Friday, October 20, 2017


Continuing development of my version of Western Lumber at Westfir, I added the log chain up from the log pond, the railcar chip loader, and a lumber loading dock.  Each required additional location preparation.   I previously reported construction of several of the major structures for this industry:

Further development of Western Lumber at Westfir shows in this overview.

First up was further work on the main sawmill building. I completed the major roof trusses.  This allowed me to assemble the main roof as a separate unit.  The roof will remain separate so I can add additional details inside the main mill building.  I also completed the extension of the green chain, which lies underneath the open side-shed of the sawmill.  This was a simple splice job, though care had to be taken for splice locations for the mounting pins for both the green chain and tables and the canopy.

Main sawmill building with roof removed.  Major roof trusses provide strength for the walls and the roof assembly.  Note the green chain has been extended out of the side of the mill.

The log chain brings logs up from the log pond, through the de-barker, and into the sawmill.  Using the Walthers kit pieces led to considerable planning, mostly dealing with elevation changes.  The Walthers parts and their support pieces are designed for a relatively flat terrain, with the log pond surface only a ¼ inch lower than the sawmill.  My Westfir scene needed more vertical elevation.  Indeed, my compression of scene elements accentuated the slope down to the main river “plate” under the railroad bridge. 

My solution took a cue from the prototype Westfir scene.  Western Lumber created their log pond by placing a dam across the river.  A major difference for me was my placement of the railroad bridge below the dam rather than the prototype location above the dam.  Still, the river dam provided a way to raise the log pond for both my model and the prototype sawmill.

One more complication was created by my use of plywood as the main sub-base for both the railroad and the industry area.  I needed to create a channel for the log chain to climb from the log pond up to the mill.  I did so with a couple of layers of plywood, creating ¾ inch steps in elevation.  I still needed to create more of a channel, so the pair of stepped plywood “platforms” came out of the layout a couple of times as I refined the scene.  This would have been easier if I used extruded-foam insulation for the scenery elevation change down to the pond.  I intend using the foam for much of my scenery, but I was just not there yet for this scene.  Sigh.  Lots of work with power tools applied to the plywood.

Stepped elevation changes created with plywood for the log chain as it climbs from the log pond to the sawmill.  Visible here is the channel cut out for the log chain and sculpting of the plywood layer edges with a belt sander.

The next item on my installation list was the chip loader for the rail spur.  The chip loader is one of four structures that are part of the Walthers Sawmill Outbuildings (933-3144).   I began by assembling the chip loader pretty much per the Walthers instructions.  That included the orientation of the discharge pipe for chips from the mill and the machinery shed alongside the loader assembly.  I discovered I needed to bring the discharge pipe over the machinery shed, with the shed on the sawmill side of the rail spur.  Out came a second kit (I stock-piled several).  With that orientation corrected, I needed to deal with a serious height issue.  The discharge pipe and hood hung way too low within the overall rack structure in the stock kit.  I found I needed to remove about 2.5 scale feet of the hangers for the hood and trim a similar amount from the bottom of the discharge pipe to allow chip gondolas to roll under the chip loader.  Even with this modification, I needed to place the chip loader assembly onto a thicker mounting pad to provide additional clearance.

Railcar chip loader. The chip hood needed to be raised to clear standard SP chip gondolas.  The assembly has been placed on top of ¼ inch cork, while the track is on 1/8 inch cork roadbed.

The final item added in the current wave of details for Western Lumber was a lumber loading dock to fit under the loading shed.  This was yet another scratch-built loading dock using Evergreen styrene dimensional strip and scribed sheet for the dock.  There are 180 posts under that dock!  Oh yes, the lumber shed was another example of a too-low structure built from a standard Walthers kit.  I needed to mount it on ¼ inch thick cork to raise it above the railcars I need to slip under the canopy.  Eventually, these mounting pads will be blended into the rest of the scene, providing a not-quite-so flat industrial site.

Underside of lumber dock for Western Lumber.

One of my operators asked recently whether I scratch-built anything on my railroad.  The implication of the question dealt with structures.  I responded that I was mostly using kit-bashing to flesh out the railroad right now, but that I reserved my scratch-building efforts for signature structures, such as the (yet to be built) engine shed at Oakridge.  Upon further reflection, I realized that I have been scratch-building all along as I build the layout.  The lumber dock is a good example of the utilitarian structures I have created.  Other examples are the bridge piers and abutments needed for my bridges.  These structures may not be impressive in a conventional building sense, but they are absolutely vital to the railroad.

Western Lumber at Westfir.

Western Lumber and all of the Westfir scene are developing into a photogenic site.  This corner of the layout has been rising on my priority list for scenery treatment.  That awaits future blog posts.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


We just held a highly successful regular operating session, the twenty-second one using the full mainline.  I was trying to cut back on posting too many of my operating session reports, but this one was so enjoyable—successful—that it begs reporting.  I have been reflecting upon what makes for a “successful” session and thought readers might want to see my thoughts.

Greg P. guides the 01-RVEUY over the new bridge at Westfir while Richard C. works the Oakridge Turn in the background.  Concentration and smiles are indicators of an enjoyable operating session.

Seventeen folk joined me for this regular October operating session.  This was a few less folk than often show up, but that lower number was one of the contributors to the session success.  Three of those operators were either new to the layout or had been away for quite some time.  We formed four two-man road crews and had two single-man helper engineers.  The Eugene yard complex was staffed fully and we had a Trick Dispatcher and an Assistant Chief Dispatcher.  I had one “observer”—a fellow layout owner who wanted to observe and take note of my maturing operating scheme.  He picked a great session to observe!

The four road crews were a couple of crews less than we often run.  A consequence was that we did not run as many trains.  Similarly, we had two helper crews instead of three, but with the lower traffic level, the two helper crews were sufficient for the traffic.  A major positive result of less train crews was reduced radio traffic.  This contributed mightily to a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone.  Sure, we did not run all the trains I had set-up on the Line-Up—we rarely do—but that is not the measure of “success.”  Instead, I look for the quality of the experience for all.  I would rate that as very high for this session.  Comments from many of my crew for this session were similarly positive.  “More” is not necessarily “better.”  The road crews ran at least two trains each, each with good trips.  Similarly, the helper crews each had two or more runs up the Hill and back.  I need to consider this carefully as I construct future operating sessions. 

We had an experienced crew running the Eugene Yard complex, although one former switch crew member became the Santa Clara Tower Operator—a new position for him.  The yard work proceeded logically and without a rushed sense often associated with heavy yard activity.  Both the Classification Yard and the Arrival-Departure Yard activity were well-paced, which kept up the paperwork to go with the car movements.  The crew found two car cards that had gone missing for a couple of sessions and several other clerical errors.  With five hundred or so cars on the layout, a few such paperwork errors are expected.  It was great to have them found and easily corrected.

Eugene Yardmaster Rick A. works between his two switch crews, Jim M. (far end) and Pete J. (near).

RR-West Switcher Jim M. uncouples a car as he works at Eugene.

Santa Clara Tower Operator Scott B. uncouples a caboose as he works the Arrival-Departure Yard.  The teamwork between the Classification Yard and Arrival-Departure Yard was very smooth—a tribute to the experienced crew.

Train dispatching and overall management were handled well by experienced crew members.  The Assistant Chief Dispatcher (and Crew Caller) position professional railroader Rick Kang introduced to my railroad has contributed greatly to efficient use of train crews and timely crew calls.  This relieves a task for me as layout owner.  My job is that of trouble-shooter (fortunately very little of that) and overall manager and host.  Both operating roles are important.  With a large crew, having another person managing the tactical operating level—the Assistant Chief Dispatcher—is a huge help, as that person stays focused on the information flow and timely crew calling.  This relieves both me (layout owner) and the Trick Dispatcher.

Conductor John B-1. (near) and Engineer Richard C. (green shirt) guide the Oakridge Turn around Marcola.  Assistant Chief Dispatcher Rick K. is walking toward the main layout area, likely on his way to the Crew Call Board on the wall out of sight to the left.

Radio communication was a lot more relaxed for this session.  As noted, the lower traffic volume on the railroad contributed to lower voice communication over the radio.  In addition, we have been emphasizing radio procedure, including the vital use of “over” and “out” at the end of transmissions.  Radio is not like a telephone.  Only one person can be talking—transmitting—at a time.  Telephone (including cell phones) allows both parties to talk at the same time.  We have to retrain for radio use.

Trick Dispatcher Dave H. enters data onto the Block Authorization Sheet.  This is a prime document for the Dispatcher when using Direct Traffic Control.

The more relaxed traffic level on the railroad (and radio!) allowed everyone time to railfan the railroad.  I saw a number of cell phone cameras come out during this session.  Indeed, an early such use prompted me to grab my camera to record images for this session.  This was a very good sign.  I also had the chance to talk with the crewmembers and reflect on a number of aspects of model railroading.  In particular, both the crew and I were able to enjoy a layout designed and built to be a representation of a real piece of railroad. 

The constant struggle for model railroaders between adherence to a specific prototype versus broader railroad interests creates its own tension and second-guessing.  I am happy to have landed in the prototype camp, even though it theoretically constrains some of my modeling efforts.  Not to worry, I have a huge empire to render into four dimensions (time included).  Modeling a prototype actually makes some of the model choices easier.  I just need to research a given topic for the solution.  Fortunately for me, there are good research resources available for the SP Cascade Line, augmented by my relative proximity (a couple hours away) to that line and, even more, access to railroaders who worked or are now working that line.

A meet underway at Cruzatte.  Helper Engineer Mike Y. (on the platform to the right) looks on as Bill M. and Anthony O. watch from the main floor.

The other Helper Engineer, Craig P. chats as the meet goes on behind him, with Anthony O. and Mike Y. watching over the Eastbound train in motion down-grade.

Another Westbound train headed up hill at Cruzatte, with Engineer Dave C. (his former real job, as well!) and Helper Mike Y. watching.

Action on the railroad!  John B-1. (right) is working the Oakridge Turn.  Greg P. (green shirt) is guiding his train through Oakridge.  Bill M. (seated in the distance) is awaiting his next Helper assignment.  Up above, on the Cascade Summit platform are Dick E. (left) Conductor on the Westbound train at the Summit, Helper Mike Y., and Engineer Dave C.  The helper is about to be cut out at Cascade Summit.

John B-2. works the Marcola Turn.  In the background, Mike Y. and Dick E. watch their train at Cruzatte.

The Oakridge Turn rounds the bend at Westfir, about to cross the North Fork of the Willamette River as it passes the Western Lumber sawmill.  This scene is rapidly becoming another railfan favorite.  I need to keep working to flesh out this scene to make it worthy of those photos!

We had a great time for this operating session.  This is what this layout owner has worked hard to create.  My vision is becoming real.