Name: ATSF Sierra Northern Division
Size: 19'X 20 1/2'
Locale: Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains
Style: Walk around
Mainline Run: 70'
Mainline Radius:30" - Spurs and yards 24"
Minimum Turnout: No.6
Maximum Grade: 0 percent
Bench work: L girder supporting open grid
Roadbed: 1/2" Celotex board over 1/2" plywood
Track: Code 83 nickel silver Walthers Shinohara
Scenery: Hydrocal paper towels over cardboard webbing with commercial and homemade rock molds and real dirt.
Backdrop: Hand painted hardboard and sheetrock with oil paints by wife
Control: NCE Digital Wireless Command Control.
With a 19' x 20 1/2' room and a vivid imagination the ATSF Sierra Northern Division freelance railroad was born. Built in the early 1900's the SN was bought by the ATSF in the late 30's thus giving its name the ATSF Sierra Northern Division. The SN runs its tracks along the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains from Barstow, CA in the south to Alturas, CA in the north. It connects with the SP and NCS (Nevada City Southern) at Reno, NV. It also has a UP connection from Bakersfield, CA bringing produce from the Central Valley into Oak Creek an industrial area outside Mojave. The UP runs a daily transfer using SN track rights. Most of the freight of the SN includes agriculture, beef, grain, wine, lumber, and smaller businesses. A lot of the agriculture consists of fruit from many of the areas coming out of Southern California orchards.
Realistic scenery and structure building is one of Jack's favorite aspects of model railroading along with operation. His wife Lynda contributed to the layout by painting the backdrop in oils.
The scenery depicts two different geographical areas. Three-fourths of the layout is high desert terrain east of the Sierras. The rest of the layout is mountainous depicting granite and the forest of the Sierra Nevada's. The basic material to build the mountains began with cardboard webbing overlaid by Hydrocal Plaster soaked in paper towels. The rock molds come from a few commercial, but mostly homemade castings using rubber latex. Hydrocal was used to fill the molds then placed on the plaster mountain base. Some of the castings were carved to show the strata of the area. Color for the rocks was done with acrylic washes of burnt sienna, raw umber, and Payne's gray. A final solution of 50-50 India ink and water spray brought out the detail in the crevices of the rocks.
Next latex paint was chosen that corresponded with the colors of the region. Real dirt was used along with commercial and homemade vegetation. Both commercial and homemade trees were used, but almost all the evergreen trees were hand made using a technique by the late Jack Work. Many of the deciduous trees were made from sagebrush branches that he picked up while fishing in the high Sierra's. The sagebrush was then covered with foam and vegetation ground in a blender that he purchased at a thrift store. First the sage brush branches were sprayed with a cheap hairspray then the ground-up mixture was sprinkled over the branches and foam.
Rivers and Ponds
The layout has one dry riverbed and one that has water. The water is EnviroTex, a two part epoxy resin, colored with blues and browns according to the depth of the river. The base was also colored before pouring. Rocks and gravel were placed along the river to add to the geography of the area.
Most of the structures are kits from Fine Scale Miniatures, Campbell, Model Tech Studios, Bar Mills, and others. Some structures are scratch built and some are "kit bashed." Jack does not like to just build the kits, but rather adds to them so they don't resemble structures that are common with other layouts. All structures are stained and weathered to show age along with the addition of signs and other details. Fences and gates, light poles, pipes, and other detailing came from Jack's junk box of leftover parts. One great way to weather corrugated aluminum and tin is using PC Etching. This technique really shows rust at its best.
The ATSF Sierra Northern Division uses walk around plug-in throttles from NCE. The railroad usually operates with four to six operators, three being yardmasters, one each at Mojave, Oak Creek, and Sweetwater/Nine Mile. One or two mainline operators and a dispatcher are also used. The dispatcher uses a magnetic schematic board and a telephone system to keep trains running smoothly and to keep in touch with the yardmasters. Besides switching at the major locations using yardmasters, the two six-track staging yards are filled with through freights, locals, turns, and a UP transfer run. Two passenger trains also cross the line stopping at Mojave and Sweetwater. One of the passenger trains, a special, runs weekly to take passengers to Reno, Nevada and Lake Tahoe to gamble and for summer and winter sports.
Jack uses switch lists, gleaned from four-cycle waybills, used by operators to move freight and passengers in the yards and across the SN. He also uses situation cards written out that never change, unlike switch lists. A good example would be the work train or hoppers moving back and forth between the gravel plant at Mojave and the gravel mine at Nine Mile. Operation at this time is by sequence, but Jack would like to expand using T&T (Train-order and Timetable) with a fast clock, but at this time everyone enjoys using sequence and switch lists.
Track and Control
The track plan is an original design. With past experience in building layouts, much thought was given in drafting this track plan. He followed design elements from fellow model railroader Iain Rice. Although his layout has a fairly short mainline it has many switching possibilities for interesting operation. The roadbed was constructed using 1/2 inch celotex over 1/2 inch plywood. The track is Code 83 nickel silver by Walthers Shinohara. All turnouts are number 6 with one number 8 curved turnout. All commercial switch machines are by Tortoise. Jack used NCE Digital Command Control. All buss wires and track connections are soldiered or with suitcase connectors. The railroad is divided into four districts for better operation. All turnouts are controlled by toggle switches using schematics printed on the fascia. The toggles lineup with the turnouts on the layout itself.
Example of a Situations Card
· Pick-up engine 2099 from engine service track
· Pick-up 5 empty hoppers from gravel track
· Pick-up caboose from caboose track
· Proceed to Sweetwater
· Exchange 5 empty hoppers for 5 loaded hoppers
· Proceed back to Mojave
· Set out caboose on caboose track
· Set out 5 loaded hoppers on gravel track
· Spot engine on engine service track
As an operator, I really enjoy Jack's flawless operations. All of his equipment, scenery and operating scheme are well thought out. For model operators such as myself, I really enjoy putting myself into the scenes and living a day on the railroad as someone such as he has created.
Jack's attention to detail is that of beauty. Along with Lynda's talents in creating the backdrops, he brings the scene into a 3 dimensional world that is both believable and very photogenic.
I only wish my skills and talents could come close to what Jack has created. To answer your question as to whether or not his railroad is magazine quality, the answer is an overwhelming YES. I have seen many layout spreads in the model magazines that are only partially scened and/or operating. Jack’s layout is not only fully scened but is fully operational as a scale model of a real world railroad. Many in the magazine have only a few areas that are highly detailed, Jack’s has detail in every inch.
Shelton, Campbell, Auburn, CA
I really enjoyed operating Jack's railroad. It is a joy to run with all the switching involved. No problem having a two plus hour operating section.
Bob, Sacramento, CA
On my second time on the railroad I am still finding interesting scenery with easy operation. This is a beautiful layout.
Ron, Auburn, CA
Jack has helped me with his knowledge, expertise and energy for modeling. I have drawn on his wealth of ideas and experience in constructing my layout. He has assisted me in building my layout and we are now in the process of planning operating sessions. His layout is unique to the era he chose and it reflects when viewing the structures and scenery Jack has brought to life. His operating sessions are very enjoyable and is an inspiration and idea building experience.
Brian Lerche, Penn Valley, CA .
Meet Jack Murphy
Jack is a retired school teacher and basketball coach (thus the email: email@example.com) who lives in Grass Valley, CA with his wife Lynda. They have two children, six grandchildren, three great grandchildren. Jack is also an avid hunter and fisherman. He would like to thank Lynda for painting the backdrops, Gordon Briggs, Brian Lerche, and Jerry Westfall for all their time and effort to create the ATSF Sierra Northern Railroad.
Jack has enjoyed living in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains for over 50 years. Because of Jack's love of design and building homes he built two other railroads over the years. With each move meant each layout had to be torn down leaving only the rolling stock and structures to move to the next location. Moving to his current home he converted a three car garage, taking two-thirds of the garage for his railroad the other one-third his wife insisted she needed for her car. He put up stud walls dividing the space then added insulation and drywall. Next he installed electrical outlets and lighting. Jack saved lumber from the previous railroad to build the open grid and L-girder construction that supports the layout. The ATSF Sierra Northern Division is the smallest of the three railroads he has built, but has more detail and operation than the previous two plans.