The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
© April 10, 2013
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Baby Grand on the Bountyland
The story of The Bountyland Railway and Narrow Gauge Museum
Written by "Uncle" Bob Springs
Over half a century ago, when I was first getting into model railroading as an adult hobby, I recall, we couldn't shout it loud enough, “They’re NOT TOYS! They're SCALE MODELS!!” Scale models of railroad equipment have served this hobby well. Model railroading allows the average Joe to participate vicariously in the fascinating workings of the mighty railroad industry, past and present. Scale model trains come in many different sizes (scales) to suit different individual hobby pursuits. As the years rolled by, I found myself moving up, size-wise, through the scales, from N to HO to Large Scale (G) and ultimately to 7-1/2" gauge. 7-1/2, I found, is like large scale in that a number of “scales” call this same track gauge home. Standard gauge, for the most part, but also a variety of narrow gauges. I've long been a fan of narrow gauge. I'd built a lot of big narrow gauge models in large scale. Many years earlier, I had used HO track to do narrow gauge in O scale. (lots of folks do this - they call it On30) When this same principal is applied to 7-1/2 gauge, the results are models which are truly HUGE. Depending on which prototype gauge one chooses to model, they are 1/5th or 1/4th or even 1/3rd ACTUAL SIZE! Prototype 2ft narrow gauge trains modeled using 7-1/2” track, yields 1/3rd actual size size trains which are so large that they aren't just large enough to ride ON but very nearly large enough to ride IN. In fact, by bumping up the height dimensions a bit, some, are doing just that, riding IN. And with great success. Here is a link to John Ozanich's fabulous Sandy Ridge & Clear Lake Railway. http://www.srclry.com/
My entry into the world of 7-1/2 was simply a lap of track and a hand-me-down gas mechanical, project locomotive. Before settling on which scale I'd build in, I got to thinking about taking John's success a step further... What if we abandoned the idea of scale altogether? Could we not simply built TRAINS? Miniature, yes, but no longer models... These would be the ultimate, narrowest, of prototype narrow gauge trains. This approach is common in Grand Scale but would it work in 7-1/2?? “BABY GRAND”???
Obviously, you'd never have coaches with an aisle down the middle or even passengers sitting side by side. But, if you thought not of scale and built in enough head room from the start, might you be able to have comfortable seating for adults INSIDE some sort of coach? Or inside a LOCOMOTIVE CAB??? I decided to build my gas mechanical as a test of this challenge. Driven by a dream spawned by decades of model railroading, I could see myself inside my cozy little engine, driving down the track, late at night, my headlight glowing dimly against the narrow rails ahead as rain beat against the cab.....COOL!
The 2ft gauge trains of Maine were extremely narrow of gauge but highly successful at operation. I figured that if I followed a scaled down version of their standards, I'd likely have success. Those 2ft gauge trains were typically 6ft, or so, wide. Or, width = gauge X 3. Applying this standard, I adopted a width for my engine of 23 inches. ( 7-1/2 X 3 =22-1/2, rounded up to 23). So far, so good.
An early concept drawing. Click to enlarge.
What about height? As we have seen before, a lack of height is what prevents us from riding inside our scale models, in the first place. Here, I decided to use a cab height which would have ample headroom for those a bit over 6ft tall and just see how it worked. I figured that if I kept the bottom heavy and the top light, it would be OK. And really, this wasn't that different from a regular riding car with a light weight roof over it, besides, if things didn't work out at first, I figured I could always make adjustments. But things DID work out! They have worked well, indeed. This despite the the fact that cab came out just over 5ft tall, a height 8 times the track gauge! The Maine 2ft trains, by a comparison, were 5 times track gauge tall. But with a low center of gravity, I do have stability at 8 to 1.
Another reason this height works for me is that I do not run around curves fast enough for centrifugal force to cause tipping. My little gas mechanical putters along at a safe 7mph. I do avoid running when there are strong, gusting winds. It's a bit like having a small plane. This whole railroad experiment is taking place in the back yard of our-1/2 acre lot. I am thus limited to 25ft radius curves. To accommodate this relatively tight radius I built the locomotive in 2 sections which are articulated together, much like the common combination of locomotive / engineer's car. This has the further benefit of preventing variations of engineer's weight from effecting the balance of the drive suspension. Technically, I call the 4ft long powered section the “tractor” while the 3ft long cab section is referred to as, well, “the cab”. The two sections are joined by one 1/2” bolt which acts as a swivel pin that can easily be removed to separate them for hauling or for maintenance.
The locomotive is taking shape in the shop. Click to enlarge.
All controls stay with the tractor so separating them really is quick and easy. The idea for articulating the tractor and cab came from watching a video of “Sir Goss”, a well known British 7-1/4” steam locomotive. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwIrFsbpWcY I must admit, I found the process of designing afresh a bit intimidating. There was no set of plans to follow. While I avoided including superficial scale-like details, my hope was to build within the traditions of locomotive design, as if Plymouth or some other builder of small industrial locomotives, had gotten an order for a-1/2 ton gas mechanical to run on 7-1/2 “ track. What might that have looked like? I gave it my best shot.
Along the way I discovered something nice. As opposed to model-building, I found simply BUILDING to be much faster, much easier and far less expensive. Like any prototype builder, whatever materials or products the market presented was there for consideration. This engine uses off the shelf hardware wherever possible. There were no complex details to fabricate or fragile pieces to protect during operation. All design was driven by function. Example, rather than “scale” doors giving access into the prime mover hood, my design has a top which swings up then the sides fold down to give easy access. It is NOT a model. But it IS rugged. And had it not been so economical to construct, I could never have afforded building it.
While I really like and respect model building, for those of us who must keep the cost down, this is a way it can be done. I'll be the first to admit that my quirky, non-scale design takes a bit of getting used to. One WAG asked if Donald Duck built it! Given some time, it starts to grow on you. I appropriately numbered it “No 1”but it quickly picked up the nickname “Old Yeller” I find I have become quite fondly attached to the No 1.
The rear of the "Baby Grand". Click to enlarge.
Unlike a “push button” battery-electric, a gas mechanical has just enough mechanical “temperament”to give it “personality”. I should talk a bit about the tractor's suspension. Originally, I built it with a rocking front axle and made the rear axle rigid. This did not work. (too much personality?) The slightest misalignment of the track would throw the rear drivers off the rails. So, I reconstructed the rear to allow that axle to rock as well and added equalizing bars to each side. While I was at it, I added weight to the rear to achieve good balance. Problem solved! The unit now is stable as a rock, in fact I can stand on one side of the tractor and it doesn't tip and it stays on the track, unfailingly.
The view from the cab can't be beat! Click to enlarge.
There is something just esthetically right about controlling a locomotive from inside the cab. I have not been disappointed in the least. Another thing I like is that this “1 to 1 scale” unit is “in scale” with everything around it including people. I have always liked having everything in the same scale. Now, people are “in scale” and don't spoil the scene and there's no need for miniature structures or special scenery.
The success of Old Yeller was followed by the construction of our first car, a 7ft “caboose”. Car, “C-10” has a dry cab for 2 persons, centered on its frame, with an open platform on each end. My original plan was to build tool boxes onto each platform but before I got around to building them, I discovered I could successfully ride there with the train in motion! When innovating it is important to realize when success is biting you. I've added hand grabs and I plan to add end railings, sliding side doors and glass windows. All the while, as the equipment was working better than I'd hoped, in the back of my mind there loomed one huge unresolved issue. “OK, so now I have it and it works well. I really like it... but what in the world do I do with it?” What I had created was an amusement park ride. I had hoped for more. Maybe, years ago this could have been an estate tramway? Or perhaps a system like this, safe and affordable, could be set up as a teaching aid; as in high school level “Railroading 101”? Or maybe I'd run it like a model railroad with imagined industries and fake loads to move???
The caboose. Click to enlarge.
In the end, the simple honesty of the mechanical design spilled over into the mission statement. It would indeed be what it actually is. An amusement park ride. But not without a PR spin or two. First, give it a good solid railroad name. “Bountyland Railway”. Bountyland is the unofficial name for our local community. Then add switches and track, a two stall engine house and turntable, and a flagstop passenger shelter. On top of this, add simulated freight switching moves and the “micro tourist line” can claim status as “a working narrow gauge museum”. A bit of historical railroad clutter would also help.
I have a good friend who works on The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. It turns out there is a lot more operation to running a tourist line than may at first be apparent. That's good. I like operation. And I like the concept. Fun plus teaching with lots of railroad ATMOSPHERE! It's “Baby Grand on the Bountyland” ! Contact the author at
Written by "Uncle" Bob Springs
photos by Bob Springs
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The On-Line Magazine of Ridable Model Railroading