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The Blue Coal Train

The Blue Coal Train is a freelance train, and thus is not a model of a full-size prototype. Instead, the train is a suggestion: that of an American narrow-gauge coal train that might have existed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The image shows the train running downhill on the NG&DR.

Some Real Train Rolling Stock

In fact, most of the waggons in the train, the open coal gondolas and the small boxcar, are accurate models. They are models of rolling stock supplied to the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1871; and a sizable fraction of these were used for coal haulage. Each gondola, as supplied by the builder, Billmeyer & Small, held just five tons of material; but the coal carrying gondolas were modified by the D&RG and may have held more than that. The prototype waggons are interesting to me in that they were only used on the D&RG for a few years before being replaced on the D&RG by larger equipment. The coal carrying waggons all had been replaced by 1883. I think of this rapid replacement as exemplifying the huge growth in size of American railway equipment that started in the nineteenth century and continued for well over half a century. The ultimate large size is clearly evident in the rolling stock of today's Railways. For example, the coal trains that run today between the Wyoming coal mines and the Pueblo, Colorado, steel mill, use hopper cars that each hold 100 tons of coal. This means that each modern hopper holds twenty times the payload of one Billmeyer & Small gondola. Since the trains each comprise around 100 hoppers, each train is hauling around ten thousand tons of coal.

The Coal and Box Car Models

These models were made from kits designed and supplied by Bob Hartford, the wheels are by Sierra Valley. These model kits are nicely done and are detailed and accurate; their only drawback is that, because of the detail, they are a little delicate and do not stand rough handling. But, I put coal in them and they get hauled around the NG&DR many times in a year.

The Caboose

The caboose is made from a design by NorthEast Model Products. I think that the caboose is freelance rather than an accurate model of a prototype; however, it is noted that in the nineteenth century full-size cabooses tended to be freelance anyway, built by railways for their own use.

I fitted accurate model Carter Brothers trucks made from kits by Hartford to the caboose. The target vintage of this caboose is a couple of decades later than the coal waggons; and this explains the larger size of the caboose which somewhat dominates the waggons. Also, the construction date difference means that, strictly, the caboose and the other waggons would not have made up a D&RG train in real life for the reason given above about gondola replacement. But this is the NG&DR, not the D&RG.

I like the caboose a lot; but it does have an uncomfortably large part of my life tied up in its creation.

The Engine

The engine is modelled as an Englishman's idea of a nineteenth century American steam locomotive. The engine most certainly is freelance, and probably hopelessly wrong to a knowledgable railroad student. But it has the gear: big wood cab; headlight; and junk hanging off everywhere; so I like it.

The model engine is a Roundhouse Lady Anne with essentially no functional modification. Roundhouse is a well-regarded English company that has been producing steam engines for decades. Their engines work "out of the box" and are excellent introductions to miniature live steam operation. The Lady Anne takes a filling of 200ml of water in the boiler, 32ml of liquid butane in the fuel tank, a little steam oil in the lubricator, and runs for 35-55 minutes on this charge. There is no mechanism on this engine for adding water to the boiler whilst in steam. Butane can be added, but this is not necessary normally. The run ends when the fuel is exhausted, leaving a little residual water in the boiler. The Lady Anne has what the manufacturer refers to as a simplified Walschaerts valve gear, i.e., largely dummy, not Walschaerts at all. This valve gear is reversible, so the engine can run in either direction. The engine is fitted with a radio that controls both the throttle and the reversing gear.


Another indication of the vintage of the full-size rolling stock lies in the couplers, reproduced on the models. These are what are known as link and pin couplers. In use, these couplers were, and are in the model, manual, very tedious, and probably, in full size, quite dangerous compared with the automatic couplers that came along sometime later.

The boxcar and the caboose have link and pin couplers on one end only; on the other end I have fitted Kadee automatic couplers. By doing this, once the train is made up, it can be coupled easily to other stock or engines via the Kadee couplers since Kadees are used almost everywhere on the NG&DR, including on the Coal Train engine.


Weathering is an in-hobby term that refers to the process, usually intentional, of making models look more realistic by modelling wear, damage, dirt, rust, etc. Some modellers are very good at weathering, and I have been very impressed by some models in part because of good weathering. I find weathering very hard to do, probably I am too impatient, and I do not have quite the right eye for it. The Blue Coal Train has been weathered, unlike some other trains on the NG&DR. I wanted to try it to see how I got on.

Weathering is not restricted to rolling stock, and true model railways (somewhat different from garden railways) have weathered buildings, roads, and everything else. Associated with weathering in models are myriad other features and vignettes yielding short, impressionistic scenes that focus on one moment or give a particular insight into a character, idea, or setting [I filched most of that sentence from WikipediA]. Thus a good model is rich in detail that tells a story and draws in the observer to the weathering of life depicted in the model. This big build up is my justification for the orange coal car in with the blue: the story is that the NG&DR bought it secondhand from the D&RG.


The Blue Coal Train is a favourite of mine, and a flagship of the NG&DR. The combination of the superb functionality of an excellent engine; first class models of nineteenth century Colorado rolling stock; the results of personal modelling time investment; and live steam operation, give me much pleasure and satisfaction. The Blue Coal Train on the NG&DR is a good example of small scale garden railway operation, which I hope you enjoy watching.

David Outteridge
September 2011

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last-modification-date:  7 Sep 2013