Tuscarora Railroad

The Tuscarora Railroad is a 1:20.3 garden railroad located in suburban Denver, Colorado. The railroad is based on the East Broad Top RR which still operates today as a tourist line in Orbisonia, PA (south-central PA). Be sure to check out Garden Railway Basics , Kevin's book on building and maintaining garden railroads for information on how the TRR was built.

Location: Denver, CO

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Caboose #1

A lot of what I do on the Tuscarora RR begins as a challenge, either something that I want to try to do to see if I can do it, or something I want to do in order to prove something can be done. This project started out as the latter. I was given a Bachmann 8-wheel caboose by a friend of mine to see what I could do with it. The stock caboose is a pretty good 1:22.5 model of the East Broad Top's steel-frame caboose.

The challenge was to take this caboose and see if I could make it into a workable 1:20.3 model. I knew right off the bat the body of the caboose was too low for a 1:20.3 figure, but I wasn't sure how that would affect the rest of the process. The 8-window look wasn't right for this caboose in 1:20.3, though, so I went looking for inspiration. I found it on the Tionesta Valley Railway, which ran in northwest Pennsylvania.

I really liked the side door on this caboose. I wasn't out to build a model specifically of this caboose, just draw inspiration from it. (I wasn't about to cut new windows into the end of the caboose.

I kept the length and width the same as the original Bachmann caboose. It scaled to around 7', which is perfectly plausible for a 3' narrow gauge caboose. I ended up adding about 3/8" to the height, allowing me to put a proper 6' door on the end. The roof is pretty much stock, including the cupola. The walls are Evergreen styrene's V-groove siding, 3/16" spacing. This is glued to the outside of the Bachmann car, which had 3/8" extensions glued along the top edge to support the roof. The windows and doors were laser-cut for me. 

The interior is a mix of new wall partitions and some of the original Bachmann interior

The lanterns are LED Christmas bulbs. The base is the base of the Christmas light. I found some globes at the dollhouse store I thought would work, but it turned out they were glass and I couldn't drill out the bottoms as I had wanted to. So there are as yet no globes on the lights. Timetables and papers are actual EBT timetables which I shrank and printed out. 

The other end of the caboose has the stove and a desk for the conductor. 

My first attempt at weathering the caboose was very rushed, and didn't turn out near as well as I had hoped. (I started this project in 2015). That's largely the reason why it hasn't made my blog until now. I hated the weathering, and wanted to re-do it. I thought about repainting and starting over, but it was January when the bug bit to redo this car, and that's too cold to do any significant painting. So I decided just to build new weathering on top of what was there. The result is a caboose that looks like it's been a long while since it saw a bath. However, I've seen photos of the EBT's cabooses looking pretty dingy themselves (caked in coal dust), so--while heavy--isn't remotely out of sorts.

The lettering on the caboose is actually a blend of things. I used lettering this caboose as fodder for one of my Garden Railway Basics columns in Garden Railways on using vinyl lettering. This logo is a vinyl sticker applied on top of the paint. On the opposite side, I used the vinyl as a mask. I also used the vinyl as a stencil (car numbers). Of all the techniques, probably using it as a sticker and as a stencil for painting is the most effective. Using it as a mask and peeling it off to reveal the paint underneath didn't give me the results I wanted.

Weathering is a mix of mediums. I started with a wash of grimy black acrylic paint. (Black and brown paints mixed in varying degrees, and washed with more or less water depending on how thick I wanted the effect. The "chipped" paint was simulated using dry brushed acrylic paint and colored pencils.

Weathering powders and dust then coat the window sills. You can use paint or matte medium as an adhesive for the dust in these cases.

The roof was done with aluminum duct tape cut into small strips. The damage to the roof is actual damage from a run in with a branch or something out on the railroad. Instead of repairing it, I just added some rust-colored paint and voila!

The other side of the caboose. Like the prototype, the large door was only on one side, which I also liked. Visual variety as the train runs around the railroad.

In the end, I can't really say the "challenge" of upscaling a Bachmann 1:22.5 caboose to 1:20.3 was actually truly met. Essentially I just used the frame and roof of the original Bachmann car, and simply used the stock walls as a core over which I built the new caboose body. I love the proportions of the finished car, though, so in that regard, I'll take it as a victory. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Expansion at Neelyton

When I first designed the Tuscarora Railroad, I decided on a 5' minimum radius. It seemed reasonable, and it easily fit within the confines of the yard. There was already an existing garden area next to the back of the house, and a 5' radius curve fit nicely in there. When I laid the track, the Neelyton loop (next to the house) was done to 5' radius, while the Blacklog loop (against the fence) was expanded to 6' radius to better allow for what would be a small seating area inside the loop.

All well and good, right?

If it was, I wouldn't be posting this.

Bottom line, try as I might, the 5' radius loop at Neelyton always looked tight compared to the curves on the loop on the opposite side. I tried adding new landscaping, plants... anything to hide the loop. Nothing worked. It just looked small.

As it happened, over the years, the original PVC pipe subroadbed I used on the railroad has proven--well--less than ideal. In some areas it's fine, but in others--particularly Shade Gap and Neelyton--it's been something of a disaster. Expansion and contraction from the heat and cold caused the pipe to roll up out of the ground and the track became horribly mis-aligned as a result. I rebuilt Shade Gap a few years ago using what's called a "ladder" subroadbed structure. It's held up nicely over the past few years, so after realizing the track at Neelyton had risen nearly an inch above the station platform (mind your step), it was time for a rebuild.

The radius thing was nagging me, for sure. In addition to it just looking too tight, I was noticing trains bogging down on the curve with even the shortest trains in tow. Logically they shouldn't, but they were. And it bugged me. All this meant one thing... the curve had to be relaxed. Since I was tearing out the track to rebuild the subroadbed anyway, now was as good a time as any.

The first step was to dig out the edging of the garden to get a sense of space. I have two mature boxwoods which I was not going to move, so the track had to fit around them.

The ornamental grasses would become a casualty of the process, but I'll work through my grief. The rock wall would come out to be rebuilt along the new edge of the railroad.

With the new edging in place, I pulled up the track from the yard to get a sense for how the sidings would be laid out. I told myself I was going to use what switches I already had, so if that meant changing the track layout, I would do that. Fortunately, things worked out very well in terms of spacing. The yard swings to the outside of the boxwoods and everything fits well.

I acquired some used track from a nearby modeler who was tearing up his outdoor line (too many elk) so I bent the track to a 6' radius to see how it would fit in the space with the new arrangement at the yard. 

The new retaining wall came next. The concrete blocks came from a flower bed which used to be in our front yard, but whose tree roots had pushed up so the wall was completely uneven. I built a small portion of "formal" wall at the corner of the house, then blended it into the rocks.

With the new edging in place, it was time to start laying out the new right of way. My faithful assistant helped survey the route. I cut up the old PVC which used to lay horizontally under the track to use as vertical posts, and drove them into the ground to the appropriate height such that the entire loop would be level. The posts were driven into the ground every 24 inches. These would ultimately support the PVC trim "ladder" structure to which the track would be attached.

I used a 6' length of PVC pipe to set the radius of the curve on the loop. This is half of the ladder, which is made from 1 x 2 PVC trim board ripped lengthwise in half, with 1 x 2 spacer blocks every 15" or so.

Once the outside edge of the ladder is in place, the inside stringer can be secured to the spacer blocks. This is what holds the ladder to the desired curve. The level makes sure things remain level around the loop.

The finished structure rounds the curve smoothly.

I mounted the switches to a 1 x 6 length of the PVC trim board. This keeps them secure and makes sure they're level side to side and not going to shift over time. 

In the yard, I laid crosswise stringers between the posts to support the ladders on the three tracks of the passing siding. This keeps all the tracks level and allows me to keep the spacing between the tracks constant.

Here's the Neelyton yard with the ladder structure in place. The switch in the middle of the yard goes to the team track and coal tipple. Since it was only one switch, as opposed to two or three in a row, I did not think it needed to be on its own board. Attaching it to the stringers in this case would be fine.

The reverse loop comes to a close on the opposite end of the Neelyton yard. The ladder structure crosses over the dry stream bed. This will ultimately be hidden by the bridge structure, allowing me to keep the subroadbed structure solid all the way around the loop. Previously, I had cut the PVC pipe at the stream, which allowed one end to rise up higher than the other, leading to nasty dips at the stream.

I sprayed the PVC brown so it blended into the ground better, then secured the track to the structure.

The yard track in place.

The tracks over the stream.

The first train over the new rails.

After about a half ton of new ballast, the revised loop at Neelyton is ready for regular service. This project--like many--took a lot longer than I had initially thought it was going to take. In the end, though, it was worth the effort. The larger loop balances against the Blacklog loop very nicely and no longer looks too tight. My locomotives run much more evenly around it as well.

Friday, September 14, 2018

"Little 6"

"Have I got a deal for you!"

While the exact quote has been lost to history, that's the sentiment behind the meeting between the TRR management and Southern Equipment & Iron, purveyors of fine used locomotives. It had been a few years since the TRR acquired #5 from SE&I. Truth be told, the TRR really wasn't much in the market for a new locomotive. They had 5 serviceable locos, which allowed them to always have one in reserve to cover for routine maintenance, and they had both the East Broad Top and Tuscarora Valley railroads from whom they could borrow a locomotive if dire need came up. But credit to the SE&I sales force--when something came along that seemed well-suited to one of their customers' needs, they didn't miss a beat trying to move it.

Such was the case with a small Baldwin 2-6-0. It came to SE&I from a mining operation on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. They had unexpectedly stopped operations, and their equipment ended up in SE&I's inventory. It was a small loco, with only 12,000 pounds of tractive effort; about 2/3 that of the larger consolidations on the TRR's roster.

Well, the salesman earned his paycheck that day. He somehow convinced the TRR brass that they needed a new locomotive. Number 6 arrived, and began sharing passenger duties with #4, the railroad's other smallish mogul. Passenger trains on the TRR were not high-tonnage affairs, so the little locos were quite well-suited to the task.

"Little 6" soon became a common sight on the railroad. It was a bit sluggish when asked to pull freight, but she was easy to fire and a fairly smooth ride.

Finishing the Model

The genesis of TRR #6 is described here. Like the TRR management, I wasn't really in the market for another loco for the railroad, but this one presented itself at the right time, and I had an itch that needed to be scratched.

I decided that the paint on this loco would follow along the lines of TRR #5, with a planished iron jacket, black paint, and gold lettering. It's simple but elegant. I figured the TRR, having just bought #5 recently, would have kept the same theme going. The planished iron jacket is simulated by using Testor's buffable metalizer paint "Gunmetal." It's very close in finish to Russian/planished iron jackets, and reflects the light equally well--especially outdoors.

Don't look too hard at the builder's plate and smokebox number plate on this loco. They don't match. At all. I actually meant to keep the stock LGB builders plates on the side of the boiler, but forgot to mask them off when I primed the loco for painting. Oops. So I filed them down and added new ones from my scrap box. I forget which loco these came off of, but they're "Baldwin" builders plates dated 1912. The #6 on the smokebox is from Alco loco works, and dated 1890.

The pilot deck is littered with coal dust to give the look of cinders everywhere. The pilot bearing is painted with Vallejo engine oil paint to give it an oily look.

The Vallejo engine oil paint also gives an oily/greasy look to the valve gear. Oh how I wish I could turn down the flanges on those drivers, but oh well. A little black Sharpie along the outside edge will tone them down visually if I find it too distracting.

Black acrylic paint was stippled along the top of the boiler to simulate soot from the smoke stack. Washout plugs have hard water deposits dripping from them.

A single airpump adorns the fireman's side of the loco, with tank under the cab. There's a second tank on the rear of the tender. The running boards were widened along the length of the locomotive.

I moved the cab of the locomotive back around 5/8", so I built a new floor in front of the firebox.

A proper deck plate between the cab and tender fills the gap so the fireman doesn't fall through.

Clutter on the back of the tender gives the loco a very utilitarian look. I didn't like the original location of the headlight as I had it mounted on the wood backboard, otherwise blocking the engineer's view as he would look back. So I moved the light and lowered the backboard. I also had side boards originally, but I moved the battery pack inside the tender itself, so I could get rid of them since I didn't need them to hide the battery pack. The speakers in the boiler left lots of room in the tender for the electronics.

With that, Tuscarora Railroad's "Little 6" is ready to head out on the road once again, so I'll close with a few more photos of the loco.