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….

The Armitage Furniture Company..


The Armitage Furniture Company was founded and started in 1914 by two brothers from the small town of Armitage, Ohio. The brothers relocated to the Kanawha valley to start their enterprise due to the rail and river network, plus the abundance of timber in the area. At the time, timber harvesting was a huge business in the valley.

The brothers believed in quality furniture at a fair price, and partially due to this, won a contract with the United States Army to build desks, cabinets, and chairs for local bases in the run-up to entry into WWI. The company after the war expanded their commercial line a bit to include bookcases, living room tables, and such.

The Depression hit the company hard, as it did the entire region. Business fell off considerably, and due to this, the company switched to making wooden toys and tool handles to stay in business. This all changed with the run-up again to US entry into WWII. The Army once again came calling on the company to manufacture all sorts of wood furniture for the military. During the war, the factory ran around the clock building quality furniture.

After the war, the company as well as the country settled into a peacetime economy. The company was kept just as busy as new construction boomed with returning veterans building new homes and businesses. The company’s line expanded again with the addition of dining room tables, bathroom vanities, display cabinets, etc. A huge contract was gained from Sears Roebuck and Co to supply a complete line of furniture. This contract is still in effect today, with all the finished product leaving Dickinson headed for a huge Sears distribution center built right next to Buckeye yard in Hilliard, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. The only change in the company is their wood source, which now comes from the area around Laurel, Mississippi…..

Who’s Who on the Hitop….

2014-01-19 15.45.41One more blog post for this week on the Hitop branch. Even though I have visited the area many times in the past, I haven’t been able to visit lately, as now I’m over a thousand miles away. I have friends who grew up in the area I model, namely Nitro. I used to work with a man from Hurricane. I used to date a young woman from Montgomery. I currently work with a man who grew up in Huntington. I used to attend Bridge Day in the New River Gorge quite often. I’ve been through the area by car and by train. I never met a person in this part of the country I didn’t like. Hard work, family, and religion are all strong in the area I remember visiting.

Even though my layout has fictitious industries included, and is not modeled exactly per the prototype, I feel it’s a pretty close representation of this part of West Virginia. What I have done as well on my layout to make it more realistic (I hope), to me anyway, is to name every figure (person) on the layout. Each one has a story to tell. Even I’m on the layout! That’s me btw in the blue bib overalls walking towards my power on the service track in Dickinson yard.

The people are named after relatives past and present, co-workers I had while on the railroad, and friends. Some have been included in the stories you’ll see online here, some have already been published. These people help me to put a further spin on the story of the area I model, to make it more “down home” to me, that fits this area, and to bring back memories of friends, family, and co-workers. Watch for the stories that name these people of what could have been on the Hitop….

Early morning in the Kanawha Valley…


The birds are starting to awaken and chirp as the dew hangs heavy on the grass, this foggy morning in Kanawha county, as the sun starts to peek up over the hills. The smell of different scents stands out in the hollow where the small town of Hitop sits, including the smell of diesel exhaust, coal dust, chemical smog,  and the smells of breakfast coming from the nearby company houses. And, last but not least, the smell of Ernie’s pot bellied stove in the Hitop general store, where old timers are already stopping by to chat, drink coffee, and perhaps play some checkers.

For morning starts early in this blue collar region, as miners, their wives and families are all up and stirring this early foggy morning, as they do every morning. The kids are about ready to head out to flag down the RDC that’s used as their school bus on it’s twisting route up and the down the valley of Blue Creek. Ernie, the proprietor of the general store is already open for the old timers who come in early to discuss the local news. Finally, the railroad crew working the mine run is busy at work…..

The RDC Schoolbus….

NYC Hitop branch RDC in Charleston

Photo courtesy F. Douglas Bess, Jr.

For those that have been to West Virginia and driven the back roads, you’ll know that these roads can be quite steep, with twisting winding turns. In decades past, you’d also never know when you’d meet a coal truck coming up over that next rise.

Such were the conditions of road transportation in the area served by the Hitop Branch proper, from Blue Creek all the way to Hitop. Dirt roads twisted and turned up the hollows carved out by Blue Creek. The railroad itself bridged Blue Creek or it’s tributaries 29 times in 21 miles on the branch.
Road transportation was so iffy that up until 1962, long after passenger service had ceased between Charleston and Columbus, Ohio, a Budd RDC traveled the branch on two round trips daily, once in the morning, and return in the afternoon, serving as a school bus.  Twenty-five stops, fifteen of them flag stops, were made on the 34 mile run, covered in an hour and fifty minutes.

Here is more of the story, gathered from several sources, on the RDC used by the NYC as a schoolbus on the Hitop Branch. Roads were so impassable in the mid-20’s in the communities along the Elk River, then up the valleys following Blue Creek, that made it difficult for students after the sixth grade to be able to get to the Junior High school at Quick, and the High School at Elkview, that the Kanawha County Board of Education commissioned the NYC to run a passenger train up to the end of line at Hitop. Grade schools were also located in Coco, Blakeley, and Sanderson. Fares for students were covered by the Board of Education.

The line (branch), started at Bigley Avenue in Charleston, and at Bigley Ave. Jct., the branch veered away from the NYC mainline down the Kanawha valley, and proceeded along the Elk River for 13 miles before reaching Blue Creek. At Blue Creek, the line then headed up the valleys and hollows carved out by the creek, through such communities as Quick, Sanderson, Blakeley, Middle Fork, Kendalia, and others up to the end of line at Hitop. Using the RDC when it came into use of course enabled the engineer to simply change ends at Hitop and proceed back to Charleston, instead of having to turn or wye a train. One report I have read stated there were 21 stops in 34 miles for students to board, another story states 25. Regardless, during the school year, the RDC was at capacity during their 1 1/2 hour runs each way. Some students still had to cross over mountains each way to use the RDC. The RDC arrived for boarding as early as 7:30 AM to arrive at the end of the run by 9 AM, then departed Charleston at 3:10 on its way to Hitop.

One other story I have read states the RDC stopped running in 1959, another book states 1962. The conductor on the RDC was a veteran of 50 years, named Lee Hill. I have also read, which makes perfect sense, that occasionally adults would ride the RDC. I have also read where newspapers and mail were also transported on the RDC runs, which again would make sense. I’m sure this was a loss when the railroad ended this service, regardless of the state of the roads when the run came off, especially to those who grew up riding this much needed service……

(Please see the great photo by F. Douglas Bess Jr. elsewhere on the site of the RDC)

The story of Deepwater….

Here begins the story of Deepwater, West Virginia. Located in Fayette County, the most recent census shows a population of 280. There are several stories as to how Deepwater derived its name. One story goes that this is the last navigable spot on the Kanawha River, with Kanawha Falls being just upstream. Another story is that the spot was named by Squire James G Kincaid and other locals on a rainy day in 1871 as a remark to the standing water outside the new post office along Loup Creek.

Deepwater is also known as the starting point of the Deepwater Railway, founded in 1898 by William Page, (of which Page, West Virginia is named), which later became part of the Virginian Railway. Thus Deepwater eventually became the far western end of the Virginian, a railway built specifically to funnel coal to the docks at Norfolk, Virginia. In the early 1930’s the long, impressive span was built by the Virginian over the Kanawha River at Deepwater, to connect to the New York Central, running up the length of the valley to Charleston.

In addition, until December 2, 1933, the Virginian Railway ran a daily passenger train from Princeton to Mullens, Pemberton, Raleigh “Y” and Beckley. The return trip ran Beckley to Pemberton, then to Fireco and back to Pemberton, then on through Sophia and Amigo to Mullens. On September 8, 1933, the eastbound trip suffered a collision at Amigo which resulted in the death of the engineer. After discontinuance of the Pemberton to Beckley leg, this train continued to operate from Mullens to Fireco until December 21, 1940. It also served the Wyco and Winding Gulf branches. Until 1937 it connected with a mixed train from Princewick to Amigo. In earlier years, as many as three round trips per day ran the Mullens to Fireco line. Service wilted with the coming of paved roads and the vigorous competition of the Consolidated Bus Lines.

The last regularly scheduled passenger train through Raleigh County ran on the Virginian Railway between Roanoke and Charleston. This train, #’s 3-4, entered Raleigh County near Hotchkiss, ran through Slab Fork, Lester, Surveyor, Eccles, Harper, Cirtsville and into Fayette County near Pax. Through train service began on the Virginian in 1909. It was discontinued incrementally as follows:

1) Ran Roanoke to Charleston until January 25, 1952.
2) Ran Roanoke to Deepwater Bridge, West Virginia until June 20, 1952.
3) Ran Roanoke to Page, West Virginia until December 31, 1954.
4) Ran from the West Virginia state line near Oney’s Gap in Mercer County to Page in Fayette County, West Virginia until July 11, 1955.

Prior to the completion of the Deepwater Bridge over the Kanawha River, cars from this train ran via C. & O. trains #33-34 from Deepwater to Huntington, West Virginia and/or Ashland, Kentucky. Beginning on March 16, 1931 this train was rerouted via Deepwater Bridge and the Ohio Central Division of the New York Central to Charleston. This train carried a club car with parlor seating, a diner, and an observation car until the early 1930’s. Train #3 wrecked at Lester, killing the fireman, on December 13, 1935. A companion train, #5-6 ran from Princeton to Deepwater, and for a short time to Charleston, from the early 1920’s until its discontinuance about 1932.

Some of these trains carried Railway Post Office cars which provided for the sorting and handling of mail. The postmarks used for the C&O trains were “Quinnimont & Lester R.P.O.”, for the Virginian on the Winding Gulf was “Fireco & Mullens R.P.O.” and on the mainline of the Virginian was “Roanoke & Charleston R.P.O.” All of these trains were powered by steam locomotives until their last runs.

Run through agreements were also in place between the Virginian and NYC for traffic flowing through Deepwater up to Dickinson yard, about 15-17 miles downstream from Charleston. Pooled crews and locomotives ran through in both directions, with NYC crews and locos running through to either Elmore or Mullens. This arrangement lasted until the late 1960’s, ending through service on this part of the Virginian/N&W. Time freights 71 and 72 ran over this line from Dickinson to Norfolk. I also have listed freights CN-2 and NT-5 which ran through to Elmore.

In place at this NYC/Virginian connection was DB Tower. In actuality not a tower at all, but a block station, DB was as I understand named for “Deepwater Bridge”, the “tower” sitting just west off the end of the bridge, right at the connection onto the NYC. The tower (as shown on the prototype photos page in a photo by friend Doug Bess, sported a train order semaphore). A lead took the Virginian/N&W over to the NYC, while another track at the tower went into the huge Electro-Met plant of Union Carbide, located in Alloy. This plant was a substantial source of traffic for both NYC and later Penn Central, despite N&W competition. The tower alas is long gone, but current owner Norfolk Southern still swings coal drags off the Kanawha River bridge and up what is now the West Virginia Secondary.