Christopher Brimley updated October 25, 2011

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  • Creech Brothers Logging Company

    by Michael "Bama" Harman

    Model Photos by Miles & Fran Hale

    Ashley Coal Company was built from a Builders In Scale craftsman kit. I modified the hoist and shaft houses to accommodate an animated cable system to drive the sheaves. The structure is also fully illuminated.
    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 34

    Early logging railroads had some features making them ideal for the modeler. The equipment was well designed to operate over rough terrain, poorly laid rail and in notoriously limited spaces. In fact, some locomotives and cars were designed to run on the very logs they hauled to the mills, instead of the steel rails we are used to seeing on todays railroads. The brutal effects of a load, commonly as much as five times the weight and mass of the car being used to haul it, required extremely durable rail car design and construction. Delicate looking skeleton rigs, converted flatcars and disconnected log buggies offer scratchbuilders a natural outlet for their detailing talents. The temporary nature of a prototypical logging rail line is perfect for the modeler wanting to portray a freelance operation, yet remain true to the feel and flavor of the period being modeled. Surprisingly, when you stop and think about it, a truly successful logging operation requires only a few trees. You'll find you'll need a lot of stumps, though!

    Freelancing a Prototype

    My Creech Brothers Logging and Mining Railroad is a fictitious shortline set in the logging region of Oregon in the early '30s. The name was taken from a wonderful old photograph of a Class-B Climax shoving a loaded flat across a deep ravine on a felled log bridge. The photograph had a small handscrawled caption indicating the operation as the Creech Bros. Logging Co. in 1910 (see Photo 3). Alhough the Creech name was common in the lumber/logging industry in the last century all around the country, little information is currently available about this firm. It is perfect for my very own railroad.

    Construction

    I began construction on this layout in April of 2001. Its my first attempt at model railroading since I nailed that old "electric train set" down on an old chunk of plywood at age 10. From the outset, it has been a learning tool for me, a test bed for newly learned skills, and has presented the trials and tribulations of making trains go around the room without derailing.

    Of the lessons learned in its construction, those mistakes that proved too difficult to correct have been duly noted for my next layout. My immediate plans are to remove over 90% of the existing railroad and replace it with a trackplan more suitable for switching operations. The new multilevel layout will retain the ability for continuous running as well. The current layouts frame construction is extremely heavy. I used 4x4 posts with 2x4 surround framing. Cross table supports are fashioned from 1x4s. The table surface was constructed using whatever methods seemed suitable at the time.

    The lake area is built up (down) cookie-cutter style, with layers of 3/4" and 1/2" high-pressure particleboard. I used Woodland Scenics Styrofoam ramps to access each change in elevation. The mountain was built by stacking 2" foam blocks, then covering the shaped mass with plaster cloth. Most of the horizontal strata was created by stacking chunks of broken acoustical ceiling tile in random patterns, then painting with flat latex basecoats before staining with washes of natural colored paints.

    A modified AHM Heisler shoves a skeleton load of fresh-cut timber across a deep ravine. The bridge was modeled after the original 1910 Creech Brothers prototype, as taken from the only known existing photograph of the company's rail line. The backdrop was constructed from photographs of cloudy skies, printed in 4 x 14 sheets on an electrostatic printer.
    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 35

    There are a few small rock castings in the gorge, but I wasn't too pleased with the results. At the time, all I had available was the commercial molds for small pieces. I would rather have constructed the gorge walls in two or three castings. The rockwork behind the trestle was accomplished by simply plastering the gorge wall using crumpled aluminum foil as a mold. The semi-hidden wall didn't need the high detail of a quality casting, so as long as it was shaped like rock, it was fine. The trestle in Photo 7 draws your attention away from the walls anyway.

    I have become increasingly fonder of Sculptamold. Not only does this wonderful product wet-carve easily into extremely detailed strata, I have used it to model all the dirt roads, plowed fields, embankments, stone foundations and the towns elevated business row. There are portions of the elevated rail that were built on Sculptamold, too. I also used Luann over risers, foam wedges and stacked wedges of wood to gain altitude in different areas of the layout. The tables height is set at 30". Way lower than accepted standard layout heights, but perfect for my four-year-old assistant.

    Trackwork

    All of the tracks sit on cork roadbed. I used Atlas code 83 flextrack through the tunnels, in the hard-to-reach engine yard, and over the mountain elevation for ease of maintenance. The rest of the rail is handlaid. The ballast is medium gray blend with the edges dusted in dark sifted dirt. I used blends of coal and cinders in the service yard and around the two coaling facilities. There is only one handlaid turnout on the layout, all the rest are #6 and #4 Atlas units with electrified frogs. Turnout control is handled by a separate power source, running under-table snap switches, Tortoise slowmotion motors and two aboveground machines in areas where under-table mountings resulted in clearance problems. A couple turnouts have manual throws. Atlas relays handle the frog polarity.

    The layout is powered with the Atlas Commander DCC system. I was advised not to convert to DCC on such a small layout, since that type of system would not be needed. I have found it extremely easy to use, totally reliable and perfect for multiple train operation on any layout, small or large. All the rail is wired into one big block, with a single buss line around the layout. Once you've been under my layout, you quickly realize the table height makes it difficult to do any extended work beneath the layout. The table is too high to work on while laying down, but too short to allow you to sit in an upright position while trying to fight a mile of color coded wire. DCC makes life so mush easier by letting me run everything together in a long circuit. Feeders to the rails are placed every 4' to 6' for continuous electrical contact. I have installed two walkaround throttle connection panels along the outer perimeter. The main throttle is located inside the donut-shaped layout.

    The logging camp's gallows turntable heads a loco toward the water tank. The tower features an animated spout that is raised and lowered by a Tortoise switch machine mounted under the table. The counterweight cables were made from human hair for its strength and flexibility.
    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 36

    A hinged lift-up access was installed to make life just a tad bit easier for my tired old bones, when trying to crawl under the table. With the fully scenicked lift-up, I only need to duck down to four feet for just a few inches. It sure has made life easier for me. My next layout will be a whole lot higher. My assistant is either going to have to grow, or get himself a stool to stand on!

    Bridges

    Five different types of bridges are modeled on my small layout. The curved masonry span in Photo 9 was built using Bondo autobody filler over a carved block of foam. The railing blocks were carved from strips of Bondo, and then added separately. My wooden high trestle was actually built on my workbench before the gorge existed. It free floats in the chasm in Photo 7, since none of the supporting posts are anchored on, or even touch, the gorges surface. The only contact with the layout is at the roadbed. By sliding back the rail joiners, the entire assembly can be removed for maintenance and cleaning of the gorges resin water floor. That says a lot about the sturdy design and construction of these types of structures.

    I built the curved wooden low trestle span (Photo 6) in place. Since its one of the prominent features of the first view a visitor sees when entering the room, it needed to be embedded into the lakes surface. The bents are cluttered with all sorts of debris details and sunken junk. My little plate-girder bridge was thrown together from an Atlas carload. The bridge was simple and cheap to build, but still very effective.

    My favorite bridge, and surprisingly the most difficult to build, is the felled-log bridge over the deep ravine (see Photo 2). I tried building it from the bottom up, notching each log Lincoln Log-style as I went up. However, the last couple of layers weren't working out. No matter how hard I looked for suitably sized sticks, I couldn't find the right logs that would give me the correct height to match the rails elevation. I ripped it all out and started sizing the logs from the top down instead. This time I just gave the ravine a deep coating of Sculptamold before bedding the bottom timbers in place. The rest were simply stacked in their respective places. Only the bottom and top rows are glued in place. The rest rely solely on the notched joints for structural integrity. This play allows for the spans expansion and contraction without destroying all the effort I put into building it. It isn't an exact duplicate of the prototype shown in Photo 3, but it faithfully represents the structure in a size that fits into my trackplan comfortably.

    The little "Goose" might be half a country away from Colorado, but its right at home on this tall, spindly trestle. The trestle was designed to be removable to make it easier to clean the gorge.
    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 37

    Turntables and Structures

    There are two turntables on the layout. My first is the Walthers Cornerstone 90-footer in the engine yard, as seen in the background of Photo 11. I tossed the motor and drive assembly about a month ago, then re-powered it with an old Roco locomotive motor. I wired in a DCC decoder to make operation as simple as a push of a button on the walk-around. That way I dont need to run two controllers while running a locomotive across it. One of my remote control throttle hook-ups is strategically placed nearby.

    The other turntable (Photo 4) over in the logging company's yard is a freelanced scratchbuilt gallows configuration. Built from scrap strip wood and old slot-car parts, the manual turning of the bridge is made possible by twisting a slot-car drag racing slick "knob" on the front of the layouts skirt. Indexing isn't really required on the thing since its right there in front of you. I built a hidden contact disc inside the turntables base box from copper-clad circuit board. Contact strips under the bridge ride on the disc. Each side of the disc carries a separate current, effectively reversing the polarity of the bridge rail when the turntable is turned. This turntable provides rail access to the logging engine shed, a log loading siding, as well as end of line turnaround.

    Most of the structures are scratchbuilt or craftsman-type kits featuring lots of animated detail. The scratchbuilt water towers spout in Photo 4 is connected by linkage to an under-table mounted Tortoise machine. The spout raises and lowers by flipping a toggle switch on the tables side. The mine head at Ashley Coal has operating sheaves. The cables are connected to a motorized arm, and a counterweight under the hoist house in Photo 1. The wheels spin back and forth, offering the viewer a subtle display of motion to an otherwise still scene.

    Lakeside Lumber has a removable roof, revealing a completely scratchbuilt interior. The board-by-board construction of the scratchbuilt structure took me only two weeks to complete, but the interior is still being upgraded. The overhead line shaft is operational. A slow-moving fan is mounted inside the slat-covered vent, and is visible when the interior is lit. All the machinery and transfer tables were constructed from scrap lumber, details and chain. The saw blade is an old dull Dremel tool. The brass slash burner was made from individual sheets of shim stock and features a smoke unit. My brass and wood grist mill wheel turns on a Vollmer mechanism. Over in the main engine yard, I have a roundhouse I made from CNC routed brass walls, with a heavy aluminum roof.

    Animated Wharf

    The wharf area (Photo 11) was my attempt at adding live water to my layout. The basement carpet, tabletop and surrounding scenery have survived several botched attempts at getting this part of the display finished. The dock was built up from scribed yardsticks after I sanded all the numbers off. I built the dock around a rail spur to embed the rail into the decking. The floor of the bay is built from PVC sheeting with a Plexiglas front and then screwed to the underside of the layouts edge. All the wooden parts of the table were saturated with every imaginable coating to make them waterproof. The boats hollow center hull is actually made from blocks of foam, covered in a thin coat of drywall mud! After sealing the hull in epoxy, I added the styrene decking, side rails and superstructure. All the upper parts were made from old plastic boxes and bits of computer disc parts.

    An award-winning model of a bantamweight Clyde Iron Works steam skidder creeps across Bondo Bridge. The bridge was built almost entirely out of auto body filler. The Clyde was modeled from an engraved illustration in Clyde Iron Works 1914 sales literature. It features DCC control and a smoke generator hidden in the hollow boiler.
    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 38

    Water looks like very clean glass all by itself. In order to make water actually look like water, it needs to be in motion. I accomplished this by adding a Faller water pump to the display. The water is siphoned from under the hull to the pumps location under the main table. The pumped water returns through a fitting under the hollow hull to a tee. Each side of the tee is routed through the side of the hull above the waterline. When the pump is on, the "bilge pumps" spew out their streams into the bay. The ripples from the streaming bilge waste keeps the surface actively animated. I get more surprised reactions from visitors over this one feature. They cant help but try to touch the water to see if its real. Thats okay by me, since I have yet to have a guest actually break or damage my water all year. A few drops of bleach keep it scum free. I drain it between visits to cut down on the risk of moisture damage to the layout. A removable piling, off to one side of the bay, is used as a drain plug.

    Operations

    Trees get cut down, loaded onto skeleton cars, then hauled to the log dump (Photo 5). After milling, the lumber is shipped out to the docks for distribution or sent by rail to the rest of the world. The Creech brothers maintain a nice selection of interesting locomotives. Besides the #2 Climax, they own a three-truck Shay, a 2-6-6-2 Baldwin tanker, an old 0-6-0 and a whole string of Climax and Russell skeleton cars. A few Grasse River style buggies are on the layout, as well as the visiting Coos Bay #1 Heisler. The Creech boys haul their timber out of the woods by using one of two steam donkey engines or by the massive scratchbuilt Clyde Iron Works skidder. Most of the loading is now handled by an almost worn-out McGiffert log loader, but stiff leg derricks and booms do fill in where they are needed.

    Passenger service on the layout is minimal, so the small depot in Woodland (Photo 10) is just right for the daily run to Seattle. Its a small town on a small layout where the good people of this thriving community spend their days turning sticks into stumps.

    Model Railroading - August 2002 - Page 39

    Reflection

    This first layout has served its purpose well. Ive learned a lot of valuable information about this hobby of ours from hands-on trial and error modeling. Ive been able to develop new skills I would not have been able to learn without it. I have seen a total return in my investment through the joy, entertainment and schooling it has offered me personally, and through the many compliments I have received from my visitors.

    My layout would not have been possible without the valuable guidance and direction from a lot of other modelers. They offered their time and efforts to teach me their own hard-earned skills. I have found this hobby to be a collection of the most outstanding individuals on the face of the earth. Without access to such fine model railroaders as Marty Vaughn, Miles Hale, Jerry Ashley and Creston Parker, I do not believe I would be sharing my work in a magazine. Model railroading has changed how I look at the world around me. I notice the details and beauty in the scenery as I drive my daily routes. I even take the time to look at all the tiny scraps of plants, twigs, dirt, pebbles and trash and wonder...hmmm, thats got to be good for modeling something on the layout. Its all in how you look at life. Im getting used to seeing mine through HO eyes.

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