Farthest North Garden Railway, Phase I, CRNW Railway

The Farthest North Garden Railway

The Farthest North Garden Railway

Phase I: The Historic 1:24 Copper River & Northwestern Railway, Part 1: CRD 1998

About 1992 I began seriously looking at three of my vending locations in the Copper Valley. Since I had abandoned the area in 1986, I had returned on a much smaller scale to resume operating vending equipment first at the newly-rebuilt Copper Center Bar followed by the also-recently rebuilt Chitina Saloon. These were two locations I seriously considered for purchase. The third was an original location that I had retained when I abandoned most of the rest of the valley--Duffy's Roadhouse on the Tok Cut-Off Highway about halfway between Glennallen and Tok. All of these I looked at with the view of installing an overhead operating large-scale model railroad. Each had its own advantages, but it was the new Copper Center Bar which appeared to be the best fit. By May of 1996, I had sold the Yukon Amusement Company and picked up the CCB, which I immediately renamed the Copper Rail Depot. It would take years for that name to stick.

By the time I had acquired the Copper Center Bar I already had many of the 1:24 model structures and rolling stock on hand that I had originally envisioned using for my new business. The model of the center section of the CRNW Gilahina trestle was the first one. It was designed for 8 foot diameter curve, which was probably new at the time. With the model trestle under construction I ordered my first brass track. From then on by default that first project would be based on 8 foot diameter. At the time it seemed large enough. By 2000 that would no longer be the case.

The curved trestle sitting in my Fairbanks residence next to a model of a Kennecott structure, 1997. This model consists of 102 pool cue sticks as well as a large amount of hand-milled scale lumber.

Before I moved to Copper Center to take over my new business, I drew out an overhead track plan based on 8 foot curves. It took into account my existing model structures as of 1995. These were all either models with historic prototypes that had once existed in either Chitina or Kennecott. At that time I did not envision creating entire model towns, but instead intended to set up just a few representative historic models from each of these sites.

The Copper Center Bar barely had enough overhead room above the doors and windows to run track, but it would have to do. This was how it looked when I picked up the location in May, 1996. Click for larger view.

It took two years before I was finally in a position to actually begin setting up the overhead track. By that time I was already starting to think of expanding a still non-existent model railroad outdoors because it was now obvious that the model was going to be far too large for the bar. I did run that first overhead track mostly according to the original plan since that was a relatively simple layout that could be easily tested. The initial layout was to be powered through the brass tracks which I now would have to purchase. That first run closely followed the outer walls, but it was not long before I was adding additional track away from the walls in order to accommodate an increasingly complex layout that was required in order to allow me to set up the models so that they were more viewable from below. The most ideal level was quite high, with track grade being seven feet above the floor.

A turn-around loop above the pool table, picture probably taken about 2000. Click for larger image.

Those first two years consisted of experiments with overhead track construction while new historic structure models were also being built. By the end of 1997, most of the Kennecott models were completed and more model structures for both Chitina and McCarthy were in the planning stages. It was now inevitable that the model would be expanded to the outdoors. The only question was how to accomplish that.

The Kennecott model was enormous. Here it sat in 1998 in my small residence in Copper Center waiting for a permanent home. This was the model which made it necessary to expand beyond the limits of the interior of the bar. Click for larger image.

In a very short time I had succeeded in building a large part of historic Kennecott. The mill itself was nearly 12-feet deep. These models simply had to have their own dedicated home. That would become a reality in 2000. Some of these structures were built in Fairbanks while the remainder were completed in my father's garage in Oregon, including the mill itself.


The Farthest North Garden Railwa

The Farthest North Garden Railway

Phase I: The Historic 1:24 Copper River & Northwestern Railway, Part 2: the CRD layout evolves: 1998-2003

Model of the Hotel Chitina at my Fairbanks residence, c. 1995. Click for larger image.

When it became obvious that Kennecott would have to occupy its own space outside of the bar itself, I began working out a new layout plan for the existing bar building.  As things had evolved, the model was about to become a representation of the Chitina Local Branch of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway. That was the segment of the CRNW from Chitina, mile 131 to Kennecott, mile 195, which happened to include the town of McCarthy, mile 190.

I really did not have that many Chitina structures. I had the Hotel Chitina, the railroad depot, and I had a two-bay locomotive repair barn. Thus, the creation of the north Kennecott model (all the buildings represented were located on the north end of the historic town) drove the completion of more historic Chitina models. This part of the project would not be completed until 2003.


I had plenty of photos of the buildings I wanted to use, but I also needed a map. This was the first one which I was able to find. It appeared as a simple drawing in a book by Al Swalling who had once worked on the CRNW Railway.  I have had to flip the image and redraw some of the buildings and add the numbers to emphasize my own choice of structures to replicate.

The numbers for both maps represent the same structures: 1  CRNW Depot 2  2-bay locomotive repair barn 3  Hotel Chitina 4  OA Nelson's Chitina Cash Store 5  Commercial Hotel 6  Saloon & card room 7  Overland Hotel 8  bakery

Ultimately I was able to obtain a more official map of the old Chitina site that also showed the railroad lines. I have super-imposed relevant structures. The green ones still existed as of 2003 (since then building number 4, the old Chitina Cash Store, has been torn down), while the orange ones represent buildings I replicated that are now gone. Number 7 is not there in the way I modeled it, which is why the doubl-color line. That was the Overland Hotel which burned down in 1917 and was eventually replaced with O.A. Nelson's Drug Store, which still stands as the Chitina Emporium. I referred to it in an earlier article as Mike Hatch's Chitina Saloon.  All of these maps can be clicked to a larger image.

Above: the model.  Below: the prototype as it appeared in 1914 at Chitina. Both images are clickable.

More to follow . . .




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