As many of you know, the Mountain Division at Mill Creek Central Railroad can be challenging. With a climb of over 50 feet and an average grade of 1.6%, every engineer working their engine to its limits at some point has lost their fire, slipped in the tunnel and popped their safeties. The rule is that if you can make it up out of Barney yard and up sandhill to Tower, you can make it anywhere on the railroad. There is only one short area, less than 100 feet between Barney yard and the Bryan loop that does not have an increasing grade. Once you get around the Bryan loop it's pretty much all downhill from there. With your help, that's about to change!
Last year with the deferral of the 2020 Buckeye Limited we started looking at the railroad to see how we might be able to handle a larger crowd and provide some additional mainline opportunity for the next convention. The ideas were numerous with discussions of bridges and tunnels, managing grades and moving dirt. There were two main areas of discussion, extending the main out of Bryan loop down to the Tower siding area above the tunnel and trying to find a way to utilize some of the property Dick owned down below the wye near Whitacre on the south end of the property. The Mill Creek Central Crew knew that we wanted to maintain a decent grade, nothing more than the +2.5% grade going up Sandhill.
As we looked at a route out of the Bryan loop, we were able, with some significant dirt work, to maintain a decent grade but we needed a new loop on the mainline to extend the track beyond Bryan loop. A design was surveyed in and developed that would allow us to accomplish this but then we ran into an issue with the loop. You see, the new loop would run on top of the tunnel on the north side of Tower and would require us to construct a bridge to maintain the required grade in the loop and would be a wonderful addition. After some additional discussion it was pointed out that the area had been regraded a few years ago by the utility company because it was too close to the high voltage powerlines. So, adding elevation in the way of a bridge above that regrade would likely not go well with the utility. Ultimately, we decided to abandon the route and look for another.
Another idea was to try to slide the mainline under Riedel Bridge and bring it around onto the powerline right-of-way at the southern end of the property where we currently store trailers and it is currently trackless. Again, using our previously described abandoned route, if we were to roll around the end of the logging run at Hawk and head South we may be able to get enough reduction in elevation. This route would require the building of a significantly large bridge, similar in size to the Riedel Bridge, to cross the valley and the grade would be steep, but doable. Building such a large bridge would require considerable design time and expense. There had to be a more economical way to traverse the valley, out to the southern utility right-of-way. After some initial surveying and reviewing the topography using google earth, it was determined that there was a way to go from Bryan loop to the head of the valley, near and below the Keith Block bridge. If we were to reverse the direction of the Bryan loop we determined that we could continue down the grade, near the logging line, to the head of the valley with around a 2% grade. That would work!
We also reviewed and surveyed the grade from the bottom of the Keith block bridge to 6 feet below the bottom of the I-beams on Riedel Bridge, which was nearly 3.5%, too steep. At this point it looked as if the idea of an extension was unlikely from Bryan loop. During further discussion, Dick suggested an at-grade crossing on the south end of Riedel Bridge. After further review we were able to determine that this grade, from the bottom of the Keith Block bridge to the at-grade crossing near the Riedel Bridge was 2%, bingo! So, while we wanted to go under the bridge, an at-grade mainline crossing, something we didn't have on the railroad, would add some additional complexities and also potentially provide us with a divergent route to the south end of the property. To accomplish this though we would have to modify the logging line slightly by moving it slightly down the valley. So now if we were to have an at grade crossing, with a possible divergent route, where would it go?
On the south end of Dick's property is another valley, which you can see as you are going through the Whitacre Block on your return trip from the Bryan loop. Dick has looked at the valley for years, trying to determine how he might be able to get the railroad into this valley. A route was reviewed early on as a possible route from Benny, in the Valley Division, but the grade was just too steep. At one point it was even considered a possible route for the logging line out of Benny. Another issue with this valley is that there used to be a mining operation up the valley years ago and part of the land that Dick owns in this valley used to be a pond. The dam structure was opened many years ago but all the sediment from the former mining operation has now made it a bog. A route from our proposed at-grade crossing had never been assessed. After further study and an initial survey it was determined that access to this valley was, in fact, possible and that if we were to go up the northern slope of the valley we would be able to get in a loop, just at the edge of the property line without getting into the bog, but just enough room.
So below you can see the proposed route, starting at the Bryan loop and traveling around 2,300 feet to the new loop in the southern valley. The beauty is that most of this route is somewhat to mostly wooded, making for a cooler ride in the heat of the summer.
As you can see from the proposed map above there will be two new large blocks and an extension of the Keith Block by adding some of the Bryan loop into that block. There will also be 3 passing sidings as well. Note that two of the blocks are adjacent to the at-grade crossing to accommodate the increased traffic at this location. We have also shortened the Warner block allowing for quicker travel times from Tower, across Riedel Bridge to Apex. These short blocks at the at-grade crossing should allow for optimal flow through this intersection. Also, we will be adding a diversion route which will allow you, should you choose, to take a shorter route on the Mountain Division.
If supported, the Mountain Division extension will be just over 2,000 net feet of mainline added to the railroad (total of 2,900 feet including sidings etc.), providing 3/4 of a mile of additional running, around a 23% increase on the mainline. The beauty of this route will also be it's continued Mountain Division theme of steeper longer grades, making for good engine drags, while now providing for a variation of the grade on the mainline and not just a single climb, then decent.
So, is there any interest in the extension? We hope so! In fact, we're planning on it. If we are to get the extension in before the next convention, likely occurring in August 2023, we will need help from volunteers to make it happen. To give you an idea of the work needed to complete the project here are a few statistics to chew on:
timber removal in right-of-way
significant grading of the right-of-way
possibly 1 tunnel to excavate & construct at the loop
one 45-foot bridge to design & build
8,700 ties to cut
1.1 miles (5,800') of track to purchase
35,000 track screws to install
+240 - 12' track panels to build
9 mainline & divergent switches to build
5 industrial switches to build
3 concrete grade crossing to install
Building of new signal equipment
Addition of signals and power ran to each
Signal modification of at-grade crossing
I know this can look daunting but, with your help, it is possible. Let me tell you where we are right now. Late in the summer of 2020 we began removing timber from the right-of-way, installing drainage, and grading the right-of-way between the Bryan loop and the at-grade crossing. We also began doing the same thing heading south to the new southern loop for about 300 feet. We were also able to get another 500 feet timbered to the proposed bridge crossing.
Last fall we were able to install the diamond on the at-grade crossing as well as building the switches and diverging track. We also poured one of the three road crossings, the one near the diamond. Over the winter Nelson began laying out the locations of the new signals and power systems, Laura worked on building the control boards for the extension and Kelley worked with Nelson on the installation designs and completed the assembly of the new signals. Over Christmas, when lumber prices fell slightly, Dick was able to order about a third of the ground contact, pressure treated wood we will need to make ties. With it we should be able to cut about 3,500 ties.
To start the project off right in 2021, on February 27th, a group of volunteers began cutting ties for the extension. Thanks to Dick, Clee, Fred, Jim (myself), Nate and Kyra, we were able to cut and stack over 1,000 ties in a single day! This summer we intend to complete the final surveying and grading on all of the right-of-way, and hopefully begin laying some track on the route.
So, what are some of the ways for you to help Mill Creek Central Railroad with the newly proposed Mountain Division Extension? The first is to volunteer. The second is to give generously. Adding the extension will be time consuming to install and expensive to construct. Clearly, volunteering can help complete this project and minimize some of our expenses. Without help from someone like you, we clearly would not be able to maintain the track, much less make improvements like this track extension. So how much will it cost? Today, the cost of grading, purchasing track, lumber for ties, track screws and ballast is around $10 per foot. So constructing and installing over 2,900 feet of track will cost nearly $30,000, not to mention the cost to install the proposed bridge and tunnel. So, any donations, large or small, will be greatly appreciated.
But here is another idea, have you ever noticed that all of our blocks and passing sidings are named? Do you know where those names came from? They came from those who have volunteered their precious time and hard earned dollars to this great track in the past. So, with the new track extension we would like to propose the same for this addition. Would you like to have your name added to a block or passing siding similar to what has been done in the past? Here's how you can do it. For those patrons who are willing to donate $5,000 or more, we will acknowledge your generosity by utilizing your name, your business' name or someone that is family or a friend to one of these 5 new blocks or passing sidings. If your name on a block or passing siding is not your cup of tea or should you wish to remain anonymous, you could offer to allow Dick to collaborate with you to name your block based on one of the volunteers at the track. For a patron willing to donate $7,000 we acknowledge your generosity by doing the same for the new southern loop. The choices available will be first come, first select. Those who make such a generous financial donation will be provided with regular updates on the extension and even better, should you choose, come out and volunteer to help construct your section of the track! We also plan to have industrial sidings on the new route as well. For a generous donation of $1,000 we will name one of these 6 planned industries in your honor by allowing you to choose the name of the industry (must be reasonable of course and could incorporate your name).
The plan is for the new track extension to remain closed until the Buckeye Limited Convention in August of 2023. Our goal would be to have a private meet prior to the convention, sometime in 2023, for our six patron donors, those donating to the industries and all the major volunteers who would have constructed the extension and those volunteers maintaining the existing infrastructure at the track during this time. This will allow you to get first access to the new route that you helped fund and construct.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to step up to make the track even better as we roll into our first convention of the 2020's? If you have any questions feel free to drop us an email or give us a call, we'd love to hear from you!