Starting Phase 1

Last summer (2017) I built several sections of benchwork, and never actually stood anything up after a year experimenting with my Idea Demonstration Layout.  This year, with those 3 sections in hand, I don’t intend to let the year go by without standing up section 1 of the N&W layout.

This time, instead of tearing everything apart, which will be harder because I glued/screwed it all last year, I’m fortunate to be able to re-use all three layout sections.  What I’m terming “Phase 1” of this layout will re-use the two sections, 8’x12” and 4’x12” that I built last year intending them to be under Snelling on the YV.  The first part of putting them to use will be to join them into one 12’x12” section, and then add additional pieces that will create support under the rest of the rest of the section.  I plan to use the same Kreg joinery system on this section as I did to create the first pieces for it.


Getting to work joining two sections of benchwork.


Glue and a couple of screws from either side of the join should make this joint one of the strongest on the layout.

The second section of benchwork to be re-used from last year is another 8’ long piece that is 14” wide.  This will become part of the second section of the layout, the largest piece, that will encompass another 12’ long section, but be double-sided and have the other two towns, the yard, locomotive servicing facilities, etc… Again, more lumber will be added to the existing piece to expand want was built last year and create the new footprint.

A completely new section of lightweight benchwork will be constructed this year to hold staging for the N&W.  The as-drawn plan includes staging under the area of Phase 1, but we’re going to build everything on this layout, track work wise, to be level and flat. The scenery will rise and fall, giving the feel of climbing through the mountains.  With that decision, staging will need to be separate and we’ll build that as a Phase 3.  Until we get to that, a temporary staging track will be added to Phase 1 and as trains start to operate they can be “fiddled” or 0-5-0 switcher-ed on and off the layout.

The last piece I built last year was intended for a Free-mo project, but I will be putting it in service as a work table this year.  It will make a great spot to clamp, cut, glue, and assemble larger pieces of benchwork. (You can see it in the photos that accompany this under the parts I’ve glued up.

Version 2

Initial plans for Phase 1 that show additional benchwork sections.  I may modify this as I build, but the finished product will be something similar.

One thing that I’ve always been stuck on is how to build decent support legs.  This layout, like everything else in the workshop around here, will need to be portable.  It’s going to have to share storage space with other things, including most likely the car in the garage.  For the time being, the best solution I can come up with is to put everything on saw horses until I have a better handle on how it’s all going to move around.  Eventually I would like more permanent legs, and I think that adding some iron pipe is probably the direction that we’ll take.

Time to get back to building something!



A New Name

You may have noticed that the name at the top of the page has changed. “78 Miles to Yosemite” was appropriate when this was a blog about just modeling the Yosemite Valley Railroad.  Over the last few years, though, a few other projects have crept in, and I decided that with the advent of the N&W layout, projects for that layout, along with the YV projects, a new name was warranted.

The new name, “Two Coasts, Lots of Models” is intended to convey the idea that I’m not moving on from the YV, but that at least at the moment, my modeling path is following multiple railroads on different sides of the country.

As always, I appreciate you visiting and reading what I have to share.


Creating a Branch

With the new project narrowing in on modeling something related to the Norfolk & Western, some decisions and choices remain to be made.  Where, when, still some of the what, how, space for the layout….

When most people think of the N&W, images of the massive class A and class Y mallets, or of the beautifully streamlined class J locomotives, like the 611, come to mind.  N&W was big-time big power, big, big, BIG trains.  However, that’s not all that was involved with the railroad.  Much of the railroad’s business in coal involved trains running into the valley’s of West Virginia and Virginia to secure the coal from mines, and then hauling that coal either West into the heart of the Midwest to the steel mills, or East to the giant coal docks at places like Norfolk.

I’ll be the first person to tell you, finding room in our house, anywhere, to have a Class A or Class Y haul a train with a length worthy of that kind of power isn’t going to happen.  That requires a huge layout, like Mike Ritschdorff’s Pocahontas Division.

Research continued, as we had both decided that the 2-8-0’s and 4-8-0’s of the N&W were appealing locomotives.  As it turns out, by the mid-1920’s, those very engines were coming out of mainline service and being assigned as either switchers (because the N&W didn’t tend to buy switch engines until much later) or they were being assigned to branchlike service.

Branch line service?  YES!

At this point I’m starting to imagine a general idea of what is happening on our layout.  We’re looking at a branch line operation of the N&W, some time in the 1920’s, with a small number of locomotives hauling the general freight, but also coal to at least one, and hopefully more than one, tipple.

Along the way, we started to collect information and reference materials on the N&W.  There is a ton of info out there.  We need to narrow in on a date for modeling so we know where to focus research and information collection.

Remember the ACP?  As I said in the post, the 1927 date for that must have stuck in my head, as I started to narrow in on that as a modeling date for the N&W.  1927 actually makes a good deal of sense freight car wise.  AAR regulations for required markings changed in 1927, so we can mix and match paint schemes.  1927 is prior to the onset of the Great Depression.  It back-dates my modeling by 12 years, and modernizes what my wife is interested in by 18 years.  Not terrible, but the changes in railroad rules and equipment going forward or backward from our individual endeavors means everything is different.

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A trio of pieces of information landed in the middle of this research and decision making.  First a 1927 map of the Norfolk & Western system.  The map is helpful in picking a ‘where’ to model, as it helps set traffic directions and scenery for the actual layout.  The second was a copy of the June, 1927 issue of Norfolk & Western magazine.  The railroad actually published their own company magazine for employees and their families.  The magazine helped set the month for our plans at June, and will help set the look of any published materials that we create for our visitors.  The third piece is a book, not on the N&W but on another railroad, the West Virginia Coal & Coke Railroad.

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The Coal & Coke Railroad was a briefly-lived short line in West Virginia that eventually became a property of the B&O.  The important part of mentioning the line at all, beyond the fact that it hauled coal, coke, and oil from the West Virginia oil fields, is that the model, an independent railroad that is acquired by a larger carrier in the early part of the 1900’s is exactly what we were looking for to use as a template for our line.

It’s about that time I hit on a layout plan that actually fits perfectly with what we’re looking for.  In his book Compact Layout Design (from Kalambach Publishing), Iian Rice created the Black Creek & Buda, set on, interestingly, the Monongahela.  Moving the railroad around a little, it actually fits the branch line model owned by a larger carrier, with multiple mines, spots for other industries, some locomotive service, a yard, and staging.  The part of the layout that really excites us is the ability to build it in phases.

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An article by Robert Sierson in Model Railroad Planning 2009 describes a phased approach to layout planning and construction.  Phased construction is essentially the same principle as what Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine describes as their TOMA layout design.  Either term works, but Mr Rice’s layout design easily breaks into three locations, and therefore, three sections.

Of course, no printed track plan can go without changes when built by someone other than the original designer.  We plan to build with some general ideas that not only set the scene, but also provide a sense of traveling a meaningful distance.  For example, there are three main scenes or towns on the layout, and each has room for ‘company houses’.  In order to give a sense of being in a different place, each town will have a different design of company house.  That kind of visual differentiation will provide a clue to the operator that they’ve gone somewhere else.

Layout 1.jpg

The new ACP Branch of the N&W will be close, maybe not exact, as no printed plan goes unchanged by a builder, to the Black Creek & Buda from Iian Rice’s book, but you get the general idea of what we’re aiming for.

Additionally, we’re going to add a continuing connection so we can stage additional traffic, like logging, possibly some coke hauling, etc… off the very “end” of the branch allowing for more traffic.  As we move forward with “Phase 1”, we’ll share the plans, the structures, and how it all comes together.  Right now, we’re waiting on the weather to improve to get to the point where we can assemble some benchwork.

Naming the branch wound up being easy.  As a nod to where my whole railroading journey started, and using a directory of towns in West Virginia, we’ve chosen to name the railroad the Auburn, Cowen, & Pineville.  We’re now on the ACP Branch of the N&W.

Full steam ahead!


Casting a Wide Net

I’ve long had a few interests in railroading that sometimes overlap.  Ore hauling, logging, small steam locomotives, shay locomotives, especially small Class A shay locomotives, and operation.  Except for the Class A’s, it would seem that the YV would satisfy all of those, and it does.  As I told you before, from the time I was first learning about modeling, the 2-8-0’s, in the size of the ATSF 1950 or smaller classes have appealed to me.  As my wife and I started looking at a joint project, our shared interests in logging and ore hauling took center stage.


My first foray into ore hauling involved planning an INRD-based N scale layout.  The plans were abandoned for a scale change back to HO.

I have plenty of interest in ore hauling to draw on.  At one point I was working toward modeling the Indiana Railroad in the early 2000’s, with red and silver SD40-2’s mixed with lease power hauling strings of coal in the coal fields of Indiana.  After that, I did some initial research into modeling part of the Alaska Railroad and the coal trains there behind GP49’s.  My wife and I share an interest in iron ore hauling, having visited Duluth a few years ago.  The DM&IR-style railroading, or the LS&I, are very appealing.  The small ore cars on the giant ore docks we both find fascinating.


An interest in the Alaska Railroad and the coal trains to Seward nearly lead to a switch several years ago to a more modeling era in HO scale.

Our shared interest in logging and shay locomotives pointed me a few years ago to research logging railroads in New Hampshire.  I wrote an article for the Layout Design Journal of the LDSIG (that hasn’t appeared yet in publication) on logging in New Hampshire.  The company towns and small power of railroads there, like the Gordon Pond, are especially appealing,  There is so much going on with those little logging lines, so many excellent modeling possibilities.  We may eventually return to one, as a “retirement” railroad, maybe even in O scale or On3.


Gordon Pond Shay… a 22 ton class B.  It’s in the right weight range for my interests in small Shay locomotives.

A few options were considered for a joint project.  A “modification” of the YV into something I termed the “Merced Eastern” was revived.  About 6 years ago when a moving company damaged a large number of locomotives, I nearly decided to resurrect only what I could and turn it into a Yosemite Valley-esque railroad, combining ideas from the Virginia & Truckee, Stockton & Copperopolis, Yosemite Valley, Sierra, and a few Northern California logging railroads.  The idea was deemed too close to the YV to not just model the YV, and we moved on.

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This section view of the Racquett River RR shows the interesting setup.  Modernizing this plan with multiple run-through views in the same scene would have been a challenge, but the idea of a short line is still something I, and my wife, both love.

I love reading and studying track planning books.  I have a decent collection of books from Kalambach and other sources, so while discussing prototype inspirations, we also looked at some track plans.  One that I seriously have considered in the past, the Racquette River RR from the October, 1977 Model Railroader (and reprinted in the book, “Track Planning Ideas from Model Railroader”), has a tempting setup.  It represents a small railroad running from a connection with the New York Central, and a small yard and locomotive service facility, along a river, to another town.  The plan offers walk-around operation, and two terminals.  It does, however, have some drawbacks that lead me to continue the search.  First, the space necessary is kind of large for our space, at 10×16, and the layout is nearly 2 decks, but is designed as a single deck layout.  It would need to be modernized, and some additions and deletions made.  In the end, it’s a fantastic example of a “transitional” layout design from the old “spaghetti bowl” layouts with multiple passes through a single scene headed toward a more “modern” design.

We considered various prototypes, from the DM&IR to the GN for ore hauling, the Chicago & Illinois Midland for coal, logging lines in New Hampshire, a little line with a single steam engine for much of it’s history in the Mobile & Gulf… the conversations about what prototype to look to were fun, and they occupied multiple dinners out and drives to do errands over several weeks.

The purchase on a whim of a book at the hobby shop wound up being the catalyst that sent us toward a landing spot, a target, a choice of railroad to use as our prototype inspiration for the new endeavor.  The book shows track diagrams, structure drawings, and comparisons between the Monongahela facilities that existed in the steam era, and later in the Conrail era.

I opened the book one day and found a drawing on the first page of a somewhat diminutive 2-8-0, and thought it might make fun distraction to explore the Monongahela and what models were possibly out on the market of one of those 2-8-0’s.  A cursory internet search tuned up the fact that no exact models had ever been made, but that modifications to a Spectrum 2-8-0 could produce a reasonable stand in, or H9 or H10 either in brass or from another source like MTH trains, or a more-generic 2-8-0 from Broadway Limited, could serve because the Monongahela seemed to be getting their equipment second had from the PRR and NYC.


A MTH Pennsylvania 2-8-0 on display in their booth at Trainfest in Milwaukee, WI, November 2017.

I decided to just investigate similar locomotives, belonging to coal-hauling railroads.  Then I hit on a photo of a Norfolk & Western 2-8-0, a W2 class, and my eyes lit up.  The W2’s, while distinctly N&W in design, are to my eye very similarly proportioned to the ATSF 2-8-0’s of the 780 or 1950 classes, they have a “feng shui” to them.  To my delight, I found that Northwest Short Line had imported brass models, and they occasionally hit the market.


A Norfolk & Western W2 2-8-0 sold in the last few years by BRASSTRAINS.COM illustrates the size of the W class locomotives and their very similar look to the ATSF 2-8-0’s of my youthful modeling dreams.

I started doing some more in-depth research into the Norfolk & Western, looking at smaller locomotives, the 2-8-0’s in the W and G classes, and the larger M class 4-8-0’s, showed them to my wife, and we decided that we should look harder at the Norfolk & Western as something to model together.

There’s the starting point.  Where to go from there?  We now have our ore hauler, and a famous one.  Does it have logging?  What else is there on the N&W?  When are we modeling?  Track plan?  Other equipment?  There are lots of questions to answer.


Marking a Milepost: Modeling True To Your Heart


A good deal of model railroading is the doing part.  Building the models.  That’s what most of us are here for, the models, the trains, the operating worlds in miniature.  A quote from Trevor Marshall on his Port Rowan blog recently summed up for me another part of why I’m here;  “The hobby is a social one for me, so I’m really happier hosting operating sessions than I am running solo.

Like many of you reading this, I also read quite a lot of model railroading information as well as historic railroading information.  Our home libraries, website bookmarks, email in-boxes, facebook feeds, mailboxes, and other spots are all probably pretty similar, filled with information on railroads and modeling.

While I’ve written several times in the past about influential people or layouts in my modeling DNA, I thought a few quotes from my reading that have influenced a great deal of my current thinking might explain a few things as this journey moves forward.

Probably my second favorite annual magazine that arrives in the mailbox, Great Model Railroads offers quite a lot of inspiration.  I find myself wishing this publication was quarterly or bi-annual on a regular basis. Back in the 2010 issue, Paul Scoles Sn3 Pelican Bay Ry & Navigation Co layout includes a sidebar discussion about operation vs scenery.  “I don’t like the narrow sight lines of multilevel layouts, especially the lower decks… in the end, it’s a question of balance”.  Balance between scenery and operation, between length of run and size of layout, between use of space for maximum railroading and comfort for the operators and visitors.

Very recently, Lance Mindheim wrote a piece on his blog about Picking a Theme and Setting a Scope“Choosing the right theme can make the difference between a project that is propelled by enthusiasm versus one that stalls.  If we make a less than ideal selection, sooner rather than later, we’ll lose interest.  The feeling is a subtle, hard to define, lack of emotional buy in.  If we over shoot the scope, bite off too much, we can become overwhelmed and the project stalls under the shear weight of a “to do” list that stretches to the horizon.”  For over a decade now, the theme for my modeling has been the Yosemite Valley Railroad, and the scope was a full run of the 78 miles from Merced to El Portal.  Lance’s blog post really resonates with me, and I’d imagine a lot of others at the moment.  Several of you may be in the process of moving, changing layouts, changing railroad modeling interests.  There are often pieces in the model railroad press about changes in railroad involved in a move, a change of scale, or otherwise a second time around at a layout.

Taken together, a pair of articles, one in the 2009 Great Model Railroads, and one in the 2012 Model Railroad Planning, point the direction ahead for me.  The GMR article about Bill and Mary Miller’s modeling of the Colorado & Southern together after changing over from what Bill had started on his own before meeting Mary as a Great Northern modeler and my own similar situation, having started down my path to Yosemite before meeting my now wife, and our modeling together, provides a sort of “milepost” to my modeling life.  I want what Bill talks about, that their railroad “…satisfies the twin passions that Mary and (Bill) share in the hobby; building detailed models and operating them prototypically through a realistic setting”.  I am fortunate to be able to also be married to a modeler and historian who loves the same things I do in the hobby.  From the 2012 Model Railroad Planning, Mike Confalone discusses his decision to move away from modeling the Woodsville Terminal and on to the Allagash.  He talks in the article about how his plans had started to bog down in the size of the railroad and types of traffic he was able to generate.  “The Woodsville Terminal was an interesting short line with lots of character, but the hand-to-mouth operation, moving at a snails pace, one train per day, hauling light traffic, and running at slow slow speed, just didn’t provide much excitement, so operational interest is somewhat limited. In a nut-shell, the novelty of a down-on-it’s luck short line was wearing off”.

Lastly, I return again to the web, and to Trevor Marshall, who recently set up a new page and began posting blog’s about what he refers to as his “kryptonite”, the NS&T.  Trevor discusses the starting thoughts about the possibility of exploring a new railroad other than his Port Rowan branch of the Canadian National, and how exciting that idea is.  He also lays out some well thought-out steps and needs to check off before he considers taking the leap and abandoning or modifying his current layout into Free-Mo modules and embarking on a new railroad and new project.

So now, let me show my full hand, having dealt those quotes and ideas on the table.

The lack of space for an actual layout based on the YV has been extremely wearing.  While the ten year plan to build all the necessary rolling stock sounds awesome on paper, in reality, building equipment and then putting it safely away in Freight Crates to wait at least another decade before it gets any use is difficult to do.  Building the YV alone, and my wife building the CV alone is impossible here.  The room each of us would need to build a single level layout based on our individual interests is about a 4 car garage each.

That statement obviously impacts now, and future.  That’s OK.  Like Bill and Mary Miller, modeling together, and like Trevor Marshall’s statement that modeling is a social activistic, modeling I would say, can be separated from historical interests to some degree.  My wife and I tend to be interested in many things railroad-related.  It certainly doesn’t mean that our interests in the Yosemite Valley and the Central Vermont are over and put away.  This journey is still a path for me to Yosemite, to researching, writing, building, and learning about the Yosemite Valley Railroad.  For my wife, she’s not budging on her interest in the Central Vermont, there are too many roots and connections there.

What it does mean, however, is that a new joint project where my wife and I are building the same layout, projects toward a shared goal, is in the offing.  It will be a project that fits here, can move with us and grow, and will stay within our space constraints.  Working together, we’ll be able to get an operating layout up, equipment and structures built, and be operating, while at the same time continuing to delve into our own interests and new shred research interests.

A pice of advice I have seen many places in modeling, be true to your interests.  We have an interest in small steam, in small Class A Shay locomotives, in ore hauling, in logging, in operation.  There are lots of shared interests that will keep us busy, and me blogging, for a long time to come.  The subject matter may expand from, but not leave out, the Yosemite Valley Railroad for me, but that doesn’t mean that my interests or involvement with the YV are done.

The trip to Yosemite is not over, but the meaning is changing.  I’ll explain the plan shortly.  I hope you’ll stay along for the ride.


I want to model THAT!

I had a couple of “ah ha” moments this week while cleaning up and organizing some reference materials.

I’ve written some about being inspired by the Auburn, Colma, and Placerville that was in the May, 1988 issue of Model Railroader (How my path…).  The ACP was in the first issue of Model Railroader I ever bought.  It would have been part of a birthday gift from Ann (One of the 5).  I still remember going to Talbots Toys in San Mateo, CA and spending hours in the model trains there.

ACP in Model Railroader

Inspiration: My First Issue of Model Railroader (author’s collection)

As I was picking out issues of magazines to keep or find new homes for, I spent a few minutes to just sit down and enjoy the ACP article again.  I was reminded about some of my early goals and “I’m going to have something like that, one day” dreams while reading that article.  One sentence in particular tickled me greatly.  “The time is 1927….” It starts.  1927 happens to be the year I recently picked to do some modeling for, and I hadn’t remembered that the ACP was set in 1927.  It’s amazing that something like that, so deep in my modeling history and story, most likely influenced my choices now without me remembering it and making a conscious choice.


The photos of, and fictional backstory for, the ACP influenced my early, formative, thinking as a model railroader.

Another fun pull from the book shelf was my copy of “The Complete Book of Model Railroading” by David Sutton.  As a kid I would go to the local library, or the school library, and check out the model railroading books.  In those years, when visiting the model train store after going to the kids shoe store down the street, I would see brass locomotives on the shelves, and my parents would tell me that those trains were for “adults” and one day I could buy one if I was still a modeler when I got older.  Going to the library and getting into Mr Sutton’s book, it’s full of photos of brass locomotives, and I used to pay the dime for photocopies of pages as I would plan my future layouts.  One locomotive in particular, a United Santa Fe 1950 class brass 2-8-0 constantly caught my eye and I would plan all my layouts to include having a 2-8-0 like that (or exactly that).  From an early age, the 2-8-0’s were my favorites.


I planned, as a young modeler, to have one of these locomotives.  The lines of the locomotive were appealing, and the 2-8-0 became my favorite wheel configuration.  This photo, more than anything else, locked me in as a “steam guy” for life.

Following my path to Yosemite, along the 78 miles, there have been many influences that have changed what I’m doing, where, when, and how.  I’ve learned from and incorporated all of these things into my own style, and my stile continues to evolve along this journey.  It’s always interesting, though, to look back and see where things started, where my ideas of what I want to build and do as a modeler “root” and then see where they’ve grown to.

Time to get back to the workbench!


On the Hunt for Vision Solutions

Solutions to seeing models as I build are a constantly evolving task.  It seems that some things are a constantly moving target.  Occasionally new products come up that I try, and some I like, while others don’t work for me as well as I hope, and then onward I go, hunting for other ways to address an issue.

I’ve been having difficulty with my headband magnifier for a while.  The one I’ve been using, while my favorite I’ve ever owned for the magnification option of adding two magnifier plates and the best I’ve ever owned as well for the openness of the sides to allow more light in, also has a very heavy light mounted above the visor, and that’s an issue.  I recently removed the light, but still have been running into the lights at the workbench as I work.  Finding a way to address those issues has been on my mind, and as it’s been a couple of years since I hunted for a new magnifier, I went looking.

(All items discussed below were purchased through


New headband magnifier. 

The newest magnifier to be tried is an LED lighted headband magnifier.  This one mounts a pair of various magnifying choices, including a monocular if desired, has an adjustment to move the viewing area from side to side, and mounts the battery pack for the lights at the back of the head.  I found it to be comfortable to wear during a weekend at the workbench, but there is a learning curve.  The viewing plates are smaller than what I’m used to, and while not bad in any way, this makes my eyes work very hard to stay within the viewing area.  Some might not have that issue.  I’ll keep trying this, as the magnification was fantastic, I want to try the monocular, and it solved both my main issues with the last headband magnifier, but created a new one.  I may hunt to see if I can find something similar with larger magnifying plates.


The dark side (with a piece from a Tichy boxcar). 

The other item that I hunted for recently was a new cutting mat.  The light gray with blue lines that I’ve been using (and you’ve seen in photos) for the last year is great, but sometimes the blue lines make finding parts more difficult.  When my eyes are tired, I sometimes want a darker, less reflective, surface.  I tend to rotate my cutting mats depending on what’s working best at the moment, going from light green or yellow to gray.  This new one was advertised as dark gray and light gray reversible, so I decided to give it a go.


The light side (with a nearly completed Tichy USRA Boxcar)

The dark side was fantastic for me when my eyes were very tired, and the light side worked really well when I was less tired.  The dark lines that didn’t change color pallet from the mat were easier for me when than the blue on gray have been.  Overall, this one is a keeper.  The one thing to keep in mind is the color of the materials you’re working with.  I’ll have to rotate the mat depending on what I’m building as some darker plastics or resins might blend in with the dark side.

Overall these two items were a success.  They made for a relaxing and fun time at the workbench, and I’ll keep hunting for ways to improve how I see what I’m building to constantly improve my skills.

Time to get back to the workbench!