POSSUM VALLEY

(Possum Ridge Lumber Co.)

An N Scale logging layout

A bit of history...

Possum Valley is this lost place, in the middle of nowhere, on the Oregon western slopes where the "Possum Ridge Lumber Company" built its main Sawmill in the early 20th century, taking benefit of the rich nearby forests. The "Possum ridge Lumber Company" has its own Railroad Company reaching the logging areas and logging camps, higher in the mountains.
Possum Valley is the place where, besides the sawmill itself and related equipment, the Lumber Company has its locomotive maintenance facility, its workshop and a rooming house for the Sawmill employees.

Possum Valley is also the place where a branch line of the "Oregon & Southern RR." (O&S) connects with the logging railroad, bringing in the equipments and raw materials for the sawmill and logging operation and taking out the finished lumber products. The O&S has a small freignt station in Possum Valley and even a passenger platform for the few passengers that board the twice-weekly mixed train to Eugene.

More recently (we're now in the late 1930's), an Hotel has been built to accomodate the visitors to this area, as well as the seasonal employees of the Sawmill.

Activity is bustling at the sawmill, as well as in the logging areas.

Motivation

For a long time I had the project to build a logging railroad because of its specific athmosphere and specific equipment. This layout had to be of small size and easily transportable to be displayed at shows, as my main layout, the SOW, was too large to be moved. So it had to be in N scale. Unfortunately, the equipment in that scale was not available, except for some very expensive brass pieces, and the project was postponed.
Then, in late 2003, Atlas announced its N scale Shays. It was the trigger ! Shortly after, I was back to the drawing board. Possum Valley was born...

Some facts about the layout


Author Mail to Jean-Louis Simonet
Jean-Louis Simonet
Scale N (1/160th)
Size 1.35 m x 0.85 m (4.5x2.8 ft)
Structure Open grid
Track and switches Peco code 55 and Micro Engineering code 55 bridge track
Minimum radius r=25 cm (9 7/8")
Maximum grade 6 %
Layout control DCC (Digitrax)

Track plan

(Clicking on the track plan will display an enlarged version [71 kb] in a separate window).

The track plan was inspired by plan #44 (Rockport & South Fork Lumber Co.) Click to enlarge in the "101 Track Plans" book from Kalmbach Publishing Co. The track plan was modified to allow continuous running at the lower level and a few additional spur tracks were added.

O&S tracks form an oval of track at the lower level. At the front of the layout is the Station and interchange with the logging Company. The back of this oval is hidden from view and features a hidden staging yard (2 single ended staging tracks - one in each direction).

The "Possum Ridge Lumber Co." tracks leave the main line behind the Sawmill to reach the logging camp and Loading area at the upper level going thru a steady 6% ramp. At mid-slope is a single ended siding to allow train crossings.

The lower level hosts a number of spur tracks used by the logging railroad (Enginehouse tracks, Log unloading track, Shop track, etc...) and a couple of tracks shared between both railroads.

Layout construction

First, I would like to state that the physical dimensions of the layout were dictated by the available space at the back of my car so that the layout can be easily transported to/from shows.

The basic structure of the layout is an open grid frame made from 1x4's. The subroadbed was made using the "cookie cutter" technique from a sheet of 10mm (0.4 in) plywood mounted on risers from the basic structure. The "mountains" and various slopes were made using extruded foam. The photo at right shows the layout at an early stage of construction.

The track support was made from cork roadbed glued to the subroadbed. Finally the track was put in place and ballasted. I used Peco track and modified (*) electrofrog turnouts (code 55) for most of the layout, the exception being Micro-Engineering code 55 bridge track on all the bridges. For ballast, I used Arizona Rock & Mineral brand for the main line and the yard and sifted real sand for the logging line.

Due to the restricted space, some buildings had to be built before laying the track down so that the track could be adjusted exactly to the building configuration. This was the case for the Sawmill and the log unloading deck. The same way, the log pond was "dug" only after the Sawmill was built so that the fit be perfect.

The trestle and the bridge were scratchbuilt on site so that they fit exactly the space. The trestle was the most difficult part as it is partly straight and partly curved. The photo at left shows this area of the layout during construction.

When all the trackage was in place, I wired the layout for DCC and installed Tortoise switch motors under the layout and wired them to a small control panel that I had built in the mean time.

Then came the most time consuming part of the layout construction : scenicking and detailing the whole layout. This operation is described in more details in the next section.

When the scenery was complete, I built the box that makes this layout look like a shadow box. The box is made of 1/8 in. MDF mounted on a removable frame. It is open on the front and right sides and the inside corners have been rounded for a better appearance. The background was painted a solid blue/gray color so that the spectators concentrate on the layout itself rather than on the background. The layout is lighted by two 4ft daylight fluorescent tubes. The outside of the box is painted a dark green color.

Finally I built a support for this layout so that the base level be at a 50 in. height. This support is a simple frame made of 1x4's with collapsible legs. A dark green skirt mounted by Velcro on the support adds the finishing touch.

All in all, it took me almost two years to design and build this layout, from start to completion.

(*) note : see The Hints & Tips section for more informations about Peco turnout modification.

Buildings and scenery

A number of buildings on this layout are craftsman kits from Republic Locomotive Works (RLW). They were originally intended for use in Nn3 and some of them had to be modified to be used with standard gauge. The masterpiece is the sawmill (Coon Gap Samill from RLW) which is not an easy kit and took about 3 months to complete ; it has a fully detailed interior. Other RLW buildings are the loco shed (which has been extensively altered to handle standard gauge locos), the freight house, the water tank, a number of support buildings around the sawmill and a steam donkey (another one was scratchbuilt). All these buildings have been built before starting layout construction.
The other buildings are from various manufacturers (AMB for the Hotel and Rooming House, JV Models for the Logging Camp and Barr Mills for various small buildings).
As said before, the bridges were scratchbuilt. Also scratchbuilt were the Log Unloading Deck, the cribbing, a complete Steam Donkey and another one under construction, the station platform.

The forest is made mostly of conifer trees with a few deciduous trees here and there. There are approximately 250 conifer trees on this layout which fall into two categories : the small ones of the bottle brush type (by Heki) which have been improved (re-shaped and sprinkled with ground foam) and the large ones (~180 of them) which were entirely scratchbuilt.
The large trees which have an average scale height of 120 ft. took a good amount of time for their assembly as they required an average of two hours of work for each tree. So you may imagine the time required for 180 of them ! The first ones were made using kits from Canyon Creek Scenics. Then I made my own trunks and used the foliage and miscellaneous materials from Canyon Creek Scenics.
The various steps for building a tree are as follows : Shaping the trunk, inserting a nail at the bottom of the tree (for "planting" it), painting the trunk (3 colors), cutting and shaping (tearing) the foliage material (the longest operation), glueing the foliage material to the trunk, drilling the trunk and installing the lower branches and finally covering the foliage with ground foam (2 colors) attached with Hair Spray.

All the exposed extruded foam parts of the layout were covered with spackling compound and painted an earth color. Rocks and cliffs were made from Plaster of Paris cast in Woodland Scenics molds, then tinted with washes of acrylic paint. Then started the planting of trees and scenicking of the layout. This was done in several stages as I built the trees in small batches (20-30) for a small area and scenicked the area at the same time. The forest floor was first covered with ground foam, then cluttered with a lot of debris and bushes. A number of tree stumps were added, some from an ancient cut and some from a recent one. At some places there are even mushrooms and rotten trunks. The roads were made using sifted sand.

The logging area contains a quantity of fallen trees being worked on, a lot of logs ready to be shipped to the sawmil and a scratchbuilt spar tree with all its rigging driven by two steam donkeys. The spar tree itself was made from a wood dowel shaped in a drill and all the rigging was made using 0.2mm (0.008 in.) fishing line, logging blocks from RLW and a few homemade brass parts. This area is full of activity, so the loggers are at work, falling trees, sawing logs and loading them onto log cars. The figures are by Woodland Scenics and Preiser.

The Log Pond was made using epoxy resin. To begin with, I had to make the pond area leakproof. I first built a styrene dam for the pond and made the embankments from extruded foam. The whole pond area was covered with a generous layer of spackling compound carefully applied. Then the bottom of the log pond was painted to simulate various water depths. The resin was slightly tinted with a green shade and was poured in a single layer (approx 3/8 in. deep). Logs and debris were added in the "water" before the resin cured. It took 24 hours for the resin to set and several days for it to harden with the brand I used. At this point, the Sawmill and the Log Unloading Deck had their feet wet, sunk deep into the water. Then the enbankments were covered with ground foam and details added. Part of the pond bank is covered with reeds.

At this point, the layout was almost complete. The only remaining thing to do was to add details, lots of details everywhere, especially in the "industrial" areas. Among the numerous details, a Steam Donkey under construction was added next to the Company Workshop, junk and freight was added at several places and many figures populate the layout.

Motive power and rolling stock

The O&S motive power is composed of a pair of Bachmann 2-8-0 locomotives (#12 and #37) that have been "decoderized" in order to work with DCC.

The logging railroad is (of course !) equipped with the long awaited Shay engines from Atlas. At present there are two Shays operating on the layout but a third one will soon join the pool. The Shays have been converted to DCC by shoehorning a decoder in each of them. They have also been converted to wood burning thanks to an homemade brass wood rack which hides the decoder.
The "Possum Ridge Lumber Co." also owns a small railbus used to move loggers between various logging areas. This is a scratchbuilt (operating) engine based on a small Kato chassis (Japanese prototype, but you have to look closely to see it). It is also DCC equipped.

The decoders used in all locos are Lenz Gold Mini decoders which are the smallest currently available decoders and have a lot of capability in term of slow speeds and silent running.

The rolling stock on the main line is composed of all sorts of vintage freight cars of various origins (Micro-Trains, Atlas, Intermountain...) and a single Combine used in mixed trains (an old Rapido car that was modified, repainted and equipped with Micro-Trains couplers).

The logging railroad uses a large fleet of logging cars from various origins (Micro-Trains, RLW, Alan Curtis Models). A number of special cars (Pipe car, Wheel car, Blacksmith car, Water car, Sand car, etc...), built in the "Possum Ridge Lumber Co." shops, can also be seen furrowing the logging tracks to go where they are needed. Most of them were built from Model Tech Studios kits, but the Blacksmith Car was entirely scratchbuilt (inspired from a Sierra West On3 model).

Yes, we are still speaking N Scale, here, in case you doubt it or forgot about it !

Future projects

Although the layout may appear complete, there is always things to do on a layout in order to improve it.
First is completing the detailing of some scenes which are presently uncomplete.
Then is weathering all the rolling stock.
Then is installing/completing the lighting inside the buildings. Some buildings have their lighting installed but not connected. Some other are completely lacking lighting. The goal here is to have all buildings lighted and controlled thru switches on the control panel so that night scenes can be staged.
Last is installing sound on the layout in order to create a fourth dimension during shows. My intent is to install stationary sound decoders and speakers synchronized with the locos so that the locos can be heard working hard on the railroad. I may also install some background sounds.

After all this is done, the layout may be complete. But, who kwnows ?

Electronic Rail Pass

The Rail Pass is an old American railroad custom. When we started this site, Jim Thompson (The Cashaway Valley Railroad) suggested that we consider an Internet version of it.

So, here is the "electronic" version of the Pass for the Possum Ridge Lumber Co. :

Click to request your e-pass

If you wish to receive a Possum Ridge Lumber Co. Rail Pass, click on the image above, in order to send an e-mail request.

A pictorial visit of the layout

(Click on the photos to see them full size and click on the full size photo to close it).

1. Along the logging line...

Click to enlarge Photo : 81 kb

Downhill...

A loaded log train from Camp #4, with Shay #7 on the point, reaches the mid-slope siding on its way to the Sawmill...

Photo : 98 kb

On the trestle

...then negotiates cautiously the trestle which needs some repairs (when the maintenance crew get some spare time to do them)...

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 91 kb

Junction...

... to reach the bottom of the grade and the junction with the mainline. There it comes to a halt as an O&S train is announced on the main.

Photo : 92 kb

The cribbing

Later in the day, Shay #6 starts its trip uphill to bring a string of empties to Camp #4, passing the large cribbing that was built here to stop frequent slides in this area...

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 90 kb

On the trestle (again)

... then crosses the trestle at his turn, working hard to overcome the 6% grade on this part of the line (even with empty cars)...

Photo : 88 kb

Camp #4

...and takes some rest at Camp #4 after having delivered the empties to the loading area, just waiting to bring down another load of logs that is being readied.

Click to enlarge

2. The logging area and the logging Camp

Click to enlarge Photo : 77 kb

Camp #4

At this time of the day, Camp #4 is quiet, except in the cookhouse, as all loggers are at work in the forest. A Shay is idling on the main, waiting for its next assignment...

Photo : 85 kb

Camp #4

...when, suddently, a rumble disturbs this quietness. It's a loaded log train coming from camp #7, higher in the mountains, headed for the Sawmill.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 93 kb

Logging area

Meanwhile, a number of loggers of various skills are working hard in the nearby logging area, falling trees, sawing the logs and loading them onto log cars.

Photo : 83 kb

The donkeys

Donkeys' operation is in full swing as the operators and firemen are busy pulling the logs across the forest and loading them on the log cars...

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 90 kb

Spar tree

... and the spar tree participates to the operation, lifting heavy loads and depositing then on the log cars, under the supervision of the foreman.

3. The Sawmill and surroundings

Photo : 98 kb

The Sawmill

A visit to the sawmill showed some activity. A log train had just come in from the deep woods and is ready to dump its load into the log pond, with the help of the log unloader, while another Shay is taking a boxcar off the sawmill deck.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 86 kb

Inside the sawmill

I was allowed to visit the inners of the sawmill and could discover all the machinery required to make finished lumber from raw logs and observe workers in this noisy environment.

Photo : 83 kb

At the back of the Sawmill

A tour at the back of the sawmill revealed the sawdust burner and lots and lots of of finished lumber drying in the open air.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 87 kb

The Company Workshop

My visit ended with the Company Workshop where a new steam donkey was being erected. At the back of the workshop was a work train sitting here until it is needed for repairs at some place on the line.

4. Possum Valley station

Photo : 91 kb

The freight station

A couple of employees is clearing the freight station deck as an O&S freight train is approaching. Meanwhile, a truck driver takes some rest until the awaited goods come in.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 82 kb

Enginehouse

Close by, is the Possum Ridge Lumber Co enginehouse where some mechanics are busy making a quick repair on Shay #6. In the foreground is the sandhouse and "fuel" storage.

Photo : 95 kb

Mixed train

The next day, I was lucky to catch the twice-weekly mixed train from Eugene dropping some visitors and a dozen of newly hired loggers that will join later one of the log Camps.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 79 kb

Thirsty !

The lead loco (O&S Consolidation #12) had stopped at the water tank in order to replenish its tender for the rest of the trip to the end of the line.

Photo : 89 kb

Possum Valley Hotel

In the mean time, loggers and sawmill workers, on their day off, are having some fun at the local Saloon. A couple of riders make ready to have a drink after a long ride.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 80 kb

The railbus

Later in the day, the Possum Ridge Lumber Co. railbus has taken place along the station platform in order to embark the crew of loggers that came in with the mixed train and to bring them to their respective Camps.

5. Close up's

Photo : 93 kb

Hobos

A group of hobos has gathered around a campfire. They are currently discussing about their next destination. Of course, they will travel via O&S freight !

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Photo : 76 kb

Fun at the Saloon

One guy is sipping a beer. Another one does not feel real good while a third one is in great discussion with one of the "Ladies". The riders observe the scene before dismounting to quench their thirst.

Photo : 93 kb

Beware of bears

One of the greatest hazard for the loggers are the bears that roam in the area. A couple can be seen close to the logging camp. The male is standing up on a tree stump while the female is grazing nearby.

Click to enlarge

Hope you liked your guided visit to Possum Valley. Come back soon. Below are a few videos. Others may come later.

A few videos

A log train is easing downhill towards the sawmill

Nightly atmosphere in Possum Valley

A tour of the Possum Valley facilities

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Rural Valley

Page created by Jean-Louis Simonet,
Track plan by Fabrice Fayolle
Last update : 07/13/2011
© 2005, 2011, Jean-Louis Simonet,
Fabrice Fayolle