Oh My Aching….

Michael: I guarantee these are not what you first thought of.


When working on benchwork, or underlayout wiring, or schlepping things around, I find myself kneeling a lot.  And my knees ain’t what they used to be.   A $3 pair of foam knee pads is the best investment I can think of for making a model railroad.

Oh, they’re not perfect.  The elastic strap might be a bit too tight for all-day use.  They do sometimes slip down.  These are solvable, especially if you’re willing to part with a little more $$$ and buy some of the flexible armor that a Knight of the Round Table would have been happy to have back in the day.   But for $3, these foam pads work well for as often as I need them.

My first pair was purchased before the Saint Paul Bridge & Terminal was built.  I recently was wondering why my knees hurt so much, even when I was using them.  Well, foam wears out with use.  Duh!  No kidding.  14 years on one pair isn’t bad — probably should have been 13 1/2, but I’ll survive.

Sine qua non.

I wouldn’t even begin to build  new railroad without these.

Exiting stealth mode

Okay, I had some sort of brief fantasy of just calling people up one day and saying “Come over and operate” and having them show up to discover that I had done something completely different than they though I was doing.

Oh well.

I am no longer building the Washington, Idaho & Montana.  The railroad in the basement will now be the State Belt Railway of California.

The Belt serviced the waterfront of San Francisco, from the south edge of downtown (where the ballpark now is) along the Embarcadero  to Fisherman’s Wharf and on into Fort Mason (an Army shipping depot).  It was owned by the State of California (along with the entire port infrastructure of San Francisco), and operated more as a public utility than as a normal railroad.

No waybills were used on the Belt.  Someone shipping to/from the area serviced by the Belt would call one of the connecting railroads to arrange the shipping details.  That railroad would then direct the Belt to move the car as needed.  All billing was done on a per-movement basis, not as a partner in the billing tariff.

I’ll be modelling 1952, when the Port was once again busy shipping men and materiel to the Pacific Theater, this time to Korea.

Bill Kaufman, of San Rafael, Calif., introduced me to the Belt when I operated on his railroad back in January.   I was intrigued, and when his book came out, that sealed the deal.  So I’m back to an urban railroad, instead of the hills of North Central Idaho.

I’ll be keeping you all posted here.

Switching Alleys

One interesting stretch of the State Belt runs along North Point and Beach Streets, just a block or two south of the Fisherman’s Wharf area.  I’ve counted 19 different industries on this segment, all within the span of 10 city blocks of street running, and there might be one or two as yet unaccounted for.   It is also likely that there is no one point in time where each of these existed simultaneously.

Industries on North Point & Beach streets

The project for the weekend is trying to fit enough of this to be interesting on the benchwork that exists.   I’m pleased so far to find that with a decent sized block (and streets that are still too small), I can fit in everything from Embarcadero to Polk.

Power to the People

My bench work is a U shape, with the two uprights set in from the outer walls of the basement (since layout edge is more important to me than running length). The big downside to this is that the inner portion of the layout now has no convenient access to power outlets.

Today’s project was electrical. Run some 120V power to outlets on the inside of the U. A side bonus – one of those outlets has a pair of USB charging points. That will keep my streaming tunes (and news) running.

Overall, a simple project. But the payoff will continue for a very long time.

Next will be the switch (with pilot light) for the RR electronics.



I find that I use my laptop a lot when programming locomotives. So I put in a laptop drawer right next to where the roundhouse goes. Now I will be able to set up the laptop anytime I need it. This drawer will have the Locobuffer’s USB cable attached, so everything I need for programming will be right here.




The base framework is in place. Standard L-girder, made from plywood dimensional lumber. Just about everything is salvage from previous layouts.  Sitting on top is sheet cardboard – to provide a semi-solid base for track planning doodling.

I do not do the CAD track plan thing. I just don’t find it easy to sketch in those programs. So I will use track templates (turnouts, cross-overs, etc.) and some sweep-sticks for radius measurements. I can also use several building mock ups to help figure out how the urban scenery can work. Reaching over a wheat field is very different than reaching through an alley.  You can’t really get a feel for that in a CAD design.



What’s with ‘Way’ when the picture so clearly says ‘Road’

Most importantly, I like ‘Railway’ more than I do ‘Railroad’.  Don’t ask me why, I just do. Every other line I’ve modelled has been ‘Railway’, so I’m keeping with that tradition.

But the layout I’m building will be different than the actual State Belt, in ways big and small (it’s a condensed version, if nothing else), and calling mine the ‘State Belt Railway’ is one way to note the differences.

Bill Kaufman’s is the ‘State Belt Railroad’.  Mine is the ‘Railway’.