Thursday, December 31, 2015


As I close out 2015, I reflect back upon a very successful year for my HO scale SP Cascade Line.  All of the hard work in the first two thirds of the year paid off—just in time—with a successful operation and layout tours for the PDX2015 NMRA National Convention.  After a break from the intense work to meet that goal, I continue to flesh out the railroad, notably with tracks associated with the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard, which serves as lower level staging.  Monthly operating sessions have become the driver for much of the work. 

During November, I completed laying the remaining staging loop tracks plus the five tracks associated with the diesel servicing facility for Eugene.  I did not get those tracks wired for the early December operating session.  That necessary, but “invisible” task has consumed my railroad efforts during December.  For me, wiring often is a thankless task—not much visible progress.  Still, it is absolutely necessary to make the locomotives go and the track switches work.

The core work is now complete, allowing me to activate all of the Eugene staging tracks and use the diesel servicing facility.  Three switches at the “back” of that facility still need to be controlled, but the switches at the “front” of the facility will support the necessary functions.  With that, I can move all of the unassigned motive power down to the new service facility and ready tracks.

Eugene diesel service tracks ready for business!

Moving the ready for assignment motive power down to the ready tracks has been a long term goal.  Ever since initial test operations were started a year and a half ago, my crews have been using the car repair tracks as a defacto engine facility.  Along with this, they sent out full trains from the Eugene classification yard.  That ends with the new service and ready tracks. 

In between wiring efforts, I took “daylight breaks” to pull more locomotives and freight cars out of packing materials.  Couplers and decoders have been added, as appropriate.  I am pushing toward adding four trains’ worth of equipment to the railroad for the next operating session.   I have yet to create a waybill system for the cars that I desire.  Work I did for the California Central Club fifteen years ago defies recreation.  Sigh.  Nonetheless, I am making progress!

Trains lined up in Eugene staging, getting ready for the next operating session.

Here is to a great new year!  May 2016 be as successful as the past couple of years have been for my SP Cascade Line.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Operations on my SP Cascade Line are settling into a monthly pattern.  This is a VERY good thing!  The BIG push to get the layout ready for the NMRA National Convention in August now pays dividends in the form of an operable railroad and a fairly sizeable crew of folk willing to show up for operating sessions. 

I had thought of taking a “bye month” in December as many have other obligations during the holiday period.  My regulars convinced me otherwise, so we held a “casual” session on December 5.  This coincided with an annual swap meet a half hour down the road, so we settled on a later start and a short session.  A dozen folk showed up, mostly my “regulars.” A good time was had by all.

My track laying of the past month was just that—track.  I did not complete getting electrons to those same tracks, so the railroad physical plant remained the same as the previous operating session other than a couple of repairs.    My restaging effort was modest for this session as it was to be “casual.”  I moved the Marcola Turn out of the Eugene Yard where it was left at the end of the last session and staged it in Springfield, ready to do its work.  Similarly, the Oakridge Turn was ready after a couple of key cars were added, so it, too, was moved out and over to Oakridge to start the new session.  Both of these actions cleared critical spaces in the Eugene classification yard, which helped a great deal.

Another bit of staging action was to move full trains to their appropriate staging yards.  This is necessary because the train composition of RR-West trains--lumber drags and mixed manifest freights--is quite different from the RR-East trains, still with mixed manifests, but the lumber empties are now solid blocks of lumber box cars and empty flats. 

The first such train I needed to move from Eugene to Crescent Lake ran into a problem in the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard reverse loop as I moved to turn it around.  About a third of the way into the loop track it started derailing.  Inspection found about ten inches of the outer rail had popped out of the Micro Engineering flex track to create wide track gauge.  I spent fifteen minutes spiking that rail into the correct position.  After that, the re-staging went very well.  What a joy to run trains on my own railroad!

Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard.  Note there are now twelve loop tracks (on the right) and five widely-spaced tracks for the new diesel service facilities.   The new tracks have blue flags on them (blue painters tape) showing they are out of service yet.  Just beyond the caboose in the distance is the track where the outer rail popped out of its flex track spikes which required manual spiking by me to force it back into gauge.

With a modest crew size (not the “full” crew of twenty), operating jobs were parceled out amicably.  One “newbie” (welcome Rodger C!) was paired with an experienced operator (for my layout) for his initial runs, but otherwise we used single man crews.  Dave H. dispatched, releasing Rick K. to run one of the locals.  I should have insisted at least one other person help David B. in the Eugene Yard, but neither he nor the operating scheme suffered (much). 

Rick K. works the First Springfield Switch Job, which services the depot side of the Springfield mainline.

Tom D. guides a train into Wicopee.

Norm A. finishes up work with the Oakridge Turn as he prepares to return to Eugene by way of Westfir and the other half of his work.

Dave H. serves as Dispatcher as Rick A. looks on.  Rick A. actually was studying the workflow and had a very useful suggestion at the end of the session.  I hope to see that play out within a couple of months.

Rodger C. (now operating alone) watches his train as AMTRAK Number 11 climbs toward Cascade Summit.

John B. (near) takes a break from his Crew Caller duties to serve as a helper engineer for the freight Mike B. (rear) has just brought into Oakridge.

My faithful companion Phreddie takes it all in and wonders when the next treat will come his way!

Now that my railroad is settling into a monthly operating pattern, I need to develop a balance among construction projects, repairs, tweaks and tuning for operating glitches, staging and other organizational duties for operating sessions.  This “casual” session with a smaller crew composed mostly of my regulars helped bring much of that into focus.  I had sufficient time to brainstorm several ideas for operations organization with my regulars.

Monday, November 23, 2015


I have expanded the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard to twelve tracks per my design.  These are reverse loop tracks.  I have been slowly expanding this last key part of the railroad with first a single loop track for the “Golden Spike,” then expanding to six and then seven tracks for full mainline operations.  All twelve tracks are becoming important, though, as I start forcing the issue to have all trains depart from the “Arrival/Departure” Yard, as designed. 

Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard (reverse loop staging) with most of the planned twelve tracks laid.

The inner loop track (Track 12) has a gap in its middle right now.  I must complete building a turnout and install it for access off this track into the diesel fuel and sand facility.  That facility will be along the “right side” of the loop.  Laying the switches and tracks for that facility is the immediate next project.  With switch machines installed and track and machines wired, this will finally move the arrival and departure operations down into this area.

“Right” side of the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard.  The diesel fuel and sand facility will go in the open space to the left of the twelve loop tracks.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Coming back after a “vacation” from the model railroad following the NMRA National Convention in August, I held the fifth operating session using the full mainline November 7.  We had a full crew of twenty on hand.  Based on the convention operations session (ops session 4), I concluded the layout could absorb up to twenty operators.  From my initial call list, I received several additional requests for invites.  Figuring I could use up to twenty folk, I agreed and made those invitation additions.  This railroad has become living proof of the statement: “Build it and they will come.”  I had no idea it would happen so quickly!

The wonderful operations organizing assistance provided by former SP Dispatcher Rick K. made it possible to keep everyone fairly busy.  In addition to crew training—Dispatchers—Rick added a Crew Caller position.  I have envisioned this role belonging to my “Santa Clara Tower” operator position, but it helped to have an additional person performing this role.  We used two-man train crews—a conductor and an engineer.  Two-man crews helps with the communications load and provides for two pair of eyes watching the ends of the train.  I had always figured two-man crews would be good with the local switch jobs, but we have seen it is useful with the road crews, as well.

Ken R. and Dave H. work the first Springfield switcher job.  This job works on the depot side of the mainline.  A second Springfield switcher works the aisle side of the mainline.

With the Crew Caller position created, we could manage crews off of several “Boards.”  The first was the regular road crew board for the road freight trains.  A second board was set up for Amtrak and the helpers.  Both of these jobs were declared to be single man crew jobs.  An “Extra” Board had crews that could be called when the regular road crews were fully engaged or if the helper and Amtrak Board needed augmentation.  Additional jobs on the railroad included the Eugene Yard crew: Yardmaster, west and east switchers and the Santa Clara Tower Operator.  Finally, we had a Dispatcher (plus a trainee or observer), the Crew Caller, and finally, the “Superintendant”—me!  Especially true of large model railroads, but also very true of most any model railroad in its infancy and development, the layout owner ends up taking care of all sorts of tasks (trouble-shooting) and providing overall direction or explanations. 

The railroad was quite busy throughout the session.  A few crews got stuck in sidings for a while, but that is real railroading.  One helper engineer noted he made six trips up and down the mountain!

A meet at Oakridge.  Jim M. looks at Oakridge as his RR-East train descends into town behind him.  Greg. P. has a RR-West train in the yard (yard track four) waiting for the RR-East train to clear so he can pull out into the Salmon Creek block and have his helper entrained.  Helper Engineer Jordan D. is pulling his helper power set out of the Oakridge engine facility.  John B.  is the engineer for the Oakridge Turn, still working in the yard with cars on yard tracks one and three.

An earlier view at Oakridge with the Oakridge Turn crew of Mike B. and John B. strategizing on how best to get their work done. 

Jim M. looks on as his train rolls through the RR-East end of Oakridge.

Meanwhile, up on the Hill. Dave C. guides Amtrak Number 14 down grade toward Cruzatte.

Overseeing all, “first trick” Dispatcher Mike Y. receives an OS (“On Sheet”--train location report).

Crew Caller Rick K. confers with Eugene Yardmaster David B. while Eugene East Switcher Pete J. works and Santa Clara Tower Operator Jan K. assists with switch routing.

Former Conductor Dick K. reprises that role on my railroad as his train drifts down through McCredie Springs.

The important mid-session break for “beans”—literally, as we usually serve chili.

Engineer Gene N. guides his RR-West train into RR-East Springfield as his conductor, Jim M. confers with the crew of the Oakridge Turn.  The Oakridge Turn is on the Springfield siding and awaits the passage of the westbound train.

By late afternoon, we had a happy but tired crew.  Though there are potential schedule issues during the holiday period, the crew strongly desires continued operations.  It brings me great joy to have a large group of folk arrive to help bring my vision into reality, especially for the “raw” state of the railroad.  I have mostly built it and they are coming!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


A significant construction milestone has just been achieved.  My trusty compound miter saw, which also serves as a chop saw, has been removed from the layout space!  Layout construction has progressed to the stage where I no longer need or want the saw nearby in the basement.  Remaining saw cuts (and I am sure there will be many) can be handled easily up in my garage shop.   In the meantime, I very much desire to remove a major source of sawdust in the layout space.  Layout constructors among my readers will well understand this is a significant moment along the path to a “complete” model railroad.

I have my first full operating session with my local crew since the NMRA National Convention scheduled this coming weekend.  I need the space formerly occupied by the saw as crew space.  We are well into Fall in Western Oregon, so we will not be using the outside patio as crew space as we did during the summer.  Further, the long-planned-for kitchenette is moving along toward use.  All of the base cabinets have been assembled and placed.  They now await the countertop (ordered) and sink installation.

Compound miter saw in its habitual location for the past three years.

Crew space cleared and kitchenette taking shape.

Layout Design SIG materials packed for shipping for next year’s  NMRA National Convention.  Other than the convention, these have occupied key space in my garage for the past year-plus.  Another milestone!  This needed to be shipped to make way for the saw.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Continuing tasks deferred during the final push leading up to the NMRA National Convention, I finally completed installing fascia around the entire layout.  This was a cosmetic task that I would have liked to complete prior to the convention.  Alas, higher priority tasks claimed what time and energy I had this past summer.

Four major areas remained without fascia:  the area around Westfir, the Salt Creek trestle area opposite Westfir, the “Pryor” area between Salmon Creek (outside Oakridge) and McCredie Springs and a final surprise—the Willamette River bridge scene between Eugene and Springfield.  That last one was surprising because the basic scene has been featured in a number of photos of the layout.  I just had not completed fascia across the gap underneath the river surface.

The Westfir fascia needed to be a little deeper than my standard fascia for flat areas of the layout.  I introduced a small rise and descent in this area for the mainline so the Westfir spurs would descend sharply from the mainline.  As simple a requirement as that slightly deeper fascia was all it took to delay that project.  In addition, I needed to work around roadbed support while installing the switch controls for Westfir.  All of that has been accomplished now.

Fascia completed for Salt Creek Trestle (right) and Westfir (left).

Westfir fascia.  An oversize fascia hump has been installed for the ridge and tunnel that will separate Westfir and Oakridge, as seen on the right.

The fascia coming into McCredie Springs needed to be solid and curved.  I used ¼ inch thick hardboard for this area rather than my usual 1/8 inch hardboard.  This required good bracing and mounting points on the benchwork.  Further, I secured this panel with flat-head screws.  The mainline will go through Tunnel 21 as it enters McCredie Springs.  Right now, the fascia appears a bit truncated on top.  I am prepared to splice additional material on top of this when I do the actual scenery work.  This fascia region extends all the way back to Oakridge and includes the Salmon Creek area and the front of the Pope and Talbot lumber mill.

Fascia extend from Oakridge (back left) to McCredie Springs (rear right).

Curved fascia panel for Tunnel 21 leading into McCredie Springs.  Prototype photos are taped to the wall.

The Pope and Talbot fascia is lined with a shelf.

The Willamette River bridge scene finally has fascia!

In a final non-related note, ordinarily I would be reporting on the just-concluded Annual Convention of the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society, held in Sacramento, October 7-10.  This was a grand affair including a special event Thursday evening at the California State Railroad Museum, celebrating 150 years of the Southern Pacific.  We had the run of the museum, which was much appreciated, as I finally got up into the cab of the last cab-forward, SP 4294.  That is one of many focal points of the museum.  Good presentations were heard during the day on Thursday and Friday.  Friday evening and Saturday afternoon featured several fine layouts on tour.   Unfortunately, my camera took this event to corrupt the image data as I near filling the memory card.  Should I succeed in recovering those files, I will post more about this event later.

Meanwhile, I have returned to my layout with renewed energy after recovering from this summer’s NMRA convention focus.

Monday, October 5, 2015


Every once in a while, a project that seems to be simple turns out to be anything but.  Such was the case for my long-delayed hook up of the Cascade Summit wye.  In concept, this should have been no different than the installation of components for the Oakridge wye—a task accomplished a couple of years ago.  Instead, the new installation at Cascade Summit lead to a couple of weeks of frustration as I tried to understand why the same auto reverser used for Oakridge would not function at Cascade Summit. 

In both locations, I use an OnGuard Auto Reverser.  The auto reverser is connected just to the tail track, the wye switch, and a few inches of wye leg tracks.  The Oakridge installation has been working flawlessly for a couple of years.  Why would the new installation at Cascade Summit not work?

I did continuity checks, voltage checks, using an RRampmeter (DCC voltage and ammeter) and tried bringing the power for the wye tail section from the nearby wye base and leg circuit rather than a separate pair of leads from the station panel terminal block.  I even tried reversing the power leads to the auto reverser.  All that did was change the leg of the wye that would work.  A board swap, prompted by the DCC Specialties folk just had the Oakridge installation still working and the Cascade summit installation not working.

I finally took note that the PSX circuit breaker for Cascade Summit would trip, showing a short, but the auto reverser would not trip.  That was the major clue as to what was going on.  The PSX was tripping faster than the OnGuard auto reverser for the Cascade summit Installation.  I checked the PSX circuit breaker instructions to see if there was a way to change the circuit breaker timing.  No such luck in the instructions.  I consulted with my DCC experts.  They at least confirmed I likely was on the right path dealing with circuit breaker trip time.

I did note a slightly different form factor (board width) and a couple of other detail differences between my older PSX circuit breaker boards and the much newer ones installed for Cascade Summit.  I also noted a change in the instruction package for the PSX between my earlier breakers and the new ones.  Something had changed.  Finally, a desperate e-mail to DCC Specialties, sent over the weekend, netted instructions on setting the PSX trip time.  Kudos to them for a Sunday response!!!!

After considering my options, I elected not to change the PSX circuit breaker trip time.  I will reserve that for the future, should I encounter further problems.  Instead, I swapped the old PSX boards at Springfield (my original installation) for the boards at Cascade Summit and McCredie Springs.  The combination of the old PSX boards works with the OnGuard Auto Reverser.  I now have that set up at both Oakridge and Cascade Summit.  It works!!!

The pictures below will show ways to identify the various circuit boards on my layout.

PSX circuit breakers for Eugene and Oakridge.  Two new breakers are at the top of the stack.  The other four are older, purchased in 2012.

Old style PSX circuit breakers for Oakridge.

New PSX circuit breakers now installed at Springfield.  Note the “ET” brand in a circle silk-screened in the lower left corner of these two boards as they are mounted.  The mounting is inverted, so the “ET-in a circle” mark would normally be in the upper right corner.  These were the boards that caused me problems with my OnGuard Auto Reverser.

OnGuard Auto Reverser installed for the Oakridge wye.  Ooops.  It looks like I pulled out the red wire leading to the wye tail track on the right!

Cascade Summit OnGuard Auto Reverser.  It now functions!

Test power on the RR-East leg of the Cascade Summit wye.

Test locos on the wye tail track.

Test locos have come out of the wye and are on the RR-West leg of the wye.  Very sharp eyes will find the lead axle of the rear truck of the rear loco, SP 7428, is over one of the rail gaps for the wye.  Note that the headlights are on, so the auto reverser has done its work.

This was a long tale about what should have been a simple installation.  In fact, it took me more than two weeks with daily trouble shooting efforts to finally resolve the issue.  “There be dragons” out there!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


A bit of a vacation from the railroad was needed following the intense effort leading up to the NMRA National convention and the high energy expended during the convention.  The first couple of weeks of September found me in my lounge chair reading a couple of books.  I still have a tall stack of books to go, acquired over this past year.  A measure of my layout construction focus can be found in my deferring reading books by favorite authors, normally done immediately upon publication.

I returned to work on the layout with a couple of useful tasks that were deferred to “higher” priority tasks for the convention.  Both involved wiring.  The first task added a pair of circuit breakers to the Eugene Classification Yard.  Fortunately, I had wired the yard with circuit blocks that supported easy conversion to the new plan. 

I previously wrote about the task of DCC circuit protection assignment as that of “short management.”  The goal is to minimize the impact of a short by one crew on any other crew.  I originally configured the Eugene Classification Yard as one big power district, protected by a single circuit breaker.  Actual operations of this yard have had two switch crews assigned, one at each end.  Though my crews have not reported problems with shorts, the potential has always existed for one crew shutting down the full yard. 

The solution was simple—add more circuit breakers.  Fortunately, I wired the classification yard as several different power blocks, tied together at the station electrical panel.  It was very easy to isolate the two yard leads from each other and the main yard body tracks.  All had separate circuits that were joined together within the terminal block for the yard.  Those have now been separated such that there is a circuit breaker (power district) for the west yard lead and ladder, the east yard lead and ladder, and the body tracks. 

Eugene station electrical panel.  Two new circuit breakers are above the original group of four. For wiring convenience, they are arranged as the west yard lead on top with the east yard lead below it.  The depot tracks are the third district and the yard body tracks are below that.  The bottom two circuit breakers are for the Oakridge power districts. 

The second wiring task was to rearrange the NCE radio base station and repeater antenna already in use and add yet another repeater antenna in the “back room” where the reverse loop staging is located.  I had expert advice during my operating session for the NMRA Convention.  Good friends from my California days, Mark Guirres and Mark Schutzer, were part of the operating crew.  Based on Mark Schutzer’s advice, I relocated my base station (RB02) to the middle antenna location with the two repeaters split off at that point to locations to the left and right. 

NCE radio antennas in the main layout room .  The base station is in the upper left of the photo.   Repeater “B” is in the former base station location on top of the backdrop spine at the RR-East end of Springfield in the lower right corner of the photo.

Repeater antenna in the “back room” serving the staging yards.  Radio reception had been poor back here during the convention operating session.

I needed to mount two of these to the ceiling.  I fabricated mounting brackets from 0.060 inch thick styrene, reinforced by styrene strips.  A pair of toggle bolts was used to hold the bracket to the ceiling.  The NCE radio antenna base slipped into the bracket and the antenna and cables were attached.

Antenna base mounted in fabricated ceiling bracket.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Layout Design Special Interest Group Tour

The third event my layout was part of for the NMRA National Convention in Portland in August was the Layout Design Special Interest Group (LDSIG) Tour.  The prior two events were the formal convention bus tours ( and an Operations SIG operating session ( ).  As has been traditional, the LDSIG Tour was conducted on Wednesday of convention week.  This was a self-guided tour, with participants providing their own transportation.  We had seventeen layouts on the tour ranging from Washougal, WA, to Eugene, OR—a span of about 140 miles!  Participants needed to chose their layout visits carefully, as not all layouts were open all day.

LDSIG Tour participants bought a tour ticket, which included the information packet listing the layouts and their locations.  GPS guidance was assumed, though the information packet included ”terminal guidance” (specific instructions for locating the layout entrance once at the address) for many of the layouts.  The LDSIG Tour ticket also bought the purchaser an LDISG polo shirt, embroidered with an LDSIG logo and a loco image that was connected to the convention site.  We were not allowed to use the Southern Pacific—this convention followed one in Sacramento, CA, in 2011.  Instead, we featured “The Northwest’s Own Railway,” the Spokane Portland and Seattle Railway, with one of their Alco C636 locos.  The SP&S was well known for its Alco fleet, including those C636s.

LDSIG Tour Shirt logo.

One hundred twenty five folk signed my guest register during the Wednesday LDSIG Tour.  A couple arrived just as we opened up at 10 am—a quick drive out from Portland, as the information packets were distributed around 9 am.  Carloads and groups of carloads arrived throughout the day, with the last visitors arriving around 9pm—a long day.  The combination of the three events on Tuesday and Wednesday of convention week had been my deadline focus for three years of construction.  Whew!  Herewith some photos from the LDSIG Tour.

Many visitors took photos.  My helper and “height gauge” John B. is in the orange shirt.

Several folk who had been out to the layout on Tuesday came back as part of LDSIG Tour carloads.  Longtime friend Don M., who operated Tuesday night  faces the camera and is talking with helper Bob S.

John B. and Richard C. run trains in Oakridge as visitors look  on.

My helping crew relaxes at the end of a long day.   Conventions are full of intense activity for organizers and participants!

Following the NMRA convention activities, my wife and I held an open house for our neighborhood to show off what all the activity had been about.  Another fifty folk signed the guest book.  Following this peak of activity, I am taking a break from most railroad activity until the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society Convention in early October.  It is time to take care of a number of tasks put off during the intense build-up leading to the NMRA convention.