Sunday, December 29, 2019


I completed--for now--the Cascade Summit backdrop project by applying spackle to the panel joints, sanding, and then painting the high backdrop.  Construction may be seen in the prior post:

Most of this high (partial) backdrop received my basic "sky blue"--Sherwin-Williams "Blissful Blue."  The coved end corners needed a more complete sky blend, as they connect to other backdrop areas that have that full treatment.  The basic technique involves painting six color bands with blue-white mixes that range from the pure "Blissful Blue" down to one with 1:5 parts blue and white.  The still-wet paint bands are then blended together using a 2-3 inch-wide brush--one for each blending band.  I described this more fully back when I did the original stretch of serpentine backdrop winding around my main peninsula:
The end corner coves may see the terrain edge come down to the backdrop base, so the full blend to haze is important.

Joint spackling underway.  The roll of fiberglass "tape" in the foreground was used to reinforce the joints.  Sanding the spackle was exhausting due to the confined space I worked within.  It also was dusty!  After the first pass through, I remembered to install drop cloths over the terrain on the lower level.

Sky blue base paint being applied.  The contrast to the blend toward haze at the horizon can be seen at the right side of the corner cove where the new sky blue base contrasts with the previously blended flat section to its right.  Trapper Creek is in the extreme lower right corner of this photo.  Three-dimensional terrain will descend to the creek and more detailed backdrop painting will attempt to convey the source of the creek.

Completed sky fade to haze.  The sky fade was done just for the full height section that is part of the corner cove.  The less-than-full-height backdrop to the left has just the base sky blue.  The terrain should reach closer to the top of most of the new backdrop except at the end corner coves.  Once the three-dimensional terrain is formed, I may need to add more mountain and forest painting to the backdrop above that terrain.

The Cascade Summit company village ready for three-dimensional terrain to be formed behind it.

I am ready to begin forming the three-dimensional terrain.   This will begin by enclosing the wye tunnel, followed by terrain around the corner coves.  The straight sections between those corners will be filled in last.  For now, the railroad has been cleaned up in preparation for the first operating session of the new year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019


The last major terrain gap on my railroad has been the missing mountainside behind Cascade Summit.  The prototype Cascade Summit is located just RR-West of the summit tunnel (Tunnel 3) and is located along the shores of Odell Lake.  The mountain pierced by the summit tunnel continues as a ridge flowing down to the lake.  This ridge provides the background for the Cascade Summit station site.  

My Cascade Summit tracks were built on a benchwork table that extends out from the wall above the lower mainline which has begun the climb out of Oakridge.  This is a "half-mushroom" design feature.  The Cascade Summit benchwork extends five feet from the back wall to the operator aisle.  Cascade Summit tracks are located along the aisle edge, so no great reach is required.  One important use of the benchwork depth was to provide space for the summit wye, used in the steam era for turning helper locomotives.  The summit wye tail tack was located inside a single-ended tunnel.  

I thought I would begin my terrain project in this area by completing the tunnel liner for the wye tail and then encasing this area in terrain.  The deep scene and low ceiling height above the roadbed (two feet) means the terrain will reach the ceiling before reaching the back wall for this area.  My first thought was to build a back wall for the terrain using my standard terrain underlayment of insulating foam.  As I wrestled with this, I eventually realized I would do better with a very firm backing for the eventual top of the terrain--a backdrop.  This began a major construction project made more difficult by tight clearances.  

I began the terrain effort by completing the summit wye tunnel.  I previously reported on my modeling of the tunnel portal and initial tunnel liner in a post this past year:  
Several tasks remained.  First, I needed to paint and ballast the track, as access would be restricted or eliminated by the new efforts.  I then built a solid end of the tunnel.  I used three pieces of 1x4 to form a "U" roughly five inches long. Then I built a foam-core tunnel liner to span the space between the tunnel end and the portal and initial liner.  This foam core liner remains removable. 

Summit wye tunnel liner in place.  The track has been painted prior to ballasting.

I then turned my attention to the backdrop structure.  My Cascade Summit forms part of a large S-curve.  The backdrop needed to follow this same pattern.  This meant corner coves at the ends to meet the existing walls and another cove in the middle--right over the wye tunnel.  I began by building support structures for these curved backdrop segments.  I cut top and bottom profiles from plywood, temporarily screwed together to get a common curve.  Once separated, I joined the top and bottom plates with sections of 2x2.  The end corner pieces were full height for this area--about two feet tall, though I chose to leave a small margin between the ceiling and the backdrop structure.  The backdrop cove over the wye tunnel needed to provide clearance for that tunnel for subsequent maintenance.  This resulted in a modest height cove former, mounted on legs attached to the underlying benchwork joists.

Backdrop cove former mounted above the summit wye tunnel.

With formers for the ends and middle curve mounted, I filled in the rest of the backdrop structure, beginning with 2x2 posts for vertical support.  In retrospect, I should have built the straight sections off the layout as short "stud walls" which would have needed just a few screws to the existing benchwork joists to secure in place.  Ah, hindsight...  I braced the straight sections with knee braces which extend back to the actual wall.  The resulting structure is quite rigid.

Backdrop structure.

Finally, I applied hardboard "skin" to the structure, beginning with the coved portions.  I used most of my supply of hardboard scraps for this effort.  The cove over the tunnel and the straight sections are not full height.  Only the top needs to be continuous as my intent is to build terrain to very nearly the top of this backdrop structure.  I provided support for the bottom of this elevated backdrop edge by toe-attachments of 1x2 horizontal supports using a pocket-screw jig.

Skinning the backdrop.  One more segment is needed to fill the gap to the center (over tunnel) cove.

The curve that began it all--backdrop mounted above the summit wye tunnel.

After the construction adhesive sets, I will begin the process of filling and spackling the backdrop panel joints, filling the screw heads used to attach the panels as I go.  I chose to mount all of the current backdrop panels using construction adhesive and screws.  Earlier backdrop efforts used brads rather than screws for support as the adhesive set.  The limited working space this time and the nature of the support system drove me to use screws for this function.  

I plan to paint this new backdrop with my basic "sky blue," but may not do much of the fading to horizon haze used at lower elevations on my layout.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 30, 2019


I have begun work on the Eugene turntable, roundhouse and steam-era engine service facilities.  I was prompted by a comment by another local model railroader describing his work on his turntable.  He was using components from the same manufacturers that I planned to use.  The missing link for me was the New York Railway Supply ( turntable drive and indexing system.  I long planned to use their system.  Unfortunately, when I last checked a couple of years ago they were not shipping, as they were shifting production to their now-current Model 4 system.  My friend's comment sent me back to the NYRS website.  Following a brief e-mail discussion with the owner, I placed my order and soon had this important component.  I will comment further on this system in a future post when I get to the installation and setup of the indexing system.  My current activity involves layout and preparation of the turntable area.

I am using a Diamond Scale Products ( 134-feet long HO scale turntable.  This model is a good representation of the style of turntable bridge and center arch used at Eugene, albeit longer than Eugene's 126 feet.  I acquired mine a decade ago, but they remain available.  Principal elements of the kit include the turntable pit, center shaft and bearings, bridge and end dollies.  The pit is formed on a piece of medium density fiberboard (MDF) with the outer ring cast in Hydrocal  onto the MDF base. 

Diamond Scale Products HO TS-134 turntable components.

I began my turntable preparation by installing the ring rail.  Following the instructions, I used gap-filling CA cement.  In my case, I applied it to every other tie. The other ties and the rail base received a drop of Pliobond  adhesive.  I use Pliobond to bond assembled switch rails to their tie base using the Fast Tracks system, so I felt this was a good addition, especially for the dissimilar materials of rail and plaster.  In addition to the step in the ring ties provided for the ring rail, I ensured my rail location by creating a radial arm with a notch for the rail.  Per instructions, I worked in sections of four to five inches of rail at a time.

Installing the ring rail using a radial arm with a notch for the rail position.

With the ring rail installed, I needed to form a slope in the pit floor between the raised ring and the base of the pit.  From pictures of the Eugene turntable, this appears to be about 20 feet of slope.  This matches the tapered ends of the turntable bridge.  I added a slope form to my radial arm to help shape the plaster I applied to form the slope.  I used Hydrocal plaster.  In retrospect, I probably should have used some form of spackle to give me more working time.  The Hydrocal slopped up onto the previously cast ring and between some of the ties.  Though I worked quickly to remove this slop, I was not quick enough in some places.  Not to worry; most turntable pits become pretty messy places.

Sweeping the contour of the plaster slope between the outer ring step and pit bottom.

Removing plaster slop from between the ties on the outer ring.

My slope-forming sweep operation left a few gouges and other holes in the slope.  I filled these with spackle.  Light sanding quickly produced a smooth surface, though I ended up making four separate spackle applications.

Turntable pit with slope formed, filled and sanded smooth.

Paint and weathering were the next tasks.  I used a "rattle can" gray spray paint as a base color for the concrete.  Several light coats of paint ensured the surface was well-coated to provide a good base for subsequent weathering.  I cleaned off the ring rail with a small piece of cork after each spray paint application.  This greatly helped the final cleaning of the ring rail top.  The ring rail will be used for one side of the power feed to the turntable bridge rails.  I also applied "roof brown" paint to the rail sides and base.  

Weathering took several forms and multiple operations.  I practiced most of these operations on the outside of the pit before applying them inside where they will be seen.  I began by making a number of vertical lines on the ring wall using a black Sharpie .  These represent oil stains I see in photos.  I then applied a couple of washes of black and dark brown paint around these marks.  The pit wall was looking quite dark at this point, so I applied washes of "aged concrete" and "earth" to lighten up the wall.  I also applied the aged concrete was to the pit interior.  At times, I felt I had gone overboard on an individual color, so a subsequent wash would tone it down and blend it all together.

Turntable pit after many applications of weathering washes.  Streaking toward the pit center represents the natural drainage of the pit.

As I finished the weathering washes, I returned to the pit rail ties, and used a paint pen to highlight their tops with an appropriate color.  I also applied a final coat of the "roof brown" paint to the rail.  When I was finally satisfied with the overall coloring of the pit, I applied a coat of Dulcote  to seal the paint and weathering washes and to provide tooth for weathering powders.  As with other concrete structures on my layout, I use Aim Products weathering powders to provide the rust appearance that older concrete often exhibits and as seen in color photos of the Eugene turntable pit.

Completed turntable pit.

Completion of the turntable pit sets me up for subsequent efforts with the turntable bridge and power arrangements.  While waiting between paint and weathering wash applications, I laid out the turntable approach tracks and radial tracks off the turntable.  This also involved a preliminary plan for the roundhouse stalls.  Stay tuned.  The Eugene roundhouse and steam era facilities represent a big effort.

Friday, November 15, 2019


With the structures for the station company village complete for Cruzatte, it was time to fill in the terrain.  The structure sites needed to be prepared as the terrain base was formed.  Filling in this portion of terrain closes the gap between Noisy Creek and Shady Creek along the upper mountain wall of my layout space.  Though my simple backdrop painting helped convey the desired image in this area, nothing beats rendering it into three dimensions.

An important resource for forming the terrain and locating the structures was Joel Ashcroft's website:  The Cruzatte structures section of the provided link were particularly helpful.

I used my proven terrain forming techniques employed last year.  The base was formed using styrofoam insulating foam, building up contours.  Gaps were filled with spray insulating foam. This base was further shaped using knives and a Stanley Surform  scraper.  Finally, Sculptamold was lathered over the surface.  I mixed paint into the Sculptamold.  This immediately provides an appropriate surface color and ensures future dings and holes will not produce white splotches.

Terrain forming begun at Cruzatte.  Building platforms are slabs of insulating foam with the RR-East end (downhill) slightly raised for level structure foundations.  The plywood subroadbed and station site is built on the railroad's 1.8 percent grade.

Base terrain contours formed with slabs of styrofoam insulation.

Gaps have been filled with spray foam insulation.  The pictures on the track below are copies from Joel Ashcroft's website.

The site for the RR-East water tower has been prepared.  A thin strip of styrene was glued to the down-hill end of the water tower base to level it.

Scultamold has been applied to the scene.

The Cruzatte scene is coming to life with structures and terrain base.

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.