East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad


Repurposed Bridge Parts

Deciding to keep the Homasote sub roadbed spanning the creek limited my choices for the type of bridge to install. A girder type bridge would work, simply installing girders on either side of the Homasote might look reasonable.

Way back when I built the roadbed in this corner of the layout, I had a large inventory of HO scale components from my previous layout. One of the HO items I saved was an Atlas through girder bridge kit. I used the girders from that kit to determine how wide the bridge in this corner would be.


I dug out the old Atlas girders and placed them in position after I had narrowed the roadbed across the bridge span. Everything fit just fine. The girders hid the Homasote with room to spare along the top for cross ties. Just like I had planned it all those years ago. Only problem was that I did not like it.

My impression of a right and proper bridge for a soapstone operation has been affected by seeing flatcars used as bridges. Flatcars were used as bridges in at least two locations that I saw myself.


In the mill campus at Schuyler, an old fishbelly steel frame flatcar was used as a bridge to cross Ivy creek, and a few miles away another flatcar was used to bridge Sharon Creek. Neither of these bridges was used to carry the railroad across the creeks, but they still inspired me to try something creative as a bridge span on my layout.

Rummaging around in my collected bridge and crane pieces and parts, I came across a
Walther's N scale heavy duty overhead traveling crane kit. The profile of the crane spans appealed to me. I could see how they might be used for my bridge, with a backstory about resourceful repurposing of an old overhead crane or perhaps a (very small) standard gauge turntable bridge.


The N scale overhead crane was too short to span the creek on my layout. I cut it up to create one long span out of the two that came in the kit.


I used the lengthened bridge girder as a pattern to cut another one out of 2 mil PVC. The crane kit girder will be on the side of the bridge that faces the aisle. The PVC copy will barely be visible on the back side.

Time for a Bridge

With the card stock fascia in place, I saw that working on the bridge in the corner would be easier to do before the fascia was installed. The bridge is in a horizontal and vertical curve, with the track to the right dropping down the hill and the track to the left being level. I decided to leave the Homasote roadbed in place to minimize kinks and bumps.


Handlaid code 70 track comes up to the bridge from either direction. A short section of ME code 70 HO scale flex track makes the connection over the bridge site.


In preparation for doing track work, I traced the railhead location across the bridge site and removed the HO flex track.


Since the Homasote was going to stay, it had to be trimmed to the approximate final width of the bridge. Since the track curves here, the bridge would have to be wider than it would be if the track going across were straight. Thinking about how wide to make the bridge, I used a section of O standard gauge flex track to determine how wide the bridge would be if it had originally been a short standard gauge bridge that had been moved here by the soapstone company to use on their 30 inch gauge line. A saber saw was used to trim the Homasote down to the revised width.

A Nice Nudge

I recently took delivery of an awesome addition to my layout.

Derrick by Doug Barry, saddletank locomotive by Brian Bond

Fellow On30 modeler Doug Barry scratchbuilt this beautiful steel guy derrick. Doug states its purpose as a mockup to be used as an aid in the landscape design and construction of the quarry sites on the P&EBR. It will indeed come in very handy for that, as previsualizing these tall spindly structures - how many to include in the scene and where to place them - was far beyond my concepting and design capabilities. But I think Doug’s derrick is quite good enough to be considered a full fledged scale model. It will undoubtably find a permanent place of honor on the layout.

The derrick is also meant to be a friendly nudge for me to get busy on construction. I was not sure how I was going to model these signature structures of the soapstone quarries. Doug drew on his model airplane building experience to prove it could be done.

Thanks again, Doug!

Mill Module - 3

I decided to add a ModelTech Studios rooftop dust collector to the roof of my slate mill.

I reinforced the framing with square styrene corner posts. I drilled two of the four styrene corner posts for cleats to secure the frame to the mill roof.

The rooftop dust collector, along with a styrene tube smokestack and HO scale cyclone vent, got the usual rust treatment.

An alcohol & ink wash and a thin wash of white acrylic later, the vents and smokestack were ready to go on the mill. The added details have brought my slate mill up to a new plateau of incompletion. It still needs a lot of trim and detail work, as well as some 18 inch gauge rolling stock parked on the unloading track.

To add some detail to the garage I painted and weathered a resin casting from Rusty Rails. The casting was countersunk into the scenery and secured in place with silicon caulk. I used spackling compound to repair the ground around the casting, then coated the surrounding area with ground cover.

I filled up the empty lot beside the garage with underbrush, and built one tall tree from a sagebrush armature.

This is the state of completion my mill module had reached when I took it to the National Narrow Gauge Convention in Hickory, North Carolina.

Module Mill - 2

The mill siding is paper with embossed corrugations. I had implied metal siding with Model Master aluminum paint. Black primer was lightly oversprayed with a mask to indicate panels.

I wanted to come up with a weathering technique that was transparent enough to let the painting already done show. A very thin wash of white acrylic paint emphasized the corrugations. I used watercolor pencils to add vertical seams to the siding, emphasize the horizontal seams, and add rust streaks.

The goal then was to quickly learn how to control the overall effect of weathered individual panels. I did not want the siding to end up looking too contrasty and overdone, but I need the weathering to be heavy enough to soften the graphics of the huge sign on the end of the building.

The roofs of the mill had been heavily oversprayed with rust colored primer. I mixed up some warm earth tones of acrylic wash and sploched them on the roofs with a sea sponge.

Once dry, I wet the roofs slighly, then used a foam brush to apply a thin wash of white acrylic paint. A white watercolor pencil was used to emphasize the raised seams in the metal roofing.

The weathering on the walls and roof sufficiently knocked the big sign back and pulled the tones of the walls and roofs together.

Module Mill-1

I built my module mill a few years ago, knocking it together in time for the MER Convention at Hagerstown. Now that I had been reflecting on its unfinished state for a few years, I had an idea of how I wanted to continue with construction.

The second phase of mill construction began with exploring ideas for making the roof more interesting. I built a cupola for the middle roof, and considered the possibility of running pipes between it and the other two sections.

The lack of any graphics identifying the nature of the work being done at the mill prompted me to have stencils cut by Kingmill Enterprises. When Chris looked at my file, he asked if I really wanted such large lettering. The idea of a very big sign painted on the mill appealed to me.

I spray painted a large field of dark gray on the front of the mill. Once dry, I placed the stencil over the dark gray and quickly spray painted the lettering in place using light gray primer.

The plan was to use the lightly sprayed lettering as a guide for hand painting the sign, but I needed a little help keeping my hand lettering neat enough, so the stencil was placed again, this time with styrene strips holding it slightly off the wall. I hand painted the letters through the stencil.

The touched-up white letters looked rather stark and huge on the side of the mill. I could see the need for some serious weathering.

Module Garage - 2

I painted the garage using craft acrylic paints.

Once the paint was dry, I quickly highlighted all board and panel edges with a light gray watercolor pencil.

I gave the garage a wash of Age-It-Easy, which accented the texture in the siding, and caused a chalking effect of white paint being pulled down over the green. I brushed a very thin wash of dust colored acrylic paint around the bottom of all the walls and doors. Then I “repainted” the white areas of the siding with a white watercolor pencil, and redid the edge highlighting.

I cut the metal roofing into scale 2 by 4 foot pieces. I used silicon caulk to install the roofing. I quickly became aware that I did not make enough roofing, so I had to make more, trying to match what I had done previously.

At this point the garage was presentable, so I moved on to other things. But I plan to come back and add details and signs to the garage at some point in the future.

Module Garage - 1

The second item I was given from Bill Hammer’s models was a partially constructed garage.

This resin kit came to me with no doors or windows. The footprint fit nicely in an available space on my mill module, and a garage is an excellent focal point for junk pile and vehicle details.

I spray painted the garage with auto primer, then scratchbuilt simple styrene doors and windows for it.

I decided to try Rusty Stumps corrugated metal sheeting for the roof of the garage. I spraypainted the metal sheeting with rust colored auto primer.

Then I smeared and splotched on rust and gray tones of acrylic paint with a sea sponge.

Once the acrylic paint was dry, I dusted the sheet with Bragdon weathering powders.

Module Shed - 3

When the time came to paint my module shed, I pulled out William Griffith’s book Atlantic & Danville Railway Company for ideas. Apparently the A&D painted most of its depots a typical Victorian combination of burnt yellow with white trim.

I brush painted the shed using craft acrylic yellow oxide and antique white paints.

The bright and cheery paint job did not really suit my intentions for the shed, nor match the character of the loading dock. I set about to weather it rather heavily.

The shed received several coats of alcohol and ink wash, followed by a wash of Tamiya acrylic Deck Tan. The paint job was revived somewhat by using oxide yellow and white watercolor pencils to accent detail and texture.

Looking more at home in its surroundings, the shed has mud splattered up on the skirting and tracked up the steps, chalking paint, and mildew growing along the sills.

Module Shed - 2

I had built a loading dock for my shed out of black mat board. Now I was going to sheath the mat board with strip wood.

I distressed basswood strips using a metal brush I bought at a kitchen supply store.

The distressed basswood was stained using an alcohol and ink wash, and Micro Mark’s Age It Easy solution.

The basswood was used for the deck of the loading dock. For the steps I used laser cut stringers and treads from Rusty Stumps.

I reinforced the steps using HO scale Campbell low profile crossties. The steps received the same stain and wash treatment as the deck.

The skirting around the perimeter of the loading dock is made from coffee stirring sticks. I did not stain the stirring sticks. They were sent to me already done by my friend Dan George. It was a pleasant coincidence that my deck was such a close match to the color and tone of Dan’s sticks.

The loading dock in place on my module.

Module Shed - 1

A few years ago, at a meeting of the James River On30 Modular Group, I was given two partially completed O scale structure kits.
The kits had belonged to Bill Hammer, a Master Model Railroader and active member of the NMRA for many years.

I decided to start work on these models by modifying the handcar shed.

At first I didn’t realize that this was supposed to be a handcar shed, as it is impossibly small to be used for that purpose.

I scratchbuilt doors for it out of styrene, and added a metal chimney.

I thought the building would be a little more distinctive and have more presence if it had a loading dock.

I placed the building on its site on my module, and trimmed a piece of black mat board to the size I wanted the loading dock to be.

I built the loading dock structure out of mat board with stripwood reinforcement.

Schwenk's Mill - Construction

The Mid-East Region Convention was fast approaching. The James River Division On30 Module Group had signed up to give its first public showing at the convention.

My Schwenk’s Mill module was far from complete, and could not possibly be finished in time. So I set about making it presentable as quickly as possible.

I had a general plan for a mill and two sheds. Two roads running diagonally across the module would connect the buildings and reduce the boxy rectangular look of the module. The roads themselves are primarily charcoal colored grout with sifted dirt and small stones added. The ground cover is mainly fine sawdust. Cherry and red oak in the sawdust make it orange/red tinted, and therefore a fair representation of Virginia red clay. Over top of the sawdust I layered on a mix of decorative moss, lichen, and Woodland Scenics foliage and turf in late summer colors. A short section of tram roadbed is handlaid code 50 rail on HO low profile ties, ballasted with crushed slate that I collected in Buckingham County.

The mill is built in three sections out of black Strathmore board and basswood bracing. The metal siding is drawing paper embossed with the pattern from a piece of corrugated styrene sheet.

The roof of the mill is drawing paper embossed with the pattern from raised seam roofing styrene sheet. The doors and windows are Grandt Line. The dust collector is an HO scale Walthers detail part. The concrete foundation of the loading end of the mill is spackling over the Strathmore board. Trim, steps, roof details, and many other items were left for later.

Ready or not, the time has come to pack up and head for Hagerstown. At the convention, Clint Hyde was kind enough to supply two small buildings that fit nicely in the vacant spaces on the module.

Even though far from finished, construction of Shwenk’s Mill has already taught me a great deal about scratchbuilding. I now know how important accurate, full sized plans are for building, and I have a more realistic idea of just how long it can take to scratchbuild a building.

Schwenk's Mill - Design

I am a member of the James River Division, Mid East Region of the NMRA. The JRD has formed an On30 modular group, and I plan to build 2 modules as part of my participation.

Our modules are build to standards similar to those used by the Mid Atlantic On30 Module Group, so that the two groups could possibly have combined meets and exhibitions. Local modeler Mike Dunn graciously allowed the JRD to set up a module production line in his wood shop, making for very uniform and well constructed modules.

My first module features one long siding. The siding will serve a mill where waste slate from a distant quarry operation is milled into granules for use in roofing and masonry. The waste slate will be delivered to the mill in 18 inch gauge dump cars, and the final product will be bagged, palletized, and loaded into 30 inch gauge boxcars.

The plan that inspired my mill is available from Tom Yorke Studios. Tom did a quick sketch and one elevation for a mill he called “Grand Barbosa.” I determined the space available for my mill on the modue, and used Tom’s sketch to mock up the basic structural components.

The mill has three main sections. The size and arrangement of the sections was determined by the footprint sketched on my module, and the shape of each section was determined by Tom’s sketch.

The receiving side of the mill, showing the shed where dump cars of waste slate will be unloaded. The 18 inch dump cars will be considerably smaller than the 30 inch gauge dumpers shown, which are an extremely tight fit.

The shipping side of the mill, showing the loading area for boxcars spotted on the siding.

I have ordered castings for doors, windows, and other details. I am also testing several methods for creating corrugated metal siding. The tests shown are drawing paper with the corrugations embossed in them from a sheet of corrugated styrene. Model Masters aluminum paint appears to be a good base coat, with various grays lightly sprayed on for variety.