Browning Railroad

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BrowningRailroad Modeltec Oct1988 cover.jpg

Browning Division is site for some Texas-Style Railroading

by David Hannah III

Modeltec, October 1988

The squeal of steam whistles floated across the plantation fields, perhaps taking old-timers back to the first half of the century when the Santa Fe steam engines announced their approach to the crossings in this part of south central Texas. These modern-day sounds were coming from the two locomotives I had acquired in late 1987: a heavy Pacific and an Allen Ten Wheeler.

The two engines, along with two diesels, pulled four trains. They provided rides for some 450 people attending the Browning Plantation's second annual hog-killing party in January, 1988. They ran from morning to evening. By this date, after two years of construction, we had laid approximately one mile of track around the grounds of the plantation in the configuration shown in the map below. The system includes an 800 foot outer loop enclosing an inner loop, both of which come together at a 138 foot long bridge through the use of a gauntlet track. Taking off from the northeast corner of the main loop through the connection of a wye, two parallel tracks then head north. There are three crossovers before the tracks reach a balloon loop with a siding attached. This north loop is approximately 750 feet in length and it allows us to run trains bi-bidirectionally if we wish to do so.

The station was constructed using model plans of the Santa Fe construction book. With two bedrooms and two baths it serves as a guest house for the Browning Plantation, provides restroom facilities, and may be used as dressing rooms for people who swim in the nearby pool In addition to its bedrooms and baths, there is a mini-kitchen which, with the station's waiting area, is useful as a dispatcher's office for bi-directional operations.

David Hannah rounds a curve on the Browning Division of the Denver Rio Grande Western Railroad. David is astride engine #832, a Little Engines Pacific 4-6-2. Photo by Danny Stuettgen.

Directly south of the station are two engine houses where most of the equipment is stored. One is 10 feet in width, the other 12 fee, and both are 36 feet long. Each has five tracks, with three tracks connected to the main line. With approximately 360 fee of track covered. I hope that these houses will accommodate all of the equipment that will be coming in the future.

The present equipment operated by the Browning Division includes the No. 20 Allen Ten Wheeler recently renumbered 723, and a heavy Pacific No. 832 built by Johnny Smyth of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Presently, I am building a Railroad Supply Mikado, expecting to receive its boiler soon so that it can be completed before the end of the year. We acquired two diesel engines in January, 1987 -- an SD35 and a GP50 from Backyard Rails. In March, 1987, we obtained a GP40 dummy built by Railroad Supply Corporation, and, in January of this year, we took delivery on a second SD35, also from Railroad Supply. This latter engine is under reconstruction to be changed to a GP40 with four-wheel trucks instead of six-wheel. In February, 1988, we received an F7 A-B-A combination diesel engine set lettered in Rio Grande colors by [[Backyard Rails]].

The rolling stock consists of 14 gondolas, five flat cars, two box cars from Railroad Supply Corporation, and four reefers from Mercer Locomotive Works. We have one Mountain Car Company passenger car on hand with two more expected, and three more passenger cars are on order from Railroad Supply Corporation. It is anticipated that the passenger cars will be operated behind the Mikado and Pacific steam engines, with most of the freight cars being pulled by the diesel engine. To go along with the rolling stock there are approximately half a dozen cabooses.

Before starting to lay the first tracks at Chappell Hill, I had attended a number of meets held by the Southwestern Live Steamers at sites in Wimberly, Devine, and Manor, Texas. From these visits I learned that I wanted a layout with large-radius curves, good track work and, especially, a good base. There should be at least 30 to 36 ties per 10 feet of track and, if possible, the ties should be at least 15 inches or 16 inches long. In constructing the right-of-way at the Browning Division, we first put down 3 to 4 inches of limestone as a base material. This was laid over black plastic which was held in place with treated 1x4's for trim material. On top of this we assembled all of the track which was elevated after we hauled in the ballast. The result is that the top of the rail is at least 8 inches above the natural ground, thus providing good drainage.

The author's middle son, Richard Gancham Hannah, is running his new-found love, the Browning Division's Ten-Wheeler #723. The gondola and two flat cars were built by David Hannah III; the cattle car by Don Isom.

I faced a challenge in building the original loop. The elevation of the station was about 6 feet higher than the ground at the southeastern most part of the loop. To compensate, a bridge was built at the south part of the loop to elevate the track at least 2 feet above the ground with fill on the bridge approaches. Even with an 800 foot loop, there was still a 4% grade running trains counterclockwise where they came through the wye back to the station off of the east fence line. Today we run trains clockwise through the main loop going to and from the station.

In the fall of 1986 dirt was hauled in, the base prepared, and track laid. During Christmas/New Year the bridge was built. The last section of the loop was laid on Super Bowl Sunday, 1987.

Between 300 and 450 people turned up for the Browning Plantation's first sausage-making party of 1987 and to ride the trains. This put great stress on the track and the equipment. We had just one steam engine and one GP50 Backyard Rails diesel running at that time. Fred Springer's No. 20 was given the honor of being the first to run on the first loop of the track.

By the spring of 1987, a fairly large collection of cars and engines had been accumulated. A loading ramp was needed so that I would be able to transport this equipment in my pickup to run at other tracks. The wye connection was constructed to the north portion of the north loop, a ramp was built and the single-track portion of the double main line was extended northward for approximately 150 feet to allow loading the cars and engines onto my pickup or trailer.

The newly constructed Isom Craft interlocking tower pictured here was constructed by Mr. Don Isom of Klamath Falls, Oregon. Both the interlocking tower and the water tower were constructed in 2 inch scale to complement the 1-1/2 inch scale Live Steam railroad equipment. From Modeltec, October 1988.

No new track was constructed until the summer of 1987. At that time additional fill dirt was hauled in in as well as approximately 32 tons of crushed limestone for building the base for the north loop. Six and eight inch drain pipe was installed to drain the front yard of the plantation house through the area. All during June and July I assembled track panels at my house in Houston and hauled about 200 feet of track to Chappell Hill every weekend. On one weekend in July we laid 657 feet of the accumulated track panels. On the last weekend of July, 1987, after putting down the final ballast and leveling the track, it was finally possible to make a complete loop of all the track in the Browning Division of the Rio Grande. Mr. George Maddox of Fort Worth had the honor of making the first loop with me and everything worked perfectly. During the next month, after all the track had been laid, we corrected some minor problems with switches. I made them spring-loaded, oiled and greased the points, and prepared the elevation of most of the frogs, making sure that we had smooth flow operation during most of the turnouts.

During the 1987 Labor Day weekend, Mr. Maddox helped put on a mini-meet with certain invited guests of the Southwestern Live Steamers. There were about seven engines in operation (both diesel and steam), and had a grand time as we finished putting the whole track into service for the first time with guests.

This view of the Browning Plantation station also gives a good look at some of the rolling stock found on this railroad. The Rio Grande engine in the foreground is a part of the motive power of the Browning Division of the Rio Grande Western Railroad while engine #3810 in Santa Fe livery belongs to Mr. C.T. Sumrall of Temple, Texas. Both of these engines were produced by Backyard Rails of Galesburg, Illinois.

Shortly after the Labor Day meet, a big rainstorm washed out the south part of the north loop, so in October I pulled all of the damaged section out with a Bobcat and constructed a new 40 foot bridge. Some left-over fill dirt was used to shore up the support on either side of the bridge and to take care of the curves leading to the bridge. Later in 1987, a siding was installed on the north loop to permit bidirectional runs if desired.

What's in the future for the Browning Division? Construction of the Mikado engine will be completed and some of the switches will be reconstructed, changing them from number sixes to number nines. I am also exploring the possibility of taking off from the siding on the north loop past a small creek that is fed by a spring, down to the tank and back again. These extensions would encounter rather severe grades, in the neighborhood of 4% to 6%, so it would probably be necessary to cut and fill in places to reduce the grade to less than 3%. Such challenges are part of building a railroad, and overcoming them is what is so satisfying.

The Browning Plantation is a Bed and Breakfast Inn located in Chappell Hill, Texas. The railroad is privately owned and is not open to the public.


Jim Jackson wrote in HALS Stack Talk, October 1991:

David Hannah now has track across the Browning lake dam, both spillway bridges, and is constructing a high speed double crossover (using #11 frogs) on the 50 foot North spillway bridge. This bridge unofficially has been named the Dromedary Bridge since so many people had a hand in its design and construction. Next, David is gearing up to put in a seventy-five foot radius return loop. This extension will provide a means to return across the dam and re-enter the main line at the Dinkey Creek Wye. David can always use volunteers and has a big supply of shovels in hand sizes of your choice.


Dave Hannah with Railroad Supply Corporation heavy Mikado built in 1989 by John Marshall Phillips.

The Browning Railroad, Inc.

By David Hannah

The tracks and structures owned and operated by The Browning Railroad are located on the grounds of the Browning Plantation, in Chappell Hill, Texas. The Browning Railroad is a miniature Live Steam railroad that operates just like the big railroads. The Browning Plantation, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was the beloved home of one of Chappell Hill's most prominent citizens, Col. W.W. Browning. The recently restored home was built before the Civil War, and is open to overnight guests and private functions such as weddings and professional gatherings. The bed and breakfast guests may ride the Live Steam train when the railroad is in operation.

The first 800-foot loop of track was constructed and laid in the fall of 1986. The golden spike was driven Super Bowl Sunday 1987. This completed the first loop in front of the station, and a spur into two storage buildings. In the late fall of 1987, the track was continued in a northerly direction to complete a loop through Stamey siding. During the fall and winter of 1987/88, the track was laid down the hill, after completing many small bridges in the process. Dinkey Bridge was started in December 1987 and track was laid to the end of the bridge in the summer of 1988. The track turned south and proceeded toward Pando siding with the final connection back to the original main line completed July of 1989.

Dave Hannah and his son John M. Hannah running the Union Pacific diesel built by Gerry Bowden of Grants Pass, Oregon. The engine is powered by a Briggs & Stratton Vanguard V-Twin, 18 hp, with hydraulic drive.

During the spring and summer of 1991, construction was tarted on the two spillway bridges, and the south spillway trestle bridge was completed first to allow the use of the tractor to dump base material on the dam. In July of 1991 the north spillway bridge was started. This bridge is known as Lucks Bridge, named for Jack Lucks who unfortunately fell off the side of the bridge, breaking his arm but not damaging the bridge. Jack did all the engineering work, and set the grade of the bridge on a 1% climb from the dam. A single main line of track was laid between the two bridges, and the track was opened to the end of Lucks Bridge in September of 1991.

The loop around Sargent Station was completed in November 1991. With the completion of the double crossover on Lucks Bridge and the final assembly of the other main line track on the dam, the Browning main line track was completed in March of 1992.

Approximately 9,000 feet of 7-1/2 inch gauge track, consisting of 10-foot lengths of aluminum rail, is spread over 20 acres of ground. There are 34 treated 2x2 ties in 16 inch lengths every 10 feet. The minimum radius is 60 feet to allow for the operation of larger steam locomotives. On the dam, between the two bridges, are double main line runs over 500 feet in length. The grade rises 4-1/2% between Dinkey Creek Bridge and Stamey Siding and 5% between Dulce Station and Pando Siding. This section has been known to work steam locomotives very hard and make for some great stack talk as the engines labor up the hill.

Don Isom of Klamath Falls, Oregon (left), builder of many of the miniature structures on the railroad, with David Hannah at The Browning Railroad town of Isomville.

Sixty spring-loaded switches of various sizes range from No. 7 to No. 11 frogs. Over the last two years, the Browning Railroad volunteer workers have been replacing the No. 6 and 7 switches with Nos. 8 and 9. The double crossover located on Luck's bridge is constructed using four No. 11 frogs and two No. 6 frogs. The total length of this double crossover is over 65 feet.

Two double crossovers and five single crossovers are located at various places on the main line to help in the train operations. To facilitate bi-directional running there are nine sidings, each longer than 120 feet. This allows simultaneous operation of up to ten trains in each direction. All sidings have spurs for setting off rolling stock. as in prototype switching operations. All the major sidings have water towers for refilling the steam locomotives.

The Browning Railroad bridges are built to hold heavy steam locomotives. There are numerous small bridges of 12 to 60 feet in length, 18 inches above the grade, for drainage of storm runoff. All of the small bridges are constructed with 2x4 ties, at least 24 inch in length, allowing passengers to disembark in case a train has to stop on a bridge.

The three larger bridges, Dinkey Creek Bridge and the spillway bridges, are constructed to hold double track main line. Dinkey Creek bridge was the first large bridge and was constructed to carry the main line over the creek and the spring running into the lake. The major span of this bridge is 20+ feet over the creek and, with the support members, looks like the original Dinkey Creek bridge located in California.

The spillway bridges at either end of the dam were also built to carry the double track main line. Both are 8 feet wide and over 60 feet in length and capable of carrying full size cars or trucks. The north spillway bridge utilizes six 10 inch I-beams 25 feet in length. These I-beams are spaced 32 inches apart, with three beams on either side of the center pier. The center pier consists of six 10 inch creosoted posts set in concrete 5 feet in the ground. The south spillway bridge is a wood trestle set on concrete pads. The bridge was built with a 75-foot radius to carry the double track main line off the dam. The trestle bents are constructed with 4x6 treated wood set 6 feet apart. Between the bents are five 4x6 inch timbers supporting the track ties. Both bridges are capable of carrying five tons.

A view of Isomville at the Browning Railroad along the double-track main line.

All the miniature buildings located on the main line of the Browning Railroad are built to 1/6 scale of the prototypes. This works out to 2 inch to the foot so the buildings look better with the 1/8 scale railroad equipment. All the stations are modeled after those located on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad in Colorado, such as Isomville station which is a model of the Delores station. All four large water towers are operational, which allows team engines to take on water when necessary. The water tower at Pando siding is supplied by a water car, and is used only in an emergency. The coaling tower at the Browning Station is a model of the Chama coaling tower in Chama, New Mexico.

The signaling system located around the Browning Station loop was constructed in the fall of 1993. Currently six block signals control the movement of trains through Isomville and Browning Station. In the future a total of 18 signals will control the movement of trains between Pando siding and Stamey siding in both directions. The electronic signaling system is manufactured by Automatic Control System of Corvallis, Oregon. All the signals show three light indications, to signify which blocks are occupied.

A passenger train powered by an EMD F-7 diesel at Browning Station. The engine was built by Don Phillips of Backyard Rails.

The motive power and rolling stock of the Browning Railroad were acquired and assembled from many different railroad manufacturers. The F-7 units were acquired from Backyard Rails in 1988. They were originally delivered as an F-7 A-B-B-A diesel combination. The A's were the powered units and B units carried the gasoline tanks. After the electronic control system failed and it was determined that they couldn't be repaired, the units were split into an F-7 A-B-B combination and F-7 A alone. The second B unit is the powered unit pushing an F-7 A dummy and an F-7 B dummy. There is also an SD-35 diesel engine manufactured by Railroad Supply Corporation.

The Browning Railroad also operates a Railroad Supply Mikado steam locomotive. This engine is modeled after the K-59 No. 1209 that operated between Denver and Pueblo Colorado in the mid 1930's.

Currently under construction is an SD-60M diesel engine modeled after the Union Pacific wide cab, heavy road diesel engines. This one is powered by an 18 hp Vanguard two-cylinder gasoline engine, coupled to a 25 hp hydraulic pump powering four Eaton hydraulic motors. On the first public run of this new diesel engine in the Medford City Park Railroad, the diesel was able to pull 27 cars carrying over 50 passengers. I believe no other diesel has pulled this many people. The approximate weight of the finished diesel is 1,500 pounds. The Browning Railroad took delivery of the new diesel in the summer of 1994.

Hannah's diesels (not all of them) at the Browning Railroad's barns. Photo by David Hannah III.

The rolling stock was acquired from many different suppliers, such as Railroad Supply Corporation, Mercer Locomotive Works, Mountain Car Company, Backyard Rails, and Railway Hardware Company. Most of the cars were partially assembled; all the machining work was done before delivery to the Browning. Painting and lettering the cars for the different railroad names was done in the Browning's shop. The fleet is comprised of over 40 freight cars including cabooses of different designs, boxcars, flat-cars, stock cars, hoppers, and gondolas. Also found in the storage barns are four 10-foot-long passenger cars from Railroad Supply Corporation. These are usually pulled behind the steam locomotive.

Visitor's equipment can be unloaded at either Sargent Station or Browning Station. An 18-foot turntable and steaming bays at Isomville is for firing and storing steam engines. The yard at Isomville is used for car storage and the assembly of trains. A new yard is under construction at Sargent to be used for storage of visiting rolling stock and diesel engines. Locomotives can be fired at either the Browning station engine bays or Isomville.

Double-headed freight on one of the bridges of The Browning Railroad.

Running at the Browning is a challenge for new engineers and old pros alike because of the grades and the length of the runs. By setting some switches on Luck's bridge a train can run two miles, point-to-point. Most engineers say they have to relearn to fire their steamers to make the long grades without embarrassing themselves. For real fun and true test of their skill, they load the four passenger cards with dibitzers, and try to make the run from Dinkey Creek Bridge to Stamey Siding without losing steam pressure or slipping drivers.

Following are the rules and operating plan distributed to all engineers running:

1. The Browning Railroad is point-to-point between N. Sargent and S. Sargent. The bridge connecting Browning and Isomville is part of bi-directional operations. You must use visual clearance before going between the two towns and must announce your arrival at either town to the dispatcher for clearance to begin your run.
A passenger train and freight on a bridge. Diesel No. 5321 is an EMD SD-35 built for Hannah by Railroad Supply Corporation (it's on the back cover of their catalogue).
2. The Railroad runs on a north-south axis. As you face the Browning Station, to the right is northbound with stations in this order: 1) Browning; 2) Stamey; 3) Dulce; 4) N. Sargent; 5) Dulce; 6) Stamey; 7) Browning; 8) Isomville; 9) Wounded Knee; 10) Pando; 11) Dam Siding; 12 ) S. Sargent; 13) Dam Siding; 14) Pando; 15) Wounded Knee; 16) Isomville; and 17) Browning.
3. During bi-directional running the double crossovers north of Browning-Isomville are to be set straight.
4. During bi-directional running, the switches on the double crossover on Luck's Bridge will be set to head the train to the siding from which he just came. (Dulce or Dam siding). Usually setting the westernmost switches to the inside of the crossover will accomplish this.
5. After bi-directional running starts, the train engineer may set either double crossover to reverse his direction with two restrictions: a) with permission of the dispatcher to do so; and 2) reset the double crossover after clearing.
6. Trains are to operate no closer than 100 feet apart when running and 25 feet when stopped.
7. All trains with passengers must have a conductor on the last car with whistle or other appropriate device to sound signals.
8. All engineers and conductors are to use appropriate whistle signals while running.
9 All engineers and conductors must have a 5-channel radio (Channel B for main line) with batteries fully charged.
10. On single-file running, the double crossovers are to be set by the Superintendent or his designated assistant. Do not change double crossovers with single file running.
11. The wye at Dinkey Creek can be used for turning whole trains, but only with dispatcher permission.
12. Way/peddler freights may operate from time to time; listen/watch for them. They will be given verbal and/or written train orders.


Track Plan 1996

Track Plan for the Browning Railroad, circa October 1993.
Google satellite view of Browning Plantation, Chappell Hill, Texas, 26 October 2015.
Browning Railroad track plan, 1996, merged onto Google satellite view of Browning Plantation, October 2015.
Aerial view of the Browning Railroad. Photo by Carlton Parker.


From Modeltec, "Directory", May 1997

Browning Railroad

Near Chappell Hill, Texas, 60 miles northwest of Houston. Bed and breakfast on premises. Private track, but visitors and equipment welcome. Call in advance for run schedule. 8.500 feet of 7-1/2 inch gauge. Minimum radius 60 feet, maximum grade 4%. Can run point to point for 2 miles operation. IBLS, Mini-Rail standards. David Hannah III, 3666 Ella Lee Lane, Houston, Tx 77027

Houston Area Live Steamers, Inc

Zube Park, near Hockley, about 20 miles west of Houston on Highway 290. 1,800 feet of 7-1/2 inch gauge track, 4-3/4 inch third rail being added. Work 1st Saturday, run 3rd Saturday. Call Tom Herbert or Tom Moore, Secretary.


Last Run at the Browning Railroad

Bill Laird wrote on 5 July 2015:

Those who ran on the Browning all share fond memories of Mildred Ganchan, mother-in-law of David Hannah, as the gracious hostess of the Browning Plantation.