EDITOR'S NOTE: Two of my fun things to do which get me away from politics and the 24/7 news cycle are model trains and golf. Since it's been so wet and cold this spring so far, I've had no golf but an expanded model train season.
The Tualitin Valley & Pacific RR
“Sentimental journey” from 6 to 75
In the beginning…
I live in the Portland, Oregon metro area. My layout is a fictional spur line, the TV&P RR, which in the 50s would have connected via Portland to mainline UP, GN, NP and SP&S railroads.
I got hooked on American Flyer trains at age 6 in 1948 when I got my first train at Christmas, a PRR K-5 engine plus four freight cars. Over the years I’ve added to my railroad collection.
Like Joe Sullivan wrote in his “American Flyer Memories” column in the South Jersey S Scalers Club newsletter years ago – “Catalogue dreaming” was a major past time.
As is typical my interest in model trains ebbed and flowed with the years. When I went off to college and then graduate school my model train habit took a hiatus but not my love affair with trains.
Over the years I’ve ridden the rails on the UP “City of Portland”, SP “Daylight”, GN “Empire Builder”, the Canadian Pacific and Amtrak’s DC/NYNY Metro Liner.
I’ve visited the B&O train museum in Baltimore, the California RR museum in Sacramento and The Chicago Science & Industry museum and the Smithsonian in DC which have the real things and also fabulous model train layouts. Balboa Park in San Diego and Tacoma’s Washington State RR museum also have huge model railroad layouts.
St. Paul to early Oregon training…
When my wife started teaching the first grade in St. Paul, Minnesota while I was a grad student at the U of Minnesota, I put up my model trains as part of a transportation unit in her classroom. This gave me the excuse to “double” my original set buying an AF Hudson freight set for $25!
Moving east in 1969 for my first college teaching job the trains went into storage. But moving to Oregon in 1975 and buying a home the next year I had space for my trains.
I put them up on our garage floor but Oregon’s wet weather was not a good fit for electric trains. For a year they ended in our older son’s bedroom. It was amazing how a 7 year old could navigate Daddy’s trains.
In 1982 they came out of the boxes again. What are the holidays without model trains running around the tree? Asthma ended the tree motif but my railroad empire grew to occupy half of our living room! But my back and knees were taking a beating.
The Tualitin Valley & Pacific RR is born
After remodeling our garage in 2004 into a “family” room – I had space for a permanent model railroad platform on top of newly built storage units and my wife got space for her Teddy Bear collection – a win/win!
My goal as an S-Gauger is to run and display my trains. They are “toy trains” so while my layout has a lot of scenery – the centerpiece has always been the trains whether operated or as a RR diorama.
Build it dudes
Based on a simple drawing of what I wanted our remodeler built the base of the layout in his workshop with Douglas fir 2/4s supports and plywood. Upon completion they drove it over to our house in two sections
The upper interior base of the layout is cabinet quality construction with one 2 x 4 cross beam on each section and 3 vertical layered inner edging supports of 1/2, 1, 1/1/2 inch around both halves of the layout to support the plywood platform on which the trains are run.
The storage space has a 3 1/2 recessed by 3 1/2 inch depth inner floor frame with a plywood floor. The layout is accessed by 2 sets of recessed tracked sliding doors on each side of the layout, 67" x 35" x 28" - length, width and height.
Our remodeler and his son had to bring each white painted unit into the back door of our new family room and through the inner door to the new “family” room. Somehow they did it.
They built a connector 38” x 26” section to connect the 2 units abutting the back wall and a 7” x 38” wood bridge platform connecting the front section opening which enables me to run trains on separate loops at the same time or a single train onto either loop.
The roadbed platform is a ¾ inch plywood base wit ¾ inch raised edging. It’s covered by black indoor rug material purchased at a local building supply store. With the AF rubber roadbed this muffles the sound when trains are running.
The dimensions of layout…
Wall to wall on the back is 11.5 ft in length. This includes the inner connecting section 3.2 ft length x 2.2 ft depth.
From the back wall to front of the layout on both sides is 7.8 ft. This leaves me with an open space between each section of my layout of 5.6ft length x 3.2ft depth.
The front section is 5.1 x 3.2 x 3.2 ft in length. Height from floor to top of the layout is 3.1 ft.
My main transformer bank is on the left side of the left section loop.
With the help of a child’s chair, I duck under the plywood bridge base and Scenery Unlimited trestle bridge that connects the two front-end sections of my layout. It can also be lifted but that is a chore so far I have avoided.
My layout features a rural scenes in Oregon’s Willamette Valley or the Columbia Gorge. I add to the illusion with wall scenes of mountain, desert country and a city industrial district. But it’s not a replica of a particular place or town. I leave that to one’s imagination.
I have two fictional towns – Fir Grove a small county seat town in the inner loop and a rural farming village Gales Crossing on the outer loop with an adjacent train yard along with a commuter wayside and a short trolley line.
My villages feature Plasticville buildings – city hall, church, pastor cottage, fire station, gas station, post office, two barns, a fruit stand, a suburban house, a covered bridge, 2 switch houses and 2 AF repo news stands.
I have two tunnels made in Holland, a scratch belt train station, a Marx station all purchased at train shows. I also have a lighted molded pizza parlor and grocery store near the “Fir Grove” station.
I have a lighted molded cathedral and a Scenery Unlimited farmhouse which I use as a B&B. The B&B and cathedral are connected via Bachmann trolley car tracks running the length on the back of the layout in front of the engine house.
My model railroad empire is an eclectic collection of rolling stock - American Flyer, AF by Lionel, American Models, SHelper Service, Scenery Unlimited and MTA S Gauge.
Trackside features include a Lionel semaphore, 3 AF semaphores, AF oil derrick, MTH floodlight tower, AF water tower, AF revolving aircraft beacon, AF stockyard, AF barrel loader, two AF billboard whistles, AF water tank, AF crossing gate, Sam the Semaphore Man, AF Wayside Station, 3 sets of AF lamps and an MTH UP arrival/departure billboard adjacent to the north end of my layout.
Operating cars included Bachmann Christmas & Hershey Chocolate Trolleys, AFL GE Search Light car, AF Gilbert Milk car, AF Hand car, AFL Walking Brakeman car, AFL Joe & Moe flatcar, AFL Operating coal car, AFL operating lumber car, AF Railway Express mail car and 4 operating cabooses. I have 2 AFL, 2 AM rail sound box cars plus “B” unit AF SF, AFL UP, SP, and AM NP rail sound cars.
Other features - AFL Polar Express truss bridge, 2 UP MTH truss bridges, a Scenery Unlimited steel and a lighted AF trestle bridge, Lionel engine house, an AF diner and a Parr Hobby Shop grain elevator.
I also have many scale cars, trucks and figures.
I have 15 steam engines, 28 diesel engines @ 200 freight cars and @ 100 passenger cars. I have 11 compete passenger consists of heavyweight or streamliner trains, SP, UP, BN, NP, WP, MP, Pullman & the Polar Express.
The most unique feature of my layout is the 18 inch long snow shed tunnel made out of corrugated iron by a professional sculptor friend, a one of a kind production based on pictures of such tunnels in eastern Washington state.
I also have three book cases in the train room which give me extra display space for my steam & diesel engines plus room for my many train books, videos and DVDs. I’ve run out of space so my empire has maxed out – until I visit the next train show...
My layout is powered by two American Models transformers boosted by an American Flyer 19B, two 8 Bs, one 1.5B, two Marx transformers and a Tech II transformer. My Bachmann trolleys are powered by a Track DC Accessories AC transformer.
I also have 3 S Helper Service LocoMatic control boxes, a Lionel Trainmaster Cab I remote and Lionel Berkshire remote. A Train Power Pack 5400 runs a DC AM Burlington switcher freight on the inner loop.
Since my AF tracks are embedded in AF rubber roadbed and with 14 AF switches I need a lot of extra power caused by power gaps in the AF tracks, how clean the tracks are and variable engine power need and consist load.
Over the years of thanks to E-Bay, attending train shows, swap meets and hobby stores in the Midwest, East and West my railroad empire has expanded from that modest start in 1948 in San Francisco.
My wish is that AFL, AM or MTH would add a GN Empire Builder streamliner passenger consist to their product line.
Next up? I bought my grand daughter the O Gauge Thomas the Tank engine and loop plus some old Lionel gondola cars. It’s in our living room where the Christmas tree used to be – oh dear here we go again!
Who knows what’s around the bend – toot toot Thomas!
Grandpa's train girl on the Oregon Heritage Holiday train, with Rudolph in the SP Baggage car; the other is Miss L wringing a former steam engine train bell at the OHT museum on a warm fall day in Portland.
Happy 7th Birthday Lavanya!