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, January 10, 2014

Tuscarora Timber Co. M-1


It's important to remember that the Tuscarora Railroad was begun by lumbermen. They built the TRR because of the timber resources in the area, and because of the existing network of narrow gauge railroads already in place in the form of the East Broad Top and Tuscarora Valley railroads. The TRR was their only "permanent" railroad, but it wasn't their only railroad.

Building on their early experiences operating the TRR, the lumbermen formed a sister company called the "Tuscarora Timber Company." This company existed to tap timber resources throughout central Pennsylvania (and farther afield if economies warranted.) They started small, but quickly found success. They'd find timber resources near a railroad of some variety, build 3' gauge tracks from a convenient junction into the hills, log it out, pull up their tracks, load them onto a train, and run them to the next site.

Starting with a ragtag group of 2nd-hand locomotives, they eventually purchased Heisler #4, which gave them strong, reliable motive power for a good number of years. But by the end of the 1930s, #4 was beginning to get a little long in the tooth. Because of the nature of their logging lines, none of the older, surplus TRR locomotives were really suitable for their operations. That, and building the support structures needed for maintaining steam locomotives on these various transient sites was getting quite cost-prohibitive. The diesel locomotive seemed to be the wave of the future for railroading. Very low maintenance, combined with needing only an engineer to run it made it a very logical choice. So, the TTCo. turned to General Electric, who had just entered the market with a range of small-but-powerful diesel locomotives that seemed quite well-suited to their needs.

Tuscarora Timber Co.'s "M-1" is a 1939 GE 40-ton center cab. It features two 300-hp motors, with a single traction motor on each truck. Power is transmitted from one axle to the next via siderods. Crews almost immediately fell in love with it for all the reasons railroad crews love diesels--cleaner, easier to work on, and much less persnickety. The M-1 would serve the logging company well into the 1950s when the economies rubber tires on the road finally won out over steel wheels on the rails. The M-1's final disposition is unknown.

The model:

The story of the M-1 started quite a while ago; March of 1990, to be exact. That's when an article was published in the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette on US Gypsum's 40-ton center cab Whitcomb diesel. For whatever reason, I was somewhat enchanted by this locomotive, and prompted by the article's author's suggestion that it would make a fine model in 1:24 for a garden railroad, I set out to build a model of it.

Originally powered by Northwest Short Line trucks, Woodland Railway #40 ran for a good number of years on my dad's railroad, until damage to the counterweights combined with an obsolete radio control system sidelined it. 

A few years ago, dad brought the locomotive out to me for me to rebuild. Rather than rebuild the original NWSL trucks, I found a set of trucks off of a Bachmann 45-ton locomotive which had a suitable wheelbase and appearance for the project. The original cab had become damaged as well, so I built a new, taller one. (The prototype had height restrictions which necessitated the low cab.) I added a QSI sound system to the loco, and sent it on its way back east. 

Now, if you've been following my blog, you know I'm a dyed-in-the-wool steam guy. Still, there was something about this locomotive that rekindled that original fire I had all those years ago. It wasn't enough now for me to run this loco once a year on my trips back east. It was high time I finally built one for me to enjoy on my own railroad.

About this time, Accucraft had just released their model of a Whitcomb 40-ton locomotive (with a full-height cab), but at $1,000 was clearly out of my price range. So I once again looked to the Bachmann 45-tonner. I figured I could use the trucks and build new on top of them at the very least, or--if circumstances allowed--use components from that to build the model. (I didn't "need" a Whitcomb specifically, I just wanted a diesel that captured the look and feel of one.) Here's a photo of what the original Bachmann 45-tonner looks like.

I have always thought the Bachmann model was physically too large for a narrow gauge line. Yes, it's accurate to the prototype, but the prototype was built to standard-gauge size, since it was ostensibly a standard gauge locomotive that could be re-trucked with narrow gauge trucks. But the model lent itself nicely to a bit of a "weight reduction program."

The frame was narrowed by nearly an inch, which isn't very obvious from the photos (but definitely obvious on the track!). The cab was also narrowed accordingly, and also lowered by cutting off the bottom at the point where the battery box details are molded in. The hoods were lowered lowered; comparing the stripes, you can tell how much! A new roof, raised radiator grills and new headlights completed the transformation. After a proper coat of paint and some light weathering, Tuscarora Timber Co. M-1 was ready for service.

This view of the engineer's side shows the new, lower profile of the locomotive. Batteries are contained in the fuel tank (5200 mAh, 14.8v Li-Ions). There's a 2" speaker in the end of both hoods, with a QSI "Titan" with G-wire receiver providing the sound and control. The Titan allows for 2-channel sound output, so you can map various sounds to specific speakers. For instance, I've got the horn sound coming from the speaker under the horns, while the bell comes from the opposite speaker. This is pretty cool to hear close up, but in reality, from more than 10' away, you can't really tell. Still, there's a cool "geek factor" in play. I do have to admit to a bit of modeler's license on the sound, though. While the locomotive is a GE product, the sound file I used is from an early Alco. Alco diesels have so much more personality when it comes to their sound. I used to live right next to the Livonia, Avon, & Lakeville Railroad (Upstate NY), and all they run are old Alcos. There's just a pleasant gurgling quality to those motors that I think sounds neat.

The Tuscarora Timber logo is homage to the Woodland Railway logo used on my dad's railroad. So far, there have been no lawsuits for trademark infringement. Of course, since I maintain all of dad's motive power, I've got a bit of leverage there.

The loco was narrowed by about a full inch, bringing the width down to 5" (8' 4" scale), which is much more in keeping with the widths typical of narrow gauge equipment. When coupled to my rolling stock, the locomotive no longer towers over them as does the "factory" 45-tonner.

You'll notice a bit of a warp to the top few slats on the radiator grills. Don't use a heat gun to dry paint on small plastic parts. Fortunately, some strategically-located rust-colored paint, and it looks like a dent. 

The interior of the cab is based on photos I found online of the interior of prototype GE center-cab diesels. (Google to the rescue!)

I found a really cool forum for weathering diesels (Google "rustbucket." You've got to register to read the forums, though.) These guys are INSANE when it comes to weathering diesels. They'll take a prototype photo and model that loco down to the last rust streak so realistically that you can't tell the difference. And that's in N scale!!! But the detail they put into their weathering inspired me to have a bit of fun with this one. While I wanted this loco to look fairly new, the trucks, fuel tank, and things below the walkway get real dirty real fast regardless of how new the loco is. Note the fuel drips on the side and the mud splatter on the tanks next to the wheels. The octagonal patch on the end of the air tank covers a big hole that was in the tank when I bought the loco. (It was 2nd-hand.) I've seen similar patches on other air tanks, so I figured it was easier than filling in with putty. that, and it adds interest. 

I left most of the Bachmann plumbing in place. I haven't a clue if it's accurate or not (and judging from the plumbing on some of their steam loco models, I'd wager more to the "not" side of things) but it looks plausible to my eyes, not being a diesel guy.

I tried to do a "clean" locomotive, but I couldn't resist the chance to try my hand at some rust techniques. This one I thought turned out particularly well. It's mostly paint with Bragdon's dry weathering powders brushed on while the paint's still wet. I love the contrast between the dead-flat rust and the glossy black paint on the hood. This paint damage is caused by the access door on top of the hood being left open while the locomotive is running. The vibration scratches the paint on both the hood and the door, leading to rust. Note also a little spot of rust on the side door where the door handle would bang into it when the cab door is opened. The streaks coming down from the rust didn't turn out quite as well as I expected, but recall that even in this photo they're shown about three times the size they are in real life; they look fine when seen with the naked eye.

The other side of the locomotive. The power switch hangs down under the "T" in the logo, and there's a pushbutton volume control under the "M."

The wheels were painted with rust-colored acrylics, then brushed with a mixture of brown and rust powders. They're actually probably a bit more "rusty" than "greasy" as I suspect they'd really be on the prototype, but I like the tones.

I'm still a dyed-in-the-wool steam guy, but I gotta admit, this is a fun locomotive to watch run around the railroad. I run it often on my indoor shelf switching railroad, since it seems particularly well-suited towards that end. I can't say I'm ready to dieselize the entire railroad, but after 24 years, I finally have that long-awaited center cab for my own railroad.