Rich Blake's Clear Lake Lumber Company

Rich Blake's Clear Lake Lumber Company layout for Trainz remains one of the most impressive narrow gauge logging simulations on any platform. Rich created much of the rolling stock, machinery, buildings, and scenery details that make up this landmark simulation. Rich set out to write a 4-part series describing the route. The first part appeared briefly in Woodbridge's Trainz Online and later in Woodbridge's Train Simulation Craftsman magazine (3rd quarter 2003 issue). We're bringing you the entire series in successive parts by permission of Woodbridge's. - Ed.

The Clear Lake Lumber Co. was my first layout designed for Trainz. It is a single baseboard 36-in. narrow gauge logging layout based on prototypical railroad practices in the Skagit County of Washington state, USA, during the early 1900s. It is a point-to-point layout serving two logging camps and a millsite township. There are two switchbacks, three wye tracks, two high trestles and a 4% ruling grade. Although there were no major narrow gauge railroads in the state of Washington, the highly detailed equipment and locomotives available for Trainz in 36-in. gauge necessitated use of narrow gauge track and equipment to simulate the prototype. Working within the limits of a single baseboard (720x720 meters), some of the topography has been exaggerated and the track work within operating areas made very compact. This allows for a good balance between scenic viewing and realistic operations.

Logging camp wye

Logging camp wye.

Layout design concepts

My first step in designing any type of layout is to choose a theme, time, and place. Even though the Clear Lake is freelanced, it is solidly based on a prototype theme. I spent a fair amount of time “armchair railroading” with my collection of logging railroad books and narrow gauge magazines. Within these references I look for “layout design elements” that are essentially small mini scenes I would like to create. These “LDEs” are the basis for all of my scenery and track placements.

The LDEs also dictate how scenery items will be used and what is needed for the layout. In my case, many of the logging related items were very limited or non-existent. So, I fired up gmax and started making stuff. Just like building a real model layout, I had to “make” many structures and scenery items before I could realize my vision. How to make things in gmax is beyond the scope of this article, but I will describe some of the logging items I made and how they are used.

Mini scene 1

Mini scene 2

Mini scene 3

Three layout design elements (LDE's), or mini scenes.

Prototype operations

Operationally, a logging railroad is designed for one basic thing –- bringing the logs out of the woods to the mill. Pretty easy. However, one must think about how we get the logs to the mill. Not easy.

Crossing #2 trestle

Crossing #2 trestle.

Most all operations, after the ox teams were abandoned for steam locomotives, used some form of yarding fresh cut logs to a centralized loading area. Various methods were used to achieve this but the most popular by far was the “sky hook” or “high lead” system. With these systems a “spar tree” is used that has many cables and pulleys attached to it that reach far into the tree cutting areas. Controlling the pulleys and log loading tongs connected to the pulleys were “steam donkeys”. A steam donkey is simply a steam powered winch.

Steam donkey

Steam donkey.

Once the logs are “decked” at the loading area, the donkey is used to load the logging cars. Logging cars come in two forms -– the “disconnect” type and the “skeleton” type. Disconnect cars where first employed on logging operations because of their versatility. A pair of them are used with the logs forming the “body” of the car. Any length of logs could be used with disconnects. Their biggest limitation however, was that they could not be hooked up to the loco for dynamic braking, as they had no air hoses or air brakes. All braking on disconnects was done manually by brakemen -- a tedious and dangerous task for sure.

Cold deck and logging cars

Cold deck and logging cars.

Later years brought on the design of the “skeleton” car which is essentially a pair of disconnect trucks connected by a large beam with cross bunks on it to load logs onto. The skeletons had full air brake capability and quickly replaced the disconnects on the logging shows.

Skeleton cars

Skeleton cars.

After the logs were loaded onto the cars, the crew would make up a “train” to bring the logs downgrade to the mill. Most operations used some form of caboose or “crummy” for the brake and switching crew. Although normally placed at the end of the train, in logging operations the crummy is placed next to the locomotive for safety. Many accidents have happened when the logs shifted off the cars coming downgrade and slid into the caboose or other equipment. Catastrophic for sure.



Heading downgrade

Heading downgrade with crummy behind loco.

Bringing a load of logs down a 6 or 7 percent grade is no easy task. The locomotive and crummy should be placed at the up side of the grade whenever possible. This ensures maximum survival rate if something happens.

Bringing down the logs

Bringing down the logs.

When the train makes it to the mill area, there is almost always a mill pond to store the logs. To get the logs into the pond a “log dump” is used. The log dump consists usually of a small trestle and some type of yarding device to unload the logs. Various forms of unloading have been used. The most popular and easiest is the “a-frame” and donkey unloader. The donkey controls a cable which is routed up to the top of the a-frame and then down to the log dump trestle. When a log car is positioned next to the a-frame, the cable is sent under the logs and connected to the lower portion of the log dump on the pond side. The cable is then pulled taught by the donkey and the logs are flung off the cars into the pond. Most log dumps will have some sort of ramp or fence to assist the logs into the pond and prevent any kickbacks.

Log dump

Log dump

Log dump and mill pond detail

Log dump and mill pond detail.

In the mill pond, the logs are kept in a centralized location with other logs lashed together or pilings to form a floating barrier. “Pond monkeys” are the guys who poke and prod the logs towards the mill.



The sawmill takes on the logs by way of a ramp called a “log jack” that is a chain or cable operated conveyor. The pond monkeys position the log on the log jack and it is hoisted up to the mill. Early steam sawmills used circular saws to cut logs. Later mills employed huge bandsaws to increase output.

Log jack ramp

Log jack ramp.

The sawn timbers were then stored around the millsite. To assist in drying the wood for market, many operations used a “drying kiln” to achieve this purpose. The fresh cut lumber was placed inside the drying kiln and a steam powered heater would dry out the wood inside.

Drying kiln building

Drying kiln building.

Millsite detail

Millsite detail.

In addition to moving logs and lumber, the railroad must support the crews in remote camps and take care of it’s track and equipment. Logging railroads used speeders and various types of support equipment to make their jobs easier and more efficient. The operational scenarios are wide and varied for a logging operation and the Clear Lake layout has given me hours of enjoyment in this fascinating area of virtual model railroading.

Speeder railcar

Speeder railcar and track maintenance equipment.


Highball logging with the Climax.

Narrow gauge and logging content for Trainz

This is one area where Trainz is really growing. There is a small group of content creators who are dedicated to producing some fantastically detailed models for narrow gauge and logging operations. Best of all –- most of it is FREE. Many of the references given also provide loads of information and pictures covering this fascinating subject area. Using the basic operational concepts described above, one can come up with nicely detailed scenes.

Narrowgauge links:

Recommended narrow gauge and logging links for research:

Reference books and magazines:


You can download Rich Blake's Clear Lake Lumber Co. Railway layout here. - Ed.

Article and screen shoots ©2003-2004 Rich Blake. All rights reserved.