Framing for Shadowboxes

Framing progressed on the Visitor Center quickly. The benchwork for the Railroad Display was incorporated into shadowboxes.


The length of the front of the Display was divided into four scenes. As the shadowboxes took shape, I updated my plans to keep them accurate.


This particular shadowbox contains the mill scene. It will portray a portion of the Alberene Stone campus in Schuyler.


The Rockfish River will run diagonally across this shadowbox from back to front.

Framing for Display

As the Visitor Center at the Quarry Gardens was taking shape, work began on the Railroad Display. I printed out the track plan for the O scale 2 rail layout full sized.


At over 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, the Railroad Display is enormous, requiring a big pile of plans.


I trimmed and taped the plan tiles into four large sections; one for each of the four scenes represented on the Display.


The plans were laid out at the Visitor Center to guide the construction of the framework.


Benchwork was built with drop sections to accommodate creeks, rivers, and a quarry.

Space for a Railroad

There is a large barn-like Quonset building on the grounds of the Quarry Gardens at Schuyler. Plans were made to convert it into a Visitor Center, and to make space inside for an O scale 2 rail model railroad.


I was surprised at how large an area the quarry folks were willing to allocate to the railroad display. About 30 feet along one wall, from the planned entry foyer all the way to the back wall, and about 10 feet deep.


Concept sketches and conversations with the architect designing the Visitor Center yielded a line of "shadowbox" style dioramas with a long, narrow utility closet behind the displays along the arching exterior wall.


There will be four displays, each a different season of the year, depicting scenes along the Nelson & Albemarle Railway. The right of way will wind through each of the scenes, then return to the beginning on a long shelf along the back of the closet.


During the early months of 2017 the Visitor Center began to take shape, changing from a cavernous utility building to a multi-use information center.


The framing of the Railroad Display is very substantial, making it the sturdiest model railroad benchwork I have ever seen.

The Quarry Gardens at Schuyler

My home On30 model railroad depicts a fictional quarry operation based on several that existed in central Virginia. Since the 1980s, I have been making road trips to southern Albemarle, Nelson, and Amherst Counties to hike through the woods to old quarry and mill sites. Back then, steel derricks still rose high above the treetops around Schuyler and outside Alberene. The stone cutting mill campus in Schuyler was still essentially complete, with a full blacksmith shop in the old engine house, and World War I era flatcars rusting away in the weeds. The architectural and mechanical details of the old facility were amazing to me. They struck me as being very "model-genic," but it took about 20 years for me to gain the experience and confidence I needed to rip out the model railroad I was working on and start building a soapstone operation.

Quarry 27 is full of interesting visual compositions and view lines.

In the woods across the river from the town of Schuyler is a line of quarries known collectively as "Number 27." Quarry 27 will be the centerpiece of a new botanical garden that is scheduled to open in the Spring of 2017.

Rough stone stairway built for the new gardens.

When I heard about the garden, it attracted me like a moth to a flame, and now I am working with the builders. They have enlisted me to build an industrial history exhibit depicting the era when the garden site was an active quarry.

Scale mock up of proposed industrial heritage displays.

I somewhat inadvertently talked them into building a model railroad as an exhibit inside the Visitor Center for the Garden. I am going with a very simple O scale 2 rail layout with 4 shadowbox display scenes. The model railroad is based on the Nelson & Albemarle Railroad that once served the area.

Upcountry Romance

A Reminiscence in an old railfan publication - "An Upcountry Romance"


"The heartland of Virginia is rolling and rural, a green countryside given over to small farms, gentlemen's estates, and a quarry or mineral working here and there."

Tom Sullivan ran across an article about the Nelson & Albemarle Railroad by H. Reid in the May 1963
Steam Locomotive & Railroad Tradition magazine, and was kind enough to pass it on to me.

The article is illustrated by a cartoon created by H. Reid himself, portraying many events in the colloquial history of the line in one non-linear jumble of movie stars, rabbit hunts, escaped livestock, and smooches. An N&A train is shown traversing an apparent loop of track connecting Rockfish to Warren.

A rambling, florid story based on the facts but heavy on suppositional dialogue and local legends, the article brought two old impressions back into sharp focus for me. The first is that the N&A was a perfect compliment to the area through which it ran. The little locomotives hauled short trains on a lightly graded right-of-way through the woods and pastures of Piedmont. The mill that provided freight for the railroad was surrounded by a campus of beautiful, small stone buildings that looked transplanted from Cornwall or Wales.

The embellished history in the article also depicted the N&A as an excellent railroad to model. I could imagine that the article had actually been written about a model railroad, an illusion supported by the circular track plan illustrated in the cartoon. "An Upcountry Romance" describes an idealized inspiration for my own model railroad, making me want to develop a backstory that might serve as the text for a pictorial article for a hobby publication.