EJC’s Betsy Ross Railroad

I started building scale model Railroads when I was 14. I started with a 4’x8′ sheet of plywood in the basement and later, added another 4’x4′ on one end. I used Lionel O27 track and trains. I still have a coal loader that I bought with $13 hard earned $$! I had to save a bunch from the jobs I had delivering papers, setting pins in a bowling alley (this way way before automated pin setters came to be) and even caddying at the local golf course (again, before golf carts or even wheeled carriers for the golf bags). to get that loader So, I was pretty happy to have it. After I got through high and went to college, I read that old Lionel sets were actually worth something, so I came back home and went down in the basement and discovered all the train stuff was gone. I asked my dad what happened to it, and he said he needed the space and so he took it all apart. I groaned, and he said “Don’t worry, I put all the train stuff in a box. It’s out in the old playhouse.” I thought that was great until I got out the box. Dad had packed all the cars (which were made ffrom plastic) on the bottom and the heavy engines on the top. As a result, all the plastic cars were twisted and deformed from the heavy weight engines! Fortunately, the coal loader was reasonably OK, so I just ordered a new rubber conveyor belt. Here’s a picture of it.

   Then, after going to a few colleges/universities (3), and coming to California, I started with a n-scale  layout that fit in the living room (see previous post) and then finally I built the G-scale BC&WRR in the backyard (described in the leadin to thiese ramblings. I enjoyed that layout,but then my wife at that time thought the house was too small and we had to move. After a lot of moving around, I wound up in Mendocino. There was a lot of natural plants like scotch broom and Blackberries (a lot of people call them weeds, they are very tenacious). So, I didn’t want to fight all that for a garden railroad. Instead, I decided to build a ride-on railroad usin  7.5 inch gauge railroad. Here’s an early construction picture.

My goal was to get the first loop completed, and a train running on Memorial Weekend, 2019. We managed to do that with a lot of help from my friends. So, here’s a picture of my grandson at the controls and a number of kids riding the train.

Here’s a few pictures of the train going into.the woods, crossing the trestle, and going through the (unfinished) tunnel.

We have some things to finish, including the tunnel and switch stands, and we need to build a train barn.

Railroad Projects are never finished.

Growing Up In Montana

Sunday, I was showing people the MCRR&HS layout at the Skunk Train Railroad Yard and one of the visitors was a cowboy (he looked pretty real to me, with a Stetson hat, cowboy boots, and a red “kerchief” around his neck. He was from Texas originally and had spent years in Rodeos riding bulls (in his earlier years), bareback and saddled horses. He said he never went to Montana because it was too cold. Anyway, I told him about growing up and working on my Grandfathers ranch outside of Billings. I mentioned stacking hay (way before there were baling machines) and threshing grain. There are some photos of these operations in the History section of the BC&W RR which I will repeat here.

Earl’s grandfather, Homer Davis, obtained land outside Billings, Montana in 1906 under the Homestead Act. The original 160 acres was increased to 5,000 by obtaining neighboring parcels from Homesteaders that gave up and returned East. Homer tamed the harsh Eastern Montana prairie and created a farm and cattle ranch. The cattle herd was fed through the rough winters with hay and grain grown on the original 160 acres. Homer created a series of ditches and reservoirs to collect the scant rain and irrigate the crops. Logs from the Bull Mountains, fifty miles away were hauled, Homer walked beside to encourage the horses. The logs are used to build the cabin, barns and fences.

The Original Log Cabin my Grandfather Built on His Farm
Homer Davis and Grandson Earl Cleaning Ditches on the Farm






Threshing Grain on the Davis Farm


Stacking Hay on the Farm








While I was in High School, I spent the summers working for my Uncle on the Ranch (My grandfather had slowed down, so Ray was doing most of the work). I enjoyed being on the farm even though the day started at 5:00AM milking cows, breakfast at 7, then working the fields till the sun went down after 7:00PM. There were a couple more (good) meals in that time but we got in more than 8 hours. My uncle needed another driver, so he sent me out to a big hay field in a ’50 Chevy pickup to learn to drive (I was 14 then). I eventually was driving a big ton and a half Ford truck beside the corn silage maker, went to get old railroad ties (which we used to make corrals for the cattle roundups).
Twice a year, we would get on horses and go bring in the cattle which were scattered over 5,000 acres. We would brand the new calves and some of us younger ones would try to ride the bigger calves after they were branded. Some of my uncle’s friends, the Bialicks, that helped with the roundup saw this and decided to have some fun with me. My uncle was bringing a couple of new bulls to leave with the cows and they needed to also be branded. After we finished with the biggest, a black Angus, the Bialicks thought I ought to ride that bull. Well, I had seen a few bull rides in the local rodeos and wasn’t too sure I wanted to do that, but they insisted. So I got up on the bul, they tied a rope around him and I grabbed it, hanging on as much as I could. When they let the bull loose, he just stood there, tried to swat me off his back like I ws an annoying fly, then walked over to a cow and did what bulls are supposed to do. All the time I was sitting on his back, but he didn’t seem to care. Everyone was laughing and that was the end of my bull riding days.
I continued working summers through high school and planning to be a rancher. In my senior year, I looked into the cost of getting my own “ranch” and making a living at this wonderful life. But with the cost of tractors approaching $80,000, plus everything else that was need, I realized it would never happen. There are many farmers/ranchers in Montana that tried and failed to make a go of it. So, I finally began listening to my teachers in high school and decided to go to college (I guess I easily handled the math and science classes). The cowboy from Texas reminded me of my time on the ranch and how close I came to staying with that life style. I went to Carroll College and the next Blog post will give a story I wrote for a history class that captured my changing life goals.

Ireland Trip

Today, I’m going to describe a recent trip to Ireland. On June 5, I flew over to Ireland with my daughter, Jodie. When we got there, my other daughter, Lina had come over from her trip through Germany and joined us. The three of us spent the next ten days in Ireland. I realize that this Blog is supposed to be about trains, and my original intention was to ride on one of the restored Steam trains that run in Ireland between Dublin and Belfast. There is a wonderful event called “Steam and JaGuinessTrainzz”, but that was scheduled for June 17, 3 days after we returned to the U.S.. Besides that, all tickets for the event were sold. So, that sounds like something to work into another trip. While at the Guiness Storerooms, there was an old engine (see Pict) used entirely within the Storeroom to move around cases of beer. They are shipping three million pints of Guiness every day all over the world! So that should count somewhat as a train.

Gravity Bar, St. James Gate, Dublin, Ireland. Slainte!_P2  We spent our first two days in Dublin, touring around the city and surrounding areas. The Eastern coastline was spectacular and even looked like the coast line along Northern California. Some of the roads there were even like Route 1 south of Elk. We toured the Guiness Storerooms and Brewery, sampling the wares (the picture is from the Gravity Bar above the St. James Gate) and watching Irish Dancing. Four folks (two men and two women) danced in heavy shoes (clog dancing) with Brooms as partners! If that sounds easy to do, it wasn’t, they were very good! We found a lot of pubs (surprise!! ) and live music ion every night and in every town that we stopped in, so it was a most enjoyable trip.

One other stop we made in Dublin was the Genealogy  Dept. in the Library. We found copies of the 1837 Baptismal Records from St. Peter’s Parish in Athlone, Co. Roscommon for my Great-Grandmother–Mary Anne Duggan. I had found that record on Micro-Fiche 26 years ago on my first time in Ireland. The Irish Surname Duggan is a  anglicised rendering of the Gaelic surname O’Dubhagain which traces back to 5th century Irish Kings and Spainish invaders.

I had hoped that the records had been entered  into an online database, but all that was done was pictures of the original 1837 parish books with the Latin entries which were sometimes misspelled (as often occurred).

We then rented a car and left Dublin, heading to Athlone. We were lucky and only had rain while we were driving. Arriving t13346812_10208271827306520_8601545809050183773_nhere, we first found a bar called Sean’s Bar (Interesting, because my son’s name is Sean) that is claimed to be the oldest bar in Ireland. There is a portion of the original baSittingAtSean'sBarr’s wall that was built around 900 AD. After having a beverage (see picture), we then found a large church called Sts. Peter & Paul’s. After going in and marveling at the constrDeanCroweTheatreuction, we found out that it was built in 1937. we finally located the original St. Peter’s after a few inquiries, it is now a movie theatre called Dean Crowes. We went to a local library to see if there were more records for my great-grandmother’s family, but the Genealogy person was on vacation. We have his Email address and a sheet showing what additional records he can search. Since the only dates we have are her Baptism and then, her marriage to my Great-Grandfather in Iowa in 1859, there’s a big gap and lots of questions concerning their life in Co. Roscommon and their trip to the United States. Maybe we’ll find out some more via Email. I’ll probably do another post with more on the family history, if there’s interest.

We then headed to Galway and then over to the Arion Islands that were off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. After riding in a horse and buggy around the largest island, we went back to the Cliffs of Moher. I got a large picture of the Cliffs, here is a reduced picture (to fit in this blog)  The black and white coloring doesn’t do justice to the actual shades of color of the Cliffs. The signal towers (the second one can be seen in the middle of the picture, the first is at the furtherest South end of the Cliffs) were used in the early 1800s to alert the British fleet when Napoleon’s fleet were sailing to attack Britian. Signals (probably latterns) were flashed from one tower to the next.

We stayed at a B&B, the Carrig House, in Co. Clare. Maurice and Shirley Glennon were our hosts, and theyIMG_1648 treated us grandly and told us a number of stories, including someCarrigHouse IrishBreakfast about John Holland, who designed prototypes and models that were the basis for modern submarines including the atomic-powered ballistic ones. He died in 1914 without much recognition from the U.S. Government for his work (that came later, at least in Ireland). The Carrigs, then cooked a wonderful Irish breakfast for us that kept us in good spirits as we traveled on to places they recommended. I don’t know how the Irish keep trim if they eat that kind of breakfast every morning. It must be a little Leprechaun magic that keeps everyone fit and trim, or maybe all the dancing!

We then went around the “Ring Of Kerry”, a roadway that circles around a large bay in Co. Kerry. There were rural greenery, many great beaches, old castles and lovely towns.  We stayed in Waterville at a B&B which turned out to be hosting a High School Football (Soccer to us Americans) Tournament that honored the 80th birthday of the “Willie Mays” of Irish Football, Mick O’Dwyer. Later that evening, there was a huge fireworks display that lit up the whole village and lasted for over 30 minutes!

Finally we had to go back to Dublin to catch our plane back to the U. S., but not before we went to a pub for the Irish-Sweden Football match. The huge room was packed with folks singing, dancing and cheering! And they started 2 1/2 hours before the game started. The game ended in a tie 1 to 1, (Ireland scored both, an “Own Goal” for Sweden), which was fortunate, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have been able to leave.

A long trip back, but plenty of memories. There a lot we did, but it seemed like we didn’t do enough which means I need to go back, hopefully sooner than 26 years!

Setting Up A Model Railroad Train For My Grandkids

I needed to get back into Blogging some things I’ve been doing and this is a good one to use to get going again. I had built a small little model train layout for my grandkids in Oakland. I actually built it under a deck to protect it from weather (mainly strong winds) and to keep it off the lawn. The last time I did that, the results were pretty bad.

So, I dug out a pretty old Playmobil Train that my son played with, 20 yPlayMobile174ears ago. Some of the plastic is pretty fragile, but I used a lot of CA cement on it, and it seems to be holding together. Frank Davis (of the MCMRR&HS club) and I converted it to battery powered with a remote control. You can see the Engine and tender that we converted plus a couple of cars for the consist. The remote control is right in front of the engine. The sound has a steam engine chuf synchronized with the speed, a whistle be blown, and bell chimed. That part came out ok, but the real test was whether the kids would be interested and be able to do run it without me.

This movie clip shows what they did.   You can see my two grandsons and their two cousins in the clip. The operation of the remote control was so easy that my grandsons just were loading and unloading things (actually erasers that looked like little animals) while their older cousin took over the control. They wouldn’t even let me play!! But, it’s documented now, so everyone can see that it does what I hoped it would do and I was able to reuse some old toys with just a few modern pieces!

I’ll try to do more Blogging…

Forest Fires and Fire Danger

I recently read Young Men and Fire, a book written by Norman Maclean. This is a FullSizeRendernonfiction book about a massive fire in Mann Gulch which is close to the Gates of the Mountains in the Missouri River Canyon between Helena and Great Falls, Montana.

On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the U. S. Forest Service’s elite new airborne firefighters, the Smokejumpers, steped into the sky to fight the fire. Less than an hour after their jump, all but three were dead or mortally burned. Haunted by these deaths for more than forty years, Norman Maclean puts back together the scattered pieces of this tragedy.
The few facts about the fire that came out in the early fifties are stated in short order, the majority of the book tells about … “Maclean’s search for the truth of what happened, and an exploration of his own mortality becomes more compelling than his journey into the heart of the fire. His description of the conflagration terrifies, but it is his battle with words, his effort to turn the story of the 15 men into tragedy makes this book classic.”
From New York Time Book Review Editor’s Choice, Best Book of 1992.

Maclean was born in Iowa in 1902 and grew up in Missoula, MT. He worked for many years in logging camps and for the U. S. Forestry Service, then began his academic career. His writing is captivating, and his book, A River Runs Through It and other Stories, was published in 1976. Young Men and Fire wasn’t originated as a book until Maclean was 74, and was finished and edited by friends and family after his death in 1990. The book merged all the lives he would live; woodsman, firefighter. scholar, teacher, and storyteller.FullSizeRender

The  picture summarizes the tragic events that happened on that day in 1949 and shows time and position of the fire and smoke jumpers. In the words of Maclean, “Drawn along axes of time and distance is one line depicting the course of the fire and one depicting the course of the men, and where there is a convergence of the two, graphically speaking, is the tragic conclusion of the Mann Gulch story; the two lines converging to this conclusion constitute the plot. Along each line are numbers which are turning points in the race between men and fire, and if the lines are viewed as a race the numbers mark off legs of the race, if they also have religious significance they are stations of the cross, and if they have literary significance they mark off acts of drama. If it is drama it has the same old five acts of traditional drama, but the acts are much shorter, possibly because modern wildfire allows no time for soliloquies.”

I originally bought the book in 1994, because I went to college in Helena and often went up to the Missouri River canyon to enjoy it’s natural beauty and even camped in a canyon close to Mann Gulch. I didn’t read more than the first few chapters then, but picked it up lately and read the full book. I am writing this blog entry because of the relevance to woods, logging, and fires, and to the history of concepts of burn days, fire dangers in wooded and open prairie areas, which should be familiar to many Californians today. In reading the book, I found that all of these concepts (e. g., how do you determine that fire danger in a wooded area? ) were developed by the U.S. Forest Service as a result of the Mann Gulch fire and the persistent questioning of Maclean over the years. In addition, they learned some techniques to protect fire fighters and in particular, smokejumpers from such tragedies. From 1949 to 1994, no deaths occurred. On July 4, 1994, 52 smokejumpers and other fire fighters were fighting a seemingly minor fire in Colorado that suddenly erupted and in a matter of a few minutes, 14 were dead. Lessons from the Mann Gulch fire allowed the survival of 38 and a significant number of structures. Analysis of the Colorado tragedy lead to, hopefully, more valuable lessons to protect lives. One thing clearly happened— that analysis occurred quite soon as opposed to how the U. S. Forest Service reacted in 1949 when they tried to bury and ignore that earlier fire. Maclean offers his explanation for that behavior in his book.

But, beyond the analysis if the tragic deaths of 13 smokejumpers, Maclean also addresses questions we all are (or should be) trying to answer.. In Maclean’s last words in this book..

“I, an old man, have written this fire report. Among other things, it is important to me, as an exercise for old age, to enlarge my knowledge and spirit so I can accompany young men whose lives I might have lived on their way to death. I have climbed where they have climbed, and in my time I have fought fire and inquired into it’s nature. In addition, I have lived to get a better understanding of myself and those close to me, many of them now dead. Perhaps it is not odd, at the end of this tragedy where nothing much was left of the elite who came from the sky but courage struggling for oxygen, that I have often found myself thinking of my wife on her brave and lonely way to death.”

This book should be read by those of us interested in the history of logging and the effects of fires in dry, wooded canyon areas.

Speeders and their Cousins

I haven’t been doing any entries to this blog because of a lot of ToDos that keep coming up. Maybe if I just liked model railroads, there wouldn’t be a problem. But there are these neat old cars I own, and a few other distractions. I needed to get a few things done, so I decided to join another club, the Nor Coast Rodders Car CLub. They liked old cars and I thought it might motivate me to get some of my cars running. Well, one of the guys in that club, Steve Wells, has a speeder which is a vehicle that runs on railroad tracks. That seemed like a good mix to me.

Steve's Speeder
Steve’s Speeder
A Pedal Car Race
A Pedal Car Race

I have seen several speeders, some that the CWR uses, and there is always the races at the Kinetic Carnivale every year in Willits, CA. So, I had to go see them. The Kinetic Carnival encourages and rewards individual creative efforts, so a motorized speeder like Steve’s was not what they wanted to see. The races were between vehicles that rode on RR tracks but were pedaled like a bike. Here are some pictures of those vehicles. The first is the only “close race” that occurred (many of the creations didn’t get too far done the track before collapsing).

The Fastest Pedal Car
The Fastest Pedal Car

I liked the two persons pedaling the one in front. The umbrella was a nice touch and was actually useful that day (very hot!!). The next picture shows the fastest one which had an large pineapple on the back. Anyone they raced never got close enough to be in the same picture at the finish!

You might ask why there weren’t any hand cars (as originally used) and I found out that very few of those were around anymore. The ones that actually were rebuilt went to Burning Man instead of coming to Willits. You can think about why Burning Man in hot and dusty Nevada was a better place to go than Willits.

An Early N-Gauge layout revisited

As I mentioned, I have tried some other smaller gauge layouts around 1990, but for various reasons, gave up on them and moved to the larger garden model railroads. Here’s a picture of one of my early N-scale efforts and how far I got (not very).


One day Larry Shearer came by the Fort Bragg layout and we got to chatting (about trains, obviously) and he said he wanted to do something but had only limited space. I showed him the N-scale layout (it’s actually a molded plastic layout done by Terrain for Trains). Larry liked it and eventually we agreed that he could take that layout and a lot of other N-scale switches, buildings, and even one (broken) engine. Larry took the kits, build a few (like the trestle in the picture below), redid the track, and fixed up the layout. Here’s a picture that Larry sent of his efforts. It’s quite nice to see what can be done in N-scale by someone who has the patience (and eyes!!) to deal with smaller scales!


Earl’s First


If you got here, you know that I’m Earl Craighill and I’m with the MCMR&HS gang. This is a new thing for me to do. I liked the blog entries that Tony Phillips has been doing and have sent him a bunch oi stuff. Of course, so have a lot of others and so, Tony is totally swamped. Roger Thornburn set up Tony and graciously, he did the same for me. I will try to stick to train-related items, but I do have a few other interests. They may creep in over time. Let me know what  of this interests you, or some related things that might be more interesting.