Engine Terminal

Engine Terminal
EB-16 passes SJ Cabin as it heads east out of Hollister Yard.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Engine Terminal at North Pierce- Part 1

Last fall, work began in earnest on the ballast and track in the roundhouse area at North Pierce. There was one primary catalyst for this and it was a picture taken by Neil Schofield of the engine terminal on his CP Rail Vermont Lines. I believe the photo appeared on the MRH Forum at some point and it's shown below.

Neil does incredibly beautiful work and you can find a number of wonderful videos of his railroad on YouTube. But what caught my eye in this photo was the ballast. Note the fine texture and the colors- absolutely typical of what you would have found at just about any engine terminal in the 1970's. And it occurred to me that you could achieve this look using tile grout and some paint. So I thought I'd give it a try. I have an old piece of Homasote with ties and rail on it that I used to develop the sand colors that are used on the grade heading up the hill from Big Chimney. It could serve as the perfect test bed for the new ballast. The photo below shows the results.

The ballast is grey grout and I used black poster paint to represent spilled oil and grease. I was pleased enough with the results that I decided to forge ahead. But first, the radial tracks needed some attention. Feeders had to be run to the rails and then routed through the new panel so that power could be turned on and off. And I had never re-programmed the NYRS PT Model III controller after the radial tracks were installed. So some work was required to make everything operational before the ballast was put down. The photo below shows the panel for the engine terminal with the on/off track power toggles along with the new instructions for operating the turntable.

Once the mechanicals were all in order, ballasting began. I used grey tile grout along with a 50/50 mix of grey and white grout. I applied the grout with a plastic spoon and then went back over it to smooth it out. I applied the sand in various areas and concentrated a bit of it around where the sanding tower will eventually be. An application of 70% isopropyl alcohol followed by a 2:1 mix of wet water and white glue followed and fixed everything in place. The photos below show the area once these steps were complete.

The grease and oil was added using black poster paint. This paint is water soluble and can be used straight out of the container or thinned to get various washes. 

As I was working on the ballast, I started thinking about the roundhouse again. I purchased the Walthers three stall engine house many years with the thought of incorporating it in the engine terminal at North Pierce. As can be seen in the photo above, the base was installed when the radial tracks were laid. So I had to either use the kit, scratch-build something to fit the base, or leave just the foundation. I was tempted to just leave the foundation as there were many instances in the 1970's of roundhouses being torn down while the tracks remained in service. But there was another photo that had been working on me, and it was driving me toward using the roundhouse.

There are a number of photos of the various structures in the engine terminal at Hinton, WV on the C&O that were taken by Bill Simonson. His website contains a wealth of information about this location along with many scale drawings of the various structures. The photo that captured my attention, however, can be found here: http://hinton.cohs.org/photos/image0078.JPG. I printed this picture out on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 paper and kept it on my desk for several months. I began to think that I might be able to capture the essence of the colors and came up with some ideas about how to achieve them. In Part 2, I'll describe the trial and error process in detail.


  1. Tom, this is looking really nice. Couple questions about the grout and the process. Does this grout have sand in it (I've seen both "sanded" and "unsanded" varieties). Also, do you apply the grout as a powder, then wet it to fix it in place?

    Looking forward to part 2.

    -Jack Shall

  2. Thanks, Jack. It's sanded grout and the manufacturer is Polyblend. I pick up bags of grey, brown and white at one of the local big box stores. I sprinkle the grout on dry, shape it with a spoon and then apply the alcohol and glue.

  3. Boy, that looks disgustingly filthy. Well done is in order!

  4. Makes a world of difference big time Tom.

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  6. Looks great Tom. It is great how these days we can all be inspired by others work and photos shared on line. I agree with your thoughts on having the roundhouse as it will really help add great interest to the scene beyond the cars and locos, especially with that prototype photo as a guide for the look and weathering. Looking forward to seeing that.