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Modeling Ideas from the Little River Railroad - This photo shows a Bachmann Large Scale three-truck Shay model and a full-sized LRRR Shay locomotive.  The Bachmann is narrow gauge, and the full-sized Shay is standard gauge, but it does make you think, doesn't it? Garden Railroading  Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)

Modeling Ideas From The Little River Railroad

This page includes suggestions for modeling aspects of the Little River Railroad or its operations. Chances are nobody will try to model the LRRR exactly, but there are many aspects of the LRRR and its surroundings that could lend credence and inspiration to any model railroad in any scale, especially an "east-of-the-Mississippi" mountain railroad.

Scenery and Construction

If you are an indoor railroader, you already know how many options are available for modeling curvey railroads through high mountains. But most of those methods don't quite translate to outdoors.

Although I use a lot of "piles of dirt" in my own garden railroading, I would recommend replicating the Smokey mountains with a less "organic" approach.

  • Bill Logan's Flexible HDPE Roadbed can be used to raise your railroad to any height and to form nearly any kind of curve you desire. If you go this way, consider using flextrack for the smoothest possible curves - no need to replicate the LRRR's relatively frequent train wrecks.
Click to see Bill Logan's Flexible HDPE method for building garden railroads.
  • "Bob Treat's Concrete Rocks and Cliffs allow you to create realistic mountainous settings without moving tons of soil and real rocks.
Click to see an article on Bob Treat's method for constructing realistic mountains.

Trains and Accessories

If you want to model the LRRR as precisely as possible, and you aren't in a position to build most of your own locomotives, you're probably better off in HO. Lots of folks already have narrow gauge logging railroads going in HOn3 or so on, but this would give you the chance to model a logging railroad (with the addition of full passenger and freight service ) in standard gauge. HO already has standard-gauge Shays and a wealth of other equipment that could be kit-bashed to represent the LRRR's equipment.

Large Scalers and O scalers, on the other hand, will have to consider some compromises. Still, it is possible to represent the LRRR's business plan (logging plus full-service common carrier) in those scales.

Note for 2023 - Most of the On30 and Large Scale trains I recommended when I first wrote this article in 2013 have been discontinued. However they still come available from time to tie on the used market.

O Gauge Railroaders - Standard gauge Shays ARE available in O gauge, if you can afford them. Lionel even made one, although it currently seems to cost about $1000 on the collector's market. On the other hand, if you just want to represent the Little River Railroad's business plan, you can start with a Lionel Logging Train and its extension set for about $700 less.

If you're into more realistic O-scale trains, you've probably seen a few pieces that can be used, as well (I've seen several, but I don't know the market enough to know which ones are currently available).

This is a logging set Lionel used to make. At the moment, it is unavailable, but I'm leaving the link to BigTrainStore up in case it becomes available again.
This is an example of an add-on set for the Cascade Range Logging set shown above.  Again, it has been discontinued, but I'm leaving the link open in case it becomes available again.

On30 Railroaders - Bachmann's On30 trains are not standard gauge. That means that you can't exactly duplicate the LRRR's infrastructure. However, if you are modeling an alternate universe in which Townsend chose to build the LRRR in narrow gauge, modeling other aspects of the LRRR's operation with On30 equipment would be fairly easy. It would also probably be the least expensive way to go.

Bachmann's On30 Shays are well-made replicas of many Shays used on logging railroads throughout North America. Click to see a page that lists Bachmann's On30 locomotives.As a starting point Bachmann's On30 Shays are reasonably priced, and most of the Bachmann On30 cars are similar to cars that ran on the LRRR in its early days.

True, Bachmann's passenger trains are drawn by a kind of locomotive (Mogul, 2-6-0) that never ran on the LRRR. Bachmann's On30 Mogul 2-6-0 locomotive represents a kind of engine that never actually worked out on the LRRR, but has a similar overall shape to two that did. Click to see a buyer's guide page that shows Bachmann's other On30 locomotives.But the Bachmann On30 mogul is based on designs from Baldwin, the company that built all but one of the LRRR's side-rod locomotives, so the Bachmann Mogul has a similar overall look to the dimunitive Prairie (2-6-2) and Pacific (4-6-2) locomotives that the LRRR did use. This shot of Prairie engine #105 bringing an 'open vestibule' coach around the mountain has the same Baldwin look as the Bachmann On30 Mogul below. Click to see this photo on the museum site.

Furthermore, if you like "kitbashing" your trains, the Mogul might be a very good starting point for creating either the Prairie or the Pacific.

As a bonus, most of the passenger Compare this photo of the Bachmann On30 Mogul with the real Prairie locomotive in the photo above.  cars shown in photos on the LRRR&LC museum's web site are "open vestibule" cars like the ones modeled by Bachmann's On30 passenger cars. In addition, Bachmann's On30 freight cars are all models of cars that would have looked at home on the LRRR.

Large Scale/Garden Railroading Scales - Unfortunately, Large Scale is not one, but several scales, which can get confusing. As an example, here are some pieces you might consider for modeling the LRRR in each important Garden Railroading Scale. The LRRR's #1 was a Pennsylvania locomotive very similar to AristoCraft's Large Scale 0-4-0 model. Click to see a catalog listing for the PRR locomotive.

Standard Gauge - If you'd especially like to model an LRRR-type standard gauge operation, it might help to know that AristoCraft makes a Pennsy A5 locomotive that is very similar to the LRRR #1. The closed-vestibule "woody" passenger cars that often come in a starter set (below) with the A5 actually represent a kind of car that was used on a mountain railroad out West. But they still would have looked at home on the LRRR. In addition, AristoCraft's outside frame boxcar (discontinued) would make a nice addition in the same scale. The AristoCraft passenger set uses a locomotive very similar to LRRR engine #1.  Adding an AristoCraft slope-backed tender would make it even closer. These are getting hard to find, but we're keeping our reviews up in case they become available again.

If I started out using an AristoCraft set to model an LRRR-type operation, I might be tempted to add cars from AristoCraft's "Classic" line, which is mostly closer to 1:24, but looks good with the set described above. Sadly, no standard gauge Shays are manufactured in Large Scale, so if the logging side of the railroad especially appeals to you, and you're planning to work outside, you may want to consider narrow gauge.

Narrow Gauge - If you want to model more of the LRRR's operation in Large Scale, you may be better off going back to the "alternate universe" in which Townsend chose narrow gauge to build his railroad. For starters, Bachmann makes a world-class narrow gauge Click to see the Bachmann 3-truck shay model on AmazonShay model in 1:20.3 scale, as well as several cars that look good with it. As the title photo shows, except for the gauge of the track, this model is remarkably close to the LRRR's #2147.

Unfortunately, Bachmann's passenger trains are built to a slightly different scale (1:22.5). Still, nobody says you have to run the log trains and passenger trains next to each other.

Bachmann's passenger sets have cars very much like the L&N cars that used to run on the LRRR, but the locomotive is a little bigger than the LRRR's passenger locomotives. Click to see Bachmann Large Scale train sets.

While we're on the subject of 1:22.5, you should know that Bachmann's 1:22.5 passenger coaches are very similar to the open-vestibule "varnish" that the LRRR towed in the early 1900s. Most of the Bachmann 1:22.5 freight cars are similar to freight cars in the old photographs, as well.

Bachmann's freight sets have freight cars very much like the LRRR used to use for it's 'common carrier' business. Click to see Bachmann Large Scale train sets.

Bachmann's most popular non-Shay locomotive, their 4-6-0, has similar overall lines to the LRRR's Pacific (4-6-2), though the Pacific had a straighter boiler. Still, a talented kitbasher could probably rework one to give the general effect.The LGB Mogul came in several models - this is a coal-burner.  They're hard to come by at the moment, because LGB has changed hands and production hasn't really ramped back up. Sorry, I don't have a link to a supplier.

The LGB Mogul (2-6-0), which is a smaller locomotive modeled in the same scale, might also make a good candidate for rework into LRRR's engine #105 (Prairie 2-6-2)

If you can come across one, Bachmann's discontinued Industrial Mogul #81699 may be the best candidate for a kitbash into engine #105. This model has a straight Sorry, this one is discontinued, so I don't have any links, but if you keep your eye out for it, you may find one.boiler and closely-spaced drivers. It is based on a Baldwin prototype with similar lines to the LRRR's Prairie and Pacific locomotives. It would still be slightly smaller in scale than the Bachmann Shay, of course, but the overall effect when pulling the long Bachmann passenger cars around too-tight curves should be very good.


If all you take away from our collection of articles on the Little River Railroad is a sense that even the real world railroads "broke the rules" from time to time, that should help you lend credence and "background" to your own model railroading efforts. I know that I won't be setting out the model the Little River Railroad, per se, in the next couple of years. But if my own New Boston and Donnels Creek railroad should suddenly add a logging operation, running on the same trackage as our passenger operation, who's to say it's "wrong"? And if these articles inspire you to try something new, or just to think about your railroad's business plan a different way, then you've profited from your visit to the LRRR.

While you're here, take a look at our page on Helping the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum. Learn how easy it is to make a lasting contribution to public knowledge and understanding of this unique railroad and of railroads in general. Not to mention that a good number of you will get to the Smokies at some point in your life - wouldn't it be nice to visit an attraction that has to do with real history (and trains), instead of all those upside-down buildings and wax statures of Elvis and such?

In the meantime, contact us with any questions, concerns, corrections, or examples of things you've done on your own railroad.

Best of luck, all,

Paul Race

Return to the Little River Railroad index page.

Links for More Little River Railroad Information

The Museum's Home page:

'Last Train To Elkmont' - describes the people who built, worked on, and were served by the Little River Railroad. Click here see this book on the museum's internet bookstore.

'Whistle Over the Mountain' - the best available reference on the Little River Railroad, includes maps to places you can still see traces of its infrastructure.  Click here to see this book on the museum's internet bookstore.

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