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.


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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.




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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.


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Raising Crane 2

After completing the platform it was time to turn attention to the crane mechanical house. This is where the operator and one would assume a Diesel engine are located, as the winch and boom appear to be electrically driven and there’s no visible power cable to the crane.

Before moving on to this part, I added weight to the interior of the platform and painted it Light Aircraft Grey. I was concerned that the boom, although made of styrene, would make the crane top-heavy, so I added weight as low down on the structure as I could. Prior to roof installation I added some weight to the rear of the mechanical house to offset the anticipated boom mass. I painted the platform a standard color because I had a lot of steel to paint and wanted something easily reproducible.


Some of the tools used in construction are visible here. The tracks are a mock-up of the installed crane tracks to check clearances and part fit. The pieces at the bottom are from the mechanical house. I cut several of each piece then chose the best. I then lined them up and drew construction lines where I wanted the windows. This ensured that the windows are reasonably level and in line on each wall.


The mechanical house was constructed following the photo and used 0.015  styrene sheet for the walls and roof, while 0.030 sheet was used for the base. It’s not clear from the image what the siding is, so I developed an off-white vertical wood batten texture. After experimenting with color I printed the texture onto #110 cardstock, then used CA spread thinly to skin the walls.

Windows and doors are from the Tichy variety pack I bought a while ago. the 2513 door, 2512 window, and three 2518 windows make up the package. There aren’t any pictures of the front of the cab, so I assumed a large window with safety bars. The window is the 2512 window with the mullions cut out and the frame sectioned to fit. The trim is based on the Cheney Lumber – sponsored Studs baseball team colors of blue and white. I figured even in 1948 there’d be protection against a log coming inboard, so the large window has a safety grill of 0.5 mm rod painted Flat Black.

The windows were glazed with material from a report cover I had laying around, and there’s enough material to glaze an N-scale city. A diagonal piece of styrene to hold the structure square and Flat Black paint complete the interior.

I’d marked the center of the platform and the mechanical house base, then used a drill press to put a 1/4″ hole in both. I also fashioned and drilled a circular piece of 0.030 styrene to attach to the base of the mechanical house. This provides separation between the house and the platform, and serves as a bearing surface for rotation. A 1/4″ wooden dowel serves as the kingpin. I don’t anticipate fastening the bottom end of the king post: like battleship turrets, I expect gravity to keep everything in place.

Roof pieces were cut and sanded to fit, then overlain with a Tarpaper texture. I’ll add the smoke jack for the engine when the model is nearly done.  Now all the easy parts are done: time to move on to the crane supports and boom.






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The World’s Most Powerful Hobby

So powerful, in fact, the hobby press can create wormholes to the past, as the current Model Railroader cover attests:


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Raising Crane 1

The entire lumber yard of the layout is modeled after the Cheney Lumber facility in 1940’s Tacoma. The signature element of the scene is the gantry crane:


I figured I had enough scratch-building experience under my belt to have a go at this. The photo is a nice three-quarter shot, and there are a couple of standard-length freight cars in the uncropped image to aid in scaling. Like building an Interociter, you pick a place and start.

In this case I elected to start with the crane platform, as everything attaches to it. I used 0.030″ sheet styrene for the box, and 0.010 x 0.030 strip for the stiffeners. I trimmed the stiffeners after placement, and marked the center point of the top of the box for the spindle for the machinery house.


That’s the easiest part of the whole project.

The next step was to figure out the base and wheel mounting. I’d laid rail for the crane, and I wanted to have the crane mobile on the track. In keeping with using as much on-hand material as possible for this project, I decided to use some spare freight car wheels for the crane. The wheels are grossly oversize, but easier than fabricating scale wheels from round stock, and the wheels are easier to make operational.

My first thought was to fabricate wheel boxes out of 0.030 sheet, then use 0.080 rod for the spindle. This did work after a fashion, but was as fiddly and frustrating as might be imagined.



I did manage to get some sideframes, but they were fragile and generally unsatisfactory :



Rethinking, I decided to try 3 mm u-channel for the sideframes. This would be wide enough for the wheel, and the sides would give the side plates something to glue to. The closest thing I could find was 2.5 mm c-channel, and that worked well.


The parts prior to sanding and painting. The side plates are 0.015 sheet. I spent considerable time lining up the spindles.


Sideframes after painting, assembly, and weathering. The wheels roll, but the size is apparent. I’m hoping that because the sideframes will be ‘down in the weeds’ and attention will be drawn to the crane that the size won’t be so evident on the final model.

The sideframes were a lot more work than I expected, but I’m happy with the results. Next up is the machinery house.

Logging On

One of the signature, some might say the signature, element of lumber yards is wood. Lots of wood. The prototype I’m modeling stacked logs next to the tracks where the crane could reach them and presumably feed the mill. There aren’t any people in the photo so scaling the logs was a bit problematical. After experimenting with various diameters of round stock, it looked like 2 mm – 3 mm (scale 12″ – 18″) round would do the job. A credible representation of the log yard would require hundreds of ‘logs’, so I needed a cheap source. It turns out that 2.5 mm bamboo skewers cost less than $1.50 for a bag, and the skewers cut to 1″ (about 13 scale feet) would look right and supply all the logs I’d likely need.


I stuck the skewers in a piece of styrofoam, and painted them with Natural Brown acrylic. I slopped the paint on, so the bare areas would represent stripped bark on the logs. Some sticks were painted other colors for variety.


A bit of work with the Chopper, and viola! Logs.


I used a piece of balsa for a straightedge, and for a spacer between the stacks. Wet water and diluted white glue hold everything down.



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Portland Traction

In the vicinity of NW Vaughn St. and 26th Ave in Portland there’s an interesting collection of railroad equipment. It appears to be the maintenance shops for the Oregon Pacific Railroad, and while I’ve been by there a few times, I finally had time to stop and take some pictures.


Oregon Pacific SW-1 #100 is lettered for the Portland Traction Co., appears to be fresh out of the shop. There is a matching caboose.

portland-traction-loco-front portland-traction-loco-front-quarter portland-traction-loco-rear-quarter

Oregon Pacific 5100 is a former SP 70-ton loco that the OPR has painted in the original livery. The engine is normally located at the Oregon Rail Heritage center in Portland:


Samuels Pacific Industries is a GE 45 tonner stored operable with the second engine removed.


There’s a curve up a rather steep grade behind the shops, and some track reinforcement was required:


An electrical box on wheels:


The railroad is family-owned and has a rail-fan friendly reputation. If you’re in the area, check them out.




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