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Rocky Mountain House, Nordegg & Pacific Railway

The Many Lives of Malcolm Furlow's "LGB Empire"

This photo essay explains the origins, transformations, and operating concept of this highly detailed model rairoad. In my hands, it was called the Rocky Mountain House, Nordegg and Pacific Railway. It is an indoor, large scale model railroad, nominally 1:22 or G Scale, representing 3 foot narrow gauge, running on Gauge 1 (45 mm) track.  It has quite an interesting history and a promising future.

Originally built by Malcolm Furlow, a well known model railroader and artist, as a display showpiece for LGB of America of San Diego in 1985, it was donated to the San Diego Model Railway Museum in 1988. Upon its deaccession by the Museum in 1992, the author purchased and migrated it to Rocky Mountain House, Alberta.

Extensive renovation and augmentation were undertaken, including much scenic detailing and automatic train control. After many years of enjoying the results of this work, the railway has been sold to become a tourist attraction in Rosebud, Alberta. A purpose-built structrure replicating a typical CNR station of the early 20th centry houses the railway today. Operation at the new site is expected in 2018. All photos on this page taken by the author 1994 - 2002.

   
Architect's drawing for the replica CNR station contructed to house  this model railway.


 
Photo #1: SR&RL Forney 0-4-4T #24 at Banff Springs is on the same level as DSP&P 2-6-0 Mogul #71 on the Gorgeous Gorge Bridge, but will pass behind it through a tunnel. D&RGW 2-8-0 Consolidation #268 pauses the excursion train on the 2nd level to give tourists the view of their lives. G&D 0-4-0 Porter #2, on the 3rd level, is checking the beavers gnawing on the trestle bents at Devil's Gulch. Steam Tram cog loco #13 runs on the 35% grade at right between levels 2 and 3. W&A 4-4-0, the "General", hauls a load of passeng
ers on the 4th level in the distance.  It is an O Scale train that fools the eye, giving an impression of great distance to the mountains.

Name: Rocky Mountain House, Nordegg & Pacific Railway
Scale/Gauge: G Scale / 3 Foot Narrow Gauge 1:22.5
+/- a bit
Size: 28 x 36 feet, multi-level, indoors
Trackage: 425 feet mainline, 120 feet in yards
LGB Code 332
Rolling Stock: 8 locomotives/powered units,
28 freight cars
8 passenger cars
Population: 100+ people and children
200+ animals and birds
Prototype: Freelance D&RGW
Locale: Western Foothills and Rocky Mountains
Period: 1934 - 1940                          
Scenery: Styrofoam, floor to ceiling mountains and walk-through valleys, painted backdrop on 2 sides
Sound: PH Hobbies and LGB steam engine, cattle, sheep sounds, ambient sound with thunder, wolves, loons, distant trains
Operation: Multiple independent and connected ovals, independent point to point, and loop to loop, automatic or manual routing
Power: LGB 10 amp Jumbo transformers with momentum effects and automatic station stops, automatic passing sidings, and automatic reverse loops
Control: Aristo-Craft Train Engineer walk-around radio control of independent blocks when in manual mode, electric turnouts
Track: LGB 1500 curves, 1600 switches, 1100 curves on loops
Couplers / Wheels: USA Trains Knuckle couplers, Dean Lowe metal wheels
Visitors: Welcome by appointment

The Semi-fictional History of the RMH,N&P Ry.
The railway is named after two local communities served originally by the Canadian Northern and Alberta Central Railways. Rocky Mountain House is a town of about 7000 people located 5 miles west of the intersection of Highway 11 and Highway 22 in Central Alberta. It was a fur trading post established on 26 Sept 1799 by the Northwest Company on the North Saskatchewan River in Rupert's Land, now the province of Alberta, Canada. A competing post was set up at Acton House the same year by the Hudson's Bay Company, a mile upstream. Nordegg, now a village about 80 miles west of Rocky Mountain House, was originally a model community built in 1910, with a coal mine as its focus.

Canada was formed in 1867 and Rupert's Land became the North West Territories. In 1905, the southern half of NWT was partitioned into two provinces - Saskatchewan and Alberta. NWT was further split into two parts in 1999 - the west half keeping the original name, the eastern half being named Nunavut.


The RMH,N&PRy logo sports David Thompson, who walked, canoed, and rode horseback more than 55,000 kilometers (33,000 miles) mapping Canada and Northern USA from Montreal to the Pacific Ocean. Between 1807 and 1811, he explored the Rocky Mountains from Rocky Mountain House to the mouth of the Columbia River, beyond present day Portland, OR, making the first accurate maps of this huge tract of land. Quite a hike!

The Canadian Northern, later merged into Canadian National Railway, came to Rocky in 1912. It went 80 miles further west to Nordegg in 1914 to service the Brazeau coal mine that had opened three years earlier. A competing line on a parallel route, the Alberta Central Railway, was begun in 1910. It failed financially and was completed by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), but it never went west of Rocky to Nordegg.

Rail service to Nordegg was halted in 1955 due to low coal prices and low coal demand caused by dieselization of most railways. The line to Rocky still runs eastbound to connect to Red Deer, Calgary, and Edmonton, carrying sulphur and grain to the Pacific Ocean ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert.


Photo #2: Two 2-6-0 Moguls meet at Nordegg, skirting the Randy Andy Mine, with Mystic
Ridge in the background. A brightly painted 2-8-0 Consolidation pulls the excursion train
around Mount Allen toward Inspiration Point.

The (fictitious) R.M.H.,N.& P.Ry. ran a narrow gauge line in 1914 from Rocky Mountain House to Nordegg, effectively extending the CPR's line. The objective was to cross Howse Pass over the Rockies to Golden, British Columbia (on the northbound leg of the Columbia River), thence to the Pacific Ocean paralleling the CPR mainline. Howse Pass offers a shorter route for Central Alberta grain and beef than the CPR or CNR lines through the Kicking Horse Pass and Yellowhead Pass routes. Like most ambitious plans of other operators, the RMH.,N&P Ry never reached the Pacific, but instead turned south and east to serve tourist and ski resorts of Banff and Lake Louise (Laggan) in the Rocky Mountains.


Map of the region served by RMH,N&P Ry shoing other rail lines of the 1920 to 1940 era  Rocky Mountain House is above center of the map, Banff is roughly in the middle of the map, and Jasper is at top left.

At the same time, the Denver & Rio Grande as well as the Colorado & Southern were scaling down operations, so rolling stock for the RMH,N&P Ry. was purchased and leased from these roads. Most equipment is still painted in the original D&RGW or C&S/DSP&P livery.

Due to passage of Planet Earth through a rift in space, time now stands still, leaving the railway running permanently on 24 May 1934, except for a small portion that got trapped on 24 Dec 1923. May 24th is a statutory holiday in Canada, commemorating Queen Victoria’s Birthday – as a result many people are partying, while others are on double overtime keeping the railways and hotels humming.


 


Photo #3: RMH,N&P.Ry. "CattleLiner" #104, an 0-6-6-0T Mallet locomotive, glides
through snowy Stoney Creek Mill with critters for market, while Gorre & Daphetid #2.
a Porter 0-4-0, bumps its way past Daphetid Station. #104 was replaced with Uintah #51
 and rebuilt with 2-6-6-2 wheel arrangement and converted to burn oil, which had been
discovered at Turner Valley, Alberta in 1914.

Inception of the Layout
The model railway started life in San Diego as "Malcolm Furlow's LGB Empire", designed and built by Malcolm as a display railroad for LGB of America. It was a sectional layout with styrofoam scenery, track on three levels, and a desert/mountain motif to enhance the appearance of both US and European style LGB rolling stock.

After several years of use, LGBoA donated the layout to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, who continued to run the display using LGB equipment. A brief glimpse of the railway can be found on the Pentrex video of the Museum. This original layout was a U-shape measuring 20 by 24 feet overall. As a side note, Malcolm also built a smaller, highly detailed US Western-style layout for the LGB showroom in Nuremberg, Germany, as well as several project model railways written up for Model Railroader magazine.



 
Photo #4: Tourists on the excursion train travel along the edge of Allen Mountain
towards Inspiration Point (upper train) with the daily express, pulled by D&RG Mogul #19,
entering Nordegg station track (lower level). A short passenger train is somewhat hidden by the rocky facade as it approaches Daphetid (upper level).

When the Museum needed space for new exhibits, the railway was offered for sale in Model Railroader magazine classifieds. After brief negotiations and a FAX of the track plan, I decided this was the railroad for me. It was similar enough to my dream design and with addition of a large staging yard, would offer both point to point and continuous operation. Museum volunteers separated the layout sections, filled a 65 foot electronics moving van, and said goodbye to "the monster". A few days later, it arrived at my ranch near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, some 150 miles north of Calgary (1000 miles north of Denver).



Photo #5: Overall view of RMH,N&P Ry. Nordegg at left, Rocky Mountain House in center foreground. Banff Springs at right, Gorgeous Gorge Bridge at center of photo, Sulphur
Mountain right background, and Mystic Ridge at left.

Unloading the layout sections was fun! The largest piece was 7 by 16 feet, fully sceniced plywood on 1 x 4 framing, and sat about 7 feet above ground on rails in the moving van. It weighed about 450 pounds. Fortunately, my brother and his family and some of their friends from Eastern Canada and Australia were visiting, so we had lots of strong, young bodies to lift this piece out of the truck. If I had been forced to ask my rancher neighbors for help, they would probably still be laughing at me. The remaining sections were easier to lift, but more complicated to assemble as they had as many as 3 layers of track hidden in tunnels. The railway is now housed in a 28 x 36 foot 3-car garage, with room for work benches, storage boxes, and visitors. The railway is wheelchair accessible and visitors are welcome by appointment.



Photo #6: DSP&P #71 slows at Banff Springs with the "Rocky Mountaineer", the crack express
train between Rocky Mountain House, Nordegg,  and Banff Springs.

Renovations
A year later, the railway was finally running with new, simplified wiring throughout. New power packs and walk-around radio controls were installed. Since then, I have added the staging yard, automatic passing sidings for running trains in opposite directions during show-and-tells, and completely renovated the scenery. The automatic passing sidings use LGB's EPL switching system with momentum circuits to prevent sudden starts and stops. The added realism and less wear and tear on drive gears is worth the effort. Originally, I used home made circuits as described in Garden Railways (April 1995). In 1999, these circuits were replaced by features built into the LGB Jumbo transformers. The momentum is easier to adjust and I get automatic station stops at no extra charge.

Some track had to be replaced. During use as a display railway for several years, engines had snagged scenery and spun their wheels in place for hours or days, wearing notches in the railhead down to the web at several locations. In addition, continuous wear of the railhead on sharp curves had reduced the rail height from Code 332 to about Code 232. Several changes were made to the track diagram at this time to enhance operational possibilities and the staging yard lead was cut into the middle level trackwork.


Photo #7: A passenger train pauses at Tiny Town to drop off children to ride on the 1/8 scale
 live steam train (N Scale) that circles the 1/8 scale grain elevator and station.

Scenery on the original railway was dramatic but bare, the better to show off the LGB rolling stock. I have repainted all the styrofoam which had faded badly. I used spray cans of acrylic enamel in many colours and overlaid this with a pebble finish spray, without using the clear gloss overcoat provided. I replaced the original over sized ballast with scale sized ballast (#1 and #2 chicken grit), and added grass, weeds, trees, roads, people, signs, vehicles, animals, fences, and snow on the upper elevations. These changes represent Western Canadian prairie, foothills, and mountains rather than the desert and dry Alps of the original. It utterly amazes me how these details determine the character of the railway, yet go virtually unnoticed when they are missing.


Photo #8: RMH,N&P.Ry Mallet #251, with the cattle train in tow, coasts past Banff Springs
Station and Hotel. The hotel has a full interior on two floors, and numerous patrons inside
and out. It's a busy place, full of life and interest.

The European theme of the mountain town was converted to a typical Rocky Mountain resort town with only minimal effort, mainly changing the language of signs and adding local signage and names.

I also added tabletop to floor scenery around the layout, thus breaking up the straight lines of track along the edges. It is now much easier to photograph the railway with this scenery in place of the original green curtain. Blue carpet with a white fleck was used to cover areas of floor that represented water, and a brown runner was used elsewhere to represent dry gulch areas. These also help photography as well as the overall visual effect.


Photo #9: Ross Crain beside his kit-bashed work train at Cow Creek Yard, with the
painted backdrop behind. Lots of junk and clutter, spare parts, tools, and dirt make this
train a unique work of art.

My hired hand at the time, Eric Hazen, painted the 60 foot backdrop behind the staging yard (along one side wall) and along one end wall. It makes a great photographic background from nearly any angle. An obligatory mirror is used to double the size of the staging yard (and the backdrop). Eric also did most of the floor to tabletop styrofoam, and deserves a lot of credit for the overall artistic effect.


Photo #10: Photomontage of Cow Creek Yard and the backdrop painted by Eric Hazen. A mirror at the left stretches the impressive mountains far to the west, and the 3-D scenery of Mystic Ridge stretches the backdrop aroung the east wall at the right. See larger views here 150KB   650KB

Operations
There's lots of action on the R.M.H.,N.&P.Ry. Three independent loops can run two trains each in automatic mode. The mainline oval can be separated into two ovals, allowing one additional train to run. A Lionel 4-4-0 General runs continuously in the distant background. A 1/8th scale amusement park train (N scale) hauls children around its oval at Tinytown. A cog railway automatically climbs and descends a 25% grade and a dual cable car hauls skiers from the upper cog station to higher peaks. And the yard can be run independently to make up the next train - a total of 10 trains plus cable car! The original "LGB Empire" could run 4 trains on ovals, plus the cog.

In manual operation, trains start at Cow Creek Yard, traverse all track (except the upper oval) and return to Cow Creek, a trip of over 900 feet. Allowing for station stops, this takes about 45 minutes plus a thorough knowledge of the track diagram. There are about 120 feet of track in Cow Creek Yard and 425 feet on the mainline. Train control is by way of Aristo-Craft Train Engineer walk around radio systems to five electrically isolated blocks powered by three LGB Jumbos and one PH Hobbies dual 10 amp power supplies.

In automatic mode, direction and momentum are controlled by EPL relays and the LGB Jumbo features; in manual mode, direction, speed, and momentum are set by the radio controllers. The cog, Tinytown, and the Lionel General each have separate transformers set for a reasonable steady speed.

 

        
Photos #11 and #12: Scenes along Gorre Canyon. The "Nordegg Flyer" pulled by 2-6-0
Mogul pauses at Gorre Station, while 2-8-0 Consolidation #286 pulls out of Allen
Tunnel with the excurs-ion train. Close-up at right is one of many mini-scenes
- a telegraph crew stringing new lines.

Rolling Stock
Locomotives are mostly LGB - Moguls, Porters, a Steam Tram, and a Diesel Switcher. These are dressed in D&RGW liveries and are unweathered. I like to think that the railway is well maintained, even though it is 1934. Passenger cars are also all LGB to attain consistency in size and shape. Passenger trains are set up to represent specific "named trains" running to an imaginary schedule.



Photo #13: Close-up of DSP&P Mogul #17 at the Nordegg level crossing, departing the station
for it's next stop at Rocky Mountain House. In automatic mode, trains stop smoothly, then
depart, all stations on the layout. In manual mode, trains are controlled by walk-around
radio transmitters with built-in momentum.

Freights run as "extras" with some mixed train service when LCL freight is moved. Freight car stock is a mix of LGB and USA Trains, with a few Delton and Bachmann. Some are weathered, some are kit-bashed, a rare few are scratchbuilt. All have USA Trains knuckle couplers added for realism and ease of use - these are the smallest couplers available and look much more realistic than other brands. As well, Dean Lowe metal wheels were added for rolling and tracking improvements. The wheels and visible portions of the rails are painted with Floquil Rust and Rail Brown to tone down their appearance.

Some locos have sound built in; others are being updated to sound as time permits. Sound really makes a difference in large scale, especially when trains are hidden from view or lost in a tunnel. Cow and sheep sound cars are also helpful in tracing specific trains.

Another interesting side note: LGB didn't make a really old fashioned steam rack locomotive, so I put two extra traction tires on the LGB 2050 Steam Tram. It climbs the 25% cog railway gradient with one passenger car just fine. It runs on an LGB timed reversing circuit. I had to add 4 diodes in series on the downhill power lead, though, to slow the locomotive enough so it would stop properly at the bottom of the hill.


    
Photos #14 and #15: The real thing - D&SNG in Animas Canyon, CO. (photos from the web)

The spiral tunnel joining the lower to the middle level is about a 10% grade and completely out of sight. It requires a Mallet or double headed Moguls to pull two or three cars up this grade. A train can get lost here for quite a while before someone notices it has gone missing.

My favorite train is my series of work train cars kitbashed from USA Trains equipment. These have been extensively modified - the long flatcars were shortened to take USA Trains truss rod underframes. This allows these cars to match the length of LGB equipment and negotiate the sharp curves without snagging scenery or looking silly. Lots of junk, dirt, tools, and supplies decorate each car.


Click here for large image (240KB)  huge image (2.4 MB)

My rotary snowplow train has been upgraded with the snowplow tender, water car, extra coal car, and crew cars. The plow itself has received a detailed boiler backhead and cab roof over the fireman's platform to make it look more like pictures of the real thing. A kitbashed steam shovel ditcher is a recent addition and a pile driver car, a pusher snowplow (kit-bashed from an AristoCraft plow) and ballast cars have also been included in the MOW fleet.

Weathering is done with dry Tempera poster paints rubbed and brushed on. The woodgrain finish holds this well and the stuff can be washed off to create a pristine out-of-the-box look when needed.


Photo #16: View across RMH,N&P Ry territory. Rocky Mountain House Station in
foreground, Cow Creek Yard in background.

Scenery
As mentioned earlier, scenery is styrofoam on plywood tabletops with 1 x 4 framing. Legs are 2 x 2 with diagonal braces. Main track level is 24 inches above floor level (done in San Diego so children could see better). The staging yard is at 34 inches, middle level tracks are at 33 inches, and upper level is at 60 inches. The O-27 section is at 70 inches. The tallest mountain reaches 96 inches.

Track ballast is chicken grit, dusted with various colours to liven it up. Commercial coarse-ground foam is used for grass and weeds. More than 20 gallons of white glue hold all this in place. Trees are a mix of Christmas decorations (Balsami Metallicus var. Plastica) in many sizes, with some real twigs and Spanish moss from my woodlot. The original "LGB Empire" had a single, lonesome cactus. There are now more than 200 trees ranging from 2 to 18 inches tall.


Photo #17: An elk stares at the tourists as they pass Mount Allen on their way to
Inspiration Point and Gorgeous Gorge. The tourists are probably looking the other
way. The styrofoam mountains are painted with acrylic sprays and an overcoat of
pebble finish in a lighter colour.
Joan Elmont Photo

Most buildings are Pola kits, but some Piko and Aristo-Craft are included. Most are repainted or modified in some way, particularly the roof materials. Most have low-fi interiors (Playmobile and Mattel). A major project is underway to finish critical interiors and lighting. The Banff Springs Hotel has full lounge and bedroom detail, several houses are also complete, and two of four stations are well underway. Most exteriors have lots of appropriate "stuff" laying about.



Photo #18: Young ladies are sunbathing at the dock on Crimson Lake. Admiring moose
and gulls look on. The passing motorist is having a tough time staying on the road.

A reasonable population is needed to bring buildings and scenes to life. Preiser, Elita Modelle, Flintstone, LGB, Jones, and Just Plain Folk are used. Animals of all types, wild and domestic, are tucked anywhere an animal should be. All open vehicles have drivers and passengers. The total population now exceeds 5500, counting all humans, animals, and birds. My wife hand painted more than 150 birds to represent species in our neighbourhood, using the colour images in Petersen's wildlife guide books.

I have modernized the railway by moving the era up to 1934 - 1940 instead of 1924 - 1930. This involved removing the most antique vehicles, ditching the Victorian ladies, and rearranging a few mini-scenes. I also tuned the rolling stock to reflect 100% D&RGW instead of the broad mix of my earlier roster. This railway is constantly evolving, so it never looks exactly the same from year to year. As a result, some of the photos show scenes that no longer exist or are sligbtly different than the present model.

Track Plan
The track plan, on paper, looks like a bowl of spaghetti, much like the real narrow gauge railways, but scenery and multi-level track segregate the various loops. Mountains and trees break the view so individual portions of the railway cannot be seen all at once.

Various tunnels, including the spiral tunnel from the lower to middle level, cause visitors to lose trains that re-appear at unexpected places and times. These features, combined with the passing sidings, make continuous round the loops operation interesting for at least two hours - visitors are seldom disappointed. Manual operation of several trains by walk around radio control is also possible, but there are few railroaders in my rural neighbourhood, so show-and-tell runs are the norm.



Photo #19: Track plan for the R.M.H.,N.&P.Ry. Click on the image to see a larger view.


Some Philosophy
My effort on the railway is inspired by the works of Malcolm Furlow and John Allen, both master illusionists and modelers, so both names appear on various landmarks on my railway. My attempts will never live up to their performance, partly because I am blind but mostly because I never had their talent. I keep on trying anyway.

My objective with this railway is to create a realistic-looking large scale narrow gauge model railroad without strict adherence to a particular prototype or era, while allowing for a bit of whimsy and "time-sliding". After all, it's my railway and I'm the President and Chief Engineer. I can run it any way I want!

The Rocky Mountain House, Nordegg & Pacific Railway is semi-scale in many ways and there is quite a bit of leeway in what passes for realism. The fact that the track gauge is a little too wide for the scale or that Moguls are pretending to be Consolidations or that the grab irons are not right doesn't bother me. I love looking at other people's fine-scale models but I can't build them myself. The illusion of realism is what counts on my railway, not real realism.

The result is still pleasing to the eye, runs reasonably well, and provides many hours of enjoyment (indoors, out of the rain and snow of classical Canadian winter weather). There are more mini-scenes to build, interiors to finish, several bridges to finish detailing, an engine shed to build, and room for a 10 x 12 foot expansion. I'll be busy for quite a while longer.

Photo #20: Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, at least on my railway. Joan Elmont Photo