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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Big Diesel Power

The M-8

If you've been following my latest posts about new diesels on the roster, and wondering if Colorado's legalization of marijuana has had any influence, I can assure you it has not. (Though if the wind is right and my neighbor is in his back yard...) What has influenced me, however, is some work I had done a while back for my dad's railroad. That, and a trip to the Georgetown Loop Railroad.

This is what started this whole madness. This is an NW-2 that I "upscaled" from 1:29 to 1:22 for my dad's Woodland Railway. Dad always liked diesels--this style in particular--and the he used to have (a custom-built job from the 80s) gave up the ghost a while back. So I found a USA Trains NW-2, widened the frame, and built a new cab for it. Quick-and-dirty narrow gauge NW-2.

But, I'm not a diesel person. And I've already got a center cab diesel (M-1) and a smaller switcher (M-2). And there's no reason a small lumbering operation would have a diesel this large. So I don't need another diesel.

Then I took a trip up to the Georgetown Loop Railroad. Sitting up at Silver Plume, a rather nice-looking (can I say that about a diesel?) 75-ton Porter (yes, the small steam loco folks) diesel sitting on the tracks. Georgetown Loop #1203. It resonated with me, bringing me back to the NW-2 I had built for dad. For some reason, its pair of 3-axle trucks stood out to me. But I don't need another diesel. I don't ... need....... 

Not long after that, I found an LGB White Pass diesel a friend was selling for a ridiculously low price--one of those "I have no clue what I'd do with it but I'd be stupid to pass this up" prices. Except it had 3-axle trucks, so it wasn't exactly "I have no clue..." It was pretty much immediate once I saw it what I could possibly do with it. Yeah, just tattoo "sucker" on my forehead. I bought it, and I was on my way to having a third diesel on the roster.

Coincidentally, I had found a stack of Short and Narrow Rails magazines at a swap meet for another ridiculously low price. Inside one of these issues, I found an article by Ed Cass on the Georgetown Loop Porter (though pre-dating its arrival on the GLRR). It showed the loco as it appeared working for US Gypsum, its original owner. In addition to photos and a brief history, the article has measured drawings! Fantastic!

Except for one little thing.

Okay, maybe "little" isn't the right word. One B-I-G thing--the size of the locomotive. When I saw the loco at Georgetown, it was on a track by itself. With no rolling stock coupled to it, I had no sense for how big this loco was. Nearly 40' long, 9' 6" wide, and almost 14' tall! It was going to dwarf pretty much every piece of rolling stock I own. As much as I preach "anything goes" with narrow gauge railroading, I knew this was going to be visually too large for my railroad. But by this time, the creative juices were flowing, so it was too late simply to abandon the process and walk away.

Plan B:

Well, I have this LGB diesel with 3-axle trucks, and it's got this long hood with doors, louvers, and other details. The louvers on the side of the White Pass diesel are very similar to those on the side of the Porter. Prototypically, these elements by themselves don't really have much of a scale to them (within a certain range). Measuring the hood with a 1:20.3 scale ruler worked out very well in the "plausibility" department. So, I have a workable hood and a frame that need only be widened to be more in scale. All I'd need to do would be to build a new cab. This was sounding vaguely familiar.

The Process:

I squared the ends of the frame, and moved the long hood back about 5/8". This required doing some minor cutting to the frame and drilling new holes to hold the long hood in place. Nothing major.

The frame was widened with strips of styrene, and new ends built up.

The original deck was filled in with putty

Two-sided tape put in place to hold new diamond safety tread decking in place. This would be reinforced along the edge with solvent cement.

So, with a cab that borrows heavily from the Southern Pacific's "Little Giant," a very Alco long hood, and 6-axle trucks which harken back to the original inspiration for this loco, it's (almost) ready for the paint shop.

That's where the dilemma came in. How to paint it, and also which railroad to letter it for. My first thought was to call this "M-3" and letter it for the Tuscarora Timber Co., continuing that roster. However, a lumber company running trains on lightly-constructed tracks would probably not have such a large locomotive. Plausible, but not likely. The Tuscarora Railroad--by the era represented by this locomotive--would have been out of business. I had also thought about lettering it for my dad's Woodland Railway, but that paint scheme is too similar to the Tuscarora Timber Co. scheme, just a lighter shade of green.

I played around on Photoshop with some color schemes, and kept coming back to dark green with maroon and gold. It's very reminiscent of the East Broad Top's tourist-era paint scheme for their M-1 and M-5 locomotives. I'm usually not a big personal fan of "fantasy" locomotives for historical railroads, but every rule has an exception. So, the East Broad Top got its "M-8."

 I removed some of the winterization features on the long hood of the stock loco, replacing them with simple screens. A spare exhaust stack from a Bachmann 45-ton diesel made for a suitable exhaust on this loco instead.

There was a lift-off box on the top which I kept, using it to hide the power switch and battery charging plug. 

 The grab irons are from Phil's Narrow Gauge (sadly out of production). The number boards are temporarily done in black ink. I'll get some rub-on numbers and replace the hand-drawn lettering in short order. The lenses on the headlights are watch crystals.

I used an Accucraft 1:20.3 coupler pocket on the front, but modified it so I could fit the draft gear from their 1:32 coupler inside of it. (The 1:32 coupler scales out perfectly for a 3/4-sized coupler in 1:20.3.) Functional cut levers are made from welding wire. 

 New air tanks are made from wood dowel wrapped in styrene. The fuel filler is plastic tubing with a screw stuck in the end of it.

 Step detail. The diamond tread is from JTT products.

LGB's flanges are notoriously deep. Rather than turn them down to a more prototypical appearance, I simply colored the ends of them with black permanent ink. The wheels are hidden behind the frames, so it's very difficult to tell.

The handrails are bent from old wire hangers. I used the original handrail stanchions from the White Pass loco, but lengthened them to a more prototypical height for the larger-scaled loco.

Stanchions on the front and rear were made from brass angle irons. 

The window shade is bent from sheet metal. Since it sticks out from the side, I wanted it robust enough to handle hitting rocks, branches, and other things that would go "bump." 

The cab interior is patterned after an illustration of an Alco diesel control stand from the 1950s. I didn't model every last knob, button, and dial, but did include enough to give it the flavor of a locomotive cab.

The engineer is an action figure I got from Wal Mart. (About the only good thing to come from the 4th "Indiana Jones" movie. He stands about 6' 2" tall in 1:20, and can be posed in any number of positions. (I have a few of them.) A little super glue fills in the joints once you've got him posed how you want him. The conductor's origins are long forgotten. He was formerly a fireman on EBT #3, but he fit well in this cab, and with the cab being so large and open, I really needed two figures inside.

And some more photos:

The lettering is vinyl, cut on my wife's Cricut cutting machine. The vinyl has some thickness to it, and in certain light, you can see the edges which show the relief of the lettering, but for the most part it's hard to tell. I could have used decals, but I really hate applying decals. I figured my disdain for applying decals outweighed the inconvenience of occasionally being able to tell the vinyl has some thickness to it. (Besides, prototypes today are using vinyl, so it's a prototypical material for lettering!)

The loco is controlled by a TCS WowDiesel DCC decoder, fed by an Airwire receiver for battery power. It runs super smoothly and sounds bloody fantastic! The TCS is sensitive to changes in load, so as the loco runs around the railroad encountering grades up and down, you hear the sound of the motor adjusting in accordance.

I think at this point, my "diesel itch" has been properly scratched. There may be a doodlebug sometime down the road (EBT's M-1?) but that's a ways off. Plenty of other projects to keep me busy in the mean time.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tuscarora Timber Co. M-2

Really, I'm not turning into a diesel guy. 

I'm not, I'm not, I'm not, I'm not, I'm NOT!!!!

Okay, maybe just a bit. 

I blame technology. That is, sound technology. Particularly the latest generation of DCC sound/motor decoders. In this case, the catalyst for my indulgence is the TCS WowDiesel decoder. I had heard these decoders on a friend's HO railroad, and liked how they sounded; most notably how they responded to changes in load as the loco was going up and down grades with varying lengths of trains. It was really dynamic. Combine that with an admitted appreciation for the gurgle of an old Alco diesel. (I used to live next to the Livonia, Avon, & Lakeville RR, whose roster is comprised entirely of old Alcos.) I just had to try one of these decoders on my large scale railroad. The question became, which loco? 

I already had a center-cab, and I really didn't want anything larger. (At least I didn't at that time, but that's a story for a future entry.) I didn't really want to have to do a whole lot of actual building for this project, since I was really just looking for some kind of moving object into which to plug a really cool sound decoder. So, I hearkened back to my early days in large scale, remembering a little 4-wheel diesel critter I used to own. This isn't that one (or the same model), but the source for inspiration. 

It happened that Trainworld had LGB White Pass diesels (27630) on sale for around $100. This model is based on a 30-ton Davenport diesel originally built for the Sumpter Valley Railway, but made famous as D&RGW #50. LGB painted it to resemble a small Plymouth owned by the White Pass Railroad (though I can't find any photos of it in the blue/white paint of the model.) 

The model is accurately scaled to the prototype in 1:22.5, but the prototype is deceptively large. The result is that the loco scales out remarkably well in 1:20.3 (the scale to which the TRR is built) for a number of small industrial switchers. Because of this, I did next to nothing cosmetically to this loco besides removing a few details and replacing the couplers. 

I did add an air tank to the top of the hood to "clutter it up" just a bit. 

Control of the loco comes from a TCS WowDiesel decoder, which is powered by a Tam Valley Depot DRS-1 Hi-Power receiver. I put a 14.8v Li-Ion battery, all the electronics, and a 2" speaker under the hood of the locomotive. 

The stock front grill was a solid bit of plastic. I drilled out the space between the bars and placed some wire mesh behind it. This allows the sound from the speaker to escape. 

The charging jack (seen from the back side) and power switch are located inside the cab. 

I added Kadee #1 scale couplers and replaced the unrealistic-looking plastic airhoses with new ones from Old Iron Designs. While I was repainting the loco, I managed to lose one of the front steps, so I added a replacement from my scrap box. I forget what it came off of, but it fit quite nicely. If I had two, I would have replaced the one on the rear as well. 

I like the aesthetic look of Kadee's newer, more prototypically-styled couplers. The problem is that the knuckle on these is just a fraction of an inch smaller than that of the older style. As a result, it has a tendency to slip through the Accucraft 1:32 couplers if there's any excessive drag. Not a huge deal as this loco is primarily used for switching, but I do run it around the railroad just to have something running from time to time, and every once in a while it will come uncoupled from the train.

I replaced the stock headlight lens with a watch crystal. The original was frosted (not very prototypical) and stuck out in front. The watch crystal is clear (as one would hope from a watch crystal) and fits inside the headlight housing for a much more prototypical look.

For reasons unknown to me, the controls on the prototype are on the fireman's side of the loco. I thought about moving them, but--again--this was supposed to be a quick-and-dirty conversion so I could play with new sound and control technology. So, I left it as is, sticking a 1:20 engineer figure in the seat.

The lettering is vinyl, cut on my wife's Cricut machine. Vinyl is nice to work with, but finicky when you start getting into small lettering. The "uscarora" and "imber" part of this logo is around 3/16" high, which is really about as small as you can go with any consistent success.

The paint is Scalecoat 2's "Great Northern Green," with black roof, hood, and underbody. The orange is BNSF orange. Weathering is a mixture of grimy black and brown washes with some weathering powders applied while the paint was still just a bit damp. This holds the powders better than applying them to fully-cured paint.

LGB gets a lot of criticism from scale folks for their over-sized flanges. They're also notoriously difficult to file down without removing the wheels and doing a whole bunch of extra work. I cheated. I took a Sharpie to the edge of the flange. Because the wheel is tucked behind the frame, the Sharpie has the effect of hiding the edge of the flange in the shadows of the locomotive frame.

I'm loathe to describe myself as a diesel lover, but this was definitely a fun (and simple) project. The TCS WowDiesel decoders are seriously cool with regard to how the sound responds to changes in speed, load, and grade. It's not just "train go faster, motor sound gets louder" kind of thing. The sound of the motor changes so that when the loco is going downgrade, it drops to idle and coasts. When the tracks level off or go back up hill, the decoder senses this change, and the motor sound will rev up in response. The result is a locomotive that runs around the railroad reacting to its environment. It's a dynamically changing sound as it travels around, so it doesn't get remotely boring to watch or listen to.