Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Forty or so fans of the Southern Pacific in Oregon gathered this past weekend for the 2016 edition of “Espee in Oregon.”  This year’s meet followed the format of most of these meets with a day of prototype or industry tours and a Saturday full of informative presentations related to the meet location.  Organizer Rod Loder has an amazing ability to pull the disparate elements together, often at the last minute.

The meet began on Friday, September 30, with two industry tours:  Whit-Log, makers of log bunks for log trucks, and Swanson Group’s stud mill on the south side of Roseburg.  Though not directly tied to rail transportation, the tour at Whit-Log was conducted by the current generation head of the Whitaker family firm.  His comments throughout the tour demonstrated how his firm has survived and thrives in a very cyclic business supporting the timber industry.  Continuous improvement, innovation, and successful application of changing manufacturing technology were highlights. 

Among many items we learned about was the need for different sized log bunks to match highway gross weight standards to the density of the tree species being harvested.  This results in various bunk sizes, numbers of axles on both truck and trailer, and numbers of bunks on each.  We could see examples of this both in the construction yard and across the road in the log truck fleet operation also run by the Whitaker family.

The 2016 edition of Espee in Oregon Meets kicked off with a tour of the Whit-Log manufacturing facility north of Roseburg.

Newly equipped log truck for Freres Lumber, ready for delivery.  The log bunks have extension tubes that are raised for maximum-sized loads.

A different truck and bunk arrangement for Whitaker’s own fleet of log trucks.

A blast from the past—an older, lower capacity log truck kept on by the Whitaker family.

Our afternoon tour took in the Swanson Group’s studmill on the south end of Roseburg.  This fair-sized mill produces two-by studs of various widths, lengths and grades to satisfy construction industry needs.  The mill was a marvel of fitting multiple production lines within a given building volume.  One line would be placed over another while yet another might cross both of the first two lines.  The mill was highly automated, yet human intervention was required at every step along the way from raw log to finished stud in a lumber unit ready for shipment. 

Units of studs air drying at the Swanson Group studmill.

A pair of head saws are contained within all of this machinery.  They make the first slices through the log, producing cants that will be further sawn and milled to produce the desired stud sizes.

Lumber cants fresh cut from a log being maneuvered into the production line.  The cants will be further sliced to make 2x4s.

Studs rolling along the line after having their picture taken on both sides.  The pictures are analyzed by a computer to automate grading of the resulting stud.  The automation is backed up by human sight, but the vast majority are computer-graded.  The studs then get dropped into the appropriate grade bin further down the line.  It reminded me of an old computer punch card sorter.

Steam plant and drying kilns (to the right).  Moisture content is carefully controlled for higher grades of lumber.

Most wood chips are moved by truck now—a low or no profit business largely conceded to trucks by the railroads over the past decades.

Swanson ships much of their stud product by rail.  This mill ships a half dozen or so cars a day. 

Higher grade studs are shipped as wrapped units.  Lower grades are shipped uncovered.

After the pair of industry tours, we visited several local model railroad layouts and then gathered for a couple of evening presentations on railroading around Roseburg.  Roseburg was on the original rail mainline between Oregon and California.  Indeed, Roseburg was at the end of track where construction of the Oregon and California railroad stopped in the financial panic of 1873.  Construction resumed under new ownership almost a decade later.

Saturday brought us many interesting presentations, beginning with former-Forester Lloyd Palmer’s photo essay on conifers.  His illustrative pictures and talk helped better understand how to model the forests I need on my own SP Cascade Line.  From there, the presentations included photo surveys of the Siskiyou Line (the name of the original mainline), aerial photos of the many lumber mills along the line from Springfield Junction south to Ashland and even Hilt in Northern California.  The 1926-built Natron Cutoff took off from the original mainline (Siskiyou Line) at Black Butte, behind Weed, California and reconnected at the north end at Springfield Junction.  Though reduced to secondary status by the new mainline, the Siskiyou Line was a rich source of forest products shipments.

Other highlights included Bruce Barney of ALW Lines (http://alwlines.com) describing his new second-hand 3-D printer.  He has several new 3-D printed products in his ALW Line, including a pair of SP standard steel water towers.  Yes, one of the kits for the unique Oakridge variant (three steel plate rings versus the standard five rings) came home with me.  Elizabeth Allen presented her (coauthored by friend Brian Rutherford and Harry Wong) survey of SD45 detail variations.  She has presented this previously at Rail Prototype Modeler Meets, but this was my first opportunity to see it.  The meet concluded with a photo show by “Photo Bob” Morris of Dunsmuir.  Bob’s narration had us rolling on the floor with laughter—a great way to end!

Rod Loder has put together quite a string of very successful SP meets here in Oregon.  He has been trying to get one set up in Indio, California, where Rodney spent time in his youth.  Folk interested in the SP Sunset Route need to attend!


  1. Bill, I'm curious about the centerbeam loading - from what I can tell from your photos, as well as Google Earth, it looks like they only have a loading dock on one side of the centerbeams. Did you see if they simply load the other side the old fashioned way, from ground level?

  2. Jeff, I did not catch a good picture of it, but there was a second forklift working the other side of the center beam flat cars. There was a lower elevation ("ground level") paved area on the other side from the "dock" side we were on. The two forklifts worked as a team to keep the car relatively balanced.