Custom Train Table Donation in Greater Seattle Area

Michael Highsmith

The following is from G. Deo. Please e-mail him at email hidden; JavaScript is required for details, including a specific location:

We live in the greater Seattle area. We have a custom built train table that never got used for creating the layouts that it was meant for. Now we are downsizing and moving away. We would like to donate it. It is pretty big 8′L x 4′W x 3′H. Please see the picture below.

They will need to come pick it up since we do not have a big enough vehicle to transport it.

Custom train table available as a donation.

Custom train table available as a donation.

Have a JAM Breakfast on Thursday, July 2nd

David Yadock

Thursday, July 2nd marks the birthday of John Allen. He constructed the famous Gorre and Daphetid Railroad (pronounced “gory & defeated”). It was a true model railroading marvel. The Gorre & Daphetid Yahoo group usually celebrates with a JAM (John Allen Memorial) breakfast. John Allen was a real pioneer in model railroading. Just like Frank Ellison, Whit Towers, and many others, he promoted many of the things we now take for granted in our model railroading hobby. So help celebrate his birthday by having a hearty breakfast!

Eastside Get-Together on Thursday, Ted Becker Presenting Servos for Switches

JJ Johnston

Reminder: The Eastside Get-Together meets Thursday (tomorrow), June 18st at 7:30 pm at the Bellevue FourSquare Church. Our speaker will be our own Ted Becker presenting his special clinic on servos for switches. This program has been ranked as outstanding by those who have heard Ted. This will be our last meeting before the summer break so please plan to attend.

For Eastside Get-Together location and other information, see the 4D Clinics page.

Mooselips Model Railroad Display at Palmer, Alaska Colony Days

Marty Quaas

This weekend, June 12-14, the City of Palmer, Alaska will be celebrating its heritage with the annual Colony Days celebration. Along with a parade, antique cars, fire trucks, and tractor pull, the HO scale Mooselip Model Railroad will be on display Saturday, June 13 from 10 AM until 3 PM in the old Palmer depot.

All are invited to stop by and visit the imaginary town of Mooselip and see how much fun model railroading can be.

Westside Clinic in Bremerton Tuesday, June 9, 7 pm

Bill Hupé

This coming Tuesday, June 9th, is our next Westside Clinic in Bremerton. Steve Hauff has stepped forward and will present one of his excellent clinics.

Please bring an item you worked on this past winter. We will have our usual “Model Contest” and “Show And Tell.” Coffee and cookies will be provided. Please come and bring a friend.

For those visiting us for the first time our clinics are held at the United Way of Kitsap Building, 647 4th Street, Bremerton, WA.

See you at 7 pm.

Paul Scoles Layout on PBS Tracks Ahead

Cliff Green

According to a reliable source (Russ! As forwarded to him from Fred …) Paul Scoles’ Sn3 scale Pelican Bay & Railway Navigation Company layout will be featured on the Tracks Ahead program on PBS Channel 8 (Seattle area – 108 hi-def on many of the cable channels) at 8:30 am this morning (June 7, 2015). Yes, this is late notice, so you may be able to catch it on a re-broadcast.

Return to the White Pass & Yukon Railroad

By Lee Bishop

Heading up the grade, halfway to Fraser.

Heading up the grade, halfway to Fraser.

Early in the morning on May 27, 2015, my wife and I arrived at Skagway, Alaska to ride the 3-foot gauge White Pass & Yukon Railroad. We had arrived on the cruise ship Norwegian Jewel out of Seattle for a round trip to Skagway and stops in between. For me, the White Pass was the highlight of the trip for the activities ashore.

The last time we’d been to Skagway was exactly 15 years before, on our honeymoon. This year, after getting off the ship at the former ore dock on the west side of the harbor, I immediately noticed that a few things had changed since we were there in 2000.

First, the cruise ship passengers no longer apparently meet the train at the end of the gangplank. There is now a bus drop-off point for passengers at a siding several blocks northwest of the dock area and depot.

Second, there is no option to ride the train to the summit well short of the Canadian border and back. Instead, passengers take another activity and either ride the train to Fraser at the official border crossing with British Columbia, or vice-versa. This meant that we were going to ride well beyond where we’d stopped in 2000 to go back to Skagway, but only one-way on the train.

Third, there are several more trains running per day than we saw in 2000. We were later told that as many as six trains head up to and back from Fraser each day.

Fourth, there was no steam running on the day we visited. We were lucky enough to be able to see locomotive 73 coming back into Skagway in 2000, but not so lucky this time. 73 was sitting outside the shops, but with her smokebox cover removed.

Fifth, there seems to be a lot more rolling stock out on the railroad.

Everyone from our ship’s group was assigned to the coach “Nakina River”, a reproduction coach built in 2012 by Hamilton in Burlington, WA. Our coach was in the center of a long line of coaches pulled by GE locomotive numbers 99 and 95.

From our 2000 trip, we learned one of the key lessons when riding the White Pass – always sit on the fireman (left) side of the train, as that’s where 99% of the scenery is. The tracks hug the edge of a horseshoe-shaped route up the valley for most of the trip and heading out of Skagway. Based on this, you don’t see much on the engineer (right) side.

Though the White Pass might be one of the most popular narrow gauge railroads in the US when counting ridership numbers, it isn’t all that well known by train buffs. The line was built as an answer to the incredible suffering experienced on the foot trail from Skagway to the Yukon gold fields during the gold rush of 1898. Completed in 1900 (after the rush had subsided), the White Pass Route was the only way into and out of that section of the Yukon for generations until the Klondike Highway was completed. The line proved instrumental during the construction of the Alaska-Canada Highway and Canol Pipeline, both of which were started in 1942. At that time, the Army’s 770th Railway Operating Battalion took over operational control of the railroad for duration of WW2 and brought in several military locomotives. More locomotives were requisitioned from various railroads in Colorado and Tennessee. Most of these additional locomotives were scrapped at the Northern Pacific yard in Auburn, WA after the war was over. Today, several former White Pass locomotives are running at tourist railroads around the “lower 48” states. The railroad itself modernized with early inter-modal service but traffic waned and the line quit running in 1982. Thankfully the shutdown didn’t last long as the cruise industry soon “rediscovered” Skagway and by 1988, the line was running again, more busy than ever hauling cruise ship passengers. Today, many thousands of people ride the White Pass route each year and it remains possibly the most profitable narrow-gauge railroad in America.

Leaving Skagway to head north to the border, we found the weather to be good considering the time of year. While it was sunny at sea level, low clouds obscured the tops of the mountains until the train climbed above them. The grade is quite impressive, being easily seen from the opposite side of the valley. The grade comes very close to 4% in several places along the route but the head end power was more than capable for the task.

Like all open vestibule coaches, the view from the outside is the best. Unlike in 2000, the other passengers on our coach were very nice and willing to share the view with others. Passengers are not allowed to cross from one coach to another.

Soon, we were passing the abandoned 1901 cantilever bridge over Dead Horse Gulch. Having been bypassed in 1969, the bridge is starting to sag in a few places but is still a very impressive structure.

Long abandoned, the cantilever bridge is still an amazing sight.

Long abandoned, the cantilever bridge is still an amazing sight.

Bypass around the 1901 bridge, through a short tunnel.

Bypass around the 1901 bridge, through a short tunnel.

Once the train crested the pass, it started picking up speed on a slightly downhill run to the border. At this point, the terrain changes dramatically into rocky tundra. Undulating rocky terrain dominated the view for the downhill run to Fraser. Several telephone poles left from the Army’s use of the line still exist at this point.

Heading along the high tundra, downhill to Fraser.

Heading along the high tundra, downhill to Fraser.

All too soon, we were slowing down for the crossing at Fraser. Ironically, the Canadian border guards have to inspect everyone’s passports even though the train actually stops right at the border itself. When passengers detrain, they must again have their passports inspected, only 40 feet away from where they had been inspected a few minutes before, just before the bus makes a U-turn to head back into Alaska. The GE locomotives ran around the train to take it back to Skagway. We swapped places with people who’d had their non-railroad portion of the trip already completed.

Locomotives 99 and 95 run around to the other end of the train for the return to Skagway.

Locomotives 99 and 95 run around to the other end of the train for the return to Skagway.

Fraser houses a small depot and a covered water tank, one of the few original structures still in existence from the completion of the line around 1899. The water tank is used whenever steam locomotives come through.

After a bus ride and other activities in the Skagway area, the driver gave the passengers a chance to get off in downtown Skagway instead of going back to the ship. Most people got off right next to the depot. Due to the tides, we had almost an entire working day in Skagway, the longest shore time at any port during the cruise.

Rotary snowplow number 1, last used in 2011.

Rotary snowplow number 1, last used in 2011.

Another passenger run, to the Northeast of Skagway, passing the site of a large landslide while heading southbound.

Another passenger run, to the Northeast of Skagway, passing the site of a large landslide while heading southbound.

A walk through the postwar White Pass depot ended with a run through the well-stocked gift shop. A train fan could easily leave Skagway in serious debt if they were allowed to buy anything they want there, but I was able to keep my purchases down to a relatively sane level.

Skagway depot, rarely used for boarding as most riders come by cruise ship.

Skagway depot, rarely used for boarding as most riders come by cruise ship.

Heading back to the ship on foot with my wife as we always do whenever possible (a tactic that we’ve discovered is a sure-fire way not to gain weight on a cruise), I noticed several spurs around the Skagway area covered in rust. In 2000, those spurs had trains backed up to the docks to the east side of the harbor area.

One Baldwin S118-class 2-8-2 locomotive, number 195, remains on display behind some trees next to the Skagway museum. A rusted hulk in 2000, she was in relatively decent shape this time although she’s missing a lot of her “jewelry” such as builder’s plates, headlight, cab hardware, etc. Number 196 hasn’t fared nearly as well, having been used as fill in the nearby river and pulled out several years later. Her battered, rusted hulk remains lying on her side next to another locomotive in the same condition, behind the Skagway shops. Both were in the exact same position and condition when spotted on our 2000 trip. Several former White Pass boxcars were also spotted in a few back yards around Skagway.

Baldwin S118-class 2-8-2 number 195 on display behind trees next to the Skagway museum.

Baldwin S118-class 2-8-2 number 195 on display behind trees next to the Skagway museum.

Remains of the steam era in Skagway.

Remains of the steam era in Skagway.

Sadly, none of the people I talked with who interact with the public concerning the railroad had much historical knowledge of it. None knew that the main line passed right down Main Street Skagway until after WW2, nor that several White Pass steam locomotives are in use on other tourist lines (for example, the Dollywood park in Tennessee has an all-former-WP&Y roster) nor even that number 195 on display was a military locomotive. None knew that the Army took over control of the line during the war. During a wait at one stop, our tour bus driver was actually taking notes when I explained some of these things (with the caveat that she should probably look my points up online as she can’t count on one fan being right about everything), much to her credit. Everyone we talked with seemed surprised that we had been there before. It seems that the White Pass rarely gets return visitors due to its remote location.

Passenger cars on the White Pass & Yukon.

Passenger cars on the White Pass & Yukon.

Consist switching around the Skagway depot.

Consist switching around the Skagway depot.

After getting some shots of their rotary snowplow on display in the downtown area and some switching moves nearby, it was sadly time to head back to the ship.

The White Pass is an amazing railroad, one which is probably ridden by far more general tourists than train fans. This is a real shame, as its one of the most impressive train rides anywhere in the United States. This route should be on any fan’s “bucket list” and I sincerely hope to ride it again someday.

For more info on this amazing railroad, click here for the official website and here for the Wikipedia link.

Bypass around the 1901 bridge, through a short tunnel.

Bypass around the 1901 bridge, through a short tunnel.


Russ Segner, 4D Superintendent

“How and why we build our layouts”

Our Spring Meet is tomorrow, Saturday, June 6, at the Bellevue Sheraton.

We have designed a program to give insights and ideas on building layouts.  Lots of questions will be answered, such as how big to build? Or what era and prototype to use for ideas? What about operations? Do you build alone or with others in a group or club?

Several MMRs and others will share their experiences and what inspires them in the hobby.  So, come with your questions.  Meet and share ideas with model railroaders from across the Fourth Division.

A bonus is your chance to see several layouts on Sunday afternoon.  Descriptions and locations will only be available to those attending Saturday.

During the lunch break, the Division will hold its Annual Meeting. Several awards will be presented, including The Golden Grab Iron Award.  You will also get to see our redesigned website and Grab Iron.

We sincerely hope you will attend. If you’re not already registered, you can register at the door. See you tomorrow!



Sheraton Bellevue

Registration Opens 8:00


Session Room

Session Room


Snoqualmie North

Snoqualmie South

Session One




Fast Tracks

Mike Shaw

A Prototype Layout

Bill Messecar, MMR

Session Two




Modular Operations

Rich Blake
Thomas Dye

Prototype Panel

Di Voss, MMR

Burr Stewart

Jim Younkins, MMR



Annual Report

Grab Iron Presentation


Session Three





JJ Johnston

Ron Hopkins

David Yadock

Large Layout Panel

Al Frasch

Mike Highsmith

Jim Sabol

Session Four




Trackside Details

Tom Beaton

Bridge Design

Max Maginness, MMR

Sunday’s layout information distributed at close of meeting


Brent Carlson HO Model Railroad Estate Sale

Bobj Berger

After the Thursday night Seattle-North Clinic Annual Trainroom Tour we will be having a giant HO model railroad estate sale of the Brent Carlson collection! There are hundreds of vehicles and hundreds of structures ranging from small outbuildings to multi-story factories, apartments and commercial buildings, in plastic, plaster and wooden laser cut. There are scenery supplies, ceramic Christmas building collections, billboard car collection, rolling stock, locomotives, power supplies, tools and a complete multi-level railroad for sale. Prices begin at $1.00, make a pile, make a deal! Reasonable offers entertained.

Location: 3744 NE 165th St., in the Sheridan Beach area of Lake Forest Park. Follow the signs to one block West off Bothell Way NE to the NW corner of NE 165th St. & 39th Av.

Friday: 5pm to 10pm NMRA members only
Saturday & Sunday: 10am to 4pm public hours

Brent Carlson layout 002

Brent Carlson layout 003

Brent Carlson layout 004

Brent Carlson layout 005

Brent Carlson layout 006

Brent Carlson layout 007

Brent Carlson layout 008

Brent Carlson layout 009

Brent Carlson layout 010

Brent Carlson layout 011

Brent Carlson layout 012

Pan Am Railways Shop Tour, Waterville, Maine

George Chambers

The Pan Am Railways began in 1981 as the Guilford Transportation Industries and consists of the former Boston and Maine, Maine Central, Portland Terminal Co. and the Springfield Terminal Railway. The railroad runs from Mattawamkeag, Maine to Rotterdam Jct. New York. The name was changed to Pan Am Railways in 2006 when owner Tim Mellon bought the “Pan Am” trademark name from the defunct airline. The railway HQ is in North Billerica, MA.

While on a vacation trip on May 19, 2015, my wife Sally and I toured the locomotive and car shop of the Pan Am Railways. Sally’s brother Dick is on the board of directors for the railway and set up the tour for us.

Our tours guides were John Pellcchia, General Manager of Locomotives and Luke McCaul, General Manager of the Pan Am Railways. The locomotive and car shops are in the very old brick buildings and roundhouse from the former Maine Central RR built about one hundred years ago in Waterville, Maine. All the major locomotive and car repairs are done in these buildings. John and Luke showed us various locomotives in the shop for maintenance and repairs. They described what each locomotive needed, all of the heavy duty shop machinery used to do the work, and when the work would be completed. We watched one locomotive getting a new cylinder for its diesel engine. The railway does not have a lot of new diesel locomotives like the UP or BNSF and even has a few old GP-9’s still running as yard switchers.

Besides working on their own locomotives, the railway also does repairs for the Mass. Commuter RR that runs out of Boston. In the car shop during our tour was one of the business cars owned by the railway. It is an old heavy weight built in the 1920’s, rebuilt in 1950, and updated since then. The other business car was sitting outside and is newer, built in 1950. Across from the loco/car shop is the paint shop containing a transfer table to move locos and cars around. We also checked out the roundhouse that had several locomotives in for maintenance. One of the locos stored in the roundhouse is an F-9 used to pull the two business cars. Sitting outside at the east end of the yard is an old Maine Central 2-8-0 that may be restored.

For additional information on the Pan Am Railways, see the article in Wikipedia, which includes a history and a list of all the locomotives, and the corporate web site at There are openings for locomotive engineers as of the writing date of this article.

Pan Am Railways blue boxcar in Waterville, Maine yard.

Pan Am Railways blue boxcar in Waterville, Maine yard.

Pan Am Railways business car.

Pan Am Railways business car.

Pan Am Railways locomotive cylinder replacement inside the roundhouse.

Pan Am Railways locomotive cylinder replacement inside the roundhouse.

Pan Am Railways locomotive pit inside the roundhouse.

Pan Am Railways locomotive pit inside the roundhouse.

Pan Am Railways turntable with a really old switcher.

Pan Am Railways turntable with a really old switcher.

Pan Am Railways wheel grinder inside the shop area.

Pan Am Railways wheel grinder inside the shop area.

Fathers Ride Free at the Northwest Railway Museum on Father’s Day Weekend

Peggy Barchi

The Northwest Railway Museum invites children to treat their dads to a special train excursion aboard the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad this Father’s Day weekend, June 20-21. Fathers ride free when accompanied by their paying children – of any age! Enjoy views of the Cascade foothills, Snoqualmie Falls and the Snoqualmie Valley as you relax aboard the Northwest Railway Museum’s antique coaches. Bring the whole family!

Trains depart every 90 minutes beginning at 11:30 AM from the Snoqualmie Depot at 38625 SE King Street and at Noon from the North Bend Depot at 205 McClellan Street. Roundtrip fares: $10 ages 2-12, $18 ages 13-61, and $16 ages 62 and up!

Visitors to the museum experience the excitement of a working railroad while learning about the important role railroads played in shaping the character of the Pacific Northwest. The Snoqualmie Depot, exhibits and Depot Bookstore are open to the public 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. daily.

For more information on train schedules, the Train Shed Tour packages, Day Out With Thomas™ tickets and operating hours visit the museum on the web at or call (425) 888-3030.

A list of NWRM 2015 events and extensive contact info is available at this previous Grab Iron post.

Families ready to ride the excursion train at the Northwest Railway Museum.

Families ready to ride the excursion train at the Northwest Railway Museum.

BNMR Club Swap Meet on June 20

Bill Hupé

A reminder that the Bremerton Northern Model Railroad Club will be having their Annual Swap Meet on June 20, 2015. For location, contact, and other general information please click here to see the previous Grab Iron post.

Seattle-North on June 4, 2015 – North End Train Room Tour

By Jeff Moorman and Bobj Berger, Photos by Bobj Berger

Next Clinic:

Our next clinic (7 to 10 pm, June 4, 2015) is not a clinic at all, but a layout room tour with four stops in the Edmonds and Lake Forest Park area.

None of these layouts have been open for general viewing before and two will likely never be open again, since they are being sold.

Carpooling is highly encouraged, since these are all residences without special parking facilities. As always, please be mindful of where you park and of keeping the neighbors happy.

Starting Address: Everything begins at Brent C’s, 3744 NE 165th St, Lake Forest Park. The house is located on the NW corner of NE 165th St and 39th Ave NE in Lake Forest Park, in case the address is deceptive. Enter through the garage. On this first layout tour stop each carload of visitors will be issued a “Track Warrant” with directions to the next three train rooms, which are all within a mile or so of each other in Edmonds. Call Bobj’s cell phone at 206-948-0862 if you get lost or need additional directions.

What you can expect at Brent’s:

This is a large HO layout with more buildings than most of us have ever seen on a single home layout. Most of these buildings will be for sale (see the “Note” below). We will not only visit the basement layout, but also the upstairs train display room.

Note: [Friday hours updated 6/3/15] Immediately following our tour the hundreds of buildings and vehicles will be removed and assembled in the garage for a model railroad estate sale this coming weekend. On Friday, June 5 the estate sale hours will be from 5 – 10 pm and the Friday sale is for NMRA members only (the perfect way to start your 4th Division Spring Meet weekend). On both Saturday and Sunday the hours will be from 10 am to 4 pm and will be open for everyone.

What you can expect at the next three stops:

Bob P’s: This HO empire in a lower level of the home was constructed with grandkids’ operations in mind. The owners are now contemplating a retirement downsize so the rolling stock and all supplies (including track) are for sale. This layout mostly follows USA prototypes, but there are some English trains as well, plus some stories about getting them and building the layout.

Craig J’s: Combining households resulted in the original layout space being converted into living space and a new train room was created in a former bedroom. The room has wall shelving displays of O and Standard Gauge trains and accessories, a work/repair desk, and is all next to the antique toy room you pass on the way in.

Harley O’s: This is another lower level HO layout, based on the Great Northern transition era in the Pacific Northwest. The layout is fully scenic’d and completely fills the room. There are stunning views of mountains and trees. A spur runs into the next room and we all hope for future expansion!

Here are some pics of the train rooms we’ll see:

One of the layouts on the Seattle North Layout Tour in June 2015

One of the layouts on the Seattle North Layout Tour

Brent C's double decker layout

Brent C’s double decker layout, on the Seattle North Layout Tour

Bob P's layout

Bob P’s layout, on the Seattle North Layout Tour

Prior Clinic:

If you missed last month, you missed a treat. Our clinician was Dave Honan, a civil engineer specializing in transportation. But Dave is also a train buff and a photographer. He awed us with pictures of the steam rebuilding program at the Northwest Railway Museum, followed by 2 AV presentations – one on coal mining and transportation, and one on modern urban transit.

Don’t take my word for the beautiful pictures. Go to his website at and see for yourself. Thanks, Dave, for a wonderful program.

The next meeting is June 4 at 7 pm when we embark on a North End Train Room Tour (see directions above). The next regular clinic is September 3. Hope to see you there or at least sometime on down the line.

A Narrower View – Private Lines

Syd Schofield

Editors note: Welcome to the fourth article of a series on narrow gauge by Syd Schofield. The previous article is available by clicking here, or by filtering with the category “Narrow Gauge”. Syd welcomes discussions and feedback, which can be made by clicking on the comment link at the bottom of the post.

When a business enterprise has to only deal with the immediate needs of the business, moving the business materials, construction, maintenance, and (sadly) deconstruction, the operating plans will most likely differ from the common carrier. Dedicated consists that remain coupled or run back and forth without turning around, along with equipment sized for the cargo, grades, clearances, fuel, water and crew availability all result in the probable lack of need for dining cars or sleepers with clean linens. Special configurations and equipment such as cableways, funiculars and cog railroads as well as unit trains provide some interesting possibilities in modeling.

The lumber and mining companies were typically short-term operations lasting only as long as the forest lease or mine claims were productive. The three phases of business – getting into the business, operating the business, and getting out of the business as painlessly and gracefully as possible – were the goals. We tend to take a particular snap shot in the life of a railroad to model. Aside from the financial aspects of the railroads, which is a whole ‘nother subject, we like to work with the operations and maybe even the construction of that future spur or branchline. I don’t recall seeing a model of the decommissioning phase of a railroad. Not much interest there. It’s bad enough to show the results of accidents and fires.

So we have the railroad proper and the immediate business enterprise facilities to add flavor to the model. The mines, mills, maintenance, staff housing as well as appropriate scenery can add a lot to the model over and above the nice rolling stock and track work we tend to focus on. This is all within the snap shot of what was technically possible in the chosen period, if not directly attributable to a prototype. The history of technology and practices employed in hardscrabble railroading typical of the narrow gauge lines can be interestingly and creatively reproduced in narrow gauge modeling.

Skagit Valley and Whidbey Clinic Report, May 2015, Ted Becker on R/C Servos as Switch Machines

Rich Thom, photos by Ted Becker except as noted

Clinic Chair Rich Blake welcomed 22 others to the SV & W Clinic’s May meeting at the Summer Hill facility in Oak Harbor. Rich reminded all of two upcoming NMRA events, the 4th Division PNR’s Spring Meet at the Sheraton Bellevue on June 6th (with layout tours on the 7th) and the NMRA National Convention in Portland in August. Jack Tingstad discussed next season’s model contest. The theme will be a flatcar with a load, with a scratch-built load as the main feature to be judged. The flatcar can be scratch-built, too; Jack mentioned that an excellent reference for building a generic wood flatcar can be found under Tutorials on the Kappler scale lumber website, Detailed contest guidelines will be distributed in the fall.

John Marshall brought one model for Show-and-Tell, another piece of essential machinery for his F-Scale (1:20.3) sawmill: a stationary steam engine (Fig 1).

Fig 1 -  John Marshall’s F-Scale Steam Power Plant (Photo: Rich Thom)

Fig 1 – John Marshall’s F-Scale Steam Power Plant (Photo: Rich Thom)

This is a kit from Ozark Miniatures, their “Frick Portable Steam Power Plant.”

Ted Becker presented the evening’s clinic “Utilizing R/C Servos as Switch Machines“. “Servo” is short for servomechanism — in this case, a mechanism that provides a mechanical output position controlled by an electronic signal and actively held in that position via a feedback signal. Sophisticated servos see widespread use in aerospace and other industries, but less expensive ones were originally developed and adapted for use in radio-controlled (R/C) airplanes.

Fig 2 - Smaller Size is One Advantage of Servos

Fig 2 – Smaller Size is One Advantage of Servos

One advantage of servos for model railroad applications is smaller size compared to commercially available stall-motor switch machines, such as the Tortoise by Circuitron (at left, Fig 2). Although an excellent product, it requires a fair amount of volume below the benchwork. Another servo advantage (Fig 3) is ease of installation, in a variety of possible orientations (discussed later).

Fig 3 - Ease of Installation is Another Advantage

Fig 3 – Ease of Installation is Another Advantage

The third advantage is possibly cost (Fig 4). The qualification is due to the fact that servos require an electronic signal provided by a servo controller or driver, so that the total cost per servo (the figure to compare to the cost of a Tortoise, for example) includes the cost of the servo plus the electronics to drive it.

Fig 4 - Cost is Possibly a Third Advantage

Fig 4 – Cost is Possibly a Third Advantage

There are many suppliers of suitable drivers, and the products offered vary widely in features and cost that result in a very wide spread in the final cost/servo for the modeler. Ted thoroughly researched the products of some of these suppliers which include:

Ted tabulated the characteristics, features and cost of the servo controllers offered by these suppliers, and then calculated the resultant cost/servo for each. The resulting table is too large to reproduce in this article, but interested readers can email Ted at email hidden; JavaScript is required and request the spreadsheet. It also includes the website addresses of all the suppliers for exploring further.

The models available from these suppliers can drive anywhere from one servo up to as many as 48. Some are compatible with DCC, while others are not; some products also include relays (for powering frogs) whereas others don’t. The resultant cost/servo calculated by Ted ranges from a low of about $6, to $36 — quite a range, so buyer beware!

As a result of his research, Ted selected the servo controller product line manufactured by Arduino which, depending on the model, yield a cost/servo between $6.25 and $7.50. In addition to lowest cost of all the products on a per-servo basis, the Arduino boards are versatile and easy to program (a simplified version of C++). Arduino was developed, in fact, to make micro-controllers accessible to artists, students, and hobbyists without extensive digital circuit knowledge.

Back to the servos themselves, regardless of manufacturer the servos all have three wires with a standard color code, a connector with connections on 0.1” centers to match common header pins, and an operating voltage range of 4.8 to 6 volts. Mounting and installation can be accomplished in a number of ways. Some commercial mounts are available, but Ted makes his own, some customized to the location; again, the relatively small size of servos permits squeezing them into tight or awkward locations, such as the four examples on Ted’s layout shown in Fig 5.

Fig 5 - Four Installations of Servos in Tight or Awkward Places on Ted’s Layout

Fig 5 – Four Installations of Servos in Tight or Awkward Places on Ted’s Layout

Installation requires selection of throw arm (available in a number of configurations and sizes) and wire linkage between the throw arm and turnout point tie bar. Depending on location, you can use (1) push-pull linkage; (2) “waving wire”; or (3) “pivoting wire” (such as the Tortoise employs). Ted finds that 0.032” and 0.047” diameter music wire is the most useful for linkage in HO scale, while the next smaller size, 0.025,” is too flexible except for some push-pull installations. Du-Bro makes 0.032” pushrods (wire within plastic tubing) for model aircraft applications which can also be used for switch machine linkage.

One of Ted’s “standard” mounts, useful for straightforward “pivoting wire” installations where the servo is below the sub roadbed, is shown in Fig 6. He cuts a 2” length from aluminum channel (e.g. Hillman Aluminum Trim Channel for ½” Plywood), and then drills a 0.045” to 0.05” pivot hole (#55 or 56 drill) for 0.032’ music wire, as shown in the figure. If you want to mount with screws instead of double-sided tape or adhesive, add two screw holes. The resulting simple mount is shown at the lower left. At the upper left, “Z-bends” in the music wire are typically used in the installations to secure the wire to the servo throw arm.

Fig 6 - One of Ted's "Standard" Mounts Uses Aluminum Channel

Fig 6 – One of Ted’s “Standard” Mounts Uses Aluminum Channel

Finally, if you want to power a turnout frog (or a signal), you can add a SPDT microswitch to the servo/throw arm assembly as shown in Fig 7.

Fig 7 - Adding a Microswitch for Powering Frogs or Signals

Fig 7 – Adding a Microswitch for Powering Frogs or Signals

In summary, if you are planning a layout with a large number of turnouts where switch machine cost might be a factor, and/or have tight locations where their small size and versatility might be an advantage, consider using R/C servos!

Mt Vernon May 26, 2015 NMRA Clinic Report

Roger Johnson, photos by Roger Johnson and Bob Gilbert

Twenty-six folks attended our last clinic of the season to enjoy an excellent program (see below) and some delicious brownies baked by Paul Koren’s wife. Thank you Mrs. Koren! Ted Becker, our MC, once again opened with encouragement to join NMRA, the sponsoring body for our meetings through the 4th Division of the Pacific Northwest Region

Announcements reminding us of upcoming events included:

Tool of the Month: Al Carter brought our attention to a web site that has the free graph paper generator, where you can adjust the graph squares to represent a scale foot in your given scale, very handy for scratch builders. The link to the web site is

Bring & Brag items featured:

  • Two more of Paul Koren’s fine resin box cars
  • Nick Muff displayed more of his 3D printed sugar cane cars by Shapeways
  • Roger Johnson showed a color palette displaying the five brick colors he uses
  • Roger also displayed the home made hot wire foam cutter he made for under $15

Our program for the evening was about Tesoro Logistics’ crude oil rail off loading facility on March Point, Anacortes. R. L. (Bob) Gilbert did an excellent job telling us about the construction and operation of Tesoro’s rail offloading facility at its March Point refinery. This writer was so interested in what Bob had to say that he didn’t take notes until he got home. So any meandering and/or inaccuracies are the fault of the writer, not the speaker.

The facility was completed in September of 2012 located at the bottom of the slope on the west side of the point. The site originally proposed was higher up the slope but it was determined that there were some wetlands in that area which could have been mitigated but the alternative site was determined to be the best option to be able to proceed in a timely and economically feasible fashion.

The facility consists of a concrete pad 1,600’ long by 110’ wide lying in a NNW to SSE orientation parallel to the Fidalgo Bay high water mark 200’ to the west. There are four tracks built into the pad, each able to hold 25 cars or a 100 car train. Bob described a very complicated and comprehensive infrastructure under the pad for the collection of the crude oil, control of emissions and capture of any oily water (he claims it rains around there occasionally) that may accumulate. These include piping, wells for inspection and testing, pumps, etc., the details of which were somewhat dizzying to this writer. Under it all a single piece rubber diaphragm extends the full 1,600’ by 110’ facility to catch anything that may escape the more sophisticated capture devices above.

Under normal conditions, one train arrives each day, hauled to the refinery site by Burlington Northern Santa Fe. A train can be ready to roll out of the refinery within 12 to 18 hours from the time it enters. At the gate, the BNSF crews are replaced by crews from Savage Services. These folks conduct the rail and off loading operations under contract with Tesoro. They bring the train in, break it into 25 car cuts and back them into the offloading facility. They then proceed to offload the crude via 4” hoses attached to the underside of each car with the oil draining out by gravity into a 36” recovery line underground. The vent is opened at the top to avoid a vacuum forming inside the tank car. Every other car is vented with emissions from the emission recovery system via an emissions recovery pipe that leads from the underground recovery line to the car’s top vent. The other half of the cars take in regular atmospheric air to equalize the pressure.

Once enough oil has been collected, pumping it from the offloading facility to the refinery (7,000’ distant and 200’ higher) begins. There are three pumps, each rated at 2,500 gallons per minute (GPM). They are brought on line sequentially to pump at the rate of 7,500 GPM when all three are running at 100%. This flow rate is essentially equal to 10,000 barrels per hour (BPH). One tank car holds approximately 680 barrels (42 gallons/barrel). Thus a 100 car train carries 68,000 barrels. At a rate of 10,000 BPH the train can be emptied in approximately 6.8 hours.

There is also a team of UTLX people on site to do any repairs or maintenance a tank car may require. If repairs cannot be completed soon enough to return the car to its train there are contingency cars on site for replacement, with the repaired car put in the contingency group when repairs are complete.

As noted above, a full 100 car train is carrying upwards of 68,000 barrels or 3 million gallons of oil. What is called West Texas Intermediate is a common benchmark used to gauge the prices of various types and grades of crude oil. The current value of WTC is approximately $52/barrel but Bob indicated that the oil they bring in is priced somewhat less than that. He was understandably vague on Tesoro’s actual cost. This writer did a hypothetical calculation using a cost of $40/barrel resulting in cost of a train load at the gate of slightly more than $2.7 million.

With regard to environmental safety, Bob indicated that they have had zero spills and zero injuries since inception of the operation in September 2012. As an indication of the extent to which Tesoro goes to avoid environmental damage, before the cars are drained, each one gets a hand placed fiberglass drip pan placed underneath it to catch any stray drips from the fittings. On a final note, while recent tank train derailments that have been prominent in the news do not pertain to the refinery itself, the over the road transportation is obviously part of getting the oil from the ground to our gas tanks, so it is of concern to Tesoro and other producers. Bob pointed out that while improving the integrity of the cars is important, the most important thing is to eliminate the derailments. No matter how a tank car is reinforced, if it hits the ground at 50+ MPH there is probably going to be trouble (my words, not Bob’s).

Thank you, Bob, for an outstanding presentation.

our speaker Bob Gilbert of Tesoro Logistics

Our speaker Bob Gilbert of Tesoro Logistics


Tesoro Logistics' crude oil rail off loading facility, March Point

Tesoro Logistics’ March Point crude oil rail off loading facility









This was the last clinic of the season for the Mount Vernon group. A total of 140.5 (an 8 year old son of one of our adult participants) people attended the eight clinics for an average of about 17.6/session. Our email list has 56 addressees on it and we have another 17 names of folks who just drop by from time to time, including a fellow from Texas. A schedule of interesting and informative programs will be developed over the summer months and announced in the next newsletter in mid September. Have a great summer!

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