Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chasing the Forney

Following a nail-biting series of monsoonal thunderstorms sandwiching long bouts of drizzle, Flagstaff has dried out enough lately to allow for train running without major track cleaning efforts. It was a good test to see what the railroad could handle, including three extreme downpours with hail and the requisite lightning that treats ponderosa pine trees like match sticks (and, incidentally, knocked out our garage door opener, a problem still to be solved). Before the railroad's appearance in the back yard, I had always welcomed as much rain as we could get, given our consistent drought throughout the Southwest. Now I find myself torn, intently watching the right-of-way out the window to see how much ballast is floating away during a downpour. Even after all that, I re-ballasted a few sections and shored up some poorly contained areas last week, and the railroad is in great shape. Sections of it are even showing signs of being embedded into the landscape with an overgrown appearance, which is what I was hoping for in certain areas. Tonight provided a relaxing opportunity to run a couple of trains in a leisurely way before the sun went down. The action tonight featured the newest addition to the Ponderosa Lines' roster, an 0-4-4 Forney with its two-car set and an added G&RGW coach. The battery for the Forney's power is in the trailing passenger car behind the tender - a required feature due to my decision to rely on battery power rather than track wires. I am waiting for my first fusion generator, but for now I need to rely on traditional batteries. As for the sun, I noticed quickly that the lighting was great tonight, so I grabbed Linda's camera phone nearby and did some railfanning. Here are the shots.

Click on the photos for larger images. Click again on the larger images for the full-size photos, if you dare. The first image below is the actual map of the Ponderosa Lines Railway, as it now exists with place names.)

Above: Just beyond the trestle for Palmer Gulch

Above: Getting close to Viterbo in the late evening sun, making the final run back home to Paradise.

Above: Station Stop at Blumenthal, one of two passing sidings.

Above: Rolling up Angel's Flight, toward (the other) White Pass

Above: Exiting White Pass (the highest point on the line, hence the name), through the "forest".

Friday, June 25, 2010

Judgment Day

One ongoing mystery was solved today, at least as an initial test case. How would the pristine, groomed railroad and its ballast survive its first rain storm? I thought we would have a month or more without any wet stuff coming down, during which I could continue to live in my dreamland where the outdoors behaves like the indoors, albeit without a roof and occasional wild and domestic animals scurrying through. Two nights ago a skunk bumbled across the main line toward the fence after setting off the motion-detector flood lights. In any case, today was Judgment Day, as I later told Linda as we stood on the balcony overlooking the layout. According to a lady we saw later this evening, it had rained, and even hailed, for about five minutes, as some scattered showers moved through due to a late-season Pacific storm. Very rare in June. So we got a chance to see how the railroad would react.

I had read a forum post ( in which the author advised that rain on a garden railroad is not the "same" rain (I'm paraphrasing, probably poorly) that the typical outdoor environment expects to receive on a regular basis. The trains are still miniature in terms of scale, so the rain drops that actually strike the garden railroad are effectively much larger - perhaps 6-8 scale inches across. That's like having the impact of water balloons striking our homes and yards, since the particle size of our ballast is much smaller than that of prototype railroads. So the question remained in my head: How would the Ponderosa Lines react to veritable water balloons? At first, it looked like a mess, as I shook my head overlooking my hard labor for the past two months. Water had indeed splashed ballast particles up ONTO the rails themselves, which was perhaps the most annoying aspect. It also mildly pock-marked the roadbed and ballast beside and between the tracks, making it appear to have a rougher texture than how I laid it down. As I tested the track itself with my hands, it was clear that the railroad itself was still solidly embedded into the roadbed, so the rain hadn't actually dislodged the track. So, the most prominent concern was essentially how to clean the track. I took our trusted "Swiffer" tool, though the wet swiffer pad turned to mud pretty quickly. Finally, I took a dry swiffer pad, attached it to my 2-foot long level stick with a rubber band, and dragged that along the rails. Once satisfied that the bulk of the matter was now off the rails, I braved my LGB switcher with two gondola cars out ahead of it to hopefully "polish" the rails. This seemed to work ok, and the trackage is now somewhat back to normal. I don't know how the "track power" guys do it, as I can't imagine keeping the track clean enough to provide reliable power from the rails. But as Linda suggested, I might be too anal, striving too valiantly for the perfect track "interface" with my trains (even though the locos run on battery power). This latter notion is hard to refute.

So, we have a preview of our upcoming "Monsoon season," which Linda is convinced will be one of the wettest on record now that the railroad is partly installed. We then imagined how we look forward to seeing a White Pass passenger car floating down into the neighbors' yards and having to collect my trains when they finally make landfall. So, the railroad survived its first downpour. We'll see if I have to go further and build a Noah's Ark on rails to prepare for worse.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

First two-train meet at Blumenthal

With trackage laid all the way to the town of Blumenthal, it was time to do some railfanning on the Ponderosa Lines. The passing siding at Blumenthal allows trains to "turn" as well as pass one another upon arrival. Here are some photos of the action, the first time two trains have been dispatched to the mid-point town of Blumenthal in the same day. A new favorite for railfans along the line, you will see plenty of images of the line's longest trestle, over Palmer Gulch. The origin point for both trains is Boulder Point (you will see why Linda renamed the town of House Rock  to represent this place). As of late June, Boulder Point station includes a reverse loop, house track, and siding. Also, for two weekends we have adorned the right-of-way and vicinities with some scattered vegetation to actually represent the "garden" aspect of the "garden railroad". Most plants are native or regional varieties, or at least drought-tolerant plants of some kind. They range from various junipers and lavinder flowers to sedges, grasses, and penstimons. Still learning about plant names, but we are getting fairly familiar with the types of plants that do well here at 7,000 feet elevation. I have to admit that, although my true interest is designing railroads and laying track, it was like going to a candy store when we paid a visit to our local "Native Plant and Seed" company here in town to start deciding on some plants. We pretty much decided to call it quits after one wagon-full load of plants made its way to the car. Numerous rocks that appeared naturally in the yard (and through right-of-way excavations) considerably added to the landscaping scenes (with Linda's enjoyment of throwing them around to make them look "natural"...) So, as of late June, our garden railroad is looking like the term suggests. Much more than I had anticipated for this summer, yet plenty to do the next couple of years on the Ponderosa Lines! The plan is to complete the entire single-track main line this summer, to the "end" of the line at Paradise (please see previous post labeled "Concept and Maps".

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Inaugural Test Run a Success on Opening Day

PLR News Release:

With construction crews resting their shovels and equipment for one day, it was time to unveil northern Arizona's newest narrow-gauge rail line. The first stretch of track is now open for short excursion rides at the mountain town of Paradise. Crews completed the terminus trackage and reverse loop and will be adding yard trackage through the summer. Although not yet a formal station stop, the main line now reaches to the nearby village of Twin Pines. Train whistles blew and the Paradise faithful came out on a blistering hot day Saturday to see the first test run. The first official "train" to make the run from Paradise to Twin Pines and back consisted of a diesel switcher and gondola car, allowing crews to inspect the line (pictured here). As railroad officials became more confident that all was well, they pulled out their sole steam engine to date, a restored Baldwin 10-wheeler relettered for the White Pass & Yukon Route. A box car and passenger car were added, and the train easily climbed Baldwin Hill as it headed out of town. Baldwin Hill was so named for the initial grade on the route, on which the PLR Baldwin locomotive consistently stalled and slipped. After further engineering and regrading attempts, nobody noticed a problem yesterday. Crews are planning to extend the main line to the route's longest trestle later this summer. In the meantime, railroad employees are enjoying more "test" runs around the yard trackage and up the short main line.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

We've got a railroad! Preparing the First Stretch

I naturally chose the hottest day of the year to lay the first track on the Ponderosa Lines. It topped 90 degrees today, a rare occasion for our 7,000-foot elevation. And the reverse loop materialized as the sun blistered down in the early afternoon. I knew this wasn't logical, except this was the next step that I couldn't resist! The raised dirt "shelf" was ready, I had track sitting in the house, and a pile of ballast (quarter-minus stone) was sitting in the driveway. Of course I was going to try my hand at some track work. We had more "screened fill" dumped in our front yard yesterday, along with the aforementioned track ballast, technically referred to as "Apache-pink quarter minus". This is what we have in Flagstaff - pink ballast. Who would have thought? Oh well, the stuff will make for a unique right-of-way. Now that I've seen it in "true color" with track embedded into it, however, it seems to fit in well with our subtle gray and brown soil tones around here. The truck driver tried not to stir it up much in the delivery, as I asked to have the fill dirt and ballast placed in the same load. Less expensive that way, considering the delivery charge surpassed the cost of the actual dirt and stone. Once I convinced the company that I wouldn't sue if the dirt mixed a bit with the stone, they said "ok, we'll try it". Overall it sorted out pretty well - the dirt is less dense and is therfore lighter than the quarter minus, which I believe is crushed granite. Being the talented driver he is, Joe gently nudged his truck and arked the load just right so that the ballast "waited" to exit the truck until the dirt was already on the ground (at least it seemed that way). That made up for his thorough crushing of our retaining rock wall with the back two axles of the truck. Oops. Some work to do out front, I suppose. For now, the twin tire tracks up and over the wall are amusing at best.

I digress. Here is the story of laying the first G-scale track of our lives, along with the process I used. Around noon time, the whole track-laying approach was nothing more than theory in my head. I had read instructions, arguments, web sites, forums, and spied on three or four G-scale railroads myself in the past year. I had decided how to do it, and to take my chances with the chosen method. By early afternoon, to our delight, we had an operating railroad (see next post please). After that it was nap time, satisfied that the magic ballast had actually performed well and turned to veritable cement. I hadn't believed it, but it happened. Throw a little water on that stuff, and "poof"! That track isn't going anywhere. Time will tell how amazing it really is, our wonderful Apache Pink.

Frost Heaving in northern Arizona?
My biggest concern was with the potential for washouts and, especially, frost heaving. Forum posts and blogs have clearly revealed the horrors of frost heaving in colder climates, for those of us not forutnate enough to be in southern California or equivalent. Track torn up, ballast washed away, annual efforts to reset the entire railway as previously buried rocks shoved the track upward religiously every spring. No thanks. Is this worth it? I asked a local meteorologist friend last week about whether we could expect heaving problems, as part of me suspected that we don't. Because of our extreme diurnal (daily) temperature fluctuations, it generally warms up each day to prevent the continuous buildup of soil ice. Even in January, it can be 5 degrees F. at 6:30am but warm up to 50 by 3pm if the sun is out. Snow storms are rare, and so are deep freezes. The answer, by the way, to the question about frost heaving in Flagstaff was "it depends". Lately, our drought conditions and general warming trend have prevented much frost, though it can occur in localized pockets of cool, poorly drained soils. One more definitive answer came with an email from a local friend who is about a year ahead of me with his own G-scale railroad, in a similar forested environment here in town. The news was stunning. He "went outside, cleaned off the track, and ran trains". No problems whatsoever, and the railroad survived our above-average snowfall this winter. I was overjoyed to learn this, as I was about to embark on my own adventure with "floating" my own track in ballast, without much trenching due to the packed "hard-pan" ground. Even more assured now, it was time to lay track and "git-er-done".

The Railroad Building Process
To recall, I have chosen to "float" my track in ballast, using quarter-minus roadbed and ballast material. The blazing sun and heat did hold an advantage for this method - the rail certainly was expanded to the maximum extent due to the sun, to the point where I could not touch the rails without burning my fragile fingers! I hadn't counted on that, but this stuff gets hot! Had to wear gloves just to handle it. With the track expanded like this, I could join the track as tight as possible (like HO-scale, I imagine) and it would only shrink when it cooled down. In the HO world, this is important, as it is common to find your well-laid track totally crumpled up on itself after the rails expand too much in a heated building. Not fun. Tried to prevent it here. The most significant potential problem here at 7,000 feet is not necessarily the driving rains (rare), snow (it just sits there), or frost heaving (hopefully). It's the diurnal temperature cycle and the remarkable freeze-thaw process that we get here for 10 months out of the year. The track will need to expand and contract daily and hourly, so Linda and I vowed to not cement in ANYTHING in our yard. Everything needs to remain flexible to account for freeze-thaw. Thus, floating the track in uncemented ballast made the most sense. We'll see how it goes.

STEP 1: Testing the track layout for placement

I was starting with the most difficult track-laying project of the railroad - the reverse loop with multiple turnouts. If I could "make it here," as the song goes, I could "make (railroad) anywhere". The main line would certainly be less complicated. It was therefore necessary to lay out the track pieces and try to fit them together like a puzzle. This required a good half hour and some patience - and numerous trips to the garage to find yet another curved or straight piece of a specific length or radius. G-scale track is fortunately forgiving, however, so it is possible to "bend" pieces around to make things fit if it's not too far out of whack (such as allowing for slight kinks at joints). The photo above was the "test fit" stage, hoping the reality would play out ok (it did).

Step 2: Mark the right-of-way and drop some ballast (quarter-minus crushed granite).

I decided not to "trench" because we really don't get much rain here, which is the typical concern with ballast washing away in wetter climates. Instead of trenching, I laid a 1-2 inch layer of ballast on top of the packed fill dirt, and will later add another layer of fill dirt around the right-of-way, to help contain the ballast. I don't need my track to be elevated much anyway, as one would not expect to see that much on the narrow-gauge routes of the Southwest. I prefer the appearance of having the track blend in with the surroundings rather than the "highly manicured" approach.

Step 3: Place the track and level it (or, "Fuss" with it until you're happy)

This process was easier than I had anticipated. Once I had the track joined together in an acceptable fashion, it was time to level it out. I used a 2-foot long plastic level that can be bought at any hardward outlet to make sure there were no major dips or elevation changes from one piece to the next. If part of the track was too high, I simply shook it gently back and forth until it naturally dug further down into the roadbed. If track was too low, as was much of the reverse loop curve, I added more ballast on top, pulled the track upward an inch or so, and let the ballast fall underneath. This "fussing with the track" process took some patience but not a lot of time until I was satisfied with the final placement.

Step 4: Add more ballast on top and smooth it out. (No photo, sorry!)
After dumping more ballast onto the track itself (looks like a mess, no doubt), I took a stiff broom (about a foot wide, in my case) and gently moved down the track to even out the ballast and fill in any remaining holes. This was basically a grander version of HO scale when using a toothbrush to smooth the ballast before gluing. The process went very quickly, though I was careful not to get ballast too close to the turnout points, while removing larger pebbles from inside the flangeways. Dirt occasionally caked up (the "minus" part of the quarter minus) inside the rails, so I loosened that as well. It really started to appear like a real railroad after this!

Step 5: Just add water!

 Because I didn't want the railroad to turn into a source for blowing dust (plenty of that around here in the spring), the final ingredient to the process was water. I grabbed the hose and gently gave the entire railroad a good soaking. I used the "shower" option on the nozzle, allowing for a gentle "rain" to fall evenly across the tracks, moving back and forth and being careful not to drown it. This is the key to the entire process. The smaller particles lodge down into the larger ones, creating a veritable cement, though not as strong. I was amazed myself. Only 10 minutes after watering, the track would not move without a lot of force. I kept testing it through the afternoon because part of me still didn't believe it. This track wasn't going anywhere, and neither was the ballast. My final step, sometime before we get rains in July, is to place a layer of fill dirt (and eventually mulch) on either side of the right-of-way to help contain the ballast to help prevent runoff. For me, this is the opposite of trenching, which is not an easy option for most of this layout. (Thanks to Linda for helping to capture the action today in the form of photos, some of which are shared within this posting.)

At the risk of burning my fingers, I occasionally tried gently to move the track after the ballast was nearly dry. The track was locked in tight, and I kept mumbling to Linda that what I had read was actually true! Sometimes it works that way. I will be curious to determine the level of maintenance and upkeep as the year progresses.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Concept and Plan for the PLR

A funny thing happened on the airplane from Tampa last week. I needed something else to do as we sat patiently with our fellow passengers enroute back to Phoenix. Given my limited access to entertainment or reading, I needed paper and pen to jot down our new mental plan for the Ponderosa Lines. I enjoy the creativity of designing railroads, and putting one outside in the elements is the ultimate challenge (well, sort of). In need of something to write on, I turned desperately to the overused seat pocket in front of me with the ubiquitous Sky Mall (or equivalent) airline magazine. Digging down a bit more, I pulled out the expected barf bag, and turned it into a draft map of the PLR. I have only ever seen one of these things used for its intended purpose, and that was a nearby passenger on the rocky Phoenix-Flagstaff commuter jump in an overheated prop plane last year. She had eaten a half-pound burger that.... never mind. So after drafting a basic plan for the rail route, I turned to Linda for inspiration about landscaping ideas. She added a few features, such as potential railroad ties (real ones), planter boxes, and pathways. The product was a "napkin version" of the Ponderosa Lines, which I strangely saved, scanned, and am now sharing here.

More professionally, I used the AnyRail planning software I purchased online to create a more professional version of the current version of the future PLR. This is the tenth map, sort of like Boeing or Microsoft that come up with numerous versions before they roll out the successful one. Although the town and place names may change with time, this is the current plan.

The concept is similar to that of the past, though with some variations. The Ponderosa Lines are still designed as a regional tourist line that uses an imaginary old right of way through northern Arizona. Thus, the Lines are intent on acquiring a variety of narrow-gauge rolling stock and motive power either donated or sold from existing railways throughout the nation.

The layout is a "point-to-point" design with a continuous loop option, so that we can run trains in veritable circles if desired, or enjoy more prototypical operating sessions with crews, train orders, and so forth. This latter concept would involve a train leaving House Rock southbound (right side of map), and passing through the towns of Viterbo, Blumenthal, Snow Flake, Needles, Twin Pines, and reaching the "end" of the line at Paradise. Essentially, then, we can say this is "The Road to Paradise," to borrow a similar title from the Strasburg Railroad back in Pennsylvania. Town names are subject to change as Linda and I modify the plan. For now, however, these are all meaningful names that do not try to replicate actual places in northern Arizona (the exception is the town of Snow Flake, which is an actual small town in eastern Arizona. I am adding it here because it would be in the coldest, snowiest part of our yard, near the annual north-side glacier). (Click on maps for larger images.)

Some Parameters (especially for G-scale fans)

The minimum radius on this plan is 2.5 feet (5-foot diameter) for the reverse loop at House Rock (which can serve both ends of the line with as few turnouts as possible). The rest of the railroad uses either 10-foot or 11.5-foot diameter curves. Future sidings or spurs will be added as funds and time allow, such as at House Rock, Paradise, and Blumenthal. So, here is the Ponderosa Lines as it exists on paper. The rest of the summer will determine how much of it is actually built after the filling and grading are taken care of. For now, it's great exercise moving dirt around.

The track is (based on what I've already purchased) a combination of used and new LGB and Aristocraft track, mostly with European ties, but some American because that's what I could get. After weeks of investigating possible road bed approaches, I have chosen to "float" the track on a bed of "quarter-minus" crushed granite, or whatever is available locally here in Flagstaff. Given our 7,000-foot elevation, this is an extreme freeze-thaw region, on a daily as well as annual basis. Thus, the track will need to expand and contract with rapid warming and cooling. This aspect will be somewhat of an experiment, and I'll be curious about the maintenance involved.

After learning all about the issue of scale within "G-scale," I am salivating over the 1:20.3 opportunities in the future and am keeping this in the back of my mind as we plan the railroad (i.e. curve diameters and bridge clearances). More immediately, however, I have acquired some pieces of LGB and Bachmann trains that will serve well on the PLR to get things started. Although I'm not a serious modeler when it comes to detail and prototypical accuracy (I prefer a representative approach, I guess), I can certainly see the noticable difference between the 1:20.3 and smaller scale equipment. So, I'm content for now with the "meter gauge" scale, and LGB and Bachmann are interchangable and look good together. For now, I'm looking forward to building an actual railroad, albeit a bit too small to ride on (probably a good thing for the neighbors, who will nonetheless get used to future train whistles of Forneys and Baldwins. I need something to drown out those barking dogs..."Scottie, set whistle on Stun!).

Monday, May 10, 2010

First Test Run on a Grade

I have been laboring off and on for the past several weeks, including through a sudden snow squall, to "cut and fill" various parts of our side yard for the right-of-way. Having finally determined the final plan for "Phase 1" construction, there is one rather steep grade on a curve that I have been wary about. I lessened the grade by building a small dirt ramp (I will add photos eventually), and I have read plenty of horror stories about steep grades and G-scale. The two don't mix, apparently, unless you want to run very short trains. So today it was time to put my two locos to the test. I laid some track temporarily on the dirt right-of-way and smoothed it out enough to get a train over it. I really have no place convenient yet to store my rolling stock and locos, so I make numerous trips upstairs to retrieve a few cars, both locos, batteries, and remote controller before the fun can begin. Linda has convinced me to purchase a Rubbermaid shed for the side yard eventually, which after today is looking much more inviting.

First the yard switcher, #3. First two cars, then three. No problem, this little engine certainly "could" and "did," taking the hill without a concern. Thinking the Baldwin steamer would do similarly, it was time to "pour on the coal". I started with all three cars (a boxcar and two D&RG coaches) and it made it half way up the hill before the drive wheels started spinning (reminded me of certain Amtrak trips). The engine's a bit light and could -- after a few tries -- only take the hill with a running start. Looks like I have some work to do with grade reduction before laying track. Fortunately the latest plan will allow for a longer ramp leading out of the staging area. And the writing may be on the wall: It may be worth the money to hire Barry from Barry's Big Trains (how many sleepless nights were required to invent that business name, I wonder...) in Phoenix to retrofit some "bionic" motor and wheels to the Baldwin. Apparently the thing will pull out stumps after Barry gets done with it. At least now I know what my little engines can and can't do. Funny thing, though, it was the little LGB switcher that won the veritable pulling contest up to Twin Pines today.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Grading the Right-of-Way: Taking Shape

(NOTE: Photos embedded within the story to reduce boredom.)

Here it is early April, and the past week has been the first time that our outdoor "template" for a future railroad has been visible or accessible. Flagstaff was pummelled by several major snow storms this winter, the most impressive a 5-foot, three-storm series over a few days, followed by one- and two-foot followups. Only yesterday did the final bit of ice melt off our back deck, and a small glacier still exists on the north side of the house. This is the same place where the snow lasted the longest for the last two winters -- no surprise given the lack of sun and warming. The micro-climate is entirely different on that side, and it raises the question of how sane it would be to build the second G-scale town at that location. It might be fun to dig out the roadbed when the full route of the Ponderosa Lines is complete, but regardless, a railroad through that part of the yard will be analogous to the White Pass train heading up toward the Klondike. This is still a dream, however, as this part of the Ponderosa Lines is likely two or three years away.

Two things have been accomplished over the past several months: 1) planning, and 2) buying. The latter effort has been aided recently from my first stint as a seller on EBay (or Evil-Bay as some model railroaders have lovingly called the online marketplace). Having participated in the typical overconsumption of HO-scale railroad equipment over the past decade, it was time to sell off some of the collection. A swap meet in Phoenix and a few locomotives on EBay gave me a shot at playing "retailer," with overall positive results. Moving out that HO equipment has enabled some guilt-free purchasing for the Ponderosa Lines, still in progress. I have acquired probably 70 percent of the track that will be necessary for the first loop and switching area (staging?), and am now targeting specific pieces of track of certain diameter, turnout length, etc.

Which brings us to yesterday and today, when the urge to grab a shovel and dig was just too irresistable. Though winter is doing its best to hang on around here, it was possible yesterday (Friday) evening to survive with merely a sweatshirt and some minor labor with shoveling dirt from one part of the yard to another. Given the master plan that I have come to like, I pretty much knew where the track is going to be laid on the south side of the house, and how it will connect into the "shelf" area I built for the station tracks and reverse loop in front of the deck. So, at that point, it made sense to grab a shovel and start digging. How much dirt could I move to support a raised right-of-way without having to call Landscape Connections across town for a truckload of fill dirt? I was curious. As the sun set last night, I already had a raised ramp materializing for the grand curve that would lead the tracks up to the highest part of the yard (see photos below). My goal was to reduce the grade as much as possible, as every G-scale forum post has made it clear that hills are evil and tend to rip apart unsuspecting locomotives.

I was eager this morning, though on the eave of heading for Italy next week (still need to pack and clean), to get out and continue the effort. A road bed was emerging from the otherwise bland side yard, and there was a new bridge to install! I didn't want the Ponderosa Lines to be entirely bridge-free, so I had my first opportunity today. Having found a homemade, 2-foot wood trestle on Ebay, I was looking forward to the creative engineering required to install it. No, it's not the Brooklyn Bridge, but it is my first G-scale attempt, so it's pretty exciting. I decided to run up to Home Depot (or Home Despot as some lovingly refer to the Big-box store) this morning to get some of those pre-fab retaining wall blocks -- not sure of the name of them, and I didn't know what to call them in the store -- but the greeter is clearly used to answering stupid questions from people who don't know how to refer to their products, so I was quickly directed to the back of the garden section. Some people may view those store shelves as holding potential retaining wall material, but I was envisioning bridge piers. Those things are nasty! Just handling them with my bare hands ultimately drew blood and scraped off skin, an easy thing to do in our dry climate. Like cactus, I gingerly carried them to the car and looked forward to wearing gloves.

The bridge construction required some time and patience, but it was not difficult. First I laid the track out on the ground to be sure the bridge alignment was appropriate for the rest of the right-of-way. Then I dug out more of the fill material to insert the paving blocks that would serve as the bridge piers. I bought a bag of sand as well, used for leveling at the base. I used a level to make sure the piers were, yes, level, a process which required several attempts until I was satisfied. Then the dirt got filled in around it with the bridge in place, and there it is! Eventually a dry stream channel will flow under it, I imagine, and Linda has been asked to assist with designs for the actual landscaping around the track area. For now, the grade is rough but complete, and perhaps the next phase will be the purchase of the "quarter-minus" or "crusher fines" for the sub-roadbed and the ballast. This will have to wait until May or June, and will likely take some time to level and lay just right.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

First Excursions on Temporary Trackage

PLR News Release:
Whistles blew and throttles opened today on the Ponderosa Lines, as the first temporary trackage was opened for service. With only two restored passenger cars and a few freight cars for effect, the short trips provided a glimpse of the future for this upstart narrow gauge railroad in northern Arizona. Crews are now awaiting the summer season and the final withrawal of the snow here at 7,000 feet elevation. The PLR will one day reach Show Low to the east of Flagstaff, if all goes as planned. Revenue passengers -- mostly visitors to Flagstaff and Show Low -- will supplement some 21st century freight service on this long-abandoned 19th century right of way (fictitious). While relying on tourist dollars and overhauled narrow gauge equipment, PLR leaders envision landing a few contracts to haul small-growth timber from forest thinning efforts, and some local freight for new businesses related to windfarms and solar power. For now the train engineers and first passengers are enjoying a few short journeys out and back on PLR's first equipment (see photos below, click on photos for larger images.)