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, June 10, 2015

The Ducks!

If there's one thing that can be said for the brass on the Tuscarora Railroad, they were quite well-traveled, and kept up on what other narrow gauge lines were doing. This seemed particularly true during the lean years of the Depression, when the brass took a trip to visit the Rio Grande Southern operations in Colorado. (We can only speculate how they were able to finance such a journey because times were definitely tight on the TRR, but years later when crews were cleaning out the offices, they found an unusually large collection of freight timetables stuffed inside an old suitcase.)

However they managed to pull off the trip, the RGS's operations seemed to have made quite an impression on them. The RGS had recently began using a collection of converted automobiles to serve the quickly-fading traffic along their route. These "motors" as the RGS called them would later become quite famous for hauling tourists along the scenic route, garnering the name "Galloping Goose" in the process.

Traffic on the TRR was equally sparse in the depths of the Depression. It didn't have the coal resources that the connecting East Broad Top RR had to keep it afloat. Its traffic was--like the Tuscarora Valley with which it connected to the north--largely agricultural. (The Tuscarora Valley, like many narrow gauge operations, would not survive the Depression. The TRR managed to hang on, but just barely.) By the early 30s, there wasn't a whole lot of traffic that warranted full-fledged trains operating daily over the line. The notion of using a small, self-contained car to carry what little freight and passengers there were the rest of the week really struck a chord. Management already had a model T they turned into a track inspection vehicle, so the concept of converting cars for the rails wasn't exactly new.

Not long after the brass's excursion west, the TRR shops turned out Motor #2, which bore a striking resemblance to the RGS's Motor #2. Rather than a Buick as the RGS used on their #2, the boys in the shop used a 1929 Model A they picked up cheap.  They liked this because there was ample room in the car to carry passengers if needed, while freight and mail could be carried in the back The Model A engine proved to be a little lethargic, but no one seemed to be in a hurry when they were riding this anyway.

It didn't take too long for Motor #2 to garner its nickname. Owing to the same ride characteristics which would give the RGS's "Galloping Goose" its moniker, the TRR's motor tended to rock back and forth as it went down the track. Onlookers said it looked like a waddling duck. The particular shade of green chosen for the motors (quite coincidentally) looked every bit like the green head of a male mallard duck. It's unknown who coined the name "Meandering Mallard," but it stuck, and management (having a sense of humor and a knack for catchy marketing adopted the moniker officially.

Not too long after Motor #2 was built, crews got busy on a second motor, this one pretty much a direct copy of RGS Goose #6, which they used for track maintenance. Tired of the lethargic nature of the Model A, the boys in the shop pressured management to just bite the bullet and get a Buick as the RGS had been successfully using. Management was reluctant do so for something that was just going to be used for trackwork, but somehow the shop got its way. Oddly, the boss's Model T inspection car found itself mothballed right after #3 was finished. Coincidence??? Number 3 never officially got the "Meandering Mallard" moniker, but owing to its number "3", crews quickly began referring to it as "the odd duck."

Throughout the 30s, both #2 and #3 would be frequent sights on the TRR rails.

The Models:

Despite my longstanding interest in the EBT and eastern narrow gauge railroading, I must admit always having a fascination with the RGS's "Galloping Geese." I first encountered them (in print) in an article in the June 1986 issue of the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette. RGS Work Goose #6 was featured, and for some reason it just resonated with me. About that time, the pages of Garden Railways magazine were filled with "Stomper" conversions. Stompers were small battery-powered toy trucks which were particularly well-suited to use as power trucks for G-scale critters. One simply needed to remove the original wheels and replace them with railroad wheels.

That was a craze which was right up my alley, so I decided that RGS Work Goose #6 would make an ideal candidate for such a project. I had already built a few other such critters, so after finding a 1:24 Model A truck kit, I set about building my own version of RGS #6. It and the other critters I built would soon find themselves languishing on the shelf in favor of newer, more ambitious projects, and before too long I had pretty much forgotten about them.

Motor #2

Fast forward a few decades, with Accucraft and Berlyn both marketing brass models of the various RGS Geese. They still caught my fancy, but they were brass models at brass prices, and not something I was going to spend my money on when I was still building a stable of proper "eastern" locomotives and rolling stock.

Then one day, I'm crusing the 'net, and I come across a listing on ebay for a fire-damaged Accucraft model of RGS #2. It didn't look bad--scorched paint and the listing said some mechanical issues. I figured there was nothing wrong with that model that I couldn't fix, and most of it (the cosmetic fixes) I'd do in the course of painting it for the TRR anyway. Still, I couldn't bring myself to put a bid on at that moment, so I decided to wait... too long. By the time I went back, the auction had ended. Someone got a very sweet deal, but that someone wasn't me.

Still, I couldn't get that notion out of my head, so I took a look inside my scrap box to see what was available. I had a small motor and gearbox, and some Delrin chain and sprockets I could use for the trucks. I had brass for the frame. The only thing I was missing was a suitable donor for the front of the Goose. Once again, I turned to ebay, this time looking for old Hubley kits. I found a "scratch and dent" Model A sedan for a really good price, so I swooped it up. Little did I know at the time the overall impact that specific purchase would have on the whole storyline behind these critters. 

Here's Duck #2 (aka "Meandering Mallard") prior to being painted. The frame is brass, while the freight box on the back is styrene. The "skin" of the freight box is .010" styrene with nails embossed from behind. These sheets were then taped to the core of the box with 2-sided tape set along the lines of these nails. I'll explain why in a later photo.

The rear truck was built from a surplus Bachmann freight truck, and some spoked wheels from Slaters in the UK. (I've had them for years.) The gearbox is from Northwest Short Line. The delrin chain and sprockets are from Servo City. The truck bolster was narrowed so that the frames would set behind the wheels. Brake detail is from my scrapbox.

The front truck is built from brass, and also uses wheels from Slaters, albeit smaller ones. You can also see the front cowcatcher design, soldered from brass. Control is via an old Airwire receiver feeding a Soundtraxx "Tsunami" DCC decoder. All the electronics are hidden in the freight box.

I mentioned above how the Hubley Model A I bought for this really shaped the backstory for this project. The reason--the particular shade of green the car was painted. It was a peculiar shade of green, with a slight bluish tint to it. That with the black trim just looked neat to me. I knew when I saw the car that I wanted to try to preserve that color combination.

That green also reminded me of the green of a mallard duck's head, so I knew when I saw it that my version of the "Galloping Goose" would have a duck theme to it. A quick Google search for duck clip-art turned up the artwork for the logo, and a few moments of pondering alliterative monikers resulted in "Meandering Mallard."

Getting that shade of green turned out to be a bit more problematic. It wasn't close to any "railroad" color that I could get at the hobby shop. I saw (coincidentally) a Ford in a parking lot that was very close to that shade of green, so I bopped into the auto parts store to try to find it in a spray can. (My airbrush and I have parted ways.) I did manage to find it. Problem is, when I went to spray it, I discovered it had a metallic finish that wasn't going to work. I ended up at my local Ace Hardware, where I had them make me up a sample of latex paint that was the right color (chosen from one of their color cards.) I then used the Preval paint system which Ace coincidentally had hanging on the shelf. This system wasn't without its challenges, mostly stemming from trying to use it with a very thick latex paint which had to be thinned down significantly.

It took me a little bit to realize spraying with this system with the latex paint isn't like painting with Krylon. Because the paint is thin, your best results come from spraying one side at a time, with that side being horizontal. Spray the paint, and realize that it's going to look a little "blobby" and uneven at first. However, since there's a lot of water in the paint, let it sit for a few minutes and the paint will settle and even out. It will still look like you painted it on too thick. Patience, Grasshopper. As the water evaporates, the paint settles down into a very smooth, even coat. The dust and dirt apparent in this photo is the result of me learning this process and wiping the sides down when I thought the paint was too thick and uneven at first; not doing a good enough job of wiping away all the lint. The angle of the sun accentuates this, so it's not quite as noticeable in real life, and this being the first side I tried (why didn't I try the front first?) the other sides and the carbody is much smoother. (I also tried this system with Badger's "ModelFlex" paint straight out of the bottle, and it sprayed very smoothly.)

I mentioned above how I used 2-sided tape set along the nail lines to laminate the styrene "skin" to the core of the freight box. That's because I wanted to try to "warp" the skin just a bit. On the prototype geese, this skin was just that--thin sheetmetal nailed to a wood frame. As time passed, the wood would shift slightly, and the metal would get little bulges here and there. I wanted to try to simulate that, along with occasional dents and scratches. Once I stuck the sheets onto the core, I took a heat gun and blew hot air onto the sheets. The thin laminated panels expanded and warped quite nicely, with the tape keeping the nail lines firmly attached to the core.

The rust is a mixture of paint and weathering powders. I painted the rust spots, then dabbed the powders onto the wet paint. This pic also shows the denting on the corner, which I did by rapping the corner with various blunt instruments. The fuel tanks (surplus air tanks with a fuel cap added) fill the wheel wells. The car looked naked without something filling that space, so I figured fuel tanks would work very well.

All carry-on baggage must fit in the overhead storage compartments. At the slow speeds this thing travels, I figured there's no reason to have to tie things down, but the sides keep the luggage from falling off. I figured the fender would be a logical spot for folks to stand to reach up into the luggage bin, so I figured the paint would be worn off from continual climbing.

Motor #3

About midway through building #2, a friend of mine came to me with a collection of trains he had just acquired, some of which needed some repairs in order for him to resell them. Included in this collection was a Berlyn Locomotive Works "Goose #6" (aka "the one that started all this madness almost 30 years ago"). I decided that one was staying in my workshop, so after a little "iron horse trading," I had a model of Goose #6. It needed some light repairs, but nothing difficult.

I decided that the "Meandering Mallard" moniker would be applied only to #2, since that was the one passengers would be riding in. Number 3 was a work/inspection car, so would be used only by the crews. Like #2, though, it got the same green paint with gold lettering. The Buick carbody was easy to remove and repaint (except for those friggin' microscopic screws holding things together), but the frame required careful brush painting. For the black, I used Badger's ModelFlex paints, as they brush on very smoothly and the dark colors cover very well with only one or two coats. (Black is a one-coat color.)

This being a work vehicle, I figured the back would be full of track-repair tools, which fortunately I happened to have lying in abundance in my scrap bin. Of course, I spent a lot of time weathering the bed of the truck with rust spots, scrapes, etc., only to then cover them over with tools and a big load of ties, but at least I know it's there.

The wood sides are actually removable. They replaced the original brass ones which looked too spindly to my eyes. I first started to build the sides one board taller, but that just didn't look right to my eyes, so I stopped it at two boards. You can see the rust along the back lip of the bed.

The big pile of ties aren't just for looks. They hide the batteries. This is a 14.8 volt pack. The control electronics (Soundtraxx "Tsunami" DCC decoder and Airwire "Convertr" wireless receiver) fit neatly under the frame. The only thing that had to be hidden was the battery pack. I had hoped to get away with an 11.1 volt pack so that whatever was hiding it could be a bit smaller, but the gearing of this model is such that 14.8 volts only gets it to around 20 scale miles per hour. There's no "on/off" switch for this; if you want to turn the power off, you unplug the battery.

That's not to say there isn't a switch. The toolbox opens up, and this switch allows me to choose between track power and battery power. I occasionally do product reviews of DCC control systems, so this way I have a model that runs off of "traditional" track-powered DCC that I can use for testing, but with the flip of a switch, run the decoder off of a battery-powered wireless receiver instead.

More fun with rust effects. Again, brown paint as a base, dabbed with rust-colored weathering powders. Any resemblance between the rust patterns on this and my venerable '97 Nissan Pathfinder are purely coincidental.

If the car's got a windshield wiper, you've got to model wiper streaks, right? I "washed" the windows with dilute black acrylic paint and let it dry, then went in with a Q-tip to clean the windows so the driver can see through them. I don't know what voltage the lights are, but they're not very bright. I thought about replacing them with LEDs as I have on #2, but that wasn't possible with that particular installation. Besides, who does track inspections at night, anyway? They're bright enough to see them when they're turned on, but they're not going to scare any deer at night.

So, that's how the Tuscarora Railroad got its ducks in a row. I don't foresee the flock increasing any, but having said that, if you asked me two years ago if I'd even have these two, I'd have laughed. But that's the fun of modeling. While I do have a very specific theme that I'm modeling, I'm also modeling a railroad that has 40 years of operating history to cover. That's why the story of the Tuscarora Railroad is ever-evolving. I try not to re-write the history I've already put on paper (silicon) to accommodate new models, but there's nothing keeping me from adding new chapters as I go.