Sunday, December 30, 2018


Back in the days of steam, Cascade Summit had a wye for turning helpers for their return trek down to Oakridge.  Fitting the wye into the geography at Cascade Summit, placed between Odell Lake and the summit of the Cascades, required a bit of creativity.  Specifically, the tail of the wye had to go back into the mountain.  This required a tunnel--a very unique one with only one portal! Adding to its unique nature was that the wye tail track tunnel was fully wood lined and had a wood portal.  All of the tunnels on the mainline above Oakridge had concrete portals and entry liners.  For reasons as yet unknown, the SP and its contractor chose to build the wye tail track tunnel using wood-only.  

The limited photos I have seen of the wye tunnel indicate it follows SP Standard Plans for a wood tunnel and portal.  Fortunately, the relevant plan sheet was reproduced in Volume One of the Southern Pacific Lines Common Standard Plans, published by Steam Age Equipment Company of Dunsmuir, CA, in 1992.  I adapted the SP C.S. 1750 plan to my model use with 36-inch radius curves leading to the wye switch.  I chose a portal width of 2.5-inches, which was the standard I used on my concrete portal masters.  This turns out to be quite close to dimensions specified in the plans for tight radius curves.  I drew my own tunnel profile plan and then built a simple assembly jig on that plan.

Armed with these standard plans, I built my model of the tunnel liner and tunnel portal using Evergreen styrene strip and scribed sheet.  I chose to build only the first (actual) foot of the tunnel liner to the SP plan and will line the rest of the tunnel with my usual foam core board liner used for previous tunnels.  

Tunnel plans, assembly jig and sections of portal.

The tunnel portal uses a simple post and crossbeam with diagonal corner braces matching the top corner bracing of the tunnel liner.  Another detail just showing in the plans in the photo is the diagonal braces for the front of the tunnel portal.  With additional side sheathing, these form wing walls for the tunnel portal.  

Once the portal pieces were built, I started building tunnel liner braces. The five pieces were fit around the assembly jig and glued.  I began liner construction by gluing scribed sheeting between end liner braces. Sides, top and top corner diagonal liner pieces were attached to form the basic structure.  Once this set, I began inserting liner braces at four-feet spacing.

Initial Liner construction.

Installing liner braces.  Wood clothespins make a great clamp for holding styrene joints for gluing.

Completed, but unpainted, tunnel liner in place around the summit wye. This unpainted view shows the diagonal front braces for the portal and the nut-bolt-washer detail applied to the specified joints.  The rear half of the tunnel liner will remain removable for maintenance access as will the yet-to-be-built foam core tunnel liner.

Completed tunnel portal and liner assembly.

As seen in the photos, the tunnel portal was located at the wye switch points.  The mountain geography forced a very tight installation.  Most steam helpers on the Cascade Line were cab-forward articulated locomotives.  Light helpers would be backed into the tunnel, keeping the crew close to the tunnel face and clear air.  In spite of that, there are tales of cab forward locos trying to lengthen the tunnel, usually as a result of a brake system failure.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


Befitting the season (December), I have begun making trees. The Cascades are blanketed by a carpet of Douglas Fir.  Harvesting those trees and processing them serves as a foundation for the forest products industry which long served as the base of the Oregon economy.  Modeling those forests involves both two-dimensional (backdrop paint) and three-dimensional trees.  With the base terrain created for my railroad, it is now time to begin filling in the scene with trees.

Contrasting with the airy pines of other regions, Douglas Fir has a branch and needle structure that is fairly dense.  Surveying tree modeling techniques, I have elected to use "furnace filter" trees.  These use a trunk (shaft) on which disks of "filter" material are placed and glued.  Some trimming and shaping usually is needed.  These filter disks are sprayed with adhesive and confer green ground foam sprinkled on them.  The result can/should be a fairly full tree shape that rises toward a cone at the top. 

Although there are other makers of beautiful models of individual trees, my search for materials led me to Coastmans Scenic Products (, located along the southern Oregon coast at Port Orford.  Coastmans produces trunk shafts tapered from Port Orford Cedar dowels. Much earlier in life, I knew Port Orford Cedar as an excellent arrow shaft material, so these trunks will remain straight and strong.  Coastmans also supplies the other key component--the "filter" mat. What they actually supply is coconut fiber mats similar to mats used with hanging flower baskets.  Coastmans' mats are dyed green and have a layer of conifer green ground foam glued to the surface.  While my internet search for suitable furnace filter material came up blank, Roger Rasmussen's clinic at the NMRA PNR convention in June, in Portland demonstrated his complete package of supplies for these trees.  This is one good place for me to spend some money in exchange for time.

It has been almost twenty years since I last made "furnace filter" trees using different materials.  As with any artistic endeavor, it can take a little time to develop one's technique.  Bear that in mind when looking at photos of my first trees in the current crop.  

Tree production.  

Roger Rasmussen wisely advises working over and within oven roasting pans.  This captures much of the ground foam and other material that falls off during the course of construction.  A similar bit of advice places the spray adhesive operation within a dedicated cardboard box.  

Completed trees with ground foam attached with spray adhesive.  Trees can be enhanced with a few bare branches (included in the Coastmans kit) below the main foliage.

Decorated tree at the Eugene Depot.  'tis the season!

Tree production has begun.  My layout likely will consume thousands.  I figure on producing some number a month, much as I produced most of my switches during the track-laying phase of construction.  

As a final note, this is my two hundredth blog post!