Thursday, September 28, 2017


With the railroad running well and with no critical construction or repair tasks to support operations, I have been turning to model-building projects to enhance the scenes around the railroad.  One of those tasks has been completing and installing the bridge at Westfir.  A “temporary” plywood span has been in place since the original construction of my railroad.  Several items needed to fall into place for me to replace this temporary span with the permanent bridge and its supports.

First and foremost, I needed a suitable deck truss bridge.  The prototype span features a ballasted deck supported by a pair of deck girders for the approaches and a deck truss for the main span.  See the photos of Joel Ashcroft’s “Southern Pacific in the Cascades” website, where the bridge at Westfir is used as the title page image for the website section on structures:  I considered adapting an Atlas “train set” deck truss, but it was too short for my purposes and definitely not detailed enough for the location very close to the aisle.  A second option was to scratch-build using bridge girders from Central Valley. I was somewhat willing to do so, but other tasks always took a higher priority.  This past year, Walthers introduced a new line of bridge kits, including a deck truss bridge (933-4520).  Although not an exact match, this bridge kit was close enough to do the job. 

Deck truss bridge over the North Fork of the Willamette at Westfir.

 With the central deck truss bridge settled, the rest of the bridge started falling into place.  The approach span girders are Tichy girders.  These are shorter (forty scale feet long) than the Micro Engineering spans (fifty feet long) I have used elsewhere.  I needed the shorter spans to fit the space I allowed for this scene.  The ballasted deck was built using my standard technique using 0.040 inch thick styrene for the deck with 0.125 x0.125 styrene strip for the cross beams.  I used this technique for other ballasted deck bridges such as the deck girder bridge over Salmon Creek, at the other end (RR-West) of Oakridge:  I have chosen to use the earlier style wood bridge railings on my railroad versus the pipe stanchion and cable “railing” used in more recent years.

Bridge abutments and piers were built up from styrene sheet and strip.  This allowed me to capture the 12:1 batter (slope) of these supports and to control height.  This also is the way I built these supports for the Salmon Creek bridge: 
Different for the Westfir bridge was that I chose to mount/support the end abutments using the “river” plywood plate that undergirds the entire scene.  I was able to select styrene strip thicknesses to adjust the height of the abutments to match the required geometry.

Bridge abutments and piers for the Westfir bridge.

As I built the pieces for the bridge, I also needed to address roughing-in the overall scene.  Critically, I needed to sort out the log pond and river.  My base plate provided too deep a scene for the log pond, but that same depth was needed for the deck truss bridge.  Fortunately, the prototype Western Lumber created their log pond using a series of dams on the North Fork of the Willamette River.  Although I rearranged the relative location of the bridge and the pond, the prototype inspiration remained.  I was able to raise the pond and the river beside it by the thickness of a 2x4 on the flat (1.5 inches thick) plus a hardboard sheet for the new water level.  This provided more acceptable geometry for the log chain leading to the de-barker and sawmill.  Still, I needed to rough-in a stepped-down set of levels leading from the sawmill to the log pond.  This needed to be done before the bridge was installed. 

View of Westfir bridge scene with log chain leading up from the log pond through the de-barker to the sawmill.

SP 8529 leads a RR-East train over the new bridge over the North Fork of the Willamette River at Westfir.  Behind the locos is a tunnel portal mock-up for Tunnel 22 which penetrates a ridge leading into Oakridge.  The final model portals are in the packaging propped up against the backdrop.

Another view of the new bridge at Westfir with the sawmill and its support structures in the foreground.

The two-month break in my regular operating schedule caused by the Labor Day Weekend impact on my normal First Saturday schedule provided the final element needed for installation of the bridge.  With a two-month break, I felt more confident in my ability to reassemble the railroad in time for the next operating session. 

The entire scene at Westfir is an important one to my railroad.  It is good to be fleshing it out at last!

Monday, September 18, 2017


A growing activity in our model railroad hobby is that of regional and national operating events.  These events typically occupy two or three days for a long weekend of model railroad operation.  Usually conducted as invitation-only, these events gather model railroad operators from near and far.  Now that I have completed my own railroad’s mainline and gotten through organizational efforts for an NMRA National Convention (PDX2015), I at last am able to participate in these events. 

Last year, I participated in Great Basin Getaway: for five posts ending in: and a more localized event in Olympia, Washington, known as OlyOps.  This year, we conducted our first regional event for Western Oregon, WOOPS:    Model railroad operations have also become a feature at NMRA National Conventions, just as my own efforts helped create for Portland in 2015.

I was delighted to receive an invitation to this year’s operating event in Vancouver, British Columbia—VanRails.  Three of my regular operating crew also received invitations, so we got reservations on Amtrak for a train journey to and from Vancouver.  In spite of the late arrival hour and an oh-too-early departure from Vancouver, this was a great way to travel to such an event.  Fortunately, we joined up with many other good friends, with vehicles, so we were able to carpool out to the operating layouts from the central hotel used for the event. 

About fifty of us were invited, including guest operators (boomers) from up and down the West Coast and others from across the continent, including one from the distant East Coast.  It was great for me to meet with many of my old friends from the San Francisco Bay Area, plus a number of other folk I have met in the past several years.  Yes, the effort for PDX2015 has had payoffs in many new friendships.

The first layout I operated on was that of Brian Clogg.   Brian’s layout represents the southern end of the British Columbia Railway, from North Vancouver to Lillooet.  I drew the Checkamus Local, serving the one fictional town held over from Brian’s former layout.  This still was a lot of fun, as I had plenty of local switching to do while dodging through trains.  Herewith are several photos from our session.

Brian F. rolls through Checkamus while I stay out of the way. 

Bill S. works the Squamish Yard.  Squamish was the southern end of the contiguous rails of predecessor Pacific Great Eastern until 1950’s construction pushed through the rocky spine separating Howe Sound from Vancouver.

Greg W. works his train up toward Lillooet.  Most of Brian’s layout is double deck.

Rene G. takes a break from Dispatching (RTC in Canada) as the session winds down.

My operating slot on Saturday was on Mike Chandler’s layout.  Mike is a retired motive power officer from the Canadian National.  He also is an excellent photographer, published author, and NMRA Master Model Railroader.  All of those accolades fit him—and more!  Mike is a super guy.  His layout is a jewel, and “runs like a Swiss watch” (or should that be a railroader’s watch?).  Featured on his layout are many scratch-built structures—most done in Strathmore board.  The Dispatcher for our session was connected via telephone to a retired professional railroad Dispatcher in Calgary.  The train order operator/agents were his eyes and ears.  I operated a local (extra) freight in the morning and then took a turn as one of the agent/train-order-operators in the afternoon.

Mike C. briefs us on his base yards.  The two ends of the railroad share a peninsula and engine facility.  Seen here are (left to right) Mike C, Dave T, and Lloyd L.  We took our photos during the in-briefing, as Mike did not want us blocking the aisle with photography during the session—a wise choice.

Mike’s just-completed sawmill, installed at Neral.  Sales is the lower track to the right.  I served as the Train Order Operator for these two stations during the second half of the session.

Lofty is the summit of Mike’s railroad.  It features a turning wye for helpers.

The scenic elements at Lofty can be raised with a counter-weighted system to allow easy access to the track.  In a similar vein, that pair of rock sheds on the left side of the photo hinge outward to allow access to the track.

Black Mountain is just downhill from Lofty.  We had a four-way meet here during the afternoon session.  Busy!  I was kept busy setting up train order pads for my opposite number T.O. operator as he copied the flurry of orders setting up and clearing this many-train meet.

The mine at Silver Cliff.  Do NOT try hauling more than six ore cars past the switch just out of view to the right!  Eight ore cars were more than my loco could push back up the 3.5% grade.

On Sunday, I operated on Scott Calvert’s HO-scale version of the Canadian Pacific Railway Boundary Subdivision.  Scott and I both had new basements with houses over them built around 2011-2012 and have been filling them with railroads since.  Scott has several interesting layout design features helping him recreate his vision of this prototype railway.

Castlegar is in the foreground.  Slightly above and behind it (to be separated by a backdrop) is Slocan.  Both feature wyes with the tail tracks used by full trains going into or out of staging.  An interesting feature is the nesting of these two wyes, reducing the usual impact of a wye on the layout space.

Nelson is the Division Pont and base yard for the Boundary Subdvision.  Two switch crews and a Yardmaster were kept busy here.

Scott (on the far left) is briefing the crew prior to session start.  Hinged in front of him is a swing gate connecting Nelson to the rest of the layout.  The swing gate is stoutly built as seen by the diagonal brace.  Seen here are Scott (left), Al F, Ken R, Dave A, and Dave D.

Detail of the track joint when the swing gate is in the closed position.  Note the copper plates that firmly fix the rail geometry and the screw adjustment for height and horizontal alignment.

Guest Dispatcher for our session was Don M., one of my long-term model railroad friends.  Don kept the railroad flowing.  Behind him is one of the staging yards.  This one joins the layout at Castlegar.

Posted on the wall above the climb up out of Castlegar is a schematic of Scott’s layout with photos of significant scenes he intends modeling.  This is a great way to show the connection between the prototype railway and the model.

Our hosts for this event were most gracious.  We had a social event on Friday evening at the Calverts, attended by something on the order of seventy-five folk, including spouses.  Saturday evening, we had a no-host dinner at a restaurant a block from the hotel.  This was followed by a pair of presentations back at the hotel.  One of these was by my good friend from my SF Bay Area days, Don Marenzi.  Don presented results of his research into the copper industry and its connection to railroads.  Although Don previously presented on this to a Bay Area SIG meet, this most recent version focused on copper mining in British Columbia. 

These regional and national operating events attract serious model railroad operators with the resources to travel, including time.  Many/most of us have operating layouts, so we each take turns hosting.  The discussions in the hotel lobby and over meals reflect our shared interest and result in sharing techniques, ideas and progress on each of our dream railroads.

A big THANK YOU to our Canadian hosts for VanRails!  I hope to return in 2019!