Friday, July 5, 2019

"Will you throw down the box, please?"

Black Bart has the stagecoach cornered and is about to relieve the driver of his heavy Wells Fargo load.
"Thrown down the box" was the cry of the 19th century robber. Even though it's 1895, travel by stage is still dangerous. Road agents are still at large as seen by this photo captured by a hidden cameraman. It looks like Black Bart is back on the road or is that just someone copying his technique? In any case, no one was hurt and the stage reached its destination only minus the Wells Fargo box.
     Black Bart was a real person in California history who managed to pull off 28 stage holdups over a ten year period. When he was finally captured, it was discovered that he was a respected person in San Francisco society and his shotgun was never loaded. He never harmed a passenger either and did include the "please" after demanding the treasure box. After serving six years in San Quentin prison, Bart moved on and was not heard of again.
     The coach was assembled from the kits mentioned in my last post ( Since I could not find any robbery victims, I had to modify a couple of figures so they could "reach for the sky."
The track gang busily at work just outside of Milton. Let's hope they get finished and get the handcars off the track before the next train comes along
On a more positive note, the Chinese track gang is busily at work replacing ties on the Milton branch. I don't recall who made the figures but the handcars were built up from Tichy kits.
     While waiting for parts to rebuild the electronics destroyed by the lightning strike mentioned in the last post, I am doing some light modeling. Maybe I will catch up to some projects I have been putting off.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Mud Wagons and Lightning

Based on drawings of a Henderson mud wagon, Hakan Nilsson's kits are very faithful to the prototype. Mine were lettered for the Ione, Jackson and Sutter Creek run based on a Henderson photo. I still have to harness the horses.
Hakan Nilsson ( is located in Sweden and models California in the 1800s. As a result of his modeling, he has produced several items of that era which should be of interest in anyone modeling the nineteenth century. Besides his website, he has additional items in his Shapeways store (Eight-Wheeler Models).
     A few months ago, he and I exchanged a couple of emails regarding mud wagons. These were the cheaper, yet sturdier, coaches used to transport people all over the country until the advent of the automobile and good roads. While we are all know the familiar Concord coach from countless western movies and TV shows, the mud wagons accounted for about 2/3 of the coaches in use, especially on the rugged roads of the western United States. Hakan then set about producing a laser-cut kit of two styles of these coaches. Last week, I started putting two of them together and, I must say, they were very enjoyable to assemble.The parts fit and the final appearance was excellent. A few years ago, I had made a few mud wagons by kitbashing the Jordan stagecoach. These kits could have saved me a bit of trouble.
This coach was kitbashed from the Jordan kit for the Concord coach also based on a Henderson prototype.
Right in the middle of this project, we had a bit of nasty weather here including a lightning strike which was very close to us. It was close enough to knock out several of our appliances including the dishwasher, telephone/internet modem, clothes dryer, television and so on. It even took out all four of the Digitrax command stations and boosters on the railroad including the fast clock controller. The Digitrax stuff has all been sent off to the company in Florida but they are taking at least two months to repair damage these days. The Stockton and Copperopolis will be out of commission for a while. At least, working on the mud wagons helped to calm me somewhat while waiting for adjusters and repairmen.
     Take a look at Hakan's Railroad Line Forum thread 9 I think you will find it interesting.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Bridges over Troubled Waters

Duck Creek just outside Farmington (in the distance) is now bridged. The plaster cloth is applied right over the existing scenery which will then be blended into the new sction.
Technically, these are not bridges but trestles. For ten years, Duck Creek near Farmington and Mormon Creek near Holden have only had narrow pieces of plywood to bridge the respective bodies of water. Well, considering the railroad is set in California in the summer time, there is little water to bridge, troubled or otherwise, as the creeks are mostly dry then.
     Both trestles were built using basswood scale lumber assembled in a jig I made. Once the trestle was ready, I carefully sawed away the plywood subroadbed while leaving the tracking hanging over the gap. The ties were removed and then Barge cement was applied to the bottom of the rails and was allowed to dry. To install the structure, I placed the trestle beneath the rails and then shimmed up the trestle bents to level the structure. A small iron was placed on the rails which melted the cement and glued them to the bridge. A track gauge was used to make sure that the rails were in the proper alignment.
Mormon Creek is a bit different. The truss bridge is over the main part of the channel with the trestles on slightly higher ground.. Jigs were used to built both the trestle and the bridge. In the background is a deck bridge from my old railroad. Its fate has not yet been decided.
The Howe truss bridge over Mormon creek was built about 25 years ago for my previous railroad in California and was recycled for the S&C. This was quite common in the nineteenth century since it was fairly easy to disassemble a wood bridge, cart the cast iron and wood beams to another location and re-erect it.
     Plaster cloth was then applied around the trestle give the scenery a base. I still need to use some Sculptamold to smooth out the approaches and fill any gaps. Then, I can paint the plaster, apply dirt and maybe even a small trickle of water.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Motor Car Arrive on the S&C

The new motor car stops at Burnett's station to pick up an elderly lady. 
The Stockton & Copperopolis has been pulled into the gasoline age. Today, their new Hall-Scott motor car made its first run over the line. Able to seat 70 passengers and only 50 feet long, the new car can easily travel 30-40 mph over the railroad. Only needing a crew of two, the motor car, named Copperopolis, will be useful on runs where little traffic is expected and will be a cost saving to the railroad.
A side view of the Copperopolis shows the stained glass upper windows and fancy oval restroom window. As well as pulling itself, the car can also pull another car or two, if needed.
     In actuality, the Copperopolis is a brass import from the 1960s. Imported by Model Engineering Works, I had the good fortune to pick up this new car from Dick Wheeler, former owner of MEW, about 20 years ago. My original plan was to replace the open-frame motor but it ran so smoothly, I decided to keep it. A Tsunami2 decoder was added and the RGS Galloping Goose sound used. No other mechanical refinements were made to the car. The car was painted and custom decals were designed and printed.
     For those of you aware of history, it will be realized that the prototype was built in 1911, some 16 years later than the era of my railroad. It is definitely anachronistic but I have always liked this car since I was able to walk through it in the 1970s. It all goes back to Rule Number 1: It's my railroad and I can do what I want! (That's the model railroader's set of rules, not the Gibbs set).

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Walk in the Weeds

Old B&B right-of-way in the center of picture with the also abandoned standard gauge railroad to the right. Note the rock retaining walls
Last weekend, I had the good fortune to travel to Massachusetts to participate in a walk through a portion of the city of Billerica. The reason for this trip was due to a book I published in 2012 entitled George Mansfield and the Billerica and Bedford Railroad. It chronicled a very short-lived narrow gauge railroad running between the two cities in its name and it was the first two-foot gauge railroad in the country. After the rails were removed in 1879, much of the railroad was relaid as a standard gauge road but there is a little over a mile of roadbed still visible between the housing developments and that is what we were searching for.
The intrepid explorers scramble around downed trees following the old B&B roadbed through one of the rougher patches on the line.
Ben Rockney and Marlies Henderson of Massachusetts did the on-the-ground searching and came up with a good half-day of roadbed hunting. We found pieces behind people's houses, in their front yards and a good series of cuts in a normally overgrown, inaccessible canyon. A lot of vegetation has grown up since the railroad's demise. It was truly a Walk in the Weeds.

The raised planter near the swing set is actually a portion of the
Billerica and Bedford grade
    It was a great time and a chance to see parts of the old railroad which I was not able to when I was researching the book. Thanks to all who participated and, especially, to those who arranged the Walk.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Pair of Warehouses

Waverly occupies a lonely place in the San Joaquin Valley with nothing there except for the P&D warehouse.
In taking a break from engine terminal project, I was looking for something which would improve the railroad but not take a lot of time. I found it in two grain warehouses, one at Waverly and the other at Charleston. The Waverly warehouse "vacant lot" had bothered me a bit since it's about the only unscenicked portion in that particular aisle. I decided to do Charleston at the same time since it would be about the same size and construction.
The doors on the left side of the building were used to unload wagons. Similar
doors trackside were used for car loading.
 Peterson and Dake owned the grain warehouse in Milton and also operated the Waverly warehouse. I had a bit of information from insurance maps and railroad records but no photos so I freelanced the building from what little I knew. I used board and batten siding (Evergreen) with a shingled roof. Loading doors adorned both sides of the building for the loading/unloading of wagons and freight cars. For the roof, I chose to use up some of my pile of Campbell shingles just to have a slightly different look from my usual Minuteman Models variety. The Campbell shingles are gummed but I knew they would not stick to styrene so I opted for an illustration board roof I bought from the local Hobby Lobby. I also opted to save my tongue in the moistening process and rigged up a damp sponge. The shingles went on nicely and, while they do not have the newly-applied look of the MM shingles, look like they've been on the building for a while. The structure was then painted to match the Milton structure and similar decals were printed and applied.
Grube's Warehouse is the only industry at Charleston and is butted up against the backdrop.
Over at Charleston, the only information I had was the dimensions of the building. The available space required a slight shrinkage of the building but it is in keeping with the siding length. Evergreen grooved siding was used with Grandt Line doors and the Campbell shingles-on-illustration-board roof. The lettering was freelanced.
 Both of the areas still require scenicking to finish the sites and that will be completed in the next week or so. Waverly also has to have a small oil loading facility to service the new Waverly tank car a friend of mine donated to the railroad. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Revising Turnout Controls

The three push buttons on the fascia control the position of the stub turnout on the railroad. 
I like the manual control of turnouts. It fits with my era and it simplifies the wiring considerably. Every turnout on the railroad is controlled by a Blue Point controller with a manual push-pull (except for the staging yards and the interlocking plant). I had previously modified two of the Blue Points to work with my two three-way stub switches at Copperopolis and Farmington. The one at Copperopolis has always worked fine but, for the last few months, the Farmington turnout has not worked well. I have tried several times to readjust things but could not make the "fix" work. My operators were getting perturbed as Farmington can be a busy place.I finally had to find a permanent fix.
    My solution to the problem was to remove the Blue Point and replace it with a Tam Valley Depot ( Dual 3-way servo decoder. This device is designed to work with either a 3-way turnout or a 3-position semaphore. You can easily adjust the position of the points (or blade) and even adjust the speed of the throw. In the case of a semaphore, the unit can be programmed to put a "bounce" as the blade changes position.
The servo motor controlling the turnout is at the upper
right of the photo while the control board is at the lower
left. Using servos to control turnouts is very simple and
easy to install.
     The installation was a two-man job with one person under the layout adjusting the track position and another on the top telling when the tracks were aligned. My friend, Mark Davidson came over and, between us, we managed to get everything adjusted. I am very happy with the results and, now, you only have to push one of three buttons to align the turnout.
     By the way, each of these controllers can handle two turnouts/semaphores. For those interested, I used another Tam Valley Depot device, their Dual Frog Juicer. It handles both frogs in the turnout routing power accordingly.