Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Friday, July 30, 2021

First Laser Project Complete!

Finishing a project is certainly a rare thing these days but since there was a very specific deadline involved I was definitely motivated to finish it on time! I engraved about 70, or so, of these blanks that my brother gave me. There are still 20+ blanks in the box. They get progressively smaller as my brother chopped his way through the branch. In theory, they only need 54 for the reception, I figure 30% or so over is probably about right! These took 3 days to engrave but I was mulit-tasking with other chores. I could have done it a bit faster if that was the only chore.

The hardest part of this was getting it centered on the blank. You can see a lot of variation of "centered" in the ones you can see in the first picture. Centering an asymmetrical design on an asymmetrical object using a very symmetrical "preview" square is a bit difficult. If these had all been the same size I would have just set up a couple of stop blocks and I could have dropped in each piece in the same location every time. In the end each one is definitely unique. 

I really wanted to run all of these through the planer at least once or give them a quick sanding but my brother thought the cut right from the chop saw was smooth enough (Really? And we have the same mother? My mom is notorious for making sure her wood finishes are as smooth as glass, we went through a lot of sandpaper growing up). I thought I nice oil finish afterwards would have been nice but they are going out as is. They still look quite nice and a bit eclectic with the variations of "centering".

Definitely excited to try out some other ideas with this now that I have fully broken it in. I would like to find a good piece of design software that doesn't have an annual or monthly license fee, or doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

70+ laser engraved place name holder bases.

Same batch but now with holes. That was definitely the easiest part. Load up the drill bit in the drill press and drill holes till there are no bases left in the stack. Took about 15 minutes, maybe less.

And the wire holder in place. Note the slight sundial effect from the morning light through the window.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Bit the bullet - Pulled out the Laser


Neje Master 2, 20Watt Laser Engraver/Cutter, mounted up and in action.

I had talked to my brother about getting the laser engraver but I hadn't really mentioned that I hadn't done anything with it yet. I was a bit intimidated and I thought that I needed some software for the design element. He asked if I could engrave some wood blanks that he was cutting from branches from his backyard that would then serve as name plates at the reception tables. With a little pushing from my wife I agreed and I pulled it to see what I needed to do.

First things first I mounted it on a sturdy piece of 1/2" plywood that was leftover from another wood project. I finished the edges a bit to avoid splinters and gave the surface a quick once over with the sander as well. So much for the easy part.

Using the QR code on the side of the engraver I got to the instructions and downloaded the controller to my iPad. At this point I discovered that all I needed to do was bring in the image and the controller would actually create a cleaned up image for the laser. I think I spent less time getting the image and adjusting it than I took mounting the engraver to the base (which did involve a run to the hardware store for some #8 screws, washers and nuts). Then it was just adjusting the output of the laser to get a good image on the wood. Something to keep in mind with these types of laser is that the wattage stated is the power usage, the actual output is about 7 watts.

Full power, 100%, pretty much a charred mess. I could actually see flames!

50% power,  better but still a lot of charring but a lot less flaming

25% power, much better, edges still a little rough and the cut is deeper than it needs to be.

15%, nice and sharp, but figured I would try the lowest setting to reduce the depth of the engraving

10% power, pretty much bang on. This is what I'm running with.

The image as created by our soon to be sister in law. I'm not sure why the letters are sharp and the heart is pixelated but I took a photo, loaded into the Neje software and it created a couple of images for me to choose from. It worked out quite nicely in the end. I had to darken a couple of areas to make a nicer cut at the top edges,

Friday, July 23, 2021

Game Design Thoughts - Updating the search for Data


Redtail Hawk, one of a mated pair that lives in one of our neighbor's trees and regularly hunts over the field behind our house.

The Redtail Hawk is riding the thermals constantly scanning for his next meal. I have been feeling much the same this past week or so, scanning for information and sometimes finding it. Let's just say if I was the hawk I'd be really hungry most of the time.

I have continued to dig for information on Colorado mountain passes, maybe to much but some sources have at least been revealed. The first was a long shot a book by Larry Rynearson called Colorado's Historic Mountain Passes. It has some good information and even information that is helpful but its definitely not the definitive resource I would like it to be.

While I was scouting around for maps I stumbled across across a couple of pdf documents that apparently came from the USGS. There are 11 in total but I have only been able to find two and they don't cover the entire state, most of the western third is missing including the SW corner which is a pain since its a big focus for Colorado railroading from a mining standpoint. The first pamphlet is: "Historic Trail Map of the Leadville 1 (degree) x 2 (degree) Quadrangle, Central Colorado", the second one is  the "Historic Trail Map of the Denver 1 (degree) x 2 (degree) Quadrangle, Central Colorado. These maps and the supporting pamphlets were prepared by Glenn R Scott. There was an anniversary edition including all 11 maps in 2004 but I haven't had any luck in finding it.

The maps are great but the most interesting aspect is the sure amount of historical information that is included which far outweighs the value of the maps. The information includes all the mountain passes in the area and how they can be accessed (foot, road via 4WD, road via car, railroad built on it, railroad still present etc.), not to mention all the wagon toll roads that proceeded the railroads. There is just a wealth of information to be had. Now if I could just find the rest of the pamphlets and maps.

Here is a bit of an example of the information included about a pass:

Argentine Pass (In 1860s' called Sanderson Pass; in 1870's called Snake River Pass, also Georgetown Pass), 13,207 feet. On the Continental Divide between Peru Creek and old Decatur in the Peru Creek Mining District ad Leavenworth Creek and Georgetown in SE 1/4 sec. 9, T. % S., R. 75 W., Clear Creek and Summit Counties. Jeep trail on the east side and foot trail on west side

What it doesn't say is if it was surveyed as a possible railroad pass. However, at 13,207 feet of elevation the answer is likely no or it was deemed to be a useful route.

Here is another example for a pass that did carry a railroad line:

Boreas Pass (earlier Tarryall Pass, Hamilton Pass, or Breckenridge Pass), 11,481 feet. From Tarryall Creek and Como to Indiana Creek branch of Blue River and Breckenridge, NW 1/4 sec. 26, T. 7S., R. 77W., Park and Summit Counties. Railroad built over pass in 1881 (Brown, 1972, p.58). Auto road - closed in winter.

At least it gives me something to work with and since it includes references it should help the search for more information.

Something else I have been working on is transcribing the rules for 1869; The Golden Spike. This was the first 18XX game I worked on with my ex-father in law, Colin Barnhorst. Unfortunately I can't find my copy but I was able to acquire a set of the beta rules that had been converted to pdf. I took the trouble of retyping the whole thing since the scan wasn't very good, mostly to jog my memory on what we had done. We published this in 1996 and there are maybe 40 copies or so out in the world. I have been toying with the idea of publishing it again, but I need to track down an individual who I gave permission to re-publish it. I don't know if there are any of his versions out there or not but I at least need to see what happened there. This time I will include some designer notes in it, tough after 25 years, but we introduced a lot of concepts that make it a very different 18XX game.

So there you go, a small update on the nonsense that has been running around in my head.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Game Design Thoughts - Struggling with the Passes


A journeyman locomotive; first on the Colorado & Northwestern (later re-organized as the Denver, Boulder & Western) as #30 from 1898 - 1919, then on the Colorado & Southern as #74 from 1920 - 1943 and finally on the Rio Grande Southern as #74 from 1948 - 1952. This is a 2-8-0 Consolidation built by Brooks and is an excellent example of the potential life span of a steam locomotive. At the time it was built for the C&N it, and its two sister locomotives, #31 and #32, was among the largest narrow gauge locomotives in its class.

Needed to start off this one with a little bit of history that I can actually verify although it doesn't really settle the train "rusting" question. However, it spurs thoughts that maybe a slightly less 18xx traditional approach to trains might be in order, maybe as simple as making more trains of each type available as well as solidify that the "upgraded" engine that was introduced in 1869, The Golden Spike, is a useful item. This issue that comes up with messing with the trains is upgrading tiles which is keyed to the current trains available. Another discussion to be saved for later.

I recently discovered that there is a Colorado 18xx game currently under development. I was going through BoardGame Geek when I stumbled across it. Its called 18CO: Rock & Stock by R. Ryan Driskel. It looks pretty solid with a couple of interesting twists, particularly in the taking over of companies. Its focus is definitely very different from what I have been throwing around; it doesn't have narrow gauge, it doesn't worry about mountain passes and it doesn't really represent the hodge podge of small and minor companies that created the rail network. It is definitely a different game and I look forward playing it. There are a number of pictures of games in progress and the one thing that strikes me is that the huge (comparatively) amount of rail building in Northwest Colorado which didn't happen historically (and for good reason) and the lack of rail building in Southwest Colorado which did happen. He also included the Durango & Silverton RR which is a tourist railroad operating over the old D&RG RR track between Durango and Silverton through the Animas Canyon. I get the impression that it was included to encourage rail development in the area but its an anachronism that probably needed a different solution. Of course its hard for me to really say anything about it without playing through the game, but Ryan's work is definitely a very interesting take on a Colorado 18xx game.

Which brings me around, finally, to the whole point of this particular post: Mountain Passes. I have previously mentioned that I feel that the mountain passes should be included and the game play I see in Ryan's version reinforces this. There are reasons that the railroads didn't build in certain areas; accessibility. If you want to travel from Fort Collins, Colorado to Steamboat Springs, Colorado more or less directly you would take State Highway 14 to US Highway 40, its about a 3 hour trip covering about 160 miles and takes you over the Continental Divide over at Muddy Pass where it connects with US Highway 40. In addition to Muddy Pass (elevation 8,772') you will cross Cameron Pass (elevation 10,276'). Cameron Pass was surveyed several times by railroads (including the Union Pacific) but no railroad ever built over the pass. The only information I have on the pass is that the grade from the west is gentle and steeper from the east. Its prone to heavy snow and avalanches, certainly not unique to other passes in Colorado that were crossed by railroads. So why? I have been trying to dig up railroad survey reports for Colorado and I'm coming up empty except for the Transcontinental Pacific Reports which aren't of much use to me for the time period my version would start.

Let's take a look at US Highway 40 which is a major east-west highway running from Utah to New Jersey. Going south from Steamboat Springs it first crosses the Continental Divide at Muddy Pass, again at Rabbit Ears Pass (elevation 9'426) and a third time at Berthoud Pass (elevation 11,306'). Three mountain passes that no railroad ever built over. I know that Berthoud Pass was surveyed by the Denver, South Park & Pacific and felt to be to steep to build over. The Denver, Salt Lake & Pacific railroad elected to build through Gore Canyon (after it crossed Rollins Pass) rather than build over the other two passes. Again I would love to see some documentation as to why?

I have fallen back to looking at two other games that featured a Colorado railroad theme; Rails through the Rockies by Adventure Games and Tracks to Telluride by Winsome Games. All three of the games that I have mentioned have bonuses for completing an east-west route over the divide, to much so in my opinion. The real goal for most of the major railroads was to provide a direct connection to Salt Lake City and open up the area economically, not so much to create a transcontinental route which already existed at that point. In fact if you really read about Palmer's desires for the D&RG was to build more of a north-south route down to Mexico and then the Pacific (in broad terms anyway). We already know that 18CO doesn't really address mountain passes specifically, while the other two are very focused on construction over the passes. Tracks to Telluride (TtT) has 30 passes on the board, Rails through the Rockies (RtR) has 15 passes and a unpublished re-make of RtR (by Mayfair Games) features 20 passes. Which brings us back to the issue of what mountain passes (I consider the Royal Gorge to be treated as a pass) to include. You can't just through in every pass, there are 90 mountain passes in Colorado and some of them can only be crossed on foot although the majority are probably reachable with 4WD vehicles with good ground clearance (like a Jeep). Obviously they can't all be included and I think that is one of the failings of TtT, it includes passes that are only crossable by 4WD vehicles and would never be considered viable by a railroad.

An example of such a pass is Slumgullion Pass in southwestern Colorado that is included on the TtT board. Slumgullion Pass is 11,530 feet in elevation and is crossed by a paved road (State Highway 149). The north side of the pass has a 9% grade which is just impractical for a railroad even using switchbacks. The costs involved just out weigh the benefits. 

It comes back to information. There are passes that were surveyed by the railroads that were practical but were not built over, where are these passes? I have a couple of candidates that I think were surveyed and were practical but not used; Loveland Pass and Argentine Pass. But those are suppositions at this point and I would really like to see some evidence of why decisions were made. For instance the crossing of Rollins Pass by the D&SL was because there wasn't money at the time to build the tunnel (6 miles long, known as the Moffat tunnel completed in 1928 and still in use). Once the tunnel was built the pass route was completely bypassed and only used after that when there was a usage fight over the tunnel itself. If anyone has ideas on a good source of information I would appreciate it. I would like to get to the Library at the Colorado Railroad Museum but their hours are impractical for me and I'm not so desperate (yet) that I'm willing to pay a researcher there.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Game Design Thoughts - 18xx Games - Colorado Railroads


The basic idea of any 18xx game is to run a company and make the decisions about what trains to buy, what track to build and if the company will pay dividends or not. There are a lot of nuances there but that's really what it boils down to. Obviously you won't have much of a game without some companies to run then. Most 18xx games start this off with the sale of private companies, the number varies per game but typically those must be sold off first before anyone can purchase a minor company (kind of works like a major company but without stock shares) or a stock company (the universal standard seems to be 10 shares each representing 10% with a president certificate worth 2 shares).

If we start looking at the history of Colorado railroads we see the first such company being established in 1861; The Colorado & Pacific Wagon, Telegraph and Railroad Company which would run until 1871 and become the Clear Creek & Dry Gulch Wagon Road Company. This company would exist until 1873 when it would become the Colorado Central Railroad which in turn had been created from the Colorado Central & Pacific railroad established in 1866 becoming the Colorado Central Railroad in 1869. The Colorado Central Railroad would become part of the Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf Railway in 1890 which then would become part of the Colorado & Southern Railroad in 1898. The Colorado & Southern was created by not only absorbing the UPD&G but a number of other railroad companies as well. The Colorado & Southern would exist until 1981 when it was finally completed absorbed by the Burlington Northern RR. So not only is that a complicated existence but every company involved was controlled by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy which itself merged with the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific to create the Burlington Northern in 1970. The CB&Q itself only operated on the plains of Colorado all of its mountain interests were handled by both small and medium sized railroads that it controlled. And that's just one example of the craziness you will find in the ownership and control of Colorado railroads.

There were 165 railroads formed or operating in Colorado from 1861 to 2000. If you take away a the terminal railroads you are down to 163 (you might be able to push a couple more into that category with a little more thought). Let's arbitrarily choose and end date of 1928 as the outside limit for companies that could be included in the game and we are done to 152 (more or less). That's not helping much let's look at it a different way. From 1861-1869 seven railroads were formed (perhaps the survivors from this period become the initial batch of private companies). From 1870-1879 seventeen railroads were formed. From 1880-1889 fifty-five railroads were formed, from 1890-1899 twenty-nine railroads were formed. From 1900-1909 twenty-seven railroads were formed. From 1910-1919 eleven railroads were formed and from 1920-1929 seven railroads were formed. Obviously a good chunk of railroads created absorbed older railroads or were just re-named because of re-organizations which resulted in a "new" railroad. For instance there was a small railroad than ran from Boulder Colorado to Ward Colorado; formed in 1897 as the Colorado & Northwestern Railway. It was re-organized in 1904 as the Colorado & Northwestern Railroad and again in 1909 as the Denver, Boulder & Western Railroad which shuttered the doors after 1919 after a flood wiped out a good chunk of its track in lower Boulder Canyon in 1918. As you can see then while 165 railroads were formed there were far from that many actually operating.

It seems like the best place to start would be to select 1880 as the starting point for the game. Private companies would be those that were active prior to 1880 but still operating as of 1880. After that it starts to become a bit of a guessing game on which companies might be better represented as minor companies with potential to be merged into a single system (which is how the Colorado & Southern was created) and which could actually be full fledged stock companies like the Denver & Rio Grande which was initially formed in 1870. There is obviously a lot of research that needs to be done here as well. Plus how do you handle all the small companies created and controlled by the CB&Q? Perhaps, unlike other 18xx games, there is a continual influx of private companies being created as the game progresses.

A lot of these railroads were built almost exclusively to pull ore out of the mountains and down to the smelters. Ores like gold, silver and, especially during WWI, tungsten. Boulder county was the largest producer of tungsten in the US and it was greatly needed for the munitions industry during WWI. Should there be a complication for WWI? During this period the railroads were run by the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) to make sure rail traffic moved war materials and men efficiently.

I think we can safely ignore the USRA period; December 1917 through March of 1920 as an unnecessary complication, but I think the addition of revenue from mines (the transportation of the ore from the mines to the smelters) needs to be considered. If its included then railroads like the Colorado & Northwestern could, potentially, be included somehow. Definitely something to look at and its something I think at least a couple of other 18xx games include. It would certainly help finance the laying of track that is going to be required.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Game Design Thoughts - 18xx Games - Narrow Gauge and 18xx


Denver & Rio Grande #318 (Narrow Gauge)
Originally purchased by the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad and acquired by the D&RG in 1917. A  C-18 2-8-0 Consolidation.

Denver, Leadville & Gunnison #191 (Narrow Gauge)
The oldest steam locomotive in Colorado, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1880. Another 2-8-0 Consolidation

Rio Grande Southern Galloping Goose #7 (Narrow Gauge)
One of 7 railcars built by the RGS to handle mail contracts, passengers, LCL freight and maintenance. #7 has the front end of a Pierce Arrow bus attached to a converted boxcar.

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Steam Engine #5629 (Standard Gauge)
Built by the CB&Q in their own shops in 1940. This is a 4-8-4 Northern steam locomotive. Its hard to tell from the photograph just how massive this engine really is. The drive wheels (The ones in the center the "8" in 4-8-4) are 74" in diameter!

The third piece that needs to be dealt with in any game involving Colorado railroads is how to work with the narrow gauge track tiles. They are certainly a necessity from an historical perspective. I'm only aware of two other 18xx games that have narrow gauge tiles; 1849 Sicily and 1853 India. I'm sure there are others out there that I'm not aware of.

Narrow gauge is any track where the rails are set closer together than what is the standard (or broad gauge) for the country you are researching. By the time of the transcontinental railroad period in the US standard gauge rails were set at 4' 8 1/2" by the Pacific Railroad Act of 1863. Prior to that railways often set their own gauge although most of the Northeastern US was already using what would become US Standard Gauge making it easier for railways to ship to manufacturers and consumers across each other's rails. The Southern US used, mostly, 5' and changed everything over in a two day period in 1886 (May 31st - June 1st) to the established US standard gauge. In the US most narrow gauge rails were typically 36", but there were other "narrow gauges" as well, for instance in Maine 24" was very common. What didn't happen was the development of a nation wide narrow gauge system so the only way to get shipments to and from areas served only by narrow gauge railroads required transfer points, typically found at major terminals, in the region. That should be enough background to start.

In the 18xx series a striped line is currently being used to designate narrow gauge track and a solid white line for dual gauge track. Standard gauge track continues to use the solid black line. While I'm not fond of the look it will do for now. I don't think there is any real reason to even bother with dual gauge at least as far as a Colorado 18xx is concerned. Since it really only appears at transfer locations which are typically located near major terminals, Denver being the prime example, it doesn't need to be represented in the game. All cities could be considered as transfer points and the entire tile considered to be dual gauged.

One of the main reasons to use narrow gauge is the reduction of cost when laying the track and the ability for the smaller equipment (about 3/4s of the size of standard gauge equipment) to snake around tighter curves. Cost of the narrow gauge locomotives and rolling stock is also much reduced from standard gauge equipment. The downside is you are moving much less in those smaller freight cars so the revenue stream is also, potentially less, than a standard gauge railroad. Why not do both then? It would seem logical that the best thing for a major carrier to do would be to run both narrow and standard gauge, transfer from your own NG freight cars to your SG freight cars and benefit from the best of both worlds. Yet only a couple of railways in Colorado did just that; General Palmers' Denver & Rio Grande and the Colorado & Southern controlled by the CB&Q. I'm not quite sure as to the reasoning there but hopefully a little research will show the light.

On the map the dollar value to lay the initial tile in a hex will be printed on the map. I'll either show both the cost for NG and SG or just show the SG and you would have to calculate the NG cost. The other cost that could occur is if you upgrade the NG tile to a SG tile. There will be a cost associate with the upgrade as it not only required the replacement of the rails but often a certain amount of re-routing to increase the radius of the curves and decrease the grade. In a more standard 18xx game the cost to upgrade a tile to the next color, and enhanced rail network, is free even if the original tile had a cost associated with it. That should probably not be the case for tile upgrades in the mountains. There is a lot of engineering associated with track improvements and its doubly so in the mountains. The leads directly back to how the financing of the game is going to work. 1853 describes itself as the game for engineers who are tired of the financiers and it features a pretty simple stock market to reflect that I can see a Colorado version being very similar in that respect. The companies are going to need a lot more money for the payment of track which will likely slow the progression of the trains. Slowing the train progression is not necessarily a bad thing it just requires a different kind of playing style.

Another aspect that I haven't touched on is the restricted tile set. Almost every 18xx game has restrictions on what tiles can be used and there is a standard chart out there that show the potential upgrades. The number of each type of tile is driven by the tile set in each game, although there are a couple that say you can have unlimited straight sections or unlimited curves (both of which are, along with the sharp curve, the most basic yellow tile available). For Colorado I see a very restricted set for both the NG and the SG tiles, although there are likely to be more NG tiles than standard gauge. You want enough tiles for the game to play well but not quite enough that a player can always do exactly what they want. That balance is hard to achieve and there are a couple of a discussions about it. I tend towards a more restrictive set myself, but there are certainly those that would rather have an unlimited set of tiles and always be able to have the tile they need available. There are whole game strategies based around the tile restrictions.

Right now I don't see any reason to change the formatting on the NG tiles although I would like to. The one thing that has been rolling around in my mind is perhaps the introduction of a half tile. That will depend on how the map comes out, but there are several areas where different carriers have routes down neighboring valleys with impassable terrain between them. A half tile would solve that problem quite neatly. Something to keep in mind as the map comes together.

As I work my way through these concepts it really begins to show who all the different parts must come together to work. It does seem like the key place to start is with the board. Getting the board into some something that tiles can be thrown on to is going to drive a lot of the other parts; tiles, financing and companies.