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!

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