Author Archives: ndholmes

First Cut at a Paint Scheme

I’m finally getting to the point – with my recent completion of a spray booth and a mainline that’s once again operational – where I want to start thinking about how I should paint CR&NW equipment for the layout. What should a modern-day Copper River & Northwestern look like?

Let’s consider what the prototype and other Kennecott roads did, and see what that might mean for the layout.

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A New Spray Booth

One of the things I’ve been meaning to build since I started this layout was a new airbrush spray booth for the workbench. However, because it involved running a bunch of ductwork and punching a hole in the siding, it was always one of those things I kept putting off. The space on the modeling bench was set aside for it, but I never got around to actually building it.

Last week I decided the time was finally here. I’m starting to reach the end of “heavy construction” and will be needing to do fine painting sooner rather than later. Michael had recently built himself a spray booth, so I borrowed heavily from that in building mine.

The booth itself is constructed from 1/2 sanded plywood, cut and glued/nailed together. On the outside, it’s 14.5 inches high and 21 inches wide. The top extends out 12 inches from the back to hold a Dayton 1TDR3A squirrel cage blower. We both chose that blower because it moves a significant volume of air, provided relatively low static pressure, and it’s decently quiet. I’ve got 3D printed brackets that hold it to both the top plywood and connect its output to a standard 6 inch flexible duct. (With credit due, Michael designed the top mounting flange, and I did the output duct adapter.) I’ve posted both on Thingiverse if anybody wants to build their own.

In order to minimize static pressure, I ran 6 inch sheet metal ducting about 16 feet over to a spot where I could punch a hole through the outside wall. It’s remarkable how much better for static pressure 6 inch is over standard 4 inch, and since it was hidden above the layout’s upper valance anyway, it was no big deal. Right before it goes through the wall, it goes into a reducer to 4 inch duct, and then goes through the wall using a standard dryer vent.

Inside the spray booth, I just coated everything with a couple rounds of Krylon rattle can gloss white lacquer, and I left the outside as natural wood. A 16×20 filter fits perfectly inside, held in place using the lower rear corner and two clips on the top.

Now there’s just the matter of learning how to paint all over again. Last time I did it was ~32 years ago with an old external mix Badger. This time around is a brand spankin’ new Iwata NEO TRN 1, as Scott (Thornton) and Michael recommended.

Bridging the Gap

One of the big problems with modeling the CR&NW is the sheer amount (and variety) of bridges the line had. My layout gets some of the most iconic of the large ones – Miles Glacier, Chitina, Kuskulana, Gilahina, and McCarthy. Some are significantly shortened, such as Miles Glacier at only 40% because I don’t have room for a bridge 10 feet long, some are done at maybe 60-70% full size (McCarthy, Chitina, Gilahina and its “modern” replacement), and Kuskulana is done at nearly 100% full scale.

They’re all scratchbuilding or serious kitbashing projects, because for obvious reasons none of them exist as kits (or even anything close). That sounds like a lot of fun, but it also means the results will be one-off hand built models that will take weeks, if not months, to complete if done to the accuracy I want. In the meantime, I’m going to be working around them doing scenery, painting, etc. that’s likely to accidentally damage a real model.

The upper deck main line has been inoperable for nearly a year now since I removed the temporary plywood bridges at Kuskulana and Gilahina, as they were in the way of starting latticework to support the scenery hard shell. Those gaps in the mainline actually have been a huge mental block. The “not being able to run a train” factor combined with the overwhelming nature of all these bridges to model. About two weeks ago, I decided it was time to build something between plywood and the final models – some temporary bridges. Close enough to the real thing to be plausible, but cheaply and quickly constructed using 3D printing.

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Mostly Not Dead Yet

I know, it’s been some 18 months since I posted any update. Turns out, if you want to get nothing done on your layout, start a model railroad company. The RasPi Zero W at the core of Iowa Scaled’s wifi receiver for the ProtoThrottle has been basically unobtainium for the past two years, so I started redesigning the receiver last summer. That involved hardware design, learning a whole new microcontroller and toolchain (the ESP32), and rewriting the whole thing from scratch – twice. Fortunately that long endeavor is at an end and finally to market, so hopefully I’ll have a little more time back. On the other hand, I really hate my day job these days and would like to have ISE become my full time income, and that’s going to take a lot more new products that sell a whole lot better in order to replace the paycheck that my professional job provides.

And if that’s not enough, I got suckered into being an assistant editor for Drip Points, which is one of the two main magazines of insulator collectors. Yes, I have hobbies beyond railroads, and putting out a professional, full-color magazine every other month takes a bit of time.

Basically, been a bit burned out for the last year. My hope is to get back to scenery this fall. I figure if I can get some hard shell on, then I can start weathering track, painting backdrops and fascia, and then start building the hundred trillion trees I’m going to need.

Hark! A Scenery Appears!

Those who know me know that I have a mortal fear of starting scenery on a layout. Benchwork, trackwork, and electrical don’t bother me at all – in fact, I’m quite fond of all three. But at some point, those three have to be called “finished” and I have to step off into that great bold beyond known as scenery. I’ll be honest, the last time I got this far was 25 years ago on the layout I had in high school. No layout in the middle has lasted long enough to sprout even the tiniest speck of ground foam, or a tree, or even hardshell.

The CR&NW has finally hit that point. There’s simply no more putting off my greatest fear. So, about a month ago, I started gluing cardboard strips into landforms.

I started on the section between Strelna and Chitina – including the third Copper River bridge – simply because it was one of the most accident-prone (narrow trackwork with a long plunge to the floor) and because it offers some significant hills and cliffs to start with. It’s also one of those spots that bends the prototype a bit more than others, since I had to compress a long, largely linear grade down Kotsina Hill into a short wrap around the end of a peninsula.

I also did a bit of work on the lower deck between Round Island and Katalla Junction, since I was already cutting hardboard for river bottoms and it was nearly below my work area on Kotsina Hill.

Here’s where we are so far with a test train for scale.

Mail Day: CRR Construction Near Eyak

Copper River Railway construction of cuts and fills around the Odiak Slough basin

Another old postcard recently added to my collection shows the Copper River Railroad (incorrectly labeled Railway on the card) grade on the south side of the Odiak Slough. The Copper River Railroad was the original line built out of Cordova in 1906 by Michael Heney (of WP&YR fame), and sold to the Alaska Syndicate and the Copper River & Northwestern that fall. You have to love those horse-drawn narrow gauge construction cars.

Progress Update – Aug 2021

Progress this year has been slow. Between my real job, Iowa Scaled Engineering and projects around the house, I haven’t spent a lot of time in the layout room since March. The biggest thing I wanted to get done before getting back to the layout was to upgrade the furnace and finally, after 20 long years, add air conditioning to the house. Believe it or not, it wasn’t terribly common out here until about maybe the last two decades. There would always be a couple weeks in the summer that were terrible, but otherwise opening the windows and having a few fans was adequate. However, with working at home every day now, the higher heat load from all the computers and such, and the pervasive smoke from forest fires in the West in recent years, I decided the time was at hand.

I’d been procrastinating because adding air conditioning to this house (built in 1977) was also a non-trivial exercise. The house didn’t have a large enough electrical feed to handle it, the breaker panel was full, and my old furnace couldn’t handle it anyway. So it was an exercise is what programmers refer to as “yak shaving” – the seemingly endless series of small tasks that have to be completed before a project can move forward. “But to do X, I need to also upgrade Y, and to upgrade Y I need to also fix Z…”

I finally got fed up with it and pulled the trigger in July. Since the furnace is in the layout room and any AC lines would need to work around the layout, I wanted to get it done before any scenery started this fall. And it’s truly amazing what you can accomplish when you just open the checkbook and get some true professionals in to look at the job. In two days, I had a new heat pump, furnace, and the house was updated to 200A power. And now the whole house – including the layout room – stays nice and cool all day long.

So what I have I done on the layout lately? Not much. About the only thing I really have to report is identifying a source for new signals. While I love the detail of the Century Foundry searchlight kits, getting enough light through those tiny fibers and just the time it takes to build them isn’t the best use of my time. So I’ve been looking around at other options.

At Spring Creek’s Deshler train show back at the end of July, I found some signals from Custom Signal Systems at Azatrax‘s table. They’re quite nice, though not quite as detailed as the CF kits, and relatively affordable. They’re also nice and bright, which will be important for an operations-focused N scale layout.

A Custom Signal Systems double head type D at South Strelna, along with one of the BCOL Dash 8s for an equal comparison to the CF searchlights from my previous post.

Mail Call – Snowsheds

Today’s old photo is of the snowsheds over the line, as shot from what appears to be the fireman’s cab window. The lower part of the line receives unbelievable amounts of snow, and where it ran along the steep banks of the Copper River, avalanches were a frequent occurrence. This is the only photo I’ve ever seen of what I believe to be four snowsheds along the Abercrombie Rapids section of the Copper River, just to the north of Miles Glacier bridge.

But there’s the nagging question of which locomotive is it?

That box with the tube sticking up visible at the bottom part of the frame is unmistakably a slide valve on top of a piston, which means this is an early locomotive. Of the CRNW fleet, slide valves limits it to the 0-4-0Ts, 20-22 (23 appears to have piston valves, or perhaps acquired them later in life), 50 (and likely 51 if it existed), and 100-102.

The bevel below the slide valve box into the main cylinder removes the 20s, 50, and the 0-4-0Ts from consideration. So it’s probably one of the 100s, but then there’s the two foot ledges you can see in the picture. That doesn’t fit any of them that I’ve seen pictures of, so perhaps we can’t really tell which engine this is. Thoughts?

Looking south from the cab towards four snowsheds in the lower parts of the Copper River canyon, likely between Abercrombie Rapids and the Miles Glacier Bridge

Mail Call – Steam Shovel and Side Dumps

A few recently acquired photographs landed in my mailbox today. I’ll post them over the coming weeks. The first one is one of the CR&NW’s steam shovels loading rock into side dump car #13, with car #85 right behind it. The location and date are unknown, but judging by the trees it looks like a forest fire has been through the area recently.

Records of forest fires in Alaska from these early years are pretty sparse, as there was little way to monitor and track them systemically. However, we know the Gilahina Trestle burned in 1915 from the Sourdough Hill fire, which was attributed to the railroad and burned some 384,000 acres from Chitina to Kennecott. There was also the 1915 Kennecott Fire, which burned 64,000 acres between the Kennicott and Nizina rivers. Still that’s just a guess, and even if correct doesn’t really narrow it down.

A CR&NW steam shovel loads rocks into several side dump maintenance cars.

Signals are Done!

While I haven’t posted much lately, work has been continuing slowly in and around work and personal commitments. I’m pleased to say that I finished configuration and checkout of the final control point tonight at South Chitina. CTC now works over the entire length of the mainline. (The actual trackside signals will be installed once base scenery is done – for now it’s just the fascia signal repeaters.) Most of the rest of the electrical is also complete. The only thing really remaining is to create and wire control panels for the various yards. Then it’s on to starting scenery.

The signal department at work, configuring the South Chitina controller