Bascule Bridge at North Tonawanda

One of the most interesting and challenging structures that I will have to build for my layout depicting the town of North Tonawanda is the bascule bridge over the barge canal. The bridge was built as part of a track re-alignment project undertaken by NYC between 1917 and 1922. The bridge carried the NYC Niagara Branch, double-track at this point, which was NYC’s direct connection between Niagara Falls NY and Buffalo NY.

An interesting fact about the bridge is that it was only opened once. It seems that a government transportation authority insisted on provisions for the expansion of the barge canal to accommodate higher vessels. In response, NYC built a bascule bridge instead of a fixed structure. I’m told that on the day the bridge was put into service, there were some dignitaries present to witness the opening and closing of the bridge. It was never opened again.

The bridge is oriented north-south. To the south of the bridge, the Lehigh Valley gained access to the NYC Niagara Branch which LV used to access its own yard in Niagara Falls NY. The small NYC yard and connection to the paper plant at North Tonawanda are about a half-mile north of the bridge.

I photographed the bridge in 2013. After studying the bridge, I decided against building a model of it, on the grounds that it would be too difficult. Lately, I’ve been reconsidering my previous position because it is the single most identifiable landmark that establishes the setting of my layout. Without it, visitors might simply have to take it on faith that the layout represents North Tonawanda. With that in mind, I’m gearing up to have a go at it. Having never scratch-built a structure like this, I’m spending some time thinking about how to approach it. So far, my friend Chris Vanderheide is helping me plan the build. I can use all the help I can get.

Here are a few of my photos of the bridge. They provide a general overview of the structure’s layout.


Looking east along the Erie Canal.

In the first photo, above, I can see some basic sub-structures that might simplify construction. The concrete pier in the barge canal is the hinge point of the bridge. The truss on the right is the part that lifts, so it’s rigid. The apex of the triangle to the left of the hinge on the pier provides the fulcrum between the concrete counterweight and the rigid truss that draws upwards.

Taken from the north side of the canal, looking at the west side of the bridge, minus the counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the barge canal, looking at the west side of the bridge, minus the counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the canal, west side of the bridge, looking up at the concrete counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the canal, west side of the bridge, looking up at the concrete counterweight.

At north and south ends of the bridge, there are short deck girder bridges that carry the tracks over roads that parallel the barge canal on both sides. The tracks approach the bridge on large earth fills from the north and south. On the north side of the canal, the North Tonawanda side, the fill provides a convenient grade separation for a couple of residential streets, which I also plan to model.

I have plenty of photos of the general layout of the bridge, but these show the overall structure. I believe what stands ahead of me is an estimation of the overall dimensions of the structure so that I can decide whether to compress it or build it proportionally.

I recognize this as a long-shot, but if anyone has information pertaining to this bridge, I’d love to have access to it. Drawings would, of course, be ideal, but anything else would be helpful and greatly appreciated, including how NYC and Penn Central managed rail traffic in the area around the bridge. I’m also interested in advice on how plan for and undertake this project. I’m looking forward to hear what you have to say.

SW1200RS Project – Handrails, Air Lines, Lift Bars

I spent a couple of hours at my new workbench, and the SW1200RS project continues to inch forward.  Today I installed train line air hoses and coupler lift bars on both ends of both units.  I wanted to start working on the rear steps and handrails, so I installed the drop step on the rear of both units. Once that was finished, I got to work bending handrails.

Some time in the 1960s, these units were refitted with handrails along the walkways and safer handrails at the steps.  The kit provides a template for bending these, and it turns out  it’s bang-on.   I’ve only finished the inboard handrails at the rear of 8152.  Here’s how it looks so far.

IMG_2661I took the time to paint the handrails because they didn’t show up very well when they were unpainted.  The lift bar and air hoses are still unpainted.  I’ll leave those for now.You can see that I took the shells off of the drive again.  I had them together while the models were packed for the move.  I’ll keep them disassembled now, until they’re ready to roll down the tracks.

Bending hardrails is one of those jobs that I dread until I get into it, and then I usually discover that my anxieties were unwarranted.  There’s probably an easier way to do this, but I’ll describe the approach I used with a few really basic tools.

IMG_2659I started these handrails by bending the semicircle with enough of a tail so that I could trim them back later.  I used that set of pliers with the red handles in the photo for the circular part.  I’d like to collect a variety small dowels or pieces of metal tubing for this purpose, because finding the exact spot to bend on the conical pliers is a bit more tricky than simply having a piece of tube to wrap the wire around.  But that mean I’d have to figure out what size tubing I need and then chase it down at a hobby store.  I’ve not had much luck purchasing scratch-building stock; it seems the only thing out of stock is the piece I need. Anyway, once I’ve bent the semicircle with the tapered-jaw pliers, I move outward with various bends until I reach both ends, then I cut off the extra bits.

For straight bends, I use a very nice pair of Xuron pliers.  I don’t use these pliers for anything other than bending wire and etchings, so they’re still sharp with true edges.  It’s hard to see in the photo, but the jaws of that pair of pliers are not serrated.

I bought a grab iron bending jig from Micromark last year, and it was very handy for bending the dozens of custom grab iron I needed for the 16 resin ore cars I built.  However, this jig is not the right tool for doing handrails.  Without overstating the obvious, the only other tools I’m using for this job include a variety of precision tweezers to handle the pieces as I’m building and test-fitting them, a drafting divider to measure distances between bends, and a small wire cutter.

I bent each piece according to the template in the kit instructions.  I had to throw out the first one, but the second and third attempts are now glued onto 8152.  So that’s the handrail bending “method” that I made up.  If you know of other techniques or tools  that will make this job go more smoothly, please let me know.