Thunderbolt Productions


Welcome to the Stoney Creek Southern!



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.


October 14, 2019

NOTE: all news is listed in the order of most recent  


Larger format photos of the layout can be found at my Flickr photo set .
Here is some amazing video shot by Trackside Model Railroading:

They also did a DVD, and my layout is on the cover! They also made a Blu-Ray disc as well...

I made this video with photos, for a clinic for the Olympia Model Railroad group, ending my presentation of "Writing your layout's history":

I made this video for a railroad slideshow, using a real Bud Light radio commercial and photos from my layout. Oddly, I posted this in a few places online but nobody apparently got the joke of the odd facial expressions or the shot of me using a 1930s Speed Graphic camera to take model train shots:


 My work has been in seven model railroad publications since 2017, and more to come in 2019/2020!


This is Ross from the Trackside publication, getting stills and video on my layout on December 9, 2017.

Publications in which the layout has appeared:

Here's what I have had published so far in order of most recent:

  • February/March 2019 O Gauge Model Railroading Magazine has a feature article on my layout.
  • August/September 2018 O Gauge Model Railroading Magazine has a photo of my layout.
  • 2018 On30 Annual has an article I wrote showing how to turn a used tender into a water car.
  • March/April 2018 Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette did a article on the military/historical aspect of my layout.
  • January 2018 Trackside Model Railroading online magazine did a excellent profile of my layout, with great photos. They also released a DVD of all the video they shot.
  • 2017 On30 Annual did a feature article I wrote on the layout.
  • Model Railway Hobbyist ran two photos taken on the layout in 2017, in the March and December issues.
      • While not model RR-related, I got a photo published in the December, 2017 issue of Fine Scale Modeler! It's of my Dad's amazing 1/6 scale Civil War James rifle field gun. Ironically, I was visiting my parents in Florida when I found out and was standing right next to my Dad when I got the news!

        Oly Ops 2019

        Here's Toby Loftus and Eric Bessey (from the Portland, Oregon area), taking a short photo break from running trains on the layout. I hope you had fun, guys!

    Let there be LIGHT, both scale and full size...

    I was very stressed in the Spring of 2019 (let's face it, I am stressed from work often) and a lot of home improvement we'd done on the week before Eastern 2019 (had most of the interior repainted and the house re-roofed), so I haven't gotten to the layout much.
    Still, on Easter Sunday evening, my wife and I added new lighting to the layout room, with a large LED and 4 'cans', 2 each on a rail sticking out from each side, pointed at various places on the layout. Though it's not as good as a full LED track over the entire layout, it's still a big improvement over the original single room light from when we had the house built!

    Starting in November 2018, I added the controls for the Woodland Scenics lighting system over the long weekend and wired up my first small depots to lighting. The first was directly over the panel, the other a few feet away. The latter I was looking forward to, as I'd put a basic interior inside the structure and kept the door open when I built it. It'll be great for people to be able to peek in there and see furniture (and a 1943 calendar on the wall) from now on:

    It's the little things

    I decided to replace the heated/bent styrene covers for the locomotive tender lights with ones made of brass. The ET&WNC made sheet metal covers for the backup lights to keep them from being damaged by the dumping of the coal adjacent to the fragile lights. I'd used sheet plastic that was heat-formed over a rod, but the plastic was too thick and never looked right. So I bought some thin 1/2" wide brass strips and replaced them. It was a very quick and easy project that was well worth it.

    "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads..."
    I never liked how my representation of Stoney Creek Road turned out. The real road was a gravel/tar road and I rendered the model in black, which I know wasn't right. So, after a failed experiment with using 100-grit sandpaper for a road surface, I decided to use the finest grain ballast I could find (after better levelling the road surface, down to the foam base). These photos show the before and after of that project. After the glue dried on the gravel, I placed debris on the sides along with ground foam, some cinders and other material for randomness. Then I painted the common ruts in a wash of white paint, oil stains and tire marks (including a dry-brushed set of skid marks) and other things I noticed from photos of roads of this type, along with driving over a nearby road just like it. I like how it turned out:

    Cow pen and memorial 

    As for the open space on my layout across from the Unaka building at Winner, I felt it needed something. For a while, I'd been thinking of making a cow pen, using the type of gate my parents described to me in use from their youth in the 30s and 40s, through the 60s or so. People would make pockets for boards to go across an opening as nobody could afford a 'new-fangled' gate of any kind. I based on this real-life photo of the final run of the ET&WNC 3-foot line:

    Adjacent to that, I had my "war of Northern Aggression" (Yankees know it as the Civil War) memorial that was between two spurs as I could never find a place that looked right for it. My article in the 2017 On30 Annual shows it in that odd location. Once the pasture came to be, I noticed a small copse of trees adjacent to that. It looked like a great spot. So, I moved it and I think it looks way better there. Keep in mind, East Tennessee was almost half pro-Union at the time. My Father made the barrel on a lathe for this, and is an accurate rendition of a M1857 12-pounder "Napoleon" barrel. In the 1940s, this is the only type of Civil War memorial you'd likely find, other than a statue of a soldier. Battlefields didn't have replica cannon carriages on them until well after WW2 and an original carriage would have rotted away after 70 years. So a pedestal is historically accurate.

    Curtains and fascia

    My wife surprised me by making a set of curtains for the underside of the layout. I had no idea she was even thinking about this but they turned out perfect and they really add to the overall look of the room!

    I then added some cups in a couple of places and also used some of the extra hooks my wife had left over from the curtain project to put in place to hang the re-railers. I use Kato HO ones as they work great for On30 track. Most other HO ramp re-railers have 'wings' to the outsides of the rail and don't work well on On30 track at all.

    The cornfield on the Ensor farm was completed with over 400 plants in this little field, but planted tightly together as they would be in real life (but further apart than in the modern era of combines). I really like the way it looks. This makes for a good 'view block' to trains going around that sweeping curve behind the farm and store. It's the thing that visitors most comment on when they see the layout for the first time.

      • I still can't believe I managed to find a train order sheet from the ET&WNC, but better still, it has locomotive # 12 listed on it, and is from the year and time of year my layout takes place! It's currently in a frame on the wall of the layout room.


    • I have found that getting people for op sessions rolling isn't as easy as it seems. Sometimes, it can feel like this cartoon:

    • I put together an operator's guide that looks like an employee timetable with info on running the layout as well as the origins of the concept and dates the work got done. It's just something I've always wanted to do if I had a layout...

    I 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. 


    • This is what you see if you open the door to the room far enough. I made the sign myself and there are now much more layout article covers framed in this space. Note the crew 'train order' blackboard in the background, right above the turntable at Hunter.

    • In January of 2017, I drew this track plan for the On30 Annual article and colored it on the computer. This is how you'd see the layout, oriented for when you walk into the room:

      • The first real 'Train' ever over the line to the turntables and back was run by Robert, with locomotive # 12 and coach # 23, on November 17, 2014. This was ironic, as they represent original rolling stock from the ET&WNC that I've actually seen in person in the past. This locomotive was later re-numbered to # 9, though. Note that this section looks very different other than the addition of scenery. Some of these structures in the photo are gone and none are now in the same spots you see here:

      • This was the first train to make the entire trip up to the turntable approach tracks on August 18, 2014:

      • I ran the very first train over a small portion of the layout on August 12:

      • This photo shows the setting up of the benchwork in the layout room on August 9, 2014.

      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.

      • This was the completed benchwork, assembled for the first time before installing them into the layout room. This was done on our back deck to ensure everything fit (and that I could walk around in it easily) before the legs were painted and the sections then went into the room:

      • This was the original (and overly ambitious) track plan for the layout, drawn by Robert Scott. While the sides along the walls became much thicker than this plan called for, only the center section had to be totally changed as there wasn't room down the aisle to the left in this drawing once the bench work was built to fit the room and the tracks I needed. I also changed the depot names to reflect the names of the real locations that are used today and were station stops for the real Stoney Creek RR:

      Here are the important dates so far:

      • February 9, 2014: Original idea for track plan completed by Robert Scott, after a discussion in the snow while waiting to photograph a Northbound Amtrak Cascades train at the Northwest corner of the Summa Street grade crossing in Chehalis, WA
      • July 26-27: Benchwork started/completed
      • August 2: Test fitting and measuring outside, then modification of the center section to better fit the room
      • August 9: Installation of the benchwork and track laying began, one turntable pit hole cut out
      • August 12: First test run of a locomotive (ET&WNC # 12) over a short section of the layout
      • August 14: Wiring of the individual sections of track began
      • August 16: The last of the mainline rails were laid, second turntable pit hole cut out and test fit
      • August 18: First run over the entire mainline, with # 12 and two gondola cars
      • November 17: Approach tracks to the turntables done, all wiring to the dead spots and turntables completed and ran the first train from one end of the layout to the other, turned around, and returned
      • January 18, 2015: Fascia cut and mounted
      • February 14: Fascia was painted, DCC throttle holders installed, DCC plugs put back in place and blue point turnout pull sockets installed. Blue Points were completed individually and prepped for mounting
      • February 22: Mounting of the blue points for the turnouts started
      • March 1: Pulls for the blue points installed
      • March 8: Final blue point installed and two turnouts replaced due to breaks
      • March 9: First locomotive run from each end of the line with fill turnout controls from the blue points along the way
      • March 17: Track work complete and layout officially ready for operations
      • April 27: Caboose #505 model completed and test run around the layout
      • June 14: First operating session on the layout
      • August 2: Turnout numbers and track plans with those numbers were installed along the fascia
      • September 14: Mounted the train order chalk board on the wall overlooking the Hunter interchange turntable
      • February, 2016: Scenery forms started, over several days
      • April 17: First laying of ground cover, starting in the Buladeen section
      • May 3: Ground cover and ballast for all tracks completed
      • May 11: Corn field completed, which was the last major scenic element
      • May 15: Backdrops installed, finished 2 weeks later
      • August 7: First ever 3-person op session ran
      • August 19-20: Curtains for underneath the layout were made and installed by Jennette
      • August 28: Added cups for various tools and hooks for re-railers along various spots on the fascia
      • September 22-November 17: Most of the final trees, bushes and undergrowth was added to the layout
      • November 22-25: Weathering done to all the wartime-configuration locomotives
      • January 1, 2017: Track plan drawn for the article for the On30 Annual, showing the exact layout of track and structures within the room. Several flowers and other plants added to the landscape
      • January 8: On30 Annual article on the layout completed and sent to editor
      • March 6: First published photo of the layout appears, in the March edition of the online Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine
      • March 11: First op session with an open call after the scenery was completed, with 3 operators
      • April 2: Refrigerated car lettered for the Stoney Creek Southern is heavily weathered and placed on the layout
      • April 23: Whitcomb 50-tonner diesel locomotive purchased, to represent an Army locomotive
      • May 2: The 2017 On30 Annual reaches the first pre-order readers with the article on this layout enclosed. Fan email on my article sent to the editor three days later
      • December 9: Trackside Model Railroading came out from the Spokane area to shoot my layout for about 6 hours
      • January 1, 2018: Trackside Model Railroading article is 'published' online with photos and video of the layout 
      • January 24: DVD from Trackside Model Railroading with my layout as the primary subject arrived
      • March: Copies of Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette with my layout article arrive for subscribers (mine didn't show up for a long time later)
      • April 3-4: Stoney Creek Road removed and replaced with a gravel bed and painted details
      • April 13: First copies of the 2018 On30 Annual arrive in stores and mailboxes, with my water car/tender article
      • November 25: Added lighting system by Woodland Scenics to the first two structures
      • January 9, 2019: The first alert online appeared noting that my article in O Gauge Railroading was out in subscriber hands. Naturally, I didn't get mine for a while afterward
      • March 31: The first wood hopper car (an On30IME laser kit) completed
      • April 21, 2019: Added new overhead lighting with LEDs.

      So, why was the layout built in sections?

      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. 


      Rolling stock

      All 'mainline' locomotives are Bachmann On30 ET&WNC 4-6-0's, all with sound. Here's the roster:

      • 4-6-0 # 9 in wartime black, with sound
      • 4-6-0 # 11 in wartime black, with sound
      • 4-6-0 # 12 in wartime black, with sound
      • 4-6-0 # 14 in green and gold, with sound (I'm unsure if I'll weather this one of not, as I'm not sure what I'll be doing with it, other than running 'backdated' trains for the pre-war era. Yes, I know 14 was in Alaksa by then, read my layout concept for why it's on this layout in 1943)
      • Whitcomb 50-tonner diesel # 7611, with sound, lettered as an Army Transportation Corps locomotive

      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 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

      Scale: On30

      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

      Why the name, "Tweetsie"?

      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.

      Layout concept

      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.

      So, why model this railroad?

      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).

      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). 

      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.

      Link couplers...

      Okay, you want some links? Here ya go!

      ET&WNC info and books

      Wikipedia's ET&WNC page

      Random ET&WNC photos

      ET&WNC scrapbook

      Johnson's Depot

      Modern photos in Tweetsie Country

      "Along the ET&WNC" series of books

      "Blue Ridge Stemwinder" book 

      "Tweetsie Country" book

      Tweetsie Yahoo Group


      Tweetsie Railroad  (home of ET&WNC # 12)

      Doe River Gorge Christian Camp (home of the restored Doe River Gorge ET&WNC trackage)

      Avery County Historical Society (Home of the Linville NC depot and ET&WNC caboose # 505)

      Spencer Shops (home of ET&WNC combine # 15)

      Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum (home of ET&WNC boxcar # 434)

      Stoney Creek (yes, it really exists)

      Carter County History (the region where the layout takes place)

      East Tennessee Railway (they run the last active ET&WNC tracks in Johnson City)

      Tweetsie Trail (rail-trail for the abandoned ET&WNC line between Johnson City and Elizabethton)

      Nice shots of the Doe River Gorge, showing the area recently

      Model Trains

      Bachmann trains (Most of my On30 rolling stock came from here) 

      Deerfield Laser (maker of several ET&WNC kits in O scale)

      Micro-Mark Scenery and Ballast Cement (great stuff)

      Model Train Publications

      The On30 Annual 

      Model Railroad Hobbyist online magazine

      O Scale Resource online magazine

      Other vendors

      DVD of this layout can be bought here:

      Stoddart's Limited - they make wall hangings of various ET&WNC logos and builder plate replicas

      John Coker print of #12 crossing the Doe River between Tunnel #s 3 and 4, between 1936-37 I have one of these prints

      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

      Mohawk Design (great RR shirts, they make at least one ET&WNC-related shirt)

      Other people's layouts and interesting random model train stuff

      My Flickr page for this layout 

      My railroad (and other) videos on YouTube 

      National Model RR Association, Pacific Northwest region

      US Military RRs in 1863, O scale (neat layout of the civil war era and other military railroads) 

      Colorado O Scale Modelers

      On30 Articles website

      The Remagen Bridge in N scale

      Youtube video of stateside Army railroading in WW2

      Free Rails model train forum 

      ...the Obs car:

      In case anyone is curious, here's one of the few photos that exist today of the real Stoney Creek railroad, probably from the early 20th century or earlier:

      I badly wish I knew exactly where this was taken.