The Many Lives of Malcolm Furlow's "LGB
Semi-fictional History of the RMH,N&P Ry.
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 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.
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.
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.
Inception of the Layout
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.