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A Two in One Switching layout built by

Laurie Green and Gavin Hince


Deep in the rugged backwoods of Oregon's Cascade Mountains comes the sounds of saws, the cries "TIMBERRRR" and the crash of falling trees. Small logging operations like the "BIG SKY LUMBER COMPANY" used second hand, rusting and ageing equipment, small geared locomotives and very tough men to harvest these giant stands of timber. We hope this  layout shows the various stages of logging and how loggers lived and worked amongst these tall trees

Initially, a stand of good timber is located and a temporary rail line is laid to the site in the quickest and cheapest fashion possible. The tracks twist and turn to find the easiest way up. From the largest tree in the area, branches are stripped  and the tree rigged - similar to a sailing ship - to be used as a "spar tree". Using lines attached to the top of this tree, small steam winches called "donkey engines" were used to haul the cut logs to the loading area. The logs were then loaded onto wooden rail bogies called "disconnects" for transport to the sawmill. Once the timber has been processed, it is shipped on flat cars and in box cars to the rail head at Shelter Bay, where it is loaded onto barges and ships to be transported to the rest of the world.

Back in camp, crude accommodation is supplied. Some lucky loggers live in wooden huts supplied by the company, while the less fortunate live in tents with log walls - no place to be on those snowy sub-zero nights. The logging company also provides basic maintenance for the locomotives, cut wood for cooking fires and sometimes a company store. It's hard and lonely work until the Saturday night, and then its a trip down to the nearest town to paint it red.



The layout was 34 feet long when our two halves were set up. Gavin's is the top plan while mine is the bottom plan.


To scratch a long time itch to build a logging layout was the prime motivation behind Gavin and myself building the "BIG SKY LUMBER COMPANY". The layout was to be built in On3, the scale we both model in, and was designed as two separate home layouts that could be joined together at exhibitions to form one large layout. It was also envisioned that other interested modelers could build modules that could be incorporated at exhibitions to form an even bigger layout. A fairly generic scenery profile and track location was decided upon to achieve this. An example of this is, the `SAWMILL' baseboard was built after the main layout, and can be left out if required. 

The layout was to represent, in caricature form, logging in the mountains of Oregon, on the north west coast of the United States. It was decided to show how the complete sequence from logs being felled, dragged to the rail head, loaded onto logging disconnects, railed to the sawmill, and then transported out to the rest of the world on ocean going sailing ships, as it would have been done at the turn of the century.

Also it was decided that there would be no hidden track, with the entire layout one large switching problem, which would make the operators think about how they were to operate the layout.


The layout modules sit on stands made up of a frame of 2x1 pine with a 3 mm masonite fascia, with two fold out leg frames which fold flat for transporting. The legs extend 50 mm higher than the frame and slide into locating slots in the baseboards. The base boards just sit onto the frames and require no bolts. The advantages of this system are that the stands can be laid out at an exhibition first and the location of the layout confirmed before the sceniced baseboards are placed. Also no curtains are required, and the fascias can be used for sign writing and advertising.


The main object of the layout was to keep the baseboards as light as possible. To achieve this, an outside frame of 3x1 pine with 2x1 cross struts was built to the required size, with 3 mm masonite fascias to the required scenery profile attached to the outside faces of this frame. Layers of 2" (50 mm) white polystyrene foam was then glued to the top of the frame using a construction adhesive, with more layers attached to form the desired scenery shapes. Long wood saws, pruning knives and other handy instruments were then used to achieve the final scenery shape.


Instead of using the normal plaster that has to be mixed with water, with all the associated problems of obtaining consistent mixes and the mess that this generates, it was decided to use a premixed plaster which is obtained in 25 kg sealable buckets (we used a product called `TOPCOTE 550). This is simply spread on in a thin layer to keep the weight down and allowed to dry. This shell was then given a couple of coats of a brown paint to represent the base earth color. On top of this shell a varied mix of real dirts, potting mix and peat moss (both put through a three level sieve to obtain different grades) was spread to represent the base found in the forest. An additional layer of colored course and fine scenery foams, poly fibre, real twigs, pieces of weeds and other things out of the garden were then located on the forest floor and glued down with a white glue and water mixture. Real larger twigs were then cut to length and poked into the foam to represent tree stumps.


Its hard to build a logging layout without lots of big trees. These are probably the most important scenery aspect of this layout. The layout contains three types of trees. About 90% of these were built using a shaped and tapered balsa trunk stained to a bark color, with two or three discs of industrial spray both filter material pulled down the trunk and then pulled out vertically to form the tree armature. After the fibreglass filter material has been cut to the final tree shape, it is sprayed heavily with a cheap brown spray paint, and before this dries, the tree is rolled in a mixture of various colors of commercial green foams. The second type is built by gluing individual branches into a balsa truck (we used a fern retailed by `Bragdon Enterprises' in the U.S.) but there are other types that can be used. A few examples of the old bottle brush type trees can also be found in the forest. Some dead twigs have been planted to represent dead trees.


On Gavin's end (the left hand end) a different method has been used. Using 2" thick soft foam, a couple of different stamps were cut to represent tree shapes. The most distant layer of trees was done first by mixing a very bluish green paint and dipping the foam into this paint, it was stamped onto the blue backdrop. When dry, the stamped area was sprayed lightly with a matt white spray paint. A lesser blue green paint was then mixed and using the same stamp, the next closer layer of trees was stamped on. Again, when this was dry, another thin layer of matt white paint was sprayed on. When all this was dry, green paint was used to stamp the closest layer of trees. Using the matt white spray gives the misty feel of the forests in the mountains and gives the back scene a feel of depth.


Like the prototype, the bridges on the Big Sky Lumber Company are only temporary type structures, all built using 1/2" dowel to represent logs and topped roughly with ties to allow the rails to cross. As with the bridges, most of the structures found along the logging right of way were not substantial. Normally simple in style and construction, the models have been built using balsa and bass timbers and mostly left unpainted. To duplicate this weathered appearance, most of the timber was stained with a mixture of shoe leather dyes and rubbing alcohol.


Very simple hand held throttles are used to control the trains, with Gavin's end having four blocks which can be controlled by either a red or green throttle, while my end is one single block controlled by a single throttle. The main line on my end can be switched to Gavin's control so trains can be switched into the sawmill from that end. All the systems have been keep as simple as possible to avoid electrical problems, especially at exhibitions.


It is critical to choose the right color for the fascia, as the wrong one will detract from the scenery and spoil the overall appearance. We choose a deep green that was a slightly darker shade and hue than the green foam used on the trees. 


As with the different methods used to paint the backdrop, different lighting has been used on each end of the layout. The left hand end has soft incandescent globes spaced out evenly to give an overall soft light, while the right hand end has five spotlights to highlight various scenes. This gives a much harsher lighting effect but can be used in-conjunction with other lighting systems to enhance the scenes.