The 10' x 15' HO Scale Donner Summit layout was started in 2009 and delivered to a valued customer in California in 2010 as a benchwork, track and running train project. The layout's concept was to capture the Southern Pacific's original route over Donner Summit yet incorporate many of the modern elements found there today. This freestanding layout features a 4 track lower level hidden staging yard representing both Roseville, CA and Sparks, NV. A covered turntable was also installed representing SP operations in Norden, CA. I have been back to California every summer since delivery to work on the layout.
The track used is code 83 Micro Engineering weathered flex track and Walther's turnouts on cork roadbed. The track was spiked down through the ties resulting in a virtually undetectable look and all curves were super-elevated. The track plan is for continuous running of trains and block wired for multi-train DC operation with DCC and a signal system to be installed at a later time. Under the table Tortoise switch machines handle turnout control and were operated from fascia mounted toggle switches. This layout was designed and built in 6 sections to be easily transported on a custom rack and was re-assembled at the customer’s location.
2015 Donner HO Layout Progress Photos
2015's focus was primarily on the unfinished Norden side of the layout. Once the Norden side had it's terrain in place, the entire layout received an initial rough-in painting of the backdrops, terrain coverage with dirt and low ground cover, ballast, and test placements of trees. Many trees will be needed to fully capture the look and feel of Donner Pass.
A pair of Southern Pacific GP-9's works it's way past the Norden covered turntable facility.
Overview photo of the newly covered terrain base at Norden.
Covered turntable structure at Norden.
Progress photo testing a combination of various store bought and scratch made trees around Tunnels 13 and 42.
Shed 47 photo looking west. The first phase of painting in the backdrop's general shape sure added a lot of depth to each scene. Some newly finished retaining walls and rock were completed and installed on both sides of Shed 47's entrances.
Photo of Shed 47's west entrance.
An eastboud freight approaches Shed 47 from the west.
Overview photo of the track arrangement leading to the flyover at Eder. Track 1 is the track on the left that passes over Track 2 and Tunnel 41's east portal.
Another eastbound freight exits Tunnel 41 on track 2 headed for Reno.
Closer view of Tunnel 41's east portal.
Tunnel 6's east snowshed on Donner Summit. The initial layers of tallus and debris have been added.
Donner Summit Tunnel 7's west entrance.
Donner Summit Tunnel 7's east entrance.
Donner Summit Tunnel 8 and the infamous Chinese walls.
2014 Donner HO Layout Progress Photos
2014 mostly saw rock work started on the Summit side of the layout. The rock and terrain detail work is a combination of foam carved rock faces and Woodland Scenics' Mold-A-Scene plaster. The rock was stained with many applications of various tones of acrylic washes. Before coming out to work on the layout, I also had the opportunity to build a mock up structure of the Norden covered turntable building. It's a cardstock temporary model with scratch built wood truss supports, and has low voltage interior lighting. Knowing it could be a while before I get to a more detailed and final model, this one was built with an extra bit of detail inside. The scene at the Norden end of the layout will be worked on in 2015. Ballast and more scenery work will be done then as well.
A pair of Southern Pacific locomotives exiting the Summit Tunnel 6 heading east.
An overview photo of this year's completed terrain and rock work on the Summit between Tunnels 7 and 8.
An overview photo of the Summit of Tunnels 6 and 7.
Close-up photo of Tunnel 8 all weathered and installed.
Eye level photo of the Chinese Walls.
The vehicle underpass just east of Tunnel 7.
Tunnel 7 shown here with the newly finished terrain and rock work.
Tunnel 7's west entrance showing the new searchlight signal electrical conduit that lays across its roof.
Tunnel 6 shed in place with all the rock work completed around it.
The Norden end of the layout shown here will be worked on in 2015. This is a temporary model of the covered turntable structure. This scene will be modeled as if you were looking at it here from the south. The fascia will also be added once the final terrain elevations have been established along the front edge.
Here is a photo of SP4807 taking a spin on the turntable inside the building. The panels on the front of the building can be removed to expose the interior. A small office was added as seen in the back of the building and had an interior light installed.
2013 Donner HO Layout Progress Photos
The Donner saw plenty of work this year. Backdrops were painted and installed, the scenery foam had been plaster clothed and earth-tone stained, all snow sheds, portals and retaining walls were all finished up with details, weathered and worked into the scenery in their final positions.
Overview photo of the Shallenberger Ridge side of the layout.
Overview of the Donner Summit side of the layout.
Overview photo of the Eder side of the layout.
The Andover Tunnels 13 & 42 have been completed and set in place.
Shed 47 looking from the east. There are still additional details that need to be added around the entrances but the basic shed is complete. It does cover a turnout but will be able to be removed for ballasting of the track and any maintenance.
Shed 47's east entrance. Signals, ladders and railings were all custom scratch made from brass. The signals are all wired and will be operational in the future.
The west end of Shed 47 received similar detail treatment as the east end.
A quick photo of the scratch made brass signals before they were installed.
Shed 47's wall panel details. Note that they all have some different details on and carved into them, just as the prototype does.
Shed 47's roof profiles, as well as the nut & bolt detailing and wire lift rings. It's ready for weathering.
Tunnel 41's portal shed at the Eder flyover just after it was placed.
Here is a photo of the scratch built signal that is installed inside Tunnel 41's portal shed. The milepost sign just needs to be added to it and it will be ready to go. This signal will be functional once installed.
Tunnel 8 and the Chinese Walls are finally in and awaiting future rock, ground cover, trees, and ballast.
A close-up shot of Tunnel 8's interior once the interior rock work was stained.
Tunnel 8's exterior detailing and light weathering.
This photo is of Tunnel 8's large retaining wall after it was carved and before it was painted and weathered. Note that that strip of wire will be installed to resemble the electrical conduit that hangs there on the prototype.
A photo of the finished and ready to install Chinese Walls. Each were custom made in molds then hand carved.
Tunnel 7 overview photo showing all roof lift rings and nut & bolt detail is done.
Tunnel 7 photographed from the east end.
Here is a photo of Tunnel 7 set in place on the layout. It too has a signal inside that will be wired up and functional, and still is removable for track ballasting. Rock work will cover the terrain around it.
A photo looking west through Tunnel 7 with the roof panels off. Here you can see the interior rock work, and the searchlight signal that will be installed.
Tunnel 6 now set in place with its side bracing fabricated, painted and weathered.
Tunnel 6 with its wall and roof detailing as it sits ready for weathering on my studio workbench.
2012 Donner HO Layout Progress Photos
This year didn't see a trip out west for me, but I still had plenty to do in my studio on the snow sheds, portals and walls that needed to be finished up.
This photo is of Tunnel 13 showing the smooth concrete wall tunnel liners that I fabricated. Tunnel 42 also got the same style of smooth liner. You can also see that the exterior of the liner received the appropriate details as well.
Tunnel 41's portal has received its roof panel and all the concrete foundations have been painted. This tunnel still needs the signal that sits inside fabricated as well as the three wood walls that go in those open gaps between the columns.
Even though this shed is not as long as the real Shed 47, I still captured the basics of the way the shed was constructed. Again, this was a compressed version of the shed, but every attempt was made to build it with accurate detailing.
This photo is of the east end of Shed 47.
Here I am again testing clearances of the trains on Shed 47. The prototype actually does not have two tracks exiting this end, but does protect a turnout from the deep winter snow. This shed will also be covering a turnout on the layout.
Tunnel 6 shown here is has been painted and is ready for its roof and wall details. There are five steel side supports that are bracing the first half of this shed on the real one. These will be fabricated once they are in place and will be worked into the scenery.
This photo shows the newly built roof sections for Tunnel 8. This portal is ready for further detailing.
Here you can see the how the interior of Tunnel 8's concrete beams and posts were built into and around the rock work.
This little shed was a scale mock-up that I did as a sample showing what a finished shed would look like. It has had windows cut in, wall details carved, roof holes drilled out, and interior wall lift rings added.
2011 Donner HO Layout Progress Photos
2011 mostly saw most work back in my studio, but I did get out to the layout do some test fitting of all the accessories I'd be working on, in preparation for installation in 2012. A nice trip was also made up at Donner to take more photos and take final measurements.
This model of Tunnel 41's east portal is coming along nicely. The tunnel if fabricated using styrene and MDF.
Here we see the west end of Shed 47 being set up to test how things are fitting. The white block of foam will be carved to match the terrain that exists inside this section of the tunnel.
This photo shows the foam I mentioned above inside Shed 47, after it was carved and plaster clothed. Details found inside the shed were also added.
Donner's old track 1 never saw modern double stack activity. Here in this photo, I am checking the clearances of Tunnel 6.
Tunnel 7's west shed gets some fine detailing carved into it. Each wall section on every shed were put in place one at a time so each has cast recesses for anchor bolts, and either lift rigs or holes. Some walls had windows as well. Note that the roof sections also were precast and some panels were made with holes in them to keep them lightweight.
Tunnel 7's east end with foam glued inside and ready for carving.
Here is a shot of Tunnel 7 looking into it from the east. This tunnel is built into the rock. The walls that hold up the roof were cast onto the profile of the rock. This whole structure once installed, will look as if it's built into the rock as well.
Tunnel 8 as it is getting fabricated.
The interior of Tunnel 8's shed is a pretty complex series of concrete beams and posts. Rock work will be done behind the posts that are just to the right of the tracks.
2010 Donner HO Layout Progress Photos
Below are photos of the Donner Summit after delivery. Foam was stacked and carved, and the temporary models of the showsheds, portals, walls and other elements that I worked on earlier in the year, were test fit.
This and the following shot are of the Donner Summit section of the layout. I have built some scale mock-ups of the elements that I'll be building for this layout. This shot has the train coming out of Tunnel 8, and includes the large retaining walls which are known as the "Chinese Walls".
This a photo study of the gap between the Summit Tunnel 6 and Tunnel 7, which is sometimes referred to as the "hump-back" tunnel due to it's unique shape.
Tunnel 7 shown here has been built to the actual measurements I took and then was proportionally compressed.
A quick temporary version of the vehicle underpass that exists just east of Tunnel 7.
These are the west protals of the Andover Tunnels 13 and 42.
This side of the layout will be the Summit section of the layout. Now that had had all the foam laid and carved, each scene is starting to come together. Note that all the previous models have been worked in to test their fit.
This photo is of the Shallenberger Ridge side of the layout.
The Eder end of the layout. Shallenberger Ridge, above Donner Lake is on the left and the Summit section is on the left.
This is a photo looking from the Eder end of the layout at Norden end. This end will get some work done in the future.
Test fitting of tunnel 13 and 42's western portals. The cuts in the foam behind the portals will allow me to fit in the tunnel liners. I will be making custom fabricated smooth-finished concrete wall liners for both tunnels, just like the ones found on the prototype.
Here we can see the flyover at Eder taking shape.
2009 Donner HO Layout Progress Photos
Below are photos of the Donner Summit layout that were taken during the benchwork build in 2009. The build took about 3 1/2 months and was completed in November. After completion, it was disassembled, put on a custom rack and moved into storage unitl the scheduled delivery to California in late summer of 2010.
This is a general overview photo of the layout just after completion in November 2009. This layout was primarily a "benchwork and running train" project that will allow the customer to do the scenery themselves. In this particular case, I will be doing the scenery on this layout after it has been delivered and set up at the customer's location next year.
The track on the left is the old original track 1 that ended up on the summit and creates the flyover at Eder. The inside track is the newer track 2 which will head into tunnel 41, which is also known as the "Big Hole".
This locomotive is approaching the crossover that will be covered by Shed 47 above Donner Lake. It's technically on track #2 while the rest of its train is still in tunnel 41. Packing Donner Summit in HO scale into a 10' x 15' layout was a challenge and required some creativity. The concept worked out pretty darn well and covered all the elements the customer wanted to include.
These are my test locomotives and cars running a sting of cars over what will be the infamous Donner summit location between tunnel's 6 and tunnel 8. These trains would be heading westbound as the loco in the foreground is a pusher.
A Walther's 130' turntable was the choice for this layout. It will one day be covered by Nordens' covered turntable building. A fine operating unit that's easy to install and program.
Tortoise Switch machines wired to DPDT switches power the turnout's movement.
This took some pretty complex benchwork to make this relatively small layout handle the track plan and the scenic demands.
The following 3 photos are of the switch panels I made for the turnouts and for turning on and off track power but also for switching the turnouts. They are all made from black opaque acrylic and have white vinyl cut graphics.
Nordens' panel also had a section cut out so the Walther's turntable control box count be inserted into it.
This panel handles all the track power for the hidden staging yards.
The Donner layout fully disassembled, racked and ready for delivery.