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.