Branch Line Construction

The Buena Vista Branch, looking south east. Spreckels will be located to the immediate left, along the back wall.

Construction on the layout has officially begun. It’s been a year since I first began documenting this project, though I had been dreaming it up for some time prior to that. It’s exciting to finally get to this stage. While I had more or less locked in a track plan a while back, I had to wait for some other things to finish before beginning construction. Most recently, that’s included purging the basement, and finishing up a project for this year’s Pacific Southwest Region NMRA Convention. With those tasks behind me, I decided to jump headfirst into benchwork. 

Before doing that, I needed to decide where to start. I have been rethinking a portion of the track plan, unsure if I’m completely comfortable with the proximity of Watsonville and Moss Landing. As it is now, a train would leave one town and enter the other almost instantly. So much for trying to recreate a sparse, low key, narrow gauge railroad. With the northern end of the railroad still up in the air, I decided to focus my attention on the southern end – the Buena Vista Branch.

My version of the Buena Vista Branch aims to replicate the feel of the prototype, even if it doesn’t mirror the track route perfectly. The railroad will cross the Salinas River, and head west along the south bank. I’ll add a switch, per the prototype, after the river crossing where the track will begin its journey eastward. It won’t get far, as there’s a wall in the way. I don’t believe there were any stops along the western leg of the branch, though I may relocate one from the east to create some interest. The branch was primarily used to haul sugar beets, however, it included two "gravel pits" (initially a source of ballast, later they provided rocks for the Salinas River levee protecting the sugar factory). The line also brought beet pulp to farmers, who fed it to livestock. Either of these stops would add visual interest to the line, as well as provide for additional operations.

Poplar frames, wall mounted shelf brackets, and plywood construction. A fascia will be added to hide the brackets, as will a backdrop.

The benchwork is made of 1" x 2" (actual: 1 ½” x 1”) poplar frames, with 1/8” plywood and 1” insulating foam for the scenery base. I made two frames, one for each leg of the ‘L’ shape, though they do share some lumber for rigidity. I attached these to the wall with track shelving brackets. The end result is fairly sturdy.  One leg is approximately 4’ x 1’, and the other is 5’ x 7”. I had to do some tweaks during construction, so that the brackets lined up with the wall studs. Each bracket is attached to a cross beam in the benchwork with two screws, forming a solid base.  Before attaching the plywood to the frame, I drilled two small holes through each cross beam. In the future I'll use these holes to string the wiring through. Doing this before installing the plywood saved me the headache of trying to maneuver the drill with a piece of plywood a half inch away.

All in all, getting the shelving tracks installed and building the bench work took about a day. It would have been faster, however I had to go to the hardware store about 5 times over the course of two days to get everything I needed. All said, I think that the lumber and number of supports are probably overkill for the size of the two shelves (one could easily build a solid shelf 7" deep with a piece of plywood attached to the shelf brackets.) I wanted to create a standard for construction across the layout, so while the lumber may seem too large for a 7" deep shelf, they should be just right for areas closer to 24" deep. 

Roughed in scenery. The Salinas River is in the foreground. A painted backdrop will probably be the next step.

By the end of the weekend, I was able to begin roughing in the scenery foam. I’ll discuss that at another date, though it’s fairly straight forward: cut foam with a knife. As it is now, it’s exciting to see things begin to fall into place.

Products used:
1" x 2" Poplar Dimensional Lumber
1/8" Plywood
1" Insulation Foam
Rubbermaid FastTrack Upright - 13.75"
7" Double Track Shelf Brackets
12" Double Track Shelf Brackets


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