Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Los Gatos: the Midland/Odessa of the Santa Clara Valley

Another Moody Gulch article from a bit of Google searching, this time with a photo and progress update:

"Moody Gulch Oil Well Daily Expected to Come In" (San Jose News, June 24, 1930).

I also found this description of the 1880's Moody Gulch oil well infrastructure in a text version of Pen Pictures from the "Garden of the World", or Santa Clara County California":

Moody's Gulch, which is a branch of the Los Gatos Canon, at wells Nos. i and 2 (which are about one hundred feet apart), runs about north twenty degrees east. Altitude at this point, eleven hundred feet. At the bridge a little above, fine-grained sandstones and shales strike about north sixty degrees west, and dip sixty-five southwest. Within two hundred feet east of this bridge and seventy-five feet or more above the bed, and still higher up the hill, is well No. 5. East of this and yet higher is well No. 8. On the opposite side of the gulch and about two hundred feet from it is Logan No. I. Altitude, about thirteen hundred and eighty feet above sea-level. About three hundred feet south, twenty degrees west, from Logan No. i, is Plyler No. i. All the oil obtained from these wells is a green oil, known as parafline oil, and has a specific gravity of forty-four degrees. It is piped a distance of about a mile to the mouth of the gulch, where it is received in a tank that stands on a side track of the South Pacific Coast Railway. The first well, named Moody No. i, struck oil at about eight hundred feet. Unfortunately the detailed record of operations has been lost, but that of subsequent wells is complete.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Two Thumbs Up for Oil Wells in Los Gatos Canyon!

It's amazing what turns up in old newspapers. This article, for instance, from the June 24, 1929 San Jose News, breathlessly reports that drilling had started again in Moody Gulch, right around the time I model. It may still be unrealistic to think that the SP would have built a branch across Los Gatos Creek and up Moody Gulch, but it's sounding a lot more realistic.

And if Fred Voorhees thinks that the wells are going to produce, I'm willing to lay the track to get that promised oil to market.

In other news, the Hotel Saint Claire's 65 cent luncheon doesn't sound too bad, either.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

S.P. Rails Reach Moody Gulch!

There must be something in the water this month; again, something caused me to go after a long-lingering feature or complication and just build it. This week: filling the empty space over my helix.

Several track plan doodles in my railroad notebooks have covered the area over my helix between levels. Like most helixes, mine takes up a pretty significant piece of real estate, and crowds the Los Gatos scene something awful, so finding a way to get some value out of the space has been at the back of my mind for a while. When I redid the Alma scene a few years back, I'd realized that it would be pretty easy to run a spur off the downhill end of the Alma siding and climb to another town or industry above the helix. I ended up added the needed switch at the end of that project... though not the track to the helix or the industry.

I'd initially considered a mercury mine for that space; Alma was one ridge away from the extremely rich New Almaden and Guadalupe mercury mines. On the negative side, the San Jose-Santa Cruz branch didn't have any mercury mines served by rail, though there was a station at New Almaden, a couple miles from the mine proper. Most of the significant mining at New Almaden ended by around 1900-1915, so it's not like the abandoned mercury mines in the 1930's needed much supplies. Even if they were still running full speed, the incoming freight would be limited to mine timbers and occasional supplies. Mercury mines tended to keep the retorts on-property and only shipped out the finished mercury rather than ore. The 76 pound mercury flasks were compact and valuable, usually shipped in a baggage car rather than an operating-session-friendly boxcar.

Another possibility would be to do an oil well scene based on the oil wells in Moody Gulch, a side canyon a mile or so north of the site of Alma on the opposite side of Los Gatos Creek. Moody Gulch is probably a bit less reasonable as a model location than the mercury mine area. Not only was there no branch to Moody Gulch, but the oil production through the 1930's was small. However, before the turn of the century, there was a tank at Alma and a pipeline running to the oil field so that the oil could easily be shipped to a refinery in Alameda. There were also hopes in the 1920's and 1930's to get a major strike in the area, though the searchers never hit it rich. The oil well scene would, though, be a reasonable source of traffic for the model as tank cars of crude head off the layout to a nearby refinery. Even if the idea of significant oil in Los Gatos Canyon isn't prototypical, having Moody Gulch on the layout would be a nice reminder that there is oil in those hills.

And I woke up this morning (1) extra early and (2) feeling like it was a good day to try something big. I'd initially considered redoing some of the scenery around Alma and the uncompleted siding, but didn't have the needed scenery materials. "How about mocking up the Moody Gulch scene and see what I might be able to pull off there?

So that's what I did today - put in a temporary shelf above the helix, checked clearances (and realized the Moody Gulch scene would have to be smaller than I thought because of clearance issues with the helix), then did some quick thoughts about a track plan for a few stub-ended sidings at the end of a long grade uphill from Alma. Once the rough idea and track plan was figured out, it was just a matter of cutting some plywood.

Of course, that happened. By the end of the day, I had the Moody Gulch benchwork screwed in place, homasote glued on top, and track temporarily nailed down. I still need to connect the track up at Alma, get power to the tracks, and power the switch machines, but the project's started now, and that'll all be easy stuff I can do in passing. More importantly, having the Moody Gulch shelf done over the helix, I've got a better idea where the backdrop behind Los Gatos will go, and might have an easier time planning that scene.

The new construction did force me to abandon a bridge and creek crossing I'd temporarily put in just downhill from Alma; although I liked the idea of a bridge and the track disappearing on the other side of the creek, there really wasn't enough vertical space for the scene, and the new spur track blocks the view of the main line and would make any crossing awfully awkward.

Next steps: Get Moody Gulch working, and see how it operates. There's no runaround track at Moody Gulch, so crews would need to get all cars in order at the Alma siding (or, preferably, somewhere flat to avoid runaway cars), then push the cars up the hill and spot them at the various tracks. I'm planning on two tracks for oil loading, and an extra track (with a spur facing the wrong way) for a warehouse for the drillers. This month's Model Railroader article on vintage oil refineries ought to be inspiring as I think about scenery and details.

More importantly, this bit of work reminded me how fast construction can go once I've got a design and the materials handy. If I'd had a couple Tortoise switch machines handy, I suspect I could have had the entire project soldered and running by this evening!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Yet Another Packing House: Mountain View's Sunsweet Plant #8

And following on this blog's successful "all dried fruit packing houses, all the time" theme, here's a photo of the Mountain View Sunsweet plant #8, located at Oak Street at the railroad tracks (just west of Castro St.) It's big and barn-like, but it's a little more elaborate with that odd third floor. If you need a homely packing house, you can't go wrong here - just start building. Between the afterthought of a third floor, the corrugated steel walls, the unpainted and randomly-stained wood of the foreground warehouse, and the great Sunweet logo (flying over the corporate-subsidiary "Growers Packing and Warehousing Association" name), you've got a model that'll be easy to build and "full of character". And prunes.

The original photo came from an eBay sale years ago, and got collected on one of those sites which scrapes old sale info from eBay in hopes of getting clicks on their ads. I don't have any details about the original beyond that, but we'll just have to be grateful the photo got saved for future sharing.

I didn't know the location of this building off the top of my head, but a quick check of the Mountain View Sanborn maps for 1921 located it precisely at Oak Street next to the railroad tracks. The Sanborn map also shows that like that all packing houses, grading was done on the third floor of the plant, with storage on the first and second. The near warehouse must have been where shipping was done.

The next block closer to Castro St. also held an interesting industry: the California Supply Co.'s tomato and pickle plant. This is the second pickle plant I've encountered in the Santa Clara Valley; the other was Del Monte Plant #4, out by San Jose's Japantown. Who would have thought of the Valley as a big pickle producer?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

3D Printing the WP Tower Roof

I'd commented a year and some back about how my 3d printer kit wasn't so great for HO scale models, but it could be great for making the inside of models. Here's proof.

The hipped roof on the WP tower turned out to be a pain to make. I'd started by making a substructure out of 0.060 sheet and adding 0.020 pieces on top for the roof shape, but found that the roof wasn't coming out square and even. The first roof went straight in the garbage, and I wasn't looking forward to making the second. "Wait a sec... didn't I think I could make the form for a hipped roof like this with the 3d printer?

I went to the computer and drew up a 3d form for the roof, then 3d printed the form on my Makerbot. It took a couple tries - printing a square base upped the odds that the print nozzle could catch on excess plastic when doing large, filled areas - but printing a new version in the shape of an eight pointed star printed just fine. With a bit of filing (seen here) to square things up and get rid of little blobs of plastic, I was ready for second try at the roof.

I glued the star form to a sheet of 0.060 styrene, then measured and cut four pieces of 0.020 styrene for the subroof. All were glued on with contact cement, giving me time to maneuver the pieces so the corners all matched up.

An hour later, I had a perfectly pyramidal roof covered with Builders in Scale simulated tarpaper. I'd been frustrated by the first roof that didn't work, so the 3d printer let me make progress and move on to the fragile railing and stairway that'll make the model special.

John Allen's Locomotives Found

I've always been a huge fan of John Allen, a famous model railroader who really popularized model railroad as art - weathered and worn rolling stock, painting and coloring techniques to add the look of distance to scenery, and a sense of whimsy and story-telling in his scenes. Photos of his Gorre and Daphetid model railroad, showing small trains climbing up impossible mountains, was a mainstay of the model railroad magazines in the 1950's and 1960's. Sadly, the Gorre and Daphetid was destroyed by fire a few days after his death in 1973. A few artifacts had been saved from the fire - a locomotive, and the timesaver switching puzzle he popularized.

Check out these photos as well as all the others at the G&D Lines memorial website to check out what made John famous, if you're not already familiar with him. Don't worry, we'll wait til you come back.

During a bit of Internet wandering yesterday, I visited the G&D site, and found out that some of John's other locomotives got saved after the fire, and were rediscovered a couple years ago. All were severely damaged, but it's still great to be able to see a few more of John's creations, and think about how he managed to make some common 1950's kit locomotives become magical in his photos.

Check out the locomotive photos, as well as the story of their rediscovery.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Auzerais St. and Unloved Towns

I'd mentioned a couple years back how my Los Gatos scene has always been a bit of an afterthought that I've never known what to do with.

Los Gatos isn't the only town on my layout like that. The Auzerais St. scene, near the Del Monte cannery, also has been stuck in limbo for years. I could just argue I haven't gotten around to adding scenery there yet; it's true I've been working more on the upper decks, and haven't gotten around to Auzerais St.

It's a symbolic thing, though. Auzerais St. holds the scene has the last bit of unfinished track on the layout. At one end of the scene, the WP branch line crosses the Vasona Branch's mainline and then runs behind the backdrop to a hidden track. The WP track supposed to have a switch right at the backdrop so the WP trains could block the mainline, or pick up cars at the interchange track. That track's always been an unknown for me; for a few years, the interchange track has just run behind the backdrop, and the WP mainline just ended unrealistically just before connecting. That track's always worried me; I wasn't sure I'd be able to make the tight curves needed to fit a switch in the space. The switch is also at the back of the scene, underneath the upper deck of the layout, so laying track would involve lots of contortions.

Don't ask me why I'm offended at the absence of that switch; it's not like this track is really critical to operations. The WP crossing in West San Jose wasn't much of a crossing. It wasn't the crossroads of transcontinental trade, but instead the crossing of SP's moderately busy branch line with the mostly-quiet WP branch. Ahead, the WP still had a mile to go, wandering between industries, before they'd get to their little freight house on The Alameda at the end of the line. When the WP built their branch line in 1922 to serve the local caneries, they had to cross the tracks of the long-dominant SP. As traditional, the new railroad could get crossings added, but had to pay for the improvements, so the crossing of the old mainline on 4th Street at Valbrick (south of downtown San Jose) and crossing of the Los Gatos branch in West San Jose both got towers, paid for by the WP.

Although I model an interchange track here, there really wasn't one in real life. Both the WP track diagrams (reprinted in Asay's "Track and Time: An Operational History of the Western Pacific Railroad") and Southern Pacific SPINS booklet show joint trackage shared between the railroads serving Cheim Lumber and Standard Oil, but no explicit interchange here. Any trading of cars happened out behind 7th and Alma at the official interchange track.

But from a model railroad view, the crossing was a keeper, appearing early on my first track plans. Crossings are rare in the west, so showing the WP crossing let me remind visitors of the "other" railroad in San Jose as well as give a sense of what happened when railroads collided. I also liked the idea of an interchange track that could get a wider variety of cars. That hasn't actually happened; the WP interchange track mostly gets occasional non-WP cars coming out, but mostly serves as a place to pick up and drop off the rare boxcars and refrigerator cars going to one of the nearby industries.

I've also had grand plans for some sound effects and signals to model the interruptions caused by an SP train coming by. I'd set up a circuit to randomly turns signals protecting the crossing to green, then play a recorded sound of a train in the distance, then play the sound of a train going past the crossing, then turn the signals green again. I'd assume the threat of WP trains barreling through a cut of boxcars straddling the crossing ought to keep crews from blocking the track.

But all those great plans hadn't really gotten very far. The switch between the interchange and WP main blocked all the rest of the work - better scenery in the area, more plans for operation, working signals, and details. Worse, the uncertainty of the WP crossing kept me from thinking about how the Del Monte cannery scene ought to be finished.

So thanks to the 4th of July holiday, I had the day off, and we didn't have anything planned til a barbeque later in the day, and *something* made me say "hey, I ought to finish that track." I had the supplies - a spare switch, a spare Tortoise switch motor, I was feeling brave enough to cut up a Shinohara switch to try to shorten it enough to make the curves work out, and (most importantly) I was in the right mood to see about finishing the scene.

Four hours later, I had the track in - not great track, but it'll do for a sliver of track that might see an occasional SP switcher.

Now, I've got all sorts of ideas for that crossing. I pulled out my references and started thinking about the WP tower that protected that crossing. There's not many pictures available; the best I'd seen in the past was a picture *from* the tower in the 1930's printed in Prune County Railroading. Luckily, Asay's WP book did have a picture of the tower, and shows that it's a smaller cousin to the Niles Junction tower seen where the WP and SP crossed in Fremont. Asay notes that Tower 17 (as it was known to the signal maintainers) was built in 1922, and had a mechanical interlocking system. I suspect it was a smaller physical machine than Niles Canyon, so the tower was smaller with three windows across each side instead of four as seen in the photos.

And in a nice reminder of how removing one annoying and blocking problem can really speed up model making, I've been going great guns on the tower ever since. A couple hours of thought and some drawing in SketchUp gave me a rough model for the tower, and a couple more hours with sheet styrene gave me the beginnings of a model for the tower.

Here's the WP crossing scene as it now appears, with a WP switcher sorting cars at the interchange, and the new tower being tested on location.

Now, I could need to figure out what roadblock keeps me from progress on Los Gatos, and I might have the same kind of burst of work to finish that scene!