Making Work Fun

I suspect that on any model railroad, there are times when you just have to re-do something. This is especially true when your empire contains segments that are older than the average horse. Just a figure of speech, of course; I have no horses, average or otherwise, and don’t really care to research what the average equine age might be. In my case, if I had a 33-year old horse, it would be the same age as my Tunnel 29 scene.

Back in that era I thought that a 24-inch radius curve was generous to the extreme, and I thought nothing of reverse curves. Heck, I hadn’t even heard the term. My layout, such as it was, was a intended to hug the walls of a spare bedroom, and this piece fit the corner between the closet door and the window. But life and a second child intervened, who selfishly wanted that room for herself, so out came the Plywood Pacific. A couple years and one house-addition later, the components were reinstalled in a new room, and it was time to put in some scenery. I cleverly cast a cliff face out of plaster to represent the scar left by the daylighting of a tunnel (Tunnel 28 on the Moffat line). It was beautiful. It was realistic. It was too close to the tracks! Dang it. Sadly I demolished it and cast another cliff further back from the right-of-way, and this time I was able to get most of my equipment past it without scraping the wall.

Fast-forward 25 years or so, when the Tunnel 29 scene has now been incorporated into an expanded La Plata Division. During those 25 years I’ve been running trains with cars as long as 89′, and most of them clear the cliff okay, with only the occasional bump, seldom serious enough to, say, derail the car. I could live with that until I scored a couple of Rivarossi steam locomotives and a brass business car. Turns out that all of these had more overhang than anything I’d heretofore run on the line. The steamers wouldn’t clear at ALL.

I was going to have to scale back the cliff face. No two ways about it.

Which meant that the above-mentioned equipment sat in boxes while I summoned the energy to tackle the project.

This is where my wife’s brilliance comes in. One evening a couple years later I was describing what needed to be done, and she suggested I have some fun with it. I should treat it like an actual construction project, using scale equipment and workers, and take photos of the whole process. Brilliant, say I, as I immediately began scouring ebay for 1:87 earthmoving equipment. I quickly scored a front-end-loader (FEL) and a trackhoe, and even a box of pre-painted worker figures. After I built a ramp to unload the equipment from flatcars (based on the real ramps the Rio Grande used to offload its sideboom dozers), I was ready to break things!


So, sometime around 1990 the D&RGW began noticing rock raveling from a cut high in the tunnel district. (This kind of thing was quite common.) They decided to scale back the unstable face of the cut and reinforce the face, to prevent rock from coming down on the track.  A bid was solicited for the work and let to a local firm.  The job was scheduled, a crew and work train assembled, and dispatch was informed to grant track-and-time windows for the job.  Since this would completely stop traffic on the busy line while work progressed, the sequencing was carefully planned and all crews prepped for speed and safety.  There would be nobody leaning on shovels on this job!


The work train rolls west through Fireclay on its way to the jobsite. A trusty tunnel motor was assigned as power.
The job foreman is riding the front porch as the train arrives at the site.
The job foreman gets off the engine to discuss plans with the lead blaster and the project engineer.
Here the train has pulled forward in preparation for unloading the machinery. The trackhoe is lifting the loading ramp from the MOW car. The right-of-way is quite confined in this area and the machines must unload off the end of the flatcar, which means separating the train during the process.
Now the train has been divided and the trackhoe is creeping down the unloading ramp.
Once the trackhoe is clear, the FEL rolls off the old 86′ flatcar.
After the machines are off, the train reassembles and moves a mile west to the Pinecliffe house track where it will park for most of the job.
Here the blasters are laying out the shot, marking each drillhole site.

I bet you thought you were going to see me blow up my model railroad here, didn’t you!

Nope. The blaster foreman cited some obscure OSHA reg that prohibits photographers from standing in the way of a shot. Thanks to that, we missed the fireworks.

Sorry. All you get is the aftermath. A few feet of the outer face of the wall have been shattered and have tumbled down onto the right-of-way. The trackhoe has already been busy moving rubble off the rails. (Rather than lift the rails, the project managers decided to just leave them in place and see if they survived, which if they did would save some time.)
The FEL has been busy at the other end of the rockfall, loading debris into…
… a cut of gondolas that have been brought up for site cleanup.
The trackhoe has been keeping busy clearing the right-of-way. Trains are holding at each end of the system to pass through. The rock can be moved off to the side and loaded out later.
The rubble heap is growing smaller now. Somewhere the road foreman has been growing impatient, and the contractor has been feeling the heat to get it done…
Another car is loaded. The work train will take this down to the house track at Crescent and come back with more empties. Unfortunately in this area, room is sparse and so are the sidings.

Notice how the freshly-exposed rock is lighter than the older, weathered face. Years of train soot have turned the native rock darker. It won’t be long before this new scar begins to blend in.

The work engine is pulling out the last rubble cars for the day. The cleanup will continue for another day or so but the ROW is effectively cleared now. The section gang is inspecting the track for damage and checking the gauging before giving the all-clear to the dispatcher.
Later the work engine has brought a couple of gondolas down to Plainview, where they will be parked on the house track for later collection by a local freight.
The conductor, after setting the brakes on the gons, is cutting off the engine, which will then back out of the house track (pushing part of the work
And there they wait, two gondolas full of rock, in no particular hurry to go anywhere…
Quittin’ time! After a hard but satisfying day’s work, the loader operator climbs down and waits for a ride up to Pinecliffe and the van ride home. As a private contractor, he’s not very interested in spending the night in the section bunk car.
All clear! There will be a bit of janitoring of the worksite before the job is finalized, but the railroad is open again. In a few days the work train will return and load up the earth-movers.

And that is how I turned a necessary modification task into an organic part of the imaginary life of the La Plata Division. Job successfully completed! *

* No plastic people were harmed in the making of this blog post.

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