Barriers to Model Railroading: Believable Freelance Locomotive Rosters

A believable locomotive roster for a freelance model railroad is what helps make the model railroad believable. I have seen many modelers have a one of this and one of that roster. That would be acceptable for maybe one engine but not the entire roster. What makes a believable roster? How many different classes of steam engines or diesels. Which manufacturer(s) would the railroad buy their engines from. The other problem is availability of a suitable model in the scale you are modeling.

First question, what do you intend to model. Are you modeling a short line, a branch line of a larger railroad or a division of a main line? Are you modeling a fictional section of a railroad or is the whole thing a freelance model? What type of freight and passenger traffic will you be modeling? If you address these questions during the initial phases, purchasing locomotives will be a better experience than buying this one or that one.

Let’s use the Northern Maryland Railway as our freelance example. In its region, other narrow gauge railroads would be the East Broad Top, the Lancaster,Oxford, and Southern Railroad, the York Southern, and the Maryland Central. More distant historical comparators that I like are the Newport and Sherman’s Valley, Tuscarora Valley Railroad, Waynesburg and Washington, Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina, and the Ohio River and Western. I also decided to look at two standard gauge short lines, the Stewartstown Railroad and the Ma&Pa.

In determining my engine roster, I decided that the Northern Maryland would purchase steam engines new similar to the East Broad Top, Waynesburg and Washington, and Eastern Tennessee & Western North Carolina railroads. I also decided that the primary builder would be Baldwin Locomotive as they are close to the Northern Maryland. I did have one engine deviate from this plan. One mogul would be purchased from Cooke at a time when Baldwin was too busy to fill an order in the time the Northern Maryland required.

I started my locomotive roster from the beginning of the Northern Maryland in the early 1870s up to 1914. Engine retirements, replacements, rebuildings, and an occasional wreck were all included in the process to arrive at my 1914 engine roster. The NM purchased small power, 2-4-0, 4-4-0s, 2-6-0s, and finally 4-6-0s. Like the ET&WNC, the Northern Maryland decided that the dual purpose 4-6-0s suited their needs best. The only downside was that the 4-6-0s that Baldwin sold the ET&WNC were built in the early 20th century. The Northern Maryland would be purchasing their ten-wheelers much earlier, in the early mid 1880s. The ET&WNC ten-wheelers have always been a favorite of mine, however they are not made in Sn3 and they do not meet the imagineered Northern Maryland purchase history. The Denver and Rio Grande’s T-12s however did meet the framework of the story I am trying to tell and in the correct timeframe. Jerry Day made two excellent videos of the Cumbres and Toltec’s restored T-12 number 168. You can watch them here and here or search for them on YouTube. After watching Mr Day’s videos as well as several others, I was sold on the T12! Better yet, it is available in Sn3. P-B-L made them several years ago now and would require finding one used. Railmaster Exports, in New Zealand, still makes new T-12 kits.

Northern Maryland’s #1 was similar to the Denver and Rio Grande’s Montezuma. Nathan Holmes collection. Downloaded from

Barriers to Model Railroading: Believable Freelance Locomotive Rosters @February 2021 by H. Mathews

Reality vs Imagineered: The Northern Maryland Railway, Part I

Why Beckleysville? You would be hard pressed to attempt to find it on a map. Did it ever have a railroad? The reality is no, but it may have. In my original design, Beckleysville was at the end of a branchline of the equally imagineered Northern Maryland Railway.

Chartered in the “hay-day” of narrow gauge railroad building in the early 1870s, it somehow survived until 1920. The Northern Maryland was to run from Havre de Grace along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay through the farmlands of Harford, Baltimore, Carroll, and Frederick counties to its western terminus in Frederick, Maryland. A branch to Hanover, Pennsylvania was planned as well. As with most grand designs this never truly materialized. The railroad ended up running from Westminster, Maryland to Bel Air, Maryland serving farm communities in Carroll, Baltimore, and Harford counties several miles below the Mason-Dixon Line. Northern Maryland story is similar to the Lancaster, Oxford, and Southern railroad’s history. The railroad’s best days were in the past when we catch up to it in Beckleysville. World War One did see a slight uptick in freight revenue, but increased use of trucks after the war saw the little railroad fade into the weeds and eventual abandonment in the mid 1920s.

The closest railroad to Beckleysville is the equally unknown Gunpowder Valley Railroad. However, the stillborn Parkton and Manchester Railroad planned right of way may have gone through the area as well. The Parkton and Manchester, or sometimes listed Manchester and Parkton was going to be a narrow gauge railroad

Distant influences are the Stewartstown Railroad, New Park and Fawn Grove RR (later part of the Stewartstown RR until it was abandoned), the Lancaster, Oxford and Southern (also 3ft Gauge), and the Maryland and Pennsylvania RR and it’s narrow gauge predecessors. Of course, some of the right of way ideas are borrowed from the Northern Central Railroad, which was taken over by the Pennsylvania RR.

The Gunpowder Valley Railroad was a standard gauge shoreline about 3 miles or so in length built from the Western Maryland connection about 1/2 mile north of Alesia, Maryland. It served at least one paper mill and one gunpowder mill. It’s right of way is mapped at the “Abandoned Rails” website. The newspaper clipping below is the auction notice in November 1898.

Clip from the Baltimore Sun newspaper, Friday November 11, 1898.

The Parkton and Manchester was a planned narrow gauge railroad, presumably in 3 foot gauge, connecting to the Northern Central in Parkton and the Western Maryland in Manchester, or so I think. There isn’t much history that I have been able to unearth regarding the company or it’s organizers. Presumably, the railroad was aiming for the agricultural business in the Bachmann Valley area of eastern Carroll County. The line was about 14-17 miles long and about maybe 3-5 miles of the eastern end we’re graded. Part of a fill built to cross Owl Branch (creek) just west of Parkton can still be seen from southbound I-83 and on Google Earth.

Editor’s Note: This post was getting very long so I decided to break it down into shorter posts.

Reality vs Imagineered: The Northern Maryland Railway, Part I

@ January 2021.

By: H. Mathews