Friday, October 8, 2021

October 8, 2021 and Lack of any Layout or any other Model Railroad Progress

 This is a short note to anyone who glances at this bloggy spot. I recognize I still have a blog but have had nothing I really want to post at this time.  All work on my layout and model projects has slowed. 

At the moment I have turned my attention to the turntable and possible replacement of the mockup stand-in with an actual pit. Bill Schneider (who works for Rapido) did a clinic on his HO NYO&W layout and talked about his building two 76 foot turntables for his layout.  This has somewhat motivated me and  pushed the Port Costa turntable back to the foreground of my myriad layout building tasks. 

I had already procured two one foot square slabs of  half inch PVC sheet. My initial attempt to cut out the pit was interrupted when I stabbed my left hand badly with a utility knife. Three weeks later I am thinking about getting back to the project.  Bill's ideas on building the pit and bridge are roughly similar to my earlier attempts and the half inch PVC sheet idea I got from an MRH blog is very tough material makes this look more feasible. 

More later.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

July marches on and I am just a little closer to finalizing one part of my layout.

Here it is almost the end of July and I am just getting around to adding a new chapter in this slowly evolving layout and its accompanying blog.  The first 10 days my attention was diverted as I had volunteered to be a co-host for 4 4 hour shifts on the virtual NMRA National Convention Rails by the Bay.  I still have a bit of a sore posterior from the 5 days of the convention followed by a heat wave confining me mostly indoors. 

I also took my first BART ride since the start of the Pandemic when I attended a luncheon held by my friend's political saloon. And I followed up with attending the annual 4th of July members picnic/ride for the Pacific Locomotive Association/Niles Canyon Railroad.  There big information was brewing as and it has now been announced that the dismantled San Jose Lentzen SP roundhouse will, if all goes well, be reconstructed in the wye area at Niles. If all goes well this will also house SP Pacific 2479 along with M-6 Mogul 1744 being rebuilt at at the Brightside maintenance facility.  

Unfortunately the cost of oil (rightfully so) is going to at least double by the time these are ready to steam.  Perhaps a solar fueled boiler could be used power at least the M-6 as a fireless cooker with compressed steam tank in the Vanderbilt tender. 

Well onto the layout.  I am still focused on the landscape segment for the station, freight house, section house and other buildings. Nothing new on Tank Hill.  Eric Burgh gave me a rather blurry copy of an 1937 aerial photo of the complete area I am modeling.  I am not sure how to find the sharp original, but the photo confirmed nearly all the building locations that were critical in the station area module. I was beginning to have doubts about the length of the freight house at 41 feet. Other sources had indicated it was about 35 feet in length. In the aerial photo there was a 40 foot house car about 150 feet east of the freight house and using my calipers I was able to verify the 41 foot length. I have found a lot of photos foreshorten buildings and one which showed the southeast corner of the freight house had made me wonder if I was correct in following the plan length in the 1931 SP relocation plan. The station building was shortened by at least 10 feet from the plan. Before I build the final version of the station, I am hoping to find the actual as built layout for the interior so I can finally answer all my questions about it. 

I have spent a lot of time reconstructing the landform for the station area trying to get the elevations of the terrain. Pictures of the current area only hint at what it was when the Port Costa station was active 1931 to 1960. 

This is my best guess at the shape after a lot of trial and error:

Ignore the structures strewn across the tracks. I have finally got it to the point where I could paint the bits of foamboard and lightweight spackle used to shape the terrain. The base color is called linen and the terrain does disappear  in this photo.  These show the structures back in place. 

Note the wooden boardwalks like duckboards used to connect water treatment and signal and telegraph repair shop buildings.
 I am very focused on the corner where the section house, freight house and station met. It will be the scenic focus for half the layout.
This is the eastern part of the station scenic module.

The tree in the retaining wall is very prominent in photos. I am still not completely sure of the location of the steps up to the section house. The clearer photos of this part of the complex date from 1910 before all the 1930's topographical changes.  Note the bollards to prevent anyone driving a vehicle into the space between the station and freight house.  The tree is a stand-in and a black iron railing goes on top of the wooden retaining wall. This is the photo, from the Contra Costa County Historical Society collection on which I am basing much of this scene. Note also the rough cement transition from the station rear walkway to the area around the end of the building. That is yet to come.
That's as much of a blog post as my sore posterior will allow at this moment.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

More June Rework of the Layout Scenery

After completing the retaining wall and walkway behind the station all the problems with the mocked up scenic area became too much of a glaring issue in my mind and started keeping me awake at night. 

So, in one of those spurts of energy,  I tore everything out and have decided it is time I need to create the non-mockup scenery modules for the area behind the station and speeder shed.  I am using the 1/8 inch thick plastic from the 4'X8' sheet I bought at Zap Plastics a couple of years ago as the foundation for the scenic modules.  These are intended to be completely removable so I can work on the scenery at the dining room table from all sides as well as ballast and finish the trackage behind. The hillside with the water tank will be a smaller separate scenic module. 

Monday,  had a real burst of energy this afternoon.  The full sheet cutout for the scenic module is heavy enough it doesn't move on top of the Woodland Scenics foam underlay. I don't plan on using an adhesive at that level.  If it needs more positional stability I can screw it to the cross stringers of the benchwork. Still easily removable that way.

I may need to glue some support under the sheet where it is not supported by the two benchwork modules to avoid any sagging. 

This is with the buildings placed where they will go

This is what the flat raised area behind the station building looks like today. The retaining wall runs diagonally on the left side of the picture.  This is 60 years after the section house house and other buildings were removed.  I think the concrete pad visible in the lower center of the picture was the floor of the water treatment building.

The next challenge will be building the elevation levels above the module base level to resemble the actual land form south of the retaining wall.  For this, I just lucked out a bit. I vaguely remembered a huge Woodland Scenics landscaping module kit I had purchased for Steve, my son, when he was interested in building a module for his collection of N scale Wheels of Time commute coaches and FM trainmaster diesels about 2005. He is no longer interested in it and gifted it back to me for any modeling purposes I needed back in the days of my Brixham, Devonshire, layout. 

I found the Woodland Scenics kit tonight buried in a bedroom closet. All that was left in the large box were 2 18X36 1/2 inch thick sheets of very dense styrene foam. Perfect for building the elevated section which is 1 1/4 inches high over the new styrene base. And of course water resistant as I have some scenic plaster cloth also from the kit to model non-flat areas. I have two of the  2 X 2 foot x 2 inch pinkish dense foam tiles from Home Depot. You can have them if you want as I also have the large 2 inch thick sheets of very dense architectural terrain modeling foam that I bought many years ago. It shapes easily into ground forms.  The architectural foam will be used for the tank hill and the small bit of sharply rising terrain at the east end of the layout.  

I have to paint the base sheet with the camo sprays on the garage floor and then build the ground elevation which will be the challenge for the rest of the week. 

I have put off final versions of the structures until I can get full access to the CSRM library and the microfilm records that are not available to order prints online. Hopefully they have the specific plans for the station and section house. Maybe even the plan for the water treatment facility. 

I may get the layout back in order by the end of June but then will be involved with the 2021 Virtual NMRA National Convention so it will be mid-July before I have much time to return to my own model railroad. 

That's all for now. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

It's Already Mid-June and the Mockup Station Area Land Clearance

I'm a bad bad bad blogger for not having published any updates since May 1, 2021. I would just rather mess around with the layout than write about about it. 

And mess with it I have. This photo was taken this morning.  Currently the area where the station and other SP PC buildings looks like it did in 1962 after the SP razed the area hopping to sell the land after moving the switching operations 4 miles east to new yard trackage at Ozul. Steam had been gone 5 years and there was not more reason for keeping any of the structures now 30-70 years old.

Except the SP didn't remove all the trees but did remove all the yard tracks.

The reason for my land clearance is that I have been just putting around with the scenery  in this area and it is time to get more serious with the final elevations and shape of the ground. It is also time to paint rail and ballast and that is much easier done if you don't  have the buildings in the way. I may also get the mainline done before the structures return.  This may take a while and I have volunteered to help with the virtual 2021 NMRA National Convention from July 5-10. 

I have been working on the retaining wall and walkway that went behind the station building. Yesterday, I went to Port Costa and measured the height and it was only 45 inches at the highest level part of the retaining wall.  This was a bit lower than the 60 inches (5 foot) height I had scaled from the 1931 SP drawing of the proposed rebuilding of this area following the December 1930 opening of the Carquinez Strait SP drawbridge. Well, the station turned out to be 90 feet long instead of the 106 feet on the drawing so what else was different. I need to trim the height of the retaining wall I have cut from 1/4 thick styrene before final assembly of that area and any photos in this blog. I am keeping the current mockup of the station building. Hopefully, this fall I will be able to do some research at the California State Railway Museum library in Sacramento and get access to the uncatalogued microfilm archives that will have the correct information particularly of the internal layout of the station building. 

I am also working on the double 45 foot SP signal and telegraph and pole fixture that stood at the end of the walkway. Apparently there was an extensive telegraph operation in the station building. The Western Union joint poles with the SP Signal and Telegraph department split at this point with the Western Union lines going up over the hills while the SP S&T lines remained along the right of way. Also at this point the SP S&T (and Western Union?) main lines went underground under the SP tracks and then through an underwater cable to the north shore of the Carquinez Strait. There was a small Western Union Telegraph Office sign on the NW corner of the Station building that I am trying to find a decal (or picture I can photo reduce) for my model. 

Enough for now. Will try to update before July.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Trackwork Progress on Port Costa Mainline Trackage

UP Trackage today at Port Costa looking across the Carquinez strait to Benicia

Wow, I missed posting what I did in April. The focus for the month was mostly trackwork  on Port Costa mainline trackage. But I have been sidetracked a lot of times and there were days I just didn't feel like working on the railroad.  So much of what I do is ad hoc, spur of the moment change of focus. This is a hobby and I am not too disciplined or end focused so I change projects almost on a whim. I do have a spreadsheet with a master list of projects.  But I don't keep it up and follow it rigidly. 

I have developed a workable approach to laying the mainline and north/strait side siding track.  I had purchased a 4' x 8' sheet 1/4 inch thick sheet of polystyrene at Zap Plastics 3-4 years ago and had it cut into 2' x 4' pieces. I am going to use 6" wide pieces of it as a track base/roadbed for the mainline and the strait side siding trackage.  I have cut it into manageable lengths to allow the track to be laid, wired, ballasted working at the dining room table rather than reaching over the 32" area of the benchwork where the turntable, roundhouse building ant out buildings are located. 

Before test lay out of turnouts
Test layout of turnouts with freight cars to check clearances.

This is the overall view of the mainline with the track just laid on the plastic for working out the crossover arrangement and ramp for changing from the yard trackage height to the elevated trackage of the mainline. Note that I understand that SP standards called for a 6 inch difference in height between yard and mainline trackage but the 1/4 inch thick plastic scales to about 9 inches. The track separation should be 14-15 feet between mainline tracks. Note the ramp has been fitted. It is quite steep but short. I don't have much linear space to work with so the S curves are unavoidable if crossing to/from the yard lead trackage to the westbound main. 

Note that the sheet plastic was primed/painted with Rust-oleum and Krylon in several over sprays on the plastic sheet to prime it.  The matte clamshell color approximates the light grey tan look of the ground at Port Costa in bright sunlight. 

I have been stalled at this point since mid-April. I have had a diversion to review ballasting and seeing how this will work on top of the sheet plastic road bed. I have been working on a sample of double track with ballast and painted rail. 

The rail was glued to the painted plastic using Formula 560 Canopy Glue.  Left to dry overnight it is a very tight bond. Next came the ballast. I used Woodland Scenics walnut shell light grey on the far track and Woodland Scenics new Grey Blend on the near track. I am using Joe Fugate's recommended zip ballasting technique with Ballast Bond from Deluxe Materials diluted about 50% with 70% IPA. I apply the ballast adhesive with an eye dropper. Setting time is about 18 hours. I used the same technique on ballast between the two tracks. Fingers run inside the track tamped down the ballast and then a metal pick was used to remove stray pieces of ballast on the ties and tie plates. 

I am using the shorter Micro Engineering Code 83 rail joiners on the Peco Code 83 track with no problem. I am worried about the ballasting around in place rail joiners so I added solder to the joints. I don't have any long runs of track without power feeds and my layout is in an air conditioned very low humidity room so I am not to worried about expansion. There are going to be insulation gaps and separate feed wires around the turnouts  

The track was painted after ballast using Vallejo 70.822 German Black brown brushed on the ties and rail sides.  After the black brown dried, I brush painted the rail and tie plates with Vallejo 71.080 Model Air  Rust (AKA #29015 Freight Car Red at Micro-Mark when I bought 6 bottles about 8 years ago.)  I tend to like a dark rusty color even on mainline track. This photo was shot from the observation platform of the Redwood Empire in 2017 on a trip to LA at Vandenberg south of Surf. Those are rusty rails.

 Magnify the picture and you can faintly see the launch towers to the right of the track in the background.

After painting the rails, I cleaned them off with the 70% IPA. within a couple of hours. The upper track has a trail of Vallejo 73.817 Petrol Spills. I have also used a light brushing of dusty colored weathering powder on the ties of the rear test track. 

All this work will be done on the dining room table when my motivation comes back to finish the mainline trackage so I can get on to the ballasting of the yard trackage and building the turntable. It will get done sometime in 2021. 

Note that trips on the Redwood Empire are chronicled elsewhere in this blog. Unfortunately with Amtrak becoming highly restrictive on private car operation, the owners have put the car up for sale. It was no longer fun.  In addition Amtrak has now banned open platform riding while the train is in motion so a picture like the above is no longer legally possible.  


Friday, March 26, 2021

"I'm finding my thrill in modeling Tank Hill"

"I'm finding my thrill in modeling Tank Hill" with apologies to Fats Domino....

Scenery has always been a dark mystery to me in 65 years of model railroading. I love researching and building structures and rolling stock but modeling a setting on a layout has always been sort of a mock up to suggest the setting.  I'm now 77 years old and I guess it is time to delve into those dark arts and do a little better at setting the section of a railroad I model in a more believable/realistic scene. In the past I have considered myself a follower of minimalist impressionism or perhaps cubism and my efforts on Port Costa are still in that stage. 

In my little Port Costa world, I cannot even close accurately model the east end beyond the roundhouse and support buildings as the 2 tracks of mainline and strait ward siding curve to the left . On the east end i am taking extreme liberties with the actual track plan to start the Molocco line curving to the right instead of continuing eastwards on through the Martinez flying junction, the bridge and the branch junction at Avon for the San Ramon branch. This will in fact be just a stub crossing over and behind my workbench. If I should live so long I might create a dummy Avon and have a place for a module with the Walnut Creek depot highly compressed.  Such are the fantasies that I amuse myself with. 

Now on the west end, we have the steep hillside around which the trackage curves across from the site of the ferry piers. On the hillside just above beyond the hand car and tool sheds was the huge final Port Costa water tank. The 1920's Sanborn map I have lists it as a 175,000 gallon tank. Ron Pleis in his research found it to be a 41 foot diameter tank mounted on a timber structure that was built to fit the sharp slope (I estimate about a 40' slope angle). The road to the wooden viaduct that crossed the tracks to the old station site, ferry piers and original town of Port Costa (built on pilings out in the Carquinez strait and burning down several times) wound around the back side of the tank. The final tank was preceded by several smaller tanks that fed the steam engines and ferries in the days before the double track Carquinez strait lift bridge was built. 

This is a portion of a 1959 photo from the Contra Costa County Historical association collection enhanced as much as I can with limited photoshop skills.

The tank was not that high (I estimate about 20 feet high) just vast. It was a huge black object whose shadow prevented most photographs showing any of the wooden support structure underneath by keeping in dark shadows.  The hillside is the modeling challenge.  Compounded is fact that you cannot see the trackside slope directly on my model of Port Costa. I have some mirrors set up right now. I am also looking at mounting a remote video camera such as used on drones and home security systems. This will allow me to monitor the trackage and see my modeling efforts in direct image rather than mirror image.

I am planning to build the tank and hillside as a removable scenic module about 30 inches long and 12-15 inches wide. All structures and vertical objects on the layout must be removeable as I have not finalized and laid the mainline and other strait side trackage. As it is removable it will be constructed primarily of sheet foam. I have been out to Port Costa recently and taken photos of the hillside. One of the concrete footings for the water tank is visible. Photos from about the 1950's show more of a rocky slope than it is today covered with thicker vegetation.  I understand the hill has burned several times and the houses on the upper slope are now gone.

Currently I have a 41 scale foot cylinder of cardboard and black construction paper standing in for the tank which will be another modeling project sometime soon (like many other projects including the turntable.)

I was fortunate to remember that about 20 years ago I had purchased two 2 X 4 foot sheets of 2 inch thick very dense foam used for architectural and display models. I have played around with this material and found it very easy to cut and shape with a cheap snap off box cutter knife fully extended. It cuts beautifully smooth even at an angle and can be shaped into the contours of the slope. I also had a lot of Scenic Woodlands Styrofoam riser and flat shape material I had used on my old Padstow layout for the Padstow town bluffs above the train station and yard. They would also have been used to form the pier and quay sides had I ever gone that far with the Padstow concept.

Another Woodland Scenic product I am playing with is 10 inch wide 3 foot long strips of heavy foil material covered on one side with a fuzzy scenic coating.  These can be cut and  shaped as needed into rocky and dirt covered steep slopes. They are easily sprayed with spray can camouflage colors and will be dressed up with the usual California desiccated weed foliage. 

So the tank hill(side) game is afoot. The photos included in this longer than usual diatribel illustrate where I am with current efforts. The mirrors are obvious.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Station Building Mark 3 Mockup Now on Layout and the Remains of the SP yard at Port Costa

I have been consumed these past couple of weeks with the latest illustration board mockup version of the Port Costa station building.  It has many changes from earlier versions and is hopefully the final mockup that will stand in for the final model until I get the urge to replace it with a novelty siding final version. This is hopefully the best guess at the door and window arrangement on the non-track side. 

The station building is hidden behind trees from the normal north looking view of my layout.  The mirror currently against the wall shows the location in reverse view.  Holding the phone camera at a low angle on the layout shows more as in the top and bottom view. 

This is the full view on the workbench of the track side with the back side wall in front.

The windows and entry doors are all from Tichy which has the wide variety of plastic castings needed for the several types/shapes of windows.  The baggage room doors are Grandt Line (sadly missed these days) door frames with correct 5 pane transoms and scratch built doors to the SP design.

The arrangement of the trackside windows is well documented from photos.  This past year I was able to find the 1930 proposed floor plan for the station when the original trackside station near the second ferry slip was cut up and moved after the opening of the Martinez to Benecia lift bridge at the end of 1930. However the plan is not what was built. The plan was shortened from 106 feet in length to about 90 feet.  I have several pictures from the trackside but only two very high angle photos of the backside. I had to guess at the changes to the floorplan.  The CSRM being closed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic these last 13 months has inhibited any further research on site. The available documents online only included the 1930 proposed plan. 

This sketch map shows the station site move:

I am not sure if any passenger services stopped at Port Costa after the bridge opened. Crockett and Martinez had nearby stations and the greatly reduced SP activity at Port Costa would have reduced the need for a stopping service.  It takes about 15 minutes to drive to Crocket and 20 to Martinez these days.  

Speaking of these days, I took advantage of our very dry February weather to visit Port Costa and see if there were any remains of the SP complex left.  It had been leveled in the 1960's when SP tried to lease/sell the land but there were no takers and it remains a gravel parking lot.  The only visible trace was the concrete walkway in back of the station building and ramp at the west side of the building.

The walkway and retaining wall for the level where the section house and water treatment building stood
The ramp at the north end of the station building
The parking lot. The station would have been behind the white truck at left. This view would have been of the sand house and west end of the yard. The mainline is just visible and the Carquinez strait beyond it.  
I can't take a photo for a backdrop of the Benicia hills beyond the strait as they are now covered with houses and strait side docks.  In the 1950's, photos show barren hills beyond the water.