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  January Update

Below are pictures of the construction progress for your enjoyment. Click on the thumbnails to open larger, full screen size, pictures. (Suggestion: "right click" to open the image in a new window so that you can easily toggle between it and the discription).

Here is the first update of the new year, 2003. Progress continues on the upper level with all track and turnouts in the Redding area almost complete, Tortoise switchmotors installed for all completed turnouts, almost all fascia installed to the end of the construction area, backdrop painting begun at the Shasta Lake area, hardshell well on it's way, and most of the temporary flex track installed from the end of the handlaid track to the temporary staging yards, which are still to be built and installed.

I've been getting much generous help these last few weeks. Dave Biondi, Ron Orlando, Ray deBlieck, Geoff Gobel, Seth Neumann, Gary Zaro, Darius Chagnon, Byron Henderson, Larry Altbaum, Thom Anderson, Otis McGee, and Dave Adams have been contributors to the recent progress. Thanks guys!

And thanks to Ray deBlieck and Geoff Goble for taking photos of our work session. I've included about a dozen of their photos in this update. The rest were taken by me. Digital cameras are great for this!

I'll start off with a couple of photos of the backdrop that Dave Biondi is painting along the Shasta Lake area. This is on the upper level directly above Orchard Yard. The lake, modeled after the real Shasta Lake in northern California near Redding, will be below track level and against the backdrop. The mountains in this area are more like high rolling hills. The tracks and mountains will raise up towards the aisle so that you will be looking down onto the lake as if you were up in the mountains above the tracks. The fascia in this area is removable to make it easier for Dave to work his magic.

The backdrop from the other end of the aisle. The bridges in the left bottom of the photo will cross over Shasta Lake. The lake was created when a large dam was built across the Sacramento River in the early 1960s. The water filled up several canyons, leaving peninsulas exposed above them. The fingers of water in these canyons are called "arms" and are usually the end of rivers feeding into what used to be the upper Sacramento River valley. This area is now a very large reservoir and recreation area and required the Southern Pacific and our fictitious route of the Santa Fe to relocate their mainlines to higher ground. On the layout we are modeling the McCloud River Arm of Lake Shasta. Here we are simulating crossing the lake to the north shore of one of the peninsulas and following along the edge of the McCloud River Arm and heading northward.

Byron Henderson has been installing the temporary code 100 flextrack from Douglas on the upper level (the cantilevered section described in earlier updates) to the end of the line past Raymond where the staging yards will be installed. Handlaid track will replace this flextrack as time permits, but installing the flextrack now will allow us to operate on a significant portion of the upper level until we have time to install the permanent track.

Byron hard at work installing the temporary flextrack. We'll install a passing siding and a couple of industry spurs out of flextrack here until we replace this track with the permanent handlaid track. Then we'll have several industries, a passing siding, an industry siding, a short branchline, and a turnout to get to the other end of the new mainline. The clock behind Byron is part of our "railroad time" clock system controlled by the dispatcher. It is set for 7:30, the time of day we simulate our "work" day beginning. There are seven of these clocks around the layout room and crew lounge.

Of course we had to run a train over the newly installed track! Here is the first train on the upper level, piloted by Byron himself. Minimum webbing has been installed in preparation for hardshell application the following weekend, so we carefully watched the train to make sure there were no problem areas. Everything worked great. As it turned out, the locomotive and the three passenger cars are being run for the first time as well.

Another pic of the first train. This is an Intermountain F7 painted in the Yellowbonnet paint scheme used for locomotives leased by Amtrak from the Santa Fe. Amtrak had taken over passenger service on May 1st, 1971 with used passenger equipment purchased from the railroads it was taking over passenger service. In some cases, as in the Santa Fe locos, ownership of the units were retained by the railroad and were leased to Amtrak until it was able to purchase new locos.

And one more pic of the train. Sharp eyed viewers may have noticed that there is now a 2nd loco on the train, an F7 "B" unit. After Byron left, I had to play trains some more! So I added that 2nd loco, also a new one, and enjoyed several more back-an-forth trips across this new section of the layout.

And then there was the "hardshell" party! I put out a call for help and nine of my friends came over to help out. A lot of progress was made in just a few hours. The next series of photos are of that productive event. Shown in this first photo is Ray deBlieck preparing to modify the NCE radio cabs to give them improved battery life.

Another photo of Ray working on the cab modifications. Since Ray is the owner of Digital Bay in San Lorenzo, CA, a dealer of DCC components and systems, we rely on his DCC knowledge and is a useful source of parts and information. He also installed a decoder in one of my locos. Later he helped out with the plaster/paper towel hardshell application.

While Ray was working on the electronics, Gary Zaro, in front, and Ron Orlando were building switchmotor harness assemblies. These are made up of a Tortoise brand switchmotor, a nylon terminal strip, and eight 12" lengths of wire 22g wire. Here Gary is soldering the wires to a Tortoise circuit board using a clever jig he came up with to ease the process. By having several of these switchmotor assemblies prepared in advance, the work of installing them on the layout goes much faster.

Here Ron is attaching a terminal strip to the wires that Gary soldered. Ron can also be seen in the above photo behind Gary preparing the wire ends of a Tortoise/wire assembly so he can attach them to a terminal strip.

While Gary and Ron assembled more switchmotor assemblies, Larry Altbaum, on the left, and Thom Anderson installed the finished assemblies onto the layout. This required attaching a stiff spring actuator wire to the switchmotor assembly and gluing the completed assembly to the underside of the roadbed with hot glue. Here the stiff wire is being installed by Larry with an assist from Thom. They also installed the control switch assemblies made up of a mounting block prepared by Otis McGee, a common DPDT slide switch, and several lengths of wire. This assembly is attached to the inside of the fascia and wired up to the Tortoise switchmotors after they have been installed.

Here Thom, closest to the camera, has fed the spring wire through the turnout throwbar, applied hot glue to the mounting surface of the Tortoise, and is now aligning it under the layout so the turnout points will be positioned correctly. Larry is the "spotter" who is watching the position of the points and is guiding Thom by telling him to move the switchmotor either towards the aisle or the backdrop to center them correctly. This is precision work requiring careful positioning so the turnout will work properly. After applying the hot glue, they have only a few seconds to position the switchmotor correctly before the hot glue begins to harden and can no longer be adjusted. It seems complicated, but it really is quite simple and effective.

However, the main reason we got together was to apply hardshell to the cardboard webbing I had hot glued together in the days before. We chose the cardboard webbing/plaster soaked paper towel method because Dave Adams had experience with this techinque and offered to be the "foreman" on this job. Here Dave is preparing the materials needed to keep the paper towel assembly line going uninterrupted.

Eventually almost everyone would participate in the plastering work, but it was Dave, on the left, and Seth Neumann who were the ones brave enough to get everything going. Here they are mixing up their first batch of plaster, which is simply water, brown fabric dye for coloring, and the main ingredient of a US Gypsum product called Ultracal 30 mixed into a soupy goop. Ultracal 30 is virtually identical to the most commonly used product for this process, Hyrdocal. A benefit of Ultracal 30 over Hydrocal is that the setting time is about four to six times slower, allowing us to mix larger batches before the mix begins to harden too much to be of further use.

Seth, in front, and Dave are applying the first paper towels on the previously installed contour forms made of cardboard strips hot glued to form a webbing. By dipping common tri-fold paper towels, like those found in public restrooms, into the soupy plaster mix, the paper towels become soaked with the plaster, are then draped over the webbing, and alowed to dry. When cured overnight, this process creates a rigid shell over the cardboard web form giving us a surface to apply the finish contouring, followed by ground cover materials to represent a typical earth surface appearance. That's Gary in the background probably thinking "I'm glad I'm not the one making that mess!"

A closeup of Dave, in front, and Seth applying the plaster soaked paper towels. A two man team works much faster than one guy by himself. Dave is dipping the towels into the plaster mix, hands it to Seth, who applies it to the webbing. Five people can get a lot done - two teams applying the towels, with a fifth person cleaning the bowls and mixing fresh batches of plaster for the teams.

Hardshell is fun - here is a photo of Seth to prove it. It gives adults a chance to play in the "mud", get dirty, make a mess, and goof around. We all had a pretty good time working together that day. As a group, we always have a lot of fun kidding around, teasing each other, and generally acting like a bunch of kids! That's one of the reasons this hobby is so enjoyable.

Byron Henderson was anxious to help out with the hardshell. Here he is helping in his own special way - by checking out everyone else's work. To be fair to Byron, he stayed busy installing more webbing to keep ahead of the paper towel teams. Plus, he showed us why he is a director for a respected high tech company - by ordering the pizzas for lunch.

When the other guys finished up their projects, they helped out with the hardshell. This is a photo of Ron applying paper towels to the webbed form of tunnel #7. It's a messy job! The latex gloves keeps the plaster mix from drying out our hands and staining them with the coloring we add to the mix. The blue material below the fascia is a plastic picnic tablecloth material we buy in 100ft rolls and use as dropcloths to protect the lower level. It's cheap and easy to use, and can be reused several times. This piece started off being used as a temporary backdrop material (that's why it's a blue color), then as a dropcloth when we painted the permanent backdrop, and again when we glued the spline and homasote spline roadbed together, and still again when the wood ties were being stained after they had been glued to the roadbed. Since this material is cheap, we don't worry about damaging it.

By mid afternoon (the clock shows it's just after 3:00) the hardshell had progressed around the curve opposite the entry door and we were finishing up. Geoff Goble, in front, and Ron are working together as the 2nd team applying towels to the tunnel #7 area and the adjacent creek bed (where Geoff is). I had just completed the webbing where Geoff is working, trying to stay ahead of the "towel teams".

This is what the area being worked on in the previous photo looked like when we called it a day. That's tunnel #7 on the left, a still to be named creek in the middle, and tunnel #8 in the uncovered webbing to the right. The old mainline is the track in the back and it will have several tunnels. The new, modern mainline, which is being modeled as still under construction, is in the front. On the prototype the improved modern earth moving tools used in the 70s favored deep cuts instead of expensive to maintain tunnels. This is what we are trying to model along this stretch of the mainline.

This is a view of the area to the left of the photo above. This is tunnel #6 to the left and tunnel #7 to the right. Look closely and you'll see the dim headlight of my test train just entering tunnel #6. From an angle slightly to the right of this photo you will be able to see through this tunnel to tunnel #5 which is about fifteen feet away.

Turn right a quarter turn from the above photo and this is the view. Tunnel #7 and unfinished tunnel #8. Note the very deep cut to the right of the photo. This is where we will eventually model a scene of earth moving equipment digging out the still unfinished cut. This will give us another "industry" spot where a local or work train can drop off construction equipment and supplies.

Here's that test train again, but now facing the other direction. I couldn't resist the tempation of running a train through our new scenery forms. I think this will end up being a nice scene! We're alongside tunnel #6 and looking towards tunnel #5, with the town of Douglas beyond.

Here's that same test train again, but looking from the other direction. What do you think? Will this be fun to operate on, or what? That's tunnel #6 behind the train. Just ahead of the loco the new mainline will diverge from the single track mainline coming out of Douglas behind us. Track will be installed here in the future, probably when we convert the temporary flextrack to handlaid track. And if you are wondering how I'll handlay track in the tunnels, it's simple. I'll surgically remove the tops of the tunnels to gain access to the roadbed, then splice it back together again. Since this mountain is a plaster shell, it will patch up nicely. This is one of my favorite photos of the construction work being done.

As the "towel teams" worked towards us with their hardshell application, Byron and I installed more webbing. Byron hot glued small cardboard tabs to the backdrop and fascia, then glued thin strips of cardboard to these tabs. This created a mounting flange for me to attach the cardboard strips that make up the webbing. Following the fascia profile and the profile that was chalked onto the backdrop, Byron was able to stay far ahead of the rest of us.

This is a better view of the tab technique we used to install the webbing. The area underneath that high mountain on the left is where the Sierra Western branchline will punch through from the other side of the backdrop just underneath the 1st sketched in peak, make a easy curve back towards the backdrop, and punch through it again just underneath the 2nd peak sketched on the backdrop. When this branchline reappears on the other side of the wall it will be on a third level and follow the backdrop towards the back left corner of the room above the tower operator's position, and connect to that section of the old layout that is stored near the ceiling.

And here is a photo of me trimming a roadbed riser. This was taken just before the 2nd "towel team" attacked this area with plaster soaked paper towels. I'm trimming the riser to get it out of the way of the webbing that I am installing in this area. This is the expression I had most of the day - I couldn't get over how much progress we were making in a single afternoon! Awsome!!

I'll close this construction update with this photo, simply titled "While Everyone Else Is Working". Enough said!.

Well, that's it for this update. Thanks for checking out the progress!

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