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

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.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tuscarora RR #6

Oh, the ubiquitous LGB mogul. First introduced in the mid 1980s, it was the first true US-prototype locomotive made by LGB. As a result, pretty much everyone who was modeling large scale at the time bought one (or two, or three...) It has been a staple of LGB's product line-up ever since then, being produced in at least two different styles (1880s above, or a more modern 1920s version with round domes and coal load), and color schemes too numerous to mention. It's next to impossible to find a large scale modeler who doesn't have one of these locos. 

To LGB's credit, they did a very good job on the model (though that red boiler, ugh!) It scales out very favorably to the Denver, South Park & Pacific prototype in LGB's stated scale of 1:22.5. At that scale, the track gauge scales to 1 meter (39.4") If you're modeling 36" gauge on the same 45mm track, the scale works out to be 1:20.3. Therein lies the genesis of Tuscarora RR #6.

I have had more than one person who is modeling 1:20.3 tell me they were selling their LGB mogul because it was "the wrong scale," thus unsuitable for their railroad. (Some more emphatically than others.) If you've been reading my blog for any time, you know I'm something of a student of narrow gauge equipment, particularly when it comes to size. If there's one truth to narrow gauge railroading, there's no such thing as "too small." So, germinating in the back of my mind for quite some time has been the notion to take an LGB mogul and "upscale" it to 1:20.3--without doing a thing to it, just to illustrate that point

Now, here begins something of a conflict for me. Because the LGB mogul has been so wildly popular, it seems to be omnipresent on pretty much any railroad one visits. I cuts against the grain for me to have a loco that "everyone" has, so I can't very well just take a stock mogul, put a fresh coat of paint on it, stick a slightly larger figure in the cab, and call it good. It's still going to look LGB mogul-ish to me. At the same time, my usual way of disguising an otherwise widely-recognized model is to change the cab, give it a new tender, or other significant cosmetic changes. That normal course of action runs afoul of my desire to do as little cosmetically as possible to show the stock mogul fits in very well with 1:20.3 equipment. So, the search for a middle ground began...

Enter Waynesburg & Washington RR #4. The W&W ran in southwestern PA, and operated a fleet of moguls. Drawings for this loco are published in "Three Feet on the Panhandle." When I compared the overall dimensions of this loco to the LGB mogul measured in 1:20.3, I discovered the two were nearly the same size. Critical dimensions I was looking at were the height from the rail to the top of the cab, and from the tender deck to the top of the cab--places where humans have to be able to move around. Those were nearly identical matches. (In fact, the LGB cab measures 4" wider than the W&W prototype.) The tender is virtually spot on as well. Pretty much all of the major measurements (length, width, height, wheelbase) were within 3". 

There are some (significant) differences, most notably the drivers. The W&W loco rode on 41" diameter drivers, whereas the LGB mogul's drivers scale to 36". The boiler on the W&W loco is slightly narrower, and also straight, where the LGB boiler has a slight taper on the middle course. The domes are also in different places. 

There's nothing one can do about the drivers, and changing the boiler to match the prototype would violate the "do nothing to it" principle of the project. That, and the slightly larger boiler offsets the slightly smaller drivers, so it's kind of a wash there. Excluding those two things, the task became to turn the LGB mogul into a model based on W&W's #4.

After a few months' worth of on-and-off work, this is what I ended up with. The biggest change to the overall loco was extending the smokebox and moving the cab back to give more room behind the backhead per the prototype. 

Here's the mogul next to my C-19. It's actually not that much smaller in terms of overall size. Shorter, definitely, because it's got one less driver. but beyond that, there's not a whole lot of size difference.

The extended smokebox came off of a surplus Bachmann 4-6-0. It was a little smaller in diameter than the mogul smokebox, so I put a small filler piece of styrene in the bottom of it to spread it out. 

The completed smokebox extension, installed on the original. The bolt is one of four which holds the smokebox extension onto the original, with the joints filled in with green putty.

Here's a shot inside the smokebox, shopping the styrene spacers which hold the smokebox door in place, and also the speaker, one of two that are installed inside the boiler. There was a lot of space inside this boiler, so I figured I'd mount the speakers inside so the sounds come from the locomotive itself as opposed to the more typical placement of having the speaker in the tender. The green clay acts as a sealer for the speaker mount.

The old style cowcatcher was not going to work for the era I'm modeling, so I built a new pilot beam. The cowcatcher itself is surplus from a Bachmann 4-6-0. I have a fair number of these in my parts box, and it allows me to give my locos something of a family resemblance with them all having similar-style cowcatchers.

A slightly higher view of the pilot, showing the wider pilot deck, new boiler stays, and air line. (Hose to be added after the loco is painted.) 

Cylinder lubricator lines added to the tops of the cylinders, along with snifter valves (bottom right corner)

The original smokestack was not going to work with this model. This one came from a Bachmann C-19, with a new flange added to the base of the LGB smokebox. The stack is just a press fit, so in the event it hits a low-hanging bridge or tree branch, it will just pop out and avoid damaging the loco.

I went back and forth on the headlight. I liked the older box-style headlight, and it matched the prototype, but I felt a more modern look would set this loco apart. I've got a bin full of Bachmann headlights, so (again) it gives a "family" look to the fleet of locos. (Even though historically, headlights varied greatly from loco to loco on any given roster, so the "family" argument with respect to headlights is more modeler's license than based on prototype practice.) Who knows--I may still change my mind on that. I also drilled out the stock handrail stanchions, and bent new brass handrails that run around the front of the loco, right under the headlight bracket. Often, the wires for the headlights were run through the handrails, so I didn't bother running anything that looks like conduit.

The LGB mogul had the sand lines molded into the boiler itself. I removed them and replaced them with new sand lines bent from wire. I have not put the boiler bands back in place on the model yet. They'll be added once the painting is complete. 

The original steam dome was (to my aesthetic sense) too narrow. So I covered it with a steam dome off of a Bachmann 4-6-0. I thought about replacing the forward dome as well, but I liked the contrast. If a locomotive was in a wreck, it was common for domes to be replaced with whatever was on hand as opposed to what would have been "original." This gives the locomotive a little bit of a visual backstory. 

The cab was moved back about 3/4" to make more room in the cab for the crew. This necessitated a new boiler jacket section on the back. I also extended the running boards. The LGB running boards (as well as those on the prototype) tapered in a little bit about halfway down the running boards. I decided to keep them the same width along the entire length. It does add a bit of visual weight to the loco, but it's more for crew safety. A new air pump and plumbing complete the side of the boiler. 

A new generator will provide power for the lights. (scrap box surplus)

More random details. I'm not 100% sure what this would have been on the prototype; some kind of air reservoir for the brakes or something near as I can tell. It looked cool, though. A little more modeler's license. While in this section, I replaced the stock air brake cylinders with slightly larger ones from my scrap box. Apparently my brake arm got pushed a bit forward. It probably shouldn't be rubbing against the wheel tread.

I mentioned I moved the cab back a little bit to give the crew some more room behind the backhead. This meant opening up the back of the stock cab. I didn't (and likely will not) go too crazy on the cab interior detailing. I'll have an engineer sitting on the engineer's side, and the fireman will likely be standing right behind the boiler. 

I made a deck plate to go between the loco and tender.  Can't have my crews falling onto the tracks, even if they are plastic. I also cut off those weird walls that extended from the front of the tender tanks. I'm not sure what they were supposed to represent. My guess is that they were a concession by LGB to bring the tender visually closer to the locomotive, but they went all the way to the front of the tender deck, so the crew couldn't actually get into the loco! Well, they're gone now, so our crews have free and ready access.

I didn't do a whole lot to the tender, but made some minor tweaks. First, the toolboxes were in dire need of wood grain, so I availed myself of a razor saw and sandpaper. I also made new water shut-off valves for the ends of the tender tank. Styrene half-round strip creates a finished look to the edge of the flange along the tender side.

I went back and forth on where to mount the back-up light on the tender; even if I wanted one at all. I figured for the era I'm modeling this loco to represent (20s - 30s) it would have electricity, so the crews would likely have easily installed a light on the back of the tender. I didn't want to make a tall stand to put on the back of the tender next to the water filler. In the end, I did what I figured any reasonable railroad shop crew would do--go digging through their spare parts bin to find something that worked. I found this headlight bracket and mounted it to the hungry boards on the tender. Voila! Instant tender light mount! In hindsight, I probably could have mounted it on the other side so it's not blocking the engineer's view to the back. I may still change that. I can't center it--it sticks out too far to where it would interfere with the water hatch opening.

The back of the tender looked a little empty, so I found a toolbox to sit under the rear air tank. I thought about taking the air tank off, but I don't have a whole lot of air storage capacity on the loco--just an identically-sized tank under the fireman's side of the cab, so I figured crews would appreciate having enough air to do something silly like stop the train. 

The rear coupler is an Accucraft 1:32 coupler. I'll have a chain dropping from the cut lever to the pin so it will become operable. (The front coupler is a Kadee #1 scale coupler because of the draft gear I had to use. The hose for the air brake will be added once the loco is painted.

Here's a look inside the tender. Battery, fuse, Tsunami2 control board (motor, lights, sound), and Tam Valley Depot wireless receiver. This receiver works with the Airwire throttles. 

That's where things stand for the moment. Painting will come later in the Spring once the weather warms up. I haven't entirely made up my mind which paint scheme I'm going to use on this loco--whether I'm going to go with the planished iron boiler jacket with black cab and tender and gold lettering, or the later dark green boiler jacket with black cab and tender and silver lettering. But I've got a few months to work that out.