Thus begins the story, and the website behind the building and daily operations of the NYC/PC Hitop Branch model railroad.
The layout came into being after seeing the series of articles starting in the January 2012 issue of Model Railroader Magazine on the building of their series “The Virginian”, and running till the middle of 2012. A fascinating concept based on a 4×8 plan in HO scale. The layout was beautifully done.
As a teen at the age of 14 my first layout was created with the help of my late father. A simple L-shaped layout on a plywood table, with simple screw-in table legs. A Life-Like grass mat provided the base for the limited amount of scenery. The original line of Atlas HO scale buildings provided all the structures for my small switching layout. Old Tyco engines provided the motive power, while original “blue box” Athearn cars provided the rolling stock. My layout was loosely based on the UP and BN in Sterling, Colorado. I was in heaven with this small layout!
When we moved at the age of 17, the layout was dismantled with everything either being junked, boxed up, or given away. Model railroading gave way to college, a career (including a stint working for a prototype railroad), marriage, and children.
In my travels over the years, including travel throughout West Virginia, I became quite the railfan, with what wound up as a four box collection of Kodachrome 64 slides. The prototype became fascinating to me, not only from being track side and taking pictures, but also riding passenger trains from the 1960’s right up through today on Amtrak. My chance at big-time railroading came when I hired on with the Indiana & Ohio Railroad in 1983, then a family owned short line.
Moving to Colorado in 1999 enabled me to travel to, and witness the endless parade of coal trains coming out of the Powder River Basin and traveling East through Nebraska and South through Sterling (where I lived at the time). Railroading in the coal fields began to interest me greatly, which made me remember the coal fields of West Virginia and Virginia I had traveled to years before, and the terrain the railroads had to fight and negotiate to move this coal.
Enter 2009 with a transfer back to Ohio for a year, and my joining a great local modular club, The Ohio Valley Sipping & Switching Society located in and around Cincinnati. The model railroad bug had bitten, and bitten me badly! I had forgotten the thrill of running my models on a layout capable of running 114 car trains.
With my transfer back to Colorado in 2010, came along a move with enough space to build a small 4×8 layout. In looking in back issues of Model Railroader Magazine in December 2011 for plans for a suitable 4×8, I came across the “in the next issue” advertisement about a new 4×8 project layout starting in January 2012. Needless to say I could hardly wait for that first issue on the series.
What I saw was perfect for my time period, my area I wished to model (an area again I had traveled and railfanned), the size of the layout was perfect for my space, and the layout had many possibilities for expansion at a later date. I couldn’t ask for more!
My layout simulates a run from the main yard at Dickinson to the end of the Hitop Branch at Hitop, with the two Union Carbide mines at Morris Fork and Hitop represented, with Hitop being the large mine. Morris Fork is represented by two Blair Line truck dumps. An interchange with the Virginian/N&W is simulated at the right front corner of the layout at “DB Tower”, an actual block station located east (south) of Dickinson yard at Alloy. Around the back side of the layout Blue Creek which the branch followed and crossed frequently is also represented. A chemical company (Independent Chemical Division of Allied), which was actually located in Nitro, upriver from Dickinson, is represented on the left front corner of the layout. Blair line’s “Greene’s Feed and Seed is located along the back of the layout as an extra spot to switch, becoming the fictitious Kanawha County Feed and Seed. Hopefully my layout has captured some of the feel of West Virginia, so please check out the layout photos page, and blog page, and judge for yourself!
I was able to round up help from friends pretty quickly, including Karl Luce, a mechanical engineer by trade, and from Lee Ryan of Intermountain Railway Company, who both provided the tools necessary, and with Karl and I working on building the frame and legs. Karl was a huge help right up until we had the frame mounted on the legs, and the tabletop cut out in a cookie-cutter pattern per the plans in MR. Work obligations then called Karl away.
Enter some of the gang at the Colorado & Great Western club. The tabletop was mounted, risers installed, the yard switches and mine switches were modified and cut down to fit per MR (Atlas snap switches), and these switches were installed and soldered by Will “Wilbur” Lohmann, Brent Rush, and Tom Carnahan. These three members provided a huge help. Then it was my turn to take a leading hand. The rest of the flex track and cork was installed, as were the remaining switches and switch stands. The “handy panel” that covers the tunnels on the layout, and provides a base for the end of the branch at Morris Fork was installed.
Enter Tom Carnahan once again. despite his busy schedule, Tom soldered all the track, re-adjusted some of the risers, then proceeded to do almost all of the wiring on the layout for it’s DCC operation. I simply held the wiring in place, ran wire through wire clips, then coated the connections with Liquid Tape. Tom did the rest. Once again it was my turn at the helm to finish. All the kits were built by myself, as was all the ballast work, and the scenery. Everything was budgeted throughout 2012 in stages, with a few minor delays due to railroad supplies being out of stock. Finally, in April 2013, the last piece of scenery was finished, and the remaining (for now) details were placed on the layout. The fascia and eventual staging yard are all that remain (again, save for some future details).
My dream layout has come to reality! In these pages you’ll see stories about operating the layout, the fictional people who populate the layout, the trains that run on it, and the history and facts on the prototype New York Central/ Penn Central Kanawha Secondary. I hope you’ll enjoy this site and layout as much as I have building both!
Another quick note about modeling this area in West Virginia. Again, I had traveled to and visited this area several times. I also wanted to, as I model both NYC and PC, be able to model either the NYC era, with connections being made from Dickinson yard through staging with the Virginian railway, or connections made with my Penn Central power and N&W power. This way I could run engines and cabooses representing PC, NYC, Virginian, and N&W.
Now with my modular expansion down both front corners of the original layout, I now am able to eliminate the connection with the N&W at DB Tower, but at the same time create a representation of a huge industry served by the NYC and PC at Alloy. I also was able to create a larger Dickinson yard with industries as well running along the backside. This left the original Dickinson yard to become the smaller Spring Street yard in Charleston where the branch started. The left hand side enabled me to create even more industries with a run to Nitro with an enlarged Allied Chemical at the end. Photos below of the current status of the expansion (as of March 2019):
A few friends in model railroading have asked me why I picked a railroad (primarily Penn Central), that only lasted such a short time? Well, there are several reasons. First, my family and I would always ride either the Pennsy day train out of Cincinnati Union terminal to Chicago, or more often, NYC’s James Whitcomb Riley out of the terminal up to Chicago.
Secondly, my father knew at an early age I was interested in trains, so would take me down to the old Winton Place depot on Spring Grove Ave and Clifton Ave (we lived in Clifton), to watch trains. Winton Place was the first suburban station north out of CUT. Some of the first trains I ever recall seeing were NYC freights coming north with Baldwin Sharks in the lead. Of course at that time I wasn’t aware the freights were headed north to Sharon yard in Sharonville, Ohio, at the foot of Mauds hill, the grade out of the Ohio River valley.
Third, my grandparents lived between Ivorydale yard, a switching yard maintained for primarily the huge Proctor and Gamble plant next to it, but also served other industries in the immediate area, and Sharon yard. Of course I remember the yards in Penn Central days, and would hike down, or ride a bike down to the yard offices and hang out. So I grew up with primarily New York Central and Penn Central.
Although not classic paint schemes and colors, NYC and PC were known to run just about anything and everything to move the massive amount of freight even out of the Cincinnati area. From small SW1’s to big Alcos could be seen. Penn Central at times was also known for being so power short, leasing units from BAR and Precision National would show up in the area.
Finally, I used to railfan in the Kanawha valley (well, all over West Virginia actually), had ridden Amtrak through the state, and had ridden many, many steam excursions throughout the state. I had visited the area I now model, alas only in the Conrail era. I thoroughly enjoyed my visits to West Virginia. I’m fascinated by the history of the railroads in the area (thus another reason for the website). Being fascinated by history comes from being a history major. There you have it, the reasons behind the NYC/PC.
The State of the layout today….
Quite a bit has been done to the layout since the last photos above showing the expansion. All the buildings have been finished and installed. Lots of small details have been added: more trees, vehicles, signs, backdrops, and more small details. I’ve recently ordered realistic bushes and weeds by Martin Welberg and sold through Scenic Express. Here are photos showing the overall state of the layout as of December 2019:
Several more buildings were also added, along with the pole line extending down the left side, plus as shown above, a fold out made up and printed by OfficeDepot containing special instructions for operators plus a simple map of the layout. Waybills were also color coded to each station location as shown below: