East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

December 2007

G&PC - High Tide on the Dry Fork

April 24, 2004

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

I stopped working on my HO scale Dry Fork & Greenbrier layout in April of 2004. I had become aware of many problems with the completed portions of the layout, and was aware of problems in the sections what were still being built. I decided there was no point in continuing.

The Dry Fork came after 15 years of waiting for a space to build a layout. I built a finished shop building behind my house with a 12 by 14 foot room specifically for a model railroad. The trackplan for my Dry Fork layout was meant to get the most out of the space.

The design process had started 15 years earlier with sketches of layouts to fit in a "spare bedroom" sized area. Initially, the priority was to fit as much operational interest into the space as possible. Construction was to be basic and quick. Trains would be all "A&W" (typical Athearn and Walthers brand) inexpensive plastic kits and ready to run locomotives and rolling stock.

But 15 years is a long time to think about something, and I thought about the plan for my future layout a great deal during those years. Part of the thought process went into choosing a setting to be portrayed by the layout. I settled on the coal and lumber regions in eastern West Virginia as the location to be modeled, and came up with a name for the railroad that reflected where I imagined it would run. I took "research" roadtrips to old mill, mine, and railroad sites in West Virginia.

Western Maryland grade, Blackwater Canyon | October 1986

A consequence of seeing West Virginia and studying its industrial history firsthand was that I became aware of how beautiful and interesting a place it is. My proposed layout had not been designed with West Virginia in mind at all. I knew the layout would benefit by more accurately portraying the prototype. But at that time there was only a plan, and with no actual layout on which to apply my ideas, I thought that most anything would be possible on the Dry Fork & Greenbrier Railroad.

Construction began on the DF&G with a conflicting set of priorities. I wanted the layout to be quick and easy to build, but I was handlaying the track. I wanted to get every bit of possible operational interest out of the space available, but I loved the long, lonely, meandering branchlines of the prototype. I wanted to populate the layout with cheap plastic kits, but I knew enough about the prototype to realize that a proper portrayal would require custom building.

As construction progressed, it became apparent that the layout was so full of track that there was hardly any room for scenery and structures. I build cardboard mockups of structures to place and arrange on the layout, until such time that I could replace them with scratchbuilt models. That time never came.

The small yard at Osceola was a junction with a branchline, AND hosted a truck dump AND a pulpwood yard AND a team track. It was too much for such a compact area.

This tipple at Laurel Bridge was one of the largest industries on the layout. I placed a mirror on the wall behind it to make it look like the track extended further up the creek.

The largest industry on the layout was the lime kiln of the Greenbrier Lime & Stone Corporation. GL&S operated their own industrial railroad in this area. Operating the GL&S was my favorite part of the Dry Fork layout.

Trains on the Dry Fork were short, and long periods of tedious switching were required. The layout was designed for train operations to be that way. But my impressions of West Virginia railroading were really not reflected in operations on the Dry Fork.

This is as far as construction on the DF&G ever got. A long looping grade was to have connected the upper track with the lower yard and the connection to the hidden staging area. Extremely tight radius curves were necessary through the handlaid turnouts in the yard, and I knew they would be a constant source of aggravation.

The 15 years spent feverishly thinking about building a layout did not translate into very much practical experience at building one. The Dry Fork was not a good layout, but it was an excellent learning experience. I hope my present layout will benefit greatly from the failures of the previous one.

G&PC - A trickle to a flood

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

April 17, 2004

Rebuilding the Winterburn Lead turnout for the third time, and for the first time I can say that I have built about as good a turnout as anyone could build. And so, the prospect is upon me to go back and rebuild all the turnouts - but to what end? To fix this layout? Is it worth it?

Not long ago I was pulling Virginia Creeper Trail slides for Chris Jessee. There it was again. The rocks, the water, the trestles, the trees, the twisting and turning grade, Creek Junction. I mention this wave of recollection of what it felt like to be out on the old Abingdon Branch to Dan George in an email, and how my layout did not seem to embody any of that. Dan suggested that my layout is a failure, and I should tear it out immediately.

But whenever I give thought to planning a new layout, I tend to end up swerving back to the same old layout. My process of layout planning yields the layout I have now. The
Simple Ideal of a Producer and a Consumer connected by a meandering mainline does not come to mind easily. It is hard to stay focused on an abstract Ideal while trying to design a layout for a specific space.

I quickly sketch out a layout that is nothing like what I am building. It is loose and somewhat irrational. It doesn't make good use of space. It doesn't take advantage of every opportunity to squeeze something else in. It is just different from what I am doing now; a reaction to what I don't like about my present layout.