East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicle of an On30 quarry railroad

Show & Tell

Last February, I attended a meeting of narrow gauge modelers for the first time since November 2017.


The primary activity of the day was to participate in an operating session on Tom Sullivan's Sheepscot & Sandy River. But everyone was supposed to bring a modeling project to show the group.

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Bryan Brown's Sierra West diorama

I brought a rendering of the track plan for my revised Piedmont - Standard layout.

190221_Trackplan

I assumed I had preconceived notions about what I was planning to do that were blinding me to possibilities that didn't fit those preconceptions. Someone else might bring those possibilities to my attention. The layout should be visually and operationally recognizable as being based on a real place, but objective verification of whether I was on the right track has to come from someone else. Having started this layout long ago, it is difficult to see beyond old conclusions I have drawn regarding what will work and how things have to be.

Prototype information is the best basis for discussing preliminary layout plans with someone else because it puts everyone on the same page. We discussed the prototype workflow involved in quarrying soapstone for dimensional stone and for talc production. All the production elements represented to scale would not fit on this or even a much larger layout. Opinions of informed peers help determine what really needs to be included.

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Tom Sullivan's On30 Sheepscot & Sandy River

Running trains on Tom's layout was a great way to end a long dry spell. I came away from the experience with renewed friendships and some good ideas for my layout design.

Derricks

Did I climb a steel guy derrick?



I have no specific recollection of taking this photo. Apparently I climbed up one of the steel guy derricks at Alberene in order to get a better perspective on the shape and size of the flooded soapstone quarry.

Scenery Reference

Autumn JRSP

James River State Park
Bent Creek, VA
Reference for scenery color and texture.

Upcountry Romance

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

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"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.

Wingina and Norwood


A scenic stretch of the James River with a long history - Norwood to Wingina

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Area included in the survey

I recently attended a meeting of the Nelson County Historical Society held at St. John’s Baptist Church in Norwood. The program was a presentation of the Survey of Architectural Resources in the Norwood and Wingina Vicinities in Nelson County, Virginia.

This stretch of the James River along the southeastern border of Nelson County has long been one of my favorite trip destinations. The road connecting Norwood to Wingina is one of the few that closely parallels the river in the floodplain, offering a long, wide view of the bottomland, railroad, and the wooded bluffs of Buckingham County along the south side of the river. My impression of this area is what I hope to impart on the section of my model railroad that I call Winwood. The name of my fictional river town of Winwood is a contraction of “WINgina-norWOOD.

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The old C&O depot in Wingina

While the entire length of the James River through the central Virginia Piedmont is full of historic mill sites, canal remains, and old farmhouses, I learned from the HistoryTech survey that Norwood and Wingina are the bookends of an area with an unusually high concentration of historically significant architecture, prompting the discussion of creating an Historic District.

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Norwood is a great source for small structure detail reference

I learned a great deal about the history of the area from attending the HistoryTech presentation. I also learned that one of my primary interests in the area is not considered very historically significant; there was no mention made of the standard gauge industrial railroad of the Standard Soapstone Company. The concrete abutments and bridge piers standing in a field just outside of town had always riveted my attention. Not everyone finds them as interesting as I do apparently.

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abandoned railroad bridge abutment at Norwood