This page is dedicated to my ongoing On30 gauge model train layout.
The layout is a representation of a fictional branch line of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina RR, taking place in late summer of 1943.
Keep checking here for news, as this page is often changed with the newest info and photos.
March 28, 2017
NOTE: all news is listed in the order of most recent
Updates and construction
My layout will be in at least two model railroad publications this year!
I have confirmed my layout will be in the On30 Annual for 2017! It's the "Tweetsie Inspired" layout mentioned in the pre-order form and should be out sometime in March or April.
Online magazine Model Railroad Hobbyist just ran a photo of mine as well, which can be found by clicking here.
"Wow, it's really green.."
I had an open-invite op session on March 11. Robert, Dale and Steve showed up. It started a little shaky, as when I turned the master power switch on, nothing happened. Turns out, one of the DCC throttles apparently wasn't plugged in all the way. Thank goodness Steve (the guy in red in the below shot) was there, as he's the one who wired this layout for DCC to start with. So after that scare, everything went great. We ran two whole trains and everyone seemed to have a good time. My pup Charlie (who just turned 15), kept coming in the room wanting to look around, so he got in on it as well.
Between trains, everyone watched a DVD of the real ET&WNC during the 40s, which seemed to give a good context to everyone. Steve, never having seen the scenery before, first noted how green everything was. I think after seeing that DVD, it all made sense to him. The Blue Ridge area is indeed that green!
Losing another local hobby shop...
Tacoma Trains, the main hobby shop I’ve bought stuff for the layout from since I got back into the hobby, is calling it quits in April. It’s not a lack of business (I’m hardly ever the only person in there buying stuff any time I ever go there), but the owner wants to retire and can’t find a buyer for the store. It’s such a shame as it’s a decent store. All the track, a great deal of the rolling stock, my DCC system and plenty of supplies and kits came out of there. It’ll be a shame to see the end of that place. There won't be any good model train stores closer than Portland or Seattle after this one closes.
Wall space revisited
The number plate was nabbed off eBay, which is made from a plastic-covered foam substance. It's as light as a piece of like-sized cardboard and was easy to hang up and looks great on the wall (I assume it will fool a few people who see it without knowing the story ahead of time) and is a great replica of the ET&WNC's # 9 number plate. The reproduction 1939 poster to the right of that came from the Avery County Museum in NC (along with a really neat t-shirt commemorating ET&WNC caboose number 505, which is now in their collection). It dropped right into an inexpensive frame I bought the following morning and it was up on the wall in a few minutes. Note the certificate to the lower right, that's an original stock certificate from the Linville River, a ET&WNC subsidiary. The painting above that is a Fogg print. The 1943 builder's plate to the right of that is an aluminum reproduction which I painted and weathered.
More trees and scenery
What would the Blue Ridge Mountains be, without trees? I used a mixture of Scenic Express "Super tree" plants and premade ones from various vendors. Then, I cut up some pre-made static grass mats for high grass and I loved how those turned out.
It's all about the details
I am now adding all the little detail stuff I've wanted to add to the layout. Also, I weathered the Ensor farm house as it looked way too clean as it was.
I also finished a group of passenger car step stools, weathered them, then placed them on the back decks of each end of each passenger car.
Though deer and bear were completely hunted out of the Stoney Creek area by the 30s, I decided to add some smaller 'critter' animals to the area and am working on two milk cows to pen up at Winner near the corn field (with a fenced cow pasture to keep them in).
In this shot, you can see that I did some weathering the footplate and cab floor. Anyone who's ever ridden the cab of a steam locomotive will recognize this wear. I also covered the molded coal at the bottom of the coal bin on the tender with tiny pieces of crushed real coal.
It's a small thing, but I filled every depression and hole on the layout and lined every path with real dirt from the place the layout takes place. I also placed a few small pebbles in certain spots to represent large rocks on the surface. Those also came from where the layout takes place.
Before I started the layout, my Mom and Dad actually collected a jar or dirt and a bag of small rocks from the area, just so I could do this once the layout was built.
It means a great deal to me to have several small actual pieces of Stoney Creek on the layout.
I took these test shots as prep for the upcoming On30 Annual magazine article.
Curtains and fascia work
The session lasted just shy of 3 hours and went through two changes in rolling stock.
I knew ahead of time I was out of my depth and told them so, in that this was a work in progress and was mostly to determine the best course in operations.
They seemed to enjoy themselves, and gave me a lot of really good ideas. I can't imagine anyone comes up with a good operating scheme on their own the first time, and with the suggestions of these guys I got a much greater grasp of how to keep two people solidly busy on a layout the size of mine.
Later versions will have a few small typos corrected and a better map of the layout. I also have a notary embossing stamp from Carter County, TN from the 1920s, so each one will be marked with that.
This sign is right above the door to the layout room, put in place a couple of weeks before the first op session.
With a lot of help from my pal Robert Scott, the bench work was installed, bolted together, levelled, and track laying started before dinner time that same day. I was worried that my measurements were off and the thing would be too big to fit the room. I still have no idea how, but I was actually four inches short in the back corner, but better short than long. It worked out as it placed the center section a little further away from the book case, so I was fine with that (and added some to that edge later on). The hole for one turntable was cut out and the pit test fitted as well (it dropped right in, no changes were needed). The area where the tool box is sitting is where the majority of the sidings and the one passing tack are now located (in the Winner section). The section in the center of the room became the end of the track. You can see one of the ten-wheelers to the left of the center of the photo. I almost couldn't handle standing in the center of it all, that first evening. I'd been dreaming of this for the better part of 30 years.
Here are the important dates so far:
My layout is in a finished room with my collection of military and RR stuff. It's not an empty space you can haul lumber and saws into. It's also a relatively smaller room, about 10X11 feet. So, I built the layout in 4 sections. They were be bolted together between sections with two carriage bolts at each seam. Track was laid over top of that, and scenery placed over that as one large structure.
Why, you may ask? This is just in case we ever have to move. All I'd have to do would be to cut through the scenery with a knife, snip the rails, yank out the bolts and unplug the wiring to take it out of the room. Even the legs are held into sockets with bolts. I built it as if it were a module display that never moves.
I've seen too many heartbroken people having to destroy their layouts when they've moved. While I don't anticipate that happening (at least for 5-10 years the way things are going for my employer), I don't want to risk it. Sure, I could still destroy it if I wanna start over, but I'd rather have the option. It was built with 1X4 and thin plywood (the blue point switch machines were anchored with thicker wood under the points).
Why couldn't the layout be bigger?
It could have been larger, to be honest. My wife even agreed to an earlier plan of mine to get a shed constructed for the layout and placed on the 'back 40' of our property. The more I thought about that, the less of a good idea it seemed. I've known people with layouts that are out of the way of normal occupation of their homes, and the builds on these layouts always seemed to take forever. Even my friend Robert (who designed the initial track plan) has a HO layout in his garage which he admitted he rarely ever walked into the room.
I didn't want that. I wanted the layout in a place that was comfortable, easy to get to and in a place I wanted to go. By sacrificing size, I think I now have a layout which is in a place where I went far more often than if it'd been in the garage or a shed out back. I can't imagine I'd be nearly this far into construction if the layout was tucked away from sight. So if it means it's way smaller than it could have been, I'm just fine with that. And besides this, if I ever had to move, I never could have picked up a large shed and had that moved as well, with the layout inside.
All 'mainline' locomotives are Bachmann On30 ET&WNC 4-6-0's, all with sound. Here's the roster:
I still need some hopper cars of the ET&WNC type. I haven't found a good way to model a bunch of them just yet.
The short Bachmann passenger coaches are neat looking but they just don't look right for the ET&WNC's ones. With that in mind, I bought an AMS On30 coach. It was a nightmare taking one apart without any idea how to do so (you must de-solder the pickup wires to the trucks to take the body off), but I had to get in there to get the windows out for re-painting and to put passenger figures into the seats. Floquil Pullman Green was a very close match to the paint already on the car, so I just sanded down the markings and blasted the remainder of the coach with that after masking off portions of the roof. The decals took a while but worked out okay. Before assembly, I added a passenger to each of most of the seats. I didn't put the wiring back as I wasn't impressed with the lighting anyway (it flickered badly on the test runs on the layout before I took it apart).
I decided to mark the first coach as # 23. Number 23 wasn't a Jackson & Sharpe coach, as the ET&WNC was rid of their J&S coaches by then (except for Linville River # 4, but I didn't want to model that one first. I did that later). 23 was also off the property by 1940, but I wanted it anyway on the layout, as that's the only ET&WNC coach I ever got to see in person, as it was sold to be a diner in Newland, NC. I got to see it in 1981 and it burned in a fire a few years after that (see the photo below). No ET&WNC coaches have survived, but combine # 15 still exists in a museum in NC. I would like to make a model of that one someday as I saw it at Tweetsie RR as a kid when it was still there on display there. My Bachmann coaches are all gone now except for the one shorty 'Stoney Creek Southern' marked one that I still don't know what I'll do with. Maybe I'll turn it into a shed...
After having only one coach on the layout since I first started running trains, I decided to finally modify, paint and decal the other AMS coach I had into Linville River # 4. This coach was on the property as late as 1944, but I haven't determined if it was being used on trains as late as 1943. It's not a perfect representation of the coach as the AMS coaches have different window types, number and placement and other details, but I still like how it turned out. The only problem is that two of these AMS coaches won't make it through the S-curve heading into the Buladeen depot at the end of the line. The frames are simply too long to allow for the swing of the bodies of the coaches through those two turns. So, passenger trains must be limited to one coach when going past the Winner depot. The second photo is a 1942 photo of the real #4, probably at the coach yard in Johnson City.
I have two tank cars, numbered 600 and 604. The ET&WNC only had two tanks on the property by 1943, and I have created reasonably accurate decals of the tank body markings for each. I like how this turned out, especially with the weathering, which used weathering powders for the rust.
Of course, they're not perfect models of the original cars, but Bachmann's tank cars aren't that far off for the real ones, as seen above. Someday, I'll be replacing a lot of these cars I currently consider, "representational" of the real ones with far more accurate looking rolling stock.
I finished caboose # 505 at the end of April 2015, from a kit by Deerfield River Laser. The real 505 had badly peeled paint in 1943, and I made it look like the road-worn hack it was at the time. Thankfully, the real 505 still exists, at the Avery County Museum in Newland, NC.
To get an idea how much work went into the other freight cars, look at this photo. This is a split photo showing the exact same car. To the left is how it looked coming out of the box. To the right is what I had after I was done re-creating a pre-war ET&WNC low gondola (most have the wartime-era sheet metal number plates on the center sides). All I really did was cut down the sides, add some decals and do a lot of paint work. Though few of the gondolas have road names, I wanted a couple of Linville River marked cars for the heck of it.
One thing you'll not be seeing are all the 'whimsical' stuff many other people into On30 have on their layouts. The primary reason I got into On30 was because Bachmann came out with affordable narrow gauge stuff and especially the ET&WNC 4-6-0s in factory paint. If it weren't for that, I probably never would have gotten back into model trains again. If anyone had come out with ET&WNC locomotives in On3 instead, that'd be the gauge of my layout right now.
Any layout needs structures, and since I wanted to have everything done that could be done before the layout was actually built, I'd taken on some structure projects. I had some kits and scratch-built some stuff. One of my favorite structures is the Buladeen depot. It's made of a mix of basswood, thick cardstock and plastic for the roof and door/window castings. I painted the trim color close to the ET&WNC red they trimmed their depots with prior to 1945. And the rest, I blasted with Floquil Pullman green. I then created a scale train bulletin chalkboard. If you take a magnifying glass, you can actually read the thing. I made three of these boards, for each of the three depot/flag stop structures. I then placed figures around each depot with a critical eye, judging what looked more correct. All figures on the layout are in 'static' poses as I can't stand figures frozen in action poses when the trains alone are moving.
The two flag stops were Grandt Line kits. I decided to model one with the door closed and shades drawn, and the other with the door open and a reasonable interior with stove and wall hangings. I like how they turned out. Note the 1943 calendar and the pin up on the wall of the depot. There's also a stove in there connected to the stovepipe.
Any WW2-era layout needs military vehicles. I took some MTH 1/43 scale Jeeps and did some work to them. This shot of them isn't all that good as the flash makes them toy-like looking but it gives you close idea what I did. First, I painted the seat covers the correct color (nobody made tan seat covers for Jeeps in WW2), removed the bumper and (postwar) tire pressure markings. Then, I applied custom-made unit markings, and weathered the heck of them. I was sure to remove the 'invasion' stars on the hoods with the surround, as stateside Jeeps never had those. I also made windshield covers out of napkins and painted them the right color. The command car got weathered a lot more than a real one likely would have been, but I just couldn't resist.
These vehicles are all in parked poses. I also have a few civilian cars, with 1943 TN license plates (most have the county code for Carter county, where the layout takes place).
What about Moonshine stills?
As I am building a layout that takes place in Tennessee in the 1940s, you'd think a moonshine still would be a requirement. The problem there is that at least a few relatives of my parents were moonshiners, but any moonshine still they would have had would have been way up in the woods where nobody could see it until they were standing next to it. My Dad spent a great deal of of his youth hunting and trapping up in those hills and he confirmed that he never once stumbled across a still that was being used at the time or had been used recently. Mom told me she once saw parts of a busted up still when she was a kid but never anything else like it.
There's also the issue on moonshining during WW2. You'd need a lot of rationed supplies to make moonshine and with many of the young men off fighting the war, I strongly suspect that moonshining wasn't that big a thing in that place and time.
I'm actually disappointed that putting a moonshine still out where a visitor to the layout could see it would be so incorrect as I was looking forward to building one.
East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, Stoney Creek Branch
Also known as: Stoney Creek Southern / ET&WNC / 796th Railway Operating Battalion, US Army
Room size: 11 X 10'
Mainline length: 28'
Track type: Code 83 Micro Engineering On30 flex track, # 5 turnouts and two Shinohara #6 1/2 curved turnouts
Track elevation: 49", no grades
Minimum mainline curve radius: 22" in two spots, mostly 24"
Timeframe modeled: Mid to late summer, 1943
Motive power: Bachmann On30 4-6-0s, all with sound
Operating system: MRC Prodigy Express DCC
Disptaching system: Car cards and train orders
Normal operating crew: 2 or 3
The locals didn't seem to call the ET&WNC by the name, "Tweetsie" very often back when the narrow gauge was still running. A common way some locals referred to the line was a joking abbreviation for the acronym, "Eat Taters & Wear No Clothes." Some called it, "The Stemwinder". Most of the locals usually just called it, "The Nar' gauge" or simply, "The ET".
Tweetsie seems to have been a 'flatlander tourist' name that stuck. So, where did it come from? Kids going to summer camps describing the shrill whistles on the ten-wheelers? The coach at Appalachian State as the ET&WNC went past during team practice sessions, on its way out of Boone, NC? An odd contortion of the RR's abbreviated name on rolling stock? No matter what some books claim, we'll never know for sure.
Frankly, I've never been a big fan of the name, but saying "ET&WNC" is a bit of a mouth full.
Like many modelers, I'm taking an alternate reality stance to the planned layout as there wasn't really a railroad along the creek after 1932. Here's my fictional history of the Stoney Creek Southern/ET&WNC Stoney Creek branch and locations in a modern-day context:
The railroad was started in 1898 and by 1900, cut East by Northeast from Elizabethton, paralleling old state 91 on the south side of the Watauga River. It crossed the Watauga at the bend in the river just east of the modern Lynn Valley Road bridge. Paralleling the current highway 91, it ran up into the hills where logging traffic kept the railroad going into the depression era. The railroad got as far as Dry Branch where locomotives were turned around and log cars were loaded. Originally chartered as the Stoney Creek RR, the line added 'Southern' to the end of the name to avoid confusion with state tax collectors over a competing logging line which ran mostly on the south side of the creek.
There were various station stops once the railroad crossed the Watauga River, notably at stops such as Hunter, Winner, Sadie and Buladeen. The line was chartered to go as far as Shady Valley, but never got that far. From the bridge crossing and interchange to the end of the line, the railroad was just a little bit over 12 miles in length. Turntables were put in at each end of the line to turn around the 4-4-0s and logging engines seen on the line after a bad grade crossing accident when a locomotive was facing the opposite direction of travel.
The line saw very little passenger traffic but the logging provided revenue until the 1930s. By 1936, trains were running only once a day, if that. Drowning in red ink, the Stoney Creek Southern offered a buyout of stock to the parent company of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina RR. By the fall of that year, SCS-marked rolling stock started to vanish and ET&WNC equipment started running up the valley. Although a separate corporate entity into the WW2 years, the SCS was in effect another branch of the 'Tweetsie'.
The third storm of the 1940 hurricane season (they weren't named at this time) caused much flooding in the region and washed out the SCS's Howe truss bridge across the Watauga. The ET&WNC filed for abandonment soon afterward, citing declining traffic and the cost of rebuilding the bridge. The ICC ruled against the ET&WNC once they reviewed the current condition of the rest of the line. The Watauga River bridge was the primary damage to the line, which saw surprisingly little damage from flooding along Stoney Creek as the line was built well above the level of the creek in most spots. Only a short section near the Speedwell was washed out and a review of revenues showed a lack of interest in running mixed trains as opposed to a lack of customers, most notably the logging loadout near the end of track and the large barrel component factory midway along the line. Several sections of rail were brought out of Boone when the Linville River Railway was abandoned. The ICC strongly pushed for use of the roadbed of the recently-abandoned Virginia and Southwestern RR (later owned by the Southern Railway) where it crossed the river. However, the railroad was rebuilt where it was. This remains the only known case of a standard-gauge railroad being abandoned in favor of a narrow-gauge common carrier in American history. ET&WNC crews would often point out the remaining abandoned SRR trackage and joke with traveling soldiers and newcomers to the valley that, "we even outlasted the big railroads!" Still, the line continued to struggle from lack of operational interest by parent ET&WNC.
Pearl Harbor changed all that.
By late 1941, the Army had already considered placing an infantry training camp somewhere in the Shady Valley area, but the lack of good roads prevented this. By the spring of 1942, the Army placed a Railway Operating Battalion into the valley with the specific mission to rebuild the aging SCS mainline (by now referred to the Stoney Creek branch of the ET&WNC). This was for the shared purpose of training Army forces in rebuilding damaged railroads for the future liberation of Axis-held nations and also to provide a good transportation hub into the valley for a projected training camp for the Army ground forces. New 55-pound rail was laid and new ballast brought in for the main line before the Summer of 1942. ET&WNC locomotive # 14, originally designated to go to the White Pass and Yukon RR in Alaska along with # 10, was instead headed into the Valley near its home rails instead for Army use. Many soldier-railroaders who cut their teeth on the ET&WNCs ten-wheelers went on to run trains on the White Pass & Yukon in Alaska as well as meter-gauge rail lines in Africa, Europe and Asia. The turntables were still being used but were no longer as useful as the shorter locomotives they were made for were no longer around. Turning a 4-6-0 on either of them was a balancing act with only an inch or two to spare on each end that none of the crews enjoyed doing.
By the spring of 1943, the SCS had been rebuilt into a line the locals could be proud of. The tracks were still weed-covered in the summer months and the sidings weren't exactly to any Class I railroad standard, but the track was in better condition than it had ever been. Commuter trains heading for the rayon mills in Elizabethton provided hundreds of skilled workers for needed defense work. Soldiers used the Stoney Creek branch to transport various loads of weapons, munitions, vehicles and supplies. The 3-foot line into the valley had never seen such traffic before, especially now that gas rationing had rendered civilian motor traffic all but useless without available gasoline.
It is now late summer in 1943. The line hauls mixed freight, cord wood, military traffic and passenger trains for the mills almost round-the-clock. The Army is also using the line for defense purposes. Soldiers are often seen coming in and out of the valley, further contributing to the local wartime economy. It is the high-water-mark for the three-footers along Stoney Creek.
Yes, why model a fictional branch line of a long-extinct railroad that even most train fans don't know today, and from more than 2700 miles from the nearest section of that railroad's right-of-way?
The short answer is simple; my parents grew up in the area the ET&WNC ran. While neither recall seeing the 3-footer trains running (Mom and Dad were both 14 when that portion of the line folded), they both recall the standard gauge trains running into the 1960s. Almost everyone I was ever related to lived in the area; most still do.
Our family went to Elizabethton, TN, usually once a year. Every now and then, I might see some remnants of the old railroad. We'd pass the site of the covered deck bridge near Hampton (though I never realized at the time I was always looking on the opposite side of the highway on those trips to see if I could catch a glimpse of the remains of the grade at that point) or if I was really lucky, we'd go to Tweetsie RR near Boone. In the early 80s, all the men from the family once went to see the remnants of the grade through the Doe River Gorge. I don't think any of us at the time realized that they'd only stopped running trains through there a few years before as part of the ill-fated, "Hillbilly World," the billboard for which was visible from the highway for many years. The local library up there had a copy of the book, "Tweetsie Country," which I drooled over and got a copy of my own as soon as I could afford one.
This is me, circa 1982, at the Tweetsie Diner near Newland, NC. This used to be ET&WNC coach # 23. Sadly, it burned down later. Even though it was gone from the ET&WNC by the WW2 era, I had to include a model representing this coach on my layout.
23 years later, here I am with ET&WNC # 12, a locomotive I've probably seen about 4-5 times in my life. It's also the only locomotive left from the 3-footer portion of the railroad (though standard gauge engines # 207 and 208 both still exist today).
Here's what I refer to as ET&WNC #207; all other train fans refer to her as Southern RR 630. I took the color shot in 2012, exactly 30 years after I was first there and got my first cab ride on this very locomotive. Sadly, she was cold at the time but had just run the weekend before. About 100 yards behind 207 is 210, one of the RS-3 diesels the Southern RR traded for the steam locomotive above and her sister engine, # 208 (later known as Southern RR 722). Sadly, the RS-3 is mostly gutted and also unlikely ever to wear her ET&WNC paint job again...
The b/w shot is the same steam locomotive, probably around 1960, Westbound approaching Bermberg mill in Elizabethton. The track is a bike path now, sadly.
On my first trip to the restored Doe River Gorge track in 2000, I overlaid this shot of a train coming around the same curve, taken from exactly the same spot (the edge of the hillside is from the original photo, proving I was exactly at the same location for my photo).
This is one of a few ET&WNC boxcars in existence, at Elizabethton, TN. This isn’t the real 434, when they pulled this car off someone’s property they couldn’t make out the number so they picked one from a list of known sold boxcars when the railroad folded up. Unfortunately, they chose a number of another boxcar that still exists today and is nearing the end of a long restoration. More can be seen on that car here. On the point is North American Rayon locomotive #1, which was the last steam engine in America which ran in interchange with other steam engines. I saw that locomotive in steam on several occasions in my youth. It ran as late as the early 1990s.
Of course I try to collect real ET&WNC stuff, which isn't too tough on the wallet as there's next to nothing out there available. I have a few original photos from before the line was abandoned, both of the 3-footer and standard gauge. This is a shot in my collection of #11's front coupler, which was an interesting contraption all the ET&WNC engines had, it allowed those 3-foot gauge engines to couple standard gauge cars!
Original timetables for the ET&WNC are very rare as they were single-sheet lists, so very few were kept after they expired. This one is from 1943, the year I model.
Here is some other paperwork from the RR, going back to 1903. In the upper photo, the form to the upper right is a locomotive form for ET&WNC 207, dated 1960.
The burn marks are from a fire in the company HQ in Johnson City. These are locomotive reports, all from 1938. Included are reports for #s 8, 10 and 14, as well as a short-lived standard-gauge former N&W locomotive. Very few of these forms are in private hands today.
And here is an original ticket from the RR!
Just in case anyone is curious, yes, I do like 3-footers in other parts of the country. In fact, I've personally been to almost every existing narrow-gauge railroad in the US (including Hawaii and Alaska). Here I am below at Osier, Colorado on the Cumbres and Toltec... All that said, very little attention has ever been given to 3-footers East of the Rockies, it seems (other than the East Broad Top). The D&RGW lines have been modeled to death and there's nothing I add to that.
Okay, you want some links? Here ya go!
ET&WNC info and books
Tweetsie Railroad (home of ET&WNC # 12)
Nice shots of the Doe River Gorge, showing the area recently
Micro-Mark Scenery and Ballast Cement (great stuff)
Model Train Publications
Stoddart's Limited - they make wall hangings of various ET&WNC logos and builder plate replicas
Jim Jordan print of #11 coming from the opposite direction, same year, past Tunnel # 2 in the Doe River Gorge. I have one of these prints myself
Mohawk Design (great RR shirts, they make at least one ET&WNC-related shirt)
Other people's layouts and interesting random model train stuff