Little Creek Mine: Locomotive Roster

The locomotives have arrived! Every railroad needs at least one locomotive in order to move people and cargo from one place to another. For the Little Creek Mine, the tramway really only requires one engine to haul ore and rock down the gulch and ferry supplies and people back up to the different mines along Little Creek. However, just to make operations a bit more interesting and to add a bit of color to the equipment for train shows I picked up a second engine as well.

The first locomotive and the most historically accurate is a Bachmann 0-4-0 saddle tank porter engine. The second locomotive is a Bachmann Davenport gas-mechanical. Both are On30 right out of the box, meaning they are 1:48 scale models running on 16.5mm track to represent 30 inch gauge.

Both engines came out of the box without lettering or any paint scheme. The porter is painted basic black right now, just like most of the prototypes. The Davenport is grey, bare plastic. When buying these engines off of Ebay the Porter cost me $130 while the Davenport cost me only about $110. Despite being cheaper, the gas-mechanical locomotive is basically new with DCC and sound fitted into the tiny body. Not only does this save a lot of work for me, but also a lot of money.

The porter is a bit more used and will need a little bit of TLC to get it to run smoothly. The goal will be to have sound equipped in both engines along with a ‘keep alive’ device. Keep alive devices are basically capacitors that provide a little bit of juice to the decoder whenever the locomotive runs across the dead spot on the track. This will be vital for slow, smooth operations with these short wheelbase engines that only have two points of contact per rail.

The Bachmann 0-4-0 Porter

The original On30 porter by Bachmann was one of the first models in their lineup. It proved to be a very popular model in part because the little locomotive was a model of a very common name with industrial railroads: Porter. For a solid decade and a half the 0-4-0 porter and it’s bigger brother, the 0-4-2, could be found in almost any hobby shop that stocked On30 products. It’s only in the last couple of years that the little porter has finally discontinued from Bachmann’s lineup and to be honest I doubt it will stay that way for too much longer.

One limitation with models is that the casting dies used to make all the parts eventually wear out, and retooling an entire factory to continue producing the same model is expensive. Instead of retooling and further saturating the market for this particular model, Bachmann has instead opted to create a couple of new models. The first is a Baldwin 2-6-2T locomotive based on the trench locomotives the US sent to Europe for World War I. The second model is a Baldwin 0-6-0, a generic, non-specific industrial railroad locomotive that filled the same purpose as the little porters did a generation before.

Despite the newer offerings of different models, the little 0-4-0 has one advantage over almost any other model on the market (except for the Davenport), it can navigate extremely tight radius curves. In absolute terms, the 0-4-0 porter can navigate curves of less than 6 inch radius (150mm). With couplers and some freight cars in tow, the little engine can navigate curves between 6 inch and 8 inch (200mm) radius reliably. Of course, the reliability depends on the coupler design and what sorts of cars the locomotive is towing.

While the earliest versions had issues with gears breaking, after the first re-design of the internal parts of the engine both the 0-4-0 and 0-4-2 became very reliable runners. The stock models looked pretty good as well, but what really made these engines special was their adaptability. Modelers kit-bashed these engines in many ways over the years and plenty of 3rd party kits can still be bought despite the models no longer being in production. Even the gauge was regularly changed from On30 to On3 and sometimes On2.

This adaptability reflected the real-world porters on which the model is based. Porter made a series of locomotives that all had the same basic platform ranging from little 5 ton engines that ran on 2ft gauge track and less all the way to 16 ton standard gauge iron horses. Those were just the four-coupled (0-4-0) variants, HK Porter made other locomotives all the way up to 2-8-2 Mikado engines. With the 0-4-0 tank engines, the smallest variants could haul 200 tons on the level while the largest could haul 900 tons.

Part of what made Porter so popular was that a lot of the parts were standardized and easy to replicate. If something broke it could be fixed in the field either by ordering a new part or by fabricating a new one at the shop. Compared to other manufacturers, Porters had great working lifespans for this reason. In fact, many HK Porter locomotives survive to the present day.

It’s for all these reasons why I specifically sought out the 0-4-0 Porter model rather than any of the other options that are easier to find.

The Bachmann Davenport 0-4-0 Gas-Mechanical

Similar to the Porter, the Bachmann On30 Davenport has been one of the go-to models for kitbashing. The niche-group of Gn15 modelers (large scale representing 15-18 inch gauge railroads with 16.5mm gauge track) were especially enthusiastic about using the Davenport chassis to build small diesel and battery mining locomotives.

Unlike the Porters, the Davenport is not an exact model, but instead is rather generic and a bit whimsical. Actual Davenport diesel locomotives tended to be a little bit bigger in size, especially the wheel diameter and wheel base. The cabs also were a bit larger and had doors which could keep out the cold, rain, and snow. Basically, if this engine were scaled up by 10-15% and made into a 3ft gauge model it would look far more accurate to what Davenport actually built.

It’s for these reasons that the gas-mechanical will be my secondary engine rather than my primary power. Not only is the model not quite prototypical but there were few, if any gas-mechanical locomotives working the mines in South Dakota. By the late 1920’s when Davenport started making gas-mechanical locomotives the Black Hills had established roads and most of the mines were consolidated or closed up. Despite the artistic license needed to run this locomotive on my layout, the little critter does have some advantages.

Just like the Porter, Bachmann’s Davenport can navigate similarly tight curves without modification. Their mechanisms are very smooth and reliable. To top it off, it appears the one I bought had DCC and sound already installed into the unit which saves me a lot of money and time. Since these engines are a bit difficult to find after being discontinued, my plan is to stay somewhat true to the original model Bachmann made. In other words, I’m going to do my best to avoid kitbashing this unit beyond whatever might be necessary to make it operate reliably on my layout.

Consider it a museum piece if you will of an iconic locomotive in model train history.

Next Steps

At this point I’ve pretty much caught up to where I am right now on the project layout. Both of these engines were delivered over the weekend and it’s been a blast just looking at them. I know for a lot of people the Bachmann models are old news but I’ve never really had the chance to buy one before. It was only after selling off most of my HO scale and N scale stuff that I even had enough room in the collection to start thinking about On30.

However, now that there engines are here, I can start figuring out a track plan that will work for this micro train layout. I plan on designing the rolling stock on Fusion360 and will be 3D printing those parts, so the most important thing is that the locomotives run reliably on this trackwork.

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