Stencil on the side of a BN caboose at East Lewiston

Sunday, July 12, 2015


After a great push starting in mid March, the railroad became operational in early July.  Two local operators, Lance Lassen and Blair Kooistra, and a guest from Australia, John Gillies, attended the first operating session on July 5th.

After arriving at Forebay, NP 661 "the Highball", doubled its 26 car train into the Forebay yard, then pulled down the power down the main to clear the way for the switcher to retrieve the cars.
The wheel report for NP 661, inbound to Lewiston on July 5, 1965. (The list says 662, which is incorrect).  In the future, I will add a more involved paperwork system, using a miniature waybill system, developed by Dan Holbrook.  For now,  switch lists, and traffic generated in my head, is the system in place.  The list above includes what railroad (NP or UP) the cars came from and if they are loaded or empty.  The list also includes the contents of a loaded car and the "TIBS" blocking code.  

Switch crew Engineer Blair Kooistra and Foreman John Gillies plan their work at the mill.  The work for the day, required the switcher to pull cars from the paper and plywood mill, then handle off spot cars from the storage tracks to the various locations to load.  After these moves, the outbound traffic was to taken to Forebay, and blocked for either UP or NP, for the trip to Spokane.  Then cars from the inbound NP 661 taken to the mill to be spotted or left off spot in the storage tracks.  Since this was the first time, the plan took a little while to develop!

With only Spokane/East staging, Forebay and the PFI mill operational, the theme for the session was that line from Riparia to Lewiston was out of service account the Army Corps of Engineers doing dam construction on the Snake River, requiring all traffic into Lewiston to arrive on NP train 662 "the Highball".

The session consisted of train NP 661, delivering all of the traffic, both UP and NP to the yard at Forebay (a contraction of Potlatch Forest Mill Bay) and the switch job switching out the cars at the PFI mill, then delivering the out bound UP and NP traffic to Forebay for NP 662 to take to Spokane.

For the first session, I created a hand drawn  "TIBS" map of the mill and Forebay.  TIBS stands for Train and Industry Blocking System.  Its a alpha-numeric system similar to the real Burlington Northern's SPINS system from the 1970's.  Dan Holbrook wrote an article that appeared in the July 1987 issue of  Model Railroader magazine that outlined its use.  A complete TIBS book of the Lewiston Terminal area drawn using a computed graphics program  is in the works.
SW7, NP 114, was utilized for the mill switcher.  The cab on the 114 had a mishap and the Lewiston shops put on a replacement.  Unfortunately, the shops didn't have sufficient time to get the cab painted before pressing the venerable switcher back into service.  More on the replacement cab in a future post!
The switch crew is done pulling the cars from the mill and is taking them to Forebay for the outbound Highball, train NP 662.
Engineer Lance Lassen switching the inbound 661 train at the east end of Forebay.  Without a Lewiston yard switcher available, the road crew was pushed into switching service, blocking some of the inbound and outbound traffic.  A time slip for performing switching service was undoubtedly filed upon the crew's return to Spokane!

The session took about about two-and-a-half real hours, and there was still cars to spot to the mill at the conclusion.  My plan was for the mill job to be a real three to four hour job for a two person crew, which appears to be right on target. Seeing the  railroad finally operate was a rewarding experience and I'm looking forward to more sessions in the near future.  I suddenly need a lot more freight cars!  

Special thanks to my dad Perry, brother Jon, John Bauer, Dave Lehlbach and Lance Lassen, for helping me get it running!  

Lastly, a very special thank you to my wife Lisa, who has put up with my desire for an operating railroad model over the past 17 years, in one form or another.    


  1. Congratulations! The first ops session is always so satisfying - looks like yours was especially successful! Here's to many years of enjoyment

  2. Great stuff! One question: How high off the floor is your layout? I like the nice and high level.

    1. Railroad top is about 55", give or take. Previous experiences led me to wanting to be able to wire the RR by sitting in chair underneath. I also like the view at this level...

  3. Congrats! Your post makes me want to get some more track laid on my line!

  4. Well done - always a great milestone to have the first op. session. Good to see the "Aussies" hard at work (Blair and Lance being Americans who both model Australian railways). And John G, hope the big trip is going is well.

  5. Matt, I am planning on modeling Moscow right around the same time period as a N scale switching layout. I found your blog while searching for prototype pictures of the highball. I would like to come up with a way to have it pass through on its way between Spokane and Lewiston. Are you planning on incorporating RDC cars for passenger service in your layout?