Christopher Brimley updated October 11, 2011

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  • Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad

    by Richard Vye

    Photos by the author

    At the crack of dawn, a sleepy No. 4 American class locomotive is coaxed from its engine house stall toward the first step in her daily journey the turntable. Her two ten-wheeler cousins will be next.
    Model Railroading - April 2002 - Page 18

    Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad began in 1988 on my sundeck and was half the size you see it now. Ironically, the half that wasn't there was the half with Dog Tooth Mountain. Back then it was simply a 3' wide, back-and-forth, no-name yard railroad that ended just beyond the edges of the engine and repair houses where you see the dusty road. It was almost finished (if a model railroad ever is) when that fateful day came... January 17, 1994 - the biggest earthquake in the history of Los Angeles. My little railroad, the first I'd had since I was a lad more than 30 years ago, was badly battered. I was devastated. I covered it with a rain tarp on the theory that when my emotions subsided, Id chop it up and haul it down to the dumpster. Four years later 1998 I discarded the tarp, moved a ton of furniture, built a substructure, then removed the huge sheet of glass from the bay window adjoining the sun deck. Next, with the help of about a dozen of my bewildered neighbors, we tugged and twisted and jimmied my battered friend into its new home - my living room!

    As I repaired the original section and its structures, I added the new mountain section. I made the mountains as rugged as I could, then populated them with four gold mines, a 70' through timber bridge, a 70' curved trestle, and one nice tunnel. Both bridges are Campbell kits. The water beneath them was made from Envirotex epoxy. The scenic motif for all of this is the moderate elevation of eastern California, near the Nevada border where desert blends to grass and chaparral, then to fragrant pine forests. That inspiration came from my travels through Californias Mother Lode country, east of Sacramento heading for places like Carson City, Nevada.

    Past the curved trestle and under Half Way Mines tailing sawhorse, Dog Tooth Mountain Railroads only Heisler slowly backs down the dangerous four-percent grade with a fresh load of gold rich ore from Green Arrow Mine.
    Model Railroading - April 2002 - Page 19

    The era is a step back to the 1930s, so its all steam. Of the four gold mines, the biggest and most complex, is Green Arrow Mine. Its at the very top of Dog Tooth Mountain. It has a vertical shaft, mine head frame, and a two-chute tipple. The mountains name (hence the railroads) derives from the jagged, jutting, tooth-looking rock formations, and many of these rocks are real. I got them from the hills just west of Perris, California. Im especially proud of they way I blended (both structurally and with paint) the real rocks with ones I made from plaster or cut foam.

    So you are right, Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad is really two railroads morphed into one. The original "urban" section is a nice little switchyard with 12 turnouts, a wye, a three-way turnout, a double crossover and two crossings. It has a complete engine service facility that includes a threestall engine house and engine repair shop (both Heljan, but modified to look American), a turntable, coaling tower, water tower, sand tower with drying house, machine and blacksmith shops, ash pit and its conveyer, and various other things such as the handcar storage house and the yards interlocking tower.

    The massive gantry with its flying block and hook assist the repair shop crew as they change the boiler tubes in one of Dog Tooth Mountain Railroads ten-wheel workhorses.
    Model Railroading - April 2002 - Page 20 Model Railroading - April 2002 - Page 21

    A precision Portescap gear motor powers the turntable, and it is incredibly realistic and accurate in its movements. The electrical power delivery spar above the turntables center shaft actually turns (by staying stationary) as the turntable rotates beneath it.

    A heavy-duty gantry is at one end of the engine maintenance facility. With its help, a locomotive is having its boiler tubes replaced there now. At the other end of the repair shop is a wash rack with its own boiler for hot water. Next to the coaling tower is a converted boxcar that serves as a yard workers dormitory, and next to it the sharp eye will find a whiskey still and a case of freshly bottled spirits. At the north end of the yard is a passenger station, several stores and a factory that makes Shoo-Fly, a liniment that "keeps flies off cows and horses!"

    Passenger service is borne by Atlantic class locomotives, while the bulk of the freight service relies on ten-wheelers. All of those locomotives are IHCs, repainted and weathered, as well as retrofitted with additional detail such as Precision Scale bells and piping. There is a single Heisler (Roco) whose exclusive domain is the spur that runs to Green Arrow Mine. Also on the roster is Engine Number Eight, a 2-4-4-2 articulated (maker unknown) that mainly hauls logs. Presently, it has a string of truss-type log dollies backed into the sawmill at the far south end of the layout.

    Most of the layouts structures are kits or bashed kits, but the sawmill is totally scratchbuilt, complete with a steam engine and all the various saws and other equipment inside. As was customary in the olden days, the catwalk on the roof of the mill is lined with barrels filled with rainwater. Hoses hang from the bottoms of these barrels so that if there is a fire inside the mill, the most convenient hose is seized, a valve handle turned, and the fire is quickly out. Creating this kind of superdetail is what I enjoyed the most, and it was applied equally throughout both the yard and newer mountain and mine section of the layout. That detail even extends to the colors and the texture of the mud that lies beneath the water spanned by the two Campbell bridges.

    The brand new modern interlocking tower overlooks the heart of the layout the engine house and turntable, as well as the switchyards most important turnout. Its the one on the far right that will guide the small freight coming around "sawmill bend" into the yard.
    Model Railroading - April 2002 - Page 22

    A special tip of the hat goes to Woodland Scenics. Their scenery materials (Earth Color paints, plaster, molds, ground cover, grass, bushes, ballast, bridge abutments, etc.) was used to make at least ninety percent of my scenery. Some trees I made myself, but most were store-bought, the majority made by Heki. All of the track on the layout is Walthers code 83. I decided on it solely on the advice of the good folks at Allied Model Trains in Culver City, California. Appropriate for my particular layout, and a good choice besides. All of the trackage sits on Atlas cork roadbed. To lower the apparent height of the roadbed (especially in the yard section) I filled the areas between the strips of cork with dirt. Yes, real dirt. Sterilized. Then I covered that with many varieties of Woodland Scenics ground cover, grass and weeds. The ballast is Woodland Scenics medium buff. To make the ballast more realistic, I mixed one part Floquil Rust, one part Floquil Rail Brown, and six parts thinner, then sloshed it on the rails and let the extra flow across and into the ballast, of course long hardened with the traditional mixture of white glue and water. The dark, rust-colored paint stuck nicely to the sides of the rails, and with their tops cleaned to a shiny silver, they really look neat.

    I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and rode behind many a Chicago & North Western steam engine into the city in the '40s and '50s. That experience left indelible images in my mind of what a real railroad looks like in terms of rust, smoke, soot, ash, grime and sundry junk. I tried to make the yard section of my layout reflect that realism, including the mud and weeds and split coal that lies in the turntables basin.

    A few early bird passengers relax before boarding the morning eastbound milk run. In the background, the maintenance shop crew is busily changing a ten-wheelers boiler tubes.
    Model Railroading - April 2002 - Page 23

    My technique for making the original bright red toy-looking bricks of the engine house and engine repair shop a realistic dark red with occasional flecks of white clinker between them will surprise you. First, I painted each brick surface completely with white, water-based paint. After it thoroughly dried, I took dark and medium gray art pens and stroked over the white painted surfaces. The pens had wide felt tips, and were alcohol based. That magically turned the bricks to variegated dark reds, but left chunks of white clinker in random gaps between them, just the way you see it in real old brick buildings darkened by locomotive smoke and soot.

    Beneath everything is "beaver board, and beneath that is 1/2" plywood. The benchwork is a hodge-podge of 1 1/2" pine bracing that sits on four, width-wide 2x4s. Six, 2x4 legs support the layout except at the north end. An old couch that my dog, Cleo, likes to sleep on supports that end. Rube Goldberg would bust his buttons. You folks would die.

    The layout is blocked into three sections: the inner yard, outer yard and loop, and the Green Arrow Mine spur. Analog DC power f rom three Tech-3 transformers supplies t hem all. The turntable also has its own analog power supply. Because the layout is in my living room, there is no backdrop. T he blue sky in the pictures was only temporary while the photos for this article were taken.

    I will be moving soon and cant take Dog Tooth Mountain Railroad with me. In the very near future, its new home will be the Western America Railroad Museum in Barstow, California - for all to see.

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