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.

Posted in Operations, Projects, Prototype | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


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.

Posted in Misc, Rolling Stock, Tacoma, Trackwork | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Stacks

With the input side of the sawmill taken care of, I needed product. Cheney Lumber specialized in building studs, and photos show a lot of them:



I wasn’t going to model nearly that density, but I still needed a convincing amount. Looking to the market, I bought a couple of Details N Scale’s ‘Yard Lumber Kit’ (DTD 300-12) from a local hobby shop. $14.98 ea. The kit is manufactured by a local supplier with no fixed production schedule, and comes in 8,12, and 16 foot lengths.

A few weeks after I ordered two of the 8′ kits a couple of the 16′ kits showed up, and I took them. I was finishing up the crane and was ready for some lumber.


These are the original lumber stacks as they come out of the bag, and after each 16′ stick was cut in half. The kit also includes thin strip wood for dunnage. The 16′ stack is 30 mm long; scaling to 15′, and making the 8′ stacks closer to 7′ after cutting with a razor saw. Close enough.

The pieces are nicely finished but not what I was looking for. The ends are OK, but the the layers of veneer on the sides were too jarring to my eye to be believable scale lumber. There are some faint parallel lines marked on the other faces to suggest lumber, but they are too wide for 2 x 4’s. I did have up to 96 stacks of 8′ studs, so I thought about how to remedy the kit pieces.

I figured I’d treat the kit pieces as cores and wrap printed texture around them. The plan was to draw and print two sides and a top, with the top joined to one side. The crease on the larger cover would align it, and gluing the other side separately would eliminate errors in width on the top. The covers had to be drawn, but it’s just straight lines so nothing hard there. After a bit of experimentation I had results I liked.


The lighter top color was scanned from the kit piece, so the cover would match as closely as possible. Lumber is drawn to scale on the covers with slightly darker shades of brown, and that created the darker side color. This doesn’t look objectionable, and the contrast makes folding the cover easier. For the other side I printed a sheet of just sides. Everything is on standard printer paper.

Major cuts were done with a media cutter, and trimming with scissors. Because the covers were larger than the cores, I wasn’t too worried about micro-trimming, but I did want to make sure the core was covered with texture.


Cores on the left, textures on the right. The top middle pile is the top/side piece, while the pile below are the single sides. In the middle is a bone folder, used to get sharp creases in paper and cardstock. It’s a little pricey for a piece of bone, but I’ve used it on other paper texture projects and there is no substitute. The covers are attached with straight white glue spread in a film with a toothpick. White glue allows some working time to get the covers straight, but I found they went on fairly well. I clamped the covers in place using my work bench pile ‘o shims to apply even pressure.


Covered and uncovered cores:



The forklift is from a set of printed models I painted and weathered last year.

I think there’s enough of a difference to justify the effort. For stacks atop each other I only have to cover the sides of everything below the top. Because I’m going to need scores of lumber stacks, I’ll experiment with ‘filler’ stacks so the ‘hero’ stacks can be used to best effect.




Posted in Logging, Scenery | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Raising Crane 6

Attaching the mechanical house to the boom was the last major assembly step. The house has two main support beams where the boom sits, and until I installed the backstays, would be the only attachment point. I used epoxy for this joint, because I wanted the strongest adhesive I had available. Somewhat surprisingly the house fit right into place with a minimum of adjustment. I let the epoxy cure for 12 hours.

With the structure upright and braced by a motley collection of shims, I added the backstays. These are two short pieces of 1.5 mm I-beam cut to fit and tacked in place with CA. After the glue set I ‘welded’ the upper part of the supports with MEK. A piece of scrap 0.030 styrene maintained clearance between the boom and the house. Not as finicky as I’d feared, but still required a steady hand. If there’s a more difficult way to do this, please let me know in the comments.



The backstays anchor the boom, so the adhesive is under tension: not adhesive’s strength. I left space at the back of the boom to add weight, and may yet do so.

The smokestack for the Diesel is from a variety pack I bought some time ago and painted Flat Black. The smokejack for the heater is 0.50 mm rod. I ran a length of 0.50 mm rod painted black along the underside of the boom to represent the support wire for the electrical cable. Both the electrical cable and the hook cable are carpet thread coated with CA and allowed to dry to stiffen it. I put the bends in the electrical cable with the nose of a pair of hemostats. The ‘stats were very helpful in compressing the thread horizontally so the loops in the cable stayed. Attachment was with CA while the boom was upside-down.

This structure took over a month to build, and I didn’t want to ruin it with a ham-handed weathering effort. I lightly brushed the crane with Black pastel, and added more Black pastel on the platform over the rails to simulate locomotive exhaust per the photo. Shades of Brown pastel were brushed onto the under-frame, and everything was sealed with Dullcote. The wheels of the base were CA’d to the crane rails:



The hole in the base was a bit too large to hold the upper section pin tightly, so a bit of electrical tape solved that. While the base is glued down, I wanted to be able to remove the top section for access and when the layout moves.




The hook is from a crane kit I put together last year for the scrap yard: I’d substituted an electromagnet. Two pieces of styrene sandwich it for the block, and the cable is stiffened carpet thread.

The log pile is a bunch of 2.5 mm bamboo skewers painted and cut to length. The bag of 80 skewers yielded nearly 900 ‘logs’, and about 750 of them are in the pile. I laid a row or two daily, and in about two weeks the logs were complete. The remainder will be fashioned into freight car loads. The larger logs in the soon-to-be millpond are 5 mm dowel cut to scale 24′ length.

The prototype reference photo for comparison:


This was the most challenging scratch-building project I’ve done, and it took a while. The NFL playoffs, in fact. I mostly enjoyed it, and I think the result is worth the effort. The scene is coming along. Next I have to find a convincing representation of metric tons of fresh-sawn lumber.




Posted in Logging, Projects, Scenery, Structures | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Raising Crane 5

The crane trolley was the last sub-assembly for the sawmill crane, and I expected it to be the least difficult. There isn’t a very clear image of the the trolley in the crane picture, so the construction is somewhat notional. I used images on the web for guidance.

After making some rough sketches to work out how the trolley would be assembled, I cut a rectangle of 0.030 styrene for the base and put a rectangular hole in the middle for the cable. A couple of lengths of 1.5 mm I-beam for the support beams, a piece of 0.080 styrene rod for the cable drum, and a couple of lengths of 1/16″ rod to represent the drive and winch motors complete the assembly. The winch drum could probably stand to be slightly larger in diameter, but the next size rod I had on hand was too big. Everything was fastened with CA.


For reference those are 1/2″ squares.

Not highly detailed, but once attached to the boom only the suggestion of components is necessary. After painting with Flat Red and Light Aircraft Grey, I used a black marker to color the winch. I used the same marker to simulate grease along the trolley track on the boom.

Attachment to the boom was with four pieces of 0.030 styrene cut to 3 mm x 6 mm rectangles and painted. I glued the supports on one side to the trolley, and after those dried I laid the boom on its side and glued the other two supports in place. A scrap piece of 0.030 styrene acted as a spacer between the trolley and the boom.

The major crane components:


Next is final assembly, detailing, and weathering.


Posted in Logging, Structures | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Raising Crane 4

Continuing work on the gantry crane for the sawmill. Here’s a photo of the prototype for reference:


I’d gotten to the point of building the boom, and the most complicated fabrication of the model. It’s a truss, but the vertical members are inclined and some of the structure would have to be inferred because it’s not visible in the photo.

I started by scaling the boom off the mechanical house. I then marked a template on cardboard to aid in structural positioning. I suppose I could have drawn the structure, figured the dimensions of all the pieces, then cut the parts and assembled. That would have been the good engineering approach, but despite training and experience, I didn’t do that. I did what I suspect pretty much everyone does, and built the structure in place while fitting pieces individually.

And there’s a lot of pieces. I used 2 mm I-beam for the main vertical supports and the lower longitudinal beams, and 1.5 mm I-beam for everything else. I would have preferred 1 mm I-beam for the bracing, but none was readily available. I guestimated the vertical support angle at 75 degrees, and that looks about right. During assembly I used CA for initial fabrication, then applied MEK to the joints after the CA dried to ‘weld’ the styrene.

Assembling the boom:





I decided not to add gusset plates because in N-scale, it’s not worth the effort. I had thought to use modeling putty to fill in the holes where the vertical and horizontal members join, but discovered that the gaps are so small it’s hard to produce an acceptable result. I left the gaps, trusting that paint would cover those flaws.

The boom in Flat Red primer:


This resemble nothing so much as a dragster frame at this point.

And with the color applied:


Building the crane boom reminded me of building a model of CVN-65 Enterprise as a boy and masking and hand-painting the flight deck markings. Tedious, exacting, and sometimes frustrating, but the end result is hopefully worth the effort. I could certainly point out all the flaws, but most people are going to see this and think ‘Wow. That’s really cool.”

I built the boom over the space of a couple of weeks, and it took a while. Several football and basketball games were enjoyed during construction. The crane in general and the boom specifically are the most complex scratch building projects I’ve attempted, and may well be the last time I build such a structure by hand. For similar projects in the future I’m going to look into having them 3D printed. There’s a learning curve for the drawing programs, but once the time is invested producing drawings will take far less time than fabricating a structure. Printing is more expensive than styrene stock, but the time saved will more than offset the expense. And the models will be much better.

While the model is not yet complete, the really fiddly parts are. Like learning mechanical drafting prior to learning a drafting program, I’m glad I did this so I know what’s involved. But for even a small number of such structures I’m not sure that hand fabrication is the most efficient way to go about this. I enjoy scratch building, but there’s only so much time.

Next up: the trolley.




Posted in Logging, Projects, Structures | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Raising Crane 3

Now was time to turn attention to the crane legs. I’d tried making patterns using drawing instruments and wasn’t happy. This time I fired up a drawing program and created scale templates.


I fiddled with the proportions until I got one that worked in the space.


I printed these on #110 card then glued the templates to the 0.030 styrene sheet. After carefully cutting out the templates, I used various sanding sticks to reach the final shape.

After shaping, I laid parallel lines for the stiffeners made of 0.010 x 0.030 strip, then cut 0.015 sheet 2mm wide for the gussets on the sides of the legs. I elected not to model the rivet plates that would normally be found where the structural members join. I’ll rely on N-scales ‘implied detail’ for that.


Attaching the legs to the platform. The construction lines were helpful in lining up the legs with the platform bottom.



The legs prior to bracing and painting. I wrapped the platform with painter’s tape for protection. This assembly got handled much more than I would have preferred, but the tape made a handy place to grab the model.


The complete platform assembly with the mechanical house on top. Bracing is 1.5 mm I-beam, while the ladder is from Gold Medal Products Industrial Ladders offering. Everything was painted Flat Red to simulate red lead primer, then Flat Light Aircraft Grey for the color coat. During assembly some of the color will rub off exposing the primer. This creates a bit of a weathered effect.

As built the crane is taller than the prototype, but I had to make the legs tall enough to clear freight cars. The prototype had a bit more lateral clearance. The crane will gauge flatcars and gondolas, but nothing else. This won’t be a problem operationally as only those types of cars need to be on that track, but operators will have to take care not to spot other cars past the crane tracks.

Man, this thing is turning into actual work. Next we’ll tackle the boom.


Posted in Construction, Logging, Projects, Structures | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment