© December 7, 2010
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My five year project
Written by Laurence Johnson
While laying track to the back door of our house, it occurred to me that I would need to build a wye to keep from backing up to return to the oval which was the center of my back yard train activity.
In laying out the wye, I saw that the southern leg would extend over the buried electric power lines feeding my house. Having dealt with this problem before, my only recourse was to build another bridge which could be set aside while the power company trenched in a new line at some future date. I cribbed up the track approach to this structure, yet to be designed and built. This was the summer and fall of 2005. When asked where the track would go after crossing this “yet to be built bridge”, I just kind of waved my hand and gestured to the west end of my lot and the woods and responded by saying: “out there.” It was March of 2006 before I came up with a finished blueprint of a “Warren Truss" bridge and December before I could afford to buy the necessary steel. After the weather somewhat settled down I began cutting and welding toward the end of January of 2007. The bridge would be too large to weld up in the shop, so I moved outside and began fabrication. Unfortunately, frozen welding rod doesn’t work for sour apples!. After I got the Warren Truss set in place I spent the balance of that construction season finishing the northern approach, which is the outer two legs of the wye. The approaches were contained by railroad cross ties. The push westward began in the summer ’08. Large rock and concrete chunks were dumped into the approach cone, followed by coarse rock, and then road gravel and track work. The following winter was spent researching ideas and drawing plans of rail crossings. I don’t dig dirt! And there are several designs out there for 7-1/2 inch gauge crossings — all involve digging. Concrete with imbedded steel for track and reinforcement, gravel with imbedded prototypical railroad cross ties, and then there was the problem of draining this excavation (plus how to get a machine-for-free to do the digging). We use that pathway in my backyard, during winter and summer, to carry wood to my wood pile and woodshed using tractors and trailers and trucks, as well as other tasks involving the Scout Cabin. Sometimes, we drive the car around the west side of the house over to the barn; again, year round. Then it came to me: use the steel bridge tread plates I had been saving for an undesignated project(s); cut the sheets lengthwise and just lay them on the ground beneath the rail using steel cross ties welded on the bottom side of my groovy track. Wet or dry, frozen or not, this was an all season crossing that we could even drive the lawn mower over without much trouble during the summer. I also mostly completed the crossing and a makeup yard in front of the train shed in 2009.
This spring, I built a heavy duty switch using 3/8 inch flat stock for rail and 2 x 4’ cross ties (read article).
About the time I had completed the switch (above), the typical Midwestern spring with its wet weather with lots of showers had given way to a massive storm with over three inches of rain in one hour. That downpour flooded the woods and around the “Scout Cabin”. I had staked the proposed right of way late during the previous fall. My plans were to lay the track just inside the woods and here was water flowing into and out of the woods. Granted, this was a 100 year flood, but I would now need to plan for a rail line that could handle a lot of water through both sides of the proposed project (click any small image to enlarge). While working for the county highway, I had learned you take the water as it flows and deal with it. The more you bend it or channel it, the more problems you have. The pathway through the woods from the Scout Cabin to the south side of the woods was rivulet flow during that rain storm and on either side of the pathway was sheet flow through the woods. I used 2 x 4’s set on their sides to allow for water flow and support the track on the north side of the woods and C-channel box culverts on either side of the path. I lowered the track grade at the pathway to allow for over topping of high water and will add 4 x 4s on the down slope side to contain and protect the gravel ballast. But the large area on the south east portion of my track expansion will require some sort of a bridge (click any small image to enlarge).. I had six sheets of OSB plywood left over from the construction of the Scout Cabin. I had four sheets for the sides and the rest, plus additional scraps of OSB and plywood for the ends and roof laying around that would make a good looking covered bridge, sixteen feet long. As I began to closely look at the lay of the ground and the vertical distances from the proposed rail head to the sloping ground, I realized I would need more than just sixteen feet of bridge work. I got to measuring and realized the gravel would be wider at the base than I had flat to sloping ground for. If I only used one bridge section I would need to shovel ballast into the ditch on the south side and maybe up onto the back slope. I could purchase 100 feet or so of plastic fixable drainage pipe and cover it with gravel at a depth half way up the back slope of the ditch; and that would require another semi load of gravel or two just for that section of track. Too much money! I’d been scrounging steel beams of all sorts and sizes for a rainy day and this was the rainy day. I took stock of the lengths of steel and the “gap” of the ground and ended up making a six section bridge way some 64’ long. I also had several 7 x 7 inch square maple beams ten feet long, so I figured that I might as well add a wooden bridge section to the steel sections and came up with a “Warren Truss Pony Bridge” on the east end of the covered bridge. I also had a 14’ length of a steel Howe Truss Pony Bridge that I added to the west end of the covered bridge. Then, using several lengths of three inch, four inch, and seven inch C-channel and I-beam sections, I could add to the overall length plus support the horizontal curved sections of the track west of the covered bridge. For the abutments and piers I used a collection of 4 x 6 inch green treat timbers and H-Pile cutoffs all held in place with steel rebar stakes. Next spring I plan to put in a lighted block signal system to regulate traffic flow across the back yard plus whistle signs for the pathway crossings in the woods. But for now, I can move my trains the whole length from the 650’ oval south east of the house yard and north of the barn, into the side yard past the eighth scale barn and farmhouse; along the east side of the wye into the back yard and then down a 6% grade into the woods south of the Scout Cabin looping around and back east toward and through the Covered Bridge and returning up into the back yard a distance of 2,000 feet. Here you can see the east end of my crossing (above left). The ballast on the south side of the track is currently left open until I can protectively encase the wires from the crossing back up grade to the Warren Truss Bridge. I will do this encasing this fall and, if weather permits, I will cover it with ballast.
This journey, at 20 to 35 scale miles per hour, takes about seven or eight minutes and makes for a fun ride for this engineer and any guests that might drop by.
Written by Laurence Johnson
Laurence Johnson is the author of: "CAD Drawings for the Live Steam Hobby"
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