Woodlark Central #3 – What’s the grade?

Yesterday my son and I surveyed the grade.  I setup a laser level on my camera tripod.  It was not easy making it perfectly level when rotating round and round.  Then my son rotated the level and I took measurements on a 4′ ruler mounted to a stiff 1×3.  The measurements were taken at key locations around the proposed 28 foot plan (click here to see the proposal) and entered onto a copy of the plan.  Then I entered the measurements into the plan which is drawing using XtrkCad model railroad planning software.  Finally using the profile tool, I was able to see the grades as if the railroad was laid directly onto the ground.

The Profile

Below is the profile as output from XtrkCad

Woodlark Central - Railroad ground profile of the 28 foot proposal

Woodlark Central – Railroad ground profile of the 28 foot proposali

  • The elevations are listed in inches at right
  • A problem in program (or user) means that the loop is no 100% captured.  The left side is at 16 inches, but the right is at 19 inches.
  • The missing segment is about 30 feet the goes from 19″ down to 16″ elevation.
  • The length of the RR show is 175′, but add the additional 30′, makes the overall length around 205-210′
  • The maximum grad is 3.0 percent
  • The measurements go clockwise around the loop and take the inside track (of the passing siding)
  • The shed is about 1/3 of way across the profile, the trestle will be at the lowest point, the house is at either end.


  • This is a very rough estimate.  The level was not perfect, and my son was quite eager to complete the activity, and I guessed where to measure.
  • I had though of a 12-16″ high trestle, but that would result in lots of fill.  Significant amounts of water do flow through the yard, but 8-10″ seems sufficient
  • 8-10″ is going to greatly reduce the grades and will not result in that much fill.
  • If I do not mow the lawn, then the trestle might go be hidden.  I’ll like put rocks and gravel below the trestle to impede the growth of gravel under the trestle.
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Woodlark Central #2 – Proposed design for 28′ radius

Here is a proposal for a 28′ minimum radius version of the Woodlark Central.  Click here to understand the Woodlark Central.


Woodlark Central – Proposal for 28 foot minimum radius (click to see larger version with 5’x5′ grid)


  • The house is not shown, it as at the bottom of the drawing.  The house sits 4-5 feet above ground level (basement foundation is visible), so it’s not possible to walk out to track level.
  • The other borders of the image are the property lines.
  • The passing siding is not long, maybe 200″ or so (engine and 3 cars).  I wish it were longer and the siding and mainline were parallel.
  • The inglenook would be the right end of the yard.  One could switch.
  • The spur goes into the shed, so one turnout is reused for storage in shed and switching operations
  • As the curves approach the bottom of the image, the radius increases.
  • If I want more switching a second switch could be added to the opposite side of the passing siding.
  • The shed as drawn is 6×12′
  • At this time, no proposal for gardens or plantings.
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Woodlark Central #1- Background, Givens, and Druthers

Ever since I was a boy, I’ve thought it would be cool to have my own live steam railroad.  Now that I’m a grown up, I working to put that dream into play.


When I was a boy, we’d travel back to Riverside, California where my grandfather had a track in his back yard.  It was a simple loop of 1″ scale track (probably 300+ feet around).  It contained a simple  bridge, a wye, and a turntable.  I do not remember running trains on the track (we ran at the Riverside club and later my grandfather went to 7.5″ gauge).  What I remember the most was riding flat cars around the railroad and even more exiting was to try crossing the trestle/bridge while standing on a car, a challenging and risky endeavor.  The end of the bridge was near a crab apple tree littering the yard with apples of varying degrees of decay….Standing on a flat car is harder than riding a skate board.  A skate board curves under the rider as one leans, but a flat car just goes faster away….

A second influence was the track of Dick Jackson.  My dad talks fondly of the track where he and his father first ran trains.  My father was in his late teens and my grandfather was finishing up the #300.  The track was a small loop with a passing siding and a turntable.  My dad loved the scale trestle and water tank.  The Southern California Live Steamers have two pages with photos of Dick Jackson’s home track:

  • Click here to see a photo of the yard.  I love that he hosted people at his home.  I do not think it was just “Live Steam” enthusiasts.  My grandfather and father are in this photo along with the #300.
  • Click here for a page dedicate to Dick (Richard B. Jackson).  This page shows his trestle.

Finally, my father is building his own track.  His track is not progressing as fast as I would like.  His property has a steep hill away from the house, so requires switch back to get to the bottom.  He is interested in gardening, so he has put his time to creating a garden first, then building the railroad.  Like him, I think a live steam railroad can go through an attractive garden.  His track is documented on this site too.  Click on the Backlot Railroad category at right.


  • Backyard is 76 feet deep and 87 feet wide
  • Gentle slope from front to back of 16-20″.  More drop on the right side
  • Two tall trees with  3 foot diameter trunks.  They are 10-15′ from the house and in middle of property
  • Two tall trees on the left side property boundary.  These need to be avoided
  • No fences on either side of property
  • The fence at the rear is chain link and owned by the home behind
  • The front of the house is more roughly four feet higher than the backyard.  The driveway and garage (where locos will be stored) are in front.


  • A loop of track for continuous run to give folks a ride.
  • Passing siding, so that two trains can run
  • An Inglenook Sidings puzzle built into the loop.  Inglenook is a popular model railroad switching puzzle that emulate prototype switching.  Inglenooks are much simpler than a timesaver and more realistic.  I propose it would be fun to test ones engineer abilities by performing switching operations rather than going round and round.
  • A steaming location
  • A trestle/bridge and maybe a cut
  • A railroad like shed to store garden supplies and some train cars
  • View blocks (gardens/trees) around the inside of the loop to make the ride seem like it goes farther.
  • In community with neighborhood.  To be considered a positive to my neighbors rather than a nuisance or eye sore.
  • Be in harmony with my wife.  She enjoys gardening, so this is an opportunity for use to share a hobby together.  However, she may have a higher standard for looks.
  • To host gatherings of railroad people and/or family or friends (non-railroad) where the railroad is part of the event.  Thus the backyard should become a pleasant place to be.


  • Minimum Radius – We (my dad)haveanRS3, 0-4-0, 4-6-0 that are operable and a 4-6-4 that requires a new boiler (we think).
    • The RS3, and 0-4-0 can probably do 15 foot radius and possibly down to 10 foot radius.
    • The 4-6-0 can probably do 25 foot, maybe 22 foot.  With gauge widening it might get down to 20 foot radius.
    • The 4-6-4 probably requires 28 foot radius.  The size of this loco may make it hard to get to the backyard and the track will be small for it’s size.  As such, 28 foot is being considered “nice to have”.

Parting Thoughts

I have a 9-year-old son and there are many kids in the neighborhood.  As such, my father and have decided now is a great time for the Woodlark Central.  Where as the Backlog Railroad is on an aging street without many kids and friends.


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1″ Scale Track Standards

My father wrote a web article about the 1″ scale track standards.  Read it here.

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Getting #6 Running – boiler test failed…

A few weeks after my last post (say April, 2013) we did a boiler test of #6 and it failed.  There was an ever so tiny weep inside the firebox, where the crown sheet met the boiler plate.  This was a sad and unexpected occurrence.  We had hoped to run #6 at the local track and show off how 1″ scale can be just as fun to run….However, this tiny pin-hole leak will prevent us from running at the local club track, as a passing boiler certificate is required.

It’s probably OK to run the loco in the backyard but we do not yet have enough track down to justify the firing of a steam loco….At some point in time, we’ll probably try a ginger treatment to plug the hole.  A new boiler seems out of the question, we have other locos with boilers in greater need than the #6.  2013 passed without the ginger treatment, possibly we’ll try in 2014.

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Getting #6 Running again Part 2 – Fixing a Bind

In part 1 of “Getting #6 Running again” my father and I identified a bind in the running gear.  It was clearly occurring when the right side rods were in the fore and after positions (cylinder fully extended one way or the other).  We hypothesized that old, stiff oil was in the cylinders.  That the oil was the bind.  However, when I left my father’s shop, I was not confident that was the problem or only problem so I asked around the internet and here are some of the responses I got:

  • JPM Wrote: Yes, I know. What has happened is the cylinders/rings have locked up. You need to remove snifter valves if equipped , and pour into the cylinder via the valves some liquid wrench in liquid form. I let my soak for 2-3 days when it happened to me. Then I unbolted the main rod form the piston rod on both sides. Rolled the locomotive back about 1-2 inches. The I took a piece of wood (4 inches), and placed it on the end of the piston rod, and very gently, tapped it with a hammer. Continue to do this until you have movement one direction, both sides. Then roll the loco up to reconnect the main rods. Then gently try rolling it back. Also, remember to remove the cylinder cocks so the oil and crud can come out.
  • JA Wrote: Since the locomotive has been in storage for several years I would put money on rust in the cylinders. If built correctly there is not much clearance between the piston and cylinder. When the locomotive was put into storage there was probably a drop or two of water left in the cylinders. Over time this builds a bump of rust which on full sized locomotives is no big deal, however on these small models it is a big deal. I would recommend not running the locomotive until you find out what the problem is and fix it otherwise damage to parts may occur. I would recommend removing the front cylinder head and take a peek inside. If there is rust inside or oil clumps like you thought remove the piston from the crosshead and clean the cylinders by scraping the rust or oil out, hone the rust spots out using a small brake hone. Clean the cylinders by flushing with Brakleen and compressed air. Be sure to check the piston rings to ensure they are free on the pistons. oil and reassemble. Ensure that the piston-crosshead relationship is the same as it was when it came apart. you may also want to inspect the valve ports and related surfaces. I have worked on locomotives where the rust is 1/16″ deep after the locomotive was stored with water under the valves for several years. Best of luck, let me know if you have any other questions.
  • HM Wrote: Hopefully the cylinders aren’t rusted or were seized initially, may need cylinders bored out and new rings.

  • MR Wrote: Definitely sounds like seized pistons, had it happen to me several times. If the heads and rings are cast iorn this will happen if stored and not well oiled. Try taking the heads off and tap on the cylinders with something soft. It should be okay unless the cycliners are badly pitted.

  • JY Wrote: You might try putting come oil in the cylinders through the cylinder cocks. You should also check/lube the driver axle bearings if you can get to them.

  • JH Wrote: The advice you have been given by others on the Switchlist has been good. Let me add one more idea. Some oils do get gummy after many years, due to evaporation of the more volatile components. You might try getting some penetrating oil into the cylinders. It is a very, very light oil, and may dissolve some of the old gunk. Just be sure the cylinder cocks are open when you move the pistons so you don’t do any damage. If you get them moving freely flush the cylinders with more penetrating oil. Drain the oil onto a white paper towel. If it looks rusty, you better remove the cylinder heads and check for corrosion. The brand of penetrating oil I have found that works the best is Kroil. I don’t think you can get it at hardware stores. You may have to go to an industrial supply store. It comes in aerosol cans or small cans with a pour spout.

Cross-head lubricator on #6.  Oil drips from tank into lubricator.  Valve on tank controls the flow.

Cross-head lubricator on #6. Oil drips from tank into lubricator. Valve on tank controls the flow.

My father reviewed the responses and wrote the following:

Dave … I just reread these pieces of advice … they are very good …If we could get the covers off easily … or if we did have ‘snifter valves’ (or inspection holes), then I’d follow their suggestions in a minute…But, thank-goodness, I’m thinking now that #6 is just ‘gunked up’ not ‘rusted up’.

In a side email or on the phone he expressed doubt that #6’s cylinders or pistons had Iron. My memory is that he though they were bronze or maybe it was brass.  Then in another thread he responded:

I’m not convinced yet that we have a problem … I think that it just got “gummy” in the cylinder … you know when oil dries out it gets like a solid. We just have to make sure the lubricator is working so as to thin and flush out the “gummy” area. … I’ll take a look at detaching the piping from the lubricator and squirting WD40 into the fitting.

He never did remove the lubrication piping.  Instead, he simply squirted WD40 into the lubricator and continued to squirt into the cylinder cocks.  By the time I arrived the next week, all seemed good.  The loco rolled freely.  It was possible to move the drivers 360 degrees by hand.


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Getting #6 Running again Part 1 – Evaluation

I’ve been a long time model railroader.  I know little about live steam.  My father has been a long time live steamer, but had little time for the hobby when I was at home.  Recently we’ve decided to get together to work in his basement on live steam and/or machining projects.  Our first project is to get #6 operating again.  For more information about #6, click on the KVRR #6 category at right.

#6 propped up for an air test.  It has not been run in over 15 years.

#6 propped up for an air test. It has not been run in over 15 years.

For more than 15 years #6 has been stored in my parents basement.  It has been in a box, protected from the elements.  It’s not even been rolled or shown off to guests.  It has been patiently waiting for it’s next opportunity to run again.

TEST #1 – Roll the engine

The engine would not roll, it was completely locked up.  Loco would slide rather than roll.  This was not expected, as the engine is finely crafted and has always rolled freely.  Dad started squirting WD40 everywhere.  On the rods, valve gear.  Finally, he opened the cylinder cocks and began squirting into there.

After waiting 5-10 minutes and using a very forceful shoving action, the drivers turned.  10-20 more shoves back and forth and it seemed to roll mostly free.

TEST #2 – Air Test

At this time we propped the engine up, so that the drivers were not hitting the stand, then hooked up air through the pop-valve (took valve out).  We set the pressure to 40-60 lbs.  Here are the observations

  1. Air rushing sounds in multiple places
    1. Right front cylinder cock seems stuck open
    2. Injector has air coming out of it, thus check value on boiler is leaking or valve on back of cab is leaking.  Besides the obvious reason that the leaks will impact efficiency, my dad says the leaks will result in the injector getting hot and injectors need to be cold to operate or operate well.
    3. The packing gland for the throttle is leaking (this was clear when we put soapy water around the glad while attempting to identify exact leaks)
    4. Top valve on the water glass is leaking .. just a little (not perceived to be an issue)
  2. When throttle was opened, drivers seemed to bind when right side rod was exactly in forward/after positions (piston fully extended)

Next post I’ll continue with evaluation and resolution of the problems.  The objective is to prepare for a boiler test, followed by a steam up on the stand.

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