The Big River Diorama featuring Hellsgate Dam

When we designed the layout we decided we needed two rivers. After looking at all the rivers along the Mendocino Coast we decided that “our” two would be Noyo (for its proximity to Fort Bragg) and Big River in Mendocino because, we learned, that it had been dammed. Club Member Earl Craighill lives in Mendocino and he knew of this book:

Cover of Big River was Dammed Book

Having read the book it was agreed that a “simple” dam based on Hellsgate Dam would suit our purposes:

Hellsgate Dam not being used to let logs through

The decision was made to place “our” dam as far back as possible to leave as much room as possible for sceniking the river.

Big River under construction

This pic was taken after the A-Frame bridge over Big River for the dogbone Skunk Line had been put in place

A Frame bridge over Big River

The tree trunks in the above photo did not last line as we decided to extend the spur line that was to feed the loading area should be extended. By doing this we could put a pile driver on the extension to show the trestle being built.

New trestle under construction leading from the loading area

The static model of an early shay in the above picture was built from scratch by my (now deceased) friend Colin Davies. Colin’s wife said that he and I were a bad act. We thought about that for a bit and decided we were partners in the Bad Axe Lumber Co. I know – a very bad pun. My part in this gorgeous model building effort was to find the original plans.

The Carpenter’s Barn soon after we moved in in 2011 – home of our Mendocino Model Railroad & Navigation G Scale Railroad

I was sure that I took a whole bunch of photos of the outside of the Carpenter’s Barn when we first moved in. Well, if I did they are gonzo. This is the only one I can find. It’s not right at the beginning because Bill Shepherd has installed the new door.

The outside of the Carpenter’s Barn in early 2011

Ground Cover and Ballast for the New Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Navigation Co.

When we started building our layout in 2011 we had little money. Club Members dug into their own pockets to supply locos, rolling stock and track. Ballast and ground cover were not high on the list of priorities.

There were many brainstorming sessions in the early days and someone came up with the idea of using pigeon grit and sawdust for ballast and ground cover. None of us had ever used either before. President Phil Miller dropped into the feed store and for a very modest price came up with a 5lb bag of grit. Sawdust was an easy “get”. Phil used the grit as ballast and we all agreed that whilst not perfect it was a heck of a lot better than nothing. Phil used white glue to “cement” the grit in place.

We sieved the sawdust using one of my wife’s sieves – she did get it back. It took several tries to come up with a “something” to hold it in place and make it look real. Our answer was to spread the sawdust on top of wood glue and then, when dry, us a pipette to drop on a mixture of green paint, water and Elmers glue. We agreed, again, that something was better than nothing. Have a look for yourself.

Ballasting using pigeon grit and sawdust for ground cover.


Ground Cover made from sawdust

The first churches of the Mendocino Coast Model Railroad and Navigation Company

The Club’s first church was one made of tin. It was acquired from one of the local charity shops. The roof, as they say, was more wholly than godly. The leaking roof was “fixed” by adding strips of emery cloth and pretending it was tar paper. You can see the result on the right of the photo below ……..

The tin church

When we got the Barn there was nowhere for it. As soon as there was a platform on the north east outside it was plonked there. The weather in Fort Bragg is wet, windy and we are close to the sea. Everything rusts ……. as did the church and, sadly, it went in file 13.

The current church – see picture below – I built from two Micheals cheapie buildings glummed together and plastered with white paint.

Church installed on the inside upper level north east corner

The roof, like the tin one, is strips of emery cloth. To the right of the church is the graveyard. Originally there were two gravestones – “Here lies Fred, he’s dead,” and “Here lies Sue, she’s dead too.” The whole diorama has been significantly improved since this early on picture was taken.

The long term plan is to install a loudspeaker in the church. We will have a sound card and a push button to activate the music. My personal choice is for one of these two pieces of music:

When IT happens ……. I’ll blog it.


The early days of the Skunk Train Depot

Club Member Jeff Pratt really enjoyed building card stock models. Soon after he joined he offered to recreate the Skunk Train Depot in the colours it existed at the time (2012). He created a masterpiece and it was our piece de resistance for quite a while. Alas, this was the only model Jeff built. He contracted leukemia and died about 18 months after its completion. Whilst Jeff’s model was not prototypically accurate it is so good it fools people to this day. Have a look …….


The very first days in the Carpenter’s Barn – early 2013

We got the keys to the CWR’s Carpenters’ Barn in January 2013. This is the first picture that I took of what was to become the Club’s (Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society) layout. The picture was taken looking toward the north end.

View inside the Barn on the day we received the keys

The first job was to replace the south side east door which was a mess.

Old Carpenters barn door being removed

Bill Shepherd built the club a new door from reclaimed wood. Here it is on the back of his truck.

New ADA compliant door made of reclaimed wood and hinges arriving at the Carpenters Barn

Here it is installed.

The new Barn Door built by Bill Shepherd

A beautiful new hasp was made for the door.

New hasp for our new door made by Bill Shepherd a club member

The window above the new door was more missing than present. It was our second remedial task.

Basil helping Bill fix the gaping holes above the new door to the outside. That’s Deb Smith offering advice.

The next step was to set up our master plan so that it could be referred to readily:

The master plan on its stand

This pic shows the plan on the newly painted floor and generally cleaned up Barn.

Cleaned up Barn

And the outside ……. in need of lots of work.

The Barn with the new door installed with ADA compliant access


Basil Casdabon’s Santa Fe Consist in August 2013

These pictures were taken in August of 2013. Our club didn’t have a website or blogs back then. I was not even the historian – a gentleman named Louis Hough held the position and he didn’t have a computer. Sounds like the dark ages doesn’t it?

The good news is that I did have a Kodak brownie and snapped a lot of pics which I have just unearthed. These are pertinent to today. We built our new 65 foot by 23 foot oval of track (The AGNR – Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere Railroad) to be able to run the likes of Basil’s Santa Fe consist – see here.

These (I think?) pics were taken on the day Basil tried out his beautiful new train.

Narrow Gauge

The track we use is standard G-gauge – 45 mm between the rails. Virtually all out locomotives and diesels are 1:22.5 which means that what they are running on is really narrow gauge (approx. three feet) track. Our 1:29 locomotives (we have a few) do see our track as standard gauge. We try to be prototypically accurate but ……… The problem is that, as far as we know, there were no narrow gauge railroads from Gualala to Rockport – they were all standard gauge (4 feet 8 1/2 inches) or bigger (five feet siux inches in Gualala).

Bothersome but not tragic and we haven’t been caught out yet! Help is at hand though. The book, Redwood Railways, tells the story of the North Pacific Coast Railroad (NPC) which was one of the forty predecessor railroads of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The NPC at its zenith ran from Sausalito to Duncan Mills at the mouth of the Russian River – see map. And, very important, it was narrow gauge – three feet to be exact.

NPC Railroad Map

Duncan Mills is in Sonoma County and not Mendocino County, which is the area we model. But, but, but, the next biggish community down the coast from Gualala (which is in Mendocino County) is Duncan Mills so by stretching the “truth” a bit we can say there was a narrow gauge logging railroad nearby – which is good enough to “legitimize” our layout!