East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Layout Tours

The GP&C Remembered - VI



It’s April again, and that means it is time to dig out some more photos of Dan George’s HO scale Spring Creek Lumber Company layout.

The Greenbrier & Pocahontas Central was abandoned and dismantled in April of 2005.


Rainetown was in a corner of the lower level of Dan’s layout, at the bottom of the helix that connected the lower track to the upper level.


Various hidden bypass, connecting, and cutoff tracks all emerged at Rainetown, resulting in a long line of tunnel portals. Dan filled the scene with a concentration of visual decoys to divert attention away from the unrealistic series of tunnel entrances.


Some of his diversionary tactics were rather crude, but most were amazing scratchbuilt structures bristling with detail and activity.


All this eye candy had the effect of inviting close attention to Rainetown, rather than diverting attention away.


Experiencing scenes like Rainetown on Dan’s layout was very disruptive to my notions of model railroading at the time. I first started visiting Dan and operating on his layout in the late 1990s. At the time I had just finished a detached shop building that had a studio space to be dedicated to a model railroad layout. I had enjoyed countless hours of designing the layout, and more countless hours of visualizing how the layout would operate and the traffic flow. But the actual construction of the layout was not something I spent a lot of time day dreaming about. I thought of layout construction as an awkward gestation period that could not be avoided.


Dan’s layout was a sprawling testament to a different set of priorities for building a model railroad. It illustrated how a model railroad could be an excellent vehicle for displaying craft and an interest in industrial history if the construction phase of the project was approached with the same creative and innovative thought that I was only willing to apply to design.


Still smarting from the expense of building my shop, I felt obligated to build the best layout I could, and saw Dan’s layout as the definitive reference point. It came as a huge disappointment when trying to adopt a new priority for layout construction caused me to freeze like a deer in the headlights. On a superficial level, I had bought into a new approach to the hobby, buy I still had deep preconceived notions that were telling me that this new approach was not appropriate. Much hand wringing and journaling ensued. I searched for an approach to the problem that would help me make progress on my East Blue Ridge layout. Eventually I realized that this new approach I was struggling to come up with was already a well-worn path called
design thinking, with many helpful resources available on the Internet.

On30 in Virginia

I had a great time visiting a few On30 modelers and their layouts this month.

Tom Sullivan


Tom has gotten a lot done on his new layout. This one has a Maine two foot theme.


The layout has numerous operational focal points, with plenty to keep operators busy.


I was impressed by how much historical information Tom is incorporating into the operation of this layout. As we discussed possibilities for managing operations, I learned a great deal about the two foot railroads.


Train time in Albion. The local crew has a few sidings to work, and will have to turn the locomotive and combine for the return trip.

Ashe Rawls


I am lucky to have Ashe as a neighbor. His new layout is a source of inspiration for me and everyone who visited during the Module Meet last March.


Ashe has a real knack for building structures. His layout is an excellent vehicle for displaying his talents.


A great source of tricks and tips, Ashe is always trying new techniques and materials.


His layout is covered with highly detailed craftsman kits, and he is finishing up a big scratchbuilt sawmill with a complete interior.

Mike Nataluk


Mike is well along in building a large layout that has modular benchwork


Mike has brought his considerable modeling experience and vast collection of shop tools to bear on my kitbash conundrums.


Mike and I both like to run smaller locomotives and rolling stock on our layouts. He has collected and built a wide range of smaller equipment.


Very impressive little geared steam locomotive models populate his engine facilities.


Mike also has an eye for creating little narrative scenes on his layout.


I enjoyed looking through Mike’s collection of unpublished information about Maine two foot narrow gauge railroads.

Lycoming On30 Summer Meet

Janet and I took a long weekend roadtrip to attend Al Judy’s On30 Meet in Milton, Pennsylvania.

I chose a route to Lycoming County that bypassed Northern Virginia traffic and sent us through Orbisonia, Pennsylvania.

Though not in operation, the EBT is still an amazing thing to see.

We stopped at the East Broad Top yards at Rockhill Furnace.

We were both impressed with the beauty of rural central Pennsylvania; big farms in rolling valleys.

Downtown Williamsport and the Susquehanna Valley.

Having never been to Williamsport, we were impressed with the
Genetti Hotel and surrounding neighborhood.

The Lycoming On30 meet was a lot of fun. There were tables and table of items available to spend money on, and I’m afraid I took full advantage of the opportunity.

Al Judy’s module

Alan Carroll’s fantastic 2-10-4 Forney

Steve Sherrill’s Dead Rail modules

We also got to see an On30 layout in a museum at the old resort town of Eagles Mere.

The layout features scenery depicting actual points along the line

The layout portrays the old narrow gauge railroad that once climbed the mountain to reach several large resort hotels.

Al was kind enough to open his
home layout for us to see.

The Mill Creek & Lycoming

All in all a fine weekend of scenic views, great hospitality, and model railroading.

The GP&C Remembered - V

Lessons Learned from Tarpaper Shacks


It is April again, and that means it is time to dig out some more photos of Dan George’s HO scale Spring Creek Lumber Company layout.

The Greenbrier & Pocahontas Central was abandoned and dismantled in April of 2005.


Ten years ago I was making frequent trips up to West Virginia to visit Dan George and participate in op sessions on his G&PC layout. Being able to visit his layout and talk model railroading with Dan was well worth the long trip. I would often make the trip even longer by taking the scenic route to investigate old sawmill townsites or railfan the C&O in the Alleghanies.


Visiting Dan’s layout had a strong cumulative effect on my modeling. I was immediately impressed with his work, but my journal entries from my early visits record my amazement at Dan’s inordinate commitment of time and other resources to his layout.

Over time, the aggregate visits to Renick created a growing discontent with my own modeling. I began to wonder if tearing out my layout and starting over would be worth it if it meant my layout would be more like Dan’s. There was no guarantee that any layout I built would bring Dan’s modeling to mind. I found it hard to even articulate what set Dan’s modeling apart.

Dan taught a scratchbuilding workshop that I was able to attend. All participants in the workshop built a tarpaper shack.


The shack I built exhibited many characteristics of Dan’s modeling. I daresay my shack could have been placed on Dan’s layout without drawing any particular notice. This project provided a lot of insight for a beginning modeler.

Dan applied his skills as a scratchbuilder toward creating these simple structures out of respect for the history of the region and the lumber industry. These ephemeral sheds were an indication that the lumber operation being modeled was still in business. Within five years after the mill shut down these sheds would have been rotted and collapsing, in 15 years there would be little sign that they had even existed.


These simple structures were a way of establishing and animating the scene, much in the same way as the trains themselves. They leant credibility and authenticity, looking so much at home on Dan’s layout that it was difficult to identify how important they were to the overall scene.


Rather than apply scratchbuilding skills toward creating elaborate, ornate displays of craftmanship, Dan put a priority on observation and accuracy. Simple structures that were easy to overlook were important to include, and important to do well.


My initial attraction to Dan’s layout was running trains, and we certainly did plenty of that. But over time I began to believe in the real value of a model railroad as a way to present what I have learned about a time and place. Skillful presentation reinforces the railroad operation and more fully exploits the potential of a layout. Any “finished” layout has scenery and structures, but Dan showed me the potential of stretching my skills in order to more clearly communicate a vision and help justify the entire pursuit.

Shady Grove & Sherrill - II

Ted and I took a long look at Steve Sherrill’s layout at the West Virginia Mini Meet.

Ted had not seen the layout before. He brought a lot of details to my attention that I lost track of over my visits.

Steve’s layout impresses me for several reasons. Back when I was regularly driving around on the backroads of West Virginia to see the sights, I would stop in small towns like Philippi, Belington, or Lewisburg, looking for things that tied the town to the setting. If, on one of my trips, I had driven down an alley behind a block of old warehouses and stumbled upon a small narrow gauge railroad yard crammed in between old industrial buildings, I would have had a heart attack and happily died on the spot.

The SG&S is that Holy Grail found, or at least a model of it.

The layout does an excellent job of depicting a small rail operation that follows an improbable route along creeks and rushing rivers to connect small lumber and mining operations to the outside world.

The layout has an overall look that consistently reflects the setting and operational concept.

It is an excellent portrayal of obscure industrial history, which is what Ted and I want our layouts to be.

And it all looks achievable. Not a collection of master models all built to “stand alone” standards, it all works as whole, depending on the context to imply the missing details.

When the time comes for my annual visit to the SG&S, I have a new list of current issues I am dealing with on my layout. So, I am looking looking closely at a different list of specific situations to see how Steve handled it.

West Virginia Mini Meet

This past weekend Ted and I attended Steve Sherrill’s Mini-Meet in Ranson, West Virginia.

A Gordon North kitbash

Steve’s Meet brings together a very diverse group of modelers with one thing in common; an interest in On30.

The On30 theme extends the focus of the Meet into the kind of inventiveness and creativity pioneered by
Gordon North.

For someone like myself who has a lot to learn about building a layout, the Meet provides an excellent opportunity to get questions answered.

A wide range of models were on display. Modelers in attendance were ready to give pointers and discuss their experiences working with everything from resin casting to electronics to 3D printing.

I came away with a new appreciation for the possibilities of On30, and enthused to try something new.

A model railroad pulls together such a broad range of disciplines that there is always more to learn.

The GP&C Remembered - IV

Sidewinders and Narrow Gauge

It is April again, and that means it is time to dig out some more photos of Dan George’s HO scale Spring Creek Lumber Company layout.

The SCL was abandoned and dismantled in April of 2005.

Trains on the GP&C were hauled by a fleet of nicely detailed and weathered geared steam locomotives.

All were DCC/sound equipped. It was a real treat to run trains with these beautiful engines.

Along the mainline headed out of Chadwick was a transfer point with a small narrow gauge logging operation.

Ellajo was where the Deer Creek Lumber Company’s 3 ft. gauge railroad came out of the woods. Logs were delivered to a circular sawmill.

Rough cut lumber from the sawmill was transferred to the G&PC at this loading dock.

Ellajo was crammed full of interesting little scenes and details.

The old shop building was surrounded by junk and encroaching brambles.

There was never much activity on the Deer Creek during my visits to the GP&C

It was apparent that the narrow gauge operation was not long for this world.

The G&PC Remembered -III

Chadwick, West Virginia

It is April again, and that means it is time to dig out some more photos of Dan George’s HO scale Spring Creek Lumber Company layout.

The SCL was abandoned and dismantled on April of 2005.

Chadwick was the primary center of activity on Dan George’s HO scale Greenbrier & Pocahontas Central layout. The concentration of industrial activity was a sharp contrast to the remote High Cheat scenery that dominated much of the layout.

Chadwick was a large “L” shaped area on the lower shelf. Standing directly in front of Chadwick, the left end of the scene began with the kindling mill. To the right of the kindling mill was the large drying yard. The kindling mill and drying yards can be seen in “The G&PC Remembered - II”.

Near the center of Chadwick was the large bandsaw mill and a complex of auxiliary structures.

The Company Store was a beautiful center of interest in Chadwick.

Dan used figures and placement of details to tell many stories in Chadwick. The company store was closely surrounded by railroad tracks and industrial activity, and was not a safe place for headstrong boys who refused to stay close to grandma.

Just to the right of the company store were the offices of the lumber company. The building was relatively simple, but it showcased Dan’s scratchbuilding skills and the research he had done on lumber companies and company towns in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Continuing to the right along the scene, the sandhouse marked the transition from lumber company to railroad operations. Behind the sandhouse, the coal hopper is being emptied at a platform where locomotives took on fuel.

Just to the right of the sandhouse was a single bay hand car shed and warehouse.

Knowing that this part of the layout would be a center of operational interest, Dan built interior detail in many of the railroad shop buildings.

The centerpiece for the railroad shop buildings was the engine house with complete interior detailing.

Extending past the engine house was a RIP track for repairing the railroad’s rolling stock.

Immediately adjacent to the RIP track was an open blacksmith shop for fabricating parts needed for repairs.

At the extreme right end of the railroad shop area was an office and stores area where conductors picked up their paperwork, and cabooses were stocked for long hours spent out on the line

Dan leads a scratchbuilding clinic on a field trip to examine weathering on buildings near his home.

Shady Grove & Sherrill - I

Last month I attended Steve Sherrill’s On30 meet.

The highlight of the day for me was getting to see Steve’s model railroad again.

It had been years since I had seen it last, and Steve had made some major revisions in the meantime.

Steve’s SG&S was the first On30 layout I ever saw in person. I was in HO scale back then, just considering changing scales.

Steve took the time to look at my proposed trackplan, and suggested that it could depict an industrial narrow gauge if I simplified it.

A simple layout can be very interesting to operate, and the priorities of building the layout shift to actual modeling.

The trick becomes determining the point at which you are getting the most impact from the least elements.

Seeing Steve’s modeling, and hearing his “get the most out of the least” philosophy convinced me to switch scales.

I must say that Steve Sherrill does not exactly practice what he preaches, as his SG&S layout is big and complex, going pretty far beyond what I would consider the minimum necessary to be operationally interesting.

I appreciate Steve’s generosity, both to me personally and in promoting On30 modeling in general.

The Sundance Central

I attended the National Narrow Gauge Convention in Hickory earlier this month.

A highlight for me was the opportunity to see the Sundance Central layout. This large scale display is beyond superlatives, but what I find most incredible about it is that the SC is both highly detailed and portable.

Walking around the perimeter of the layout, I paid particular attention to the small scenes that had been created on the fringes of the rail operation.

They created an atmosphere that very effectively pulls the viewer into the scene.

Lighting and scale figures are used to emphasize and attract attention to particular compositions.

When I saw these little scale people, I would try to interpret what they doing, exactly the same way I would analyze the motivation of real people.

In this way, looking at the Sundance Central was somewhat disorienting, since for brief moments I would forget the difference between model and reality.

For me, the Sundance Central epitomized the attraction of modeling narrow gauge.

The G&PC Remembered - II

It is April again, and that means it is time to dig out some more photos of Dan George’s HO scale Spring Creek Lumber Company layout.

The SCL was abandoned and dismantled on April of 2005.

Chadwick and East Chadwick

This woman on the back porch is wondering why she let herself get talked into moving to Chadwick, West Virginia.

The two sections of town were separated by a backdrop and deep gulley. The built up scenes with mare’s nests of track were a scenic and operational sharp contrast to the rest of the layout.

Working these tight sidings was the responsiblity of the Town Job, The Town Job was a source of agony for the crews, and perverse delight for Dan George. This overlength Shay with permanently attached sound car was assigned to the Town Job, complicating moves that required using tail tracks.

Dan modeled the history of Chadwick. Structures reflected generations of revisions and modifications. Old shop buildings had become the storage sheds for new shop buildings. Obsolete tools and equipment were pushed into the weeds and forgotten, but were still part of the scene. Foundations and stoops of buildings long since gone lined the tracks.

The scale model workers in Chadwick, who spent long hours each day toiling away at the sawmill or tannery or kindling mill, could look forward to being jolted out of bed each night by the sound of slack running in and out of long strings of cars being switched.

The local train worked Chadwick at night, and on Dan’s layout night was dark. Pitch black and moonless. His operating crews were thankful for the invention of small LED flashlights that they clipped on the bill of their caps. The compact flashlights made it possible to rifle through a pile of car cards, read waybills, and attempt to pickup and setoff cars. The Town Job also came with a sheet of scrawled handwritten instructions that I only referred to in crisis situations.

The drying yards at the band sawmill were selectively compressed. The stacks of drying lumber were compressed completely out of the scene, with available space used only for docks and railroad spurs.

Kindling mills were such a fire hazard that none survived more than a few years. Dan scratchbuilt his mill referring to one or two old photographs.

The G&PC Remembered

I was able to attend Clint Foster’s operating session last month. Many old friends were in attendance, including Dan George. Dan mentioned to me that it was the fifth year anniversary of my taking the last series of photograhs of his layout before it was dismantled. I am posting just a few of the photos here to mark that event.

Dan’s HO scale Greenbrier & Pocahontas Central was a beautiful layout. The Spring Creek Lumber Company in Chadwick, and the coal mine in Hominy Creek generated long trains hauled by geared steam in the rugged mountains of West Virginia. I really appreciated the accuracy and atmosphere of Dan’s modeling because I had traveled those mountains in search of signs from the old days of coal camps and log landings. The scenery on the upper level of the layout reminded me a great deal of the Cranberry Glades area ... high, windswept and mossy among the spruce groves.

Dan’s modeling showed the influence of other great modelers whose work he studied and whose kits he built. In turn, I would very much like for my modeling to reflect the influence of Dan George.

G&PC - Ideas Fly

April 24, 2004

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

Ideas fly back and forth between Richmond and Renick. A single level and a double level trackplan are being emailed back and forth.

Dan is providing information from his experience with helixes, helper operations, and what should be included in each section of the plan. Very responsive, and for Dan, very civil.

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.

GP&C - A new ideal

April 2, 2004

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

Forced Timeout for model railroading due to work getting so busy. The Alleghany Alliance loses Tom Sullivan, so the regular operating sessions have stopped. Time away from the old routine is good. Absence makes the aggravations of layout construction fade away. My fondness grows for an abstract, removed Ideal for a model railroad, and that Ideal is


To develop a plan for a new layout from a starting point of a winding main line connecting two passing sidings.

Just a locomotive,

a few freight cars,

and a caboose.

Why get any more complex than that?

Sustained interest requires a little more than the bare minimum, but care should be taken to stay as close as possible to the Simple Ideal.

GP&C - Notes about Ideals

January 4, 2004

A weekend in Renick running trains on Dan George's layout. I look at all the work he has put into structures and resin kits and details layer upon layer, and I just have to say "no". I do not have the experience, time, or money that would be necessary to pursue model railroading like this.

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

But I am becoming increasingly able to define the basic charactaristics of my Dry Fork layout that most prevent it from being like Dan's Spring Creek layout. A lot of the differences don't have anything to do with time or money.

And having spent so much time discussing model railroading and modeling techniques with Dan, I am also becoming aware of a "talk" that does not match my "walk".

G&PC - Notes after the "Town Job" 2

January 2, 2004

Running trains on Dan George's beautiful layout is a very effective form of recreation. Continuing on with the construction of my DF&G layout could result in a nice layout, but will it be the layout I want to build? Which is ... what? A scenic masterpiece? An operational challenge? A typical shortline? A logging line? An industrial railroad? Regardless of the ideal, the DF&G is already pulling hard to stay what it is.

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

G&PC - Notes after the "Town Job"

January 2, 2004

Now that some rail is laid and trains are running on my Dry Fork & Greenbrier, I give thought to forgetting about the "upgrade" idea. The diesels run fine, the cheap plastic cars look fine behind the diesels, and I could easily sell the Shays.

But then I go up to Greenbrier County and run Dan's layout, and it seems it would be worth it to rebuild what is already done on the DF&G tie by tie if it meant being able to model like the G&PC - to have a layout that is a colorized photo album of West Virginia in the 1930s. Shays, wooden rolling stock, small intricate online industries and shops.

I think of how my layout has an inertia that keeps it at a level that prevents backdating and upgrading ... that dozens of little realities all conspire to deep it on track with my ideas from years ago.

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

Greenbrier & Pocahontas Central

Photographing the Greenbrier & Pocahontas Central

Dan George's Greenbrier & Pocahontas Central was an incredibly detailed world in minature. Full of sawmills and coal mines and train stations, all connected by a working rail system. He asked me to create a final photographic record of his models before he dismantled the layout. When considering how best to portray Dan's models it was clear that the optimum viewpoint was extremely close up. Dan had built the layout to be viewed from the point of view of the miniature people who populated it.

Closely studying Dan's models could be disorienting. For a brief moment, one could see the scene from the perspective of the tiny inhabitants; distance becoming measured as they measured it, height as they saw it, believing what was seen was the truth. I tried to impart some of that sensation through the photographs.

April, 2005

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