East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Scenes: The Crossings

Interpreting an idealized reality

Soapstone railroad grade at Schuyler

The scenes I want to portray on my layout no longer exist in Nelson County. There are only ruins, flooded quarries, and trails through the woods indicating where railroads once ran. Quite a bit of imagination is required to draw some conclusions about what was once there, but imagination alone will not put all the pieces together and provide a complete picture of the past.

I have been fortunate to find some excellent historical sources for information about soapstone in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Learning about the industry is fascinating, but I still prefer to go out to the abandoned quarries and investigate the surroundings for any signs of what once went on there. My imagination takes off running at the sight of an old stone foundation, a section of rail, a length of wire rope or chain.

I would like my model railroad to be a reasonably accurate representation of the process of soapstone quarrying and manufacturing. But I would also like it to impart some of the impressions and romanticized interpretations of what it is like to be there. Some based on fact, and some purely conjecture.

To begin the process of developing the layout into scenes that each feature some particular aspect of the foothills and small towns where the soapstone railroads once ran, I decided to start with the “easiest” section.

The climb from Cove to Ariel Church is a simple stretch of single track. There is no hidden track, no track running through the backdrop, no mill, odd angles, or any of a number of elements that will make building other scenes on the layout more complex.

I want to define this scene by having the track pass through deep cuts at either end. The scene itself will be primarily wooded hillsides. The railroad crosses a creek and rural road near the bottom of the grade. The road and railroad bridges over the creek are immediately adjacent to each other. This brings to mind Boiling Spring on Ballinger Creek.

The grade crossing is immediately beside the creek.

Nearby will be a small farmhouse on the steep hillside. The farmhouse is very close to the tracks, so close in fact that the outhouse is on the other side, with a well worn path crossing the railroad.