Davis-Murdoch Stone Company


Transfer at the Wye

Reconfiguring operational elements


A quick exploration of the idea to move the Transfer with the standard gauge rail connection to the wye, making it the first thing a visitor would see as they enter the layout room. For the longest time this area was going to be a quarry scene and I extended the backdrop extra low to accommodate the deep quarry between the tracks and wall.

I am now thinking the scene will still drop down between the tracks and wall, but there will be a coal yard in the hole instead of a quarry. A bucket-belt contraption will lift coal from the sunken coal yard up to load trucks and narrow gauge rail cars at track level.

The long tail of the wye that runs to the corner of the room will dissapear into a warehouse, the standard gauge track will run close against the back of that warehouse in order to hide the end-of-track in the corner. Or something like that. Will have to mockup the buildings in the corner to determine a reasonable solution for the corner.

Davis-Murdoch Trackplan

Reconfiguring operational elements

Davis-Murdoch is an On30 layout in a 12 x 14 foot room

A shift in focal points

Compare this plan with the plan posted in December 2018. Almost every major element on the layout has shifted to a new position. I was compelled to do this because of the nagging feeling that Davis-Murdoch was no more than the remnant of my previous layout. I didn't want Davis-Murdoch to merely be the Piedmont & East Blue Ridge with its head and feet cut off.

It was very difficult for me to see the layout as anything other than what it had been for years. A few O scale narrow gauge modeling friends put up with a long series of emails from me exploring half baked ideas as I tried to see the smaller layout for what it was. Their feedback made it possible for me to consider reformating the operation.

The setting is still the western piedmont of central Virginia. The theme is still a soapstone operation. But the focal points have been shifted around to fit better on a one room layout. The center of operations is now in the upper right corner. Only one quarry is modeled on the peninsula of the layout with two more quarries unmodeled at the ends of branch lines running off the layout; one to a cassette in the office and the other to a small fiddle yard module that will sit on the workbench in my shop.

Once I came to this conclusion about the placement of the major elements in the stone handling workflows, I was comfortable with the whole concept. I am not making any guarantees – expressed or implied – that the details within each scene will resemble what is represented on this trackplan. But the general arrangement of the major elements should stay where they are shown.

Time for a review

Time has past, things have changed. It may be a good time to get reaquainted with the project.

Alberene Stone, Schuyler, Va. - Google Earth

What was the Davis-Murdoch Stone Company?

Davis-Murdoch was bare, unpainted cinder blocks and stone slabs, rusted corrugated metal, old drums, broken pallets, cinder piles, broom sedge, scrub cedars and gum trees. The smell of coal smoke and heavy lube oil. Tan, rust, gray. Not well marked, very easy to miss.

Where was the Davis-Murdoch Stone Company?

Davis-Murdoch was somewhere in a region bounded roughly by Bremo Bluff to the east, Gladstone to the south, Piney River to the west, and North Garden to the north.

What remains of the Davis-Murdoch Stone Company today?

A general impression of Davis-Murdoch can be developed by visiting:
  • Alberene
  • Arvonia and Bridgeport
  • Bremo and New Canton
  • Cartersville
  • Cohasset
  • Columbia
  • Dilwyn
  • Esmont
  • Gladstone
  • James River State Park
  • Lovingston
  • Norwood
  • Schuyler
  • Scottsville

Is there information available related to Davis-Murdoch?

Operations like Davis-Murdoch are referred to in:

Rattling Through Town

The full sized plan is good for mocking up scenes


I have always enjoyed visting small towns along the James River. Their primary attraction for me is the railroad running nearby, but many of them predate the railroad to the old canal days before a railroad was built on the towpath. They serve as the inspiration for this little scene I am mocking up on the full sized track plan. A scene I would love to run up on driving in Nelson County; a few company buildings at a crossroads with the weedy quarry tram running up an alley.

What scale is this?

My current Davis-Murdoch layout is a revision of my previous On30 layout.

Something occurred to me while I was ripping out sections of the old Piedmont & East Blue Ridge layout.

The Piedmont & East Blue Ridge layout never made it this far

In all the time I built and operated the P&EBR, construction never advanced to the point where anything on the layout indicated what scale it was. Being On30, it could easily have been mistaken for an HO standard gauge layout. I had plenty of opportunities to remedy the situation but never did. Whether that insight is significant or not, it is affecting my approach to building Davis-Murdoch. I hope to define Davis-Murdoch as an O scale layout early and often.

Full Size on the Floor

I take a sketchpad on vacation.

My wife has a much greater tolerance for sitting in sand on the beach than I. While she is out at the breakers I am back at the cottage scribbling away on track plans.


Last summer I enlarged one of my beach projects to full size and printed it out in about 2.5 by 3 foot tiles. I made registration holes in the ends of each tile so they could be assembled into larger sections using brass fasteners. I really like this perspective on the layout, it is definitely worth the effort to produce and assemble.

Layout Revisions

As illustrated in my recent Construction posts, I am removing the Piedmont and the Winwood sections of my layout.

Doing something like that never occurred to me until I was spending hours in my shop working on the Railroad Display for the Quarry Gardens at Schuyler. During that time, my attitude toward my shop in general and home layout in particular started to shift, and I became less interested in operating the layout and more interested in building a series of detailed scenes connected by a railroad. I started thinking that operating dioramas - a series of linked scenes built as if they were static displays - was really the most respectable approach to building the layout and was the way I would be happiest with it.

The revised plan shows the main mill with standard gauge sidings is to the left as you come in the door. These standard gauge sidings are the Piedmont & East Blue Ridge Railroad. They run off stage from the Mill up Cobblers Creek to the connection with the Outside Railroad. In reality they stop under an overhead traveling crane at the layout room wall in a narrow alley between two buildings. There will be a mirror under the crane.

Testing the idea of standard gauge in the Shops area

The balance of the layout is the narrow gauge tram that the Davis-Murdoch Stone Company uses to move stone and talc. Unlike before, the narrow gauge handles almost no “front end,” or finished product traffic. Now it is primarily “back end,” or raw material hauling. The only exception being a few narrow gauge boxcars routinely get loaded with bags of talc at the Dust Mill to be transferred to the standard gauge.

Before, my layout was like a narrow gauge version of the Nelson & Albemarle Railroad. Now, it is a more “typical” quarry operation. The layout used to run into the shop and office for operational reasons. As my interest in operation cooled, I considered how I could remove those two sections and still have a nice layout in a nice space. Fortunately, I only have to make a few track revisions and no benchwork revisions in the layout room in order to pursue this new idea.

Guide to Narrow Gauge

The mailman recently delivered my copy of a new model railroading book


The book contains a few photos I took, as well as some information about my layout. I am delighted that Tony considered my material and that I was able to contribute to this project.

The general consensus among my fellow modelers is that
Guide to Narrow Gauge Modeling is geared toward someone who is interested in building a layout and is considering narrow gauge. Those of us who have already made the commitment to narrow gauge modeling may find the book a little too broad in scope and too thin in depth. Much like the “Wonderful World of Model Railroading” books I used to get for Christmas growing up, the subject matter is too complex to be effectively covered in an overview.

Indeed, when Tony Koester and I were emailing back and forth back in April, I was wondering if a book with resources pulled from here, there, and everywhere would lack overall coherance. But that was the editor’s problem, not mine. I was happy to help any way I could.

As a relatively recent convert to narrow gauge modeling, I well remember being a member of this publication’s target audience. Ten years ago, I had an HO standard gauge layout that was generally not succeeding. The aspect of that layout I enjoyed the most was the stone handling industrial shortline that I called Greenbrier Lime & Stone.

This tight industrial scene was my favorite part of the Dry Fork layout

This realization was somewhat conflicting. All the tedious, overthought, deep consideration I had given the design of my layout had been guided by the teachings of Tony Koester and John Armstrong. Being an inexperienced modeler, my Dry Fork & Greenbrier layout suffered under the weight of trying to be as interesting to operate as possible. Apprehending a world “beyond the basement” through the use of hidden staging only works if the mechanical operation of the system is flawless and control is devoid of any distracting issues. I learned the hard way how important reliable operation is, and how little interest I had in extending my railroad “beyond the basement.”

A local passes through the gaudy West Virginia mountains on my old DF&G layout

Discovering that the simple, straightforward operation of the GL&S was my favorite part of the Dry Fork layout sent me down a different path. Instead of trying to design in the most operation possible, I tried to determine the least operation my layout could have and still be interesting for the long term. The simple, spare trackplans I emailed my modeling friends during that time “looked narrow gauge” to them. I changed my guidance from the standard gauge “timetable/train order” group to the narrow gauge group. At that point, if
Guide to Narrow Gauge Modeling had been available, I would have purchased a copy. And the single part of it that would have impressed me the most would have been the illustration of the prototype Manns Creek coal loader at Clifftop, West Virginia paired with the excellent modeling of Jeff Kraker.

Campus of Alberene Stone in the mid ’80s.

I began to consider modeling the soapstone operations of Nelson County, which were just the type of interesting, obscure, industrial subject that could make for a successful narrow gauge layout.

Mike works a local on Brian’s On3 layout

As it happened, I was lucky enough to fall into the company of narrow gauge modelers who were interested in operation. Tom Sullivan, Brian Bond, and Steve Sherrill have become great friends who have been very patient and generous with their time and talents. Operating on their layouts convinced me that simple industrial railroads represent an excellent modeling opportunity. Since then, my narrow gauge operating crew has grown considerably. Research, construction, and operation are an ongoing source of enjoyment for all of us. The operation may be simplistic, but increased emphasis on the craft of portraying the character of the prototype more than makes up the difference in project interest.