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

Friday, August 31, 2012

A New Depot at Blacklog

Historically, the town of Blacklog on the EBT's Shade Gap Branch was served by a simple passenger shelter. Located only one mile east of the EBT's main shops at Rockhill Furnace/Orbisonia, there was no need for anything larger. So, a physical depot at Blacklog is very much an invention of mine. But being the western end of the Tuscarora Railroad's operation (because I don't have the room on the railroad for a proper model of Rockhill Furnace), and I wanted a station of some kind sitting in the loop in the yard for visual interest, Blacklog's little passenger shelter was fed, watered, and grew into something much larger.

My first inclination was to have something of a large "signature" station there, since it's what you primarily see when you look out of the windows in the family room. Something large with a lot of presence that grabbed your attention. So I found plans for the EBT's Shirleysburg station and built a mirror image of that depot.

This is the original Blacklog depot. It's scratchbuilt using Precision Products veneer sheets over a product called "Fiberock." It's a tile underlayment for ceramic tile. I chose this product because it was purportedly waterproof, and cut very easily with a band saw. And to back that up, I had the basic "shell" of the station--without siding--sitting out in the elements for two years before I finally got around to finishing the station. Over those two years, which included our normal Summer gully-washer rain storms, constant watering of the garden, and being buried under snow in the winter, the material held up remarkably well. I figured I had a "winner" in terms of a robust material from which I could easily build structures for the railroad.

Well, I wouldn't be writing this if that were true. Two springs ago, I was prepping the railroad for the spring and I noticed this:

The freight room door had fallen inside. "No problem," thought I. It must have just gotten knocked in over the winter. I'll just glue it back in place. Alas, further investigation revealed the wall around the door had disintegrated. It had no structural strength. A quick tapping of the other walls revealed that this problem was spreading. But since it was still standing for the moment, I let it go, figuring I'd fix it "later."

By the Fall of 2011, the only thing holding the station up was the veneer sheet. The walls had lost all structural integrity. It had to go. One stiff wind and it would have toppled. So, out it came, leaving a bare spot in the yard. The goal was to pull away what was left of the Fiberock board over the course of the winter, then purchase new 1/2" bluefoam insulation board, rebuild the depot's frame, then re-hang the veneer sheet over that.

That was the plan.

Well, you know what they say about plans. (Actually, they say a lot of things about plans, so pick one about things not going according to them.)

I got busy over the winter and spring with other projects for the railroad, and this box of clapboard siding "skin" sat in a box in my workshop looking plaintively up at me every time I walked in there. I also had this bare spot on the railroad where the depot once stood--made even more derelict by the old wood platform between the two tracks falling apart with each passing rain. Something had to be done.

A while back, a friend of my dad's had given him surplus Pola "Silverton" station. It was semi-assembled, but in enough pieces to be put in a box. For those not familiar with it, here's a photo of an identical station painted and serving the good folks of Woodland Junction on my dad's Woodland Railway:

(Thanks to Ken Brunt for the photo--saves me the trouble of digging through my files for one.) 
 Now, generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of using plastic building kits because they're so ubiquitous on everyones railroads. And by and large, many of the Pola kits are really too small to look "proper" on a 1:20.3 railroad. The doors scale out a bit low, etc. and so forth. However, their use on the TRR was not unprecedented. The depot at Neelyton is also a similar Pola station kit that I picked up at a swap meet. While diminutive, the architectural features scale out well. So on a recent trip back east, I decided to bring that surplus station back with me to see how I could adapt it, at least temporarily until time allowed me to rebuild the "real" Blacklog depot.

Here's the depot temporarily held together with Scotch tape, set in the footprint of the original Blacklog depot. If you're particularly architecturally astute, you'll notice one difference between this and the station on my dad's railroad... There's no gable end over the bay window. On the flight back to Denver, I was leafing through a book on the Newport & Sherman's Valley Railway, which was a 3' gauge railroad that ran two or three valleys east of the East Broad Top and Tuscarora Valley Railroads. In looking at the architecture of their stations, they were very similar to what the Pola kits portray save for simple roof lines. "Cool," thought I. When I set things up, I reversed the roof panels and liked the look of the simple roof on the depot. Then, as luck would have it, the roof of the freight half of the original Blacklog depot was a perfect fit! Sold!

So, I took the parts and pieces down to the workshop, cleaned and painted them, then printed new signage on vinyl adhesive sheet. I added a train order signal and interior lights, and Blacklog now has a new depot:

The one thing that struck me curious about this particular kit was that the door to the "freight" part of the depot was on the end, and the puny excuse for a freight platform Pola supplies with the kit was barely wider than the door. If I were a freight agent, I'd get awful tired of unloading box cars onto the platform then trudging the freight back up to the door. So a proper freight platform had to be built. It's built from Precision Products veneer sheet, and the core is solid block of 2" blue foam insulation. I thought about wrapping it around the front of the station, but it got in the way of the bay window, so I scrapped that idea. Figured it was probably stupid to have a freight platform butting up against a window at foot level. 

Milk was historically an important commodity carried on the Tuscarora Valley Railroad, with the Breyer's creamery at its northern end. As such, you'd always find milk canisters sitting on the freight platforms ready to be transported one way or the other. Since the TRR connects with the TVRR, it makes sense to find milk canisters sitting around waiting to head that direction. Other crates and barrels are resin castings I've picked up here and there, painted with acrylic paint. There's a little bit of forced perspective in play here. I mentioned the doors scaling out well in 1:20.3; well, the doors on the front scale out well--6' 8" x 30"--the same as a standard door today. The freight doors, curiously, scale out at only 6' tall. Not unheard of for the height of a door in a c. 1880s structure, but I'd expect a freight door to be just a bit taller. (Then again, the doors on the box cars weren't, so the guys moving the freight would certainly be used to watching their heads.) Still, I found some "slightly smaller" figures to set in front of the door, giving it the illusion that it might be a bit taller than it really is. Both of these figures scale out to around 5' in 1:20.3. Certainly very reasonable heights, but placed strategically to make the door look taller than it really is.

On the other end of the platform, good ole' Slim and his chickens wait for the train to show up. Slim is from a line of figures sold by Fun and Games. I picked him up at a convention a while back, and he's finally found his place. The chickens are from Bachmann (as are the milk canisters mentioned earlier). Seriously, when you're modeling an agricultural line, you can't have too many chickens and milk canisters. 

So, Blacklog now has a proper depot once again. At this point, it's "here to stay." I like how it turned out and how it fits in the scene, so my desire to rebuild the old one is pretty much vaporized. Besides, from a practical standpoint, a depot so close to Rockhill Furnace and the dedicated freight depot there would not have had such a large freight section of its own anyway. A small room with a platform would be adequate. I've salvaged what I could from the original depot, and those parts will find their way into future buildings. I will at least rebuild the mid-siding platform. I'll do that over the winter. Well, that's the plan...