Making trees….

In planning the layout, I had to come up with hundreds of trees to simulate the hills of West Virginia. Without having to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on individual trees, I used what Model Railroader used on their project layout: puffball trees.

These were made with black poly fiber from Micro-Mark. Small pieces are torn off, then rolled into a mushroom shape. These were then dipped into a 50/50 mixture of white glue and warm water, then rolled in three different colors of ground foam. This method was time and labor intensive, as is making trees with armatures, but it saves dollars when you need several hundred trees. On the original layout I probably made and placed  250+ puffball trees.

For foreground trees, I first used trees by Woodland Scenics. Although most had an airy look about them, I really don’t like the plastic shiny trunks. I removed all but one of these trees and replaced them with trees from Grand Central Gems, which have real wood trunks.

However, after seeing trees from Scenic Express on several layouts, I decided to buy several boxes for numerous trees that I needed for my expanded layout. The armatures very realistically represent deciduous trees, if you don’t mind the fairly thin trunks. At my first inspection after opening the boxes, most of the armatures are bent or curved. These of course have to be straightened before they look realistic enough to use.

To straighten these, I found a video on YouTube from scenery expert Dave Frary about how to make these trees, particularly how to straighten them. With a low heat soldering iron, this can be done by lightly touching the armatures on the opposite side of the bend. Be sure not to use too much pressure or the stems or armatures will break.

Another tip on these trees is to snip off the pointed tips on the armatures, and round off the top of the tree, otherwise you’ll have deciduous trees that look like pine trees. To coat these, I use Super 3M Adhesive to cover the armatures. I then coat the tree with green turf, and some with a blended turf for variation, then sprinkle “super leaves” from Scenic Express onto the tree. I then spray the finished tree with cheap hairspray to seal everything.

A word of caution here. Be sure to do these in an open area with plenty of ventilation. Outside is the best place I’ve found. Be sure it’s a warm day without wind,otherwise you’ll have the adhesive spray everywhere. I recommend wearing long neoprene gloves and using a respirator. Also use plenty of newspaper or whatever you’re spraying against, as the 3M adhesive sticks to EVERYTHING!

Several photos of these trees I made and placed two days ago:

Excellent website….

I thought today I would post a short piece with links to an excellent website titled “WVNC Rails at: This is an excellent website put together by Dan Robie, who grew up in the Kanawha valley. This website is chock full of interesting photos and information of all the railroads in the area and beyond.

I have been given permission to use his page on the Kanawha and West Virginia Railroad, the area of course I model in the Penn Central area. This is an excellent page on the past and current history of this line. Here is the link to read this great page on his website:

I have also included a link to Dan’s excellent site under my blogroll. Be sure to check out this page and the entire website…!

Finishing up….

Today on the Hitop I was finishing up my job from yesterday’s operating session. As I was working Dickinson yard and working the Spring Street turn, I had some unfinished work.

This work involved running another turn over to Spring Street with cars for the valley plus the Spring Street job to switch. There were already a few cars left as well for the next Nitro job crew, as the crew yesterday ran out of service hours.

The Dickinson switch job started putting the Spring Street turn together while the road power for the turn, old standby GP7 5628 stayed in the clear as shown below:

The Spring Street turn today had two empty boxcars for Armitage Furniture, one hopper of fertilizer for Snow Hill, and one load for Kanawha Feed & Seed, and was ready to depart Dickinson yard below:


The turn then departed westbound for Spring Street. In the meantime, the Dickinson switcher went about its business spotting the necessary cars on the industrial lead, in this case a load for Fowler Plumbing, and a load of lumber at the freight house:

After the Spring Street turn dropped it cars at Spring Street, the Spring Street job went about its business spotting the necessary cars leaving the yard pretty full for the next Nitro turn, and with cars for the valley:


We caught the Spring Street turn coming back into Dickinson yard caboose light:


That’s it for today. Stay tuned for more…..!

First operating session….

Today I held the first official operating session on the Hitop. Even though two invitees couldn’t make it, we did have a good time. We started a bit late, a little after 1 PM and lasted until 4 PM.

We wound up running two Nitro turns and one Spring Street turn in the length of time we had. Everything seemed to go off without a hitch on this first session.

While I’m taking the photo taking a break from running the Spring Street turn, here is friend Joel working the Nitro turn switching out Holsum Baking:


Prototype paperwork or no?

When I was designing and planning my layout, I of course thought about how to operate it prototypically and realistically. A lot of computer software has been written to produce realistic paperwork for running a layout, some simple, some only a programmer could decipher.

I purchased several books on operating a model railroad realistically, read forums, and website resources on waybills, switch lists and such. I wanted a system that would be prototypical, but not overwhelm someone with paperwork. After several months of research, I came up with a system I felt comfortable with, felt it was easy to use, yet prototypical.

The system is sort of a hybrid system. The waybills I copied from an article in Model Railroader magazine, and from a chapter in one of their books on realistic prototype operation. It’s the system a C&O modeler named Ted Pamperin uses. I already had been testing the system from Micro-Mark, so I had their car cards, clearance forms, and empty car requests.

I actually recently had thought about using replicas of actual PC waybills, as this one pictured below courtesy of a friend in the southeast:

Being accustomed to using these when I worked on the prototype, this was a tempting idea. However, the amount of time and effort to set up a duplicate blank waybill, then to add all the details on each waybill for about one hundred cars would have been enormous.

So, once again, I went back to a simpler system with waybills produced on light 65 lb. cardstock, reduced to fit into the card holders from Micro-Mark as shown below:

As shown above, this waybill to me is adequate. It looks prototypical in my opinion plus has all the information required to route the car on the layout. On the layout, home road cars can be routed when empty to other industries requiring an empty car for loading, for example can be routed to Armitage Furniture to load scrap wood going to a recycling center. For these I use an empty car request card from Micro-Mark as shown below:

When a car is routed to say Armitage Furniture as shown above via the empty car request, it is spotted and the empty request is left in front of the card. The next cycle this card is simply clipped to the back of the waybill showing the car is now loaded and ready to move to it’s destination.

Since on my layout as on the prototype all the coal went from Union Carbide’s mines straight to their plants up and down the Kanawha Valley, I use the same empty car requests when the two mines need to load more hoppers. Again with these, the next cycle these are clipped to the back of the waybill showing the hopper is now loaded and ready to move. The other main industry requiring empty car requests is Allied Chemical, when tankers are required to be loaded. These are then taken from the dedicated track in Dickinson yard to be routed to Nitro and the plant.

Foreign road cars are simply routed to their designated industries with the waybill facing outward. When the next cycle rolls around, the waybill is simply turned backwards in the card holder to signify the car is empty and ready to be routed back to Dickinson yard and from there routed off the system. Routed offline means simply the car is taken off and replaced with a different car until sometime in the future.

Finally, I do use a prototypical duplicate of a PC switch list as shown below:

This is an example from the Morris Fork turn from June 1st, 1968. I do in my collection have a bit different and revised version of their switch list which I also may use at some point.

These forms in my opinion are very prototypical and look the part, and are relatively simple to use without overwhelming either myself or any operators I may have in the future. To me, these add to the realism and fun of running the layout. Happy modeling!

To be, or not to be….

That is the question today. The question is, do I want to build an exact replica of an area, or do I want to create a scene and operate more?

I have seen in my reading and my travels some beautifully done layouts with scenes created of an area with scratch built structures right down to the last nail hole. Several narrow gauge layouts come to mind. I’ve seen some layouts with beautifully weathered locomotives and rolling stock that has caused my jaw to drop in amazement. I’ve seen some modules and dioramas of certain areas on a railroad that are accurate right down to the last rivet which are amazing as well.

Even though I’ve become a bit of a kit basher as far as buildings are concerned, I’m definitely not a scratch builder. I just don’t have the skill. Some modelers have that skill, some have excellent skills in scenery, some have  excellent skills in weathering. While not the best out there, I believe in have some skill in weathering, and an eye for details.

For those that scratch build replicas of buildings or entire areas right down to the last rivet, I congratulate you! For those modelers who are sticklers for counting those rivets on locomotives and rolling stock, more power to you as well. That’s just not my direction however.

I personally love to operate. More specifically to switch cars, for that is what I used to do for almost six years. I love using waybills and switch lists, for that’s what I’m accustomed to. On my layout, I’m lost to the world for three to four hours blocking consists, then taking that train and switching out industries along the way. When I operate in this manner, I actually feel I have moved freight across the railroad and have accomplished something.

While my layout isn’t an exact replica of the Kanawha Valley or of the Hitop area, I believe I’ve captured a feel for West Virginia in my modeling. Several towns are not geographically in the right location, but the overall scene is there and the overall feeling I believe that one is actually in the hills of West Virginia.

While all of my motive power and rolling stock is weathered to some degree, I do have some rolling stock that perhaps doesn’t quite fit my era modeled. The reason for this: one is the lack of some types of cars that are now out there and still available for my era. Meaning they’re from either the twenties, or they’re from the 2019 time frame. Do the models fit in the overall scheme and scene however? I believe they do. Do they look good weathering wise? Yes,I believe so. A lot of modelers as I do wouldn’t care, as long as they fit in. Another reason for a newer era car is one that I weathered for sale that after looking at the result, made me consider keeping that car after all the work put into it, and quite frankly, I loved the look after the weathering.

So, there it is. I believe in making a layout look believable and realistic without building everything down to that last rivet. I believe in operating, and operating a layout realistically. If it looks good and operates well, then I’m happy.

Now back to operating…..!