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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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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