Sunday, July 26, 2020

July Port Costa Station Area Mockup Progress

This is the current status of the mockup of the Port Costa station, water tank and water treatment building area of the layout. The area is on the side of a hill rising sharply from the track level.  Basically it is the western half of the layout.  I have spent a lot of time in  detail analyzing of the photos in the Robinson and Crane Arcadia Port Costa book. I had no clear 1940's-50's images of the water treatment building behind the station. I originally was going to copy Ron Pries version from his Port Costa module.  This time I looked closely at older 1905 photo's before the station was moved after the 1930 bridge over Carquinez strait. They showed a lot of the building that was never pictured in later photos. It was apparently one building not two separate buildings.  The water treatment building was not razed until after the station. The smaller structure behind it was destroyed in 1962 by burning as a practice for the local fire department.

The ground cover is an inexpensive 2 mm thick foam material I found at Micheal's craft store. I have been playing around trying to get the ground elevations right. It is all a work in progress.

I have added two JTT Live Oaks to the tree canopy that surround the water tank and area west of the water treatment building. I need to find a better small tree to go at the east end of the water treatment building.

The freight house building has been completed except for the roof which is a mockup in the above picture. The final roof is waiting for me to buy, build or design and 3D print the distinctive finials for the end of the roof.  The extended overhang over the open freight platform is correct. I found this photo in the CCCHS collection which shows the overhang and finial:

I have a bunch of oil drums painted up to go on the platform towards the final 

Like the sand house behind in the overall mockup picture, it needs to be primed and painted.

Jason Hill's recent blog on company freight has reminded me that the freight house at Port Costa was probably used primarily for company freight in the 1950's. Also the building at the end of the track in front of the station and freight house would have been a receiving platform and storehouse for materials used in locomotive maintenance in the roundhouse. 

I have a ton of freight car kits that I want to complete or build. The tank car and caboose projects are lagging. I also have the LocoFi F7 ABBA experiment awaiting further work. And Jason has indicated the Owl Mountain conversion parts for the Bachmann 2-8-0 are coming soon so more work ahead.  My currently active Bachmann 2-8-0 is disguised as an early transplant of an SSW locomotive with a fictional number. I have another dismantle Bachmann 2-8-0 ready to receive the new cylinders and drive rods, dome modifications and all else to make it into a close to a C-11 foobie.  I have two IHC 2-6-90's  also awaiting conversion into usable SP steam locomotives. 

It is certainly keeping me well amused and out of bars, restaurants and generally off the streets in these dangerous pandemic and pestilent times.  

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Another July 2020 Update

I am having some problems with the LocoFi and WiFi setup so letting it rest for a week. I may need to get an inexpensive Amazon Fire tablet to connect only with the 2.4 GHZ band on my dual band router to resolve configuration issues and progress. The loco does show up on my house WiFi network map when powered by my NCE PowerCab on the programming track.

In the meantime I have been mocking up scenery around the depot and freight house.  (And I have completed the freight house build but am now concerned that either size is incorrect or the side freight doors are incorrectly placed.) I completed a mockup of the water treatment building behind the freight house and used the old freight house mockup to stand in place for the building to the west of the water treatment building.
The cardboard mockup is at the center left of the picture. It's dimensions have been estimated from one 1956 photo from the hill to the east of Port Costa and the Ron Plies pictures including his model. The raised cupola on the building should be only 3 feet above the sloped roof. The old mockup of the freight station is behind. The small fruited tree was the only one I had in my collection and is a complete stand-in. 

Another development is the tan ground cover that is the beginning of the scenic treatment of the layout.  This is a new idea of mine that started when I was making a test track to see how Joe Fugate of MRH's Zip Ballast method could be used for track buried in the dirt up to the top of the ties. All of Port Costa's yard has the track buried level with the ground except the SP main lines in the background.  This is what I published in MRH.  (

I have managed to assemble the components and try this on a short test track.  As the majority of the trackage on my little layout is sidings and yards.  The top of the ties are level with the surrounding ground area.  To simulate this, the track is first glued to Woodland Scenics HO roadbed foam sheet.  In the past, when I was using Code 100 track, I could use the N scale version of the roadbed foam to bring the surrounding ground level up to the top of the ties. However, this is Peco Code 83 flex track and the ties are only 2 mm high. I found a 2 mm thick foam sheet product Creatology at a Michael's Craft store. It neatly comes up to the tie level and even comes in a tan color shown above on the left and takes acrylic craft paint shown on the right.  The Woodland Scenics Foam Glue was used to attach the scenic foam to the roadbed layer.

I found the Ballast Bond works okay.  I am not ecstatic yet.  It takes some manicuring after it dries to get stray ballast under control (I am using WS nutshell N scale ballast and the tan matches closely the Creatology tan foam sheet.) The Proses/Bachmann ballast spreader may work okay for mainlines and was fine for the initial layer of ballast but I found it flimsy and difficult to control as the lever is only good for on/off not volume of ballast  control. 

I couldn't find a clear squeeze bottle like Joe used around the house so I mixed small amounts of the Ballast Bond with 91% IPA in the small white container (from a TSA pack at Target). For application I tried the three tools to the right. The middle tool was good for the initial flooding of the glue/IPA solution. I used the Monoject tool at the bottom for follow up and a second application of ballast after the first had dried to level up and fill in to the Creatology foam.  I did find some cratering if I used any tiny amount of force to expel the glue/IPA mixture onto the ballast.  The tiny glue applicator required too much force expelling the glue/IPA mixture causing it to go where I didn't want it. 

For adding additional ballast to bring the level to match the ground foam, I used the small TSA container with black top.  It allowed me to just add a few grains to fill in.  

The small plastic tray under the experiment was used to catch loose ballast after a 2 hour drying period.

he ground area of the yard area I model looks more like the grayed yellowish acrylic paint to the right in a bright California sun. I live in and model a sunburnt land where lighter bright colors contrast with the dark green of coastal oaks.  The ballast should be that color too. Ties in the yard trackage need to be weathered to a light silvered gray as well.

Your mileage may vary (YMMV) but this has been my initial experience with the zip ballasting. I am looking forward to Joe's article on a cheap method of making scale ballast with the right colors. 

FYI: the Creatology foam sheet is 12" X 18" for 99 cents a piece at Michael's.  It is flexible so will adapt to terrain if needed.

Joe Fugate's Zip Ballast video can be seen here:

I bought 5 sheets of the Creatology foam and started to use the rest of the sheet cut up for the ballast experiment as the start of a ground cover for the layout. As the text above shows I am going to paint the tan a much lighter sand color to represent the look of the ground cover at Port Costa in the usual bright California sun. 


Monday, July 13, 2020

It's July 2020 Already

I have been deep in multiple projects over the last two months and not said much about anything on this blog. 

Fine tuning of the track locations has recently become more pressing as I need to get the track finalized. The major plan is not changing, just moving track a few millimetres here and there.  

The picture is from my 780 P resolution  zoom camera mounted on my tripod looking across past the final version of the freight house just completed but not painted. 2870, an ex SSW locomotive sits in what will be one of the two roundhouse stalls. Beyond are mockups of the engine service outbuildings and a grounded wood sided passenger coach-baggage. At far right are buildings representing the small company stores warehouse at the end of the freight house track. Lumber is stacked there for pickup by a local lumber consignee.  

Nothing is really completed.  The garden tracks from the turntable and other trackage need to be buried in the ground. The freight station needs painting and the platform needs to be completed. The tree is from the old Padstow layout stationmaster's garden that was never completed. 

But the view represents a milestone of sorts as about a year ago I completed the benchwork. 

I am now in the midst of a technical project to set up a LocoFi WiFi controlled F7 A-B-A set that will run on the east-west SP main through Port Costa. There are a bunch of continuing tank car projects including the 3 SP O-50-13's I started a few months ago, A new Tangent tank car kit and acquisition of several additional tank cars that would used to service the Shell, Associated-Tidewater and Unocal refineries nearby.

I have been in a lot of zoom meetings and video conventions which take up time but also give me lots of new ideas. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

What Have I done under Shelter in Place for April

During the shelter in place, I have worked at times on the Port Costa layout making some progress but still not finalizing the most important issue: the finalization and  siting of the turntable. 

The mock-ups and preliminary siting of all outbuildings behind the roundhouse (I keep wanting to call it the engine shed) have taken some of the time. This is the current as of the end of April 2020 view of the illustration board structures with photocopy windows pasted on.

I don't have positive identification for most of the buildings.  The first building behind the roundhouse with a cupola was definitely the blacksmith shop. The cupola would be over the forge to vent the heat and gases. The row of buildings behind are parts storage and mess facilities including the grounded boxcar and what I believe was a clerestory combine. I am using a MDC Palace combine shell for the grounded car. It is 78' long and from what I would guess from photos should be shorter.  A grounded double sheathed 36 foot box car is also in the collection. One of the photos indicates it had windows cut in it similar to a work car. This is currently represented by an Accurail 36 foot 14 xx series car.

On the far right is the small freight shed with loading platform at the end of the track going in front of what I think was an SP company freight facility. This is an old wood kit I had from the 1980's layout at my house in San Francisco. The lumber stacks are from Owl Mountain and give the siding some purpose.

The two small outbuildings in colonial yellow to the left are sections houses standing in for the barn red buildings for what I think is the lubricant storage shed and further back the control and pump house for the bunker fuel sump represented by a piece of grey cardboard at the moment.  There was a short siding behind it for unloading SP tank cars with bunker oil and later diesel fuel. 

The track in the background curves the wrong way as it should run parallel to the EB/WB Western Division main towards Martinez. Part of my space compromise is that this represents the start of the Mococo line or the San Ramon branch.  It will extend as a staging track over my workbench for now.

This is the freight station with mock-ups for the freight station and freight house. The turntable has been re-sited and trackage reconfigured. The sand house has not had any more work since I replaced the end walls to give the roof a more correct pitch. 

I have purchased  a LifeLike gas storage tank as it had the largest diameter of any readily available tanks to represent the water tank peeking through the trees on the left and visible on the hill if you enlarge in the mirror image behind.  It is being held together by duck tape at the moment. The tank is however only 35 feet in diameter, not the prototype's 41 feet in diameter. It looks ok to me as when I mocked up the full size tank it looked a little out of place. 

That's all for now. I will try to do a little more and finish the immediate in progress projects on my work bench including a Lasercraft rebuild C-30-1 caboose with rectangular cupola, the 3 O-50-13 tank cars, some new Owl Mountain F-50 flats and whatever else meets my fancy.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Tanks for the Memories - Part 2

There isn't much about my recent tank car craze.  I had prepared two bodies with the heightened domes and started work on the handrails. I have a third Athearn car awaiting surgery.  

I had to wait for an eBay order of PSC stanchions to arrive. When the brass stanchions arrived, I then found them very difficult to drill out for #15 wire. I have the sides of one tank finished but have not been able to get the end stanchions correct to my satisfaction.  I have small hypodermic tube on hand so I am using the method of separate end handrails which is easier. 3 of the 4 end stanchions broke rather than respond to my at best mediocre skills in drilling them with # 79 drill bits. And I broke 3 drill bits in the process.

I have been somewhat discouraged and turned to other projects of which I have about 50 before returning to the tank cars. 

In this time of lock down due to the pandemic all I can say is in this gif sent to me by my friend Eric:

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Tanks for the Memories - Part 1

Yesterday (2/19/20) afternoon during my weekly visit to my local hobby shop (LHS) Just Trains in Concord, California, I spotted the on the used and abused consignment shelves the HO upper tank casting of an Athearn single dome tank car for $1.00. On another shelf was a very old Blue Box #1501, the triple dome tank car.  Assembled but complete. I had been thinking about kitbashing the SP O-50-13 just recently when I dug out all my tank cars and found my one Athearn single dome tank. So here was the kitbashing opportunity to actually build a Tony Thompson conversion to the common SP 12,500 gallon class O-50-13 car. 

I dove right into it carving a dome off the 3 dome and following TT's instructions documented in his Modeling the SP blog and the SPH&TS Trainline #71 article ran into the first problem of not having done this before. It took a the rest of the afternoon before I gave up trying to get a smooth join for the dome top from the 3-dome car attached and blended with a smooth joint onto the single dome casting.  I tried 4 times to get a smooth invisible joint using Tamiya putty for plastic. Each time I let it dry, sanded it and then shot it with Tamiya grey primer. I let that dry and then tried again to get a smooth invisible joint with more putty and sanding. Then spraying and starting over again. 

Today after shopping errands I started at it again. This time I dug out an old tube of Squadron Green putty and went over the dome joint line. After it dried I used a xacto blade to shave off as much putty as I could and sanded again. I use some ACE hardware 600 and 1000 grit paper to try and smooth is as much as possible and then shoot it again with the grey primer. 

Well this time the results look a bit better.  I have however lost any rivet detail that was on the Athearn casting.  I have some Archer resin rivet head sets on hand  including the Offset Tank Car double row rivets set to repair as needed. I also have a collection of Tichy tank car detail parts to use as well. 

These photos shows my progress on this project, the donor 3 dome and my existing Athearn SP tank car with the incorrect dome. Once I am done with this one the donor will give up another dome for conversion of the existing SP car and then I will try to find one more complete Athearn kit. 3 SP 12,500 gallon tank cars will be enough to fit in with all the smaller tank cars used to service the Martinez area refineries.

A lot more to do. Frame and brake modifications and then I still have to find black late 1940's style tank car decals, do all the railings and grabs. 

How old was the donor 3 dome car? The ladder was a metal stamping.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Going Nowhere Fast at Port Costa

I have no deadlines on the Port Costa layout and I just work on whatever catches my fancy at the moment.

The last couple of days I have been thinking about tank cars.  Port Costa was the engine terminal for servicing the series of refineries along the south shore of the Carquinez straits in the 1940's and 1950's. The small yard would have been used to sort and block deliveries of some of the empty tank cars to the Martinez refineries to the east as well as cars for the C&H sugar refinery at Crockett to the west. Loads would have been attached directly to pick-up freights westbound to Oakland or eastbound to rest of the SP world via the bridge at Martinez or the line to Tracy.  

Before the Ozol yard was built between Port Costa and Martinez the other small local yards were just east of Martinez station at Mococo where the SP mainline had a flyover junction climbing to the Benicia Bridge and the line to Tracy, Avon (Avon Calling?) with the San Ramon branch and then Port Chicago for the military sealift command.  

Anyway I rounded up all of my operable tank cars and put them on the layout for an inventory picture. 

Most are still undecorated foobies dating back to the 1970's or later. Only one is an SP Athearn O-50-13 with the dome not yet modified.  I need to acquire 2-3 more and fix the domes, brakes and walkways at least. Others include ancient Varney 10,000 gallon cars from the early 1980's that have Champ UTLX and GATX decals, Life Like Hong Kong clones of the Varney cars and a bashed Tyco car. I acquired 4 of the Walther's 2011 NMRA Convention insulated tank cars, one Tangent an some unidentified other tanks.  I would expect most tank cars at Port Costa would be UTLX to service the Union Oil refinery in Martinez. SP cars would not predominate and one would be used to deliver bunker oil to the heated sump storage facility behind the round house.  Ron Plies modeled this very well in his version of Port Costa.  I don't have the room in my more condensed version to do it the same justice but I will suggest the presence.  Interesting, but I understand coal was used for roundhouse steam generation up until the end of steam not the bunker oil which was used just for fueling locomotives.  

One of the slow downs is my desire to improve the trackage particularly at the west end of the turntable. I am experimenting with building a left-right pair of Central Valley #5 code 70 turnouts replace the Peco Code 83 wyes I currently have in place. This would allow a better replication of the actual track configuration. 
 CV Templates for revised configuration which will change both turntable approach and track in front of station. 
I am a little bit daunted by the CV turnouts and waiting for supplies to replace the plastic frogs and improve my soldering kit.  In all my 60+ years of model railroading I have never successfully built a turnout from kit or scratch. I want this trackage in Code 70 to emphasize the difference with the mainline. If the CV turnouts don't work out , I am looking at a pair of Micro Engineering yard turnouts for this trackage.