Friday, June 28, 2024


Fulfilling a long-desired goal, my wife and I finally travelled north to Alaska using a land and sea cruise—a popular option.  Both portions of the trip featured rail activity for me.   

We began by flying to Anchorage and then up to Fairbanks.  The initial part of the tour featured a riverboat cruise and exposition of “typical” Alaska including a float plane demonstration and a native Alaskan village.  A bus then got us to Denali Park—the huge National Park at the center of Alaska.  The tundra wilderness bus tour highlighted subarctic flora and fauna, including the Dall Sheep that led to the original formation of the National Park. 


Following the full day into Denali Park, we boarded a train to journey down to Anchorage.  We were blessed with clearing skies and had numerous views of Mt. Denali (ex-McKinley), the tallest peak in North America.  The train was operated by Alaska Railroad, but was composed of cars rebuilt and reconditioned by the cruise lines—in our case by the consortium of Princess and Holland America.  


Our Alaska RR train to Anchorage from Denali National Park.


The irony for me was that most of these cars were reconditioned from former Southern Pacific Peninsula Commute Cars, retired from that service in the mid-1980s.  These were bilevel cars in that service, now reconfigured but still having two levels.  Those two levels are more like Amtrak’s Superliner equipment by having the main passenger seating on the upper deck and food service below.  Only the outline of the cars remained after the rebuild, with the roof and upper windows replaced by new wide windows for viewing scenery.  The rebuilt cars also feature a platform on one end for both passenger access during loading and unloading and an open viewing platform during the trip.


Last car of the train—our car.  Note the platform on the rear of the car ahead (left).  A similar platform was on the far (rear) end of our car.


Rolling south on the Alaska Railroad with the full train in view.


What was supposed to have been an eight-hour trip turned out to be closer to eleven as we encountered slow orders along the way to Anchorage.  The weather was spectacular!  We got numerous views of Mt. Denali—a rare condition, as Denali literally makes its own weather and is often shrouded in cloud.


Mt. Denali looms above the Alaska Range as a pair of all-white peaks.


Further along, toward Anchorage, Mt. Denali and its sibling peaks were in full view.


After an overnight in Anchorage, we took another train across the peninsula to Whittier where we embarked aboard our cruise ship.  I did not capture pictures of that equipment, which was conventional height passenger cars of the Alaska Railroad.  One aspect of guided tours is being herded along with few opportunities to break out for such tasks as railfanning.  Sigh.


The next post will cover the other major rail activity of the cruise tour—Skagway and the White Pass and Yukon.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024


After one too-many derailments of boxcars during the last operating session, I finally dove into a long over-due fleet-wide car weight program--adding weight.  


With only a couple of notable exceptions (hooray for Tangent and Moloco!) most stock model freight cars fall below the NMRA recommended car weight.  Some are under that recommendation by more than an ounce, where their recommended weight should be 4.5 to 5 ounces for a nominal fifty-foot car.  Many of my cars have extended draft gear—typical of car models representing those with sliding sill or end of car cushioning devices.  Southern Pacific was a major proponent of the Hydra-Cushion underframe system, so I have a lot of those cars.


The rush to populate my railroad for the PDX2015 convention is long past, but the effects of that effort linger.  One of the “annoyances” was found with lighter-weight cars with stock weight derailing when long blocks of cars were pushed. That often occurred during staging operations, affecting “only” me, but the same dynamics could take place during operations, especially with mid-train helpers.  


For much of the life of my railroad, I have been handling the car weighting issue on an individual car basis.  This year, I got a bit more aggressive about adding weight to more cars, but that only created additional issues with the decidedly mixed fleet of car weights.  


I finally took a very careful look at a couple of car types that previously eluded my weight program.  A good example was the ExactRail ABOX.  It turns out these cars are molded to very exact standards such that it was difficult for my unmagnified sight to see the fine crack at the ends of the roofs where the separate roof met the car ends.  With my OptiVisor  ™ helping me, I could see how to insert a chisel knife blade into the crack to pry open the gap between roof and car body.  I found the same way into the many Athearn Genesis PC&F insulated boxcars on my layout.  With that, I was off to the races adding weight.


InterMountain 5283 cuft lumber box above and ExactRail ABOX below show two typical weight  additions inside boxcars.


As seen in the photos, I am using large screw-nuts as weights, affixed with adhesive caulk.  I use the same adhesive caulk for this as I use to hold down the track on the roadbed.  It is good for dissimilar materials.  In this application, a little bit of flex in the caulk will help the bond react to temperature changes and just plain handling of the boxcar models.  Along the way, I have even caught a couple of cars where the weights have popped up off the car body floor.


Car weights added to Genesis PC&F RBL insulated boxcars.  I have a lot of these cars in lumber-plywood service.


Most of the boxcars in the current program are being weighted to 5 ounces.  This is above the 4.5 ounces of the NMRA recommended practice for cars of this size (nominal fifty-foot), but I find it is best to “over-weight” in most cases.  The extended draft gear on many of these cars makes for a greater distance between couplers, so a bit more weight would be recommended anyway. 


A group of cars receives additional car weight.  Tools of the effort include the postal scale, the chisel knife blade in the green-handled blade holder, and a tube of adhesive caulk.  Just out of sight is my OptiVisor ™.


Working through the car fleet as a fleet-enhancement ensures that all cars on the railroad are receiving attention together.  I pull out complete trains or long strings from a staging yard track and then work through all of those cars.  I used a similar program for the cars in the Eugene Classification Yard (all cars in the yard) and then all industries in a given area (e.g., Springfield).  The railroad has something over five hundred freight cars on it, with perhaps eighty percent of those as house cars.


The current effort concentrated on “house cars” (boxcars and refrigerator cars).  Covered hoppers have their own access issues.  I have been able to get into some of the covered hoppers, but most are sealed with glue and paint.  I will need to find a different weighting system for those, especially the 4650 cuft ACF CenterFlo hoppers that SP was fond of.  Fortunately, my historic car weighting practices put part of my car fleet—that which I ran for decades on my old California-based club layout—in good condition.  Addressing the “new” cars (placed in service from 2015-onward) should help the overall operating fleet.  I look forward to future operating sessions with the enhanced fleet. 

Friday, May 10, 2024

Seventy-five Operating Sessions!

 Seventy-five Operating Sessions! 

This past weekend, I reached a milestone of the seventy-fifth operating session on my full mainline.  I attempt to operate monthly, but my regular slot in the operating layouts rotation out of the Portland metro area encounters a few holiday cancellations and an increasing set of conflicts with other rail events.  Sigh.  The first operating session on the full mainline was in June, 2015.  From that rocky start, I worked through the PDX2015 National Convention of the National Model Railroad Association and then settled down to more routine operations.  Along the way we began organizing and conducting our biannual regional operating event:  Western Oregon OPerationS (WOOPS).  


Celebration cake for Operating Session 75.


While many of my recent operating sessions have had the crew size capped, the seventy-fifth session had a basic “full” crew of fifteen, leaving one switch job annulled.  Several of the regulars had conflicts last weekend that could not be avoided.  Still, we carried on and had a great time.  The following photos will give a sense of the session—a good representation of a regular session.


One of two regular Dispatchers for the railroad, John B. holds the “big chair” for this session.


Craig P. (right) and Mike L. worked the Eugene Arrival-Departure Yard.  Most of their work involves breaking down incoming trains and building new trains to four primary RR-West destination yards.


Emerik S. (front) and Jeroen G. work at the RR-West end of the Eugene Classification Yard.  Emerik was promoted to yardmaster for this session.


Working the other end of the Eugene Classification Yard was Rick A.  The action was so brisk that I jiggled the camera on this one.  <wink>


A busy time in Springfield!  Sean V. (left) works the Springfield-B local on the aisle side of the mainline.  His locomotives are just visible in the center behind the train on the mainline.  Mike B. (green shirt, middle) and Mike L. (red shirt, right) work a meet between their road freights using the mainline and the depot track.


Dave H. (gray shirt) works Westfir with the Oakridge Turn.  Dave is the other regular Dispatcher.  He and John B. are currently enjoying preferential crew job selection when they are not dispatching—a reward for their good work, but also a means of getting them experience with the jobs they must coordinate as Dispatchers.  Mark K. stands on the platform behind Dave as he and Mike L. (left) hold their train in the clear at Cruzatte.


Mike B. and Greg P. (right, seated) receive operating instructions and track authority from the Dispatcher at Oakridge.  Greg was one of the helper crews.  Above them in the distance are Mike L., Mark K. and Bill M. at Cascade Summit. Mike L. and Bill M. have performed a meet at Cascade Summit, while Mark K. removed his mid-train helper set from Mike L.’s train.


Brigg F. prepares to depart Crescent Lake, the upper staging yard on the railroad.


Here I am, a happy layout owner, glad to reach this operating milestone!

Sunday, April 7, 2024


The second half of March was a particularly busy time for rail enthusiast events.  The brisk period began with Winterail 2024 in the Corvallis High Auditorium.  That was followed by a mid-March operating session on my SP Cascade Line.  The busy period concluded with the biannual SoundRail in the Puget Sound region.


Winterail is the annual rail photography exposition now held in the Corvallis High Auditorium.  Friend Vic Neves and his wife, Annie, produce the show with the help of a large group of “Roadies.”  The focus is upon excellent rail photography projected onto the auditorium screen and set to music.  Think: “Ken Burns does railroading.” Accompanying the main photography exposition is a railroadianna show with vendors selling railroad items including printed photos, slides, DVDs, railroad timetables, and many other rail-related items.  


Vic and Annie Neves welcome attendees to the 2024 Winterail.


Mike Y. talking with a potential customer at a table featuring both railroad logo clothing and Mike’s extensive collection of historic railroad employee timetables.


Following Winterail, I held a special mid-week operating session for out-of-town visitors plus some of my regular crew.  My regular slot in the monthly area ops rotation had been cancelled due to a schedule conflict with the Willamette Model Railroad Club Swap Meet.  I replaced that with a mid-March session with the intent of capturing several folk from out of town.  I had five visitors from California and Olympia, WA, and augmented with another fifteen of my regular crew.  The result was a lively session with lots of good time and chatter—always a good sign!


A busy time in Springfield and Eugene as both local freight trains and through road-freights work through Springfield.  The Eugene Yard crew is busy on the other side of the aisle.


Action on the mountain grade.  On the upper level a RR-West train works through tunnels 8 and 5.  Down below, another RR-West is working uphill through McCredie Springs.  This train has 89-ft trailer flatcars in it, so the helpers are on the front of the train.


Finally, it was off to the Seattle area for SoundRail 2024.  This biannual event features three days of model railroad operations on layouts ranging from Whidbey Island and the Olympic Peninsula down to Olympia, WA.  The event had a good mix of layouts available and a good crowd of visiting operators (“Boomers”).  I operated on the layouts of Steve Shores, Bill Messecar, and Brian Ferris.


Easton on Steve Shores’ Pacific Shores Railroad.  This represents the southeast end of his railroad, while Westport is on the other side of the backdrop wall and represents the other, northwest, end of the railroad.  I spent much of my time switching this end of the railroad.


North Seward and Zenith (Walters Yard) in the other room occupied by Steve Shores railroad.


My Saturday assignment was on Bill Messecar’s Santa Fe 3rd District LA layout.  The layout represents Santa Fe operations in the eastern portion of the Los Angeles Basin around San Bernardino and Riverside, CA.  Bill is a Master Model Railroader and has been very active in both modeling the Santa Fe and preserving its history.  I have long seen Bill’s by-line on articles and knew of his organizing efforts, so his layout was high on my priority list to see and operate.  I am glad I finally made it.


San Bernardino (right) and Riverside (left) on Bill Messecar’s Santa Fe LA 3rd Division.


Orange packing house at Corona on Bill Messecar’s Santa Fe LA 3rd District railroad.  Steve Shiffman and I teamed up for the Corona Turn.  We were kept busy!


Finally, it was down to Olympia (a good launch point for the return home) to operate on Brian Ferris’ Port Townsend and Southern.  Brian has created a proto-fiction section of the prototype Seattle to Portland joint line built by the Northern Pacific.  Brian has condensed joint line (NP-GN-UP-MLW) operations onto a single-track mainline operated using Timetable and Train Order authority.  The railroad operates between Tacoma and Centralia with a mid-point yard at Chambers Prairie.  I have operated on Brian’s layout previously, but gladly sought another opportunity!


Chambers Prairie on Brian Ferris’ Port Townsend and Southern.


Operations underway on the Port Townsend and Southern.  Rick A. (seated with a blue shirt on the left-center) serves as the system train order operator—a position I held in a previous session.  Craig L. (right) and Jim B. (right-center) run Chambers Prairie yard operations.  Vic N. (center) is switching Plumb—town site with more activity than space. <wink>


Yes, I ended up operating with a lot of my regular crew members as we were all trying to schedule an easy launch for home after our last session in the Puget Sound area.  


It was great to meet with so many fellow model railroad operators from around the West.  I caught up with a number of friends both during the operating sessions and in social time afterwards.  Having great layouts and hosts contributed to a great time.  


Wednesday, March 13, 2024


Double slip switches are known as “puzzle switches” for good reason.  A double slip switch compresses two opposite track switches into the space ordinarily occupied by a single switch.  A double slip switch has two sets of points (the part of a switch that moves) and two frogs (where one rail crosses “over” another with a gap for the wheel flanges).  The result looks very complicated.  Prototype railroad and model railroad crews are often confused as to which route through the switch has been selected/set.  

Double slip switches are rare in the prototype railroad world as track engineers usually have sufficient length or distance to separate the switch functions.  Railroads install double slip switches when they run out of room for multiple single switches or in complex terminal trackage where a double slip switch helps make smooth crossings of multiple track lines.  Most prototype double slip switches are controlled by switch towers or their modern equivalents in Centralized Traffic Control panels.


Model railroaders employ double slip switches for most of the same reasons a prototype railroad does.  We run out of room or need to make smooth crossings with switching of multiple lines.  Alas, I found myself in this predicament as I added a second main line connecting my Eugene Depot to my Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard (aka staging).  


My plan for track and switch control in this area has been to provide route control—functionally similar to having a dedicated tower operator.  The electronics for the route control have eluded me so far, so I have had to subject my yard crews to control panels with multiple toggle switches to control the switch machines.  The yard crews are still faced with verifying the chosen route.  I have attempted to provide route indication on the control panel track schematics, but this has been imperfect and crewmembers still want a more direct confirmation of route selection.


When I attended VanRail in September 2023, I operated on Doug Hicks’ British Columbia Railway Squamish Subdivision layout.  Doug also faced a need to indicate route selection for complex trackwork in his North Vancouver Yard.  Doug’s solution was to embed light emitting diodes (LEDs) in the track roadbed that switched with the turnout controls.  Aha!  


With enough time between operating sessions, I finally dug into the LED route indicator project.  I chose to apply my railroad standard use of blue LEDs to indicate a RR-East setting and amber LEDs for a RR-West setting.


Double slip switch with route indication.  The selected route goes from lower left to upper right as a straight route through the switch.  This switch also illustrates the use of a double slip switch in a crossing situation where one potential route crosses the nominal principal (straight) route through the switch.


I made up pairs of LEDs to install for the two routes at the end of each switch.  I soldered the diode anodes together and that joint to the dropping resistor needed with LEDs.  The dropping resistor (in the case a 1K ohm resistor) limits the current through the LEDs.  It is very easy to apply to high a voltage and current to an LED without such a resistor.  The result is a brief flash of light and then a dead LED.


LED pair assemblies.  The blue LED pairs use solid color wires while the amber LED pairs use color-stiped wires—useful for subsequent de-bugging.  Note the LED lead lengths limit the installation geometry.


I used 3mm LEDs, joining the anodes at the far end.  Shrink-wrap insulation tubing covered the opposite LED leads (legs) and the dripping resistor and LED joint.  The 3mm LEDs neatly fit into a 1/8-inch hole.  The length of the remaining independent LED leads limits the combination of roadbed depth and the spacing between the needed pair of indicator holes.   I found the LEDs depressed in their holes for several installations.  Those LEDs are visible when near the switch, but not necessarily visible from a distance such as fully along the set of switches in my primary four-slip switch installation.


LED route indication showing the conventional route selection.  The track on the right (the East Main) goes straight on that main route until diverging to the mainline (right track) as it passes the Eugene depot.  The track on the left is the West Main which proceeds toward the depot until it diverges to the left of the two main tracks past the Eugene depot.  That depot track is known as the WP siding, named for the construction company responsible for the Coos Bay Branch.


I chose to power the LED pairs through the frog power routing on the switch machines.  This power routing choice eliminated other sources of error on my part.


I await comments from my operating crew.  I may need to adjust the depth of the LEDs to bring them closer to the roadbed surface.  


Wider view of the RR-East Eugene switch throat.  Note that the LED route indicators for the two upper (further away) slip switches do not show well from this angle.  The LEDs are below the roadbed surface.  They become visible when one moves to a spot more in line with the switches.


Thursday, February 29, 2024


SP locomotive engineer, outstanding model railroad craftsman, and friend, Dave Clune, passed away in late February.  Our model and prototype railroad worlds are richer by far for having had his presence among us. 

Dave worked out of Eugene for most of his career as an SP locomotive engineer.  Eventually that brought him seniority to hold down a regular role in helper service.  His early career had the usual jobs such as engine hostler around the Eugene terminal facilities.  I leaned on that experience to gain a better understanding of the modern locomotive traction sand facility that will eventually translate into my model of that facility.  Dave’s “tales of the rails” working up the Cascade “Hill” were punctuated with humor—a hallmark of Dave’s personality.


Dave Clune (left) and I taking a break at the end of an ops session in June 2016.  My other photo of Dave from this session shows only his back as he works on the RR-East switch at Wicopee—very characteristic of Dave to be hard at work.


When I began regular operations on my model railroad mainline, Dave would arrive at those sessions and immediately ask where the current problem switch or trackwork was located.  He would then grab my track tools and proceed to tweak the offending track area.  He could see things my eyes could not detect.  Over time, my railroad became more reliable, although the six-axle EMD locomotive models still find ways to frustrate us at switches!  



Dave Clune (right) works with David L. and Pete H. on a BRLAT (trailer train to Los Angeles) as it works uphill over Noisy Creek Trestle in the background.  This scene from March 2018, shows the railroad before terrain formation.  The tunnel portals and liners are installed awaiting my efforts with insulation foam slabs and Sculptamold.



Dave was a wonderful resource for history on the Cascade Line and the industries served.  His memories had direct impact on my models of National Metallurgical in Springfield and the one oil dealer (Skillern Oil—source of the Clune’s heating oil) I placed in my Eugene industrial district.


Dave Clune (dark shirt, center) confers with other crew members at Oakridge.  Dave had one of the helper jobs on the Hill—just like his prototype SP job.  This was my January, 2023 operating session, the last time Dave made it up from Eugene.


Dave’s own modeling focused on his Cascade County narrow gauge railway in On3.  He was highly regarded in the narrow gauge community for his craftsmanship and artistic talent.  He generously shared his skill and talent with others.  


Dave Clune’s Cascade County Rwy in On3.  Dave was an artist in both two- and three-dimensions.


Throughout all, Dave brought wisdom, skill, and humor to our shared rail hobby and passion.  Dave Clune was a gentleman’s gentleman, a term I apply with extremely high regard.  


Rest In Peace, Dave.

Sunday, January 7, 2024


I built my SP Cascade Line as an operating model railroad.  I am happy to report that it has fulfilled that dream.  Each month I host a group of up to twenty fellow model railroaders to help bring my vision alive.  Well, it is not quite monthly, as my beginning-of-the-month slot in the local operations rotation produces a number of schedule conflicts.  Still, I catch as many of those slots as I can.  


The “70s” in this post’s title refers to the number of formal operating sessions, beginning with Session One in June, 2015.  The fourth formal operating session on the railroad was accomplished in late August, 2015, as part of the Operations SIG operating sessions affiliated with the NMRA National Convention held in Portland.  


Just prior to the most recent session, I reviewed photos from that event as I sought images of my Oakridge-based friend, Bob Sanchez, who just passed away.


From the August 2015 operating session for the NMRA PDX2015 Convention, Bob Sanchez (right) explains operations at Oakridge to Scott C.  Don M. and Dennis D. are working the Oakridge Turn in the distance.


Bob was an avid rail-buff and a great help and host to many of us seeking more information at Oakridge.  Bob owned the former Lane Electric warehouse near the former SP depot site in Oakridge.  He went on to fill much of that warehouse with a marvelous N-scale layout.  In August, 2015, Bob was an invaluable companion and helper for me with a range of NMRA National Convention duties.  Rest In Peace, Bob.


That photo trip down memory lane reminded me just how far my railroad has come since then.  Those early operating sessions were quite raw and performed on a railroad that was even rawer.  I was helped along the way by a number of folk, several of whom passed away in the past few years.  I miss the input from railroaders Tom Dill and Rick Kang, and the cheerful support and advice from Chuck Clark.  


Fortunately, I have a large crew of people who have stayed with me through the development of my railroad and have been joined by still more.  Many of those regulars were present at the just-completed 71st operating session.  The long term regulars have been joined by newer acquaintances—so many that I routinely must cap the crew size and place late responders to the crew call on the reserve list.


Photos from this recent operating session focus on the people—something I have learned to concentrate upon as the real treasure of these events.


At the core of every successful operation is the Dispatcher.  Dave H. held this position as he often does.


The Eugene Arrival-Departure Yard was managed by Craig L. (left) and assisted by his Switcher, Pat L.  Pat just joined us in Oregon, but is no stranger to me or to operations.


At the RR-East end of the Eugene depot area, East Switcher Joe B. works with a car in the foreground, while Eugene City Switcher Mike L. works the industrial trackage now found between the main lines and the wall for this pass-through area.


The full Eugene Yard crew consists of (left to right) West Switcher John B, East Switcher Joe B, Yardmaster Rick A, and Eugene City Switcher Mike L.


The “B” Springfield Turn started the session with its work half completed.  “Dog-catching” this job were Brigg F. and Jeroen G.


After Brigg and Jeroen completed work with the Springfield-B, they returned to Eugene Yard and picked up the Marcola Turn which they are working here.


The other local freight was the Oakridge Turn, with Mike B. and Keith K. as crew.  They are working the RR-East end of Oakridge, having just run around a covered hopper that they will soon set-out at the sand house location (paper plan-view attached to the yard surface).


Bill M. and Bob L. formed a road crew, seen here at the upper staging at Crescent Lake.


Mike W. (left) has left his helper, piloted by Mark K. (right) at Cascade Summit.  He is getting track authority to proceed to Crescent Lake and the end of his run.


With other trains at Wicopee, Mike L. (center) is copying track authority after meeting a train crewed by Mike W. (right).  Rodger C. (left) controls the helper locomotive entrained in the RR-West train on the siding.


Having helped a train from Oakridge up to Cascade Summit, Rodger C. returns “light” to Oakridge.  He is seen here at Wicopee.


Bill M. (left) and Bob L. (center) work uphill at McCredie Springs, assisted by the mid-train helper run by Mark K. (right).


Emerik S. is Engineer for the LABRF—a hot train from Los Angeles to Portland (Brooklyn Yard for the SP)—seen here at Westfir.  Jim M. is his Conductor.  Later on, we needed to send Emerik and Jim out solo on separate trains to keep the traffic rolling.


An important feature of my standard operations is the mid-session lunch break.  Keeping the lunch break local to my basement maintains continuity while providing important rest and social interaction.  Yes, we have to squeeze tables into various spaces around the layout, but it is clear that a good time takes place.


Although there is much yet to be done on my railroad, it has settled into a comfortable pattern of operations.  This 71stoperating session presented quite a contrast to the initial efforts back in the summer of 2015.  Those early sessions set a solid foundation upon which we built a regular operating group.