The Knik River Railway
The Imaginary KRRy Concept


Tails from Along the Line.

Return to Model Railroading in Alaska.

e-mail Marty Quaas cswrrceo@mtaonline.net
Part 1,  The Imaginary KRRy Concept   The Knik River Railway is an Imaginary Short Line which was primarily built to haul coal, but which has also developed a significant business hauling lumber, aggregate, farm products, scrap metal as well as inbound loads to supply it's customers.  Let me first say that I will not be giving any "Complete" Track Plans as this would depend on the space available to model in.  What I will be presenting are some concepts which are not new, but are seldom used and to hopefully spur some ideas on Model Railroad building.  If someone is working on a Track Plan and would like suggestions, I would be happy to do so.

Another thing that we must consider when creating a Model Railroad theme is to also select a time period.  The time period could be today to most anytime in the past and will have a major impact on the Railroad we create.  The Time Period will determine the rolling stock and power we use and the buildings that are used.  The Time period may also determine the scenery and will especially determine how we operate our Railroad when it is completed.

So, let's create an imaginary Railroad which could have been built here in Alaska during the depression years to help stimulate the economy.  The primary reason for building this Railroad would have been to tap the rich coal fields of the Grasshopper Valley located up the Knik River about 20 miles to the East of the Alaska Railroad.  Along with coal, the Railroad has developed a major timber industry and several years later built a three mile branch to the North to the agricultural town of Butte.   The time period is in the mid 1980's and while the Railroad has seen better years, it is still able to turn a profit and continue to exist.  The railroad is a single track main line with passing tracks long enough to handle 15 car trains and are placed three to five miles apart. 

While I have chosen to work with 1985, it would be real easy to do 1940 to the present.  Also please note that I have simply drawn my imaginary railroad over the existing roads which presently exist in the area.  In theory, as the railroad predated the roads, the railroad would own the right-of-way and the roads would have to find another route.  This same concept could be applied to any area you might wish to create your imaginary Railroad in.  You don't necessarily have to follow an existing road, highway, trail or abandon RR roadbed.  You can even create your own where nothing exists.

The imaginary Knik River Railway starts at Knik River Junction, where the present Old Glenn Highway crosses the Alaska Railroad.  Knik River Junction has a 5 track Interchange Yard, which parallels the ARR tracks and a Tail Track extending further South, a "Y" and Engine Shop is located on the North end of the yard.  The railroad then proceeds Easterly for four miles to Power House where the first passing track is located.  From here the railroad continues Easterly for several miles and at about mile 7 and 8 encounters two avalanche slides which are periodically active and require snow sheds.  The railroad would then continue Easterly to Butte Junction and a passing track.  Butte Junction is the start of the 3.5 Mile Butte Branch and is also the site of a rock quarry which the Railroad periodically uses for rip-rap.  The main line of the railroad continues Easterly for two more miles and through a short tunnel under what is known as Bingham Hill.  From here the railroad crosses a swamp area known as Barbell lake on a low fill, then to the farm and aggregate mining community of Feltman and another passing track.  Continuing Easterly for several miles, the Railroad skirts around a hill to the logging community of Garden and the site of a major sawmill.  The railroad then continues Easterly for two miles to Hunter Creek and a single span truss bridge.  Just East of Hunter Creek is located the passing siding of Reeds.  From this point, the railroad deviates from geographic reality to enter the Grasshopper Valley and the Grasshopper Coal mine.  (The actual Grasshopper Valley is on the other side of the river to the East and there is no coal that I know of.)  To add a little excitement to the operation, the grade from Reeds to Grasshopper increases to 4% as we approach the Grasshopper mine.  Returning to Butte Junction, the Butte Branch swings to the North across a 6 span Truss bridge to the thriving community of Butte.  Butte has three major shippers as well as a Team Track, these are a Grain Elevator, Butte Auto Junk Yard and an Aggregate Quarry located about 2 miles to the East.

The Knik River Railway which I am describing a map sample is a simple example of creating a freelance railroad.  You may also use this type of thinking to create an imaginary railroad in any place you might like to do so.

The drawings which I have shown are for discussion purposes only and as I don't have a CAD program, I have to use pencil sketches.  These are shown in their simplest form and in real life would most likely have curves to fit the locations where they are located.
Knik River Junction is the Western end of the railroad and where the Depot/General Office Building is located. (In N Scale, Cornerstone 3240 or Model Power Arlee 1501.  In HO Scale, Cornerstone 3063.)   The Maintenance Shop (in N Scale, Cornerstone 3204 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3007)  and Company Stores Warehouse (in N Scale, Cornerstone 3201 or DPM 510.  In HO Scale, Cornerstone 3173)  are located here.  Here is located the Interchange tracks where cars are set-out by the Alaska Railroad (ARR) as well the cars routed to the ARR for pick-up.  There is a Storage Yard as well as a "Y" for turning equipment. Other buildings such as houses, a retail store or even a small town could be added at the modelers discretion. 

Power House was a busy destination for supplies during the 3 years following WWII and the construction of the Eklutna Project Power House.  Today only an occasional inbound shipment is received and the passing track is used by the Dispatcher to squeeze trains in and out of Knik River Junction.
Butte Junction is the start of the 3.5 mile Butte Branch.  Built in the late 30's as part of the Matanuska Valley Project, today this branch accounts for a sufficient percentage of revenue to the railroad.  Butte Junction has no buildings, however a phone box could be placed at the West end.  Several times a day cars are set-out here for pick-up by the Butte Switch.
Feltman is a very busy place on the KRRy.  Originally developed in the mid 60's to help supply gravel to the growing City of Anchorage and known as Creek.  It was renamed Feltman in 1968 after the establishment by Dick Feltman of the Feltman Gravel Quarry which today ships 20, 40' gravel loads to Anchorage a day,  (in N Scale Cornerstone 3241 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3062).  Using land which has been leveled by the quarrying operation, the Fuller Chicken Farm was established in 1982.  The chicken farm receives inbound grain shipments of one to three Grain Hoppers a day, (in N Scale Feed Mill 3239  and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3061.)  For added storage capacity the use of Bins (in N Scale RIX 708 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3123 and a Grain Conveyor Cornerstone 3124).  The chicken sheds could be made using (In N Scale Pikestuff Warehouses 8003 trimmed down and in HO Scale Pikestuff  4) and painted white), If properly laid out, additional buildings could be painted on the background.
Garden is another community which has seen better days.  A logging community which grew from pipe line construction days and the 60's building boom in Anchorage. With a major Spruce Bark Beetle infection logging has been on the decline for the past ten years, however 5 to 10 car loads still originate here a day.  The Saw Mill (in N Scale Cornerstone 3236 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3058).  The Mill Pond would be at the discretion of the builder as well as any other Out Building.  My suggestion for present day operations would be the use of trucks to bring in the logs, however the use of a narrow gage railroad would be a possibility.
Reeds is only a passing siding used by the Dispatcher to ease the congestion at the Grasshopper Mine which is 4 miles further East.  There are no buildings, however a phone booth could located there.
Grasshopper and it's Coal Mine are located in a gently sloping valley and is the Eastern terminus of the Railroad and the primary reason for it's existence.  Originating approximately 75 carloads per day, year round for shipment to Pacific Rim Countries. This amounts to 5, 15 car trains per day or 68% of the total revenue for the Railroad.  My suggestion for the Mine Loader would be a Western Coal Flood Loader (in N Scale Cornerstone 3247 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3089 with a Conveyor  3518) running a ways back to the actual Open Pit Mine.  The mine could be painted or a picture of an actual mine could be attached to the background.  The Grasshopper Company Warehouse and Supply Building (In N Scale Cornerstone 3201 or DPM Trackside Transfer 510 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3095)  The "Company Store" (in N Scale Gripps Luggage 506 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3080).  A Company Repair Shop for heavy machinery used in the mine (In HO Cornerstone 3016).  A residential community of "look alike" Company Houses for the mine workers (In N Scale Model Power 1502 or Heljan 702 or in HO Scale Pikestuff House 201).  A nicer home such as (In HO Scale Model Power 433) for the mining superintendent's house.  (In HO a Pikestuff Retail/Warehouse Center 7) could be used as a Company Community Center.
Butte was originally an agricultural community in the late 30's, as part of the Matanuska Valley Project farms on the East side of the Matanuska River.  Today, Butte is a major agriculture community and revenue source for the Railroad, however scrap metal and a gravel Quarry have been also been added in recent years.  My suggestion is to use two separate Grain Elevators located next to each other (in N Scale Cornerstone 3251 and 2238 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3096 and 3036).  By painting the buildings differently, they will have the appearance of having different owners.  Other suggested  buildings would be a Feed Mill, (in N Scale Cornerstone 3239 and in HO Scale  Cornerstone 3061), a Flour Mill (in HO Scale Cornerstone 3026), a Lumber Yard (in N Scale Cornerstone 3235 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3057) and a Canning Company (in HO Scale Cornerstone 3018).  The Junk Yard could be created using the Cornerstone Wooden Fencing or cloth netting attached to wire posts.  A Loader/Crane such as (in HO Scale Boley 23001) may be used to load the scrap into gondolas spotted in the Junk Yard.  Other business such as an Implement Dealer unloading his shipments on the Team Track and a Fuel Oil Distributor (in N Scale Cornerstone 3200 or in HO Scale Cornerstone 3006) may be added.  Recently, a track was built to the Starr Quarry located about a mile East.  This is still a small operation, shipping five or six cars a day in the summer.  The loading is using a ramp and Wheel Front End Loader, Cat 966..
Go to Tails from Along the Line.

Return to Model Railroading in Alaska.
On the left I am showing a map of an imaginary short line railroad which could be built and operated in a realistic way simulating an interchange with a main line railroad.
Now I would like to continue by discussing the different stations and communities.  In the parentheses I have made suggestions for N and HO Scale kits which could be used, but please feel free to make any substitutions that you wish.  One thing that I would like to point out is that railroads do not put down any "extra track" for whatever reason.  Track costs money to lay, to maintain and taxes must be paid on it, so if it is down and not used it may well be pulled up for use elsewhere. Tracks which were laid and are no longer used, in a location where it is not desirable to remove them for such reasons as cost, may remain in place for some time. Bottom line, you usually will not see any track which is not required for the present day operation.
As a modeling note, I would provide a way for ARR trains to run by on the ARR Main Line in such a way that they may pick-up and set-out the interchange cars.  This would require staging for the ARR Trains.  Also to have continuous running, I would provide a loop for turning the KRRy Trains, probably on a hidden loop on the South ARR Main Line.  Trains on the East end could be turned using the balloon track under the Grasshopper Coal Loader.

A word about the depot buildings on the railroad:  While the Railroad is the only access to much of this area and the use of passenger trains is required, this is not intended to be a luxury travel railroad.  The depot buildings would be minimal, such as (In N Scale Period Miniatures 428 or in HO Scale, Cornerstone Yard Office 3517).  I would suggest that except for Knik River Junction which houses the General Office, all other depots be small and weathered.  The control of trains is by Track Warrant and by radio and no train control is handled through the depots.
Today,Power House is a fairly simple place, mostly dominated by the Eklutna, Hydro Electric Power House (in N Scale Cornerstone Superior Paper Mill, Craft Mill building only with stacks removed.  In HO Scale Cornerstone 3055 Tri-State Power Authority, with stack and building addition removed).  Water is brought in through the mountain from Eklutna Lake a couple miles to the South.  There is a Warehouse/Shop Building (in N Scale Cornerstone 3211 and in HO Scale Cornerstone 3016).  An Office Building may also be added adjacent to the Power House.  While the Passing track is used several times a day to help the Dispatcher squeeze trains in and out of Kink River Junction, the Power Plant only receives one or two loads a week.