Thursday, November 21, 2013

Painting a Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Caboose - Part 1

This video is the first one in a series on how to prep, prime, paint and letter a Colorado narrow gauge brass caboose. This is a Pacific Fast Mail caboose manufactured in Japan, probably in the early 1960's. United started making these in 1959 and continued the manufacturing runs for about ten years. We will be adding the Denver and Rio Grande light box on top of the caboose and aiming for a date in the early years of the twentieth century.

Tommy Gilbert is a world-renowned model painter and runs Gilbert's Hobbies in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania -

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

St. Charles Streetcar in New Orleans.

This morning, my long-time friend and author, Earl Hampton, photographed this view of New Orleans Regional Transit Authority streetcar number 954 on the St. Charles route. The early morning light enabled Earl to record the current color scheme that the New Orleans RTA uses on their 900 class cars.
Earl Hampton is well-qualified to photograph streetcars in New Orleans. We took streetcar pictures together in high school, railfanning the St. Charles line in its glory years in the 1960s and 1970s.  In fact, Earl included a picture of me in his book, "The Streetcars of New Orleans 1964 - Present"

Earl also wrote "The Streetcar Guide to New Orleans", doing a major re-write of the guide of Louis Costa, Andre Neff and Peter Raarup - all members of our "Krewe" when growing up in New Orleans. Both books are a must read - before your visit to New Orleans. The Streetcar Guide is a very practical book that outlines the sites that usually take a tourist several visits to The Crescent City to find.

Thanks for emailing the photo, Earl. Please send more. We'd love to see them.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Working on the Railroad in New Freedom, PA 7SEP13

Ever wonder what it is like to run a full-sized steam railroad - especially one with a breath-taking locomotive like the Northern Central's "York"?  Imagine you are in the 1860s and this grand example of the art of locomotion builds up steam to take you away on your journey.  Saturday was a beautiful morning in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, as everything gets ready for the 10 AM excursion on the Northern Central Railway.
As the engine crew prepares the engine for operation, the morning run is discussed in the Brass Hat's Office.  Roger Cutter is the Conductor on today's excursion.  He is the on-the-train boss.  But, before he can assume that role, he has to take care of the paperwork and receive orders for the day. You could imagine Model Railroader's Andy Sperandeo writing an article on this part of the operating procedure. Note, too, the copy of Trains Magazine on the desk under Roger's pointing finger.
A steam locomotive is like a large, fine watch. It seems like it always requires some kind of adjustment. Just like in the 1860's, there is some tweaking to be done on some of the connections behind that big driving wheel. The engineer and our boiler expert are on the ground reaching through the spokes and counterweight to make adjustments.   
Another time-honored tradition of preparing a steam locomotive for a run is the oiling. The moving parts need constant lubrication. Here the fireman ensures that the lube cups for the crosshead and  piston rod are full for the run to Hanover Junction. 
The most important part of the excursion is the people who will ride the train. Our beloved passengers fill up the lines getting ready to board their coaches as the Trainmen and Car Hosts start to greet our friends that are riding today. When you ride the Steam Into History excursions, you feel like you are with family and you soon get to know the crew and the other passengers. Reliving that close sense of community is one of the surprising treats of riding the train - and it keeps people coming back for more - "Let's Do It Again". 
The fireman wipes his goggles and with a big smile from Steve, our Engineer, we get ready to pull out for another run on the Northern Central Railway.

The next run that I will be singing on is on Saturday, September 28. It's going to be a fun day and you can book your tickets by clicking here. These two excursions will sell out, so book your tickets online early!!!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Harrisburg Container Parade

The economy seems to be rebounding and the container traffic is up on the way through Harrisburg on the Norfolk Southern. The timing was good for me to be in a parking garage at N 7th St & Forster St, Harrisburg, PA 17101  and be at just the right height to get some good shots of some of the containers going by.

The SeaLand cars are empty, but they give a good view of how to weather the cars. Most model railroad container trains that I have seen are way too clean. You can really grunge these cars up. I love the track detail in these shots, too. The ties are nearly buried in ballast.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Steaming Into History on a Beautiful Day

It was gorgeous weather for the Sunday, August 25, 2013 excursions on the Northern Central Railway.  Both excursions sold out, so it is very important to purchase your tickets online before you come to New Freedom, PA to ride the trains.
One of my favorite places to ride is on the platform. Since, as the singer, I am train crew, I can get away with that.  It's fun to get a hobo's view of York County, Pennsylvania, going past my feet. Maybe I can talk Campbell Scale Models into making a "Kent Courtney with guitar" figure to add to HO model train platforms.  Their Weston figures have always been favorites of mine.  I have a collection of them.
Our train trips have enjoyed wonderful success.  Labor Day excursions will probably sell out early on, so grab your tickets online at

I'll be on the train excursions singing on Labor Day, so I'll see you then!!!

Friday, August 2, 2013

An Amazing Universe

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the wonderful things that happen to me as a result of music. I've been a train buff as long as I can remember. My Grandfather built an HO layout for me with plaster mountains, a tunnel, two turnouts and a mountain division. I've seen myself in 8mm home movies playing with that layout in my pajamas when I got it for Christmas.  There was a Lionel "Texas Spacial" Alco FA and a Revell F7 in Santa Fe War Bonnet colors.  I remember the Lehigh Valley hopper and a "Radioactive Materials" flat car like they were yesterday. Those two cars are probably in boxes somewhere around the house.

I say all this to put something extraordinary in perspective. Jim Wrinn came to the Steam Into History excursion last Saturday, 27 July 2013. He is the current editor of Trains Magazine - the most important magazine of the railroad industry, as well as a great fan magazine -
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Elvis is in the building. He was in disguise with sunglasses and and a jungle hat - admiring Northern Central #17 as she built steam for the day. With some trepidation, I went over and introduced myself. It was easier to meet Vince Gill, but I don't think Jim noticed my "star-struck" glow. Maybe he did, but, Jim was fun to talk with and I soon felt at ease. I needed to prep for the day's performances on the train. Everything has to be portable - meaning strapped to me - so it takes a few minutes. I excused myself and got ready. I was glowing.

As I got to the train, Jim was there taking pictures and he snapped one of me with my concertina, which I use to welcome people aboard and give them that "Happy Feeling". Notice the Trains Magazine lapel pin that Jim gave to me.
After the train got underway, everything became a blur as I hurried about getting acquainted with passengers. I saw Jim at several grade crossings. He must have planned his train chasing. I bet he's a pro - well, actually, he is! After all, Jim is the Editor of Trains Magazine. He was getting photos on a beautiful summer day in York County, Pennsylvania. Visions of international media exposure for the train flashed through my head. People are going to come here in droves. We're already selling out most of the excursions. We'll have to get another locomotive.

As soon as we got to Hanover Junction, PA, I jumped off the passenger coach platform and started playing "Shenandoah" - one of the most well-known songs of the American Civil War. It sets the mood for the passengers to walk around the restored station complex that Abraham Lincoln passed twice - on the way to - and back from - the Gettysburg Address in November 1863. Lincoln also passed there in State on his Funeral Train on his way back to Springfield, Illinois.

Then, in 1876, Terrance Mullins - a character I portrayed on The History Channel - tried to steal Lincoln's Body from his tomb in Springfield. -

You see - this all ties together.

It is amazing that this universe has allowed me to do so much - to meet Jim Wrinn - to make music - to play trains - to act on The History Channel - and to work on the railroad that carried Lincoln's Body!

Thank you, Jim Wrinn for visiting our railroad and thank you for forwarding that wonderful picture that you took of me.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Blackstone Models New C-70 D&RG Consolidation

Yesterday, I got the phone call from Tommy Gilbert of Gilbert's Hobbies - - that the Blackstone Models D&RG C-70 Consolidation came in. I have been waiting for this model since it was announced.

The version that Blackstone produced is a model of a WWI era narrow gauge locomotive of the type that dominated Colorado narrow gauge from the 1880s until well into the twentieth century. The 2-8-0 locomotive hustled freight and passenger trains out of Salida, Colorado in all directions, including the Monarch Branch, which is the center point of the model railroad that I am building.
When I came in the shop, Tommy had it ready for me. He's changing the configuration of the shop, so his narrow gauge test track is being moved. But, that's okay. Blackstone packs in the locomotive so well that once it is out of the box, it's easier for it to stay out.

I picked out some Polly Scale Paints, a new palette knife, some styrene strips and a Woodland Scenics styrofoam block and I was ready to take a much needed venture into model railroad land at my home - even if only for a little while. 
Unpacking the locomotive carefully, I set it up on some BK Enterprises' ties that I had glued down, but hadn't gotten a chance to ballast and lay rails on. You can see the scratch built trestle to the right of the locomotive starting to come to life. Behind the C-70, the tiny town of Garfield, Colorado is going through an experimental arrangement. On the left is an auxiliary building from the Grandt Line 10 Stamp Mill kit - East Terrible Mill and Mining, customized to be a blacksmith's shop. To the right is the Campbell Scale Models Bunk House "B" which should be on everyone's HO layout.

Here are views of D&RG 401 and D&RGW 347, to give a comparison of the C-70 to the previously released C-19. In the 1920s, there were some phases of reorganization, rebuilding and reclassification. The C-70s became classified C-19 and were renumbered in the process. So, these two photo's represent two sequential eras. It is quite likely that in the mid-1920s, one could see mixed paint schemes as the Denver and Rio Grande was reorganized into the Denver and Rio Grande Western.

I am very pleased with the level of detail on the 401. I have a Westside 1903 K-27 that Tommy will be painting for me. We talked about what scheme that the 1903 K-27 Mikado (2-8-2) should have. Should it match the 401?

There has been a great deal of discussion on the internet about what color that boiler jackets were during this era. There are no color photographs of what the early twentieth century locomotives looked like on the Denver and Rio Grande. So, most discussion centers on a few lines of references in shop instructions and letters from the early twentieth century. Tommy and I think that the boiler jacket would have been a lighter color - maybe green or greenish blue. That assumption comes from the use of Russian Iron.

Russian Iron was imported from Russia and was a high-quality iron that surpassed American technology at the time. American iron before 1900 had varying degrees of quality. But, the Russians had developed a special sheet iron that worked well on boiler jackets. The color was probably lighter than black. Tommy believes that the color was a little lighter than the Pennsylvania Railroad Brunswick Green.

In a posting on UtahRails, the author talks about "Dark Green Locomotive Enamel" that could have been used as late as 1940 to paint D&RGW boilers. This posting is interesting as it gives a lot of detail about the possible green coloring of Rio Grande boiler jackets.

It makes me wonder if the 401 should have a dark green boiler jacket, also. Blackstone Models is located in Durango, Colorado. Since they are at one of the centers of the narrow gauge universe, I have to give them a degree of trust for their color choice for the 401.

But, I think Tommy will be putting a dark green color on the boiler jacket of the 1903 K-27, which will look good - and has a good chance of being very accurate. After the weathering is applied, it should be a star model. Tommy Gilbert is one of the best professional model railroad painters in America.

If you want to read a detailed discussion of sheet iron - and a detailed history of the iron industry in these United States, I highly recommend Robert B. Gordon's book, "American Iron 1607-1900". For anyone interested in the iron side of the railroad industry, this is a fundamental book. It's part of the Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology series.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Steam Into History Video

The Steam Into History project has produced a working, full-sized replica of a Civil War steam locomotive as used on the Northern Central Railway. This locomotive is now at work hauling excursion trains between New Freedom and Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania. It is a sight to behold. This beautifully painted locomotive hauls passenger cars in the 1800's style through the rolling hills of  Pennsylvania countryside in York County.
Various entertainment is brought in to engage the passengers with stories or music about life in these United States during the American Civil War. I will be performing on excursions on the following dates:

July 26 - 9am, 12pm and 3pm
July 28 - 12pm and 3pm
August 11 - 12 and 3pm
August 24 - 12 and 3pm

You can make reservations at

I have also worked on the video contributing music and providing narration. I even wrote part of the script. Please share this link with your friends and get the word out about the wonderful project.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Patch Town Days at Eckley Miners' Village


Saturday & Sunday - 

June 15 & 16

10am - 5pm both days

Eckley Miners' Village should have been a ghost town in the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, but a series of miracles happened.

Movie Town

In the late 1960s, Paramount Pictures thought this would be a great location to film "The Molly Maquires" starring Sean Connery, Richard Harris and Samantha Eggar.

Eckley had hardly changed since the mid-1800s. The buildings represented a typical "company town" of the Anthracite Mining region of Pennsylvania. It looked the part that was needed for the movie's era and locale, where families really lived.

With an 11 million dollar budget, Paramount was able to restore Eckley, Pennsylvania, including moving the electric wiring underground and pulling off post 1870s features, such as TV antennas.

Paramount constructed a large coal breaker near the middle of the town to provide a background that established the town's mining status.  They also constructed a series of mining cars. They are four-wheeled cars with link and pin couplers and hand brakes. Many of these cars still exist, though some of them are badly deteriorated.


The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission took this treasure town and preserved it by turning it into a large living history mining museum. Creative financing has helped to preserve this wonderful town. Living historians - and other residents - can actually live here by paying rent and agreeing to a strict set of rules that preserves the historical character of the village. The cars that you see on the streets are antiques. The facades present a company town appearance.

An Annual Event

Patch Town Days are held annually on the third weekend in June. In 2013, the event will be on the 15th and 16th of June.

Kent Courtney Live

Kent Courtney will be making personal appearances with performances of historical music on both days of the event. He will be singing a mix of union organizing songs, railroad songs, mining songs and Irish songs.

His stories will include the struggles that lead to the formation of the United Mine Workers - including some interesting facts about the fabrication of events surrounding the Molly Maguires. In his research, he has discovered a connection between the mine owners' persecution of their own workers in Pennsylvania and the mine owners in Colorado. Their tactics - and the pawns of the mine owners - were the same.

Living Historians

There are a lot of things to do during Patch Town Days at Eckley Miners' Village. Many different occupations are represented by knowledgeable actors who portray the lifestyles of people in the anthracite patch in the 1800s and early 1900s.

You can watch girls washing clothes and see food being cooked over a campfire. There's a policeman, fancy gentlemen, ladies and many mine workers are portrayed.  Eckley Miners' Village truly comes to life.


Two working blacksmiths will provide continuing demonstrations at the Blacksmith shop where visitors can watch the fabrication of iron tools in a forge typical of the type used in mining areas. Specialized tools were required to drill holes for blasting in the mines with the hand-powered drilling methods used to create the holes where dynamite would be inserted to open up coal seams.

Single and Double Jacking

Small hand drills looked like chisels when driven and hammered by one person - single jacking.  Double jacking drills were longer, being used by a two person team.  In double jacking one person would hold a bit and twist it as another used a large sledge-like hammer to create the holes for the dynamite.  Both of these styles of bits wore out quickly while being hammered into the coal and rock. So, the blacksmiths were constantly busy sharpening bits and creating new ones.


Without the railroads, the coal business could not have developed the industry associated with the nearly smokeless anthracite. In the 1870s, the four-wheeled train cars used to haul coal were called "jimmies". These short cars are represented by the left-over props from Paramount's movie, "The Molly Maquires".

Modeling the Miners' Village

There are many details to be found in this living history village that offer model railroaders a chance to look at an earlier period's lifestyle that can be translated into accurate scenes on a train layout.  The Molly Maguires was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, so the source for this look has won critical acclaim. It's always good to look for "best examples" when choosing prototype scenery.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

First Excursion of Steam Into History 2JUN13

The weather was beautiful for the start of the Civil War steam train excursions out of New Freedom, PA. This would be just another photograph except for a chance inclusion of Debi Dwyer Beshore in the left background. As usual, she is busy on the cellphone, coordinating a dozen things at a time in her role as Manager of Steam Into History.
 Somehow, this looks like a scene out of The Waltons with Kent talking to the Fireman of the "York", number 17 of the Northern Central Railway - pictured in the background.
 For the start-up celebration, Kent provided the PA system, and of course sang some of his favorite Civil War and railroad songs, while telling the story of the Northern Central Railway. That guitar amp at the lower left of this photograph is a Peavey Austin 400, Kent's favorite guitar amp.
 There she is, the "York" under steam and smoking up a storm as she heads toward Glen Rock, Pennsylvania.
Today's excursion was sold out and there were many people who couldn't get a ticket. Because of the popularity of this Civil War train ride, it is suggested that you get tickets online at

Monday, May 27, 2013

Gilbert's Hobbies in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

This is an HO scale Railroad Station model at Gilbert's Hobbies in Gettysburg, PA.  If you are coming to Gettysburg during the 150th Anniversary year, you want to visit this fine hobby shop that has a wide selection of various hobby items, focusing on model railroading in HO, HOn3 and N scales.  They also have pre-painted Civil War miniature figures.  Their mobile-ready web site is:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tracks in New Freedom, PA

The headquarters building of Steam Into History is in New Freedom, PA at 2 West Main Street. The building is right next to the York County Rail Trail and the tracks that they will be using to run the Civil War steam train excursions. Steam Into History will be using an American-type, 4-4-0, which is a reproduction of a typical Civil War steam locomotive.
Last week, the trucks arrived for the passenger cars that will be used for the first phase of the steam train operation. They are a derivative of the journal box, Bettendorf T-Section trucks. They look a lot like the Pennsylvania Railroad Class 2D-F8 50-ton freight. The bolster might have been replaced, which makes positive identification questionable. The actual 2D-F8 had a riveted bolster.  It's not unusual to have train equipment with mixed lineage.

The journal boxes contain oily rags that serve as lubrication for the end pins of the wheel to rotate within. The journal boxes are at the end of the cast frame, which resembles a "T".  The cast frame has springs that support the bolster. This sprung support cushions the ride, much like a rubber tire cushions the ride of wheels used on a bicycle or automobile. The bolster of the truck supports the railroad car above it by attaching to the underframe of the car. Usually, this is done by means of a pin that goes into a hole in the bolster of the truck. On a real train, the weight of the car holds the truck in place. On model railroads a screw or snap keeps the truck attached to the underside of the railroad car.
This is the view from Main Street in New Freedom, PA looking north with the York County Rail Trail and the Steam Into History Headquarters on the right.
Looking south from Main Street in New Freedom, PA, the York County Rail Trail is on the left. The New Freedom Trains station is also on the left. It contains the Rail Cafe (a great place to eat), a museum and nice restrooms (that's a real plus).

Note that the ballast is not only multi-colored, but it also has a variety of sizes of ballast. Modelers should remember that ballast is rarely one uniform color.  Looking at color photographs of railroads in the 1950s, it amazes me how there was such variety of ballast on one section of rail line.  Repairs and adjustments might be made at different times using ballast from different quarries or sources.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Raid on the Northern Central Railway - Scenes filmed 11MAY13

On Saturday, 11 May 2013, reenactors and civilian actors gathered to film a re-creation of the Confederate raid on the Northern Central Railroad station of June 1863. Rain was predicted all day, but it held off until the shoot was finished. Scenes included civilians at the station and the telegrapher.  The telegrapher was captured by the Confederates to prevent him from warning other stations along the line. 

In this photo, the civilians are being briefed about their parts in the film. On the far right, seated on the bench, is John Riggle. John, who is an Executive Producer of the film was General Manager of two television station, including WPMT, FOX Channel 43 (Harrisburg, Lebanon, Lancaster, PA).

While the civilians were going through their roles, the Confederate Cavalry and the Pennsylvania Militia line up for their safety instructions and roll-call. Facing each other for this line up presaged the skirmish activity that was to be filmed later on.

The Pennsylvania Militia moved their line over to the southern grounds of Hanover Junction Station. They "stacked arms" so that they could pull them apart for the filming. I am portraying an Assistant Surgeon of the Pennsylvania Militia. Assistant Surgeon is the rank of an entry-level doctor that would be assigned to tend to the needs of the troops.

On my right, I am carrying a medical haversack, that contains various medicines, bandages, tourniquets and a triage kit. In the case of a wound that cause a bone to be shattered, the tourniquet would control venous and arterial circulation to an extremity while the wounded soldier would be transported to the rear.

On my left is an over-sized, kidney-shaped tin canteen that would carry enough water to minister to the needs of the wounded - as well as myself.  Below the canteen is an officer's haversack containing three days rations (food) for me to eat while on the march.  A plate, knife, fork and spoon, a tiny New Testament, pencils, paper and other personal effects are in there, too.

The belt is a reproduction Pennsylvania Militia Officer's two-part belt. It is similar to the one that General George Gordon Meade wore while commanding the Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1, 2 and 3 July 1863.

Notice that my officer's sack coat is longer than the infantry sack coat worn by the Pennsylvania Militia enlisted men. The shoulder boards that I am wearing are gold outlined with plain green in the center, indicating my rank of Assistant Surgeon. 

This is the view of the view from the infantry line as they form up, facing the Confederate Calvary. The Hanover Junction Station is to the left. The platform that we are athwart is the same platform that will be used by passengers on the Steam Into History excursions, starting June 2, 2013.
This is the imposing facade of the Hanover Junction Station from the Confederate Calvary perspective. This is the train station that Abraham Lincoln passed on his way to and from the dedication of the soldier's cemetery at Gettysburg, where he delivered his Gettysburg Address, in November 1863. His remains also passed here onboard the Funeral Train that carried his body back to Springfield.

In the History Channel production, Stealing Lincoln's Body, I portrayed Terrence Mullins, one of the men who tried to take Lincoln's body out of the gravesite in Springfield and hold it for ransom in 1876. See the Internet Movie Database listing at Stealing Lincoln's Body

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Film Shoot at Hanover Junction, PA 9MAY13

   With a profound interest in American History, I'm often working on documentaries. The latest project is on the Northern Central Railway. Since I wrote this part of the script, I guess I can quote what I'm saying in the top-hatted segments.  The first one is about the origins of the NCR:

   "The Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad was a predecessor of the Northern Central Railway.  On the Eighth of August, 1829, the cornerstone was laid with great ceremony and Irish immigrant laborers began construction of the line from Baltimore.  In typical Irish fashion, they worked hard and drank hard creating controversy in the local communities along the way."
The "talking-head" segments are often short clips meant to fill in what is spoken by the narrator.  Another clip is about Abraham Lincoln's connection to the Hanover Junction Station:

   "Passing through the Station on the 18th and 19th of November of 1863, Abraham Lincoln went and returned from his famous Gettysburg Address.  On April 25, 1865, Lincoln's Funeral Train passed here." 

Another short clip fills in about the current history of the Hanover Junction Station:

"A project to restore the Hanover Junction Railway to its 1863 appearance was completed in 2001."
   This is a view of one of the set-up from the porch of the Hanover Junction Station. We were granted permission to get up on the porch of the station for the filming of some cut-aways. These are scenes that are shot to fill in the gaps and make smoother transitions for other scenes. 
This photo is one of the out-takes from the photo shoot that I was doing at the same time as the film shoot. (I'm always multi-tasking). You can see the photo that I picked for - the mobile-ready website that I maintain for Steam Into History.  I chose the vertical format for the mobile-ready site because I liked the way the converging lines of trees draw the viewer into the photo. The vertical format also gives a focus to the rail line, itself. With the tracks curving around the bend, it makes you want to go around there to see more.