Thursday, October 31, 2019


A classic structure that supported steam locomotive operation was the water tower.  With locomotives working hard climbing the Cascades ("the Hill" to SP-Oregon railroaders), water towers and standpipes were located at most sidings along the climb from Oakridge to Cascade Summit.  A couple of these iconic structures of the steam era remain.  In Wicopee's case (mid-way up the Hill), the tower and standpipe/plug remain in service, as required by the US Forest Service.  Doyle McCormick and crew with the SP-4449 Daylight steam locomotive always made it a point to take water at Wicopee.  Indeed, during the steam era, Wicopee was the habitual location where all up-hill trains took water. They might need it at other sidings if delayed, but Wicopee always waited with water.

Although I currently equip my railroad for 1984 operations, water towers still need to be accounted for.  In addition to Wicopee, one tower remains in disrepair at Cruzatte.  The foundations or footings remain for all of the rest, hence the need to account for them in the scenery even in more modern diesel operations.  

The water tanks installed on the Cascade Hill were wood.  Wood was plentiful and proved cost effective even with the 1926 construction date of the Cascade Line.  A reasonable approximation of the SP standard design wood tank may be had with the Atlas water tower kit.  This old kit still has relevance for this basic structure.  I chose to ignore the tower legs which were latticed steel for the Cascade Line, but represented as wood in the Atlas kit.  The kit legs provide the right visual heft and tend to blend into the scenery.  

I did need to modify the Atlas kit just a bit.  I needed towers and tanks without water spouts, as the Cascade Line installations fed underground pipes leading to the standpipes/plugs located between tracks.  The modification involved plugging several rectangular holes intended for mounting and aligning the Atlas water spout parts.  I also plugged several notches in the tower legs.  Various bits of Evergreen styrene strip provided plugs that fit snuggly, with easy trimming to blend into the surrounding profiles.

Atlas water towers modified to eliminate mounting holes for water spouts.  Plugs were needed in the tanks, roof and tower legs.

The pair of tanks at Cascade Summit were located on a bit of a bluff above the tracks.  Tall concrete foundations were built (and remain) that raised the tanks still further and provided access to the underside of the tanks.  That maintenance and inspection access was provided by openings in the concrete sidewalls into what otherwise would have been a fully enclosed space.  The remaining foundations can be seen in photos on Joel Ashcroft's website:
Scroll down to the West Cascade Summit pictures for several views of the foundations.

I fabricated the walls by laminating three pieces of 0.060-inch styrene to form the basic wall material.  I temporarily laminated four side walls to shape the access opening.  I began by boring the hole for the top arch.  This was easy when taken in several steps, working up from small to ever larger drill bits.  I used a small drill bit to rough-out the remaining access hole.  I then used a knife and a chisel blade to cut out the rectangular lower portion of the hole, cutting between the small holes.  Files finished off the hole.

Forming the access holes in the foundation side pieces.

Access hole formed in side pieces.

The foundation planform forms an open octagon, with the openings fore and aft with long interior walls parallel to the outer side walls.  This left diagonal pieces to form the octagon.  I found I could cut the 45-degree angles for these pieces using my band-saw, cutting very slowly.  Styrene balls up when heated by the cutting operation, but a slow feed speed minimized the effect.  I made a jig to hold the wall pieces for cutting that extended down to the protractor guide on my band-saw.

Cutting the 45-degree angles in the end diagonals of the foundation.  A plastic jig holds the wall being cut with final placement held by blue tape.

I built up the foundation halves using the square grid on my cutting mat and final checks using the water tank base from the Atlas kit.

With the tanks, towers and foundations built, it was off to the paint shop.  The tanks and towers got a coat of black automotive engine primer from a "rattle can."  The foundation received a coat of "Country Gray" from a similar spray can.  The Atlas bases got a coat of a neutral tan.  Final assembly used canopy cement for painted surface joints and to secure the water tank guage decals.  Weathering used Primsacolor pencils and PanPastels.  A Primsacolor pencil was a great way to highlight the tank bands with a rust color.

My collection of completed water towers.

I used railroad station plats to locate the towers at each of the mountain sidings. Some adjustments will be necessary in existing terrain at McCredie Springs.  Other locations can now get the water tower bases as I build up the remaining terrain.

Water tank at the RR-West end of Wicopee.  

Water tank located at the RR-West end of Cruzatte.

Water tanks located at Cascade Summit.  These are temporarily located on a piece of pink styrafoam that will be replaced as the final scenery is built up behind the Cascade Summit scene.

Building the water towers completes most of the structures I need to provide footprints or foundations for as I complete the remaining terrain base on my railroad.  I left the water towers as press-fits in their bases, so they can be removed for scenery and for layout dating after the steam era.  As noted above, at least a couple of the tanks will remain even in more modern operation.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


Completing a station village set of company housing requires at least a section gang foreman's house.  The same house design also serves a signal maintainer if one is stationed at a village.  The current stations I have been working on had only the section gang foreman at Cruzatte.  Cascade Summit had both the foreman and a signal maintainer.  

I built three houses using the ALW Lines ( kit SP 12.  Construction followed my usual practice involving painting most of the parts prior to assembly, with paint touch up later. The section house kits are designed to have interior walls installed, with wall lines laser-etched into the floor.  I fabricated my walls from balsa.

Section Foreman houses under construction with interior walls installed.

My wife took note of my project and suggested that if women-folk were around these houses, they certainly would install curtains.  I agreed that most Section Foremen would be married, so I acted on the curtain suggestion.  First, I installed roll shades in the windows.  The roll shades are simply strips of paper painted an off-white.  Then I made curtains from bits of tissue paper.  Both of these features (as well as the window glazing) were installed using canopy glue.

Window shades and curtains installed.

With the interior walls and windows with treatments installed, I sealed up the house interiors by installing the sub-roofs.  These houses have hipped roofs (all four roof faces sloped), so the interior bracing becomes an important part of the assembly.  I then installed the roof panels.  Care is needed with both of these steps to assure a good fit between roof sections.  I learned that through unfortunate experience, although I recovered.

House sub-roofs installed.

Roofs assembled.  In addition to hipped roofs, these houses have small cupolas fore and aft, plus the porch roofs.  I painted the roof panels with green spray paint as a primer prior to assembly.

As I have noted previously, ALW Lines shifted their kit roofing from strips of laser-cut paper shingles to laser-cut sheets of shingle material.  My original intent for this set of houses was to obtain replacement shingle sheet sets for my early-production kits.  Upon reflection, and wanting to move this project along, I chose to go with the original shingle strips.  This also helped with my less-than perfect joints between roof panels (my construction recovery).  Though long and tedious (it took about four hours per house), the shingle strips worked out.  I found I needed to actively trim the strips as each was laid down.  This gave me just enough shingle material to complete all three roofs.

Roof shingle strips being applied.  I augment the peel-and-stick shingle adhesive with a coat of contact cement on the roof panels.  The sewing scissors proved vital to trimming closely the shingle strips as each strip was applied.

When the roofs were shingled and trimmed, I masked and spray painted the roofs.  I have a stash of PolyScale Depot Olive paint which I use to represent SP's moss green.  I spray paint the roofs with one coat of paint, but usually find I need to back this up with a light brush coating.  The paper shingles absorb water from the acrylic paint and pull back a bit.  The brush also allowed me to better control the paint around the edges and at the cupolas.  Yes, I could do a much more thorough masking job, but this combination of spray first followed by brush works well for me.

Section Foreman's House at Cruzatte.

The Cruzatte company village with the Train Order Office and operator houses in front and the section gang housing extending to the rear, concluding with the foreman's house.

Section Foreman and Signal Maintainer houses at Cascade Summit.

I now have housing completed for two company villages on my climb up the Cascades.  I have a couple of additional structures to add at Cascade Summit--notably a "Beanery" using a wood passenger car on the ground (no wheels and trucks) at its core.  Still, I have enough of the structures done to begin terrain formation.  

Monday, October 7, 2019


Following time off for summer activities and my trek to Vancouver, BC for VanRails 2019, it was time to return to regular operations on my SP Cascade Line.  The session held October 5, was the fortieth session using the full mainline of my railroad.  Nineteen experienced operators made this one memorable.  

A full twelve fast-hour line-up was run.  The slightly lower crew size worked to our advantage, as most mainline trains ran with single-man crews.  Though more work for conductor-engineers, fewer bodies made working through the aisles easier and greatly reduced distractions.  Model railroad operations are a social event.  Lots of railroad related discussion takes place as a common purpose is pursued.  Still, the reduction of bodies in the aisles helped train crews to remain on task and respond promptly to radio calls from the Dispatcher.

The session began where we left off in August.  That session ended with a jumble of trains in Oakridge.  My re-staging efforts removed one of the mainline trains from Oakridge, but that left two such trains in town ready to move out when the clock started.  Added to this was the Oakridge Turn.  That train had only just begun its work in Oakridge when we stopped in August.  The new crew needed to organize their work and complete their switching tasks.

Oakridge Turn crew Tom D. and John B. organize their work and switch the Oakridge house track while the 01-RVEUY occupies the siding.  It looks like the Oakridge Turn crew is using the rear of the siding behind the caboose for the RVEUY to hold a couple of cars they just pulled from the house track.

At Springfield, we started the session with the first Springfield job in town and a repositioned 02-EULAY freight train occupying the mainline.  As with the Oakridge Turn, the Springfield job needed to organize their work and complete most of the normal switch moves for their job.

With the mainline traffic cleared out of town, the First Springfield job works the depot side of the mainline.  Separate Springfield jobs are called for opposite sides of the mainline.  With only one of them in town at a time, a siding is kept clear for Dispatcher use.  Mike B. and Mark K. are working the "Springfield-A" job.  Behind them, Jeroen G. works the RR-West end of the Eugene classification yard.

Assistant Chief Dispatcher Craig P. confers with First Trick Dispatcher Dave H.  They had to work hard at session start-up to deal with six trains either on the line or needing to start immediately. 

The Eugene Classification Yard crew at work.   Jordan D. (near-right) works the RR-East end of the yard.  Randall P. (middle) organizes the work as Yardmaster.  Jeroen G. in the distance works the RR-West end of the yard.

The Santa Clara Tower Operator position manages the reverse loop staging yard at the RR-East end of the modeled railroad.  The job title derives from the tower operator position needed to control the complex trackwork at the throat of the reverse loop and extending into the RR-East end of the Eugene depot and Classification Yard areas.   Here, Santa Clara Tower Operator (really a yardmaster) Vic N. (right) is contemplating his next moves with his Hostler Jim L. (left).  Several trains are ready to depart RR-West from the tracks near the wall.

Later in the session, Vic N. and Jim L. are building new trains on the "back end" of the staging loop tracks.

Santa Clara Tower Operator Vic N. confers with his opposite number, Crescent Lake Operator Scott B.  Crescent Lake is the upper end staging, representing a site more than a hundred rail miles away at the top of the Cascades.

Jim M. and Brigg F., the crew of the 01-KFEUY (identifiable by the orange DRGW box cars at the head end) await the arrival of Amtrak Number 11 in Oakridge.  Behind them, Rick A. (red shirt) and Helper engineer Pete H. (left-above) remove the mid-train helper from the 01-EUOAY at Cascade Summit.

With the meet with Amtrak made at Oakridge, Jim M. pilots his 01-KFEUY RR-Eastbound at Westfir.

The 01-KFEUY continues past Westfir through Natron on its way to Springfield and Eugene.  In the distance, Assistant Chief Dispatcher Craig P. (wearing a green cap) confers with Pete H. (blue shirt) and Mark K. (rear) on their next train assignments.

Mike L. guides the 02-EULAY over Salt Creek Trestle as his Helper engineer David L. waves and ACD Craig P. looks on.

Tom D. took over Dispatching duties in the afternoon with assistance and procedural advice from Dave H.

Late in the session, Helper engineer Pete. H. returns light (locos only) over the Salt Creek Trestle on his way back down to Oakridge to help another train.

Our happy crew ran twenty-one trains over the course of a twelve fast-hour (3:1 clock ratio) session.  I take it as a good sign that they wanted to stay until 4:00 pm to complete the twelve hour line-up.  Some sessions break up around 3:00 pm as fatigue sets in.  This session defied that with smiles instead of exhaustion.  My railroad and its operations have matured such that both my crews and I can enjoy the sessions.