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Is the use of On30 in the US a matter of convenience/compromise, as to availability of models off the shelf...I remember when Great On3 layouts were almost all scratch built, with high quality Brass Locos; are modelers getting too easy in Track and Rolling Stock sourcing, and accepting what the Big Trainmakers sell them???

I guess I have to ask, how many exact scale steam engines have you scratchbuilt?

I have done NONE. Had I decided to scratch build this, to my standard, I'd still be working on the first one (and I would have wanted three):


I got back into the hobby because Bachmann decided to make THE prototype I love, in a workable scale.

Sure, I'd have rathered they made them for the same price in On3, but I know my strengths and weaknesses, especially for a hobby I was just getting back into after over 30 years.

If that makes me lazy, well, that's really my business. Tell that to the editors of EVERY major magazine in the hobby, who have all run my work...


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This afternoon, I found a small piece of granite in the back yard, it was terraced but very small.
I couldn't resist cutting a hole for it in an embankment near a turntable and putting it in. I then placed some foliage around it and I really like how it turned out. I doubt a visitor to the layout would even notice it, though...



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I know that you know the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette is running a series on ET & WNC locomotives, now up to 4-6-0 #9, but, just in case .... I, too, want ready-to-run On3 locos and track, and have held off on a narrow gauge branch because of that, in spite of gauges being an arbitrary invention tied to Roman chariots, for l do not have time to scratch build everything.

I know that you know the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette is running a series on ET & WNC locomotives, now up to 4-6-0 #9, but, just in case ....

Yep, I had an article in one of those issues that also had one of Johnny's articles.

But as for Roman chariot/wagon gauge later being related to railroad standard gauge, that's actually something people repeat with little real basis in history.

Tonight I was working on some new photo angles, and I like how this turned out...



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@p51 posted:

I've been posting here in various forums for a while but I finally decided to have a thread dedicated to my On30 layout and its updates.

The layout is in a 11X10 foot room and takes up a lot of it. I started in 2014 and had the scenery for the most part looking like I wanted it within just over 2 years.

The layout has been in OGR three times so far:

  1. A reader photo in the August/September 2018 issue
  2. A layout profile article in the February/March 2019 issue
  3. A locomotive review for the Bachmann On30 Baldwin 'trench' engine in the April/March 2020 issue

it's been in several other magazines as well over the past 3 years.

I've been told I made more progress in 2 years than many make in 20. The before/after shot is 3 years difference to the day, the upper being the first day the of track laying:

I was never that big on scenery before, but I found I have a feel for it. I love adding realistic scenic elements and scratch building structures:

The layout theme is of a fictional branch line of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina RR that ran from Elizabethton, TN across the Watauga River, along Stoney Creek, up into the valley northeast of the real-life mainline that turned southeast toward Cranberry, NC. The layout takes place in late summer 1943.

Maybe I'm the only person in the hobby with an actual Army RR Operating unit, complete with insignia? B Co, 796th ROB takes up two sidings on the layout:

So relax trackside and watch the parade of mostly Baldwin ten-wheelers as they go back and forth between Buladeen and Hunter, Tennessee:

More, soon! I'll still also post in the "what have you done on your layout" section as well...

Looking GOOD!

I was just visiting my parents in Florida (they're well into their 80s, with all the issues you'd expect) and I think I've found my next project.

My father built a blacksmith shop in the early 60s. I want to build an O scale version as the real structure isn't very large and could easily fit into my layout's theme.


Nothing but wood, metal roofing which I already have, and a small amount of plastic for the door hinges. That's about as easy of a project as you can get form a real-world structure. Beats me where I'd place it, but as soon as things calm down here (my wife was dealing with a nightmare of a kitchen remodel while I was in Florida), I'll get rolling on this.

I really only had time to get these shots as it was a very full several days I was down there. Dad's memory isn't all that great but he was adamant that it was 10X30 feet not including the overhead to one side. So figuring out the other dimensions should be pretty easy knowing that.

I wouldn't weather exactly as you see as in Tennessee weather you wouldn't see the same colors there as you see here after 50+ years in Florida weather, but I'm sure I could make a decent scale replica of this.


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A mixed train meets a commuter train at the water tower near Hunter, TN...


Meanwhile, Robert Nidiffer digs up some ash near the ET&WNC right of way, near the interchange with the main line to Johnson City.


Residents of Stoney Creek often wonder what he does with the buckets of ash he walks off with, but with wartime rationing in effect, it's one of the few things that is easy to obtain...

Paul Estep (first name taken from my last living uncle who sadly passed away recently) is taking a rest next to the Hunter, TN depot. Boots, his beloved hound, is taking up the entrance to the small depot, requiring everyone else wait outside for the last evening train to Elizabethton.


Meanwhile down near Sadie, Mister Grindstaff is waiting to be able to close up for the evening



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P51 - That is some fine modeling.  I want to ask, if you are building a blacksmith shop, I have a Western Scale Models craftsman type kit I built that is no longer in use that might come in handy to you.  It has all the equipment and a lot of tools, finely painted I might add, even a blacksmith in gear.  The original footprint is 4 1/2” x 8” - only mention that to say everything fits with plenty of room to spare so it should fit it into your smaller sized building.  I still have the building but you might want to match the original design.  It’s pretty complete.  I’m thinking if you have all the parts, already painted, it would save you a heap of time.  I’m not using it so would be glad if you could on your layout.  Just thought I would reach out.  I spose we could make a deal for a couple bucks and I could ship it to you.  I have good pics and can email them to you or I can post them here.  Hope you are interested.

Last edited by William 1

I'm currently planning for a self-published book of photos of my layout as if it were a real line. It'll be similar in tone as the article I did for the narrow Gauge gazette, as if I found notes and photos from a photographer, made in the 1940s.
The final chapter will have my layout track plan and notes presented as if I made it based on the 'found' photos, and will mostly be verbiage. I'm currently working on plans for some sketches of the imagined (but never modelled) sections of the line that exist only in my own imagination. They'll be used as 'found drawings from the area from the 40s' made by the same person who took the photos (a fictional WW2 war correspondent named after my own grandfather, a character that made it into a DC comics WW2-themed comic book a few years ago as thanks for my assistance on the historical research).
With everything else I have going on, it might be a while. I need to do the sketches of the non-modelled sections of the layout and scenes I wish I'd had room to re-created, based on real ET&WNC locations.
I'm really looking forward to this as it'll include photos nobody other than myself and a few close friends have seen before.

I've been asked several times to explain my fictional railway unit insignia. So, I created the 'official' history of the unit's time along Stoney Creek:

“The Stump Jumpers”
A history of the 796th Railway Operating Battalion, US Army
Compiled by the US Army Center of Military History, Fort McNair

The 796th Railway Operating Battalion (ROB) was established on paper by the US Army Transportation Command at Fort Eustis, Virginia on November 30, 1942. From the formation of the unit, the Clinchfield Railroad wanted to sponsor a ROB and they were asked to assist in the creation of this battalion. They provided a cadre of experienced railroaders, with the expectation of eventually running railroads in formerly occupied nations once they were liberated by Allied forces. Most railroaders in this unit throughout the war were formerly from the Clinchfield.
By January of 1943, the advance party of the ROB headquarters were in Johnson City, Tennessee to scout locations for their elements. Battalion HQ and most of the companies were set up near the narrow-gauge East Tennessee & Western North Carolina (ET&WNC) railroad shops and yard in Johnson City. As most of the effort for the 796th was devoted to running the Stoney Creek Branch, B Company was set up in various locations along that line and set up its company headquarters along a former logging spur near Winner, Tennessee.
Conditions long the line were spartan and supplies were long in coming. A dismantled Nissen hut which had been rejected during testing in Virginia was assembled along the spur and an ET&WNC shack was taken over as a little shop for anything needing hand tools. A former Stoney Creek Southern refrigerated car along the spur was taken over for storage. Perforated steel airfield “Marston matting” was placed in a square for a parking area for the unit’s heavier vehicles.
A trio of 2-6-2 tank engine ‘trench’ locomotives from the Great War were re-gauged at the ET&WNC shops and immediately put to work along the line, along with some narrow-gauge Army cars that arrived unannounced on the backs of some flat cars in the Johnson City yard. All this equipment was used in various locations along the line. One was set aside as a permanent switcher for the B Company, another dedicated to use around the battalion HQ.
Right away, track crews of the 796th went to work on the track which in most cases hadn’t been touched by crews in almost twenty years. In a few weeks, Army railroaders with 55-pound rail and newly cut ties, had the right of way was looking better than the locals said it had when it was new.
By the spring of 1943, soldier/railroaders of the 796th were out of shelter tents for good and housed in larger squad tents and Quonset huts that had arrived with additional heavy wheeled vehicles. Working closely with the ET&WNC, the 796th ran several freight and passenger and freight trains throughout the entire line. It was common to see soldier railroaders crewing trains anywhere between Johnson City to either Buladeen, Tennessee or Cranberry, North Carolina.
By summer of 1943, operations were well underway for tactical training and familiarity with European and Asian prototype equipment for eventual deployment overseas. A handful of European rolling stock captured in Africa was brought to Stoney Creek for the 796th to work with. A new Whitcomb 50-tonner diesel-electric locomotive was also brought in, though it proved to be unpopular with crews and somewhat unreliable.
In anticipation of the invasion of Europe during the spring of 1944, the 796th was ordered to prepare for movement to the New York port of Embarkation and eventual movement to the European Theater of Operations, where they later served with great distinction. The 796th ended the war at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and the unit was disbanded in 1946.
The Battalion insignia is described as a ‘trench’ engine jumping over a stump, upon a shield of Transportation Corps yellow. The insignia was unofficially created by a member of HQ Company, who later said he had designed it after the initial review of the Stoney Creek right of way. During the review, one officer was heard to say, “Boys, looks like we’ll be jumping stumps for the rest of the war.”

Last edited by p51
@BillYo414 posted:

Awesome! This was an unexpected element of model railroading that I really enjoy. Making up the backstory has been a lot of fun for me and I'm glad you have a back story for your railroad.

I'm not sure I have it posted here already, but here's my complete fictional history of the Stoney Creek Southern/ET&WNC Stoney Creek branch and locations in a modern-day context. I wrote this before I built the layout as a firm guide on how I was going to handle everything:

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 1943, 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.

This is the high-water-mark for the narrow gauge along Stoney Creek.

@DGJONES posted:

Well Lee, it looks like in addition to being a great modeler and photographer, you can add author to your resume.  I really enjoy seeing your work and I also enjoyed the stories.

Thanks, Don. 'Author' is a title a got many years ago. I couldn't count the number of magazine articles I've gotten published over the years, about a dozen of them in model train magazines in the last 3 years...

Last edited by p51

I've decided to make shoulder patches for my fictional army railway unit, and am working with a vendor right now. They'll be 3 inches tall, which was very common for a unit patch:


Once I have them I'll make them available for anyone who might want one. I'll also include a full fictional history booklet for the unit.


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I have placed the order for some of the 796th ROB patches and they should be here next week. I'm trying to figure out how much to sell them for, but let me know if you're interest in one:
They will be 3 inches high.
I'm quite sure these will be the only military railway unit patches in the hobby.

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