Cheney Lumber Drying Shed 1

I’ve been working on the Cheney Lumber scene for the better part of a year, and the only major item left was the drying shed. The photo above is the image I’ve been working from, and gives a good view of the shed construction. I have an aerial photo of the mill, but this is the best image for details.

I had the pad and lumber stacks in place, so I had to build the structure in situ. I also thought there was a good chance the building would be destroyed if I tried to build off-site and then put it in place.

The building appears use untreated lumber in a simple post-and-beam construction. The roof appears to be fairly new corrugated sheet metal. It’s a bit hard to gauge the lumber dimensions, but 1/16″ basswood looked about right. This is a 10 x 10 in N-scale, so probably a bit oversize, but not objectionably so.

There appear to be five support beams. The roof has a very shallow slope, so I cut the posts accordingly. The plate has parts for the support beams and braces. I couldn’t find anything small enough for the braces, so I cut them from 1/16″ sheet balsa. During assembly I’d cut those in half by eye.

The support assembly line. The balsa sticks are actually tools with markings for post spacing and beam spacing on the pad. White glue for everything.

Footer plates. It was going to look odd if the posts rested directly on the pad without any attachment. This is 1.5 mm ‘L’ channel cut 1 mm wide and coated with grey primer.

Support beams assembled and ready for weathering. The outer beams are at top, inner in the middle, and center beam at bottom. I didn’t bother with the rafter notches. The footer plates are fastened with CA.

Weathering the wood with powdered black pastel applied with a brush.

Support beams in place. I didn’t put footer plates on the interior posts.

Framing complete. Before putting the stringers in I test fit some cardstock to check the roof pitch. It wasn’t quite enough, so I put another 1/16″ ridgepole in place. The braces on this side and the dock side had to be put in place after the roof stringers were up. Even with a removable backdrop and taking the boom off the crane, it was not fun. Not particularly hard, just really fiddly while trying to preserve scenery. I’d add plate detail at the upper joints if this was a bench project, but it’s not nearly worth the effort here.

I cut some cardstock to mock-up the roof. I have some styrene corrugated sheet metal, but it’s on 0.040 stock. That’s much too thick, so I’m looking for better ways to simulate the material. I also wasn’t completely sold on having a bright white roof in a small scene. The roof looks new in the photo, but I was concerned it would be a bit overwhelming. After living with the cardstock roof for a while I decided it looks OK.

Once the roof is sorted, I’m considering putting a chain link fence between the track and the log pile. I’m pretty sure the prototype would want to keep logs off the track, but I’m concerned about breaking up the ‘flow’ of the scene. The logs on the track thing does bother me, though.

Making It Official

I’ve had a metal Northern Pacific logo plate for a couple of years, and decided to go ahead and mount it to the layout, already.

The layout is hinged, so like the 4077th, it can in theory be moved. I needed just enough space to get the clamp in place, but first had to literally block traffic:

While the glue was setting, I noticed there was a fair amount of ballast piled up from ballasting the track, so I recycled it back to the ballast bag.

A fallen flag raised.

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Trackwork and Scenery

As the car weathering is winding down, a few more projects on the Northern Pacific Project.

Replacing a Turnout

The point rails on the interchange turnout had become bent, and it was easier to replace the turnout than try and fix the existing.

NPP replacing turnout 1

The Peco track shop has prefabbed the turnout and delivered it. You can see the bent point rails on the old turnout. A wet paper towel laid over the turnout for a day loosened the ballast.

NPP replacing turnout 2

I was able to loosen the turnout enough to slide the joiners off and then scraped the roadbed clear.

NPP replacing turnout 4

The new turnout in place. Prior to ballasting I ran the persnickety Ten-Wheeler through the trackwork until it was satisfied.

Rather than try and match the old ballast, I treated the operation as regular track maintenance on the railroad. I didn’t weather the turnout, and laid new ballast along other improved areas. The local Class II Portland & Western recently relaid their branch to the lumber mill, so I got to see the prototype do it.

Cheney lumber is nearing completion, so I took the opportunity to refresh the scenery in the area a bit. This was mostly touching up ballast and re-laying ground cover.

NPP replacing turnout 5


Static Grass

I’ve been wanting to try static grass for a while. Many modelers get very nice results and it adds a lot of texture to the scenery. And like a lot of folks, I was having a hard time getting around the price tag for the applicator. That’s a locomotive. Then I came across Ken Patterson’s What’s Neat This Week column in the July 2014 Model Railroad Hobbyist. In the video segment he demonstrates how to make a static grass applicator for less than a pint at your local.

NPP static grass machine 1

It’s the (in)famous bug zapper method. Like Mr. Patterson, I got mine at China  Harbor Freight. I’d bought the sifters in a two-pack at the dollar store when I started doing scenery, but I’ve never used them.

NPP static grass machine 2

You can watch the video and see how it’s done, but there’s nothing hard about it. The most time consuming part was finding a suitable piece of wood in the garage. The alligator clip was lying around.

NPP static grass machine 3

The business end. I cut the tangs with a cutoff wheel in a motor tool, and used a small grinder to cut the tang slots in the wood block. Epoxy holds everything together. I used the small sifter because it’s a small scale.

NPP static grass machine 4

Ready to zap some grass. I tried it on some cardboard, and it worked.

And it does work, as you will find if you touch the sifter while holding down the button. There’s 1000V at the sifter, and while the amperage is next to nothing, it will be unpleasant. As manufactured the zapper is reasonably safe; modification makes it unsafe. It would probably be a good idea to put a guard on the sifter. Or just don’t touch it.

NPP static grass first application

The 2mm static grass on the layout. It’s, um, green. The texture is nice, but it’s too even and too bright for the environment. I’ll play with this for a bit and see if I can make it look good without scraping everything up. I was happy to see the static grass in action, but it’s a technique I’ll need to to practice.





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Scrapheap Challenge

The operating cycle called for a gondola spotted at Sanford Scrap for loading.

NPP Switching Sanford Scrap

Astute readers will note that a mill gondola would be an unlikely candidate for a scrap job, but that’s what I have, and the regular gons have been designated and detailed for sawmill duty.

I’ve been working on open-car loads this year, and the scrap loads were the last remaining. I’d been a bit ambivalent, as I thought they’d be the most interesting and the most difficult. My experience with the scrapyard was that random scrap takes an inordinate amount of time to model. Well, time to fill the gon.

I looked through my workspace and came up with everything scrap. I was happy about getting rid of a bunch of junk. In truth, I knew I’d need this stuff just for this project for a while, and like everyone else I saved it.

NPP scrap load starting material

A fair start. I planned to make three loads: two long and a short if a standard gon was assigned. I cut up some random styrene sheet to represent sheet steel, along with whatever structural shapes I had. Arranging the parts for painting:

NPP scrap load painting scrap 1

A shot of Flat Red to simulate red lead primer, then Flat Black, and a wash of Rust in acrylic:

NPP scrap load painting scrap 3

The pieces on the left are simulating galvanized roofing, and will be toned down later.

The idea was to use a 0.030″ styrene sheet painted Flat Black for a base and then build a styrene form the size of a gondola interior around that.

NPP scrap load forms 2

After the scrap dried I put it into a cup, shook a bit to mix, then poured into the forms placed on a scrap of cardboard. I was looking for a random loading effect, but of course adjustments have to be made. After arranging things, I soaked the whole stack, forms included, with wet water and diluted white glue.

After drying, the forms were easily separated from the scrap stack. I found that the method sort of worked. I ended up gluing things together with CA, and a lot of it. These would be handled regularly, so had to be robust. After things were reasonably tight and I’d adjusted the height of the load, I dressed the sides with an emery board. I wasn’t worried about exposed edges as they’d be hidden by the car sides.

Test fitting:

NPP scrap load fitting 1

That looks pretty ‘scrappy’.

The loads press-fit in and are removed with a hobby knife. After fitting I dusted them with earth-tone and black powdered pastels, then sealed the deal with a matte finish.

NPP scrap load final 2

NPP scrap load final 3

When not used the loads live in the load box:

NPP scrap load storage

Happy to finish that project.

Coal Trestle Detail

While looking for scrap I found a piece of ladder left over from building the Cheney Lumber crane. I’d wanted to add a ladder to the coal trestle for a while; people were complaining about access. As I was painting a bunch of parts for the scrap load project, I figured I’d whack this project in, too.

I cut the ladder to length and added four pieces of styrene to simulate anchors and hold the ladder away from the wall.

NPP coal trestle ladder 1

After painting I used CA to attach the ladder to the wall.

I also added a figure. I’d bought the Model Power 72-figure set a couple of years ago, and looked through it to see if anyone suited. I found a guy in a green uniform with an implement. I changed the pant color, then dragged him through a bag of coal for that working look.

NPP coal trestle ladder 2




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A Look at Ops on the NPP

The layout after a recent operating session:

NPP Operation Nutshell 1

The Mill Job has collected empties from the mills along Commencement Bay and is preparing to switch them onto the car ferry pier. It’s October, so the fuel dealer is getting the first shipments of the season on track rarely used the past few months.

NPP Switching Sanford Scrap

The local also left a couple of boxcars at Pacific Distributing for unloading, as well as a gondola at Sanford Scrap.

NPP Operation Nutshell 2

The local and its three mtys to be exchanged for the three loads in the interchange. Cheney Lumber on the left and the future Wheeler-Osgood plant on the right await logs from the Peninsula.

And that’s pretty much operation on the layout: logs ferried from the Peninsula are distributed to mills, the mills ship to the interchange, and the interchange supplies loads for businesses on the waterfront. A full operational cycle with both trains would take a little over an hour; I usually run one-half of one train’s work, and that can be 10 – 20 minutes depending on switching and how much I want to watch the train run.

There’s usually 15 – 20 cars on the layout at any given time, and the freight car fleet is about 2 1/2 times that, so a fair amount of variety and able to keep home road cars serving shippers. Flat cars are about a third of the roster. Trains run 3 – 4 cars, occasionally five, but five-car trains are really the maximum the space can handle.

Operations are governed by industry size. Each train is assumed to run once per ‘day’, or operating cycle. Larger industries might get served every cycle, while smaller ones may go three or four cycles. There are seasonal variations. I know there are very easy ways to structure operations; I’ve been too lazy to do it. There are a number of cars with duplicate road numbers, so that has to be addressed before any operating scheme can be implemented.

Overall, I’m fairly satisfied the layout provides about as much operational interest as can be had in 10 square feet.



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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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