In 1915, the Alaskan Engineering Commission presented a report to then president Woodrow Wilson concerning the potential expansion of railroads within the Territory of Alaska. If you want to read the report yourself, Google Books has it scanned and online. Part of this was an exploration of potentially expansions to the Copper River & Northwestern, none of which were ever actually built.
The report proposes two branches from near McCarthy to other nearby mining districts. One, a 14 mile branch, would extend around to the east side of Bonanza Ridge (the main Kennecott Mine was on the west side) up McCarthy Creek to the Mother Lode mine. The other, a ~17 mile line, was proposed from McCarthy further southeast to the gold mining district along the Nizina River.
Because the Mother Lode Mine was on the opposite side of the ridge from the rest of the mines, eventually the tunnels were interconnected. Mother Lode ore was sent through the Bonanza Mine to get it to the other side of the mountain, and then down the trams to Kennecott to be loaded. There wouldn’t have been a reason to extend the railway around the backside of the ridge for it. More interesting would be the Green Butte and Nicolai mines, which existed on the east side of McCarthy Creek, might have been able to use rail service.
The Nizina Branch idea is more intriguing, however. Even while there was active mining at Kennicott, there was placer gold mining going on at Dan Creek, southeast of McCarthy and on the opposite side of the Nizina River. Additionally, copper prospects had been described just a few more miles up the Nizina and Chitistone Rivers, along Glacier Creek. So it’s slightly plausible that – should copper mining have survived in the district – that additional mines would have been developed on these prospects. I don’t proclaim to be any sort of expert (or even novice of any note) in this area, but the US Geological Survey has a 1943/44 report on mining prospects in the Nizina District available as a PDF.
The short version is that I needed more traffic at the north end of the line to keep operations on the layout interesting. I also wanted a test track above my workbench that I could use for working on equipment and programming DCC decoders. Given that the workbench is just across the wall from McCarthy and Cordova, and that McCarthy was at just about the right height for a workbench branch, I decided the “Nizina Branch” would be born. It will serve as staging for one empty coming up and one load going down each operating session.
The yard is three tracks wide, with the one nearest the edge being the DCC programming track in addition to storage. Given that this is all just staging trackage, I used some leftover Atlas code 55 flex and turnouts that I had lying around. You may notice an odd bit of 3-rail track near the end, as if I’d decided to model dual gauge. Since I do spend a decent amount of time working on HO models for other folks, I needed the programming track to be compatible with both HO and N scale equipment. So, using a few PC board ties and some extra rail, I built a dual HO/N scale programming section. And yes, that’s a BC Rail B39-8 running around. It won’t be part of the CRNW’s roster, but much like my IAIS ES44ACs, I’m rather fond of it and you’ll probably see it running around in “unofficial” layout photos.
The switch machines are, of course, my MRServo design. They’re completely open source, but available from Iowa Scaled Engineering if you want to buy some. The wiring is still a bit rough – I haven’t gotten it all finalized yet. I was just happy to get the track power and programming track lines run back to the electrical panel with my limited time this week.