Complete Electrified Milwaukee

When I lived in Seattle we’d go camping on the East side of the Cascades a few times a year. I-90 climbs the West slope of Snoqualmie Pass paralleling the old Milwaukee Road roadbed. I didn’t know what I was looking at other than an obvious railbed complete with high trestles and a long tunnel at the summit. When I found the Milwaukee Road ran heavy traction through the Pass I was sold.

I found a video titled “Complete Electrified Milwaukee” on eBay. It’s $45. That’s a lot for a video. I have had a difficult time finding quality video of Milwaukee Road Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain Division electrified operations. I went back and forth and bought it.

Color me unhappy.

The cover art is promising. Given the title, I expected lots of film and stills of Milwaukee Road traction doing its thing. And there is some of that. In the first half. The video has five chapters, but one is devoted to the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific. It’s filler.

The narration provides a fair amount of facts on Milwaukee Road history and operational practices over the covered Divisions. Traction operational footage is focused on Little Joe’s in the Rocky Mountain Division. There are a few shots of boxcabs and a bit on the EF-1 switcher, but that’s about it.

The Tacoma chapter focuses on the Pacific Coast Division, with a focus on Snoqualmie Pass. It appears all of the footage was shot after traction operations ceased in 1974. There’s an SD-40-2. There’s another. Oh, a high trestle in the Pass. Well, by golly, it’s another SD-40-2.

The video is marginally useful for modeling (or even seeing) Milwaukee Road traction. Absolutely not $45 worth. Color me experienced.


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Loads and Steam

But not steaming loads. Work continues on fabricating loads for the open-top cars.

Found this organizer at Jo-Ann’s Fabrics. The compartments are the right size to store log and coal loads for individual cars. The larger space holds a pair of tweezers. And speaking of coal loads:

Filling the Hoppers

There’s only one industry on the layout with a requirement for coal, but somehow I’ve acquired five hoppers. I did need a couple of coal loads. Some gondolas I’d bought came with coal loads, and I looked to see if those could be re-purposed for hopper cars.

The original is too long and a bit too narrow. I looked to see if the load could be cut so that it looked right in the smaller car.


Load after cutting.

Full-strength white glue coated the load, then scale coal added.

Original load on bottom.

I wasn’t happy with the first effort, so added more coal.

I know that coal comes in various grades and sizes, but I’m not modeling the coal industry. Generic coal is plenty good enough for this layout.

A quick and effective project from existing stock. The load is still slightly too narrow, but the added coal disguises that pretty well. I have to say that making loads has turned into much more of a project than I’d imagined, but I am happy with the improvement in the layout.

Just for fun I took a shot of the hopper from an N-scale perspective.

Steam Comes to the NPP!

I envisioned the layout with Northern Pacific’s class S-4 Ten Wheeler in mind, but found that there are no N-scale models. The S-4’s served for nearly half a century, well into the 1950’s, and a large number were assigned to the Tacoma Division. It is one of the major layout goals to have a model of this locomotive.

In the meantime, NW2 106 has been standing in. The locomotive is correct for period if not place, as the six NW2’s in the Northern Pacific’s employ were all assigned to the Eastern end of the line.

With the freight car fleet essentially complete, I decided to put in an order to Baldwin and purchased Bachmann’s undec 4-6-0. I ordered it through The Hobby Smith in Portland, and the price included them checking the locomotive operation and setting the address. They’ll also ship locally (at least out to where I live) price inclusive. The Hobby Smith does nothing but model trains, and it’s hard not to come out with something.

This is my first scale model steam locomotive, and I was very curious to see how it ran on my sometimes-too-prototypical industrial track. The Diesel runs reliably across the layout, so I know the track works.

Not unexpectedly, the steamer found every section of dirty track and dodgy rail. Really only a few spots where work had to be done; mostly cleaning the track better.

The locomotive is destined for a heavy rebuild, so I’m not doing anything to it. It runs smoothly and the stock speed table is a bit different than the NW2, so you know you’re running a different locomotive. There are also some operational differences around the layout, primarily siding capacity, so some moves have to be done differently with the steamer. It’s fun.



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Activity on the NPP

After several months hiatus from the layout, there’s been some activity.

Rolling Stock Weathering/Upgrades

From the previous post you can see that having another go at weathering the fleet morphed into new flatcar decks. I figured that as I was making new decks, I may as well install the stakes and replace broken details.

I took all the stakes I had plus a pack of Micro-Trains replacement stakes and painted them Flat Red, then Flat Black. A dusting of Raw Umber pastel finished the prep. Five brake wheel sets fashioned from 0.5 mm rod and PE brake wheels from Gold Medal Models got the same treatment.

I opened the stake pockets with a #70 drill bit in a pin vise. Prior to insertion I touched the end of the stake with CA. I found that I much prefer Atlas stakes to MT. The Atlas stakes are molded with a stop that makes insertion consistent, and they fit into the pockets more easily than the MT version. A small pair of spring-loaded needle-nose pliers was the insertion tool of choice because it was the most comfortable and gave the most control. There were a lot of stakes. As with all cars this weathering go-round I removed the coupler trip pins by grabbing them with the pliers and gently twisting until they came out.

There is ample opportunity to see log flats where I live, and they all have wood debris on them. To simulate this I dabbed the car decks with spots of diluted white glue applied with a cotton swab, then sprinkled sifted sawdust I’d saved from the lumber stack project.

After the glue sets I shake off the excess and remove larger pieces with tweezers. Very little stays on the car, but I’m just looking for the suggestion of debris.

Completed Flat Cars

Cars at various stages

‘New’ and ‘Old’

The flatcars turned out to be more of a project than I was planning on, but one thing led to another, as things will tend to do. This took about four baseball games, including pre-and post-game.

Continuing On . . . 

With Cheney Lumber nearing completion and a decent looking flatcar fleet, my thoughts turned to a project I’d had in mind since doing the woodpile at the mill: loads for the flats.

The operating scenario is that logs come in by ferry from the Peninsula, and then shuttled to wood products mills around Tacoma. The timber dimensions are determined by the Cheney Lumber log pile, so making loads is a matter of making more logs like that.

During the flatcar upgrade I’d acquired enough Northern Pacific flats to fill out the fleet, and I figured I’d need loads for about half. Prototype photos show gondolas hauling timber, so I wanted enough loads for four of those.

As for quantity, the Cheney lumber pile took about 750 individual ‘logs’. A little arithmetic revealed that to make the number of loads desired would require a similar number. Oh my. I wasn’t ready for that. ‘Trainload’ takes on a new meaning when you have to make one’s worth of cargo. Well, at least I had experience.

After painting a number of bamboo skewers with Apple Barrel’s Nutmeg Brown, Honey Brown, and Black acrylics, I set to a-choppin. I’d say at this point my Chopper has paid for itself several times.

I built a simple form from 0.40 styrene scrap matching the cross-section of a flatcar with stakes, then piled in the logs and soaked them with wet water and diluted white glue.

The log load manufacture. The form in the middle of the plate is shorter than the load so it can be peeled out when the glue dries. For the narrower gondola loads I glued a suitable piece of scrap to the interior walls.

The loads were done over the course of about a week.

Loads ready for the mills.

The last two ‘original’ flats are headed to the shops.

I noticed in photos that the prototype didn’t seem to bother with tie-downs if the load wasn’t much higher than the stakes, so I didn’t model them. I’m glad this is done, and I got to listen to a couple of baseball games.

Cheney Lumber

Amid the other projects I poured the Cheney Lumber log pond. The prototype had a log containment area, and I needed something to fill a corner, so I put in a log pond. The actual mill’s ‘pond’ was actually off Commencement Bay, but photos show it to be similar to tamer bodies of water: dark and flat. I’d prepped the area a while ago, and went ahead and poured the pond.

I was hoping for three pours but there was only practically room for two. The basin is coated with Durham’s Water Putty and stained with India Ink. I was hoping for a translucent effect along the shoreline and on the left you can see that a bit but I made the first pour too dark.

I believe the first pour was also too cool. There was a bit of cloudiness and that can happen if the ingredients are too cool. For the second pour I warmed the bottles in the microwave for a few seconds and it came out clear.

The first pour was stained with Black acrylic, while the second was very sparingly stained with Black, Light Blue, and a medium green oil paint, but it’s mostly clear. After about an hour I inserted the logs.

I’m OK with the way this turned out, but compared to the texture of harbor, it’s a little boring. ‘Flat as a millpond’ is an expression for a reason, but this is too flat. I probably should have added a little texture prior to inserting the logs. There is some visual interest along the shoreline to salvage the situation. I’m thinking this might be a good place to try static grass.

Home Road Boxcars

I found these at a local hobby shop. I’ve been looking for Northern Pacific boxcars and these Atlas Master Line renditions in two road numbers are decent models. They are free-rolling and mass enough that you’d consider kicking them into sidings. The 1948 build date makes them new cars for the NPP, so they will be lightly weathered.

Besides having to replace the wheels, the primary drawback to these cars is the incredible coupler spacing. I don’t think cushioned underframes were common on the Northern Pacific in 1948, so the spacing is hard to fathom. My Atlas flatcars closely couple. I suppose I could install short-shank couplers, but it’s an annoyance for something that turns a Jackson into a Washington.

Absolutely Don’t Try This At Home

While making the lumber stacks I needed to plane some basswood strip by 1/8″. Not having a planer, I looked around the garage for parts to make one. I came up with this contraption:

A contraption.

That’s a section of 2 x 4 in a bench vise with a router clamped to it. I know that as a work surface the 2 x 4 is crap but there wasn’t any aluminum bar stock around. The rig is pure kludge but was adjustable to the tolerances I needed.

This actually worked pretty well for the first stick. The second had different results:

From the bit marks I figured the stick exited the work area at about 25 MPH. Who says math isn’t useful?

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Flat Car Decks and Lumber Stacks

Some ongoing activities on the Northern Pacific Project:

Rolling Stock Weathering

I bought some Pan Pastels last month and was hoping they’d allow better weathering results than I’ve enjoyed. I’ve read good things about them from folks who’ve used them and the results look good. Model Railroad Hobbyist has a pay video service where the pastels are used and there are some videos on the Net. I haven’t seen the MRH videos, and the ones freely available were uneven.

NPP Pan pastel

I prefer my weathering supplies to be ‘extra sauve’.

My go-to weathering method has been powdered stick pastels applied with brushes, and while underframes are OK, sides and tops give me problems. I decided to have a go with the Pan’s with cars as they came off the layout after operating sessions.

I like them. The various applicators and the fact the powder is mixed with a binding agent allows a high degree of control. And a little bit goes a long way, especially in N. Weathering rolling stock isn’t high on my list of fun hobby times, but the Pan’s make the job more enjoyable.

Weathered and unweathered gondolas:

NPP weathered unweathered gondolas

Flat Car Decks

Along with weathering cars I’ve been looking at flat car decks, or how to improve them. About a third of the NPP’s car fleet are flat cars, and it could use a few more. Flat car decks are highly visible, and there are a lot of them on the NPP. I tried using printed texture on a couple of flats a while back, and while I thought the appearance was improved, the color balance was too light.

Since the cars were going through the weathering mill anyway, I decided to have another go at the decks. After reviewing videos and photos I decided my skills weren’t up to hand-weathering flat car decks to any convincing degree. I turned to another preferred modeling method in printed textures.

Some time ago I purchased a fence model from Clever Models. They specialize in cardstock models and printed textures, and it occurred to me the fence might make a good starting point for a flat car deck.

NPP old fence

The fence in the background

I opened the file and a couple of graphics programs and got busy. The first effort wasn’t quite what I was looking for:

NPP Flat car deck test 1

I printed the texture on plain paper and cut to size. After letting the cars sit for a few days, I decided that while an improvement over molded plastic, it wasn’t quite there. I scaled the resolution so the board texture would print out at about 6″ wide N-scale, then used various settings for hue, saturation, and gamma to make test articles.

NPP Flat car deck test 2

The lower car is one of the earlier efforts

NPP Flat car deck test 3

NPP Flat car deck test 4

I let each batch sit for a few days while I got a feel for how the textures looked. Some were glaringly wrong. What very few images of prototype flat car decks I found showed the wood much lighter than might be expected.

After selecting a couple of acceptable deck shades, I added NBW detail with a suitable rusty brown color. At this level the eye can’t tell a square pixel from a round bolt. I also cut up and rearranged the texture for variety. Some flatcars aren’t decked over bolsters and draft gear, so I made some decks to reflect that. I debated whether to add stake holes to the textures, but decided for this iteration I’d just open them with a knife tip before inserting the stakes.

Rather than glue the textures down as I’d done last time, I wanted to try using sticker paper. This is just what it sounds like: paper on which stickers are printed. I got the idea from an ad I saw in MRH from an outfit that does exactly this: sells sticker textures of flatcar decks. I do not know anything about them or their product other than I saw the ad. And I thought I’d give the idea a try.

After setting the printer and software to the highest resolution, I printed test sheets on plain paper to check that everything was correct. The sticker paper isn’t cheap, and this type of printing sucks up ink.

NPP Flat car deck paper proofs

NPP Flat car deck paper proofs bolster

NPP Flat car and deck

NPP clamping flat car deck

NPP flat car decks installed 1

Three ‘new’ cars and and an ‘old’ one

NPP flat car decks installed 2

NPP flat car deck installation comparison

Decked and undecked cars

I think it’s an improvement, although the shade still looks too light. We’ll see what some weathering  and a shot of Dullcote will do.

Cheney Lumber

I’ve been working on the lumber stacks for Cheney Lumber, and have done all I care to do:

NPP Lumber stacks and flat cars

Only the perimeter stacks in the foreground drying shed are modeled, but all of the stacks on the loading pad are individually assembled and wrapped. There’s another half-cup of cores left, but I think the effect is convincing enough. After aligning and gluing the stacks, only the drying shed and pouring the water remain.

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The NPP Purchasing Dept. has been active recently.

Harbor Freight hobby saw

A hobby saw from Beijing Outlet  Harbor Freight. $40. I gave this a flyer because I needed a way to cut wood for the lumberyard, and $40. The saw is grossly underpowered and uses a non-standard blade. It’s like they had some parts laying around the factory and needed a way to get rid of them. It *will* cut thin stock if you’re patient, but the kerf is a mile wide. Nothing a new motor and blade won’t fix.

New freight cars 170605

A whole bunch of new cars, including seven Milwaukee Road boxcars. Tacoma was the Western terminus for the Milwaukee road, so I’ve wanted some representation for a while. The other boxcars and gondola are western roads while the flatcars and caboose are Northern Pacific. I needed another caboose because the layout will support two operators and a new engine is coming soon. Nothing’s going on the layout yet because of another purchase.

Weathering supplies 170605

A trip to the art store. As operations have become more active I’ve been more frustrated by my initial weathering efforts. They are better than nothing, but unattractive. I’ve read articles in the hobby press on the virtues of Pan Pastels, so I bought some in the usual weathering colors along with some applicators. I’m curious to see how this will go. I’ve got a batch of cars fresh off the layout interchange to start with.

The T-square has a metal blade so I’m hoping this will be a more accurate tool. The stripwood is 3/8″ basswood. I tried cutting balsa for the lumber yard stacks and it was disappointing. The denser basswood should yield better results.

Well. That should keep me busy for a while.


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Trains Large and Small

I took a trip on Amtrak last week between Portland and Seattle. I’ll post on the trip at Fixed Points, but there were some things that fit better here.

Amtrak’s Cascade is the regional service for the Northwest, scheduled between Eugene and Vancouver, BC. Rail service is between Portland and Seattle; everything else is by bus. Compared to driving, the schedule between the Rose and Emerald cities is a good hour faster, and compares favorably with door-to-door air travel times.

BNSF GP-38-2 21 May 2017

BNSF GP-38-2 #2276. Not that I have a great interest in modern power, but wanted to record the weathering. I noticed much of the equipment along the way had a similar dusty white coating. Weathering is one of the weakest parts of my modeling game, so as cars come off the layout I’ll have another go.

Puget Sound aggregate pipe over track

At the southern end of Puget Sound there’s this large pipe over the tracks. It’s an aggregate loader for ships.

Seattle Amtrak shops

Amtrak’s Seattle shops located adjacent to and south of Safeco Field. King Street Station is about 1 km north (behind).

Among the rail equipment nearly everything was home-road. Tank cars and hoppers were leased and not a lot of foreign-road equipment. Boxcars were uncommon. It’s a busy line, and if you were to camp by the tracks you’d see several trains an hour.

Local Trains

PNW Adair Village 22 May 2017

Portland & Western’s GP-39-2 Adair Village running through Hillsboro with a train from the lumber mill.

The (Incomplete) History of the Western Railroads

HIstory of Western Railroads

Saw this book in a bookstore. There is this map:

HIstory of Western Railroads map

There appears to be something missing. Like maybe the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, better known as the Milwaukee Road. A history that omits an entire transcontinental railroad can hardly be called ‘complete’.

Back to the layout

I’ve been working away at the lumber stacks for the Cheney mill. I have enough to where I could start to see how things were going to look:

NPP Cheney lumber stacks 1

That’s a little disappointing. With 35 stacks done and five in the production pipeline, I’m going to need a lot more. I have material for another dozen stacks, but that won’t be enough. I really need more ‘hero’ stacks. The pad in the foreground will be roofed, so I’m using unadorned plinths as stand-ins in the middle, but the loading dock is open.

I’m not really happy with my chosen modeling method: dimensional wooden cores wrapped with printed texture. It’s time-consuming and not totally effective, but it does provide a nice look from normal viewing angles. It’s convincing enough. I’ve discovered that models of stacks of 8′ studs appropriate to the 1940’s aren’t really available. I need to find a way to model this relatively efficiently because I figure with my interest in Northwest railroads this is going to come up again.

Operating on the NPP

As operations grow I’ve discovered that the interchange track is getting more of a workout than envisioned. My thinking was that on a layout this small ‘shipper-receiver’ relationships would stretch credulity. Everything comes from or goes to off-layout. Now that the sawmill side of the layout is taking form, all that product has to go somewhere, and it isn’t the Peninsula. The interchange track was laid with expansion in mind, and I’m considering adding a drop-leaf yard.

Along the waterfront:

NPP switching waterfront 170523

The empties from the mills have been spotted on the pier for the ferry ride to the Peninsula, and the engine is about to run around the two empty cars on the left. After putting the train together and checking brakes, the crew will head for the interchange track. The warehouse is modeled after a prototype in 1948 Tacoma.

Turnout sizes

I downloaded and printed turnout templates from the Fast Tracks site. From top to bottom is a crossover with Nos. 6, 8, 10, and 12 turnouts. I’m planning my next layout with minimum No. 6 turnouts, so the templates are a good way to see how much space track work takes.

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Noodling around with some things on the layout:

Lumber Stacks

I’m still experimenting with lumber stack analogues. I’ve mentioned that I need stacks of lumber for the mill loading dock, but don’t need detailed models for interior stacks. I bought some 3/8″ x 5/8″ basswood sticks because the cut dimensions were close to what I needed for the stacks; I just had to cut them to length.

A short time later I had a pile of cores:

I used white glue to make stacks of four, then applied the printed texture to the sides and top. A look at how things, um, stack up:

The loosely stacked foreground pieces are raw cores, while those behind have texture applied. It appears I only need detailed stacks for the first couple of rows; the rest can probably be raw wood. This particular pad will be covered, making detail even less important. Right now I’m looking at just cutting a slab of wood the right shape for the interior stacks.

Track Re-alignment

Only one section of the layout remains to be detailed, and given that I need a destination for cars arriving from the Peninsula by ferry, the choices are limited to wood product industries. Fortunately no lack of those in 1948 Tacoma.

My concern was that I’d laid the siding on a curve, and it appeared likely the industry would be crane-served. I’m not really looking forward to building another crane, but may not have a choice. I decided to straighten the siding to accommodate a crane.

The original siding with a straightedge:

There’s some weed detail I hoped to preserve. After soaking a folded paper towel and laying it on the track until the towel was dry, I used a putty knife to pry up the ballast and track:

The track came up fairly easily with most of the ballast attached. I probably won’t bother re-ballasting in keeping with the industrial setting.

New Cars For the NPP

As I’ve operated the layout more, I’ve noticed a need for certain types of cars. Nearly every industry uses boxcars, and there’s a crying need for flatcars and gondolas. I really need flats and gons lettered for Northern Pacific, as I figure those cars would be in nearly captive service shuttling Peninsula logging to Tacoma customers.

I was in The Hobby Smith recently browsing their N-scale freight cars, and found some keepers.

The Northern Pacific gondola is from Trainworx, and a very nice model. Really nothing to do but weather it and put it in service. Even the trip pins are blackened. While I mentally knocked $4 off the price for the metal wheels, it’s a near-indulgence.

After coming to grips with buying the gon, the boxcars were easy. The C & O car is by MT and the CB & Q car is an Atlas product. An Eastern-road car wouldn’t be a common sight on the West Coast, but it makes a nice contrast to the heavily West/Northwest roster on the NPP. The more ‘foreign’ it feels, the better the job the NPP does representing the region.

Sanborn Maps

Any modeler who’s been in the hobby long enough to need prototype information has heard of the fire insurance maps produced by the Sanborn Map Co. I found that the Multnomah County Library has digitized and uploaded the maps, so anyone with a County library card can access the downloadable maps online. I don’t live in Multnomah county, but I do live in a county with a reciprocal lending agreement. The maps don’t cover every part of the cities they serve, but for the parts that are mapped, they are original source material. If you have a modeling need in an area covered, they are invaluable.

Fun Anecdote:

The Portland State University has the maps on microfilm, and anyone can walk in and ask for them. When I got to the appropriate desk and asked for the film, they knew exactly what I wanted. The Sanborn maps are a fairly esoteric request for some random person to make, but it turned out an Urban Studies professor had required the maps as course material a few years ago.

Operating on the NPP

Switching the Cheney Lumber Co.

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