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, July 14, 2010

Railfanning on the TRR - 1913 and 1939

EBT #3, one of the East Broad Top's first locomotives, pulls a train into Blacklog, Penna. By the 1910s, old #3 had proven too light for much of the EBT's daily traffic needs, but perfect for the lighter, shorter trains of the TRR. It was not uncommon to see EBT crews handling the traffic along the 10-mile Shade Gap Branch for the Tuscarora.

The Tuscarora Railroad never quite achieved the grand status of its neighboring East Broad Top RR in the photographic archives of history, most likely due to the fact that the short 4 or 5-car trains common to the TRR never had quite the dramatic flare of the 20-car coal drags that ran from Robertsdale to Mt. Union on the EBT. But that didn't mean it languished in relative obscurity. More and more photographs from "back in the day" come to light every year, showing what life along the TRR was like. Today, we offer two groups of photos, one taken in 1913, and a rarity--color photos (albeit a bit faded) showing the line towards the end of its operations.

Number 3 pulls its train through Blacklog Narrows. This is one of few rock cuts on the route of the Tuscarora RR. Most of it runs along the valley. 

East Broad Top #3 was originally built for the Denver & Rio Grande RR, but that railroad deemed her too large for their rails, so Baldwin sold her instead to the East Broad Top. The design proved quite successful on the EBT, and they ordered two more. Number three outlasted them all.

The wood hoppers behind #3 would not be used much longer, as the EBT began replacing them with modern steel hoppers. The higher capacity hoppers would mean coal traffic to the local tipples would be even more uncommon, since the hoppers would not have had to have been delivered as often.

Back at Blacklog, EBT number 3 takes on water at the water tank. The TRR had the tank built here, fed from Blacklog Creek, so their locos wouldn't have to run the extra mile or so into Rockhill Furnace to use the EBT's watering facilities there. The EBT crews could have simply brought #3 into Rockhill Furnace to tie up for the evening and watered her there, but this was out of the way of the heavier traffic along the EBT's mainline, so it was easier to get water here and not have to worry about the other EBT trains.

With the tank filled again, the EBT crew's day on the Tuscarora RR is complete. They cross a quiet dirt road on their "last mile" back to Rockhill Furnace.

Fast-forward in the time machine another 26 years. It's now 1939, and--quite frankly--the Tuscarora Railroad really doesn't have a lot of time left. They're still living off the surplus they gained from the lucrative Pennsylvania Turnpike contracts the previous few years. (Their facilities at Burnt Cabins were--literally--right next to the turnpike, so they worked with the EBT to deliver countless re-trucked standard gauge cement hoppers and other construction equipment.) The Tuscarora Valley Railroad had closed up shop in 1934, so the line from Neelyton to Blair's Mills was already seeing less and less traffic. The Shade Gap branch to Blacklog (and Rockhill Furnace) became the TRR's real main line. Traffic was scarce, though, with trains running pretty much only when needed.

These photos came to light only recently. Color film had just become widely available in the past few years, so to have color images of the TRR in operation, even these faded copies of the original Kodachrome slides, is something special.

Tuscarora Railroad #2 originally came from the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina, where she served as their #2. In the 20s, she took a bit of a tumble and was sent to Baldwin to be rebuilt. It was quite the transformation--new cab, tender, domes, and a fancy new paint job. All spruced up and new, #2 would become the favorite locomotive of the crews in the later years. She was quick on her feet, had a very roomy cab, and unlike the very large outside-frame 2-8-2 the railroad purchased for Turnpike construction trains in the late 30s, very easy on the coal. 

TRR #2 passes behind the old Neelyton schoolhouse on the north leg of the Neelyton wye. It was rare to see trains on this leg of the wye anymore, since the TVRR's abandonment 5 years prior. Trains still occasionally ran north to Blair's Mills, though very infrequently. Passenger service had all but evaporated by this time. If the train was running and saw someone wanting a ride, they stopped and picked them up. (It was up to that person to figure out how to get back...) 

This photo shows the north leg of the wye a bit clearer, as the train sits on the south leg that leads to the three-track passing siding in front of the Neelyton depot. While largely unused, the TRR crews kept the wye in good shape because they used it to turn the larger #3 and #10, whose weight mandated sound trackwork. 

Number 2 at Blacklog, ready to head back east, then south to Burnt Cabins. The wood freight cars were getting a bit old at this point. The EBT had updated their fleet to modern steel cars, and relegated the old wood cars to the TRR for their use. This was fine with the TRR, as by this time they didn't have to pay the lease fees they had been paying in earlier years. Essentially, the cars by this time were pretty much donated to the TRR.  


Eastbound, crossing Shade Creek. The Howe truss bridge over the creek has seen better days, but a few cracked timbers on the bridge hardly gained status as an "emergency repair." 

The last photo in this collection shows #2 pulling into Shade Gap. 

Hopefully, more color photos of the TRR's later years will eventually come to light. It'd be a shame to think these are the only ones.