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. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Progress update on foreground scenery experiments and mockups

This is the first three weeks of February's progress on the Port Costa Station, freight house and section house corner.

The ground cover is now coming into shape with the foam base, ivory paint with a touch of mustard yellow and fine sanded grout for texture to represent the color of the ground in this corner of Port Costa.  The tree in front of the corner is temporary as the real tree was not a fruit tress and the station is in another stage of a mockup.  

The newest addition is a first attempt at the three bollards in front of the walkway at the non-track side of the station (not really the back of the station.) They were placed here to prevent anyone trying to drive onto the platform. Critical as the section house would house track gangs and other single employees who might arrive back at the lodgings somewhat inebriated in the dark of the night. Engine crews on call I understand would stay at the hotel or lodging house across Prospect street (not modeled) from the section house.

The color of the garage in front of the section house needs toning down to a lighter grey with more aging. 

In the background you see more ground painted the ivory color and a new mockup of the now 75 foot turntable.  It should be 70 feet in length but is 75 feet to match the geometry of the tracks and stalls of the Banta round house kit. 

I still need to build the two mainlines and the siding by the strait so everything is removable so I can access the rear of the layout. I am not very disciplined and work on what interests me most and I like structures and details. I need to finish and ballast the mainline trackage and rear siding trackage soon but I like to model or play with the foreground structures and scenic features. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Freight House and Station Platform Progress

I have been working on the station-freight house-section house area with the umpteenth attempt to get the ground profile between the freight house and the section house right. I am not really there yet but getting closer. 

Note that closer examination of photos of the section house from 1962 when the yard was being torn out showed that I needed to build a cutout to the kitchen/garage part of the building with sloping stairs down to the ground behind the station which is at freight platform level (4 feet above track level).  As part of this effort I built the rest of the freight platform and the ramp down to track/ground level. This is on my workbench with a mockup of the station building wall.

This is a view showing the freight house and freight platform on the layout and a comparison to a photo from Bob Morris's Port Costa collection. The station is another mockup stand in I have been using for almost a year to get the right windows Tichy and Grandt line windows to fit the prototype.  The corrugated shed at right is still a crude representation but the sand house behind is now painted. 
I still need the finial for the freight house and one to go on the end of the station building. Ballasting will not be completed until the mainline tracks have been laid and ballasted along with most of the details out to the waters of the Carquinez strait. Until then all structures and land forms remain removable.  The stake bed truck is actually an inexpensive Oxford  4 mm scale coal merchant Bedford model. English prototypes are small enough that they don't look too out of place.

This is an overall view of most of the layout.  
Note the mirror behind so I have a reversed view from the other direction. 

Also the M-4 2-6-0 1685 now has a working TCS KA2 and glides through turnouts nicely so it can be used for switching Port Costa. I recently came across a 1950 photo of 1685 at Gerber working the west line up the Sacramento Valley with an identical R-90-7 tender. The 2-6-0 M-4 is an IHC plastic RTR from the 1990's that has been modified a bit. I doubt I will find a painted, DCC wired affordable brass M-6 anywhere soon. 

I need to look at long last at building the turntable pit and bridge. On this small layout it will be mostly cosmetic and hand operated. At least I should paint the plastic disk that represents the turntable a concrete grey.  I have also started building part of the forest of poles that carried steam lines to buildings from the roundhouse boiler, sand lines from the sand house and a huge web of telephone and telegraph wires. 



Monday, December 14, 2020

The Port Costa Roundhouse Mockup

I usually build mockups of structures I am going to build. In this case I purchased the HO Banta Models Port Costa 2 stall Round House kit last year. I have not started the kit but have used all the components, plans etc. to construct a mockup of the building so I will know what it will look like in place before I commit to the long process of building the actual kit. 

This is the 1956 color slide from the CCCHS collection which shows the roundhouse in the final year of steam.

This building and the availability of the kit is what sealed my choice of prototype last year. It is the central focus of the layout. I have yet to finalize the turntable, build the final station building, get serious about the landscape and finalize the trackage so this mockup starts the ball rolling for all those pieces of the project.  I can now have a good sense or what the layout will look like and the operational dimensions for moving engines in and out of the service bays and storage sidings.

This is the mockup with paper windows from scans of the kit parts as neither Tichy or other windows makers had the matching twelve pane windows on the south side and east side of the building. Normally the building is viewed looking directly north or north east so the north side and east wall have not had paper windows added. Fortunately I had plastic tubing for the boiler smokestack which matched the size of the tubing supplied in the kit. It was sprayed matte black.  

The mockup is constructed from illustration board and craft paper.  I used Cracker Barrel Barn Red for the smoked red paint the building displayed in it's final years. This is the overall context view.
The area behind the round house needs a couple more buildings for the lubricant oil shed and the pumphouse for the fuel oil bunker sump. I also need to work out the piping coming from the sump. 

Now I have to get on with decisions about the turntable which brings up a conundrum. Ron Plies sent me copies of Herman Darr's drawings of the PC roundhouse when I started this project. Those drawings indicate the building was 75 feet in length. The Banta kit building scales to an 80' length. I know the people who pushed for the kit wanted to use it with the Diamond 75 foot turntable which was then available in the late 1990's. However, most authorities indicate Port Costa had a 70 foot turntable not a 75 foot.  The Banta site plot in the instructions shows the 75 foot table and a 61 foot distance between the end of the turntable and the roundhouse doors and an 8.164 degree angle between the round house tracks.  Darr's drawing notes an angle of 10 degrees and only a 42 foot distance between the turntable and roundhouse door.  Prototype photos of the area do not answer the question as they from across the turntable and foreshorten the distances. To top off the conundrum Darr's turntable is 75 feet.  I am still at a point where I can lengthen the turntable. But I doubt I could modify the Banta kit to Darr's dimensions and angle of the tracks.

September 22, 2020
I have played around with the idea of the 75 foot turntable and have decided that it is the way I will have to go. As I said above it would be difficult to modify the Banta kit to match the shorter turntable. I tried several ideas but finally gave in an decided to mock in a 75 foot turntable. There needed to be a lot of track adjustments particularly to the west turntable approach track. After several hours of cutting and adjusting locations, this is the result.

December 14, 2020

I thought I had written this blog post but it turns out I never posted it.

The past few days I decided the roundhouse mock up needed a few features added. 

There were large vent stacks located where an engines smokestack would be on the roundhouse tracks below on the rear section of the roof. . Strangely they were painted white I first tried modeling these with scraps of illustration board, but the result was not satisfactory so I switched to scraps of sheet plastic.  Photos taken from the hillside east of the roundhouse show black colored mounting pieces that matched the slope of the roof so the rectangular vents. I finally put together the vent stacks and mounts. They were too unnatural in pure white plastic so I used a Tamiya "smoke" wash to give them a little weathering.

There were louvered vent panels on the cupola on the shown on the picture at the start of this post. I grew tired of the unadorned look of the plain front of the cupola and decided to try and improve this view. I first tried an old trick of taking a photo of the front of the roundhouse and cropping the photo to just the vents and creating an image that would print in the size of the vent area. I use the Irfanview freeware to modify the photo as has settings to allow metric print dimensions.  I pasted the result on the front of the cupola structure but was not really happy with it. 

I rummaged through my stash of plastic sheet material and found an unused sheet of N scale clapboard siding. The clapboard siding spacing was an acceptable mockup of the louvered vent panels. Using several different strip sizes I created the framing and glued the full panel together on a piece of .15 sheet.  Note that the louvers on the panels on the left were 5 feet long and the ones on the right were 6 feet long.  

I primed and then brush painted the whole piece in Tamiya XF-84 Dark Iron. After the paint dried, it came out glossy and it took several coats of dull coat to matte it down. It was still to glossy for me so I used dark coal dust weathering powder rubbed into the louvers to get even less sheen. 

I am still working on the mockup as I have no real energy and commitment to tackle the real Banta kit. I expect it may be a year of so and after I build the turntable before I feel the urge to build the kit.

I am turning my attention now to the west side of the turntable and building the water crane and poles that supported the sanding pipes to the engine service area to the north of the station.  

All this while waiting for USPS to unclog itself and deliver decals for a C&NW gondola I am working on.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Smoky Time Modeling and My Steam Era Cabooses

Living in a smoke house is not fun. The HVAC is running almost constantly to filter the air indoors.  I try to avoid projects that will emit any noxious vapors to compound the damage to my lungs.

This past week I have been working on a caboose project that had its roots in the early 1980's on my HO SP turn at running the Oregon, California and Eastern. That layout was converted in late 1985 into a British Railways fictional station named St. Stephens set in the mid 1950's in Cheltenham, Gloucester after an extended visit to the UK culminating in an extended stay with my cousin Carol who lives near there and visits with here mother nearby. That lasted until 1993 when on the heels of a divorce I moved to Walnut Creek. Anyway the cupola and end platforms were finally used to build a 3 foot distance model of an SP C-30-1 as rebuilt with AB brakes and a straight sided cuplola. 

My notes on the rebuild are as follows:

The 756 number chosen by looking at similar rebuilds. The model is sort of unique or inaccurate in that tool box not removed in rebuild. The tool box was scratch built from Evergreen shapes and siding sheet. The sides are scratch-built. I started on those in 1980's. I re-cut them from new Evergreen Car siding in May-June 2020 based on accurate drawings and photos from Thompsons SP Freight Cars Volume 2, SP Cabooses and a laser cut wood AMB kit which is still not completed for a C-30-1 rebuilt caboose. 

The side windows are Tichy 8206 Work Car Windows with Glazing. The 4 pane muntins have been removed. Tichy's plastic glazing was used held in place with canopy glue for the side windows.  PSC Brass Caboose Windows with bars and scratch built 2' narrow doors were used for the ends. The end windows and doors have not been glazed.  May I'll do that later. The cupola is two cupola's from MDC/Roundhouse WP caboose kit spliced for additional length. Cupola glazing is from Tichy Work Caboose set. The end platform and steps are also from an 1980's MDC/Roundhouse WP caboose kit.

For ladders I used Athearn Caboose windows flat stamping as a stand-in bent to SP shape until something better comes along. A lot of angst and attempts to bend brass bar stock and drill for ladder rungs. Also attempts at finding a 3 D print. Have approached several sources for possible etch for styles as I have copies of the SP drawings. The real ladders are two parts with the top above the end rail and bottom below the end rail joined by bolts through the flattened end railing. 

For the brake gear,  only major components were modeled. I have a partial diagram of AB application for C-30-1 or C-30-3 rebuilds. Only found one photo showing rebuilt brake gear from side.  I gave up on doing full brake rigging. I wound up using a Tichy cylinder and triple valve. I initially tried to use a larger Kadwell (3D print) reservoir but it didn't didn't adhere with Zap plastic glue and so replaced it with a slightly smaller reservoir from Tichy  8013 AB brake set. I used Tichy brake wheels and a part of the gear under the end of the rear platform. 

For trucks I used Walthers friction bearing leaf spring. I am still looking for plastic Andrews leaf spring trucks. For couplers my now standerd Kadee 158 in Kadee narrow boxes were installed.

The smoke jack is scratch from Evergreen Plastics tube shapes. Supporting guy wires may be added if I am in the mood.  The underframe and floor is scratch built  as are all end railings which were scratch built from SP C-30-1 appliance drawings from the CSRM that were posted along with the ladder drawings on the site a couple of months ago.  The handrails were bent based using the  AMB SP C-30-1  Caboose kit bending jig. 

As I have to work indoors for paint I use SP BCR Red Vallejo MC 70-814 Burnt Red which I find makes a very good darker maroon version of the SP freight car red found on cabooses.  The roof is Tamiya Dark Iron.  In the photo below you will see the ends of the end handrails and curved handrails have been painted white.

For decals I have used the excellent Protocraft HO SP C-30-1 set which matches SPH&TS SP Freight Lettering Diagrams book. I sealed the burnt red during very quick visits to my outside deck so I could use a spray can of Tamiya Clear Semi-Glosa on the overall body before adding the glazing. I then brushed on J&J Clear/Pledge Future (whatever J&J marketing calls it this year)on top of Vallejo paint for area of the decals. I made another quick trip outside on the deck to seal the decals with spray can Tamiya Clear Matte. 

This is the current active caboose lineup. Port Costa always seems in photos to have quite a few SP C-30-whatever cabooses on sidings for use on local switching runs. Cabooses were used even though they were technically within yard limits which stretched for miles between Oleum and across the Carquinez bridge to Benicia. 

The first two cabooses on the left are somewhat battered Walthers C-30-1's  that are over 15 years old and were built from the first Walthers kit issue. They need replacement ladders and a lot of other fix ups. Next comes #756 as described above and then another of the 1980's scratch builds which is unlettered and has a lot of dimensional errors. It more resembles one of the earlier CA cabooses.  

The cabooses in the photo above are on one of the unconnected west end staging tracks which are 3 feet long pieces of flex track. The week before labor day I worked on the trackage in that area which has connected storage tracks for 16 40 foot car lengths and space for 2-3 unconnected pieces of track.  At the back of the 18 inch wide extension are the east and westbound SP main lines. The trackage in this area is subject to a lot of changes as I build the mainlines around the corner bend to run at the rear of the main vignette of Port Costa.