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

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Expansion at Neelyton

When I first designed the Tuscarora Railroad, I decided on a 5' minimum radius. It seemed reasonable, and it easily fit within the confines of the yard. There was already an existing garden area next to the back of the house, and a 5' radius curve fit nicely in there. When I laid the track, the Neelyton loop (next to the house) was done to 5' radius, while the Blacklog loop (against the fence) was expanded to 6' radius to better allow for what would be a small seating area inside the loop.

All well and good, right?

If it was, I wouldn't be posting this.

Bottom line, try as I might, the 5' radius loop at Neelyton always looked tight compared to the curves on the loop on the opposite side. I tried adding new landscaping, plants... anything to hide the loop. Nothing worked. It just looked small.

As it happened, over the years, the original PVC pipe subroadbed I used on the railroad has proven--well--less than ideal. In some areas it's fine, but in others--particularly Shade Gap and Neelyton--it's been something of a disaster. Expansion and contraction from the heat and cold caused the pipe to roll up out of the ground and the track became horribly mis-aligned as a result. I rebuilt Shade Gap a few years ago using what's called a "ladder" subroadbed structure. It's held up nicely over the past few years, so after realizing the track at Neelyton had risen nearly an inch above the station platform (mind your step), it was time for a rebuild.

The radius thing was nagging me, for sure. In addition to it just looking too tight, I was noticing trains bogging down on the curve with even the shortest trains in tow. Logically they shouldn't, but they were. And it bugged me. All this meant one thing... the curve had to be relaxed. Since I was tearing out the track to rebuild the subroadbed anyway, now was as good a time as any.

The first step was to dig out the edging of the garden to get a sense of space. I have two mature boxwoods which I was not going to move, so the track had to fit around them.

The ornamental grasses would become a casualty of the process, but I'll work through my grief. The rock wall would come out to be rebuilt along the new edge of the railroad.

With the new edging in place, I pulled up the track from the yard to get a sense for how the sidings would be laid out. I told myself I was going to use what switches I already had, so if that meant changing the track layout, I would do that. Fortunately, things worked out very well in terms of spacing. The yard swings to the outside of the boxwoods and everything fits well.

I acquired some used track from a nearby modeler who was tearing up his outdoor line (too many elk) so I bent the track to a 6' radius to see how it would fit in the space with the new arrangement at the yard. 

The new retaining wall came next. The concrete blocks came from a flower bed which used to be in our front yard, but whose tree roots had pushed up so the wall was completely uneven. I built a small portion of "formal" wall at the corner of the house, then blended it into the rocks.

With the new edging in place, it was time to start laying out the new right of way. My faithful assistant helped survey the route. I cut up the old PVC which used to lay horizontally under the track to use as vertical posts, and drove them into the ground to the appropriate height such that the entire loop would be level. The posts were driven into the ground every 24 inches. These would ultimately support the PVC trim "ladder" structure to which the track would be attached.

I used a 6' length of PVC pipe to set the radius of the curve on the loop. This is half of the ladder, which is made from 1 x 2 PVC trim board ripped lengthwise in half, with 1 x 2 spacer blocks every 15" or so.

Once the outside edge of the ladder is in place, the inside stringer can be secured to the spacer blocks. This is what holds the ladder to the desired curve. The level makes sure things remain level around the loop.

The finished structure rounds the curve smoothly.

I mounted the switches to a 1 x 6 length of the PVC trim board. This keeps them secure and makes sure they're level side to side and not going to shift over time. 

In the yard, I laid crosswise stringers between the posts to support the ladders on the three tracks of the passing siding. This keeps all the tracks level and allows me to keep the spacing between the tracks constant.

Here's the Neelyton yard with the ladder structure in place. The switch in the middle of the yard goes to the team track and coal tipple. Since it was only one switch, as opposed to two or three in a row, I did not think it needed to be on its own board. Attaching it to the stringers in this case would be fine.

The reverse loop comes to a close on the opposite end of the Neelyton yard. The ladder structure crosses over the dry stream bed. This will ultimately be hidden by the bridge structure, allowing me to keep the subroadbed structure solid all the way around the loop. Previously, I had cut the PVC pipe at the stream, which allowed one end to rise up higher than the other, leading to nasty dips at the stream.

I sprayed the PVC brown so it blended into the ground better, then secured the track to the structure.

The yard track in place.

The tracks over the stream.

The first train over the new rails.

After about a half ton of new ballast, the revised loop at Neelyton is ready for regular service. This project--like many--took a lot longer than I had initially thought it was going to take. In the end, though, it was worth the effort. The larger loop balances against the Blacklog loop very nicely and no longer looks too tight. My locomotives run much more evenly around it as well.