Tacoma Narrows Bridge Funsite
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Funsite Scale Model of 1940 Galloping Gertie Bridge and Railroad Dioramas</center><br>

Scale Model of 1940 Galloping Gertie Bridge
And Railroad Dioramas

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This is a 7-foot long, scratch-built 1:336 scale model of the 1940 Galloping Gertie Narrows Bridge that collapsed 4 months after it was completed on July 1, 1940. Ironically, it took 4 months to build this model.

The scale model was built using a variety of techniques, many measurements were taken directly from a set of original 1939/1940 blueprints of Galloping Gertie, and it was done with Plastruct flat stock and "T", "I" & "O" strip stock. The Towers and Bents (Bents are the hillside supports) were assembled from multiple sections, all ribbed members on the towers & gerters inside & out were individually cut & assembled, the gerters across the road deck were measured & assembled for a specific arc to match the original bridge's height above the waterline. The 2 main cables are solid end-to-end, they really support the roadway on this model, and the suspension cables number in the hundreds (180 to be exact). Even the roadwaylamp post/lights were made one by one, each having 4 pieces assembled to make one lamp.

The photo wide angle view makes the towers seem to bend away from each other, they actually are straight & even with each other, measured equally top to bottom.

The Narrows waterway was particularly challenging to create as the real water has strong currents which flow both directions under the bridge. A base underwater was created first, which includes seaweed, rocks & sand along with tree stumps on the shores, and the barge & tug boat- both scratch-built. Then layers of waves were built up, finally reaching the level desired, and lastly a top finish of water was applied, all the while using a brush to put the rippling waves on while it dried. The rocks & sand were obtained from the real Narrows bridge area, on the beach.

The original east anchorage structure was designed in the late 1930's with art deco lines, this recreation was done completely with flat stock, measured, cut and assembled to the same dimensions & deco lines as the original. This was time-consuming, but the result looks great, and the parking lot with roadways that the anchorage sits on was actually copied directly from the original blueprint, reduced on a copy machine until it matched the scale. This made it easier to do the landscaping and get the footprint the building has. The railroad tracks were also all scratch-built, individual ties glued one by one to the rails, then painted a rusty brown color to match the look of the real tracks. The telephone poles have 6 wires similar to the original, that is before the real ones were taken down with the advent of underground & cable tv communication lines.

The diorama base is 5/8" finish grade plywood with plywood ends & sides to give the shore contours, and the landscape on each shore was made with a thick layer of modeling plaster over styrofoam. When the plaster dried, it was carved to give the look of bull-dozed earth on the Gig Harbor shore, and rocky cliffs on the Tacoma shore. The water edge rockery/sand, and underwater was then applied as described above. Next came the railroad tracks & telephone poles, finally the groundcover was put on; grass/weeds, bushes & trees, earth, and the ballast for the train tracks. Lastly the edges of the diorama were all covered with black paper, cut to follow the landscape contours, making the finished product look like it is a section of history frozen in time.

Seen here are the tower details, the red safety beacon lights, and the railing between the tower legs. The roadway has expansion joints where the side spans meet the main span, like the original.

Again the photo below makes the towers seem a farther distance between the tops, when in reality they are equal distance top to bottom. The camera lens causes the distortion.

The anchorage structures at both ends presented an assembly problem- they were built and fastened to the diorama, then the towers were fastened to the base, with the roadway gerters supported by temporary measured lengths of stock. The main cables were each strung roughly from one end to the other, then the suspension cables secured carefully to get the main cables' arc starting from each tower and ending at each anchorage. The main cables were not attached to the anchorages but rather slipped thru slots until the last suspension cable was secured, which was a very difficult process. Lastly the main cable ends were secured at the anchorages, and the temporary supports removed, allowing the roadway to be actually held up by the cables. Underneath the diorama base I mounted iron angle bar to keep the wood from flexing, which would have in turn- thrown the bridge's suspension system off alignment had I not added the iron.

I would have liked to been able to model the entire anchorage structures on both ends, the Gig Harbor anchorage is longer than seen here, and the Tacoma anchorage included the toll booth facility and 2 utility buildings with stairways leading down to the road & parking lots, as well as approach lettering as one came up towards the toll booths that said "Tacoma Narrows Bridge" "Gateway to Olympics". I was limited in space, this diorama being 7 feet long by about 2 feet tall, if I were to make it with the exact scale length of the bridge crossing 1 mile distance, and include both anchorages & the toll booths with the roadway, it would have had to be over 22 feet long. I would have to build a separate building in order to make another model in the true length. It was hard enough to move the diorama from upstairs where it was built, to downstairs where it is housed in the Narrows Bridge "museum".

This view shows the builder peeking out from the water. The model and an article was published in the local newspaper, this photo is courtesy of Peter Haley from the Tacoma News Tribune.
Click here to see Tacoma News Tribune Article

The nice folks at the Puyallup Fair saw the Tacoma News Tribune article, and they made a special request for me to have an exhibit of the scale model, museum-quality relics, photos, and some of the memorabilia from this website on display at the 2007 Puyallup Fair's Hobby Hall. The 2 display cases of "Bridgeabilia" were seen by over 1 million people.

The model took up most all of an entire display case, being 7 feet wide, so the Fair made another case available for relics. The exhibit was unique, and many visitors to the Hobby Hall were greatly impressed, some even commenting they came into the Hobby hall just to see the model. This event was most likely a one-time only exhibit.

The relics weigh quite a bit, and metal-on-glass was a bit risky, but it worked for the duration of the Fair. To see these artifacts in person was really impressive to many people.

Part of the hobby of modeling is building dioramas. They are a fun and easy hobby for many folks. Dioramas can feature just about any subject that the hobbyist is interested in. They can be made to fit in small spaces, or even can be mounted on a wall. Below are three model railroad dioramas I made; two in "N" scale, and one in "HO" scale. Below the dioramas is the "N" gauge model railroad that is currently under construction.

This "N" scale diorama was inspired by an article in a Model Railroad magazine, of another hobbyist who created a mountain railroad scene.

The narrow gauge railway look was easier to do with standard materials, so that the engine & rolling stock can be quickly changed for continued interest.

The mountain base was made from plaster castings, with a wooden bridge placed over the river below. The landscape was done by gluing ground cover and store-bought trees in place. Then the river bottom got various rocks and stumps glued in place, the river bed was painted, and lastly liquid pellets were melted over the stove & poured on top. This gives the appearance of constantly flowing water, and the small amount needed made it easy to work with.

Many people place telephone and utility poles on their railroads without any wires. It is not an easy thing to do, but I prefer to have wires for the realistic look. A slight droop between poles adds to the realism.

The diorama seen above measures 2 feet wide by 1 foot deep by 1 foot tall, and it fits very nicely on a cabinet shelf.

The diorama shown here is also in "N" scale. It features a long Pullman car passenger train being pulled by a 4-8-4 Santa Fe engine.

The scene is a west coast run along the shoreline between Tacoma and Portland. Along this coast there are plenty of bridges and trestles that cross the rough & rocky terrain.

The bridge was scratch-built from wood stock, including the utility wires support on the side of the bridge.

The same technique for the landscape was used, with less rockery & stumps in the water as this is deeper water.

The northwest is full of boats on the shore, as seen here. They get a great view every time the trains pass by.

A little run-down station has been well-used at this end of the scene. This diorama was actually made with 2 fence boards as the base. The size is 6 inches deep by 6 inches tall by 4 1/2 feet long.

The diorama here was made in "HO" scale, and it features lots of details. Most are metal castings, with standard rolling stock- again so the engine & freight can be easily changed for a different look. The base is plywood, and made in a similar fashion as the diorama above.

An old-timer Union Pacific 0-4-0 has a small freight load behind it. The scene is just east of the Cascade mountain range, in Eastern Washington.

It actually was a little more difficult to fit all the "HO" structures and details on this scene. The size is 6 inches deep by 8 inches tall by 5 feet long.

It takes a lot of manpower to keep things going on older railroads, especially when using older equipment.

The one plastic structure here is the machine shop on the right. Weathering was done on all the buildings to give a worn look.

The excellent detail on the store-bought people makes for good realism. And lots of people in the scene, doing lots of activities gives the viewers lots to look at.

This diorama gets the most attention of the three, perhaps due to so much going on. This effect is easier to accomplish in "HO" scale than in "N".

The "N" scale railroad layout shown here has evolved from being planned as a simple one-level design; to a three level city with a large number of structures and activities. The overall size is 4 foot by 8 foot, with each level being the same dimension minus the cutouts for the landscaping.

Though the work is still progressing, you can see the vast complexity with this layout. The downtown area of the city is on the top level, to the left. The residential homes are to the right of downtown.

The middle level is reserved for the industries, where most of the railroad activity happens. Two auto bridges traverse the industry level- one on the right & one on the left side. The middle level also has the engine house & maintenance yard.

The trains operations require constant attention. The middle level runs a pair of lines, each having reversing loops and both with time-delay tracks inside the landscape, so each train disappears for a bit. Then there are the numerous spur tracks that need rolling stock to get dropped off & picked up. The lowest level also runs two lines, but they disappear for most of the time inside the landscape. They are freight lines that only are seen at the front, giving the appearance as if they travel to & from distant places.

All the buildings on the layout will be illuminated, which makes wiring a bit complicated as it is being done in sections; with dimmer controls so the brightness can be adjusted. The track switching is all by remote, with block control wiring. The block controls, switches, dimmers, wiring box & power packs are all mounted on a pull-out drawer below the layout- which is great for sitting in my bar stool & pulling out the drawer for operations, then pushing it back in & out of the way afterwards. Access to the hidden tracks is done with hinged panels between the levels on the sides, and the rear of the levels are open- which means this layout requires me to have complete walk-around capability. I like this though, as it makes for easier construction & maintenance.

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