Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Sand-house at Port Costa Part 1

I have become fascinated with the sand house/tool shed on the western approach track to the Port Costa turntable. Over the last few weeks I have been working on a representation in plastic. I do not have plans or even dimensions so I am working with estimations from some high resolution photo's provided by Bob Morris. I have estimated the basic dimensions as 35 foot length and 20 foot width. 
Photo from Bob Morris (

Note the water crane, sand lines and oil crane between the turntable approach and the engine service tracks.

The sand house/tool shed is a huge sandbox covered with the upper shed where I am guessing the sand pumping mechanism is housed to deliver it through overhead pipes to the west turntable approach track in front of the shed and the servicing track which is next track to the north. 

These are progress pix as of 2020-01-03 of the components of the sand box which are being built separately to allow better painting and easier rebuilding as I make mistakes.
This is how they go together without gluing.
The board and batten shed structure that fits atop the sandbox will be next.  I have estimated the height of the shed wall atop the sandbox as 10 feet and the apex of the end walls as 13.5 feet. 

If anyone has better information on dimensions please let me know at

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Steam Power on my Port Costa Layout - Epistle 1

Port Costa was one of the final outposts of steam on the Southern Pacific and the small 2-8-0 consolidations and 2-6-0 moguls lasted well into 1956. This is one of the primary reasons I chose this location to model. 

But good HO SP consolidation models are not easy for me to come by. New ones are very rare and cost over $1000. I am reluctant to buy older models I will have to paint and wire for DCC.   I was fortunate to find the locomotive numbered 2575 in a private sale at a reasonable price.  It is a Sunset model that had been professionally painted, DCC installed along with a Tsunami sound system.  I am not too keen on the sound and as I now have to wear a hearing aid in one ear and the other ear almost profoundly deaf, it is not my highest priority. It doesn't sound right so I resort to F8 to silence the locomotive.  The tender is still unlettered and after researching the C-9 series in "Southern Pacific Consolidation 2-8-0. Pictorial Album Series Volume 1"  I decided to renumber it 2568 as the running boards on that engine matched the model with a high step. 2575 had a lower stepped running board at the front running around the cylinder pipe. I would like the new C-9 or 10's to have Vanderbilt tenders. Interesting enough I spotted 2568 in an 1950 photo of Port Costa with a whaleback tender.

The Bachmann heavy Baldwin consolidation is an interesting story. I understand Bachmann based this 1990's model on an Illinois Central 1920's Baldwin prototype. There was a plan a while ago for Owl Mountain to produce 3 D printed slanted cylinders, valve gear and domes to match the common SP locomotive style which unfortunately did not go anywhere. I then found a picture of a series of Cotton Belt 2-8-0's transferred to the Coast and Western Division in 1956 to use up their remaining boiler time before being scrapped. These it turns out were almost identical to the Bachmann model with similar dome shape and positioning, cylinders and valve gear. The tenders were similar but with different heavier tender trucks. They were numbered 2861-67 on the Pacific Lines but lasted a only a few months before scrapping.  I had given the Bachmann model the open number 2870 and a fictional background as one of a pair of Oregon lumber company locomotives acquired by the SP in the late 1940's. I planned to add 2869 later. They were fictionally assigned class C-13, a class vacated by scrapped 19th century consolidations by the 1950's.  

But suppose 2869 and 2870 were purchased by the SP from the SSW/Cotton Belt about 1950 during their early dieselization for the specific purpose of adding muscle to the helpers needed to move very heavy eastbound trains up the grade east of Martinez to the Carquinez Strait/Benicia bridge and still fit on the turntable at Port Costa.  A not entirely implausible fiction. I no longer need to do the surgery. I am looking for a good deal on another soundless but DCC wired Bachmann Baldwin heavy 2-8-0. 

Both 2870 and 2568 need to be fitted with a keep alive so they can navigate Peco electrofrog turnouts without having to wire the turnout frog. The diesel switchers work fine through these turnouts. Oh for that glorious day to come of bluetooth/wifi dead rail and no reliance on track wiring for power or control.

I could do with at least 2-3 more C-9 and/or C-10 locomotives to populate the Port Costa ready tracks and roundhouse.  And I would love to add a pair of M-6 moguls (or an M-6 and M-9) to represent the engines used on the San Ramon branch line based at Port Costa. The station at Walnut Creek is still in my long range planning .

I have a pair of IHC 2-6-0's that are sort of representations of M-4's. But to my knowledge the M-4's were based at Fairfield and worked the very light Calistoga branch along with local switching.  The IHC moguls will take a lot of work to make into good robust working models. I had just started on one of them just before the ceiling collapse in February 2019 took my office/train room and caused me to scrap my old Padstow layout.  I had just worked a bit on a shorty Vanderbilt tender built from a  Bachmann sort of UP like switch engine before the deluge.

The only other SP steam power that may yet grace the turntable at Port Costa is a pair of MDC 4-6-0's that represent T-28 locomotives. I built these in the early 1980's and spent a lot of time removing cast on details and replacing them with brass castings. They never worked very well and will need a complete new approach to the chassis, drivers and everything else to bring them up to any level of working on a DCC layout.

Answer to "Is Rolling stock prototype accuracy relevant to you?"

This was a response to a topic titled " Is Rolling stock prototype accuracy relevant to you?" in the MRH forum.
The concept of  accuracy has changed for me over time. I used to buy anything that was labeled SP or UP or PFE without much care for accuracy. But this cycle in my modeling (each cycle seems to last about 10 years) I have caught the reasonable accuracy bug. I don't expect any RTR manufacturer to be 100% accurate. These days if I need the specific item to support my layout concept and equipment collection and can get within 90-95%, it is usually good enough for mass produced items. I also have to balance affordability with my desire for accuracy. And I sort of love the challenge of tinkering and the additional work to create a 95-99% accurate model. 
Understand that I like building models more than any other aspect of the hobby. My a-building layout will be more of an accurate if compressed diorama where I can display, photograph and occasionally run the models I build.  A little bit of switching now and then is always enjoyable. It's just I hate wiring with a passion.
I love the new trends in resin and plastic kits towards higher standards of accuracy. Historical societies (SP, NP, UP and others)  have sponsored special runs of items that are closer than anything mass produced. Resin kits such as from Yarmouth,  Resin Car Works and Westerfield have enabled a higher degree of accuracy but at a fairly high cost.  (If I compare the cost of the recent Rapido NP boxcar to a resin kit and factor in the additional materials I and time I contribute the RTR is much cheaper.)  Owl Mountain and similar small manufacturers have achieved incredible results by making plastic kits with great attention to replicating accurate detail. 
And recently I received a highly accurate South Eastern and Chatham Railway 10 ton RTR OO scale van (small box car) from the UK that had been semi-mass produced through an new 3D printing process that enabled a run of 800 items at a reasonable cost. Hopefully this technology will come to the US and find a mechanism to organize, fund the building and distribution of RTR or kit for the rarer or railroad specific items mass manufacturers would shun or promise and never deliver. Clubs  and historical societies doing a go fund me sort of project might work.
The quest for accuracy goes beyond rolling stock. Structures and the civil engineering of the track and operating fixtures needed for service of steam and diesel locomotives and maintenance of way need just as much effort as my PFE car collection. Right now I am trying to build the 70 foot manually operated shallow pit turntable that is the central object in the small layout's scene. I will have to organize more detailed searches in archives and photo collections to start in the new year. I have gone through any number of Tichy windows to get the closest size match for the freight and operations office/station (there is no scheduled stopping passenger service in the period I model). Freight house doors I have to build from scratch. I am fortunate that there is an accurate laser cut kit for the "roundhouse" or engine shed that I have purchased to build.
I fully realize there are those who do not share my passion. There are Lionel operators and prototype operators and those who like the fanciful and mythical. I occasionally go a bit mythical to justify equipment that would not have appeared in the time frame of my modeling. For others the 3 foot rule is good enough. I love prototyping structures for my layout made from paper board as fill ins until I can build the accurate model. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Structure Mockups

I like to mock up structures long before I get around to doing the detail buildings.  Sometimes it is a long time before I will get around to the detail construction but I really want something to give me a location and size.

So two important structures other than the roundhouse that I needed to visualize are the freight station and the enormous water tower/tank that loomed over the station and section house. Ron Pleis article in RMC indicated the water tank was 45 feet in diameter. However it was on a low wood platform (not steel) only about 14 feet high as it was also up a bit  on the slope of the hill to the west of downtown Port Costa.  The mock up is just some cardboard bent to form a 45 foot diameter tank. I covered it badly with black duct tape as it was on hand to give it the right coloration. It's mounted on blocks of wood and granite counter samples to approximate the height. I don't know if I will model the water treatment building(s?) behind the section house on some sort of angle where the very square corner of the two sections of the layout now join.

The backside of the freight station (the freight house is the smaller building next door) does not show up in most pictures of the station area. There was one tantalizing view from an angle in Ron's RMC article. Ron attributes the picture to Bob Morris, but Bob has indicated to me that he does not have that picture.  Because my layout is viewed looking north over the Carquinez Straits the backside of the station building will be highly visible. Anyway I analyzed that picture for window and door locations and made an assumption that the windows and doors were the same size as on the well documented track side. The mockup below is some cardboard covered with yellow frog masking tape with unpainted Tichy doors and windows tacked to it in the locations I guessed at. The freight door is scratch built and a test bed for SP freight freight house trim brown. The small 4 pane window is too large and will be replaced. 

Note: I recently found a picture of the backside of the station building on the Contra Costa County Historical website.  The backside of the building visible above will change shortly.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Quiet Please, Camera, Action

Just a brief note to say that last night an #1474, an Alco S-4 traversed 13 feet of track on the Port Costa layout. The wiring is somewhat temporary as is the track at the west end. But it is now a real operating model railroad.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

First trackage tentatively fixed down and away we go....

The Port Costa Engine house kit from Banta arrived on Thursday (10/24/2019).  I immediately opened the box and found the sub floor for the engine house and started really planning the trackage. Three days later this is the result:

This is looking westward towards Oakland from the east end of the layout. If you are at all familiar with the SP at Port Costa you will hopefully recognize the scene with the track to McNear's warehouse to the left, the open tracks, the round house tracks and east turntable approach track. Beyond to the right are the engine service track, two Port Costa yard tracks, the eastbound main, the westbound main and I plan one last siding to the north next to the wall.  I will probably permanently park a string of completed SP boxcar kits against the wall to cover up the unseen waters edge edge of Carquinez straits

This is an SP rough drawing of the track plan for installation of a new water crane to show you what I am aiming towards.

I have added the crossover turnouts to not shown on the plan and the orientation of the east end turnouts to access the fictional beginning of the San Ramon Valley branch line just to the right of Port Costa instead of 10 miles further east at Avon on the Mococo line.  Just got to do what ya got to do when you have no space and want to somehow attach a model of the Type 18 Walnut Creek depot somewhere on the tiny layout. I haven't redrawn my overall plan to you can go back a few posts to see what I intend. 

The crossovers are intended to allow a westbound train off the branch to enter the westbound main. The SP would never have contemplated a double or single slip turnout for a location like this.

I also finally received a set of ordered Tichy windows that will closely match the size of the freight station office building. Previous sets made the distances between windows too close. 

Photo from Bob Morris collection

Ignore the numbers on the side of the building photo, I was trying to calculate the height by the number of pieces of siding.  The windows are shown against a cardboard mockup of the 16 foot tall 85 foot long building.  

The freight door is scratch built as I could not find the correct one in anyone's catalog of plastic moldings. The 8 pane windows were Tichy 8028 27x62 single double hung, 8064 59x64 double double hung. and 8070 59x64 double double hung with some windows open to give it variety.  The small 4 pane window probably for a bathroom needs to be replaced with one about half that size.  I will now have to mock up the rear side of the building which is not well documented. 

Saturday morning I had a delightful 1 hour phone conversation with Ron Pleis who built the July-August 2000 RMC featured version of Port Costa. Learned a lot. I have a lot more research to do.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Behold a Virgin Baseboard

At long last I have the infrastructure for the Port Costa layout nearing completion. The benchwork for sections A-C and stub to begin section D have been completed and the foamboard surface has been fully fitted to the area available. 

A few more pieces of 1 X 2 poplar as joists are needed for section B to support the 1 x 1/2 inch wood trim that borders the foamboard sheets to protect it and make it look a little neater. All joists that support the trim border will need to be trimmed to a uniform length.   There is a piece of the 1 x 1/2 fir trim along the back of the baseboard.  At some point this will be used to support a backscene of the strait and the Benicia shore across the water. It will be a vague and misty scene about 18 inches in height with the aura of the fog creeping through the strait from San Francisco Bay obscuring any detail.  I haven't tried any scenic painting in over 60 years.

Section A at the far left looks huge from the perspective of looking through the door. Its not as it is only 16 X 42 inches. I will have to erect a barrier at the end of the tracks in that section to avoid trains flying off the end

The next phase is to prep the 1/16 thick polycarbonate sheet that covers the foam board.  I found out today that Home Depot does not sell Krylon spray paint or any matt or flat spray can paint. So it means a visit to Lowes, a big box I like even less than Home Depot. I am looking for a matt light shell color that Krylon advertises. Their camo colors are too dark. 

After that I will start the tracklaying phase. The first task is to finalize the location for the turntable and roundhouse. I have the Banta kit for the Port Costa roundhouse on order and once that is on hand will be able to locate the structure and cut the turntable pit. Interestingly Peco has just this week announced a turntable motor and control as a separate item at a reasonable cost. I am tempted to order one and see if I can abandon my planned manual armstrong method of turntable control which while prototype for Port Costa would present constant problems with all the overhead steam lines that criss crossed the engine service area. Once the location of the turntable is finalized and a pit constructed I can finish the turntable.

No fancy lighting or shadow boxes are planned. This is more a diorama than an operational model railroad. Just a place for me to run my kit bashed boxcars, reefers and a few other models back and forth.

Added 10/19/2019
Last photos before track and everything else gets built. I have sprayed the polycarbonate sheet with a matte primer.