Sunday, May 19, 2019

Rail yard complete (mostly)

The PE&A is proud to announce that the newly opened Dogwood Yard is now accepting traffic. There are still some things that need attention but overall the bulk of the work is done and I'm able to use the yard for switching and holding cars.

Dogwood Yard filled with rolling stock. Track one is against the garage wall and can hold three cars. Tracks two and three both lead into the shed. Track four is a spur that goes along the outside of the shed.

Picking up where the last post left off, I needed to continue filling in, tamping and leveling the yard. Here I'm using an eight-foot board as a straight edge.

Once I had an even surface to work on, the next step was to layout where I wanted the tracks, making use of the switches that I had on hand. I had originally envisioned having the entry track right next to the garage, but I think this makes more sense. This will also allow me to put some narrow buildings between the incoming track and the wall.

As I worked on placement I would check distance between tracks to make sure everything stayed relatively even.

For the yard I was using six-foot lengths of code 250 brass rail from Sunset Valley Railroad. Threading the rail onto the ties took patience but I got the hang of it eventually.

It had not occurred to me until I had a track running into the shed that the bottom of the door is slightly below the floor of the shed. So I'll need to remove the doors and cut off about a half inch so they can clear the top of the tracks. 

After the track was where I wanted it I added ballast, tamped it in, and hosed everything down to try and lock it in place.

Along part of the retaining wall I left space for planting. I put in a layer of potting soil and then topped that with compost.

My NW2 is switching cars in the yard. I started discovering problems as soon as I backed the first car in. One problem is that I didn't properly join the code 332 track coming off the mainline with the new code 250 track in the yard. That's easily fixable. Another problem is that I noticed the "air hoses" on the Kadee couplers on some of the cars are too low and sometimes get caught when going through a switch. 

The side track along the shed ends with an abrupt drop-off right now, but still has room to hold three cars. I plan on extending the retaining wall and track a couple more feet. Beyond that is a fence, although potentially the track could cut through the fence allowing expansion into new territory, perhaps a loop track. 

Another thing I did this weekend was rip out my siding, which has been completely overgrown and is no longer usable. I thought I was going to reuse these switches in the yard, but decided to use Sunset Valley switches I had on hand instead. I may reuse the switches from the siding inside the train shed, if I think I can squeeze four tracks in it.

After the track was pulled up I cut back and ripped out the creeping plant and regraded the road bed.
The hen-and-chicks alongside the track are looking especially lush this spring. They clearly like their new home.

And one more picture from the garden. The columbine are all in peak bloom right now and this is a particularly pretty one.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Expansion for rail yard and shed

This weekend I started working on my new rail yard which will be in a narrow space between the garage and a fence. I had planted this area with twig dogwood several years ago as I wanted something that could be completely neglected and make it through the summer without watering. The dogwood has done very well and completely filled in the space, and was trying to climb over the fence as well. When I learned a few weeks ago my neighbors were planning on replacing the fence sometime this year I realized I needed to get back there and trim the dogwood back, but then I decided to coppice instead to stimulate new growth.

Once I had cleared out all the growth, I saw all this open space and realized I had a much better idea. I had not considered running the train back here when I originally was planning my layout as the space is only seven feet wide so I wouldn't be able to create a loop. But for a dead-end train yard the space would be perfect.

A view of the site after clearing out most of the growth. Other things back here that need cleared out include my pile of unused bricks.

After digging out the dogwood roots, my first step was installing a small retaining wall using stackable 4" high concrete blocks. I wouldn't recommend this type of block for a real retaining wall, but for something 8" high it's perfectly fine and inexpensive.

This is a frequent area for moles, so my next step was to put down a 1/2" wire mesh. Bricks are holding it in place until I can get some gravel on it.

Next I started putting down 3/4" minus crushed rock and arranging bricks to serve as the foundation for the train shed.

Another view of the foundation in progress, making sure everything is level. 

Once the foundation was complete I moved the train shed to its new home as it was blocking my progress to the north.

The main track where the spur will branch off is slightly elevated above ground level. Rather than having two elevated tracks here I decided to elevate the ground level instead, using bricks as a short retaining wall for now. I may replace this eventually with something more decorative. I filled the area with gravel and tamped it down.

On top of the gravel I added 1/4" minus crushed rock, then installed the switch and reattached the main track.

This image shows the completed switch after adding ballast.

The rail yard is three feet wide so I could fill the whole area with crushed rock and install up to four parallel tracks. But I'm also thinking I might install only three tracks, and put a buffer of soil along the retaining wall to allow for some plantings.

Alki checking out the wall. Something new to pee on! The wall will continue another five feet south along the train shed to help prevent soil slumping. I only built six feet of wall today as that's all the blocks I had on hand.

My first bearded iris of the year opened up today thanks to all the sunshine!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Building a Retaining Wall - Part 2

I finally finished up the retaining wall I have been working on the past few weeks as the weather had warmed back up and I could work outside again. This post follows on to an earlier one you can read here.

As I had realized I built the retaining structure way too narrow, my next step was to replace the cross beams with longer ones. I decided on 6 1/4 inches. I had already covered over the wood screws on one side, but as they were securely in place, I was able to easily twist off the beam and put a new one on.

My temporary shop set up in the garage. Do two pieces of equipment qualify as a "shop"?

I built a second three-foot section exactly one inch shorter than the first one. I also cut a one-foot long wing wall the same height as the first section. Here all three are lined up on the garage floor.

Next step was attaching the tile to the viewer-facing sides and tops of the wall. After curing for three days, I then applied multiple coats of sealants. I used a sealant for stone on the rock faces and a wood sealant on the exposed wood. I then let that sit for a few more days to completely dry.

About a week after assembly, I was ready to place it in the site.

The most critical part of placement was ensuring just enough horizontal clearance for trains on the lower track. First I checked out by BN locomotive and it had just under a 1/2 inch of clearance.

Next I checked my longest piece of rolling stock, a streamlined passenger car. It had only a 1/4 inch of clearance, so I had to nudge the wall out a bit more.

The passenger car is waiting safely in the tunnel during construction so it won't be harmed.

As I cleared away the ballast to make room for the retaining wall, I realized that one of the concrete blocks underneath the track had tilted back toward the fence, causing the front to rise up about the ground level. As a result, the retaining wall wouldn't rest evenly on the ground.

Given the choice of cutting down the retaining wall and resetting the block, I decided that fixing the underlying problem made more sense. These blocks predate the railroad—they were originally installed to support the back edge of a patio.

After the wall pieces were all in place where I wanted them, I filled the trench with 3/4 inch crushed rock and tamped it down with a trowel, then covered that with 1/4 inch minus.

I aligned the track in the center and adjusted as needed to make sure the slope was even. I expect there will be some settling over the next few months and I'll go back and adjust this sometime this summer.

I then placed a top coat of ballast and gently tapped it in place then brushed away the excess.

And finally I rinsed everything off to allow the ballast to settle and lock the track into place. Looks great!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Laupahoehoe Train Museum

After our brief taste of summer, the weather in Seattle has returned to a very normal spring. Which means frequent rain and not a lot of chances to get outside and work on the railroad. It should start drying out soon so I can get back to work on projects like the half-finished retaining wall. In the meantime I thought I'd share a few pictures from the last train museum I visited.


The Laupahoehoe Train Museum is the only train museum on the island of Hawaii and is housed in one of the only remaining train related structures on the island, a former station agent's house adjacent to the Laupahoehoe Station on the Hāmākua Division of the Hilo Railroad, built between 1909–1913. This division was an engineering marvel and incredibly expensive to build, resulting in the railroad going into receivership by 1916 and then being reorganized as the Hawaii Consolidated Railway. The railroad operated up until 1946, when a tsunami did such extensive damage to the line that it was cost prohibitive to rebuild.

The museum was opened a little more than 20 years ago after an extensive restoration of the building. It's small, beautiful and charming, and clearly a love of labor for the community.

A map showing the full extent of the Hawaii Consolidated Railway in 1945, a year before a tsunami brought an end to the railroad. Laupahoehoe is the fourth station from the end of the northwest branch.

Inside one of the rooms in the museum, filled with pictures, documents and various pieces of train paraphernalia.

This old boxcar used for hauling explosives was found abandoned in a gulch and donated to the museum.

The concrete platform in front of the museum is the original platform for the station. 

A train shed next to the museum houses a few scale layouts, including this one modeling a sugar mill. I saw some G scale pieces of rolling stock and some track, but none of that was set up yet. Maybe next time I visit!

The view from Laupahoehoe point.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Building a retaining wall

One of the projects I'm working on is building a retaining wall along the fence where the track is slightly above the ground but not high enough for a trestle. If I had more room I'd build up the land using rocks and soil, but because this stretch is squeezed in between another track and the fence, a wall is the logical solution. It's actually a double wall that will be filled on the inside with gravel. Only one side is visible to the viewer which I am decorating with cut stone; the other side I'll leave exposed. The slope of the rail along this section is approximately 2.5%.

This is the first of two three-foot sections. The second one will be one inch lower because of the slope. I'm hoping this will look good. A more realistic approach would probably be to build this as six one-foot sections, each one stepping down by 1/3 inch from left to right. But I thought doing this is just two sections would provide greater strength and integrity for the wall, which is my primary concern. And I figure if I don't like it I can always rebuild it.

I started with two three-foot long cedar 1x4s and tied them together using cut sections of treated deck rail posts. Why these materials? Because that's what I found in the garage. I'm hoping between the cedar, treated wood, sealers, and some very good drainage I plan to have in place, that this will stand up to the elements.

Next I checked for placement where this section will be going. Currently the track is being held up here by two five-foot long stringers—which you can see in the background—with wood blocks underneath for support. I should have noticed at this point that it is way too narrow. There's enough room from the trucks to pass but the car bodies could get clipped by the wall edges. 

For the decorative side I'm using a cut stone "tile" from Home Depot which can easily be cut down into strips to fit my wall. The "tile" I settled on has cut stones that are uniform in width and height (1 x 1/3 inch), but varied in their depth. And there's no spacing in between for grout, so it looks like stacked cut stone. Unfortunately some of the pieces are polished which doesn't look realistic, but it's subtle enough that it passes the 10-foot rule (it looks fine to a viewer 10 feet away).

I'm using a regular tile adhesive to adhere the stone to the wood. This is not intended for outdoor use, so I plan on putting an enormous amount of sealer on it and then we'll see how long it lasts.

Once the side pieces had set sufficiently, I added strips of stone along the top edge. I tried cleaning the adhesive off as much as I could but there was still some left. It was around this time that it occurred to me that my structure was too narrow.

I wanted to see how it would look and verify that yes, indeed, it was too narrow. After I widen it, I'll place stone along the top edge of the outer wall, and also along the inside edge of that wall near the top. I don't want any wood visible to the viewer, but don't need to cover most of it as it will be buried in gravel.

A close-up showing the top of the visible side. The excess adhesive was way too visible so I pulled out my Dremel 3000 and cleaned it up in no time.

Here's another view looking down. On the left at ground level is part of an eight-foot diameter curve. I need to be very careful with final placement of the wall to ensure that my longest train cars can still navigate the curve without scraping the wall.

The PE&A isn't the only railroad doing maintenance today. Here's a view from my desk at work of BNSF's Stacy Yard. A lot of noise today as a crew was replacing ties along one of the tracks.