Friday, May 26, 2023


Several items on my “To Do” check list prior to WOOPS involved switch throws at Oakridge.  Three switches were highlighted by my crew over the past several months (operating sessions).  I held off addressing them as they required moving a fair bit of under-the-layout storage out of the way for access.  Preparing for WOOPS demanded these be addressed.


One switch proved very easy to fix.  The switch throw rod had disconnected from the Blue Point switch machine.  I use threaded rods for throw rods, with most initially just threaded into an appropriately sized screw eye attached to the Blue Point switch machine throw.  Unfortunately, operators often twist the knob on the end of the throw rod, which can unscrew them from the switch machine.  Such was the case with the first switch problem I addressed.  It was a simple fix, although I added another nut to the connection at the switch machine which has helped make the connection more robust.


The second switch machine issue involved one of the cross-over switches used to emplace helpers mid-train in the Oakridge Yard.  This switch was controlled by a Tortoise ™ by Circuitron switch machine.  The points were not throwing all the way in the cross-over position.  I had run out of the limited amount of fulcrum position adjustment on this machine, so I needed to replace the throw rod from the machine to the switch throw bar on my way to potentially adjusting the new throw rod.  I got lucky.  Simply replacing the prior throw rod which had a bend in it with a new straight throw rod cured the problem.  Whew!  Two down.


Oakridge cross-over switch not throwing all the way.


Replacement throw rod on the switch machine cured the switch throw issue for this Oakridge cross-over.


The final switch throw problem proved far more complex.  The affected switch was in the Oakridge wye, branching to one of the maintenance of way spurs within the wye.  Once again, the switch was not throwing all the way.  This switch used a Blue Point switch machine.  Once again, I exhausted the fulcrum adjustment capability, so a new throw rod was in order.  Enter the infamous constant of the universe known as “Murphy’s Law” (with apologies to one of my regular crew members).  If it could go wrong, it would—and did with multiple failures.


Access to the switch machine was in a difficult position.  I needed to clear out a considerable amount of under-layout storage to gain decent access.  That accomplished, I needed to both dismount the Blue Point switch machine and replace its throw rod.  Somehow while cutting through the old throw rod, I must have clipped several of the wire leads to the Blue Point double post-double throw (DPDT) switch in the Blue Point.  I needed to repair that wiring harness.


Blue Point switch machine with wiring harness repaired.  The black shrink-wrap on the wires covers the spliced wire leads.  Note that the throw rod is fixed to the throw mechanism with a bend just above the repaired wires at the base (left side) of the machine.  This is what had to be cut to release the old throw rod.


The next problem that developed involved the switch throw bar.  The reason this switch was not throwing all the way was that I apparently never really got the throw rod from the switch machine into a proper hole in the middle of the throw bar just under the points.  I decided to move the throw rod connection to one of the holes outside the stock rails, as the middle of the throw bar did not look like it could support a new hole.  That “support a new hole” proved correct, as just working with the throw bar ended up causing it to break.  I have had several other throw bars on my Micro Engineering switches fail.  The solution is to replace the throw bar with a pc board throw bar just like all of my Fast Tracks switches.  


New pc board throw bar installed with the throw rod connection outside the stock rails.  The drilling template in the foreground provides for proper mounting screw geometry for the Blue Point switch machine underneath.


I carried through with my decision to mount the throw rod connection outside the stock rails, so a new mounting for the Blue Point would be needed.  That led to yet another problem.  As noted in the photo above, I used a drill template to fix the mounting screw holes.  When I mounted the Blue Point switch machine in its new location, it turned out a simple straight throw rod would do, with no side-to-side bends.  I thought everything was going fine, so I trimmed the throw rod on top of the layout, hooked up the big threaded throw rod to the layout fascia and tested.  The switch STILL did not throw all the way!


Blue Point switch machines mounted under the layout.  The closer one (top) was the problem machine.  Close inspection of this photo shows the throw rod is rubbing against the uneven edge of the slot cut into the plywood sub-roadbed.


I let the problem sit overnight so I had a clear mind when I next looked at the problem.  With that, I could see the uneven slot routed into the plywood sub-roadbed was impeding the throw rod coming up from the switch machine.  A bit of router work cured the problem.  Sometimes waiting a bit to clear the mind helps find the real source of a problem.


Three switch throw issues that lingered for several months have now been corrected.  Oakridge should operate much better now!



Sunday, May 14, 2023


My regular early May operating session provided my last session with my regular crew to operate the railroad before our regional operating event—WOOPS (Western Oregon OPerationS) scheduled for early June.  WOOPS features a dozen local operating layouts that will be operated by invited guest operators from around the West.  As my tune up session, I took careful note of items needing fixing and will spend the next month trying to get the railroad into the best shape I can for our out-of-area guests.  


I have found positive responses to my crew calls gradually climbing as we come out of the doldrums of the past several years.  I still experience a higher rate of folk having to drop out in the last couple of days prior to a session, but I still draw full crews—a blessing!  


The new tracks connecting the Eugene Arrival-Departure Yard to the Depot area caused development of new operating practices in this area.  The tune up session saw these come fully to the fore with several occasions of the multiple tracks in the area being used for simultaneous train movements as intended.  From the aisle side toward the backdrop (wall) four tracks have separate designated functions:

1.     Switch Lead serving the Eugene Classification Yard

2.     East Main (formerly the only main line connecting the Depot and Arrival-Departure Yard) primarily serves now for eastbound train moves into the Arrival-Departure Yard.

3.     West Main (the new track added during the pandemic lockdowns) serves as the principal track for westbound trains exiting the Arrival-Departure Yard.

4.     Industrial Siding (another new track) provides switching access to six new industrial spurs added during the pandemic lockdowns.


Shown are simultaneous mainline moves by a RR-East train (nearest train facing camera) and a RR-West train (departing freight headed away toward the Eugene depot and beyond).  Mark K. photo.


Switching action in the Eugene “inter-yard” area.  The pair of switchers on the left are bringing a transfer cut from the Arrival-Departure Yard to the Classification Yard for further work.  An RR-West mainline train is exiting the A-D Yard in the middle, here using the East Main.  Having two mains in this area helps keep operations fluid.  On the right, the Eugene City Switcher works the North Eugene industries.  Mark K. photo.


Thanks to regular operator Mark K. who has helped develop and standardize procedures in this area and then document them with the photos seen above.


The rest of the operating session went well, with a full crew exercising the railroad as designed and noting a few issues for my maintenance attention.


Dave H. performed Dispatching duties as he often does.


Randall P. served as the Yardmaster for the Arrival-Departure Yard, assisted by Craig L. as the Switcher position for this yard.


Mark K. works as the Eugene East Switcher while Mike L. behind him works the Eugene City Switcher.


Pete Johnson checks car card and physical car as Eugene Classification Yardmaster.  Behind him Keith K. works as the Eugene West Switcher.  Behind them in the aisle are crews for mainline and local trains working at Springfield.

Eugene West Switcher Keith K. works his end of the classification yard.  Note he is using the facia shelf edging to good effect as he organizes the car cards for the switching underway.


A full house at Springfield!  Craig P. works the Springfield-A local job on the depot side (away from the aisle) of the mainline.  Rodger C. talks on the radio with the Dispatcher as he works a train on the mainline headed toward Eugene.  Jeroen G. (leaning down) has the RR-West train on the siding (closest to the aisle).  Assigning only one of three area locals to work in Springfield at a time keeps the main and a passing track available in town.


The importance of allowing only one Springfield area local freight to work at a time while keeping the main and a passing track clear for mainline movements became clear from the very beginning of operations on my railroad.  Separate Springfield local freight jobs were defined after the first trial operating session found the Springfield job returning to Eugene with 28 cars—beyond the nominal train length design factor employed in my layout design.  Keeping a passing track clear reflected an important operating need going into and coming out of Eugene.  On the full-sized railroad, the SP eventually inserted the Judkins siding between the depot area and the Willamette River crossing.  I did not have that space, so we opted to ensure an available passing track for mainline use at Springfield.

Engineer Mike B. and Helper Engineer Pete H. await clearance to proceed RR-West and uphill as a RR-East passes on the Oakridge Siding, leaving the mainline clear between the two trains.


Guest operator Derek W. watches his train at Wicopee as he meets another train.


Jeroen G. has escaped the mass of trains seen earlier at Springfield and is climbing the mountain grade over Salt Creek Trestle.  Sean V. assists with his mid-train helper locomotives.


Later, Rodger C. guides his RR-Eastbound train down over the Salt Creek Trestle.  It looks like Rodger has an “XMUG” (Empty boxcars to Eugene).  This nominally is assigned a lower operating priority, but the reality of Southern Pacific operations in this mid-1980s era found these trains of empty lumber cars being hustled back to Eugene swiftly.  The forest products shippers of Oregon were crying for cars to load product!


A meet underway at Cruzatte.  Mike L. (on the main floor) has the RR-East train on the main track (closest to the platform/aisle), passing a RR-West held in the siding controlled by Helper Engineer Sean V. (front) and Engineer Jeroen G. (back).


Although I started the week before the session with what looked to be an overflow crew, by the time we got to the Saturday operating session, the crew had fallen to sixteen which provided exactly enough to man all operating positions with no doubling up.  That meant I had to thrust my guest from my California days into operation on his own and also not have any other crew doubled up (desired by a couple of engineers).  Still, all did very well and a good time was had by all.