Layout Structures Track

Building the Sierra Pacific Railroad – Part 5

Building the Angels Creek Bridge and Creek Bed

As the mainline was moving West to the shops, I paused for a moment in order to work on the Angels Creek section of the layout. As I have been working out ideas, mainly in my head, this scene has been continually daunting. I’m not sure why, however, I do know this scene is going to push my modeling skills. I believe my last count was 4 trees in this area and I have never modeled a tree before. I have started practicing but more about that some other time.

An image of Angels Creek from Google Street View.

Growing up in Calaveras county and driving on Highway 49, you will eventually cross this creek. I did many times and love the area around it so naturally I wanted to find a place for it on my layout. For those following along, Tim Horn was kind enough to add a 2-inch drop in the module baseboard to accommodate the Angels Creek scene. The width of the recess is 10-inches which will allow me to build a short trestle approximately 39 scale feet in length.

Designing the Scene

I did take some artist license and change the location of Murphys Grade Road. In real life, the road is about a mile north of the creek. Moving the road a bit closer adds a bit more visual interest and some contrast to the overall scene. I am planning to add a couple of structures to this area to add even more interest, however, I have not yet finished that plan.

A rough sketch of the scene was made then drawn on my computer to give me an idea of what the overall look was going to be. Happy with it, I went ahead and started workin on the land forms. In a previous post, I did mention I started adding scenery to the area to test some material and my skills.

Most of my scenery techniques are from building dioramas over the years and since I am used to smaller scenery bases, this was a bit intimidating at first. For the scenery base, I used Styrofoam, plaster cloth and Scluptamold. Pretty standard on most modern dioramas and layouts. When the base was set, I painted everything with an earth color latex paint and allowed to completely dry.

I am using dirt I collected in 5 gallon buckets from the angels camp area to make sure the ground cover is the correct color. The dirt is sifted into two selections: course and fine. A food strainer is used for course material while a tea strainer and sometimes even pantyhose is used for finer dirt.

I add a light coat to the scene, working in a small area at a time. I wet the area using a squirt bottle filled with water and a few drops of dish soap. White glue, diluted with water is then used to seal the dirt. As you may know, real dirt tends to darken when glued in place and as some modelers pointed out, grout added to the dirt helps keep its color. I’ve been experimenting with some non-sanded grout and trying to get the ratios correct for my soil.

The Bridge Deck

Now that the basic shape of the creek is roughed in, I turned my attention to the bridge. Since this is a freelanced railroad, I took my specifications from the Southern Pacific and Sierra Railroad. I started building the bridge before I received the module based on the dimensions. I had the bridge completed then assembled the module, however, my measurements were slightly off. Again, my problem with getting a bit too anxious in building got me again.

Although I am not keeping the model, I did learn a lot and was able to spend quite a bit of time researching trestle construction. I started by getting the actual measurements of the bridge location then cut the stringers to length.

Typically engineers would offset stringer joints.

Sierra Railroad Black Oak Trestle. Photo by Sean Berry-Kelly

Although you would never see the stringer joints from the bottom, I chose not to off set them and score all joints in the same location to locate the bents. Studying the image above of Sierra Railroad’s Black Oak trestle, you’ll notice that they built it with four stringers and only four legs. Amazingly, this was strong enough to hold the weight of Mallet #38.

I decided to use four stringers as well, however I added an additional leg to the bents. Mostly because I like the look of five leg trestles but there are strength rating reasons to add the additional support as seen in this diagram.

I created a drilling jig from styrene which was the length of the timbers. Using my workbench drill press, I was able to drill clean, even holes for the nut-bolt-washer details. These holes would also help me align the stringer spacers as you will see momentarily.

Once the holes are drilled, I began my weathering. Using a razor saw and a dull X-acto blade, I roughened the wood and added cracks and gouges.

Weathering is done is several steps using black India ink and water. The ink is heavily diluted and applied in several coats.

Step 1. Stain each piece of strip wood
Step 2. Lightly sand some of the wood
Step 3. A couple of additional coats of the stain then sand again if needed and repeat the staining. I do this to create a uniform look to the color and highlight areas where the sun has begun bleaching the wood

Wood weathers differently around the world due to the environmental conditions. I would highly recommend that you research samples in the area you are modeling.

Normally I would use stripwood to space the stringers, however, I decided to add a bit of hidden detail in the stringers by using cast spacers. These were typically called washers and ranged in width from 1-inch to about 4-inches. Ed Traxler and I discussed 3D printing them and he was able to come up with a wonderful design. We decided to go with 2-inch spacers and they can be found on his MicroMimesis web site if you wish to purchase some yourself.

Using the holes I already pre-drilled, I cut a spacer off the sprue and inserted .020 wire from Tichy Train Group. CA was used to secure it in place. This part of the build is quite tedious and required quite a bit of patience but the results are worth it in my opinion.

Once the spacers are dry, I begin adding my Nut-Bolt-Washer (NBW) details. Again, I use CA to secure everything in place.

Now that the worst part of the build is over, construction went much faster. I built a jig using stripwood from my scrap box to secure the stringers and align the ties while I added them to the structure. I pre-stained the ties as I did the stringers and allowed them to dry completely. Then using a straightedge, I aligned the first tie, secured it in place with CA and allowed it to dry. The first alignment is critical otherwise all of your ties will be off and look terrible. Using stripwood, I then began adding the other ties, double checking square as I proceeded.

I then turned my attention to the timber guards. I notched them as per the prototype in order for the timbers to overlap and be bolted onto the ties. I then added grain details and stained them before glueing them into place.

I’m using 2 methods for drilling the NBW details. The larger 2-inch bolts I am using my workbench drill press. For the nails, I’m using my hand drill. I use tape to align the holes for the bolts to attach the ties to the stringers. These are bolted on top and bottom and so the holes need to go all the way through. I also did the same for the guard timbers. The timbers are bolted to the ties at the timber joints while nails would be used to secure the timbers to the remaining ties. All of this detail was important for me to include since the shelf layout is small and all structures will be viewed up close.


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