East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Almost Heaven

Dan George's Spring Creek Lumber Company HO scale layout | April 2005

May 30, 2004

Back from West Virginia by way of Bemis, Osceola, Spruce Knob, Snowy Mountain, Monterey, North River, and Reddish Knob. A homecoming of sorts ... years since I had been to these places, and to see them again without the surety of a layout. With no deeply ingrained assumptions, I could look at the places anew, as if for the first time.

And what I saw, seeing these places without the filter of preconceived notions of a layout to look through:

The Cheat Highlands are incredible. High, striking scenery, raging whitewater streams, and old railroad grades. On some grades the rails are still there, and on some rails geared steam locomotives are still there, and throughout the region are remains of an interesting industrial history.

Why would a model railroader look any further than right here for a prototype to model?

There was a time when the close fit between my Ideal and Cheat Mountain was revealed to me ridge by ridge, hike by hike. A time when I saw all this for the first time and had not yet felt compelled to translate it into the tight parameters of a model railroad. I could see it for what it is. Over time I interpreted it over and over in model railroad track plans and layout designs, and began to tire of repeatedly failing at conveying the idea of what it feels like to actually be there. The restrictions of model railroading forced the motif to be less than what it really is. The frustration caused me to stop reminding myself of how poorly my layout was representing this place. I stopped going.

I go again - this time not trusting my interpretational skills. Straining to see it for what it is, and seeing it is still what I am looking for.

Old railroad branchlines wind interminably through the region, seemingly from nowhere to nowhere, passing abandoned sawmill and coal mine sites. Small towns scattered thinly through high, rocky terrain.

When I arrived in Bemis, the Shavers Fork was raging, roaring. The sky broke clear briefly so I hiked a short distance both up and down the old Western Maryland grade. There is no way to model torn clouds racing overhead, dark mountainsides suddenly flashing into full sun, and crashing floodwaters tumbling past.

A model railroad requires thought in the planning, but I tend to think about it the wrong way. Thinking about it too hard, thinking about it too much ... the subject just does not bear that much thought being given to it.