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Craftsman Boomer Trail - January 2012

Lehigh Gorge

It’s fall of 1972 in a remote corner of Anthracite country in north central Pennsylvania, and two Lehigh Valley Alco C-628 “snowbirds” are leading an eastbound freight, wheels squealing, past a westbound slogging upriver on the double-tracked LV main. The diorama is modeled after prototype photo locations near Hetchel and Ox Bow. Click for larger image

Lehigh Gorge, 1972: A Diorama in HO scale

by Chris Frissell/photos by the author

My primary modeling interest is the 1969 Northern Pacific Railway in Montana, but have lately been afflicted by a secondary interest in the Lehigh Valley and other Northeast roads. I shot the attached five photos on a diorama I built to model a curve on the Lehigh Valley Railroad along the Lehigh River, west of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. The models are HO scale, representing LV trains as they might have operated in 1972.

The locomotives are two Bowser C-628 "Snowbirds," and two Atlas Lehigh & Hudson River C-420s, the prototypes of which were on lease to the LV in that year. The locos have all been detailed and weathered to represent their specific prototypes. Rolling stock is a variety of Tangent, Intermountain, Athearn, Branchline, Proto2000, and Bowser, some redetailed and all weathered appropriately to the era and common use on the LV.

I constructed the diorama on a bi-fold closet door panel, surplus from a home construction project. Topography and roadbed were shaped by corrugated cardboard and foamboard profiles, covered with plaster cloth. Trees are mostly Scenic Express "Supertrees" with a variety of ground foam and other foliage materials. Rock outcrops are formed of layered cast plaster fragments, mantled with talus of cast plaster and natural rock. The Lehigh River is several thin coats of ModPodge acrylic, tinted with acrylic paints and applied over a painted riverbed detailed with natural stones and highlights of white acrylic paint.

The diorama isn't intended to represent a specific location, but is generally representative of many curves in the Lehigh Gorge, with prototype details including the characteristic concrete retaining wall supporting the roadbed and the arm and insulator arrangements on the pole lines. The diorama is intentionally quite light for its size so it can be carried outdoors for photography by one person.

I photographed these scenes outdoors in natural sunlight with a Fuji S7000 digital camera on macro setting. I did some light digital photoediting to fill in diesel exhaust (what would an Alco be without smoke) and kicked-up dust.

Lehigh GorgeThe snowbirds are factory-painted Bowser models, renumbered and with era- and unit-correct details added by the author. The locos were weathered with oil paint wash, pastel chalks and Bragdon adhesive powders. Pole lines are from an Atlas kit, with crossarms and insulators configured for the location following prototype photographs. Click for larger image

Lehigh Gorge During 1972 the power-short Lehigh Valley leased Alco C-420s from the partially idled Lehigh & Hudson River. The author hasn’t been able to uncover the specific terms of the lease, but here we assume it extended into the fall months, with L&HR 29 and 26 powering an eastbound extra that includes empty cement hoppers for loading downriver out of Cementon. Click for larger image

Lehigh GorgeL&HR C420s 29 and 26 are Atlas factory-finished models with additional decals and underbody and truck details added, weathered by the author. Attentive viewers will note this train is running "wrong rail;" the normal eastbound main must be closed for track repair. Click for larger image

Lehigh GorgeA "balloon" shot of the same train shows the details of the rocky Lehigh River in good light. Click for larger image

Lehigh GorgeCurvature of the mains is tight as the line closely tracks the Lehigh River through its narrow gorge. Vegetation is primarily Supertrees with a variety of foliage flocking, and Woodland Scenics foliage clusters, some glued to homegrown weed armatures. Getting "that local look" in scenery comes from close attention to the color and textural variety, as well as massing of vegetation and rock formations in prototype photographs. Click for larger image

Lehigh GorgeWith trains navigating the serpentine curvature of this section of the LV, it’s not easy to tell train direction. The best guide is that eastbounds run downriver, and westbounds, like this one with the two leased Centuries mated with an LV white elephant, work upgrade and upriver. Click for larger image

Lehigh GorgeThe same consist returns downriver a day later, this time leading an eastbound hot freight from Buffalo, New York. Then as now, the upper Lehigh River is a popular destination for canoeing and outdoor recreation. Click for larger image

Lehigh GorgeThe "skeleton" of the diorama under construction, showing the mountain slopes, the roadbed and adjacent service road grade, and the river base, with three riverbed elevation steps formed of layered foamboard. Click for larger image

Lehigh GorgeAn overview of the diorama during a photo session. The lightweight platform is easily moved to optimize sun and photo angles. Click for larger image

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