Monday, September 14, 2020

Keeping Up with Jason: 3D Printing Beet Racks

If you've been following Jason Hill and his Owl Mountain Models, you might see that some of my personal projects have mirrored his commercial projects. He cut molds for his injection-molded F-50-4 flat cars; I 3d-printed the earlier CS-35 flat cars. He's done steam locomotive parts (3d printed and otherwise), I experimented with a 3d printed boiler for a C-11 Pacific. He's experimented with Harriman passenger car customization, and I've 3d printed some C-60-1 bodies.

Some of our overlap isn't surprising. We've got similar interests; we're interested in the steam era on the SP. We're both likely working from the easily-available plans in some of Tony Thompson's SP books (at least until we get curious enough about details to wander up to Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum library and archives to see the actual blueprints.) We're interested in making lots of particular models - commercially and injection-molded in Jason's case, and for my own use and 3d printed in my case. We've also just been talking lots and comparing parts produced by each other. Many of my conversations with Jason about interesting models and manufacturing encouraged me to try building various models.

The Tony Thompson freight car book on flat cars had more than plans for early SP steel flat cars to inspire us both. He also included photos and plans of the various temporary sides and sugar beet "racks" that the SP used to make the flat cars useful for occasional traffic. Sugar beets were a big commodity on the SP, often seen up into the 1970s going from the fields to the various sugar beet processing plants located in the Bay Area, Salinas Valley, and Central Valley. SP track diagrams from the 1960's even show a track in Mountain View labeled "sugar beet dump" - about where the Microsoft, Google, and LinkedIn shuttle buses pick up folks at the Mountain View station... or at least where they picked up employees in the days before COVID-19.

Sugar beets were heavy, large, and were shipped in huge volume during the harvest season, so the SP needed a cheap and easy way to ship them. The crop was too seasonal to deserve dedicated cars, too bulky for low-sided gondolas, and too low-cost to deserve anything too nice. So during the first half of the 20th century, the SP would build latticed sides out of two-by- lumber that they could put on any ratty flat car, dump the beets in the top, and open the sides to let them pour out at the sugar refinery. When those cars got too worn in the 1950's, the SP took steel gondolas, then added wooden sides to increase the capacity to haul more of the relatively-light sugar beets. The early cars with the latticed sides are much cooler in my opinion than the later cars - the airy, slatty cars always looked a bit jury-rigged, and battered and worn enough to give a modeler lots of weathering fun.

Close-up of beet rack

Jason and I chatted long ago about the beet racks and how they make interesting cars. Since then, Jason took the effort to cut injection molds for his Blackburn patent beet racks, sized to fit his F-50-4 flat cars. They're beautiful models, with much finer detail than I can get with my 3d printer. All those conversations also encouraged me. I went after similar cars a couple years back, 3d printing a few beet racks based on an earlier, non-patent design also in Tony Thompson's book. If you want a few beet racks for your layout, I'd go buy some of Jason's. I'd still like to tell you about mine because they say a bit about what's easy and hard with 3d printing.

Jason's beet racks are separate plastic parts sized to fit his existing flat car models. Injection molding's good for that; it's a reliable process for high numbers of parts, and parts keep the same dimensions. To keep costs low, making parts flat, thin, and consistent thickness makes the molds easier to cut and run, and minimizes warpage of completed parts. For the beet racks, that means that making the slides as four flat pieces is easiest and the most inexpensive. In contrast, large 3d structures are hard to do with injection molding. Trying to print the flat car and the beet racks simultaneously would require large, deep molds with several pieces that need to slide together to close the mold - a challenge for the major hobby manufacturers, and near-impossible for the garage manufacturer.

3d model arrangement in the printer: bodies printing vertically, with rack ends as a separate part.

With 3d printing, the rules about what's hard and easy are completely turned around. Because of printer miscalibrations, a printer might have slightly different scale in different directions, making it hard to keep parts the same size unless they're printed in the same orientation or axis. Printing thin, flexible things can be hard with the Form One because the part will flop during all the movement as each layer is printed. As I've mentioned before, my Form One's temporary support structure relies on many little sprues to hold up the part and form the surface it begins to print from. Where a part starts printing is often roughest because of these supports; the best detail is usually much better in the middle and top of the parts. I like to think of it as "the 3d printer doesn't like to start new parts". If I can print a new layer that's well-connected to the previous layer and requires no outside support, I'll have better quality and more successful prints.

I'd started trying to do the beet racks as separately printed parts, but found that didn't work at all. The resulting parts were floppy, inaccurately sized, and rough where the supports attached. I ended up redoing the model so that the beet rack sides were part of the flat car model, and the ends were separate parts printed on a separate support structure. I also printed the models vertically, again omitting part of one end so that the support structure wouldn't join to a visible face, and then 3d printed a separate part with two feet of deck and the car end. As a result, I only needed supports along a short edge of the beet racks rather than along one of the longer edges. The attachment to the car body also stiffened the lattice structure.

As always, detail that's close to the plane of major parts is easy to apply and comes out fine. The hinges and door latches are just embossed designs raised up or lowered relative to the rest of the design. The slats printed well as long as the board was well supported, and connected back up to posts frequently. Rather than trying to fiddle to get posts and stake pockets to match, the single-piece body made it easy to have everything look realistic and fitting well.

The beet racks also showed how 3d printing works great for variants. For Jason, cutting a new version of a flat car often means designing and cutting new molds from scratch. With 3d printing, it's much easier to borrow the flat car model, combine it with the beet racks, and print a combined model. It also made for an easier model to assemble, without any need to get the beet rack sides and flat car body aligned correctly, or to figure out how to trim posts to make sure the sides matched the stake pocket locations.

The area I model around San Jose, Campbell, and Los Gatos never had sugar beets as far as I know. All the local sugar beets were grown in the flat lands around Moffett Field, rather than further south in the Valley. For example, Henry Mitarai, a Japanese-American farmer, grew acres of sugar beets on his farm off of Mathilda Ave. in Sunnyvale during the 1930's. Dorothea Lange photographed him in his fields in 1942; shortly after, he and his family were sent off to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming for the duration World War II. Mitarai didn't return to Sunnyvale after the war; he and his family stayed in Utah and grew sugar beets.

Even if the sugar beet cars aren't appropriate for my orchard layout, they're cool cars. They're also a nice reminder of the history of the Santa Clara Valley: we grew many crops besides fruit orchards, our current urban towns had agrarian beginnings, and we made money in some interesting ways before social networks.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Rebuilding Glenwood

A string of maintenance-of-way gondolas heads uphill.

Like I mentioned last time, long-suffering Glenwood got some serious rework recently. I had some good reasons to finally return to Glenwood. The ProRail invitational was going to be in San Jose in April (before COVID-19), and the visitors from around the US deserved to see the layout at its best. I needed a distraction from work, and wanted some projects that could fill a weekend.

I also had several years of pent-up frustration waiting to be unleashed. Glenwood’s also an old part of my layout; I laid the track on the upper level about two years into the layout, and roughed in some scenery. The model doesn’t accurately capture the real location. It’s not up to my later standards for prototype scenes. It's not eye-catching enough to be a focal point for the layout. Glenwood’s also in a darker corner of the layout, and in a location that’s not central to model railroad operations, so it’s never gotten a lot of scrutiny. Glenwood deserved be

But being generically dissatisfied is one thing; I need a list of things to fix. Let’s run through the problems at Glenwood.

Glenwood before the rework.

Problems with Glenwood:

  • The road’s unrealistic, just badly-levelled Sculptamold on foam scenery, with sheer drops and no shoulders.
  • The building just above the tracks isn’t prototypical; although there was a small house there, the building on stilts doesn’t match the location, nor does it look realistic for the 1920’s. It also draws attention away from the prototype portions of the scene, hiding that great curve into the cut and tunnel.
  • I'd built a station building, but it’s a coarse plastic model. There’s none of the maintenance of way buildings or outbuildings seen on the maps.
  • The grassy hillside doesn’t quite match reality; prototype photos show more trees. The grassy hillside doesn't hide the unprototypical terrain, and misses the chance for trees as a view block to frame the scene.

So my plans? Tear out the hillside, improve the tunnel entrance, make the scene more realistic overall, and detail the station area.

Redoing Scenery

Step one was ripping out a bunch of bad scenery - taking out the hillside, the cut, and the house-on-stilts.

Before any of that, I took a pass at a bunch of other unfinished business. The turnout in front of the tunnel was a frequent derailment site. I ripped out the track, leveled it out with spackle, and relaid the track. The old Tortoise switch machine was a problem; it stuck out too far below the bottom of the deck, and was difficult to adjust. I swapped it out for one of the tiny MP-5 switch machines. I also took this opportunity to check on the track in the tunnel, pulling up even more track, using spackle to again ensure the roadbed was as level as possible, laid the track better, and sealed in the tunnel so that stray light didn’t ruin the illusion of a tunnel through a mountain.

With the track done, I hit the rough scenery.

The new hillside started out with the focal point: the road climbing over the hill and curving around the top of the tunnel portal. This road’s actually the Glenwood Highway, the first paved road across the Santa Cruz Mountains, and first state highway over the mountains. The Glenwood Highway, built between 1912 and 1921, split off from the current Highway 17 on the ridge between Glenwood and Laurel, dropped down into the Bean Creek canyon, then headed through Glenwood towards Scotts Valley. The concrete road, 15 to 17 feet wide, had banked curves and oiled shoulders. It was the height of modern highway design. When the Glenwood Highway was widened in 1939, the town wasn’t big enough for the highway and the railroad; the SP lost that battle, and the depot was torn down to encourage more space for cars. The current route of Highway 17 later won out, but the jazz-era Glenwood Highway still remains if you drive through Glenwood today.

Road during rework.

Road after rework.

Old photos show the key details of the Glenwood Highway: precise curves and straightaways, the odd slalom around the top of the tunnel portal, and an even descent. I followed an approach I’d used elsewhere. I’d started by roughing out scenery to match the rough slope I wanted, and tore out as much of the old road as I could. As I’ve done elsewhere, I used 1/16” styrene sheet for the roadway, scribed with expansion lines. I cut the styrene at the workbench so I made sure curves were accurate and straightaways were smooth. I glued the sheet to the scenery with Liquid Nails contact cement, and used weights and straight lumber to keep the road flat until it dried. Once the road was glued in place, I used Sculptamold and spackle to finish the fills and shoulders.

Time for detailing the scene.

SP 84 heading out of Glenwood tunnel towards Santa Cruz.

SP 31 coming out of tunnel.

This photo of train 84 coming out of the tunnel shows that the bottom of the canyon had a bunch of pine trees in the 1920's. I'd always intended to capture scenes like this: the conifers in the canyon, oak trees higher up, and the privacy screen of trees between the highway and the railroad tracks. Rearranging the hillside and roadway helped this a bit. Filling in undergrowth and deciduous trees is easy; I've been using either Supertrees or Woodland Scenics Fine-Leaf Foilage. The redwoods and other conifers were more of a problem. I'd covered the hillside around Wrights with Woodland Scenics conifers, but I'd found these slow and tedious to build. I'd started trying to do the same at Glenwood, but eventually figured out that gluing tufts of sponge to the plastic armatures was not how I wanted to spend my hobby hours. Luckily, I'd gone to a model railroad train show right before COVID-19 struck. Grand Central Gems out of San Diego was there with their pre-made trees; I bought a few bags of tall pines, and loved how quickly I managed to get the scene finished. I bought a couple more bags later, quickly filling the hillside. I've always been cheap and unwilling to buy pre-made trees, but spending less than a locomotive to get this scene finished was worth it. With enough trees, it was also easy to give the look of separate areas of fields separated by tree lines. Static grass and a barbed wire fence made of wood posts and fishing line completed the scene.

Turntable:

In the earliest track plans for the Vasona Branch, I’d sketched in a location for the pit for the former South Pacific Coast turntable. Glenwood had been a key spot for narrow gauge lumber traffic; many short trains would carry lumber up to Glenwood; from here, a single engine could pull a longer train through the summit tunnel and down to the Santa Clara Valley. One of Bruce MacGregor’s South Pacific Coast books mentioned the filled-in turntable, so I added it to the track plan as an interesting bit of history. I’d cut a half-moon hole in the homesite for the turntable at a convenient location when I first laid track.

In the last episode, I mentioned finding the valuation maps and spotting the actual location. There were actually two turntables. The one at north end of town that apparently was filled in and tracked over during standard gauge times. The other turntable was at the far end of the siding, hanging over creek edge. Neither matched my guess when I'd first sketched the track plan.

I’d already cut the notch in the layout for the turntable in… oh, 2005, and wasn’t up to moving it. Stories claim the turntable was mostly filled in, but I took the existing hole, added stained balsa wood around to support it, added some debris on the bottom, and called it a day. It'll be a good location to throw whatever clutter I happen to have kicking around.

Glenwood Station:

I scratch built the Glenwood depot using some existing plans, and inference from photos. Gary Cavaglia published plans for the Glenwood depot in the March/April 2003 Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette. His drawing laid out the original narrow gauge depot building from the 1870's. That building contained a waiting room and tiny baggage area, and was completely sided in shiplap siding. All the photos from the times I model show a different structure. Apparently, the station was extended some time before standard gauging. The 1920's station extended the office portion of the station, built on a long addition for baggage and freight, and added a large raised freight platform matching SP's standard station designs. The station, however, kept many of the details seen in other SPC depots in Alviso, Agnews, Alma, and Wrights: similar doors, roof supports, and roof peak decorations.

Cavaglia’s drawings of the depot gave me the rough shape: walls were 12 feet tall; the gable peaked at 17 feet, and end walls were 14 feet wide. The drawings also laid out the rough sides of the passenger section. During the reconstruction, a door moved; I assumed the windows stayed in the same location. Using these measurements and various expectations (doors 30” wide, windows three feet off the ground) I could infer other measurements. The waiting room originally had two windows with a door between; later photos show a solid wall and a door to the right. Apparently, the reconstruction kept windows in the same locations but blocked up the original door location.

The later extension to the freight side of the depot was board-and-batten which made guessing at lengths easier - the battens appeared to be spaced 12” apart, so I could make guesses about the overall length of the extension. I sized the freight dock to the space available on the layout, rather than the size of the prototype’s.

SketchUp model of Glenwood Station

I sketched the whole model in SketchUp because I could do so quickly - I already had 3d models for the SP-style windows, so putting together the rough shape was fast. Once I had a rough model, I could compare it to photos and confirm that it looked about right. I could have done the same with pencil sketches or with a cardboard model.

I built the model using sheet styrene, window and door castings from my hobby stash, and vacuum-formed shingle material from Plastruct. I was lucky that all the supplies were already in my hobby stash, for I started the model just as the Covid-19 shelter-in-place started here in Silicon Valley. Like many of the SP stations I built, I used the Grandt Line 5031 windows (12 pane double-hung windows) to match the main windows, and the narrower Grandt Line 5029 windows for the sides of the operator’s bay. (I use those windows a lot, so my box-of-windows-for-projects usually has some on-hand.) I scratchbuilt the freight doors from styrene sheet. It doesn’t take a lot of styrene to be able to knock off one of these models; I usually keep a couple sheets of board-and-batten material, a couple sheets of shiplap, and then strip styrene in 1x4, 6x6, 2x6, and 2x8 dimensions, and that’s all that’s needed for most buildings. I also keep large sheets of 1/16” sheet styrene from TAP Plastics because it’s cheap and useful for bases or backing support. I also had some very beefy .156 x .250 sticks of styrene; these turned out to be really handy for building up a base for the loading dock. I could have done the same with Plexiglas, but that would have required shopping, and also required using power tools in the garage. Building from styrene let me build quickly with just a #11 X-acto knife, a square, and a straightedge.

Overall, scratch building a model like this is quick - probably a week of evenings including design and painting. The worst part is cutting out the window openings. If you haven’t tried scratch building, find some simple building, get $25 in plastic from your favorite hobby store, and start cutting!

Maintenance of Way Buildings

Who was around in Glenwood? Even with the large station, Glenwood never attracted the business one would expect; it didn’t become a wine center, didn’t have a major lumber industry, never attracted farmers. The August 1916 Southern Pacific payroll on ancestry.com showed Campbell station had an agent, warehouseman, and clerk, and apparently had a part time “fruit checker”. Wrights had an agent and warehouseman in their little hamlet. Meanwhile, Glenwood’s large station only had Alfred Feldt, operator, making $80 a month. Feldt eventually moved to San Lucas; in 1920, Edom N. Davis had the agent role. The abandonment proceedings in 1939 declared that only 196 people lived in the Glenwood area.

The section gang was a big chunk of that population during the teens and twenties. 1916 payroll records show six laborers and a foreman in Glenwood, reminding us that the section housing and work sheds deserve to be prominent. The August 1916 records show similar section crews at Campbell, Los Gatos, Wright, and Santa Cruz. The 1916 crew included V. Simoni as foreman, P. Simoni as watchman (perhaps for the tunnel), and G. Simi, M. Mariani, J. Jilla, A. Scarponei, U. Balleroni, and G. Berlacgua on the crew. The 1920 census showed a similar crowd: Benjamin Capp, Vigellio Elli, Toni Gianti, G. Luciano, Joseph Menta, Sam Chientilli, and Angelo Fideli. The railroad apparently was a good gig for the new immigrants. A separate continent of Mexican workers listed their occupation as wood choppers in the same census pages. Valuation maps don't show housing for the workers, but a few 1920's photos show what appear to be bunk cars on the siding next to the tunnel. Twenty years later, a Vernon Sappers photo of the Felton depot in 1935 shows maintenance of way bunk cars on the siding behind the Felton station, suggesting the maintenance of way workers moved closer to the bright lights of civilization.

I'd hoped on hinting at the folks who worked in Glenwood. I've got some bunk car models (care of Jason Hill of Owl Mountain Models fame), but I hoped I could include the section house where the foreman lived. Unfortunately, I'd started figuring out a location too late - I already had the station and an Atlas water tank in their rough locations. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out an arrangement that didn't appear too crowded. Instead, I added a tool house built from a A&LW Lines laser-cut kit, and an outhouse next to a privacy fence.

Scenery improved? Check. Unrealistic buildings removed? Check. Prototype station in place? Check. Tons of trees? Check. Glenwood was always a place I modeled because I wanted to capture the real look - the curve into the tunnel, the redwoods, and the interaction of the new highway and the old railroad. It’s now got that look I intended.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Bring in the Photographers!

Full disclosure: all photos here are mine documenting the weekend, not the shots the pro guys made.

Well, that was an interesting weekend. As part of preparations for the NMRA 2021 National Convention, Rails by the Bay, I got a chance to get my layout photographed for articles about the convention. Model railroading’s a lone wolf hobby for me, so I’ve never had anyone else doing serious photos of the layout. I instead got to sit and see how others thought of my layout, and how they worked to get great photos. I also changed a bit how I think about the layout as a result.

So let’s talk about aiming for good photos in terms of planning, preparation, and the photos.

If model railroading taught me anything, it taught me project management. Building a model railroad always involves a long effort to build something significant: deciding what to build, sequencing all the work, rolling with the voluntary and involuntary changes, and ending up with a completed model railroad. I found out about the photo sessions at the beginning of the year, and realized I had some time to finish a couple scenes that had been lingering. I used my usual tricks for deciding what to figure out what to do: fix what annoyed me the most, and fix what I was in the mood for.

Two projects won. First, long suffering Glenwood’s scenery finally got redone. I’ve written a bit about that previously, but to recap: it has the potential for an eye catching scene, the prototypical curve makes it easy to stage reproductions of historical photos, and who doesn’t like model trains in mountain scenery? I’d first ripped out the old scenery and fixed some notoriously unreliable trackage near and in the summit tunnel. I redid the hills and Glenwood Highway to better match the terrain. I then covered the area in trees. Normally, I try to build trees from Woodland Scenics kits, but this time I bought from Grand Central Gems at a recent train show, and had a redwood forest ready in days. I ballasted track, detailed the former turntable pit, and built a quick reproduction of the Glenwood station from styrene. (I’ll talk more about the station another time.). Glenwood needed a water tank, so I quickly grabbed one of the venerable Atlas kits and put it into service.

By the time the scene was done, COVID-19 had hit and the original deadline for the work - the Prorail operating event had been cancelled. We rescheduled the photoshoot for August, which gave me motivation for another project. This time, I decided to go after downtown Campbell. The Campbell scene’s always been a focal point for the layout, but the scenery and structures have been half-done for years. I’d built the station model years ago and scenicked the station side of the tracks. However, the opposite side of the tracks was still temporary buildings and little scenery. That included downtown Campbell, Sunsweet, the Hyde Cannery, and Ainsley cannery. This area provided some great scenes - space to photograph long trains, switching action, and lots of canneries. I started on a big push a couple months back to redo everything. For downtown Campbell, I redid the road and building bases, and started trying to pull all together.

I’d already done four of the five buildings for the downtown Campbell Ave., but had held off on the most impressive of the group - the Growers National Bank building that had been downgraded to the local movie theater by the 1930’s. (The building still exists in 2020, though I think they're still fighting about whether to allow it to become a night club.) I’d made a couple attempts at starting the bank, finding a suitably regal plastic model, but the space on the layout was tiny - only about twenty feet wide - and the model wouldn’t fit. Unable to do things perfectly, I just gave up and decided I’d do the model another day.

That day finally came as I cleaned up Campbell Ave. I tossed out my ideas of a "perfect" model and decided to just start building and see what turned up. Like the Dutch signal box, I finally got annoyed enough to just start building. Like that model, I used styrene sheet primarily. Again, large dimension styrene rod worked really well - the 2 foot inset for the doorway was simply 0.250 styrene bar, simplifying the construction. A leftover door and window served for entry. I used brick sheet for the walls; the detail along the roofline were strips of board-and-batten siding standing in for carved stone. I crafted the theater sign from styrene sheet. I would have liked to 3d print it to get the lettering perfect, but my older SketchUp software doesn’t seem to want to render 3d characters.

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Campbell Theater

Bank of Camera Close-up

With Campbell Ave. in, and the road glued down, my next project was fixing the Ainsley Cannery. The Ainsley site’s had a posterboard mockup ever since the layout was built; I still remember Byron Henderson complimenting me during an early operating session because the freight door spacing matched my 40 foot freight cars. Back in 2006, I had a great solution for the cannery - I’d found a YesterYear Models “fruit packing house” - actually a former Sunkist packing house from Riverside, California. The box has been gathering dust ever since as I waited for just the right inspiration to use it for the cannery. This was finally the time to pull the kit out of storage. The overall shape of the buildings are similar - both were a row of wooden barn-like buildings. Like Sunkist, the Ainsley cannery had an office in the end closes to Campbell Ave, and a loading dock dominating the front of the building. As a result, the rough arrangements of windows and doors would work fine as-is. One big difference was that Sunkist’s building had two joined wooden sheds, while the Ainsley cannery had two corrugated iron sheds and two wooden sheds in a line; historic accuracy went out the window in order to get a "good enough" model done as I ignored the corrugated iron sheds. I ended up cutting the Sunkist building in half, and using both ends side-to-side, and ignoring the different materials in the various sheds.

The Drew Cannery, formerly Ainsley

Preparation

All that major work took me up to last week. However, I still hadn’t done much of the preparation work, so I kicked into a big cleanup mode. Our photographers recommended doing a serious cleaning so extraneous dust or debris visible on photos. I also got rid of all the little problems I'd ignored over the years. Some was operating session damage - having folks handle models is always going to trigger a bit of damage. I fixed broken signs and bumped trees, repaired damaged cars, fixed scratched paint or bent grab irons, and filled in ballast holes triggered by past cleanups. I dusted off a set of “good cars”, and stashed away cars that were the wrong era or had visible damage. I fixed long-lingering projects -holes in scenery I’d never addressed, half done patches, and rough surfaces. Some were really quick - I’d never patched scenery when I’d rearranged the Wrights tunnel. Some were larger, such as finishing half-done spackling in the Meridian Road scene.

Most of the preparation work was the same I’d do for an operating session. For operating sessions, I’d also be worrying about reliability, cleaning car and locomotive wheels, testing that engines were working fine, testing couplers and trucks. None of that sort of work mattered much here - the trains would be stationary in the pictures. I was pretty relieved not to be doing a serious cleaning. Serious cleaning's always a huge time sink, and I always want to over-prepare - I’m always worried before operating sessions whether a balky engine or dirty track will make for an unpleasant operating experience.

Another great advantage of photos is that locomotives don't need to run well. The real Vasona Branch likely had small 0-6-0s switching the canneries. On my model, larger 2-8-0 locomotives instead get the job. I really like the little 0-6-0s, but can never use them for operations. They tend to be balky runners and stall way too easily. When operators are focusing on how to solve a switching puzzle, the last thing they want to do is deal with a stalling or broken locomotive; it interrupts the illusion of working on the railroad, and usually ends up with waiting for the layout owner to clean track, fix the engine, or provide another locomotive. With photos, however, a balky or stationary locomotive isn't a bad thing, for the trains don't need to move in a good photograph. I cleaned one of the rarely-used 0-6-0s, and it got a few chances to be on center stage. To be fair, it's still good to have working locomotives if only to quickly pull cars around the layout to a new photo site, but a photo session removes a lot of the worry of mechanical problems.

While some tasks such as wheel-cleaning and locomotive tuning don’t make sense for photos, other tasks not needed before operating sessions were needed. I’m usually a bit hesitant about putting detail on the layout. It’ll often get damaged during operating sessions. I’ve hoarded some details so they’re available when I need to fill in a scene to be photographed. The layout hasn’t always been at a stage where it’s ready for detail.

But hey, if the layout’s going to get photographed for real, this is the time for all that detail. I pulled out my box of various details I’ve hoarded during my time in the hobby. Every Woodland Scenics pallet I’d ever gotten from a detail kit went on the layout. Extra parts from a Fine Scales Miniature kit that couldn’t handle more crowding. All the 3d printed boxes, bags, lugs, and can stacks I’d printed went on any available loading dock. I plopped down figures where they were appropriate. I took a pair of 3d printed flagmans shanties and phone booths and placed them wherever they’d fit. I took the large fruit bins from the YesterYear kit and made a box yard for Del Monte #3, just as can be seen in photographs.

I also put in a bunch of telegraph poles along the right-of-way. I’ve had these on the layout before; they tend to get a lot of abuse, but they’re eye-catching. This time, I spent an evening assembling and painting a set of telegraph and power poles from Rix Products and Atlas. I also painted them a bit more carefully than before. Previously, I’d just painted the telegraph poles a quick brown and added a bit of green for insulators. This time, I made the colors stronger than last time - darker posts, silvery supports, green insulators. In place on the layout, they really catch the eye. For the Meridian Road scene, I also made a point of doing a power/telephone line paralleling the road which helps to make the scene even more realistic.

And thanks to some crazy times at work, I crammed a bunch of this work into the last week, and into a mad three days. We were also in the middle of a serious heat wave here in San Jose, so the hardest part was avoiding heat stroke in the garage, but on the plus side the matte medium dried really, really fast. The roof of the Ainsley cannery got painted just as soon as the glue holding the paper tarpaper on appeared to stick. I laid ballast in a bunch of places that had never been ballasted, and managed to paint and clean the rail in time. I decorated new scenes - bushes hiding a farmhouse along Meridian Ave, a path to the bathroom around the edge of the Rio Grande gas station, and a row of posts to keep parked cars away from the Campbell depot. I was bouncing back and forth between touching up scenery, weathering cars, and touching up structures. When I was checking old photos to get the sign on the Ainsley cannery declaring it to now be the Drew Cannery, I noticed a speed limit sign, and quickly printed up several of those to control the HO scofflaws. I was still touching up ballast and fabricating a set of stairs for the Glenwood depot a half hour before the photo session.

I never completely believed those model railroad magazine articles where someone built a well-detailed layout in a year or two. I couldn't imagine they had time to decide on models, do the construction necessary, or add the details. This week's mad rush convinced me it was possible. All I needed was some definite ideas of what should be built, an urgent deadline, a bit of wiggle-room on what counted as "good enough", some well-stocked supplies, and way too much manic energy.

And the Photographers Arrive

Dan and Doug, the photographers, were spending several days just photographing layouts in the Bay Area. They've also done this before for previous conventions and other layouts, and came fully prepared. Although I've read about model photography in magazines, this was my first chance to see pros in action.

They came prepared: lights, power cords, and various secret photographer paraphenalia. The extension cords helped when the breaker blew on the garage circuit - our 1960's house wasn't designed for this kind of model railroad lighting, and we quickly found another circuit to share the load.

Dan also had lots of cool tricks so he could get into the scene with his SLR - mirrors to capture scenes the camera couldn't reach, beanbags to hold the camera steady on the layout, high tripod for the upper level photos.

And they took photos different from me, too. Some of that was expected: they visited the Vasona Branch for only a couple hours, so they were very careful to make their plan of shots, then slowly move around the layout to hit each.

Big difference number one from my attempts at model photography: they bring in lots of light. The Vasona Branch has a mix of lighting: the garage lights are cool white fluorescent strips, but I've got various cool white LEDs and warm white fluorescent fixtures lighting the lower deck. I'll usually just use the existing lighting when I take photos; if I'm really taking care, I might borrow a couple bright lights from one source or another. As a result, my photos often have weird colors if a scene has a mix of LED and fluorescent lights. Dan and Doug used two or three photo lamps. Their lights quickly overpower any layout lighting. They also didn't seem to worry about the narrow space between decks - bounce light off objects was enough to light the scene. Their biggest concern seemed to be getting the scene evenly lit, and avoiding shadows on the backdrop. In places where they couldn't get lights, they assumed they could photoshop in some sky into the black background of the garage door.

Dan and Doug use mirrors and a hand-held photo light to capture a train approaching Alma station.

Big difference number 2: The big surprises for me was just seeing what caught their attention. I haven't seen their photos yet, but they understandably looked for interactions between trains and the world. Signals were a common tool to add some action, as were road crossings. My best guess is that model photos need the extra busy-ness and action, and really need some focal point other than the train. The Vasona Branch's semaphore signals were common places for photos. (That was also true on the prototype; one real photo that inspired me is a 1920 photo of a passenger train coming into Glenwood. That photographer, like Dan, made sure to catch the train as it "split the semaphores".

I also heard a bunch of interest about the farmhouse and orchard sitting in the blob where the tracks turn from San Jose to Campbell. This scene's always been half done and cluttered - details not glued down, ground not quite sloping correctly, the orchard too small to be realistic. I'd done a big cleanup of the scene in preparation for the photos - pulled out details, removed structures, and generally made it innocuous. But interest kept drifting back towards the farmhouse and barn. I'd started thinking about details as I was doing cleanup; I'd added a hedge to protect the farmhouse from the busier road. But the interest makes me think I should more seriously plan the scene out.

Dan and Doug also focused on the large details - freight cars and car models - rather than smaller details - not surprising because of the short time. They did spot one broken crossbuck that would have detracted from the scene; we pulled it out.

And that was pretty much it; they got ten good photos, and moved onto the next layout. I got to stare at the layout for a while; it's always fun to see the layout when it's been cleaned up for an open house or an operating session, and doubly-good when all the usual clutter in the garage has been relocated. Even though I'd crammed a bunch to get the layout in shape, I was still excited enough at seeing the layout in good shape that I finished off a couple projects that hadn't been done in time, replacing a remaining broken telephone pole, putting in some gravel around the Ainsley cannery, and fixing up the famous black walnut tree that sat at the start of Campbell Ave.

What did the photos show? I've seen the first photos, and they're great - Dan uses Helicon to combine photos taken at different focal lengths to get more depth of field. Looking at the photos, I see a few things to do differently.

  • I'm vertically challenged. In a few of the photos, it's obvious I've been less than good at making sure everything's standing up straight. They're close, but as soon as several objects are in a photo: semaphores, building, water tank, telephone poles - it's obvious each has a slightly different idea what "up" is. I'll need to work on this, both ongoing, and fixing the more obvious offenders before I next take photos.
  • Prepare for the story. I'd made sure to have cars set up in sample trains, but hadn't been good about choosing cars or trains to illustrate themes I'd want in an article about the layout. For example, large industries and lots of indistinguishable red boxcars is a big part of my layout, but I neglected to have a switcher ready at Plant 51, and also didn't make sure that the cars there were the uninteresting ones. I need to sketch out the story I want to tell beforehand, and share it with the folks doing photography.

What's next? The layout's clean and in good shape, and I'm excited to do some more building. Finishing Campbell is an obvious next step: the Hyde Cannery buildings are screaming out to be build. I'd held off on building the Campbell Theater and Ainsley Cannery because I wanted to make sure I did them right. However, my quick-and-dirty building rush seemed to work with these. Maybe I should just go build Hyde and see what happens?

The orchard scene's another obvious project.

Once both of those are done, there's obvious holes to fill. One advantage of cleaning the layout was that I got rid of all the building placed on the layout "temporarily" for lack of better space - a couple of farmhouses that never found locations, a drive-in market built for fun, a bunch of cars that needed repair. Now that the layout's opened up, I'm reminded that the area between Campbell and Vasona Junction is still completely empty. The Del Monte Plant #3 property's also still occupied only by foamcore buildings. There's also a stretch of bare plaster up on the upper deck near Alma. I'll need to take a pass on any of these scenes going forward.

If the last week's any indication, I know how to get those scenes done quickly: lock down my idea of the scene, build something that's "good enough" rather than waiting for perfection, and pull a bunch of all-nighters during a heat-wave.

Friday, May 8, 2020

What This Layout Really Needs is a Dutch Functionalist Signal Box

The Conundrum

Well, if I needed proof that I’m a structure modeler, not a freight car modeler, I’ve got proof.

I’ve talked in the past about my rules for structures: build only appropriate buildings that will fit on the layout. I’ve got a small model railroad. I don’t need bunch of models I can’t fit on the railroad, whether structures, freight cars, or locomotives. I want to model historical locations, so I don’t need models that aren’t appropriate for 1930’s San Jose. That means no generic kits, and no models inappropriate for the era or the location. I can’t always build what seems like fun. While there were lots of photogenic art deco, modernist, or mission-style buildings around San Jose, they weren’t always along the railroad tracks. My model railroad shows the back side of the old warehouses and canneries, not the attractive downtowns.

Even with that rule, I’ve got lots of interesting structures for inspiration, all clustered in a folder labeled “Inspiration”: a 1920’s car hop restaurant in LA, that pocket gas station in Hollywood next to D.W. Griffith's movie studio, the old freight house at San Jose, a bit of the facade of Golden Gate Packing in San Jose, a moorish revival storefront. They catch my eye, they seem interesting as models, they’d fit on the layout, and they’d fit the era and the location. I keep thinking any of these would be fun; sometimes I might even pull one out as a potential project.

No matter how earnest I sound, I’ve broken the structure rule occasionally. I built one of the classic Fine Scale Miniatures kits just to see what was special about them. The model's much-complimented instructions on weathering the building taught me some handy new tricks. A while back, I showed the 3d-printed model of that 1915 Hollywood gas station. I don’t have a place for it on the layout now, but I liked the look, and I knew it had potential to be on the layout. But other than a few examples, I don’t build inappropriate structures. Nope. If I’m building it, it better have a place on the layout.

But hey, this hobby’s about having fun, and sometimes that means breaking our well-thought out rules to do something wacky.

As part of entertainment during the current shelter-in-place, I’ve been following a bunch of European modelers. One, Tim Dunn, had been publicizing the Twitter Model Train Show, an online event to substitute for a cancelled model railway show in London in March. Tim’s also a broadcaster and is currently doing a TV series on railway architecture on Britain’s equivalent of the History Channel. For one episode, he mentioned the work of Sybold van Ravesteyn, a Dutch architect well-known for his modernist buildings. He shared a few photos on Twitter, including this photo of a very non-traditional switch tower / signal box:

And just like that, I’ll toss away all my principles, and start building a model that doesn’t match my era, my location, and won’t fit on my layout. It’s a pretty sweet model, though!

(For more on van Ravesteyn, read the detours.eu article on his projects.)

The Prototype

van Ravesteyn’s prototype signal box was in Utrecht in the Netherlands, between Rotterdam and Amsterdam. It's an eye-catching structure with sweeping curves, those odd round windows, and the notched roof looking a bit like Don Quixote's shaving bowl hat, all built from concrete. It's like some sort of modernist aerie that might fit well in the hills of Los Angeles, or a couple of brutalist college campuses I can think about.

Yeah, I had to build a model of it.

A bit of research told me more of the history. The signal box was built as part of a revamp of Utrecht’s central station in 1937 and 1938. Similar signal boxes sat on the north and south ends of the station, but the surviving photos are for the signal box on the north end, just where the Leideveer underpass dives under the railroad lines. The signal boxes were designed for electric interlocking machines, with the operators on the top floor, an equipment room in a middle level, and the bulk of the building perched on top of a 15 foot high concrete shaft. The real signal box was never actually used "because of World War II", though that doesn't say whether Utrecht was damaged, if the line didn't get enough traffic to require the interlocking, or if the building was just impractical. It appears the building was a residence for a few years, but torn down in the 1950’s. Some online photos show the tenants on the stairs up to the signal box.

The Model

I’d initially thought of 3d printing this model in order to reproduce the curves and the round windows. However, it’s a bit of a waste to go straight to 3d here. The switch tower would take a fair amount of resin to print - probably the equivalent of a couple freight cars, and I’d require a couple tries to print it reliably. 3d printing’s also best for a model that’s going to be made multiple times. This switch tower’s a weekend boondoggle; I don’t even need one, so 3d modeling for multiple is overkill.

I still did a 3d model in SketchUp to figure out the measurements. I created the 3d model by studying a bunch of photos online, and estimating dimensions from the spacing between tracks, size of windows, etc.

For most traditional buildings, figuring out how to build a model isn’t that hard: lay out the walls, cut holes for window and door castings, glue walls together, add a roof. I learned all this from kits I built in high school, and models I’ve scratch built and kit bashed ever since. The curved lines of the signal box didn’t suggest an obvious way to build. I ended up using a model airplane-like approach, with forms supporting a skin.

I drew out the end shape on 0.060” styrene sheet (cheap and plentiful in large sheets from Tap Plastics!), cut out two pieces to match the signal box’s silhouette, and drilled holes for the round windows in the equipment room. I then added spacers with 1/8” x 1/4” styrene rod to hold the two ends out the appropriate 12 scale feet apart. (The thick styrene rod is available from Evergreen Scale Models, just like your scale 2x6 strips and clapboard siding. The bigger pieces always seem like an extravagance compared with plexiglas or wood scraps. However, the styrene rod is easy to work with - just score and snap, same as the thinner styrene - and easy to glue.) I also added 0.125” square styrene along the edges of the pieces as a gluing surface.

Once I had the rough form, I cut out 0.020” styrene sheet for the curved walls, and carefully bent them to match the curve of the walls. A bunch of rubber bands and clamps held everything in place until the plastic glue dried. I sanded the corners so they were a bit less sharp, added filler, and primed the whole model to double-check the surface didn’t have flaws. I built the roof similarly - two sheets of 0.062” styrene for the flat roof with the concave notch, and a half-barrel roof made from half-circle forms with thin sheet over the top. One important step was gluing some 8-32 nuts into the base of the model. This is a really top-heavy model that won’t stand on its own, so I needed to secure it to a base just so I could paint it and work on it without the signal box falling over.

Once the rough walls were formed, I added more of the structural details - the entry platform, and the horizontal table outside the observation windows, all cut from styrene sheet. I used styrene strip to frame up the observation windows, and a platform for the roof. I primed and painted the model white, and added some weathering to make the curves more obvious.

I also made one bad move: I tried to add some texture to the walls to better look like concrete. The "pumice gel" I'd used to simulate stucco looked way too rough, and I spent a couple hours scrubbing and scraping the texture off so the model would look "cleaner".

The steps and handrails came from Central Valley’s “Fence and Railings” and “Steps and Ladders” packs. I couldn’t reproduce the curved railings by the entrance to the signal box, so for now the model has some unfortunate straight railings. I’ll try later to do a more accurate set of railings.

So where’s the completed model going to go? It’s not appropriate for the Vasona Branch. The WP’s West San Jose tower already has an accurate model. Even if I wanted to imagine that a modernist switch tower might have ended up at the location, economics and the unfashionable location suggested that there was no way a fancy switch tower ever would have been at the location. WP shut down the tower by the 1930’s anyway, so it's unlikely they would have spent money for a modernist jewel box out behind the Del Monte Cannery. Instead, my little Utrecht tower will probably be going to my desk at work just so I’ve got something railroad-related to be thinking about in between tasks.

I’ve got a rule: I only build appropriate models that will fit on the layout. Except when I don’t. The Utrecht signal box was a break-the-rules, fun, more-than-a-weekend project. The signal box wasn’t appropriate for my 1930’s San Jose layout, nor does it give me a chance to explore my interest in California history. However, this little modernist signal box from half a world away does capture my interest in modern architecture, and gave me a chance to try some unusual techniques in styrene. I imagine I could have learned the same lessons in plastic by scratch building a Vanderbilt tender, or a passenger car. But I like buildings, and so if I was going to do a project just for fun, it’s pretty obvious it would have been a modernist little structure model.


Thanks to Tim Dunn for sharing the original picture and inspiring me to build this project. Arjan den Boer's article on van Sybold van Ravesteyn gave more detail on the arrangement of the signal box, and the architect's evolution of style. Thanks to all the kit manufacturers who gave me enough model building skills so I could knock off this model in a couple of long days.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Rolling Back to Glenwood

Southern Pacific train #84 rolling into Glenwood around 1913.

A few weeks back, I finally started redoing scenery on a long-ignored part of the layout: Glenwood, on the upper deck. When I first built the Vasona Branch layout, I’d thrown in some temporary scenery... which has lasted for a good fifteen years now. Before I show off what I’ve been doing, though, let’s chat a bit about Glenwood.

As we read in the abandonment filing, there wasn’t a lot to do in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the 1930’s: little industry, few people, and a railroad line that tended to get buried in mudslides every winter. The Los Gatos-Santa Cruz branch wasn’t a happy place for a profit-focused railroad.

My Vasona Branch layout models the Santa Cruz Mountains on the upper deck, both for extra mileage and for my chance to model some classic California scenes. I chose to model three locations on the layout: Alma, Wrights, and Glenwood. I chose each for scenery and track arrangement reasons. Alma and Wrights were both on the uphill side of the climb to the summit, so they made sense for the slowly-rising upper deck. I chose Alma because I wanted its passing siding, and because I could find photos of the station. Wrights was an obvious place to include; the track comes up the narrow canyon, then makes a sweeping curve across Los Gatos creek to dive into the summit tunnel. The creek and bridge, toy station, tunnel, general store, and historic location made it photogenic and proper for the layout.

But what about the Pacific side of the line? I could have modeled Felton, with its lumber mill. I could have modeled Laurel, with its tiny station sandwiched between two tunnel portals, and side-hill trestles keeping the track from sliding down into a canyon. Glenwood, however, had a tight curve at one end of town that led to the Glenwood-Laurel tunnel, just perfect for the curve on the layout, which made the model in the garage match the real-life terrain. But in the 1930’s, Glenwood was near abandoned: a main line, two weed-infested sidings, and a closed station. So why include it?

Glenwood had been much more important in the narrow gauge days. Bruce MacGregor notes that Glenwood was nearly at the elevation of the summit tunnel; if the South Pacific Coast railroad could pull lumber and other freight to Glenwood, they could easily pull it through the tunnels and down to Los Gatos and San Jose with a single engine. As a result, Glenwood originally had multiple sidings for assembling larger trains before pulling them to the Santa Clara Valley. Glenwood also had a turntable for turning the locomotives hauling the lumber up from Boulder Creek and Felton, and a couple sidings for maintenance-of-way.

Beyond that, Glenwood wasn’t particularly exciting. Tunnel at the west end of town to Laurel and the summit, bridge over the creek at the south end (and eventually leading to the tunnel to Zayante and Felton), the depot, a general store, a winery that looked more like a barn, and a few houses. Some resorts were scattered in the trees, but it wasn’t the most cosmopolitain of places. It made up for its meekness with stories from the early settlers, including “Mountain Charlie” McKiernan, who famously fought a bear and got a dent in his skull.

The California State Railroad Museum has the station plan drawings for multiple years, giving us a chance to see the evolution of Glenwood from the railroad’s point of view for four times: November 1907, December 1907, 1913, and 1939.

A November 1907 valuation map (probably while the line was still narrow gauged) shows three 700 foot sidings, a turntable on the east and west ends of town (the west one apparently filled in), a section house. Bean Creek, awfully close to the railroad tracks, shows up as a 10 foot gully stretching along the scene. The sidings ended just east of the depot where the tracks crossed to the west side of the creek. The current Glenwood Highway doesn’t yet exist; the downhill stretch is labelled “Vine Hill Road”. The road crossed the tracks just west of the station, and proceeded across the creek and up the hill on an alignment that’s no longer a public road. We see a section house (residence) and multiple structures along the tracks.

A month later in December 1907, the SP created another map, probably showing line changes after standard gauging and reopening the line. There’s now just two sidings and the main line, with a spur in front of the depot. Bean Creek’s now been filled in with a concrete culvert.

The 1913 map shows additional changes. This map labels the building next to the Laurel tunnel as “watchman’s house”. There’s also two spurs, probably for maintenance-of-way. There’s a couple photos from about this era showing trains passing the semaphores just before the tunnel. Those photos caught maintenance of way cars - or bunk cars - sitting on the siding. On the east end of town, longer sidings both cross the new culvert to create 1100 foot sidings for longer standard gauge tracks. The maps also show the block signals at each end of town. A private road loops over the top of the tunnel portal; this will eventually be the Glenwood Highway.

The 1939 map shows that very little changed since 1913. The track arrangement’s similar; the only differences are in the roads. On this map, there’s now a section house, tool house, and signal maintainer’s tool house. The depot was torn down to give room for the state highway. There’s also a derail on the east end of town so runaway cars won’t roll all the way to Santa Cruz.

So what do I want from all these sights? I’m not changing the track layout, so we’ll still have the curve into the Glenwood-Laurel tunnel. The Glenwood Highway looping over the top of the tunnel portal is a well-known design, so I’ll need to keep that. The depot’s small-ish, photogenic, and has an appropriate location so we’ll need to keep it. (I’ve got a placeholder model based on some plastic kit, but it’s time to make an accurate version.). I hadn’t known about the section house and tool house; there’s space for both next to the depot, so those deserve to be added.

What’s already there? The old scenery has the Glenwood highway curving over the tunnel portal, but the climb out of town is jerky and doesn’t look smoothly. There’s also a house on stilts right next to the tunnel portal. It’s unprototypical; that hillside looks like it was mostly trees and bushes. It’ll need to go. I’d also cut a space for one of the abandoned turntables. Stories suggest that the turntable was filled in, but I’m willing to leave it as a hole in the ground.

Next steps: Let’s start swinging the hammer and changing some scenery, then let’s scratch build a depot!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

End of the Line, From the Editorial Pages

Eighty years ago, the last trains went along the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz line. It’s hard to remember with this bone-dry February, but January and February are usually the wet months here in California. Some of those years are wetter than average. Some years, we’ll get a couple good storms; we’ll hear about Highway 17 being closed for a day or two. Some years, storms can wash out the road to Big Sur or Half Moon Bay, and limit access for days or weeks. Some years, the rain comes down at biblical scale.

We’ve all heard the stories about how the Los Gatos line closed. There was a big storm in late February 1940 that washed out the railroad in several places. The SP didn’t want to keep the line open. The ICC abandonment decision highlighted just how little business was on the line, and how little traffic was being carried across the Santa Cruz mountains. Away goes the railroad, away goes the route between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz, away go the tunnels and bridges. Stories in various books hint at how the summit tunnel was either blown up by the army for demolition training or to get rid of a nuisance.

At best, those books cover the story in a paragraph or so. We don’t really know if the army blew up the tunnels to protect us against Japanese saboteurs, or Red Lectroids of Planet 10; we don’t know how bad the storm was. We don't know if the people of Santa Cruz fought the decision, and how bad the damage was. Luckily, here in the 21st century, we can rely on materials beyond what’s in the books in the hobby shop or sources at our local library. The University of California, Riverside’s California Digital Newspaper Collection now has copies of the Santa Cruz Sentinel from the 1940’s, so with a little bit of searching, we can easily learn more about what was really happened.

Although MacGregor’s “South Pacific Coast” quotes March 4 as the day of the last train, it looks like the storm - and the last train - was actually February 27, 1940. And this wasn’t a small storm, from descriptions the next day.

From the February 28, 1940 Santa Cruz Sentinel:

“One of the greatest river floods in the history of Santa Cruz - and undoubtedly the most destructive - smashed its way through the San Lorenzo Valley yesterday, bearing logs, branches, dead animals, furniture, and debris from ruined summer homes and bridges. With county damage conservatively estimated at $500,000, there were at least 100 Santa Cruzans rendered temporarily homeless by the swirling yellow flood.
“Fed by a cloudburst which brought 11.57 inches of ran to Ben Lomond in 24 hours, the muddy river first jumped its banks here at 2 a.m. and reached its peak about 6 o’clock last night…. An all-time record for high water was believed set with a 25 foot rise at Paradise Park.
“The thundering flood swept out 100-foot River Glen Bridge at Boulder Creek, then hurtled downstream, taking out the Zayante, Cooper, and Ocean street bridges on its path to the sea. Simultaneously slides tore out telephone connections with Boulder Creek and choked the San Lorenzo drive. Severely hit were Paradise Park [the Masonic summer cabin neighborhood on the site of the former California Powder Works], a number of resorts and auto courts on the outskirts of the city, outer River Street and the entire Ocean-Barson street where some two score families were forced to flee.

Old-timers were divided as to whether or not the flood was the greatest in history. Former Mayor Fred Swanton said it outclassed the big waters of 1898 and 1907, but redoubtable Ernest Otto swore he had seen bigger floods - the time, for instance, when driftwood was carried to the very doors of Hackley Hall. He did not deny, however, that this was the most destructive because of greater business and residential development.

For most of the day Santa Cruz was virtually isolated. All Peerless stages were forced to cancel their runs over the Los Gatos highway, and the Southern Pacific routed trains by way of Watsonville Junction. The Watsonville roads by way of Chittenden and Hecker passes were closed, as was the Ocean Shore route. For a time the only road out of the city was by way of Hunter’s hill and Salinas.”

That 11 inches of rainfall in Ben Lomond is a heck of a lot of rain; it's only been equalled forty years later on January 4, 1982. If you’re a Bay Area kid of a certain age, you probably remember the winter of 1981-1982. The San Lorenzo flooded. Brookdale Lodge’s dining room, with the creek running through it, went on a rampage in 1982, replaying the flood in 1940 that “smashed gaping holes in the rear and front of the dining room by mid-day (S.C. Sentinel, 28 Feb 1940). Ten people died near Ben Lomond when a huge section of hillside broke loose and tore through a cluster of houses in the redwoods. The same storm blocked blocked highway 101 and the Waldo Grade in Marin County for days, and flooded San Anselmo. I remember teachers living in Marin couldn’t make it to my high school for days. The 1982 storm was big enough that the USGS even wrote a report about it.

So yeah, the horrible storm of 1982 gives us an idea how extreme 1940 would have been. Thank goodness neither year coincided with the great Santa Cruz vampire infestation of 1986, though at least there would have been plenty of material for stakes on the beach.

Santa Cruz wasn’t the only place suffering from that storm. The February 28, 1940 issue of the Santa Cruz Sentinel also highlighted similar problems around California. The governor declared flood emergencies in the Sacramento Valley. The Napa river flooded town. “300 persons in a federal migrant camp [in Winters] were marooned after two feet of water swept through their temporary shelters.”

The news wasn’t any better the next day. The February 29, 1940 Santa Cruz Sentinel showed photos of the damage: logs and deadwood on all the beaches and riverside, ropes and pulleys carrying groceries across the river between Lompico and Zayante. The Old San Jose road was blocked. William Turver’s 1500 hens broke loose after their chicken house was destroyed by flood waters, “found roosting on the roofs of sheds and houses yesterday.” Boulder Creek’s water supply was lost when the pipe to the main supply tank broke. 35 homes at Paradise Park summer cabins were damaged by floodwaters, with another 10 destroyed outright. A covered bridge at Paradise Park survived, but a mattress in a nearby tree hinted at the heights of the flood waters.

There were also stories from abroad. Pescadero flooded. Marysville flooded. Shops on Hearst Ave. on Berkeley’s north side had a foot of mud dumped on their floors.

A. L. Andrews, the Santa Cruz general traffic agent for the SP, announced it would be a week before traffic could be resumed over the mountains, with significant slides at Rincon Hill (on the Santa Cruz side) and several larger slides on the Los Gatos side. Meanwhile, Southern Pacific had other worries: Gerber and Tehama flooded, and rail traffic between California and Oregon had been halted by slides and washouts.

Friday, March 1 leads off with “Santa Cruz Not Alone in Watery Disaster”, with pictures of flooding at Marysville. The Los Gatos road was “open but muddy”, with “delays at the bottleneck near Los Gatos were from 10 minutes to half an hour.” The railroad was still a week from opening.

The Railroad Isn’t Coming Back

There’s nothing else about the railroad until March 7. Below a headline about the Queen Elizabeth steamship outrunning U-boats, we find:

“S.P. Surveys Mountain Line
Deny Closing of Historic Run; May Rebuild Stretch
San Francisco, March 6 (AP) - The Southern Pacific headquarters here said today railroad engineers were surveying the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz line to determine whether to make temporary repairs - as has been done previously in slide and washout areas in that sector - or to rebuild the stretch in a manner to forestall future tie-ups.
Train service between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz was disrupted in last week’s storm. The San Jose - Los Gatos line is open, and buses now carry passengers from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz. Buses also operate the S.P.’s Watsonville Junction to Santa Cruz.
The rail line office here said there was no indication that the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz strip would be abandoned. They said the engineers’ report probably wold be completed next week.
TWO LOSE JOBS HERE
Previous to the San Francisco notification above, reports were current in Santa Cruz that the mountain line might be discontinued indefinitely owing to the lack of year-around business and cost of repairs between Olympia and Los Gatos. [The precision of those endpoints makes me suspect the rumors were awfully correct.]
An informed source said it would cost between $50,000 and $75,000 to repair trouble caused by the recent storm. Near Glenwood a large section of earth sank from beneath the tracks.
Meantime, the two maintenance men at the local S. P. yard were notified that their jobs here had ended. They are Charles F. Berlin of 531 Mission street, employed here for some 13 years, and Malcolm Henderson of 75 1/2 Washington. Berlin is day engine watchman, and Henderson has had the night shift.
It was also reported that the engine pits, used for maintenance, have been filled in.
The mountain line has been closed for eight days and Greyhound buses are leaving at 7:05 am and 6:10 pm to connect with the regular train at Los Gatos. Buses take passengers from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz, arriving at 11:25 am and 6:50 pm.
The maintenance crew left the city yesterday after repairing the mountain road as far as Olympia where some 250 cars of sand for “traction” use are taken out monthly. Freight is not affected by the temporary shutoff of the mountain service, since most of this goes by way of Watsonville Junction.
Historic Old Line
The historic mountain route opened as a narrow gauge railways in the late seventies and was then known as the Dumbarton road. It was then routed to San Jose, and at Santa Clara it went up the west side of the bay by way of Alviso, Newark, Alvarado, and Agnew, across on a drawbridge to Alameda, where passengers transferred to ferry for San Francisco.
Later when the Southern Pacific took it over and widened it to broad gauge, it went up the east side of the bay and through the Mission district. In those days there were three trains daily and special additions on week-ends. They generally carried from three to eight coaches in contrast to the slight traffic of recent years. They stopped regularly at stations at Felton, Glenwood, Laurel, Wrights, Alma, and Los Gatos, Eblis, Rincon, Big Trees, Mount Hermon, Olympia, and Zayante. Most of these stations have long since vanished, although the train would stop when and if passengers requested.

Meanwhile, the San Lorenzo Valley Chamber of Commerce, rightfully worried that the S.P. had decided to drown the line, set up its own committee to talk with the S.P.

Everyone held their breath while waiting for the SP to make its decision. The March 19 paper quoted shippers complaining about rates: shipments from Seattle cost 30 cents per 100 lbs to San Jose, but cost 37 cents to Santa Cruz (with no details on exactly what was being shipped.) The local businessmen argued for a better rate.

The true “beginning of the end” occurredd on March 26: “S. P. May Abandon Historic Rail Line”:

S. P. May Abandon Historic Rail Line
Younger Heatedly Hits Long Neglect
Officials Reverse Recent Story; Now Say Storm Damage, Loss Each Year Is Mounting
Santa Cruz was stunned yesterday by announcement that Southern Pacific has placed before the Interstate Commerce Commission a request to eliminate passenger train service between this city and Los Gatos.
That this city was unprepared for the announcement may be attrabuted [sic] to the fact that the Southern Pacific officials, interviewed 10 days ago in San Francisco by an Associated Press correspondent for the Sentinel said abandonment of train service between Santa Cruz and Los Gatos was not being considered.
F. C. Lathrop, general passenger agent, and J. J. Jordan, superintendent of the coast division, flanked by other officials, hurried down from San Francisco to explain in the wake of an early morning release from the company’s publicity department.
On short notice the chamber of commerce called a special luncheon meeting of directors at the St. George hotel, where the railroad representatives fenced with the opposition of Donald Younger and Adriel Fried.
Would Save $50,000
Lathrop told the luncheon gathering of 40 that abandonment of the 15 mile branch line from Los Gatos to Olympia would save the company $50,000 a year in out-of-pocket losses, that bus service will be improved in substitution for loss of trains, that freight service will be continued between Olympia and Santa Cruz, and that the Suntan and tourist specials will be routed into Santa Cruz via Watsonville.
Mayor C. D. Hinkle said he preferred to hear a thorough analysis of Southern Pacific’s problems “before offering any criticism.”
Mrs. Rose Rostron, supervisor of Branciforte district, expressed the opinion that Santa Cruz would be stepping backwards by loss of the service, suggesting that most travelers preferred the train to busses.
Donald Younger spurred debate with the charge that the Southern Pacific has reduced its service gradually through the years with a view towards eventual abandonment. “You have done everything to discourage passenger traffic over the mountains from Los Gatos,” he said. “The line into Santa Cruz has been badly mismanaged. While we have tried to provide you with more freight in exchange for promised improvement in passenger service, you have not given us your share of co-operation. You are giving us your figures and this is a stacked meeting. The chamber of commerce should appoint a committee to make a thorough investigation prior to the hearing before the railroad commission. It is the history of the Southern Pacific that you have made progress only when forced to.
Might Save State Money
He charged the Southern Pacific had not been fair in withholding announcement of their intentions at a time when the state was spending a huge sum to erect a viaduct above the company’s tracks between the Oaks sanitarium and Los Gatos. If it had been know that the line was to be abandoned, he claimed, the highway department could have saved the expense of the span.”
“I think you have been a little severe in your charges,” answered Lathrop. “As far as the figures are concerned, you can get all the information you want from the railroad commission. We are seeking to adjust our operations and our service to changed transportation conditions and changed habits and demands of the public. In certain new phases of transportation we are making some notable progress in providing service that the public generally welcomes and by its patronage will make profitable to the railroad. We have been earning only 18 cents per train mile on passenger trains in and out of Santa Cruz as compared with a cost of $1.50 per train mile. On average no more than six persons have been riding each train on the Santa Cruz line. It would cost us about $50,000 to put the line into shape following damage by recent storms. Phases of railroad service that have long been unprofitable are a drag on the efforts of the railroad to provide fast enough modern freight and passenger service generally over the system.”
He promised that the “improved bus service” to connect with Los Gatos, in substitution for the train, would save 30 minutes time between this city and San Francisco.
Stodgy and Stuffy
Adriel Fried criticized the company’s “stodgy” trains and “stuffy station” at Watsonville Junction where Santa Cruz passengers connect with southbound trains, and insisted that the company is being badly managed. He demanded figures on freight out of Santa Cruz. C. M. Briggs, assistant general freight agent, said he was not prepared to give those figures, but would have them available at the railroad commission hearing.
“It is regrettable to come to a meeting of this kind and be insulted,” said J. J. Jordan, the rail company’s superintendent. “You will get all the information you want before the railroad commission.”

“You say we haven’t been progressive. Don’t you realize that the automobile has taken away 68% of the railroad’s business! We are trying our best to meet this transition.”
Earl Harris maintained that the company had not lived up to its word, made two years ago, to spend money on improving the line over the mountain and bring additional Eastern tourist specials into Santa Cruz.
Jordan replied that the company did spend $50,000 to improve the line.
Hits Tourist Business
James P. Leonard expressed fear that a bus connection with Santa Cruz would decrease passenger traffic to the Big Trees. “The minute a passenger agent mentions a tail-end connection by bus, you will find a strong sales resistance on the part of a prospective visitor,” Leonard said.
Lathrop said the railroad company had borrowed $22,000,000 from the RFC, and that government would insist upon a profit on all branches. He expressed belied that Santa Cruz would not be affected “one iota” by the abandonment, “inasmuch as this community does not even use the line.”
Drum Baikie was chairman of the lunch meeting.
Decision as to the chamber of commerce’s attitude will be reached at a director’s meeting next Monday.
Other Southern Pacific officials attending the luncheon were E. C. Pearce, assistant superintendent; Roy Ioas, supervisor train service; G. I. Goldsmith, assistant mail and express traffic manager; Stanley Moore, special representative passenger department; E. A. Teubner, division freight and passenger agent.
Operating Costs High
Both operating costs and maintenance costs of the line south of Los Gatos have been extremely heavy since it was acquired by the company in 1887 and changed from narrow to broad gauge in 1907, Southern Pacific officials stated. Operation is expensive due to the excessive curvature of the winding route through the mountains and grades which range from 2.5 to 2.9 per cent, making it necessary to use helper engines on trains carrying more than five cars northbound and seven cars southbound.
Maintenance of the line is relatively even more costly due particularly to recurring annual storm and flood damage. Company officials stated there is an annual expense of $48,000 per year for maintenance and storm damage repair to two and one-half miles of tunnels, to other track structures, to track, and to sub-grade in the area marked for abandonment.
The section of track which it is proposed to abandon does not include a nine-mile section from Santa Cruz to Olympia. This nine-mile section will be maintained to provide freight service from the Olympia sand pits.

The Abandonment Hearing

The first hearing on abandonment took place in Santa Cruz City Hall on Friday, April 26. The SP now claimed it would take precisely $46,220 to fix the line. The editorial on Sunday, April 28, 1940 quoted how it went:

Those who attended the railroad commission hearing Friday on Southern Pacific’s petition to temporarily discontinue passenger service on the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz line may be surprised to learn that Judge Harry Bias, who represented this community, had only two days in which to prepare his case.
He was not contacted in the manner until Wednesday afternoon, and in the brief period between that time and opening of the hearing Friday morning at 10 he studied railroad company exhibits and hurriedly assembled such information as was available through services of the chamber of commerce.
What is more, his services were gratis.
Ordinarily, in a hearing of this type the applicant, with its army of auditors, “experts”, and imposing array of cold figures, holds an advantage over the opposition of lay critics.
Judge Bias, especially effective in cross-examination, disclosed not of the handicaps which are usually imposed by hurried mobilization of opposition. He turned in one of the neatest jobs we have witnessed in many years.
Item by item, he went to the core of the subject in cross-examination of Southern Pacific representatives.
He established these major points:
Southern Pacific had planned abandonment of service for some years and seized the storm condition last February as an opportune time to take action.
Revenue from freight and special trains had not been computed by the company in arriving at the reported loss on the line of $28,578 for 1939.
Nothing of substantial nature has been done in the past 25 years to improve facilities on the regularly scheduled passenger trains operating between San Francisco and Santa Cruz.
The company has not kept pace of competition.
Facilities on the train coaches are below normal in comparison with modern transportation equipment.
In concluding his remarks Judge Bias expressed the opinion that “if the railroad company had deliberately planned to discontinue its train service on this line it could not have done a better job of discouraging public patronage."
A few of our citizens have been lulled into an attitude of non-resistance by Southern Pacific’s reported losses on this line. What we in Santa Cruz should consider of prime importance are the tremendous losses to this community as the result of what conspicuously appear to be mismanagement of an important travel artery entering this town.
We feel that the Southern Pacific has not fulfilled the obligations of its franchise. Santa Cruz, in our opinion, has suffered huge losses due to adverse operation of passenger trains entering this community. This is the finest recreation area within short distance of the San Francisco bay area of 1,000,000 population. The trip over the mountains from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz has scenic value worthy of extensive exploration by a railroad company.
Holding a monopoly these many years, Southern Pacific has not felt the pressure of rail competition on this line. It has provided comparative discomforts with little regard for a public attitude. Instead of improving its roadbeds and equipment to meet the competition of highways and buses, Southern Pacific has blamed the public solely for its loss of business. One can motor to San Francisco in a comfortable automobile on a comfortable highway in one-half the time required by the antiquated train. Many people, we believe, would prefer to leave their automobiles hat home and travel by train if Southern Pacific had shown the same enterprise on the Santa Cruz line that it had demonstrated elsewhere in attempting to meet competition.
Women in long bloomer bathing suits, bewhiskered men on “gay-ninety” bikes, and horse and buggy delegations, would not look out of place in creating the arrival of one of the regularly scheduled trains at the local SP depot.
Let us view the losses from a different perspective. This public utility, by its monopolistic operations, has denied Santa Cruz the kind of transportation facilities which are considered average in other parts of the United States. We have lost the benefits that might have come through alert, progressive management of a rail line.
“Comfort” is something we read about in the Southern Pacific ads; also we are urged “Next Time Try the Train”.
By schedule and type of equipment, SP has caused its Santa Cruz trains to try the public’s patience.

The Friendly Southern Pacific attempts damage control.

The Santa Cruz abandonment wasn’t following the path of the Boulder Creek, or Almaden, or Le Franc; the town was pissed off, and wasn’t about to roll over. The SP decided to highlight all the nice things they could do for the town. June 22, 1940, the SP argued its case. As before, they didn’t talk about closing the line, but just “closing passenger service” and replacing it with a bus. How you got to Los Gatos didn’t matter; they’d make sure the bus was attractive. The SP also attempted to assuage all the concerns. They’d continue to promote the Suntan Specials, and continue to keep the fares the same. They’d put up posters extolling Santa Cruz in stations, and highlight the destination in timetables and tourist brochures. They’d show movies of Big Trees, and make sure Santa Cruz had a central role at the SP exhibit at the 1939 World Fare in San Francisco. To comfort James Leonard, they’d continue to take tourist trains up to Big Trees. They’d lower the tariff for lumber, and wouldn’t raise rates for other commodities, and wouldn’t passenger fares. (Don’t hold your breath folks; the fares will go up in two years, regardlesss of the agreements.

You won't have a railroad, but at least you'll be in the movies!

Meanwhile, the old route rotted in the forest. There were reports of signals getting stolen later that summer. On October 31, the ICC decided: the line was to be abandoned.

Tearing Up the Line

We’ve all seen pictures of the abandonment: trains going through the canyons removing rails, bridges, and anything else salvageable. The rumors about the tunnel were less mercenary. One said the tunnels were blown up by the army to avoid saboteurs hiding in them. Another claimed the SP didn’t want the tunnels around as a nuisance. In reality, the tunnels were collapsed for the lumber. From the April 19, 1942 Santa Cruz Sentinel, courtesy of a reference in Derek Whaley’s “Santa Cruz Trains” book:


Glenwood and Wrights Tunnels Gone
The first two tunnels by which our erstwhile Los Gatos Railroad line bored through the hills are gone. Timbers which bolstered the mile-and-a-quarter Wrights tunnel have been taken out, the tunnel is caved in, its ends are closed. Another week will see the end of the mile-and-an-eighth Glenwood tunnel.
H. A. Christie, professional railroad wrecker and gambler on earth formations, bought from the Southern Pacific the right to salvage what timbers he could.
He has been trucking them down the old right-of-way to end -of-line near Felton and shipping them out.
Rock was well broken by earthquake of 1906
So dangerous is the work of yanking the ten-by-fourteen inch timbers out (by use of a team) and the resultant fall of rock that Mr. Christie’s premium on insurance against accident or death to his employees equals 34 percent of his payroll.
When the fall of rock buries unsalvaged timbers he leaves them and resumes work farther along. While working in the Wrights tunnel part of his equipment was buried - and abandoned.
The wrenching given the sand rock by the earthquake of 1906 (after which the tunnels were enlarged for the broad guage [sic] line) turned the sand rock nearly to sand.
COUNTY WANTS TIMBERS AT SCHWANN’S LAGOON BRIDGE
Because of the peril of the work the Southern Pacific sells the salvaging privileges and buys back what timbers it wants. Mr. Christie is under contract to sell back to the railroad 800,000 board feet of what he reclaims.
The timbers taken from the Wrights tunnel amounted to a little more than half a million board feet. Should there be an excess over the railroad’s requirements the county is a bidder for timbers for the proposed new Schwan’s Lagoon bridge in Twin Lakes. Timbers at the salvage price will save about a thousand dollars.

As those timbers got pulled out, the chances of the line ever opening again died completely - the Los Gatos - Santa Cruz line was no more. The storm was the last straw, but the abandonment probably would have happened any day. The salvaging and destruction of the line didn’t have saboteurs or crazy army demolition folks but a dedicated salvager with a brave team of mules. The storm also had effects beyond the route, shutting down Santa Cruz as a place for engine service. A year later, the Sentinel remarked on the boiler house being taken down to send its materials to Sacramento, and the inspection pits at the roundhouse were getting filled in. Santa Cruz would never be a big railroad town again.


Key details to remember for the model?
  • The Olympia sand pits were shipping 250 carloads of sand a month, with the SP one of the customers.
  • Passenger trains from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz required a helper for more than 5 cars... just like my model!
  • Santa Cruz was originating trains up to 1940, and had the roundhouse and personnel up until then.
  • If the model trains ever don't run, just say "oh, the line's open" and point at a passing bus.