Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The 2016 National Narrow Gauge Convention, Part IV

Eighteen narrow gauge modular layouts were spread across nine gauges and three display rooms at the National Convention.  There was truly something for everyone, from Nn3 to HOn30, Sn2, On2, On30, On3, 1:32, 1:24, 7/8, and large scale live steam layouts operating outside the convention hall. After parking my car, as I approached the convention hall, I found operating live steam layouts set up by the Owens Valley Live Steam group and the Two Foot Gauge Live Steam Engineers.  It was impressive to see these live steam locomotives chugging around around a large loop of track under the late summer skies.

Modular layouts were spread across three large rooms, and ranged from detailed prototype models like the On3 East Broad Top to the whimsical, like this ultra narrow gauge train that traveled in a circle on a single rail track.  

Here is another large scale circular railroad with an incredible amount of detail.  The owner was nice enough to stop the train for a photograph,

Some of the modular layouts were quite large, with impressive scenic effects.  One layout featured extremely realistic rural Maine scenery, and even a winter scene harvesting ice from a frozen pond.

Several of the modules on display featured typical Maine 2 foot narrow gauge railroading.  Here are some photos of a relatively small but very well done modular layout.  The Sandy River boxcar and the autos in the parking lot date this module to the 1920s.

Cold climates called for water tanks to be enclosed and heated in the winter.  The unique shape of this tank clearly places it in Maine in the early 20th century.

New England structures are unique to this part of the country, and give a peculiar character to a railroad scene.

No New England scene would be complete without a harbor and fishing boats.  The modelers have captured the look of the water.

A small New England square or common is a part of life in this area of the country.

Many of us were captured by the Soggy Bottom and Deep Cut Railway, Navigation and Cartage Company from Ohio, which featured a free standing modular layout with built-in valence and lighting, including realistic canal boats.

The Soggy Bottom also included a risque scene borrowed from Pettycoat Junction.  Note the damsels skinny dipping in the water tank while a young man hides in a nearby tree.

One of the smaller layouts was built around a logging theme.  A very slow moving Climax chugged over a crude bridge past a backwoods sawmill.

One of my favorite modules was an On3 model of the East Broad Top Railroad at Robertsdale, with detailed models of the railroad's Company Square and several coal tipples and truck dumps.  I have to admit to some partiality, since I model the same railroad in HOn3.  I took plenty of photos to compare with my own efforts back home. Here is a beautiful model of the Robertsdale Company Store, built in 1875, where miners could buy everything from black powder to toys and candy for the children.

The Robertsdale station was a simple stone block structure, built early in the 20th century.  The bay window enclosed a scale to weigh coal from the near-by mines before shipping it north to Mount Union and a junction with the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Winters were cold in the mountains of Pennsylvania.  The unique enclosed water tanks contained a coal stove to keep water from freezing in the winter.

This is a model of mine number 1, located just south of Robertsdale.  The mine tipples were built with the advice and counsel of Ron Pearson, one of the foremost experts on the history of mining and the EBT.  In a previous post I mention attending his clinic on coal mines of the East Broad Top.

The railroad also used truck dumps to load their three bay steel hoppers.  This model of a truck dumping its load into a waiting hopper car is seldom modeled.

This has been just a brief sample of the modular layouts on display at the 2016 National Convention.  Such a brief survey cannot do justice to the quality and realism of these outstanding models.  Kudos to the folks who created and operated them.  Our next and last post will touch on some of the social events at the convention, as well as the closing program on Saturday night.  I hope you have enjoyed my summary of the 2016 National Narrow Gauge Convention,

Monday, September 26, 2016

The 2016 National Narrow Gauge Convention, Part III

Contests and Clinics

As I explained in my previous posts, the National Convention was organized with activities at the convention center in the morning and evening, allowing free time in the afternoons for visits to area layouts and operating railroads.  There were three primary options for the morning and evening time periods: perusing the nearly 100 manufacturers, vendors, publishers and organizations with tables in the main hall; participating in some 50 clinics; and visiting the contest room where one could inspect and photograph dozens of stunning models, as well as an array of outstanding photographs.

I attended three clinics during the convention.   On Wednesday morning I joined a large crowd of modelers for Keith Glaab's clinic on white metal casting.  Keith, affectionately known as "Cactus" to his on-line friends in the Narrow Gauge Chat group, gave a step by step explanation how to make master patterns and RTV molds, and then use molten pewter to cast almost anything from HO scale figures to cars.  Pewter melts at a relatively low temperature and is safer to work with than lead.  The metal is easily available from gift shops in the form of collectibles like thimbles and spoons.  Keith melts these inexpensive knick-knacks down to make a wide variety of modeling details.

By coincidence, a new book by Keith, published by BHI Publications, was on sale in the vendors' room.  It became a hot ticket item for many of us, who are interested in a way to cast small detail parts using safe and proven methods.  The book is available for $19.99 from

Friday evening I attended two more clinics on topics of special interest to me.  As a member of the Friends of the East Broad Top (FEBT) I was excited to hear Ron Pearson's presentation on Coal Mines Along the East Broad Top.  The EBT was mainly a coal-hauler.  Nine coal loaders filled empty, three-bay, narrow gauge steel hoppers with coal for the journey down Broad Top Mountain to the coal cleaning and sizing plant in Mount Union, Pennsylvania.  Ron used photos and maps to show how he created selectively compressed, historically accurate models of the coal company's mining facilities.

I had the chance to meet Ron personally at the 2014 annual reunion of the FEBT, when he led a small group of us on a hike along the EBT right-of-way on Broad Top Mountain, pointing out the remains of the mine structures still visible 60 years after the railroad ceased commercial operations.  One of the modular railroads operating during the convention was an O scale recreation of the coal mining area similar to what Ron has built for his own layout. I will have more to say about modular layouts in the next post.

Following Ron's clinic on the EBT, I sat in on a presentation by Bruce de Young, MMR, on modeling the logging railroads of Pennsylvania.  Bruce's overview discussed motive power and equipment used by hundreds of logging railroads in Pennsylvania from 1880 until roughly 1929.  He also explained a wide variety of industries related to logging, from the extraction of tannin from tree bark to large chemical plants and furniture factories, even clothes pin factories!   He reviewed literature on the topic, with a special emphasis on the out-of-print but still available series: Logging Railroad Era of Lumbering in Pennsylvania.


One of the highlights of the Narrow Gauge Conventions is viewing and recognizing the modeling and photographic efforts of the attendees.  A lot of time, talent, effort and expertise go into the contest entries.  Unlike the NMRA national and regional conventions, the Narrow Gauge contests are not juried and reviewed by experts.  Instead, every attendee receives a ballot where they can select their favorite entries in a variety of categories, from rod and geared locomotives, to rolling stock, to structures, dioramas and modules.  Winners are chosen by popular vote.   Choosing the best in each category was not easy, as many submissions were simply outstanding.    I spent a couple of hours in the contest room before I was ready to hand in my ballot.

As I mentioned in the first post of this series on the National Convention, a friend by the name of Ross Ames had brought his tiny HOn3 locomotive from the west coast intending to enter it in the Rod Locomotive category.  The Neskowin is a miniature work of art, but it was competing against locomotives in every gauge, including HO, S, O, G, and larger.  All these entries were impressively well done, and we were concerned that something as small as the Neskowin would be overlooked.  It's the little wood burner at about 4:00 in the following photo.

A second category of motive power was reserved for geared locomotives.  Here again, the quality was amazing -- all the more so when the locomotive was larger than a mailbox!

There was also a category for internal combustion power rail cars.  I struck up a conversation with a modeler staying at the same Comfort Inn as I was.  He told me about entering a scratch built vehicle that was based on an article he read describing an ambulance on rails for injured loggers.  I was delighted to find it in the contest room.

Other categories included cabooses, freight cars, passenger cars, logging rail equipment, special equipment, maintenance of way, structures, dioramas, modules, and a unique category called Favorite Train.  Here is an entry in the passenger car division that caught my eye, a Sandy River and Rangely Lakes 2 foot gauge combine.   (A natural for a convention in the State of Maine!)

I particularly enjoyed some of the special equipment models.  For example, here is a beautifully executed Barnhardt loader lifting a log onto a waiting car.

There were several steam powered shovels and derricks. Here is one open for viewing the interior. As I was taking the picture, the fellow next to me said, "I'm a sucker for anything with a boom."

The structures and dioramas on display were amazing.  One of them involved a fully detailed fish pier complete with stacks of Maine lobster traps.  It won first prize for structures.

Take a look at the lobster traps -- it must have taken months to construct all this!

Here is a handcar shed open for view.  The amount of detail, including junk, is amazing.

As I was looking over the details of the shed, one particular detail caught my eye. On the table in the middle of the building were two objects: a jug of moonshine and a Bible.  Seems like the struggle between good and evil was summarized in this one little scene,

Here is a complete locomotive repair shop, complete with overhead shafts and pulleys, with belt drives connecting to the machinery on the floor.  Wow!

The award for Best in Show went to a diorama with a southwestern theme.  It stood on its own table, and was probably 3 x 4 feet in size.  The amount of detail was incredible.

Winners of the various awards were announced on Saturday evening at the closing event.  I will have more to say about that in a future post.  Next up will be a post on the modular displays, some 12-15 of them.  They covered the range of railroads, scales and gauges.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The 2016 National Narrow Gauge Convention, Part II

As I mentioned in my previous post, the National Narrow Gauge Conventions are divided into morning and evening sessions, with the afternoons free for visiting area layouts, traveling to historical narrow gauge railroad sites, or just plain sight seeing.  I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, September 6. The convention opened on Wednesday, but the morning was mainly devoted to setting up vendor tables, the modular layouts, and the contest room.  I decided to take advantage of the free time to visit one of the few 2 foot railroads still operating in the State of Maine: The Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington, located in the village of Alna, about 35 miles south of Augusta.

Alna is a historic community, with many interesting buildings dating back to the early Maine settlers.  When I registered for the convention I received a book of maps, but the directions were not as clear as I could have wished.  I found Alna, drove through looking for the side road to the railroad, and eventually came out the other side of town!  Frustrated, I retraced my steps, stopping at the Alna Store, a quaint little general store selling everything from sandwiches to groceries to Alna tee shirts.

After a delicious bowl of fish chowder (or chowdah, as they say in Maine), the store owner directed me to drive back the way I came, to a crossroad I had somehow missed.  Along the way, I stopped to photograph a rare octagonal Meeting House, one of the historical buildings in the area.

The Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railroad

A mile or so past the Alna Meeting House I found the crossroad, and in a few hundred yards I came to the headquarters of the WW&F.  As I parked my car, I heard the sound of a steam whistle from the other side of the engine house.  Grabbing my camera, I jogged toward the tracks, passing a wood beam turntable under construction.

After a quick peek in the engine house, I found myself face to face with WW&F #9, a beautifully restored Forney, which had just arrived at the station and gift shop with two historic passenger cars in tow.

I watched as the engineer, looking like a character from another time, backed the 0-4-4T past the coaches to couple on the rear car for the next train.  The WW&F doesn't yet have a working turntable or wye, so the engine travels backwards on outgoing trips and runs around the train at the end of track for the return trip.

There were a number of interesting cars in and around the engine house, including this restored Ford inspection car.  A ticket allowed visitors to ride either the train or the inspection car.

While waiting for the next train, I explored the small yard and discovered a well maintained three way stub switch near the water tower.

The WW&F has several miles of operating track, giving riders a pleasant round trip, including stops at the Alna Center station and at the end of track, where we had the opportunity to witness a manual turning of the Ford inspection vehicle.

On the return trip, the passenger train stopped at Alna Center for a photo run-by with the inspection car on the siding.  The Forney backed up until it disappeared around a curve, then came roaring by at what must have been 35-40 miles an hour.  Old timers recalled the days when children would ride the train to school and engineers would barrel along at 50-60 mph!

After our return to Alna, I visited the engine house, where the chief mechanic showed us the frame of Forney #10, which is out of service while a new boiler is fabricated at the Maine Railroad Museum in Portland.  A third engine is being built as a replica of #11.   A boxcar was also being restored, while conserving as much as possible of the original wood.

The Monson Railroad

On Thursday afternoon, I made another field trip, this time heading some 80 miles north of Augusta to the little town of Monson, home of the Monson Railroad.  Unlike the WW&F, little remains of the original railroad, built to carry slate from local quarries to a junction with the Maine Central.  The railroad closed in the 1920s.  The only structure still standing is the Monson station and freight house, where we gathered for a hike along the old right of way.

The Monson was an industrial railway, relying almost entirely on quarrying the slate which is still plentiful in the area.  Even the ballast for the 2 foot gauge track was made of slate.

After a short hike, we came to the foundation of the original engine house.

A few hundred yards further brought us to the site of the quarries that were the life blood of this tiny railroad.  The pits were striking, filled with water that filled the pits.  Our guide told us that some of the quarries were a hundred feet deep!

The Kennebec Central Railroad

On Friday, I traveled south again, following the same road I took on Wednesday on my visit to the WW&F, but only going as far as the small town of Randolph on the Kennebec River.  Here we gathered in a parking lot next to a Chinese restaurant.  The Kennebec Central had its station, engine house and yard in this area, but all trace of these structures has disappeared in the 90 years since the KC closed.  Even less remains of the Kennebec Central than does of the Monson Railroad.  The three story building housing the Chinese restaurant appears next to the tracks in old photos, but there was no trace of the short line that was built to ferry coal from ships in the river to the veterans home at Togus a few miles away.  The group worked its way along the river bank, following the former right of way, finally crossing the road to where a path led into the woods, tracing the defunct railroad.

The KC was, like the Monson, a one customer railroad.  In this case, it was the U. S. government, which contracted with the railroad to haul coal to fire the boilers at the veterans' home.  In the 1920s, the government decided to use less expensive trucks, and that was the end of the KC.  Volunteers have preserved the original right of way.  After a short walk into the woods, we gathered for a short talk on the history of the Kennebec Central.

Boothbay Railway Village

In addition to my visits to the WW&F, Monson and Kennebec Central, I visited one other operating narrow gauge steam railroad.  It was not a historic railroad in the usual sense, but more of a tourist attraction.  Nevertheless, it was a railroad, it ran on 2 foot rails, and it did offer historical artifacts, although these were not native to Maine.

Boothbay Harbor is only a few miles from Wiscasset, and home to Boothbay Railway Village.  The attraction includes a narrow gauge railroad museum, a restored 19th century Maine village, and a circle of 2 foot track on which a pair of German 0-4-0 industrial locomotives pull an assortment of restored passenger cars.  A couple of auto inspection cars on flanged wheels also operate.  I spent a few pleasant hours at the village on Saturday, the last day of the convention.

The attraction also features a museum of antique automobiles, some of which were truly rare, and all of which were in immaculate condition.

In part three of this series, I will discuss the clinics and the model contest,  Part IV will provide an overview of the spectacular modular layouts -- including live steam -- that operated throughout the convention.