it was past time to address a track repair need and a long-delayed track improvement.

A long-delayed project was the addition of a spur track off the Oakridge wye to service the future sand house.  The test operating sessions used the primary sand track to provide service, but eventually this track will need to be kept open for helper locomotives being serviced.  Test fitting a #6 turnout showed I could add such a switch for a sand spur and still access the wye with at least a 36 inch minimum radius leg. 

East Oakridge wye leg with sample #6 switch nearby.

Sample #6 turnout overlaying East Oakridge wye track.

The former East Oakridge wye track was removed using a technique suggested by Jerry B. for the adhesive caulk.  Jerry discovered that an alcohol soaking softened the adhesive caulk making easy work of track removal and potential salvage.  My previous effort in the same area used just a putty knife.  This is the second time I have revised track in this area. Adding alcohol to the process made the task easier and made clean-up very much easier.  I was able to scrape the roadbed to remove the previous caulk.  This contrasted to the sanding operation used before.

Removing the old track with a putty knife after soaking the area with alcohol.

Track and caulk removed from RR-East leg of the Oakridge wye.  A small pile of scraped-up caulk is to the left of the putty knife.

The new #6 turnout was installed.  Once the caulk set for the turnout, the remainder of the wye track was formed and fit into place as well as the new spur.  Both of these were then permanently laid with the adhesive caulk.

Revised track at East Oakridge.  The new sand spur has its first car delivered.

As I worked on the connecting roadbed and track between Cascade Summit and Crescent Lake, I ended up destroying a switch at the RR-East end of the Eugene Depot area immediately below.  I simply failed to cover with a hardboard or plywood overlay all of the track down below.  The result was a bent up switch leading to the depot main track.

Mainline switch at the RR-East end of Eugene Depot requires replacement.

Replacing the bent switch employed the same process used to revise the RR-East Oakridge wye to provide the sand spur.  An alcohol soak was followed by lifting the old switch out with a putty knife.  The area was cleaned up and a new switch installed.

New switch installed in the switch ladder at the RR-East end of the Eugene Depot.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Building and suspending the roadbed panels for Crescent Lake was a major milestone. ( )  The next tasks were to install roadbed connecting Crescent Lake to Cascade Summit and installing track at Crescent Lake.

I had a gap of about twelve feet between Cascade Summit and Crescent Lake.  This gap was along the wall, so I installed basic wall brackets, similar to my previous efforts at the other end of Cascade summit.  ( )  I chose to mount Crescent Lake a little higher than Cascade Summit.  This provided a bit more headroom in an area that will need additional lighting and will see a fair bit of operator foot traffic below portions of it.  This meant I needed a slight grade between the two stations.  I installed wall brackets at the ending heights for each end and then spanned the entire distance with a pair of 1x4 boards on edge for a straight edge.  With this, I was able to set the risers for the roadbed on the rest of the brackets.

Setting the roadbed grade between Cascade summit and Crescent Lake.

Cascade Summit to Crescent Lake roadbed installed with trim board temporarily mounted.  The trim board will be removed to provide easier access for switch machine installation and wiring.

With most of the track for Crescent Lake previously formed, installation was relatively straight-forward.  I had to take a break from that work for a literal break—I broke my left little toe one evening after a full day of track work.  Fortunately, that was just before the “vacation” break for the SPH&TS Meet in San Luis Obispo ( ), so I felt little “guilt” about not being able to work on the layout. 

Now, with healing well underway, I could return to my step ladders to complete the track installation.  All twelve staging tracks plus a utility spur are in place as well as the connection to Cascade Summit.

Mainline, reverse loop throat and “right” switch ladder in place at Crescent Lake.

“Left” switch ladder in place at Crescent Lake.

West Cascade Summit—now connected to Crescent Lake.

Friday, November 7, 2014


The Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society returned to San Luis Obispo, California, for its annual convention at the end of October.  We last met in San Luis Obispo in 2009 for what proved an outstanding convention.  So, too, this year’s event was very good.  Having taken the refinery and Santa Maria Valley Railroad tour last time, I elected not to go this year, but all the other events were very good.

The convention began with a shuttle bus over to the newly opened San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum, housed in the former freight house.  The building has been restored and renovated and turned into a good museum housing railroad artifacts, interpretive exhibits and a pair of HO-scale model railroads.  Exterior exhibits include an historic wood boxcar, a Santa Fe café-observation and an SP caboose.

San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum in the restored freight house.

San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum exhibit space.

A modest size model railroad illustrates the Pacific Coast Railroad, an early railroad on the California Central Coast.  A larger space is devoted to a layout focused on Southern Pacific activities around San Luis Obispo, spanning from Cuesta (“The Grade”) to the north through San Luis Obispo (the Division point between Northern—Coast Div., and Southern—Los Angeles Div., California operations) to points along the coast, including Surf.  Convention Co-Chair Andrew Merriam contributed fine modeling to the Pacific Coast Railroad layout, including a wood through truss bridge featured recently in Railroad Model Craftsman.  The SP layout is in an early stage of construction, but already features the station at Surf.

Pacific Coast Railroad layout.  Train is approaching Andrew Merriam’s wood through truss bridge.  Andrew is dealing with something in the electrical gear.

Southern Pacific model railroad layout showing the scene at Surf.

The Santa Fe café-observation car was open for visitors.  Though the car interior arrangements have been modified over the years to serve as a private car, some of its former style has been preserved, especially in the rear section of the car.

Santa Fe café-observation car interior.  Our SPH&TS Belgian member, Wouter De Weerdt, is facing the camera.

While I was at the museum, the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight (Daylight) arrived for its station stop.  Several of my Oregon railroad friends arrived on this train.  A photo line formed on the museum freight house platform.

Amtrak Coast Starlight leaving the San Luis Obispo depot.

Thursday and Friday featured the “usual” array of excellent clinics, a pair of vendor rooms, and lots of time to meet and greet.  This was an excellent opportunity for me to catch up with my California railroad friends while also spending time with my Oregon friends.  I had a great time! 

I also met with Chuck Catania about his and Seth Neumann’s Model Railroad Control Systems “cpnode” computer interface.  Cpnode uses an Arduino chip to replicate local (field) circuitry of a signal and control system (e.g., a Control Point).  Their cpnode interfaces with the C/MRI system developed by Dr. Bruce Chubb.  I will be using their system plus “Chubb hardware” for my signal and CTC control system.  It was good to see Chuck getting lots of serious attention throughout the meet.

Another long-term acquaintance present and displaying was Rob Sarberenyi of Albrae Models.  I recently took delivery of their first HO-scale product, an SP rebuilt flanger.  ( Their next model will be a DODX heavy flat car with M-1 tanks.  Announced at the meet is the third project, a pair of SP water cars.  After the meet, Rob and modeler extraorindaire Clyde King took prototype measurements and photos of a pair of nearby water cars for this project.

Thursday evening provided an opportunity to visit a couple of local layouts.  Although I had seen these five years ago, it was good to see what had been accomplished in the interim.  Andrew Merriam models the SP Coast Line around San Luis Obispo.  Indeed, his model of San Luis Obispo is seen when one enters the layout space.  Andrew’s layout was very popular, so I had to grab a few photos while jostling for space.  Andrew recently was awarded his Master Model Railroader certificate by the NMRA.

The SP Daylight arrives at San Luis Obispo on Andrew Merriam’s layout.  Andrew has captured the look of San Luis Obispo on a narrow shelf and with his backdrop.

The northbound SP Daylight crosses Stenner Creek Viaduct on Andrew Merriam’s HO-scale layout.

Andrew Merriam guides a freight along the coastal hills on his layout.

As usual, the SPH&TS Annual Convention was a highlight for my year’s railroad activities.  Convention Co-Chairmen Logan Bertolette (retiring SPH&TS President) and Andrew Merriam put on a great convention.  Thanks guys!

Saturday, October 25, 2014


With the roadbed panels built ( and the track formed (, I moved on to installing Crescent Lake.  First up was installing switch machines and dropping feeders for the switch ladders already installed on three of the panels near the reverse loop throat.  I placed each panel on sawhorses so I had easy access to the top and bottom.  By now, Tortoise ™ has become straight-forward for me.  A wiring tail is soldered to the contacts and a new, thicker throw-rod used.  I am getting quite good at coming up underneath the layout to poke the throw rod through the hole in the switch throw bar.  I needed to remember which rail was which for the feeder color code.  The eventual turn-back loop at Salt Creek trestle exchanges the colors for the “aisle” and “wall” rails.

Initial wiring underway on a switch ladder panel for Crescent Lake.

The next task was to raise each panel to the final height—over seven feet up.  The first three panels were eight feet long and each had at least one edge that was to be supported by an L-girder ledger board attached to the wall.  I installed a temporary ledger “hook” that was used to catch the roadbed panel edge as I lifted the other panel end to the final height.  A temporary leg held the panel in place while I installed the threaded rod support into the unistrut ceiling mounts.

Temporary ledger “hook” installed on ledger L-girder.

Roadbed panel hooked onto ledger L-girder, ready to be raised to final height.

First roadbed panel in position with temporary leg supporting the free corner.

First roadbed panel installed.  Supporting threaded rods are just visible near the ceiling light and at the right front corner.

Unistrut ceiling mount.  Unistrut spans floor joists above.  Threaded rod is screwed into a unistrut nut above.  Fender washers and a conventional nut are screwed in above and below the plywood support arm for the roadbed.  This fixes the roadbed against gravity and bumps from below.

I continued this process by hooking the long roadbed panels to either the ledger L-girder or to an adjoining panel.  The staging yard switch ladder panel installed along the wall was swung up to the final height by first hooking it to that first corner panel and then moving it along the ledger L-girder to its final position.  A three-feet wide panel joins the two larger panels.

Switch ladder panel hooked onto corner panel, ready to be raised.

Switch ladder panel being moved along the ledger L-girder.  Temporary “hooks” are installed in the end panel sections, keeping the roadbed panel along the wall and on the L-girder.

Switch ladder panel and short joining panel installed.

The final task involved two major panels and one small joining panel that were completely supported—suspended—by threaded rod.  Neither of the major panels was long enough to use my hook and tilt installation method.  Both required use of brute force aided by my handy step-ladder.  Yes, it would have been good to have help, but I got the job done.

Corner panel being moved into position.  I worked one end up the back-side of the ladder and used several lengths of temporary legs at the other end.  The panel will be rotated from this position to meet up with the panel on the left.

Once the panels were up and suspended, I sanded the joints between panels to a common height.  Then I added cork filler strips across the joints.  This ensures a cork joints and roadbed panel joints do not line up.  With the cork installed and painted my usual gray, I could move on to track installation.

Corner roadbed panel suspended.

Roadbed panels installed.

Suspended Crescent Lake roadbed.

Crescent Lake roadbed panels installed.  Looking through the passageway to Eugene.

Friday, October 10, 2014


With the roadbed panels built (, the next step for the Crescent Lake project was to layout and form the track.  I used MicroEngineering flex track.  ME track has excellent detail, but is tougher to form than competing flex track.  That tougher track forming property translates into holding its shape once formed.  I chose to form the track while the roadbed panels were still on the floor.  This gave me a clear view of the underlying track lines and made it easier to form the track.

The first step was to transfer the track plan from the newsprint paper plan to the roadbed panels.  I overlaid the paper plan on the roadbed and then transferred key locations such as switches  to the cork below by punching through with a pencil.  This is one advantage of the cork sheet roadbed—it accepts such a punch-through indentation.

Paper track plan overlaid on roadbed panel.

The key points were joined using curve templates and straight edges.  I augmented my hardboard curve templates with “SweepSticks” curve templates from Fast Tracks (  These tools show in the photo above.  They have centerline slots that can be used to lay out the curve.  Later, they can be used to form the final track curve.  My track plan for my SP Cascade Line has twelve-track staging yards at both Crescent Lake (upper) and Eugene (lower), each with three sets of curves for the twelve tracks.  It was worth the modest investment to get curve templates for the broader curves of these yards.

Laying out and forming the track involved forming the curves in the appropriate locations.  A handy tool for this is the track laying tool by MLR Mfg. (479-5001).  This basically is a block of plastic with grooves cut for the rails.  One simply places this on the flex track and push to form the track to the desired configuration.  This saves fingers and sanity!  Once the track is roughly formed to the desired curve, I finish with a curve tool such as the SweepSticks noted above or the aluminum tools made by RibbonRail.  I have a selection of both, with radii below 48” available from RibbonRail.  I prefer these, as the aluminum plates slide easily in the flex track.  The wood SweepSticks get the same job done, but require more force due to their wood construction.

Track forming tools: RibbonRail templates in the foreground, MLR Mfg. track forming block in the middle, SweepSticks in center and above.    Maxon Rail Nippers complete the primary tools.

I laid out the track starting with the switch ladders.  Once they were located, I drilled throw bar slots and then attached the switches using Dap Alex 230 adhesive caulk.  This provided a firm base from which to lay track.  I loosely laid and formed the track around the loop, leaving a straight gap to be filled later, once the roadbed panels are installed and track permanently laid. 

Crescent Lake switch ladders.  Each side of the reverse loop has two five-switch ladders.  These will be joined by another switch before the throat switch for the loop.

I modified my original plan for Crescent Lake by consolidating the “left hand” switch ladders (center-right in the photo above) closer to the “right hand” switch ladder against the wall.  This greatly extended the reverse loop tracks.  These tracks are now 36-40 feet long.  I will wire them as two separate blocks so I can split them later should I chose to do some tandem staging of trains.  With the extra length, I ran out of track, so I chose to leave the inner pair of staging tracks until I gain a resupply.  These will be easier to reach from a ladder, which will be the access method once the roadbed panels are elevated.

I soldered adjoining pairs of flex track segments to each other.  This makes for easier handling right now, assists curve geometry formation and retention, and will provide a layer of redundancy to the track wiring when I solder feeders to each individual track segment.  Finally, I labeled the track segments and removed the loose track from the roadbed panels.  With that, I am ready to move on to elevating the roadbed panels.

Track formed and labeled.  

Monday, September 29, 2014


I’ve begun at last the capstone project for my railroad—the upper level staging at Crescent Lake.  My Crescent Lake will feature a twelve-track reverse loop staging yard, much as the Eugene Arrival Departure Yard will have for the base level below it.  I need to build and install Crescent Lake and get it wired while I still have full access to the floor below.  Future access will be more limited once the Eugene complex is built below. 

The test operating sessions conducted so far point strongly to the need to expand the mainline track and get more of Eugene built.   This is so vital that I cancelled a previously scheduled test operating session to make way for construction.  Step One is to get Crescent Lake built and installed.

The basic structure for Crescent Lake consists of open grid panels topped with plywood and an upper layer of cork.  I used my standard nominal 4 inch deep plywood strips for construction, as this will extend below the Tortoise™ switch machines that will control the switches.

Crescent Lake benchwork panels under construction.  They overlay the track plan on the floor.

The panels are topped in my usual fashion for yard areas—3/4 inch plywood with ¼ inch cork laid on top.  I left gaps in the cork at the panel joints.  These gaps will be filled with cork sheet once the panels are installed. 

Crescent Lake roadbed panels ready for track line layout and switch installation.  Most of the two switch ladders will be on the two panels in the upper right, with two final switches located on the corner panel in the lower right.

The panels will be raised to their final location over seven feet above the floor.  Edges along the walls will be supported by ledger L-girder, similar to the lower L-girder on the back wall in the photo above.  Out in the room, the panels will be hung from the ceiling.  Our house uses open truss floor joists for the main floor formed from 2x4 on the flat—broad—face.  This made for a wider target to locate for the suspension lag screws.  The lag screws hold “superstrut” pieces, which provided a way to span between joints and provide a nut for a threaded rod to be inserted.  “Superstrut” is formed steel channel often used by electricians and plumbers to route and support conduit or pipe.  Jerry B. used his power hacksaw to help me cut the “superstrut” pieces to length.  Thanks Jerry!  All are now installed on the ceiling.

“Superstrut” installed on the ceiling, attached to floor joists above.  Each strut in this picture has a special nut installed within the channel to take the threaded rod.  The upper level wall ledger L-girders are visible along the side wall.

More to come…

Friday, September 12, 2014


“Call out the flanger!” was a call on Southern Pacific’s mountain lines such as the historic Donner Pass or the Cascade Line that meant snowfall was beginning to slow down operations.  SP employed four levels of snow removal: pilot snowplows, flangers, Jordan spreaders, and a rotary snowplow.  Pilot snowplows have been fairly effective at removing modest snowfall from the tracks.  Operations could proceed at nearly their normal pace as long as the pilot plows could keep up.  As snow levels rise and ice forms along the rails, the flanger would be called.

A flanger is a dedicated piece of snow removal equipment.  It employs a pair of plows mounted under the carbody that can be lowered between the rails allowing it to clear out snow and ice accumulated there, particularly along the sides of the rail—the flangeways.  This is where the raised flange on a railroad wheel rides, keeping the wheel on the track.  The close-to-the-rail geometry must be maintained, so the flanger rides on trucks with no springs—a solid (and bumpy!) “ride.”  Flangers typically are operated at or above posted track speed, as they work best when running fast.  As a result, flanger operations do not slow down railroad operations by much.  They are seen as just another train, albeit a speedy one, occupying the track.

The heavy-duty snow removal equipment—Jordan spreaders and rotary snow plows--impact the pace of railroad operations, as they operate at much slower speeds and can not be passed or run-around when they are in use.  The railroad operating department tries to keep ahead of a snow storm enough to not have to call out either of the heavy-duty snow removers.

Flanger operations have long been part of my planning for my dream model railroad.  Their operation screams “mountain railroad” to me.  I have a Lambert Models flanger model, representing an SP flanger with a wooden car-body as operated into the 1960s.  A steel-body flanger has been on my wish list.  Albrae Models ( just imported brass models of rebuilt SP flangers, including the one routinely assigned to Oakridge.  I just received mine!

My new flanger sits on the snow equipment track at the end of the Oakridge wye (right foreground).

Close-up of the flanger. 

Close-up of the other side of the flanger.  One of the highly curved flanger blades can be seen underneath the car-body.  Albrae Models version is pre-painted and lettered and comes equipped with Kadee couplers.  It’s ready to go!

Friday, September 5, 2014


With the subroadbed built, I moved on to installation of cork roadbed and track installation for the mountain extension into my nook space.  Track laying is very satisfying as it provides visible, tangible evidence of an advancing railhead.  Major tasks of switch machine installation and wiring remain to place the track in service, but the extension into the mountains is taking shape!

As I worked with the cork roadbed, I dealt with several height changes.  Secondary trackage ends up mostly on thinner N-scale cork roadbed.  An extra strip of the N-scale cork provides the needed width for HO-scale.  I created ramps out of balsa to transition the heights.  I used a Stanley Surform ® for the primary shaping of the ramp, followed by coarse sandpaper.  The Surform ® made quick work of the ramp.  I then had the idea of using it on the cork to finish the transition once the cork was glued to the ramp.  This also was fast and very controllable.  I’d forgotten just how handy that tool is!  I also checked side-to-side level throughout the construction process—when sanding the spline for a smooth surface and for smoothing the cork after gluing.  I even checked the side-to-side level as I laid track.  Yes, I had an issue on earlier track, so I now check continuously.  

Take a look at the new track expansion, beginning with the climb up out of Oakridge.

Climb out of Oakridge.  Salmon Creek Bridge is just visible in the distance to the left.  The foreground curve will provide space for Rooster Rock and Tunnel 21.

East McCredie Springs.  The beginnings of the rock bunker for the quarry I added are seen in the corner in the top center of the photo.  The mainline and siding curve around to the right.

McCredie Springs depot area.  The house track is nearest the aisle, followed by the mainline, siding and “Track 3” back towards the wall.  The train order station will be close to the aisle and company housing for train order operators will be towards the rear of this scene.

West McCredie Springs.  The track has climbed 13 inches above Oakridge.  The mainline descending from Cascade Summit overhead is 24 inches above.  Both tracks will curve around the corner toward the main east wall of the basement.

Continuing the tour from the upper end of the railroad at Cascade Summit, we first encounter Trapper Creek at the immediate RR-East end of Cascade Summit. 

Trapper Creek Bridge.  The bridge abutments and plywood base are much deeper than needed.  The creek will be much closer to the bridge when completed.  The bridge is a Micro Engineering 50 feet plate girder with a ballasted deck fabricated from Evergreen styrene strip and sheet on top.  The abutments are built up using Evergreen sheet and strip.

Continuing beyond Trapper Creek, the railroad enters the future site of the summit tunnel.  The tulle (veil material) sandwiched between the cork roadbed and plywood subroadbed is very evident in this photo.

Descent from the summit begun.

Descending mountain grade sweeps around the nook corner.  Part of this area will have a long open-gallery rock shed as can be seen on the prototype line even from Highway 58.