Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wordless Wednesday #4

W&LE gondolas loaded with coal from a unknown tipple on a very new Adena Railroad. The CL&W (B&O) at left, followed the W&LE for a bit through town. Looking north at Maynard, Ohio 1905-1906?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Getting things started!

I realized back around Thanksgiving that while parts of my layout plan are still evolving, certain areas are not going to change very much. One such area is the long 20'+ wall where a yard will 99.9% be located. So why not finally get things started and begin building the layout!

Since the layout will be "around the walls on a shelf" I figured I can go ahead and mount shelf brackets for the top level. An evening with a rented spinning laser level several weeks ago helped determine a reference point based on the lowest elevation the track on the top level can pass "behind" my basement stairs.

With the crazy of Christmas finally gone I went to work.

What's a basement without some boxes and junk piled up?!
 In short time I had a dozen brackets up along the wall, all nice and level.

A 4x8 sheet of 1.5" pink foam snapped in half gave me a 16' run to lay out loose track and play around with arrangements. Quickly a basic track layout (minus switches) of the Pine Valley Yard in Dillonvale was laid out. Some hoppers and a Heavy Mikado were added to populate the yard and help the eye judge the space used.

Nickel Plate Road Heavy Mikado 671 heads toward the Pine Valley yard office on the main track.

This easy hour or two project was something I wish I had done a while ago, as creating this simple mock up has really gotten my creative juices flowing!

A new friend who also models the NKP, has offered to take a stab at trying to fit an Adena area track plan into my basement. Hopefully somewhere between his fresh perspective and my current plan, I can move from a pink foam mock up to the real deal!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Facebook for research?

My primary way to research the southeastern end of the W&LE and the towns served is using the internet to dig up old photos and info. Sometimes I feel like a prospector sitting at the edge of stream panning for gold dust. Well the other day I hit pay dirt and found a large nugget of photos that had been under my nose all this time. Where?


Facebook is not the first place I'd think to find old railroad photos, it's for finding "friends" right? Facebook is more than just people, it's also for companies, organizations (such as the wonderful Nickel Plate Road Historical & Technical Society), and events, but also communities. Some of these community pages just love to share old photos and postcards of their town.

About a year ago in a focused Google search I stumbled across a link that took me to the Facebook community page for Maynard, Ohio a tiny town in Belmont County. Maynard is a town on the former Adena Branch on the W&LE and therefore of special interest to me. Like every Facebook page there's a spot for submitted photos and they had a couple interesting postcard scans and some very interesting area coal mine maps. The coal mine maps tracked the network of rooms and passageways as they removed the coal, and also sometimes the rail and building arrangements on the surface. Having never seen anything like it before, I moved on to other websites searching for coal mine maps served by the W&LE (that's a whole other topic). I apparently then quickly forgot about searching  for other community's Facebook pages that the Wheeling ran through...

Luckily a year later (I really don't get on Facebook much), I thought to check if any new photos had been added to Maynard's page and then it finally hit me. Let's LOOK AT OTHER towns...

Adena, Ohio had some neat stuff but nothing I hadn't seen before.

Dillonvale, Ohio's Facebook page, where the W&LE's Pine Valley Yard ran through the town, was a jackpot of old photos, postcard scans from the town and even some surrounding communities! There were hillside views of the station and freight house with the old coal mine across the river, views of the roundhouse and coal tower, and an album of photos taken of the yard before the new W&LE ripped everything out. Also there's a great view of the Robey (or Roby) Mine just south of Adena on the Adena Branch, along with the old Dillonvale Co-op warehouse loading dock and the brick Dillonvale passenger station wrapping up construction among other notables.

NOTE: I just noticed Dillonvale's Facebook page is set up as a person, not as a community. So you must be a Facebook member to access it unlike other parts of their website.

If you lived in the area or just like railroads and history it's really worth logging into Facebook and checking out all the photos.

For those of you can't or won't do Facebook, I'll share a couple of the postcard scans. Almost all are watermarked from the Terence M Lengyel collection, so there's the credit where it's due.

Robey Mine Adena, OH W&LE Adena Branch, Terence M Lengyel collection
This is the first time I've seen this mine spelled as Robey. All the papers and maps I have show it called the Roby Mine in Robyville south of Adena.

W&LE Dillonvale Station under construction 1908-09? Terence M Lengyel collection

W&LE Pine Valley Roundhouse and Coal Dock Dillonvale, OH 1911? Terence M Lengyel collection

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday #1

Several blogs that I like to follow post a really cool photo every Wednesday, such as Marty McGurik's Central Vermont Railway and Chris Adam's The Valley Local. The photo is usually specific to their interest and with no text or story to go along with it, hence the wordless.

In tribute to them and others that started it, I think I'll "borrow" the idea and do it also.

 Nickel Plate Road RSD-12 #327 with sister 6-axles rolling through Adena Yard, August 1958

Monday, December 8, 2014

How to use the USGS EarthExplorer website

As promised here is the "How to use the USGS EarthExplorer website" guide for the people of the NICKELPLATEROADmodeler Yahoo Group.

In planning a NKP Wheeling Division Adena branch line layout that could better fit my basement space, I quickly found out just how hard it was to find photos of that area. After traveling down to those areas myself several times, I saw why the southeastern end of the Wheeling wasn't photographed as much. It's a good out of the way drive for most people and not easy to get down and around to find things!

Luckily I found through the United States Geographical Service's EarthExplorer website I could download old black and white aerial photographs that gave me a window far enough into the past to help me locate trackside structures, terrain conditions, buildings and houses, even how industry and yard tracks were used.

The detail you will find is not of Google Maps satellite quality, but is good enough when nothing else is available.

Here's an example of the Hanna Coal Company's Glen Castle Mine south of Harrisville, Ohio on the Adena Branch in 4-16-1958. I've have yet to find a decent ground level photo of this facility, so this aerial photo is good enough to zoom in and learn more than I previously could about the mine.

Hanna Coal Co.'s Glen Castle Mine on the Adena Branch near Harrisville, OH 4-16-1958

Two things about EarthExplorer
  1. Your time period of interest may not be available for every geographic area. Some areas might only have data from the 1970s for example, but I've seen some with choices from the 1940's through the 1970's.
  2. Your time period of interest might be only available in a high altitude view that gives poor detail. Some aerial photos look like they were takes from a U2 spy plane but with a Polaroid instant camera. Usually there is a photo set from at least one year that can give good detail.

Let's Get Started

I'll go step by step, each step broken down with photo examples. It might be it too simple for some but not everyone is computer savvy I've learned.

Before we start you will need a unzipping program for the high resolution photos, these are usually 70-100MB each and are compressed into a .gz file format. Also make sure you have some available hard drive space if you plan on downloading a lot of aerial photos!

Winzip at has a free trial and is popular.
7-Zip at is an open source unzipping program that is completely free. 7-Zip is what I use but I'm sure there are other great programs out there that are similar.

Step 1

Go to

Register for an account. Yeah... I would just want to get to the good stuff right away too, but take the time and make an account. Because you can't get to the high resolution photos without one..

You can fill in the "User Affiliation" fields like this, I haven't had any government men in suits knocking on my door yet, so these must've been good answers.

OK, now finish up and login.

Step 2

Let's pick a location, for this example we'll check out the heart of the Wheeling & Lake Erie, Brewster, Ohio!

There's two ways to do this.
Type in the name of the city and state and hit the show button.

Underneath where you entered the address, the name of your town has now appeared with some coordinates. Click on the name of your town.

Bam! A little red marker appears on Brewster. This red marker tells the EarthExplorer exactly where you want data from.

Two (this is much easier):
Don't enter an address(unless you really have no idea where a location is!), instead just click on the map and the red marker will appear.
Here I've zoomed in to the yard at Brewster and clicked on it, dropping the marker where I want the data.

Step 3

Now click on the "Data Sets" tab to choose the kind of photo data you want.

We want "Aerial Imagery". Click on the plus sign next to Aerial Imagery to open up that menu.
That Declassified Data looks pretty intriguing huh? Maybe scroll the map over to Nevada? Nah, maybe another time, back to trains.

The only thing we want to select is the "Aerial Photo Single Frames". I haven't looked through all the categories yet, but so far Aerial Photos is where we want to go for older data usable for our needs.

Step 4

Time for results, literally. Click on the "Results" tab.

Now let's look at what we've got.  

You may have multiple pages of results, don't forget to click the "next" at the top or bottom of the current shown data set to see more results.

There's a thumbnail of the actual aerial photo, along with the date is was taken and the scale it's in.

The higher the scale number the worse detail you get.
Remember the U2 spy plane using a tiny Polaroid Instant Snap Camera? Yeah a scale of 80,000 is like that. Shoot for a scale under 30,000 otherwise it's not worth it, under 20,000 is the best.

Only 3 of those funny little buttons for each photo are important enough to worry about for our needs.

Show Footprint
This button shows the footprint of the aerial photo on the map in an opaque colored square. This is handy to compare which aerial photo will give you the best coverage of your subject.

Show Browse Overlay 
This button shows a small image of the aerial photo as it would appear on the map. Most of the time however, it is rotated the wrong way and won't match up with the surrounding roads and such. Any picture viewer or Photoshop can easily fix this after you download it.

Show Download Options
This button will give us the option to download the aerial photo in high resolution . Click it and choose the High Resolution option.

I use Google Chrome for my web browser and most of the time the "Download Options" window will go away. Sometimes it doesn't, but it's still safe to close it and your download will still start once the proper connections are made. The EarthExplorer photo servers can be very slow at times, but if you see this in the lower left corner of your browser(may be different for Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, etc), then its all good.

Finally its downloading...

Step 5

Let's open that file and see what Brewster yard looked like on May 9th, 1971.

Your unzipping program should automatically open the file, but if not, you may have to select it from a list of programs to use.

Once it's open lets extract the aerial photo file to a new location for use.

Here I chose a folder already made for my collection of aerials. Once there I'll rename it with the location and date, because 1VCRE00040118 just doesn't get the same information across to me.

Don't forget to delete the original zipped file from your downloads folder if you've extracted the aerial photo to a new location for safe keeping.

Step 6

Now however you chose to file away your photos, let's go and open that aerial and see what we've got!

Here's a close up of the Brewster Engine Shop and Turntable. Even for one of the well photographed Wheeling locations it's still pretty neat to see like this! Even more fun when you start comparing changes from other dates at the same location!

Roundhouse & Engine shop area, Brewster, OH 5-9-1971
Finally here's a good comparison between the medium and high resolutions. You can easily see why you don't bother with anything but the high resolution.

Roundhouse & Engine shop area, Brewster, OH 4-25-1960
As I found out not all parts of my favorite railroad were photographed equally, but these aerial photos help fill the gaps of the unknown.
I hope this long guide was helpful in using the USGS EarthExplorer website. Thanks for making it to the end!

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Creating a blog to share stories, knowledge and my discoveries as model railroader has been at the back of my mind for a while now.  While discussing a subject on one of my favorite Yahoo Groups, the NICKELPLATEROADmodeler, I offered to help others use a website for retrieving historical aerial imagery. One way I could easily share this information outside of the boundaries of a Yahoo Groups membership was to finally make a blog.

Look for how to use the USGS Earth Explorer website very soon as I get comfortable with this blogging thing!

Here's a photo to end my first post on this blog. The location is Adena, Ohio taken on April 9, 2014 during a research gathering trip I took to the area. Once a small yard in the heart of the W&LE's coal country, Adena was a hot spot of activity for mine runs and included a wye to two branch lines, the AC&NA and the Adena Railroad, each serving multiple mines. I plan to wind the clock back about 60 years on this view as I post progress on my HO Scale Adena layout!

The remains of Adena Yard. Looking East down the mainline toward Dillonvale. The concrete post near the Adena sign is all that remains of the Train Order signal. The old Steelox Freight House still stands to the right. 4-9-2014 Chris Ellis photo