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, November 9, 2009

Big Power on the Tuscarora Railroad

The Story of TRR #10

A K? On the EBT? Say it ain't so! Has the ownership sold out? Given up? What gives???

A little backgound...

Perhaps you recall last year when I "downsized" a Bachmann 2-8-0 to 1:22.5 for my dad's Woodland Railway. The result of that project was something of a brutish locomotive, whose proportions really struck a chord with me. That particular 2-8-0 came from a friend with whom I bartered services in exchange for that and two other locomotives (an LGB Mogul which became EBT #1 and a Bachmann "Annie" with a Barry's Big Trains 2-8-0 chassis, which is now in the process of becoming EBT #3. (Photos when there's something photo-worthy.) In exchange, I did a custom makeover for another B'mann 2-8-0 and a custom weathering job on a K-27. The intent of this project to have Jim come over and watch/learn/do some of the work through the process, though that has yet to actually happen.

Anyway, I sat down the other night to start weathering Jim's K-27, mostly just to try some techniques so I didn't look completely incompetent when Jim came over to weather the rest of it, and I really liked the way things were going. During this process, I kept looking up at the shelf in my workshop atop which sat another K-27. Now, I've been wondering just what the heck I'm going to do with this loco since it arrived. I don't model the D&RGW or RGS. My first thought was to do a weathering job on it and sell it. My second thought--after finishing dad's 2-8-0--was to lop off the rear truck, and make a 1:20 version of his 2-8-0. My third thought was to just let it sit there and use it for product review testing, etc--its purpose up to that point. Problem with that is that this K-27 weathering job was going so well that there was just no way I could let that one sit untouched. So, I'm back to the "weather and sell" scenario since I really don't have the time or inclination to do anything so drastic as lop off the rear truck. The fly in the ointment--Allison [i]likes[/i] the K. So, in the interest of peace and prosperity, it stays.

Ever since I did Jim’s 2-8-0 #350, I’ve been interested in doing a “modern” steam locomotive for the TRR; something with electric lights, generator--something that has that has that “look” of modern-ness that the fluted domes and plannished iron boiler jackets of the TRR’s fleet of locomotives lacks. I already had plans to “modernize” TRR #2, their old 2-6-0, but this presented me with another interesting opportunity--a chance to write another chapter of the TRR’s history.

Now, the issue becomes, how do I justify such a large locomotive on a rural railroad like the Tuscarora Railroad? It's definitely more power than that railroad would ever need.

Or is it?

The answer comes from a rather unlikely spot--the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In 1937 and 1938 when the PA turnpike was being built, the EBT's terminus at Neelyton was the closest railhead to the turnpike through that part of Pennsylvania. As a result, numerous standard gauge cement hoppers (retrucked to narrow gauge at Mt. Union) and flat cars of bridge steel and other construction equipment passed through Shade Valley. It was a lot of traffic over a very little period of time (and--sadly--has mostly eluded railfans' cameras of the day). Recall that the Tuscarora Railroad is a physical manifestation of a railroad that was graded but never actually had rails laid. This grading went down to Burnt Cabins, PA (then continued south to McConnelsburg). Burnt Cabins is literally right next to the Turnpike, as anyone who's stayed at Ye Olde Grist Mill campground will attest.As a result of this revised history, the EBT's terminus at Neelyton is no longer the closest railhead. Rather, the TRR can deliver this freight right next to construction site.

But, oh dear me, the largest locomotive the TRR has is a 2-8-0 which--at a mere 20,000 pounds tractive effort--is surely not up to the task of pulling strings of retrucked standard gauge covered hoppers up and down the line. Besides, it's too busy carrying about the daily business of the railroad. Fortunately, the shrewd negotiating that served the railroad well in its construction hadn’t been lost 30 years later. The TRR negotiated freight rates with the contractors building the Turnpike such that they included a “retainer” curiously equal to the price of a new locomotive. (Well, not “new,” but new-to-the-TRR.)

Enter Tuscarora Railroad #10, built by Alco in 1927 to the same drawings as the D&RGW’s K-27 class locomotives. It was originally built for a railroad down in Alabama whose delusions of grandeur far exceeded its finances. As such, it never turned a wheel for them, rather sat unused waiting for a new buyer. (Records don’t indicate whether the locomotive was actually delivered and returned, or just never delivered). Ten years was a long time to sit, but not many narrow gauge railroads north of the border were buying motive power in the 30s. Most--sadly--were selling.

The TRR gave her #10 because she was that far and above anything else they had, they decided to give her a unique number.

The Model

There’s not a whole lot of “modeling” or real significant change to this locomotive. I wasn’t looking to eliminate any resemblance to the stock locomotive or anything so drastic, I merely wanted to give it something of a unique appearance. The version I had was #455 “post-wreck,” which had the tall steel cab, big snowplow, and taller-than-others tender. The tender I didn’t care about too much. The snowplow had to go. No railroad back east needed that much hardware on the front. The cab also sat a bit too tall for my sense of aesthetics. The roofline was definitely going to have to be lowered.

My first thought once I got the snowplow off was to just build something new from the partial pilot that was underneath the plow. Of course, that would have meant building a cowcatcher, which is just a bunch of tedious work that was more trouble than I wanted to put into this project. Thankfully, Bachmann sells the pilots for these locos individually, so for $17, why not? A quick trip to Caboose Hobbies to pick one up, and I was all set.

The coupler is an Accucraft 1:32 coupler, which scales out well for the 3/4-sized couplers used on the EBT and various other narrow gauge lines. The operating cut levers are cool. You don’t realize how small those couplers really are until you compare them with a full-sized coupler on the same pilot.

 While I’m talking about the front of the locomotive, I should mention that I swapped out the stock LEDs for some of a more appropriate color. Last Christmas, I picked up a strand of 50 “warm white” LED Christmas lights on clearance for something like $4. These are small 2mm LEDs that come very close to the color of incandescent bulbs. They’re a direct solder-in replacement for the stock lights, and the effect is well worth the time. I removed the “visor” from the front headlight to give it a more “eastern” look.

While I had the class lights out, I took the liberty of coloring the rear-facing lens green. The way I figure, the lamp could be placed on the holder either white forward or green forward depending on which was appropriate. “Second section” trains on the TRR are virtually non-existent, and “extras” are more the rule than the exception, so white got to face forward. Sharpies are good. (The front number plate is a white-metal casting that was colored with a dark yellow Sharpie to give it the brass look.)

While at Caboose, I found some Alco/Schenectady builders plates, which I used to cover over the holes that held the snowplow stays. I could have filled them with styrene or putty, but this was easier.

I painted the boiler jacket green. This wasn’t so much an homage to the D&RGW, but to the 2-8-0 that I had done for dad. I liked the green jacket on it, and I just like the visual contrast in tones. This is the same shade of green I used on EBT #1, so it looks almost black in most light. I just brush-painted it on. The Badger ModelFlex paint is wonderful stuff. No brush marks at all. There were a few places where the finish was a bit uneven in terms of color, but that’s well masked by the weathering.

The cab of this loco was just too tall for my liking, which became especially apparent when sitting next to Jim’s K-27 with the wood cab. Fortunately, there’s about 1/4” worth of extra material that can be removed from the top of the cab without trouble. It makes a world of difference to my eyes. I added some “L” angle to form a rain gutter of sorts to hide the seam between the roof and cab side. I also removed the window shades. I think the cab just looks cleaner without them. (BTW, if you want to keep them but improve their looks, replace the paper with first-aid tape. Looks great!)

Although I was looking to make this loco “lose” some of its western identity, I found inspiration by looking even further west than Colorado. The lettering and striping come from the K-28 clones that ran on the Oahu Railway. They used a lettering font similar/identical to that used by a number of eastern railroads (including the TVRR and EBT).

Weathering on this loco was my usual mix of dilute washes and powders. The valve gear looks painted, but it’s just coated with a matte finish (ModelFlex’s Dull coat). It’s very good at toning down the brightness of metal valve gear.

The rear truck was fun to weather. When you see photos of K-series locos, the rear truck and area under the firebox are almost always completely light grey. This is due mostly to the ash from the firebox, and it really brings out the beautiful detail on this locomotive.

The tender saw a bit of cosmetic surgery as well, though--like the cab--just some minor alterations.

The “big change” was taking off the front edge of the coal retainer that wrapped around the front edge. (You can see the thicker area in the front wrapping half-way around the end of the tank.) The rest of the retainer was sanded and painted to look like wood rather than steel. It’s enough of a difference in tone to make the tender sides look just a bit lower than they otherwise would. I also lopped off the top edge of the insert that forms the front of the tender, though ultimately that will be replaced altogether. Because of the small amount of space the electronics ultimately ended up taking, I’m going to redo the coal load so it reflects a half-empty load. I’ll do that next time I’m doing coal loads.

Another shot of the “wood” bunker retaining boards. The back of the tender deck is in need of more clutter, but I’ll do that when I redo the coal load.

Try as I might to remove the original lettering without having to resort to brute force, I ended up resorting to brute force. This meant I had to repaint the tender (and cab side) to even out the finish. “ModelFlex to the rescue” again. I used their “flat black,” which despite the name is anything but flat. Quite the contrary, it’s a very nice gloss black which even when brushed on lays down without brush strokes making it an ideal base for decals. Like with the green, there were subtle variations in tone that would not be there if it were airbrushed, but also like the boiler, the weathering made them completely disappear.

The weathering is just a wash of dilute acrylic paint. The thing I really like about this technique is that from the side, it looks wonderfully dull and dirty.

But when you view it from an angle, it’s still reflective, retaining the sheen of the paint under the weathering. You can’t maintain that aspect with an overspray of dull coat.

The “brains” of the operation. I ended up nuking the stock B’mann “plug-and-play” socket board because of a weirdness in how my particular Aristo Revolution decoder was (or rather wasn’t) controlling the headlights. I don’t know where the heart of the issue lies, but the fix was to just nuke it and wire everything new. It ended up being for the better, anyway. Fortunately, all the wires going between the loco and tender are marked on the board, so you know what goes where when rewiring.

I ended up wiring the front headlight and class lights to the auxiliary functions on the Revolution controller, so I can turn them on and off at will. The rear light is controlled by the directional control. The cab light and firebox light are always on. Sound is from an old Sierra system. I put 50 ohms resistance in line with the speaker to control the volume. You can turn down the volume on the Sierra, but as you get to the low end of things, you lose the softer sounds like blower and generator. With the resistors, I can keep the volume fairly low (I like to [i]not[/i] hear the locomotive when its away from me) and still hear the subtle nuances of the sound system.

One “innovation” if I can call it that; I wanted to keep the tender shell removable so I could get in to swap out batteries. So, I glued rare-earth magnets into the studs that would otherwise hold the screws. The two magnets stick together and hold the shell onto the body. Now, the 1/8” diameter magnets I’m using in this case aren’t strong enough to let me carry the tender by the shell, but they are strong enough to keep everything in place during normal operation. I suppose larger magnets would give better support.

Here’s the back end of the tender, with the same 3/4-sized coupler installed on the pad. Note the holes on the rear beam to accommodate alternative rear pilot steps on the other versions of the K. I just left them, figuring the tender went through changes when the TRR bought it. The two brown streaks going up the back wall of the tender are splashback streaks cars get from dirt and mud splashed up from the wheels of the cars coupled to them. It’s not something you see modeled very often, but it’s a fairly common occurrence.

For whatever reason, this version of the K doesn’t have a back-up light on the tender, so I added one from the scrap box. It, too, got a new LED. (The only LEDs I didn’t change were the cab light and firebox.)

In Closing

This is very much a hobby of unexpected diversions. I’ve got a workshop full of unfinished projects, and yet I continue to put them on hold once in a while to completely shift gears and do something totally different. I suppose that’s what this hobby is all about, though. There’s no finish line nor lists of requirements. It’s very much about doing what you want when you want to.

The truth is, TRR #10 will probably be a rare visitor to the rails in the back yard. She’s really too large in an aesthetic sense relative to the lengths of my sidings and things of that nature. She really just dwarfs the railroad. She’ll probably make it out for special occasions, but she’s a bit too long to switch out a few of the sidings (not to say we won’t have fun trying). More often, I think she’ll be an ambassador for the TRR, heading out to open houses and public displays where she can really make an impact. When I wired the tender, I left the track pick-ups in place so I can (shudder!) run her off of track power if the batteries go flat. I know, sacrilege, but so is a K-27 on the EBT.