Building the Pacific & Eastern:
The Permanent HO Model Railroad
of the
Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club

Birth of a Helix
As 2007 drew to a close members of the Club engaged in a debate about starting work on the Klamath Falls "leg" of the layout and retiring the modules from operation at the clubhouse.  It was obvious that the desire to begin operations on the new Pacific and Eastern was gaining traction.  After all, it'd been several years since the Club had had regular operating sessions and the new layout was looking inviting.   Initially, an agreement was reached in which the loop of modules would remain for one more year's Sunday run days and then, after October, 2008, work would begin on the Klamath Falls side. 

But, then, somehow, someone suggested a better idea: build a temporary helix down from the back corner of the new layout and connect it to the modules Mt. Pitt and Medford Yard.  But, why build a temporary helix when we could be starting on the third "leg" with a permanent helix tying into the modules.   Well, that was a slam-dunk and work immediately began on plans for the helix.

Click on images below for larger pictures

Helix Plan
Dave Spakousky drew up a plan for the helix and Larry Tuttle developed a framing plan and materials list.  Track on the permanent layout had already been laid to A.  A swing bridge will be built at B connecting to the helix section at C.  The Keno siding would begin at D, winding downward and entering a "tunnel" at E.  A road at F will conceal the two tracks as they emerge at G.  Temporary trackage will be laid to the modular lift bridge at H.  Eventually, permanent track will be laid at I and continue down to connect to the rest of the Klamath Falls "leg."  A continuous run loop will diverge from I to J to allow continuous running through the P&E, SP and BN yards.  Because part of the loop will be buried in the helix, it is necessary to build it now; it may connect to the lift bridge at H to provide staging for BN and/or SP trains.

Note the red letters on the plan correspond to similar red letters in the photos below. 
Helix BCI's
Dave, Larry and Ed Kleinman spent just over a morning putting together the BCI girders, and 2 x 4 legs.  After five years of working on a layout built with this type of construction we are convinced that it is superior and VERY sturdy.  It also goes together quickly.
Attachment to wall
Initially Larry wanted to just fasten the helix to the east wall with a 2 x 4 screwed into studs.  However, Dave pointed out that the floor to our clubhouse as been known to shift up and down and that we might want to allow for some up and down motion.  Larry came up with "truss clips" to secure the right-most BCI to the wall while allowing vertical movement. 
1 x 4 Joists Day Two saw Dave, Ed and Larry complete the 1 x 4 joist system.  The main line leaves the existing layout at A and crosses the swing bridge to B.  The temporary lift bridge to the modules will rest on the BCI and plywood structure at H
Radial Joists
The fan of radial joists is sort of artsy looking.  It will provide ample support for the helix tracks.  With three people working, this part went fast.  Lengths were marked ot each joist by holding it in place (no measuring!) and at the same time taking the angle with a sliding T-bevel.  Then the chop saw was set to the angle and two cuts made on the lines.  Drywall screws hold everything together.  The trick with screws is to pre drill/countersink each hole.  1 x 4's can then be "toe screwed" into BCI's and other members at up to a 30º angle to the 1 x 4. 
First Train to Nowhere
After a couple of very productive days, we took a minute to stage the "First Train to Nowhere".  It's coming off the permanent layout at A, over bridge site, B and onto the helix benchwork at C
Laying out sub-roadbed
Day Three began as we spread out two sheets of 3/4" plywood and Dave laid out the helix curves. 
Roadbed Sandwich
This picture begs the "Caption This" title. 

Spreading mayo on a roadbed sandwich? 

Actually, Dave and Ed are re-gluing a "blow" or section of plywood which had delaminated.  While it's kind of a nuisance, the plywood was donated and most of it is in good condition.  An hour with clamps and this piece sub-roadbed will be as strong as any other. 
Cut out sub-roadbed
A morning of drawing and sawing (and gluing) and the sub-roadbed was ready to be installed on risers.  

We also moved Mt. Pitt (foreground) to its new location and clamped the lift bridge (brown contraption) in place. 
First level with risers
By the end of Day Four, the sub-roadbed for the lower level of the helix had been permanently anchored on risers. The plywood from K to D was just laid in place for this picture since track needed to be laid on the lower level first.  There was just a little more work to this than first meets the eye.  Our standards for layout construction require super-elevation on main line curves.   We also want the main line elevated slightly (~1/4") above secondary trackage.   While the inside passing track was simply screwed to risers, the main line required shims to raise and super-elevate.  A little more work, but a most dramatic effect when complete. 

Laying track on first level
Road Master E. Don got right to work laying the track for the first level.  He wanted to stay ahead of the sub-roadbed going in for the second level. 
Second level supports
Next was the support system for the second level.  Larry insisted that building the second level directly over the first could be done...easily and sturdily.  He almost wished he hadn't said that until he came up with inverted 3/4" x 1/2" extruded aluminum channel supported by 3/4" x 3/4" wood "cube".  It kind of looks like over-sized supports for catenary.   The sub-roadbed was drilled and screwed through the aluminum (with shims for the main line) and made for a very sturdy helix structure. 

The ascending main line and siding stacked neatly over the lower level tracks.

(Ed. note: In the three years the helix has been in use, this construction method has proven very sturdy and relaible with no adjusments needed in the track support system.)

With the bulk of the helix track laid, attention turned to getting the main line across the aisle and connected with the rest of the layout. Several options were considered including a fixed duck-under (which was immediately nixed!), a lift-out section (also nixed) and a swing-away bridge. The swing-away bridge would be the choice IF it could be built sturdy enough and made to operate reliably.
Larry fabricated the roadbed and ends of the bridge out of 2 1/2 x 3/4" material and braced it with two diagonals. Then, he cut 3/16" Masonite into a pair of arched bridge sides and glued and pinned them in place. The resulting structure is very rigid. A pair of 3 1/2" butt hinges hold the bridge securely to the benchwork while allowing it to swing out of the way for people. DCC bus wires were soldered to each hinge half and electrically conductive grease lubricated the hinges. This eliminated the need for any loose wires attached to the bridge. A roller catch was drilled up into the bottom of the other end of the bridge and lodges into a receiver plate mounted on a little shelf on the far wall. Not shown are two micro-switches, one on each side, which interrupt track current for four feet or more in each direction when the bridge is open.
A pop-up is built in the middle of the helix and basic land forms are developed. Then, after a trip to Klamath County and a hike on an old Weyerhaeuser grade, a spectacular scene takes shape.
Photos by Larry Tuttle.

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Building the P&E

All photos and text © 2011 by the Rogue Valley Model Railroad Club