Industries that interconnect….

In planning my original 4×8 layout based on Model Railroaders plan, I of course researched the area I wanted to model. I knew it would be the Appalachians, particularly West Virginia. Having traveled the state made the choice easier, for I had a good idea of not only the scenery, but the industries as well.

In modeling Penn Central and having NYC and PRR locomotives and cabooses, it narrowed the area down even further. I knew from railfanning the West Virginia Secondary in the Conrail era the history of the line somewhat, especially that it was ex-New York Central. It wasn’t until I really got into more research using among other reference sources the great book ” A Sampling of Penn Central “, that I learned even more about this trackage and of the Hitop branch proper.

In reading the section on the area I intended to model, I learned that the Hitop branch had numerous load outs for coal, but two major ones were covered in the book, and that these mines were owned by Union Carbide to supply coal to their plants in the Kanawha Valley.. in previous sections here and posts I’ve outlined why this branch fit the track plan perfectly.

Even today currently I’m still doing research on industries in the valley, what their company names were, what raw materials they received, what finished products came out, and what railroad served them. This of course is due to the layout expansion, where further industries are located. In the final track plan for the expansion, I came up with eight additional industries.

I had graciously been given two kits by a friend, Walther’s ADM elevator kit with their additional add-on silos kit, so I knew this would be incorporated into the layout. In again doing research I discovered there was at least one, and I believe two big grain elevators in Charleston, one being an Early and Daniel operation. Of course I used a bit of modelers license to add this industry to Dickinson yard.

I also wanted to replace the “old” PC freight house that was now going to be my Dickinson yard office with a much larger freight house. Again, in research, I found Walther’s Water Street freight terminal which looks very close to a PC building in Charleston that housed among other departments the train dispatchers for the Secondary. Perfect for what I had in mind. This also is going on the industrial lead in Dickinson yard. Finally, I needed a small kit/building to fit between the elevator complex and the freight terminal, so I came up with Blair Lines fertilizer plant. More on why I picked this in a moment.

Now to tie it all in industry-wise. I already had quite a few grain hoppers collected over several years, and no industry for them. Now I do, the grain elevator. But what to do with these hopper cars after they’re filled? Well, there was a baking company in Charleston named Holsum. So now to find a kit for a commercial bakery for the other side of the layout. Again, I turned to Walther’s and their Magic Pan baking kit. So now hoppers would come onto the layout, be loaded at the elevator, with some being directed to Holsum Baking across the layout.

I already have a fertilizer unloading industry on the original layout, albeit just an industrial silo, and I had some fertilizer hoppers. So what would fill the bill for this industry? A fertilizer plant! I knew Blair Line made a fertilizer plant, so I checked the dimensions, and found this would fit on the expansion. So now I’ll have a spot for hoppers to be loaded with fertilizer, then taken over to the unload facility.

I had also collected quite a few gondolas filled with scrap loads, but nowhere for these to go. Now I also have two interconnected industries. On the left hand side of the expansion I had room for a scrapyard. The gondolas would be filled with scrap here, then directed over across the layout to a kit to be used for Union Carbide’s Electro-Met plant, which among other raw materials, took in scrap metal.

One other car I have quite a few of are refrigerator cars, but had nowhere for them. Now I have the larger freight terminal for some, and a wholesale grocery distributor (Davis Wholesale) for these to be switched.

So, you can see, with good planning and good research, you can find the industries that not only fit the area and region you’re modeling, but ones that also can be interconnected to add more switching and operational opportunities as well….

The Hitop, train orders, and more….

One upon a time, there was a 4×8 layout that could accommodate two operators during several different sessions. A great track plan and fun to operate, using waybills and switch lists. Six years old now, it’s still fun to operate, even with one operator, a session lasting several hours.

I had dreams from day one to expand the Hitop off both front corners, as MR designed the layout to be expanded this way. With a gracious gift from our club president, and timely help from a club member, my dream is coming true. Never wanting to expand into a double deck 3,000 sq. ft. basement layout, I did want to fill up our garage with an expanded layout, and now this is happening. Still quite away to go, but layout expansion progress is coming along nicely.

Now with this expansion including a booster unit, one extra throttle so far, and what will be a total of five bus panels to plug throttles into, I’m looking when all is completed to have operating sessions hosting five or six operators. This plan includes one operator stationed at Allied Chemical, two in Dickinson yard, one working the mines on the back side of the layout, and one working the old Dickinson yard, or now the new Spring Street yard. With this, a locomotive would be stationed at Allied Chemical.

With different trains, one different yard, one new yard, I’m toying with the idea of placing a train order signal I already have on hand next to the new yard office in the new Dickinson yard, having outbound trains momentarily wait there for their clearance form and train orders, which I also already have on hand, these from Micro-Mark.

There have been numerous articles in almost all the railroad modeling magazines, and several books written on operations using train orders, too numerous to go into here. I’ve read most of these, but will definitely have to brush up on my research. As the prototype used train orders during NYC and PC days, this should add more realistic operations. I’m anxious to try these out! Below is a photo of both forms to be used, the train order a filled out copy from a previous session.

Operational changes…

I have updated the Operations page to include a new post titled “Operational changes coming”. With the new expansion, I envision a few more trains and perhaps accommodating five operators on the layout. I do have to acquire a few more throttles however, and add a few things to the garage area beforehand. But, in the end, this should be very exciting, so stay tuned!

Re-line that switch!

When operating on my layout, and running a road job or turn, I always stop my caboose at a switch and reline it for the proper direction, especially on the mainline. I guess this comes as habit from working on the prototype.

Although not quite as disastrous and deadly as the consequences of not doing so on the prototype as we’ve seen recently, it can be embarrassing and problematic to do so on your layout if a switch is misaligned. I’ve seen this happen even on a museum layout where inattentive operators ran through an open switch into the rear of another train, derailing one or the other. I’ve seen it as well on a home layout once.

You can imagine on the prototype this kind of inattentiveness can lead to deadly results. Again, not deadly on the layout, just embarrassing. This ties into a previous blog post about taking time which I believe is on my “operations “ page. Take that time as a real rear end brakeman would do, to reline that switch back to its normal position. This also leads to helping in the next operating session knowing that switch is lined properly. Of course, this leads to another must do, especially on the prototype, and that is, when you’re moving down that track, be aware of how that switch IS lined! But, that’s another story for another time…..



I thought I would do a short piece here on my waybills  that I use when operating. When building my layout I read many articles and books written on waybills, timetables, train orders, switchlists, etc. Having worked with both on the prototype, I wanted something I thought would add more realism to the layout. In other words, realistic looking waybills.

What I came across in the February Model Railroader was an article by Ted Pamperin on his system, which is illustrated above in my waybills. I liked this system, and it looked realistic, yet small enough to fit in the Micro-Mark bill boxes I had already ordered for the layout.

I use the system simply as a two-sided waybill. When the car is loaded at an industry, it faces outward with its printed side showing. The next operating session, the waybill is turned over on its blank side to signify an empty car ready to be picked up. When a loaded car is in Dickinson yard on a specific track (and I have specific tracks for specific cars), the cards and corresponding cars are pulled by the yard crew in the order they’ll be spotted down the line. Of course, the waybills in the yard are turned over accordingly, as to whether the car is loaded or empty.

Speaking of specific tracks, many railroads have specific tracks for either certain cars, or certain blocks that make up each train. The prototype Dickinson yard is no exception. It had certain tracks that were “leased” by the chemical companies up and down the valley to store or “hold” tankers until they were needed. My yard follows this practice.

Track 1 is the freight house and Armitage Furniture Co siding. Track 2 is for any overflow cars. Track 3 is the track designated for the chemical tanks. Track 4 and 5 are for coal hoppers, and track 6 is the loco and caboose service track.

When a road freight or local is about to depart, the crew takes the stack of waybills for their train and carries them along down the line, replacing each “load” and “empty” waybill as they go about their switching duties (local turns). The loaded waybills are then of course turned over at the start of the next session. Next time I’ll talk about the switchlist I use to tie in with these waybills….

Operational challenges….

Reading another blog post about the difficulties and challenges facing a local crew on a particular layout made me think of some on my own layout.

Per the previous post above about challenges on my branch concerning working my mines with different size hoppers, I’ve had to change out one operating procedure. Since to switch out my Hitop mine I would normally have to pull my train of 70 and 100 ton hoppers up the hill to the end of branch, then run around my train, I’ve changed this procedure.

As these larger hoppers don’t do well on the tight curves on the branch between Hitop and Morris Fork, they are in fact banned from the upper part, also on account of lighter rail and deferred maintenance. Headed into Hitop the mine lead and switches are facing point switches.

To accommodate this arrangement, a train of empty hoppers for Hitop is made up in Dickinson yard, the power is tied on the east end, and as there is a caboose on the west end, the train is shoved all the way to Hitop. This of course eliminates the move up past Hitop and running around the train.

Even working the end of branch at Morris Fork, care has to be exercised going around the tight curves on the branch, especially between Hitop and Morris Fork. The curve in particular starting at MP 33 has to be taken at 5 mph account the degree of curvature and the fact a passing siding starts right at the west end of the curve.

Speaking of the end of branch, as the Morris Fork hardware and farm supply is at the end of the same siding as the Morris Fork mine, cars for the hardware and farm supply have to be blocked in the right position in Dickinson yard, since at the end of branch the power must run around its train and shove any cars into the siding, as again, the siding and passing track both have facing point switches.

The same must be done for the day turn out of Dickinson going up the valley to switch, especially the Kanawha County feed and seed. In other words, these cars must be blocked in the correct position before leaving the yard. Just more operational challenges to add to the fun and realism of running the Hitop branch.