Monday, September 25, 2023

VanRail 2023

This year has seen the return of regional operating events.   We held WOOPS in early June.  Our friends to the north just held VanRail, an operating event in the greater Vancouver, BC, area.  Along with a couple of my regular operating crewmembers, I was fortunate to gain an invitation to this year’s event in Vancouver.  I seized upon that invitation rapidly and enthusiastically, as my prior excursions north found great operating model railroads mixed with superb hospitality and an enthusiastic group of fellow Boomer-operators.   

VanRail is organized as a three-day event, with Boomers such as myself scheduled to operate on a railroad a day.  This year I put bids in for two repeats (for me) and had one additional layout assigned.  All three provided great operating experiences.


My first layout operation was a repeat with Mike Chandler and his Western Midland Railroad.  Mike built his layout using a plan from an old Model Railroader.  His execution (construction and modelling) is superb, befitting his Master Model Railroader ® status.  Mike adds to this physical plant with a well-run Timetable and Train Order (TT&TO) operating scheme.  He uses a retired Dispatcher (Train Controller) working remotely from Calgary!  During my previous time on Mike’s railroad, I took a turn as a Train Order Operator—a different experience in Canada as there are different practices with transmitting and reading back train orders there.  This time, I drew the lowest-ranked card in the crew assignment draw for train crews.  That worked out well for me, as I still ran a pair of trains over the railroad and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. 


Mike Chandler is on the Trainline (Dispatcher phone system) while Java Yardmaster Brian K. looks on.  The end point yards of Mike’s layout uses engine facilities and the roundhouse in common.  Aurora is in the foreground and Java is in the rear.


Neral on the Western Midland RR.  The level of modelling is very high!


My second day layout assignment was on Doug Hicks’ British Columbia Railway (BCR) Squamish Subdivision—the southern portion of the BCR.  Doug worked for BCR, so he has captured something in model form he knew well.  Doug has crammed an amazing amount of railroad onto two decks in a small space (about 14x16 feet).  Although it might appear crowded, our five-man crew (plus a separate Dispatcher) seemed to do well in the aisles.


Dave H. works the North Vancouver Yard as Dispatcher Victor G. looks on.  North Van juts out of the main layout space, providing more operating room for all.


Interior of the layout room.  Multiple levels are managed by putting operators on the lower level onto rolling stools.


Pemberton on the upper deck.  Doug posts photos of the actual locations modeled.  The model does justice to the prototype, albeit compressed to fit into the space available.


Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Doug Hicks’ railroad.  I also picked up an idea for showing the selected route through complex switch-work that will be applied to my own railroad.  Thanks Doug!


My final layout operation was on Scott Calvert’s Canadian Pacific Boundary Subdivision.  This also was a repeat operation for me, though each experience is unique.  Once again, I drew the low card in the train crew pool, but still had a great time.  My initial assignment had me run light pushers (helpers) down from their base at Farron to Castlegar—much of the completed mountain part of the railroad.  I tucked my locomotives out of the way and moved on to a new assignment working with the Great Northern Interchange run out of the big CP yard at Nelson, BC.  That took me off the Canadian Pacific to work a GN station on my way to staging (connection to the rest of the GN in Washington state).  Finally, I returned to my pushers at Castlegar to help a train up the mountain grade to Farron.  Scott’s railroad is similarly-sized to mine and we have shared construction ideas through the years.  It was great to have an opportunity to operate there again.


The pusher (helper) station at Farron—the top of the mountain grade.


Operations at Nelson.  Overhead is a continuation of the other side of the mountain grade, with Farron barely visible on the right


The GN station of Salmo is on the lower level at right.  Castlegar is in the distance, center.


Scott updates his operating plan for our session, using “available” space at Nelson.


A group photo with the Boomer operators and most of the local support crew at Scott Calvert’s layout.  The smiles reflect all of us after three days of wonderful model railroad operating and great collegiality.

Sunday, August 27, 2023


Most model railroaders set up an assembly line at some point in their work.  Owners of large model railroads such as myself often resort to assembly line techniques.  My current examples involve trees and a bit of boxcar assembly on the side.  Building on my success with the initial forest planted in the Cruzatte scene, I attacked another large group of trees to both add to the Cruzatte scene and perhaps begin another scene.

Tree core assembly line in process.  Tree cores consisting of branch disks glued to the trunks are stored on Styrofoam slabs, awaiting the flocking process.  Eight more trees are underway in the middle of the picture.  In the distance is a separate work station where boxcar assembly is underway.


I have found it convenient to work on eight trees at a time.  I tear off coconut mat material for branch disks for all eight trees.  I typically prepare four of these disks for each tree, laying out all thirty-two such mat disks prior to punching a center hole with an awl.  I then glue each tree’s four disks in place with white glue and then repeat for the next tree.  The process is messy in common with many scenery processes.  


While the glue sets on eight trees, I move on to some other task.  Currently, one of those tasks is digging into my collection of SP boxcar kits to finally assemble them.  When the glue sets on the first group of four branch disks, I return for another set of four until I reach the top of the tree.  A rhythm develops as the learning curve makes for ever more efficient assembly. 


I exhaust either myself or my supplies eventually.  At that point, I move on to another of the major assembly steps.  For the trees, the next steps are shaping or trimming the tree cores and then flocking.  I went through a number of spray adhesive cans on the current batch of 120 trees.  After flocking, I moved the trees stuck into Styrofoam slabs to a convenient place on the layout.  Right now, that happens to be in the greater Salt Creek area alongside the Wicopee Siding.  I need to add more ground cover before planting more trees.  Coastmans Scenery Products ( ) is getting regular orders from me for more tree supplies.  


Trees staged below Noisy Creek Trestle in the Salt Creek and Wicopee area of the layout.  A different form of “staging” is represented by the train in the foreground.  That train is in place for the next operating session start up.


I am taking advantage of my enthusiasm for adding trees to my forest based on success with my first major forest scene.  I also am taking advantage of warm dry weather to use the spray adhesive for tree flocking outdoors.  I have a lot of forest to plant!

Wednesday, August 2, 2023


Each year I do a photo survey of my railroad on or about the First of August which is the anniversary of the start of construction.  The survey provides two benefits.  It documents visible progress through the year and it prompts me to reflect upon where I have been and where I have been going.  It also serves as a handy reference that I can send out to folk who might be planning a first visit or who haven’t seen the RR in some time.  Last year’s decade anniversary may be viewed at:

One can work back through prior year reports using similar links at the top of each annual photo survey.


This year featured just a couple of visible improvements.  The just-reported-upon planting of the first forest scene at Cruzatte is the big news for the year.  The other visible “improvement” was my mock-up attempt for the engine shed at Oakridge.  That effort was a bit disappointing as the roof bowed up—pagoda style.  Importantly, it helped identify a needed track change to provide more space between the three engine service tracks covered by the shed.  The mock-up effort also identified construction challenges and opportunities (lots of roof trusses!) for the final model.


A forest of three-dimensional trees now provides the backdrop for the company village at Cruzatte.


As I looked through my blog posts over the past year, I realized I spent much of the year developing and consolidating operations on the railroad.  My railroad has returned to regular operating sessions with most having full crews.  We were able to host our nominally biannual guest operating event, Western Oregon OPerationS (WOOPS 2023) in June.  Both we as hosts and our guests enjoyed this major social aspect of operating model railroads.  As hosts, we also had to relearn best practices for preparing our railroads and hosting guest operators.


Countering the high of hosting operating events was the reminder of human mortality.  I reported on two influential model railroaders passing this last year.  Working on my railroad and hosting regular operating events reminded me of two others who passed since 2019 and who contributed mightily to my railroad and its operation.  Rest In Peace:  Chuck Clark, Tom Dill, Rick Kang and Paul Kohler.  Memories of your contributions struck me throughout the year.


This year’s photo survey follows a Eugene to Roseville manifest freight, climbing the Cascades in my basement.  The train we will follow actually was a staging move preparing for my next operating session.  You will see some evidence of that as we meet and overtake a couple of trains left at their stopping positions at the end of the second WOOPS operating session in June.  My operating sessions leave trains out on the line, to be picked up by a new crew at the start of the next operating session.


Our train will start from the base of operations at the Eugene Arrival-Departure yard.  As with the rest of the trains prepared for the next operating session, our train is just out of the picture off to the right.  Standard traffic flow in the Eugene reverse loop staging is clockwise.  Shown in this view is the rest of the yard including the developing engine facilities.  The historic steam facilities are on the left around the turntable.  The modern diesel facilities, built by the SP in 1958, are represented by the three tracks on the right.


Our train with symbol EURVY is pulling out of the Arrival-Departure yard.  We are using the “West Main,” with the “East Main” and switch lead closer to the aisle.  The industrial siding to the right of the West Main was part of the “Covid Project.”  Six new industrial spurs lead off this siding.  As operations on my railroad developed, we found clockwise flow to work best for the reverse loop staging.  This results in left-hand running past the depot.


Our train passes the Eugene depot on the WP Siding, the track closest to the depot.  The mainline is the next track over, closer to the aisle.  Several structures were added to the Eugene depot scene over the past few years.  They range from a full building for the Eugene Freight Depot (distant background just above the water tower) through a truncated building (Eugene Planning mockup on the far right) to a building flat (Zellerbach Paper warehouse just below the thermostat “in the sky”).  My RIP (Repair In Place) track area has a backlog of repairs needed.  Most of these cars are awaiting parts or something else (like weight in a closed-up car).  I did work through a couple of the cars here as I prepare for my next operating session, so there is some movement.


Sweeping over the Willamette River and past the Borden Chemical plant, we enter Springfield.


Rolling through Springfield, we find most of the major structures now in place.  The large Rosboro Lumber mill is in the foreground.  Even as a selectively compressed facility, it still justifies the frequent heavy switching service it receives.


Sweeping around the turnback curve at the end of the Springfield peninsula, we pass industries located along the former Marcola Branch.  The large wood chemicals plant (Neste Resins, now Arclin) takes much of the space, but the old agricultural business is still represented.


As we approach Oakridge, we pass through Westfir, site of the former Western Lumber Company mill (later owned by Hines Lumber before a major fire closed the mill).  Western Lumber had the contract for processing timber cut during the building of the Natron Cutoff—the Cascade Line.


I could not resist the slight time-warp represented by the Willamette and Pacific (successor to the SP operation of the Westside lines in the Willamette Valley) orange and black wood chip car.  The W&P repainted a former SP chip car in the school colors for Oregon State University.  Their leased track runs through the OSU campus next to the athletic facilities and the School of Forestry.  Go Beavers!


My sawmill is represented by kit-bashed parts from the Walthers sawmill complex.  That model was based on the nearby Hull-Oakes mill in Alpine, Oregon.  This was one of the last steam-powered sawmills in the country.  Though now electrically driven, it has the niche business of milling large old-growth timber.


Piercing the (oak-covered) ridge separating it from Westfir, we enter Oakridge, the historic helper station at the base of the big Cascade Mountain climb.  Though an anachronism, I retain Oakridge as my helper station into the diesel era.  We are meeting our helpers on the next track over, while a RR-East train waits on the siding further to the left.  My Oakridge engine shed mock-up can be seen in the distance—mostly just roofs over three tracks.


Cutting in our mid-train helpers at Oakridge.  Our train has been cut and the helpers are crossing over to our track. The too-tight clearances of my engine shed are evident in this end-on view on the left.


Beginning the major climb out of Oakridge, we cross Salmon Creek.  The foreground track leads to the other major sawmill in the area:  Pope and Talbot.  I hope to tackle the long-delayed bridges for the Pope and Talbot switch lead this coming winter.


Continuing the climb out of Oakridge, we pass under Montieth Rock (aka “Rooster Rock”), an interesting volcanic plug.


Climbing through McCredie Springs, we cross Eagle Creek.


We pass another RR-West train at Wicopee.  Noisy Creek trestle is high in the background.


Climbing out of Wicopee, my RR crosses Salt Creek trestle, the largest steel viaduct on the line.  Oregon Highway 58 crosses underneath the trestle.


Our train crosses Noisy Creek trestle which is book-ended by rock sheds and tunnels.


Our train enters Cruzatte, site of my current scenery efforts.


The company village at Cruzatte provides housing for the train operators (left) and the trackwork section gang (center).  With the new forest backdrop, this scene is coming alive!


We exit Cruzatte through a tunnel and out onto Shady Creek trestle, the third and final large steel viaduct on the line.


Our climb takes us through the longer rock shed for Tunnel 5, into the Summit Tunnel, Number 3, and into Cascade Summit.  Here we first pass the section gang housing.


Having reached the summit, our helpers are cut out of our train. The Beatty Spur is the track to the right (closest to the aisle) where helper units were often collected prior to moving back down the hill for their next push.  Train Order Operator housing is to the left as are water tanks of the steam era.


Our journey ends at Crescent Lake.  Just as the Eugene Arrival-Departure Yard, this is a twelve-track reverse-loop staging yard.  Historically, Crescent Lake was the demarcation between the Portland and Shasta Divisions of the SP.  It had a modest holding yard, even more modest engine facilities, and a station with Train Order Operators for the two Divisions.


My railroad is maturing with a gradual rise of the overall detail level.  Some years see major growth spurts and others see more consolidation.  This past year has been consolidation. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023


With acceptable ground (earth) cover at Cruzatte, I moved on to the forest in this area.  My next task after the basic earth application was to apply further covering for the forest floor.  My original intent was to use ground up leaves, but I grew impatient, so I dug into scenery supplies I have been acquiring for years.  In spite of my original intent to not use ground foam, I dove in, using Woodland Scenics fine foam in “Earth” and “Earth Blend” colors.  I began the application by painting undiluted white glue to a strip of terrain against the wall (backdrop).  


Before I applied the ground foam, I installed a band of tufts left over from the coconut mat used for “branch disks” for my Douglas Fir tree models.  My process for creating the disks has me tearing corners off the rough-formed disk to start the rounding process.  This produces lots of small tufts of the coconut mat.  Added to the mound of these tufts were other pieces of mat that were too sparse to use as branch disks.  I had quite a mound of this material to use at Cruzatte.


Initial band of forest floor ground cover applied along the wall at East Cruzatte.  The dark conifer green tufts are remainders provided by my tree making process.  An initial sprinkling of ground foam has been applied as well.


I followed the tuft band against the wall with sprinkles of the Woodland Scenics fine ground foam.  I began with the “Earth Blend” applied in patches and then a more general sprinkling of the “Earth” color.  Note the “Earth” color darkened a bit when it hit the white glue.  It dried/set darker than the raw material in the shaker jug.  


When I started planting trees, I found my first estimate for the width of the forest floor treatment was way too narrow.  I removed the trees, placed toothpicks in the mounting holes so I could find the holes again, and then applied more white glue and then ground foam.


Initial (too narrow) band of forest floor treatment at Cruzatte.


Final broad band treatment of forest floor color and texture.  The ground foam shaker jugs are in the foreground with the “earth blend” color closest to the camera.  Compare the colors of the two jugs to the finished application on the layout above.


With the forest floor applied and glue set, I vacuumed the loose scenic material and began planting trees.  I am glad I chose to form my terrain with foam insulation board and a Sculptamold cover.  Tree installation simply required a brief hole start with an awl and then inserting and driving in the tree spikes at the base of the trees.  The “tree spikes” are a half of a round toothpick.  I often needed to hammer the awl through the top shell using my fist.  The top shell could have a thick crust thanks to the thick coat of white glue used to fix the ground foam and the sanded grout before that.  


Using my fist to drive my awl to form the initial hole for tree planting.


I eventually learned to use higher power reading glasses and extra light to help find the hole I just punched.  


Although old growth Douglas Fir can be 150 feet tall (HO scale about 18 inches tall), I chose to use a mix of 9- and 11-inch tall trees for most of my forest with some 7-inch tall trees around the edges representing second growth.  This is an artistic decision meant to keep the focus on the trains while also dealing with steeper terrain slopes than the natural angle of repose.  


The big hill in my Cruzatte scene opposite the train order station.  I will need to apply something to represent the top root structure to conceal the tree mounting spikes currently visible at the base of the trees.


The forest at Cruzatte.


Water tank vignette at East Cruzatte.


I installed about two hundred trees in my Cruzatte scene and need another thirty or so to complete the scene between tunnels.  The forest I have now installed at Cruzatte  brings that scene closer to the vision I have had for my layout since the beginning—the SP climbing the Cascades through a deep Douglas Fir forest.

Thursday, July 13, 2023


With WOOPS completed for 2023 and the Eugene and Springfield industrial scenes settling in, it was time to return to the mountains on my railroad for the next stage of scenery.  In January 2020, I completed the base terrain around the railroad with one small exception at Salmon Creek.  The terrain formation involved making the basic landform using insulating foam and then covering it with colored Sculptamold.  It was time to start adding a dirt covering.

I considered several techniques for dirt, beginning with actual dirt.  I discarded that as too much work, especially given the size of my railroad.  Further, I did not feel I had a good long-term supply of dirt.  Real dirt requires sifting for size and should be baked to ensure any micro-organisms are dead/inert.  My past experiences with dirt have seen color shifts as the dirt gets wet and mixes with glue.  


I also considered Woodland Scenics ground foam.  I was not entirely satisfied with the color range available.  I may revisit this as I proceed, but for now, I need to get the basic “dirt” covering onto the tinted Sculptamold.


My solution has been sanded grout.  This is available in quantity and in a wide variety of colors.  I selected three colors that seemed to match photos of the terrain alongside the SP Cascade Line.  I selected colors that I name (for convenience) sand, mocha and gray.


Basic sanded grout colors: sand, mocha and gray.


When I did a test application using sand and mocha, I found the colors a bit too intense.  I found simple mixes to provide a better color selection for most applications.  I chose a 1:1 mix of sand and mocha as a good, basic, dirt color.  A 1:1 mix of mocha and gray provided a good transition to rocky areas.  I can see a 1:1 mix of sand and gray will be useful in transitioning to the slide areas under Noisy Creek and Shady Creek trestles (viaducts).  


Earth mixes: sand+gray, sand+mocha, gray+mocha.


I chose my Cruzatte scene as the first area to receive the dirt covering.  Most of this used the sand+mocha mix, though I used a bit of the gray+mocha mix leading to rock areas.  Note to self: get on to the rock castings!  


Beginning the earth (dirt) covering at Cruzatte.  I painted a slightly diluted (with water) mix of white glue onto the surface and then sprinkled the earth grout mix onto the wet surface.


The photos below show my efforts so far at Cruzatte.  In both cases, I stopped short of significant rock areas.  This will be particularly true for very steep slopes leading down to the Wicopee scene below.


Cruzatte with dirt applied.


RR-East Cruzatte with Wicopee below.  The gray expanse of very steep terrain slope connecting the two scenes begs for rock treatment!


Scenery treatments have begun on my railroad!

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

WOOPS 2023 – 2

In early June, we held our regional model railroad operating event, WOOPS 2023 (Western Oregon OPerationS).  The event featured fifty “Boomer” (travelling railroad workers) Operators from around the West operating a dozen of our local model railroads.  I conducted two sessions for the extended weekend event.  Friday’s session was covered in the previous post:

After a scramble to re-stage my railroad on Friday evening and Saturday, I held my second session on Sunday.  


I had a full “Boomer” crew scheduled for Sunday.  One last-minute drop-out cleared way for a last-minute gain of a young man from Switzerland who was touring railroad sites and activities in the West.  I was glad to slip him into this operating session.  A neighborhood young man also showed up (as previously invited to do when he visited a regular operating session with his mother).  One of my “Boomer” crew members took him under his wing and began teaching him the art of model railroad operations.


Follow along with photos from my second WOOPS 2023 operating session.


Attached to the Dispatcher’s panel was Rick Kang’s crew nameplate.  Rick taught us much about dispatching a railroad.  We dedicated WOOPS 2023 to Rick Kang, Chuck Clark and Tom Dill, three gentlemen who contributed much to our area model railroad operations.  All three passed in the last three years.


My in-briefing included description of the Direct Traffic Control blocks on my railroad.  Rick Kang set up the mountain grade blocks in a way that allowed an up-hill train to advance without Dispatcher instruction to the next siding up hill.  This has been useful when traffic (on railroad and on the radio) gets heavy.




Seth N. (rear) dispatched the morning half of the session, with mentoring by regular Dispatcher John B. (front).  Seth operated here before and fell right into the dispatching rhythm.


The Eugene Yard crew discusses their duties.  Jim B. (background) describes the yard work to my young neighbor, E.S.  Keith S. (seated served as the RR-West end switcher.  Mark S. (center, facing) worked the Eugene City Switcher, which serves the industries at Eugene against the backdrop.  Jim R. (light blue shirt with back turned) served as the Eugene Yardmaster.  Jim drew a high-numbered crew chit and ended up with the Yardmaster job.  He did well with my limited instructions.




John W. was drafted as the Arrival-Departure Yardmaster.  He did well, even without a full switching crew.  Thanks John!

Traffic got quite congested at Springfield on occasion.  Dave H. (black WOOPS shirt) looks on as Ollie F. (red shirt, our Swiss visitor) moves a train through Springfield.  Dave H. had the Marcola Turn which at this point was occupying a Drill track at Springfield.  Meanwhile, another through train occupies the mainline in the middle of Springfield.  I understand why the SP eventually developed the Judkins siding between the Eugene Depot (RR-West end of Eugene) and Springfield.  It was an important safety valve for heavy traffic in or out of Eugene.


Dave H. works the Marcola Turn with a significant block of cars exchanged on the Weyerhaueser Interchange tracks and other local work on spurs off the branch “main.”


Ed S. drew the Oakridge Turn.  He has organized his train and has just pulled cars from Pope and Talbot in the distance behind him.


Mike C. (blue shirt) is the helper engineer assisting road engineer Doug L at McCredie Springs.


Doug L. and Mike C. have gotten their train up to Cascade Summit as local crew mentor Pete H. (black shirt, middle) looks on.


As with Friday, another happy crew on Sunday.  A couple of crew members had to leave to catch airplanes home before we took this group photo.  Al D. (gray shirt on the left) dispatched the afternoon part of the session.