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

Evolution of the Helix

The Helix served the Pacific & Eastern well during the 2008 season and stood by in 2009 as the Klamath Falls District came to be. During these two years of operations, the entire Helix was exposed to view. However, it was not the Club's intent to have a completely exposed Helix forever. In 2010, major changes developed in and around the Helix.

Click on images below for larger pictures

 2009 was a busy year for building the P&E, if not for the helix. The Klamath District replaced the modules, a whole lot of backdrop was painted and the signal system was designed and started. A bird's eye view of the helix scene shows the progress. At the very center of the picture are some of the electronics which control the signals. They will need to be accessible, yet protected from damage from construction activity, debris and general klutziness. The hidden tracks inside the mountain also need access. With an overall span of 7' and the desire to not have a high, pointy mountain, the decision was made to craft an access hatch in the middle of the helix.

Once again several options were considered: an access hole, a lift out section and a pop-up. The access hole idea was scratched since it would still allow visitors to look down into a gaping hole at the top of the mountain. (The Pacific & Eastern was once chartered as the Medford & Crater Lake Railroad, but we're definitely NOT modeling Crater Lake here.) Lift-outs can be awkward to handle, difficult to store and subject to damage. So, the idea was hatched to use full extension, heavy-duty drawer slides to support and control the pop up section. One set of 2 x 2's were firmly screwed to the bench work with one side of the drawer hardware attached while a second set of 2 x 2's with the other half of the extensions was fastened to a piece of 3/4" plywood top. A collar of 3/4" plywood formed the top of the fixed section, supported the scenery below and held the lower 2 x 2/drawer slide assemblies in position. This setup proved quite sturdy. Three 1/4" x 2" aluminum tangs were attached to the plywood top and bent down over the box protecting the signal electronics. This would allow adequate access to the signal equipment while bringing the pop-up scenery right down to track level on one side of the helix. Four holes were drilled near the top of the lower 2 x 2's for pins to hold the whole contraption up in the air.

With the first strips of cardboard land forms in place and a flat of trees gracing the top of the mountain, one starts to get an idea of how this scene will come together. Shortly, foam board will be sculpted and attached to the aluminum tangs as well as the plywood top. Additional cardboard strips will be woven through the ones shown in order to support the plaster cloth scenery base.
On the far side of the helix, the signals have been installed and foam blocks are being worked into the scene. Several versions of this scene were mocked up with foam before a satisfactory land form was developed.

We really didn't want to recreate another Tehachapi Loop here, but making a credible scene for the upper level main line necessitated a pair of tunnels. The portals were made from 3/4" MDF and the land forms built around them. With enough trees in this area, they will become nearly invisible as the trains disappear into a dense forest. Several layers of plaster cloth were then soaked and spread over the foam and cardboard to create the basic land forms. Brown shoe dye diluted with denatured alcohol was sprayed on the plaster cloth to give a more natural look than the snow-white of the plaster.

Viewed from the other side, the scene is starting to pull together. The backdrop is well under way, Mt. McLoughlin (Mt. Pitt to the locals) is on the far wall. On the lower right will be the Klamath River.

This scene was inspired by a photo in Logging in the Klamath Country by Jack Bowden. On page 281 there is a picture of a Weyerhaeuser log train winding along a mountain west of Keno, Oregon with the Klamath River below. The pretense of the Pacific & Eastern's existence after it shut down in 1919 is the connection of Weyerhaeuser west block lines out of Keno with Medco lines out of Butte Falls. This was a definite possibility when Weyerhaeuser built this line in 1926.

Well, we needed more pictures than the one in Bowden's book and the few we shot from a similar vantage point on Highway 66 west of Keno. So, on a fine September day in 2010, four car loads of club members headed out for Klamath County to track the ghosts of the Pacific & Eastern. The highlight of the adventure was finding and hiking over a mile of Weyerhaeuser right of way. We gained a wealth of information about the terrain, texture and color of the area we're modeling. Among the discoveries along the way was this substantial cut through a ridge above the river.




Back at the clubhouse, we reevaluated the scene and decided some changes were in order. Using a grade board to approximate the original lay of the land, we built up the mountain a bit and lengthened the cut.

Another discovery was this rock wall where boulders had been stacked below the railroad grade as a retaining wall. This wasn't evident in any of the pictures we had and was just begging to be modeled.

John Gerritsma Photo

John Gerritsma duplicated it in miniature by embedding HO size boulders in fresh plaster. Rock castings were applied to the inside of the cut. While the right of way pictured above does not have much in the way of rock walls, the P&E had to cut back deeper when putting in the passing siding and these rock faces were left.

As we worked to replicate some of the features we'd seen along the Weyco right of way, the issue of blending in the pop-up joint became more and more obvious. That joint is very clear in this image, along with the freshly covered cardboard strips.

To begin the process, a second coat of colored plaster was applied to the land forms of the stationary section. Then gravel was imbedded in the fresh plaster to represent smaller rock out croppings. Dirt was literally thrown at the plaster to give it some texture.

Any parts of the pop-up land form which did not match up with the fixed section was filled in with colored Keen's Cement. (Keens sets up very strong and has a long working time, though any good finish plaster would work.)

Next, wire screen was cut about three inches wide with an wavy edge on one side. The screen was then hot glued to the pop-up with an inch or so of the wavy edge overhanging the fixed scenery.

The pop up was gently lowered onto a layer of plastic wrap spread between the two scenery surfaces. This was to prevent plaster being applied to the pop up to stick to the plaster on the fixed section and effectively cementing them together.

Another rock casting was applied at the bottom of the pop up section. It was crafted to match the one just to its right on the fixed scenery.

Then colored finish plaster was applied to the pop up, gravel embedded and dirt slung at the fresh plaster. Some darker dirt was sifted on the upper portion where a denser, less disturbed forest will "grow".

With the left side and top of the pop up joint fairly well disguised, attention turned to the right side, where a vertical area (red arrow) presented a challenge.

Also, this view shows progress in and along the Klamath River. The river bed has been raised over half and inch and repoured with Hydrocal. And John Gerritsma has begun painting the palisades rock formation on the backdrop above the river. (More on these features in Part 3.)

Larry decided a rock out cropping was in order here, after observing one up on a bluff overlooking the old Weyerhaeuser line. In order to secure it to the foam land form, he first drilled and set three 3/4" round by 2" long dowels into the foam. After the Roo Glue (construction adhesive will work too) had set, he screwed and glued a shaped block of 1/2" plywood to the lift-up section. A piece of masonite, rough side out, in the approximate shape of the proposed rock casting was then glued and screwed to the plywood.

Once again thin plastic wrap was spread between the two sections and the colored rock casting was applied.

Also evident in this photo is a final piece of wavy screen hot glued to the pop up.

The now-familiar process of colored plaster, embedded gravel and dirt followed. Sure, the joint is still noticeable, but it's not nearly as obvious as earlier.
Okay, enough of these rock castings, embedded gravel, wavy screens and dirt! Let's get some trees and brush into the scene and see how real we can make it look.
Photos by Larry Tuttle except as noted.

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Building the P&E

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