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

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fall on the Tuscarora

While the Tuscarora Railroad is set in south-central Pennsylvania, it has the benefit/curse of being located in suburban Denver, Colorado. Benefit, in that we have an average of 300 days of sunshine.

Curse in that today wasn't one of them.

Fall arrived in true Colorado fashion, which means it didn't arrive at all, rather Winter showed up for a day. We don't have "Fall" and "Spring" here, rather Summer and Winter alternate days in a battle for supremacy.

Unfortunately, the arrival of Fall coincided with a visit by dignitaries from the Dulles & Reston Garden Weeds RR (the "other" D&RGW) out to visit the Tuscarora RR. Our planned presidential excursion behind EBT #1 was shelved due to the inclement weather.


Instead, the TRR's all-weather motive power, a Bachmann "Davenport" with a simple 6v battery pack hard-wired to the motor quietly trundled along in the snow and rain pulling a lone hopper car. While not exactly keeping with the 1910s period of the TRR, it has the distinct advantage of being impervious to the weather--something that cannot be said for the weathering and detailing of the TRR's steam motive power. To its defense, the Davenport does have counterweights, siderods, and a tall exhaust stack, making it a quasi-honorary steam loco.

The first snowfall of the season meant that it was also time to begin the annual fall harvest. In years past, the zucchini farmers along the TRR could feed half of China with their yield.

This year for some reason the yield was considerably smaller. Since the TRR's superintendent isn't terribly fond of zucchinis (unless baked into a zucchini bread), this wasn't quite the negative it might sound to be. The other advantage was that this year's harvest could easily fit within one car. (We did make two trips.) Don't be fooled--the Davenport was trundling around at around 7 mph. We just like long exposures to make it look fast--kind of like the chihuahua who thinks he's a great dane.

Unlike the zucchinis, this year's crop of carrots has proven far more plentiful. TRR crews expect to need a few extra cars for this year's haul. The size of this year's average carrot is just right. Long enough to be substantial, but short enough to eat a whole carrot before realizing I really don't like carrots all that much.

With any luck, Winter's visit will have been short, and we can run the presidential excursion tomorrow. We need new photos of the passenger equipment on the line for an upcoming magazine article.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Roster

A railroad is nothing without its locomotives. The Tuscarora Railroad, like many small narrow gauge lines, relies on relatively small locomotives. Fortunately the grades are mild and the trains short. In addition to the TRR's fleet of locomotives, the railroad frequently sees locomotives from the connecting East Broad Top as well as the Tuscarora Valley railroads.

Tuscarora Railroad #1

Tuscarora Railroad #1, named "Allison" (after the superintendent's wife) was the first locomotive on the railroad. It came from the Tuscarora Valley, where it had been sitting unused for quite some time. Originally built by Porter as a 2-4-0, the TRR shipped the locomotive to the EBT's shops at Orbisonia for what would essentially be a complete rebuild. (So much for the "bargain" the TRR thought it was getting.) TRR #1's first duty was to pull the construction trains, but the reality was that #1 wasn't good for much more than that. She was definitely something of a lightweight. With the arrival of TRR #2, the "Allison" went back to a life of relative calm, running on the occasional VIP tour, which means the super's wife wanted to take it for a spin. Her hand was more often on the throttle than anyone else's. (Employees of the railroad often quipped that she was really the one running the railroad, also.)

Tuscarora Railroad #2

Tuscarora Railroad #2 came to the TRR from the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina, where she was their #2. At twice the size of the diminutive #1, she quickly gained favor as being a locomotive that could actually pull its own shadow. She served as the railroad's primary power until 1908, when TRR #3 arrived. She then took over #1's duties with the daily passenger train. She is currently undergoing an extensive rebuild, so has been out of the mix for a while.

Tuscarora Railroad #3

Tuscarora Railroad #3 was the "big purchase" of the TRR. They finally were making enough money to where they could spend the big bucks on a brand new locomotive. With 20,000 pounds tractive effort, big #3 proved more than ample for the relatively short trains on the TRR. This would be the TRR's only foray into the new locomotive department. It hit the bottom line harder than management had hoped, and they really didn't need all that power. The EBT and TVRR were starting to have surplus locomotives, and the TRR found it very easy to enter into agreements with these roads for use of their older locos when needed.

Tuscarora Timber Co. #4

Heisler #4 belongs to the Tuscarora Timber Company on paper, but the TTCo. is a subsidiary of the TRR. When the TRR's management brought this Heisler over from one of their other logging operations, they just continued the numbering sequence to avoid confusion. The orginal idea was to use it to run extensive logging lines up and down the valley, but those plans never really panned out. As such, TTCo. #4 spends much of its time working with TRR #3 pulling general freight. Crews like her sure-footedness, but bemoan her lack of speed. She's favored in the winter for her enclosed cab, where crews don't mind spending the extra time.

In addition to the TRR's 4 locomotives, locomotives from the East Broad Top and Tuscarora Valley railroads can also be found occasionally wandering the TRR's rails.

East Broad Top #1 (Edward Roberts)

EBT #1 is no stranger to Shade Gap. The first locomotive on the East Broad Top, she spent most of her life shifting ore and coal cars for the Rockhill iron furnace. With the demise of the furnaces in 1908, EBT #1 got something of a new lease on life hauling the EBT's presidential coach, the "Orbisonia"--that is until the EBT acquired their 2-6-2 #11. Old number one was relegated back to a quiet corner, until 1911 when it went to the TVRR under a lease agreement. Oddly, though the TVRR was leasing the loco from the EBT, it never left EBT rails, instead serving on the TRR when needed. It's a small locomotive, though a good bit more powerful than TRR #1.

Tuscarora Valley #2

Tuscarora Valley #2
doesn't get down to the TRR too often, but like TRR #1, it does for special occasions. It was built by relatively unknown builder T.H. Paul. It's also a bit of a lightweight, so its usual purpose is inspection trains and the like, though there have been the occasional times when it's doubleheaded with TRR #1 just for the fun of doing it. It's definitely got some get-up-and-go, provided the train is short. Crews refer to it as "the toy."

Tuscarora Valley #5

Tuscarora Valley #5 is a Baldwin product from 1877. The TVRR is her third owner. Most often, you'll find #5 on the front of the daily passenger run. The TRR's passenger traffic is handled by the TVRR, since it's the quickest connection to the Pennsylvania RR at Port Royal. Passenger traffic between Blacklog and Neelyton is almost non-existent, but the railroad still runs one train per day to handle mail and milk. The Breyer's creamery at Port Royal is a ready customer for the dairy farmers along the line.

The TRR crews are currently awaiting the return of TRR #2 to service, and have also been told that EBT #3, a c. 1873 Baldwin 2-8-0 is getting a thorough once-over before being assigned to the TRR through a leased agreement similar to that of EBT #1. Most likely, what will happen in that case is that the EBT will crew #3, handling the freight traffic between Neelyton and Blacklog, leaving the TRR crews to spend their day running between Blairs Mills and Burnt Cabins instead of having to detour west to Blacklog as part of their day--something that chews up about 3 hours of their time on busy days.

The links under each photo take you either to my web site or to my builder's logs on MyLargeScale.com, where you can read a more in-depth description of how each locomotive was built.

The Premise

I've long been a fan of the East Broad Top Railroad, which runs through south-central Pennsylvania. This is a 3' gauge railroad which started out hauling coal and iron for the iron furnace, and later built itself as a major coal hauling railroad, supplying high-grade coal to the firebrick industry in Mt. Union as well as other customers across the region. Alas, when it comes to modeling this railroad, the choice of equipment is frighteningly scarce. Rolling stock (box cars, flat cars, etc.) are for me rather easy to kitbash or scratchbuild. Motive power, now that's a different story. I have done my share of scratchbuilding locomotives, but the simple truth was that I had no real desire to do so when I was starting the TRR. I wanted to get started using the commercial locomotives already on the market. That--really--was the driving force behind me chosing the TRR as a prototype instead of just doing the EBT. Had there been suitable EBT-esque locos, I would have gone that route.

As a result, I dug through the history books and found a "paper" railroad which would work very well for my purposes. While I like the EBT, the mundane coal traffic holds little appeal for me as an operating premise. I'm much more fond of the other commodities the railroad carried; primarily timber resources of various kinds, agricultural products, etc. This led me to look at the EBT's Shade Gap branch, which ran east out of Orbisonia to Neelyton. At one point, the EBT had grand visions of extending southward towards Burnt Cabins, even to the point of grading the right of way. Alas, rails were never laid. By coincidence, the neighboring Tuscarora Valley Railroad had similar southward visions, and surveyed and graded its own line down to Burnt Cabins, paralleling the EBT's grade. This southern extension was built as a separate entity, the Tuscarora Railroad. (The EBT's Shade Gap branch was built under similar practice, as a separate Shade Gap Railroad.) The TRR grade south from Blair's Mills to Burnt Cabins received about 1/4 mile of rail before the project was inexplicably dropped, the grade left to disappear into the woods with the EBT's grade. (The EBT would in later years purchase the TRR's grade for $1,000 to build a line north from Neelyton to a ganister rock quarry about a mile north.

This unbuilt, unrealized dream provided all the basis I needed. I could build my railroad around the premise that the TRR had actually come to fruition. Thus, the TRR lept off the history pages into my back yard. A history of the TRR can be found on my website. Note: as of this writing, my website is in dire need of updating, considering the railroad featured on it has been torn up for 4 years, replaced by the "real" TRR. (That's part of the reason for starting this blog--it's far easier to keep up.)

The Tuscarora Railroad operates from Blairs Mills and its connection with the Tuscarora Valley RR south to Burnt Cabins, with a western branch from Neelyton to Shade Gap, where it connects with the East Broad Top. The portion I'm modeling in the back yard is this western branch from Neelyton to Shade Gap, then over the EBT's rails to the town of Blacklog, which lies less than a mile from Orbisonia. I chose Blacklog because Orbisonia is a major facility for the EBT, and doing it justice in large scale would take up most of mine and my neighbor's back yard. Blacklog on the prototype was a flag stop with a siding for a small rock quarry, so I've breathed a bit more life into the town.

The Tuscarora Railroad has a small roster of locomotives, but gets all of its equipment through a revenue-sharing agreement with the East Broad Top. This allows me to use commercially available locomotives (though somewhat customized) and spend more time researching and building accurate models of the EBT's rolling stock. As time has progressed, I've started building models of some of the EBT's locomotives as well. More on those projects later...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

History and Reality

You will find two parallel themes on these pages. The first, a historical perspective--the story of the Tuscarora Railroad. While the TRR is something of a fictitious entity, it does draw very heavily on the true histories of both the East Broad Top and Tuscarora Valley railroads. Photos illustrating these musings will be black and white. The intention is to transport the reader back into a bygone era, seeing history told through old photos and old yarns.

The second theme will be my thoughts on building the garden railroad and its equipment. This will be more nuts-and-bolts information about modeling, gardening, and--occasionally--ramblings on the state of the hobby. Photos for these posts will be in color, so that you can enjoy the TRR as it really exists--something we can't do just by looking through faded photographs.