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

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

McKelvey Brothers Shay #2

The McKelvey Brothers operated lumbering operations in southern Pennsylvania in the early part of the 20th century. In 1922, they acquired lumber rights along Blacklog mountain, and began building a 3' gauge lumbering railroad to handle that timber. This line connected with the East Broad Top at Orbisonia, in the area of the old iron furnaces. (They used one of the old furnace buildings as an enginehouse.) The McKelvey's lumbering operations prompted the EBT to build their iconic "Timber Transfer" at Mt. Union to transfer the cut timber from the narrow gauge cars to awaiting standard gauge cars. 

The McKelveys began their operations on this line with a 55-ton Shay. It was a bit too heavy for the lightweight track the McKelveys were building, and spent an inordinate amount of time on its side. Instead, the McKelveys brought in their Shay #2 from another operation elsewhere, which was a lighter 36-ton model.

The McKelveys operated until 1928, ending major timber shipments over the EBT. The Timber Transfer would later regain a prominent role in the railroad's operations when the railroad used it to place standard gauge railroad cars on narrow gauge trucks to save the time and expense of transloading the freight from one to the other.

The Model:

This has been an idea that has been swimming around in my mind for 20 years, ever since Bachmann introduced their iconic model of the Shay. Oddly, at that point in time, I was still modeling in 1:24, so the Bachmann 36-ton Shay would have been prototypically too big. My idea then was to convert it to a model of McKelvey Brothers #3, which was the larger 55-ton Shay. I bought the Shay, and it sat. And sat. I eventually sold it off. Truth be told, I'm not really a huge Shay fan, at least not like some modelers, so it was no big deal. On to other projects.

Fast Forward to 2018 and a trip to Cass, WV to ride the train from Cass up to Bald Knob. Cass--for those who are unfamiliar--is the center of the universe for Shay lovers. It's an old logging line turned into tourist railroad. The grades are steep and the Shays earn their keep. Now, I have ridden behind Shays on other railroads. I've even ridden in the cab of a Shay when they were running on the Georgetown Loop. Like the models, they were cool, but nothing special. I don't know what it was about Cass, but the bug bit. Not hard, but certainly enough to give me an itch that I would need to scratch. 

Not long after I returned from that trip, I found myself enjoying an afternoon at a friend's art gallery. He's a fellow garden railroader with whom I frequently barter back and forth for this or that. We got talking about my trip to Cass, and a Bachmann Shay he had sitting on his table. It was similar to the one shown above, but much more of a basket case. Whomever he got it from did a lot of ham-handed modifications to it and it was in dire need of a repaint. He said "take it." I wasn't going to argue. (It was well worth installing 20 pair of Kadee couplers on his box cars in exchange.)

At this point, I'm firmly entrenched in modeling 1:20.3, so I have an easier task of modeling McKelvey Brothers #2, which is a 36-ton Shay very similar to Bachmann's model. The biggest difference between the two is the fact that the McKelvey Brothers Shay has a "fishbelly" steel frame that is thicker in the middle than on the ends. The Bachmann model is of an older Shay design with a straight frame and truss rods. 

A little time with a cut-off wheel, some plastic, and putty, and the frame on the model was easily modified. The rest of the changes were very simple modification, mostly removing the air pump and air tank, and replacing it with a steam brake system per the prototype. The only other "significant" difference between the prototype McKelvey Brothers Shay and the Bachmann model is the location of the steam dome and bell. They're reversed relative to one another. Alas, I would have had to rebuild the tapered section of the boiler to match the prototype and that was more than I felt like tackling. Close enough for me.

After a new coat of paint, decals, and a quick trip to the weathering shop, McKelvey Brothers #2 is ready for service.

The cinders on the running boards and along the top of the boiler are done with fine coal dust, "glued" in place by painting the boards with paint then dusting the coal dust onto the paint while it's still wet. Cinders are everywhere on a steam locomotive...

I use a "jet black" acrylic paint for the soot, dabbled on with a stiff paintbrush. The step allows crews to reach the sand dome. I used powdered graphite to simulate the polished metal where the paint would be worn off from being used as a step.

I have to admit I've become something of a sound snob in the past few years, and I've been putting speakers in the boilers of my steam locomotives instead of in the tenders so that the sounds come from the loco itself (where they're supposed to come from) rather than a scale 20' behind the locomotive. The rather large smoke stack on this Shay makes an absolutely delightful speaker enclosure. I've also got a second speaker in the bunker for a bit of added bass.

I've also become a big fan of using "weathering pencils" for various effects. These are essentially watercolor pencils, though a bit softer. You can use them dry for streaks like this, or wet them and use them as a wash.

Shay cylinders are oily and greasy affairs. I used Vallejo's "Engine oil" paint to simulate the oil and grease. It's a glossy, dark translucent paint which really gives the look of oil.

A wash of dark brown acrylic paint on the frame gives it a dirty, dusty, and a bit grimy look to it.

Horizontal surface? Must have cinders. 

I built a new coal load for the bunker. The base for the rear headlight is still there. I'll disguise it with a few blocks of wood at some point in the future. I wasn't in the mood to cut it away and have to putty everything over.

The coal load is removable so I can replace the battery when it goes flat. The control electronics and second speaker lie underneath it. Control is via a Soundtraxx Tsunami2 DCC decoder and Airwire receiver. 

I gutted the factory electronics when I installed the new control system, but I still wanted the firebox glow. Red and orange LEDs do the trick. The cab and bunker were weathered with dark grey PanPastels.

The "B" side (B for "boring?") of the Shay. The hose is used to siphon water from nearby streams when needed.

This is the steam brake assembly I built to replace the air pump and air tanks. You can also see the "fishbelly" frame better on this side. The firebox was painted with a brown wash to simulate burnt paint, then the bottom half was weathered with white PanPastel weathering medium to give it a look of ash dust.

Subtle weathering along the top edge of the coupler pocket where the paint would be worn off from stepping on top of it to get to the ladder, as well as the grab bar along the back edge. Sand dust around the sand bin fillers was done with light tan weathering pencils.

Overall, a rather fun, quick project. The engine is a delight to run, and the "3-cylinder" chuff mode on the Soundtraxx Tsunami2 decoder gives it that distinct Shay sound.

With that, McKelvey Brothers #2 is ready to haul timber along Shade Gap once more. 

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.