Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In the eastern lap of the Singatse Mountains, a remnant remains from bygone days.

Bluestone Mine, on an uphill spur West of Mason, had its own horsepower to pull the hill. If the Baldwin 2-8-0's on the NCB line were the 'oxen,' then Bluestone's 37 ton Heisler was the 'bulldog' of rails. This is the original loco, but it can't be found at the Bluestone Mine, nor in Mason any more. After some migration, it wound up at Willits California in the Roots of Motive Power museum. On selected occasions, volunteer engineers pull it out, and carry happy passengers in a circle.

The Nevada Copper Belt Railroad lived a short, enthusiastic life, 1911 to 1947. Although the tracks are gone today, its footprint lingers. The short line has several elements that make it attractive to rail modelers: Thompson smelter and Wabuska, the mining and rail headquarters town of Mason, dramatic Wilson Canyon, and Ludwig Mine. Along the way are the spur for oil bulk plants, stock holding pens, the wye at Hudson, Nordyke and the West Walker River. If you are alert to the clues, much of the right of way may still be traced today. The Yerington Chamber of Commerce selected the phrase “Cattle Kingdom in the Copper Hills.” Sounds more genuine American West than gypsum and mutton.

A word or two about RML, or Rail Modeler’s License. Never heard of it? How about Poetic License, or Artistic License? A poet alters the perfectly good English language to suit his chosen rhyme. An artist, in contrast to a photographer, interprets the scene she (or he) paints, moving mountains, sunlight, condensing or enlarging elements to suit composition. What empowerment! The rail model layouts we most admire are those that resemble a prototype, or look like the real thing. That’s why we love the Tehachapi Loop: a real life rail loop and crossover, just like the one on our tabletop train track. But there is a built in snag: Scale modeling will take a lot of space if you are true to reality. Example: In HO scale, that’s 1/87th of reality, so a mile of track would require over 60 feet of tabletop. The 11 miles of mostly straight track from Wabuska to Yerington would need 667 feet! That’s longer than my garage, so I will apply a little (or a lot) of RML, Rail Modeler’s License and make a representative portion of the 32 mile NCB fit on my 4 by 6 foot layout.

NCBRR maps out like a rough J shape, but this is not a handicap for a fun layout. A J is just an O with part missing. My simple loop rail layout looks like a J, since part of it disappears into the Singatse Mountains at Ludwig Mine and reappears at Bluestone Mine, on the Mason Valley side. That part is not reality, but becomes a practical adjustment for a model layout. This setup leaves out the long reach to Wabuska, and Thompson smelter, Julian Ranch Road and the hot springs. Hey, that could be a whole ‘nother diorama.

Thompson and West’s History of Nevada is a great reference book, but dated 1881, precedes NCBR by 30 years. Even so, it speaks of glowing potential for Mason Valley agriculture. Later this would have some impact on the railway. As late as the 1960’s abandoned wooden stock and boxcars could be seen north of Mason near cattle holding pens, between the former tracks and the Walker River. Cattle, sheep and agricultural products of Smith and Mason Valleys contributed to the former hustle and bustle of the railroad.

Animals on the Right of Way
The West Walker River leaves Smith Valley through Wilson Canyon, and joins the East Walker in Mason Valley. These rivers were active long before irrigation ditches redirected some water for crops and livestock. Cattle have long been present. Herefords led, Angus and others came later. Herds of sheep would be realistic on a model NCBR, in the spring and in the fall; Coyotes, singly or in packs. Deer, near the river or at springs in the Singatse Mountain Range. Deer have been seen deep within Wilson Canyon, scaling a steep draw faster than a mountaineer. In the dead of winter, while cottonwoods are bare, dozens of rough shinned hawks came south to escape Canadian winter. Badgers, raccoons.

There were stockyards, loading chute and a meat packing plant between Yerington and Mason. While these make objects of interest on a model train layout, how realistic do you want to be? Cattle were the occupants before and after WWII, but during the war, horses were rounded up and slaughtered for meat, packed on ice and shipped to San Francisco. I’ll put cattle in the feedlot.

There is a variety of waterfowl found in Mason Valley today. Were they present during the life of NCBR? Not as many. Mason Valley Game Ranch and Wildlife Management Area was created following 1938 legislation, breeding non-native birds for release.

A 19 inch rainbow trout is pretty impressive in real life, but becomes tiny in HO scale (1/87th of reality). Would this be the place to use a little Rail Modeler’s License, and stretch the truth (stretch the trout)? An O scale (twice the size)trout might push the imagination of the viewer. Fishermen doing their thing have been found on modern RR layouts, wherever water is found. That would fit well in Wilson Canyon on the West Walker River, a popular angling target. That adds life to a layout, right? For more adventure, add inner tubes and their riders shooting the rapids. Then add my brother in law on the shore, holding his aching backside.

If you are eyeing the faint lines along the hills downstream of Wilson Canyon, don’t guess they are all railroad right of way evidence. Within the lifetime of the railroad, there were irrigation canals, one past Nordyke Ranch and all the way to Mason. Water was the life of Nordyke. Longtime resident Katy Bunn said that when she was a girl, the Nordyke area was like a garden of Eden. Nordyke of today keeps the beautiful home (moved from Virginia City) and mill ruins, but far fewer trees. After the water was gone, trees became fireplace fuel for the cold winters.