The Southern Pacific Cascade Line seeks to capture major features of the SP mainline in Oregon:  the Cascade Hill climb, major forest products industry, and a smattering of other industry in the Willamette Valley.  The resulting layout plan reflects those priorities with highest emphasis (and space devoted) to “the Hill.”  Doing justice to the mountain mainline left no room for other features of the SP in Oregon, including the coastal branches or the original Siskiyou Line.  The mainline “bug” bit me early in life and remains the core inspiration for modeling.

Southern Pacific’s Oregon mainline was dominated by the 44 miles of 1.8% grade from the helper station of Oakridge to Cascade Summit, along Odell Lake.  This was the longest sustained mountain climb on a railroad renowned for tough mountain climbs (Donner, Tehachapi, Beaumont, Cuesta).  In the days of steam power, SP’s signature cab forward ACs were standard power on the Hill.  They were supplanted by hoards of “covered wagon” F-7 diesel-electrics and SD-9 “cadillacs” before yielding to even larger six-axle EMD locomotives: SD-40s and SD-45s of straight, “flare” and “tunnel” configurations.  The deep thrum-thrum of heavy power in “Run 8” (maximum throttle) echoing off forested mountain walls left a lasting impression of heavy duty railroading.

The following images, captured in September, 1973, capture the essence of the scene as SP X-9132-West climbs out of Heather to cross the Salt Creek Trestle and Highway 58, lifting another drag of forest products toward California markets.

As the lead power disappears uphill toward Wicopee, the mid train helper storms into view.

My HO scale SP Cascade Line seeks to provide a stage for recreating such scenes, serving as a tribute to the land and the people of Oregon and the SP.

The prototype Cascade Line was completed in 1926, spanning the then-existing gap between Oakridge above the Willamette Valley and Kirk on the east side of the Cascades, north of Klamath Falls.  This “Natron Cutoff” replaced the original Oregon mainline of the Siskiyou Line.  The new line reduced total distance, climb, gradient and curvature, providing the SP with a line better suited to the heavy forest products traffic that developed with the improved transportation.  The line between Eugene and Crescent Lake formed the Springfield Subdivision of the Portland Division of the SP.  With the 1964 reorganization into the Oregon Division, this section of railroad became the Cascade Subdivision.

My HO scale model railroad concentrates on the Springfield Subdivision between Eugene and Crescent Lake.  The layout schematic below shows the emphasis of station selections focused on the mountain grade between Oakridge and Cascade Summit.  

Stations were selected based on operational significance and are roughly evenly spaced up the Hill:

Oakridge: steam era helper station

McCredie Springs: Maintenance of Way base

Wicopee: major water stop and still the site of an operating water plug

Cruzatte: wheel cooling stop for downhill steam trains

Cascade Summit: top of the mountain grade

Wyes are used for turning locomotives at Oakridge and Cascade Summit. 

In addition to the helper locomotive facilities at Oakridge, two large lumber mills were served:  Pope and Talbot, just geographically east of town and Western Lumber at Westfir, just geographically west of town.

Springfield has long served as a major forest products industry hub and will does so on the model railroad.

Eugene provided a concentration of forest products, agricultural and other industries and served as a major operating hub for the Southern Pacific once the Natron Cutoff was completed.   Eugene featured major yard facilities for sorting freight and originating trains.  A difficult design challenge for the layout plan was to capture features of the historic Eugene RR facilities while keeping it within the layout space available and its function with respect to the rest of the model railroad.  


Track plan as of January 2015.  This plan reflects actual construction including the Oakridge wye angling into the “nook” space and the Springfield “lobe” moved closer to Eugene.

The track plan for the HO scale SP Cascade Line reflects the priorities established for it and the space available.  The highest priority for the layout was to represent the climb over the Cascades from Oakridge to Cascade Summit, supporting manned helper operations.  This immediately presented two design challenges: providing for a long mountain climb (by model RR standards), and locating the pair of locomotive turning wyes (at Oakridge and the Summit).

Original construction plan as of April 2012.

Years of concept definition and notional layout design efforts paid off when the final basement configuration was identified for our dream house plan.  The notional design efforts often featured a fold-back of the mountain grade along one wall.   The actual Cascade Line provides just such a feature as the line makes a large “S” configuration of about five miles length near the middle of the climb.  Fortunately, this track feature also has an important scenic feature—the Salt Creek Trestle, shown as the inspiration view for this blog as well as its background.  The turn-back curve with the trestle becomes a major scenic feature of the layout design.  Further, the prototype track arrangement provides ample justification of “stacked tracks”— two levels of the mainline simultaneously in view.

Locating the wyes logically fell to the top nook corner and the next one over  (central top).  Though an early layout design swapped the positions of the two wyes (Oakridge’s being more central in the plan), the final arrangement provided a longer mainline climb and a better passageway around the Oakridge wye tail.  Actual construction provided the inspiration to angle the Oakridge wye tail into the nook, making better use of the space.  This is seen in the current (January 2015) track plan.

The length of mountain climb (about 245 feet) provided 40 inches of climb at the prototype 1.8% from the base level.  The base level for Oakridge and the rest of the valley cities was established at 48 inches based on operating experience with a number of layouts, most notably the Cal Central Club layout where I was a member for over three decades.  This base height then established the summit height around  88-89 inches, providing an opportunity for easy passage underneath the summit trackage.   As seen in the image below, Cascade Summit was be built out over the track coming up out of Oakridge, forming an operator “tunnel” for the lower level.  Even my 6’ 4” frame is not challenged by the modest height under Cascade Summit.  The Summit scene maintains adequate clearance from the room ceiling which is at 9’ 6”.

Climb up out of Oakridge (off to the left) with Cascade Summit overhead.

As the layout design process proceeded, it became clear that Oakridge represented a key operating and scenic feature.  The layout plan provides for all tracks present at Oakridge in 1954.  Compromises were necessary, notably in the relative positions of the depot and engine facilities, but the result should operate much as the original during the era of steam helpers.  Flanking Oakridge are the pair of large lumber mills: Pope and Talbot to the geographic east and Western Lumber at Westfir to the geographic west.  Both will be modestly represented, but they should provide lots of work for the Oakridge Turn.

Fleshing out the remainder of the railroad are Springfield and Eugene.  Springfield is contained within a large turn-back loop—a compromise made necessary by the approximately square central layout space.  The design for Springfield attempts to capture major industry located along the mainline.  Also provided is a modest set of tracks representing the Marcola Branch and interchange with the Weyerhauser operation. Springfield switchers (three different local freights) should be kept very busy!

The design for the layout’s base yard at Eugene provided the greatest design challenge.  The final design represents many compromises, great simplification, and recognition of the top priorities for the rest of the layout.  Modeling Eugene at any time after the Natron Cutoff (Cascade Line) was built could consume more space than the entire basement.  The design for Eugene features the Eugene depot, an Arrival/Departure (A/D) yard that also serves as open staging, a classification yard (7 tracks plus run-around) sized to serve the modeled railroad (rest of the layout), “City” industry, and engine facilities.  The engine facilities are located inside the reverse loop staging formed by the A/D yard.  They will be accessed via a roll-under chair—one of the toughest design compromises for the entire layout.  

Returning to the top end of the layout, reverse loop staging is provided at Crescent Lake.  This loop is suspended from the ceiling.  As described for Cascade Summit, the resulting layout structure provides at least seven feet of clearance underneath.  Crescent Lake staging will have optical position detection and probably closed circuit TV to assist operators.  A stool, ladder or stand will be provided so operators can make a direct observation of their train prior to beginning a descent down the mountain toward Oakridge.

The plan for the HO scale SP Cascade Line should provide for interesting mainline operation and lots of opportunity for individual car movement serving industries both large and small.

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