This week on the Hitop….

imageThis week we feature a piece on the town of Hitop, West Virginia. The actual town of Hitop is an unincorporated town located in Kanawha county at an altitude of 1270 ft above sea level. The town of Hitop was located at the end of the NYC/PC branch of the same name, to serve many mines along the branch, including one owned by Union Carbide at Hitop. The last six miles of the branch were taken out of service in 1971 after the mine at Hitop closed.

My town of Hitop of course is not an exact replica. My town of course consists of the mine as the focus point. There is also two company houses, the Crossroads Baptist Church, a general store, or “company store”, and a service station garage. Across the tracks is the Kanawha county feed and seed. Hopefully I’ve been able to replicate the feel of a small mining town in the hills of Appalachia!


It could be 1960 again….

imageIt could be, in fact it is. Here I present a vintage photo of the Morris Fork mine run switching out the truck dumps at Union Carbide’s mine on the Hitop branch. Coal is still king on this 34 mile branch, providing a livelihood not only to these railroaders, but also to many hundreds of miners throughout Kanawha county, and many other businesses that support these mines.

Off the workbench….


Just off the workbench today comes Athearn Genesis NYC unit #6075. I’ve had this unit for awhile now, and had tried to weather it using the then “new” pan pastels with mixed results.

Today I used another weathering medium on this unit, Doc O’Brien’s weathering powders. I first painted some clear acrylic over the areas of rust, then dabbed their rust powder over this. Next, I blended in evenly over the entire unit their grimy black powder to blend in the previous old pastels, which previously left the unit not to my liking. The grimy black for one I think highlighted a lot of detail, including all the carbody vents, plus darkened the lettering. You can see several of the spots where I applied rust to this model, the frame sill for one, in the striped area on the short hood, and a touch on the top of the fuel tank. Not visible is the rust I applied around the top of the exhaust stacks. I’m happier overall with these results….

Sad news indeed….

Sad news from social media sources and from the website of Norfolk Southern, current operator of the West Virginia Secondary of which I model a small portion. It has been announced that NS will idle “parts” of the 253 mile line from Columbus, Ohio to Dickinson, WVa. Some sources state that the entire line will be idled, while others report the line from Nitro down through Dickinson and over to Elmore will be used, with trains now being routed Dickinson through Elmore.

Needless to say, from a person who has traveled this area, and a former railroader, this can’t be good news, at least for parts of this line. We can only hope due to many factors that this line once again someday sees an increase in former traffic levels.

Only trouble is….

With my article on the Hitop being published in the March issue of Model Railroader, I’m of course very much excited about seeing my layout in print, especially if it inspires someone else to get into, or get back into model railroading. In fact, I have two friends who have been inspired seeing my layout in person to start building their layouts.

There is only one problem however, and that is, since my article was submitted almost two years ago, I’ve made so many additions and changes to the layout as far as detail wise, it won’t look in the article as it looks now! I guess another article is in order showing all the additions…

On the workbench soon….

Hitop mine run

This PRR Alco #9106 made by Atlas will soon be on the workbench to get the weathered treatment. Photos when finished.

Other new additions coming: several Athearn Dupont tank cars, one or two more PC X58 boxcars, a Walthers Wabash 40′ boxcar, and a NYC standard wood caboose with small cupola from True Line…..

The Joy of Model Railroading….

I thought I would add a few thoughts and comments on the joys of model railroading, regardless of scale, size of layout, freelance or prototype, and expense. Of course, I am a bit prejudicial towards HO scale!

My love for the hobby stems from several factors. One, my father loved trains, although he never would admit it. I remember his grumblings about being transported  during WWII after the Battle of the Bulge back to their camp in Mourmelon le Petit  in old WWI 40×8 boxcars known as “horse cars”. On top of that, he rode cross country on a troop train to the docks in New York City for the voyage over to England. I knew he loved trains due to the fact my first train layout was at age five, an American Flyer train set I found around the Christmas tree that Christmas morning.  Another fact is my father took me “railfanning” at the young age of six, trackside at the well known Winton Place station in that suburb of Cincinnati, right down the hill from where we lived, and right up the street from where he worked. My first images I remember were of NYC Baldwin Sharks and B&O E and F units. I remember fondly one particular moment when a friendly engineer gave a serious of toots to “shave and a haircut” to me one day after waving to him.

Another reason for loving the hobby is my not only then riding passenger trains all my life, up to and including Amtrak, but working for a railroad as a brakeman/conductor. This of course lead to photographing anything rail related, collecting, including a still growing collection of rail publications and books, volunteer work at a local well known rail and model railroad museum, and finally, belonging to two model railroad clubs.

The hobby, like railroading, seems to get in the blood. Sure, when younger, I enjoyed playing sports, then playing video and computer games, shooting and blowing up all the enemies I could. I guess you seem to outgrow the computer games, but railroading is something else. I also loved to fish to relax, spending hours sitting along a farm pond in Ohio or Kentucky waiting for that bobber to move. I now relax spending three to four hours running trains on my layout.

Which brings me to another point, and that is, you don’t need to spend twenty-thousand dollars, nor have a 50 x 90 foot double or triple deck layout to have fun, and a great, satisfying, relaxing time. I have read that comment, and take exception to it for sure. I also don’t need ten operators and a dispatcher, along with tons of written forms to have fun either. I have as much fun spending 3-4 hours running trains on my 4×8 layout, with just using a modified waybill system. On a small switching type layout as mine, 3-4 hours goes by quite quickly. And….my layout is set up for two operators. For those modelers who do have this type of room to build, or who desire a huge layout, more power to you. This is NOT to knock these modelers at all, as I’ve visited and have ran trains on some of the most beautiful large layouts there are in this country. My comments are simply to note if you’re just beginning in this hobby, or just getting back into the hobby, you don’t need a room-size layout to be content.

To be sure, I have plans to slightly extend my layout someday as well, with the word “slightly” being key here. I still would not, and could not, extend the layout into a huge room-size layout. My plan would be to expand the layout off my “DB Tower interchange”, to extend over to the ex-Virginian yard at Elmore to use as basically my staging yard, and of course, to “take” trains moving further eastward. My other front corner would include the addition of a petro-chemical complex to add more tracks for more tankers, along with a scrapyard. Hopefully my plans can come to fruition someday, so stay tuned, you never know!!

My bottom line is this: if you have plans to build a layout, do so. But remember, a small shelf type layout, a small 4×8 or 5×10 can be just as exciting to build and operate as a huge museum or basement size layout. If you have one of these and enjoy it, that’s all good as well. The bottom line is to relax, enjoy the facets of model railroading you enjoy, and have fun….

Ride on the Hitop Mine Run/Part 2…



As we start upgrade out of Dickinson yard on the branch proper, Charlie notches out the old girls, and the 567’s wind up, as we enter a short tunnel. As we exit the other side, we blow for the county road crossing into Hitop, nothing more than a two lane dirt road. Scaring two deer feeding along the road, we pass behind the Kanawha County Feed and Seed, a long time fixture in these parts. As we round the curve behind the feed and seed, the grade really digs in, and Charlie notches out the geeps again, as we’re making all of about eight miles an hour up the hill, and around a sharp curve to the right. The curve takes us up and around the mountain behind the Hitop Mine itself, as we level off, slowly easing into the passing siding above the town of Hitop.

Easing into the siding, the rear end crew radios we have cleared the switch, as I swing down to cut off our engines. Giving Charlie the signal to move ahead, he slowly pulls out the other end through the switch until I give him the stop signal. Lining the switch back for the main and locking it, I signal to proceed while climbing aboard, as we start the process of running around our train. This is a must, as the lead into the Hitop Mine’s trackage is a trailing point switch.

Pulling down the main and past the east switch, I watch as our rear end brakeman throws the switch for us to pull in and couple to our cabin. After our test is complete, we pull our train forward out of the siding back onto the main. After clearing the switch, our rear end brakeman relines the switch for the main, as we back our train down the main so our rear end man can swing back on our cabin for the trip down the hill.

Swinging back down the branch, and around the sharp curves, we finally swing around the mine, dropping downgrade the entire time. Charlie is working the train and engine brakes holding back our train, as our ex-NYC geeps don’t have dynamics. Slowing as we come up behind the Kanawha feed and seed once again, we come to a stop. I drop off to cut off our power from our empties, and to line the mine lead, as our rear brakeman drops off to line the rest of the mine’s switches into its three tracks.

We both crank down a considerable number of the hopper’s hand brakes, as we still sit on a downgrade. The rear end man then walks over to the mine trackage to handle the switches, while I walk ahead to grab the lead switch, flagging the county road crossing as I do. Charlie pulls away slowly until clearing the mine lead. Our plan is to pick up what loads there are, pull them out onto the branch, tie these on to our empties, then shove the empties into the mine. After we have tied onto all our loads, all handbrakes are released, we pull back out onto the branch, and shove backwards onto our empties.

Coupled back up once again, we release the brakes on the empties, pull forward to once again clear the lead switch, then spot our empties under the tipples. After taking a considerable amount of time in switching out the mine, our rear end crew quickly heads over to the general store for some cold pop out of the machine on the front porch. Old timers sit on the side of the store, intently playing checkers as they are oblivious to the goings on of the railroad. If only we had time to catch the outcome of the game!

With everyone back onboard, we whistle out of the valley, and immediately head back through one of the two tunnels on the line. Exiting the other side, we soon slow once again for the crossing behind Sam and Mickey’s, and head into the yard lead. A fellow railroader awaits in the scale house as we slowly pull our loads one by one across the scale track for the loads to be measured and weighed.

Wth this finally accomplished, we spot our loads back onto tracks 4 and 5 in Dickinson yard, cut our power off, and drag our cabin into the service track to spot in front of our yard office. We then cut our power off, and pull our old steeds forward to the refueling station, where Dan awaits us. Signing off in the yard office, we catch up on some gossip with the outbound crew of train NT-5 heading back to Buckeye yard in Columbus, and check in on a game of poker going on between the crew of the Morris Fork run, which will head up the branch next. Then it’s off to our homes and families…..