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.