Monday, September 18, 2017


A growing activity in our model railroad hobby is that of regional and national operating events.  These events typically occupy two or three days for a long weekend of model railroad operation.  Usually conducted as invitation-only, these events gather model railroad operators from near and far.  Now that I have completed my own railroad’s mainline and gotten through organizational efforts for an NMRA National Convention (PDX2015), I at last am able to participate in these events. 

Last year, I participated in Great Basin Getaway: for five posts ending in: and a more localized event in Olympia, Washington, known as OlyOps.  This year, we conducted our first regional event for Western Oregon, WOOPS:    Model railroad operations have also become a feature at NMRA National Conventions, just as my own efforts helped create for Portland in 2015.

I was delighted to receive an invitation to this year’s operating event in Vancouver, British Columbia—VanRails.  Three of my regular operating crew also received invitations, so we got reservations on Amtrak for a train journey to and from Vancouver.  In spite of the late arrival hour and an oh-too-early departure from Vancouver, this was a great way to travel to such an event.  Fortunately, we joined up with many other good friends, with vehicles, so we were able to carpool out to the operating layouts from the central hotel used for the event. 

About fifty of us were invited, including guest operators (boomers) from up and down the West Coast and others from across the continent, including one from the distant East Coast.  It was great for me to meet with many of my old friends from the San Francisco Bay Area, plus a number of other folk I have met in the past several years.  Yes, the effort for PDX2015 has had payoffs in many new friendships.

The first layout I operated on was that of Brian Clogg.   Brian’s layout represents the southern end of the British Columbia Railway, from North Vancouver to Lillooet.  I drew the Checkamus Local, serving the one fictional town held over from Brian’s former layout.  This still was a lot of fun, as I had plenty of local switching to do while dodging through trains.  Herewith are several photos from our session.

Brian F. rolls through Checkamus while I stay out of the way. 

Bill S. works the Squamish Yard.  Squamish was the southern end of the contiguous rails of predecessor Pacific Great Eastern until 1950’s construction pushed through the rocky spine separating Howe Sound from Vancouver.

Greg W. works his train up toward Lillooet.  Most of Brian’s layout is double deck.

Rene G. takes a break from Dispatching (RTC in Canada) as the session winds down.

My operating slot on Saturday was on Mike Chandler’s layout.  Mike is a retired motive power officer from the Canadian National.  He also is an excellent photographer, published author, and NMRA Master Model Railroader.  All of those accolades fit him—and more!  Mike is a super guy.  His layout is a jewel, and “runs like a Swiss watch” (or should that be a railroader’s watch?).  Featured on his layout are many scratch-built structures—most done in Strathmore board.  The Dispatcher for our session was connected via telephone to a retired professional railroad Dispatcher in Calgary.  The train order operator/agents were his eyes and ears.  I operated a local (extra) freight in the morning and then took a turn as one of the agent/train-order-operators in the afternoon.

Mike C. briefs us on his base yards.  The two ends of the railroad share a peninsula and engine facility.  Seen here are (left to right) Mike C, Dave T, and Lloyd L.  We took our photos during the in-briefing, as Mike did not want us blocking the aisle with photography during the session—a wise choice.

Mike’s just-completed sawmill, installed at Neral.  Sales is the lower track to the right.  I served as the Train Order Operator for these two stations during the second half of the session.

Lofty is the summit of Mike’s railroad.  It features a turning wye for helpers.

The scenic elements at Lofty can be raised with a counter-weighted system to allow easy access to the track.  In a similar vein, that pair of rock sheds on the left side of the photo hinge outward to allow access to the track.

Black Mountain is just downhill from Lofty.  We had a four-way meet here during the afternoon session.  Busy!  I was kept busy setting up train order pads for my opposite number T.O. operator as he copied the flurry of orders setting up and clearing this many-train meet.

The mine at Silver Cliff.  Do NOT try hauling more than six ore cars past the switch just out of view to the right!  Eight ore cars were more than my loco could push back up the 3.5% grade.

On Sunday, I operated on Scott Calvert’s HO-scale version of the Canadian Pacific Railway Boundary Subdivision.  Scott and I both had new basements with houses over them built around 2011-2012 and have been filling them with railroads since.  Scott has several interesting layout design features helping him recreate his vision of this prototype railway.

Castlegar is in the foreground.  Slightly above and behind it (to be separated by a backdrop) is Slocan.  Both feature wyes with the tail tracks used by full trains going into or out of staging.  An interesting feature is the nesting of these two wyes, reducing the usual impact of a wye on the layout space.

Nelson is the Division Pont and base yard for the Boundary Subdvision.  Two switch crews and a Yardmaster were kept busy here.

Scott (on the far left) is briefing the crew prior to session start.  Hinged in front of him is a swing gate connecting Nelson to the rest of the layout.  The swing gate is stoutly built as seen by the diagonal brace.  Seen here are Scott (left), Al F, Ken R, Dave A, and Dave D.

Detail of the track joint when the swing gate is in the closed position.  Note the copper plates that firmly fix the rail geometry and the screw adjustment for height and horizontal alignment.

Guest Dispatcher for our session was Don M., one of my long-term model railroad friends.  Don kept the railroad flowing.  Behind him is one of the staging yards.  This one joins the layout at Castlegar.

Posted on the wall above the climb up out of Castlegar is a schematic of Scott’s layout with photos of significant scenes he intends modeling.  This is a great way to show the connection between the prototype railway and the model.

Our hosts for this event were most gracious.  We had a social event on Friday evening at the Calverts, attended by something on the order of seventy-five folk, including spouses.  Saturday evening, we had a no-host dinner at a restaurant a block from the hotel.  This was followed by a pair of presentations back at the hotel.  One of these was by my good friend from my SF Bay Area days, Don Marenzi.  Don presented results of his research into the copper industry and its connection to railroads.  Although Don previously presented on this to a Bay Area SIG meet, this most recent version focused on copper mining in British Columbia. 

These regional and national operating events attract serious model railroad operators with the resources to travel, including time.  Many/most of us have operating layouts, so we each take turns hosting.  The discussions in the hotel lobby and over meals reflect our shared interest and result in sharing techniques, ideas and progress on each of our dream railroads.

A big THANK YOU to our Canadian hosts for VanRails!  I hope to return in 2019!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Structure construction progress has moved around to Westfir and its major sawmill—historically, Western Lumber Co.  Western Lumber predates the completion of the Southern Pacific’s Natron Cutoff—the Cascade Line.  Established at Westfir in 1923, Western Lumber Co. was built to tap into the vast timber resources found on the west slope of the Cascades.  It had its own logging railroad, but depended upon the SP for transportation of its products.  Western Lumber built on a site alongside the North Fork of the Willamette River, just over the ridge from Oakridge. Oakridge was the end of track for the SP at the time, but that would soon change, as SP’s legal difficulties (attempted break-up by the Federal Government) were resolved and the Natron Cutoff was given a green light for completion.  Indeed, Western Lumber Co. got the contract for clearing timber from the new railroad right of way.

I chose as a base for my version of Western Lumber the Walthers “Mountain Lumber Company Sawmill” kit (933-3058) and outbuildings (933-3144).  These structure kits are based upon the Hull Oakes mill in Alpine, OR.  The Hull Oakes mill was steam-powered for its primary band saw during a tour in 2008, but electrification had taken over by 2013.  This is an historic sawmill filling an important niche market of being capable of cutting old growth and similar large-sized logs.  The Walthers kits provide a decent rendition of many features typical of western sawmills.

An important additional resource for me was a book published by Western Scale Models:  “Modeling a Steam Powered Sawmill.”  Published in 2010, this spiral bound book draws from efforts documenting three such mills (Hull Oakes here in Oregon and two mills in British Columbia) on the West Coast.  I do not know if this excellent book remains in print, but refer those interested to Western Scale Models, P.O. Box 1760, Richland, WA 99352.

Excellent resource for typical steam-powered sawmill layout. 

Example drawing from the steam-powered sawmill book illustrating construction of the Hull Oakes mill.

Typical of my use of Walthers kits, I chose to expand and modify the basic kit components.  Inspired by the Hull Oakes layout, I added to the length of the main building and the awning for the green chain (the roof perpendicular to the main roof).  Armed with the drawings from the sawmill book, I also decided to add roof trusses and the siding truss for the opening for the green chain.  These were simply represented using Evergreen styrene dimensional shapes and rods.

Side wall splices for Walthers sawmill kit expansion.

Roof splices for main sawmill.

Simple assembly jig for roof trusses.

Main sawmill structure components.  Three roof trusses have their vertical rods.  The other four trusses are awaiting delivery of more styrene rod.  Note the side truss for the space over the green chain.

Assembly of the modified Walthers kit components was relatively straight-forward, though this remains a work in process.  The basic walls were prepared and then given coats of base paint.  I chose to model the exterior walls as weathered wood—a common treatment for mills in Oregon.  Several layers of paint washes using acrylic paints yielded my desired effect which can be seen in the pictures of the semi-completed structures.  Similarly, the roof panels were spliced and painted.  The corrugated roofs received my rust treatment that began with colored pencils, just as I had done on the main structure for Clear Fir at Springfield.  (  I added to this effect with AIM weathering powders.

Rust weathering with AIM powders underway for the canopy over the lumber loading dock.

Individual components were assembled into the structures for the sawmill and supporting functions such as the boiler house, chipper, and log de-barker.  I am working still on the structures and scenic arrangement.  One key task for the future is configuring the log chain down to a mill pond alongside the river.  Expect a future post on this effort.  For now, I am filling the space for Western Lumber with representative structures and developing that scene.

View of Western Lumber Co. at Westfir with the main sawmill and the canopy over the lumber loading area.  Other scene elements can be seen in the background including the truss bridge for the railroad crossing of the North Fork of the Willamette River and a tunnel portal mock-up for the tunnel through the ridge into Oakridge.

Another view of the sawmill structures for Western Lumber.