Sunday, January 25, 2015

More Norfolk Southern Heritage Units

This is primarily a blog about researching and modeling the Nickel Plate Road around southern Ohio, but I will also use it occasionally to highlight other cool train stuff I happen to experience.

Ever since Norfolk Southern painted 20 new engines in various old predecessor paint schemes, my son and I have tried to hunt down and see as many as we can. Not living next door to a NS mainline makes this somewhat difficult, so we use to help plan ahead when possible. Last Monday we caught the Illinois Terminal unit in a stroke of luck at Berea, but today was a perfectly timed operation to catch a rare heritage double header!

While working a Sunday shift, I noticed on the heritage units website NS train 24M heading east out of Goshen, IN at 8:30 AM with the Conrail and the Penn Central engines. What a perfect engine combo! As the day went on I realized there might be enough time when I got off work to head to Hudson, OH, which is the fastest point to drive to from Akron on the ex Pennsylvania's Cleveland & Pittsburgh line.

In a fit of last minute planning, my awesome wife and son grabbed my camera and met me at work to speed off to Hudson together and intercept train 24M which had just passed through Berea. We arrived in Hudson 20 minutes later, then waited another 20 in the falling snow on the pedestrian overpass at Colony Park. Finally we were rewarded!

Norfolk Southern 24M with heritage units Conrail 8098 and Penn Central 1073, Hudson, OH 1-25-2015, Chris Ellis Photo

NS 24M with heritage units Conrail 8098 and Penn Central 1073, Hudson, OH 1-25-2015, Chris Ellis Photo

Afterwards we quickly headed to the nearby Starbucks to warm up with a celebratory treat!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Shadows of the past

Since there was no school on Monday due to MLK Day and the wife and I were both off work we treated our son Brendan to a bit of surprise railfanning in Berea, Ohio.

If you didn't know Berea is one of the hottest spots in Ohio to watch trains with around 100 trains per day. What was once all New York Central trackage was split apart in the Conrail break up and is now home to  CSX and Norfolk Southern's major Chicago mainlines.

To our surprise the first train of the afternoon brought us a Norfolk Southern Heritage engine, Illinois Terminal 1072, a brutish looking EMD SD70ACe, heading up a long eastbound oil train.

NS IT 1072 SD70ACe Berea, OH 1-19-2015 Chris Ellis photo
I really like the Illinois Terminal's paint scheme now, but only because of it's connection to the Adena and Dillonvale area in the past.

In 1981 the Norfolk & Western acquired the IT and soon its colorful green and yellow engines joined the plain black N&W fleet adding a splash of color. The IT six axle SD-39 were sent to Brewster, given a quick reletter job and put to work in the hills of SE Ohio. Lash-ups of solid green diesels soon pulled coal from the remaining mines around Adena. It must've been quite a sight to see as a majority of the photos I have of the Adena area in the early 1980's feature these green engines. With no dynamic brakes like the Nickel Plate Road SD-9s and RSD-12 that came before them, they seemed to be a perfect illogical fit for hauling coal.

Therefore I've grown fond of those odd ball engines. Even though I model the 1950's, god forbid Athearn comes out with a Genesis SD-39 painted in IT green.

Here's a trio going across my favorite bridge on the Adena Branch, Jug Run Bridge north of St. Clairsville, OH.
N&W Adena Branch SD-39 2963 2965 2964 Jug Run Bridge 3-12-81 Jim Marcus - Mark Lynn Photo

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #7

NKP 827 leaving Pine Valley yard, Dillonvale, OH 1950s, Chuck Yungkurth photo

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wordless Wednesday #6

NKP 348 SD-9 at Adena Train Order Station, August 1958, Chuck Yungkurth photo

Monday, January 5, 2015

More Pine Valley

Now with Pine Valley Yard at a proper height and the west end fitting together nicely in planning, I could move to mocking up the eastern end where the engine terminal is located.

Dillonvale's Pine Valley Yard was the home base to all the mine runs in the area and therefore needed engine facilities to support those operations. By the mid 1950's many of the yard's structures had been updated and gave the servicing area a more modern look.
  • 12 stall Roundhouse, 1908
  • 105' Turntable, new 1947
  • 200 Ton Coal Tipple, 1912
  • Roberts & Schaefer Cinder Crane, new 1947
  • Sand House & Bin, 1912
  • 5 Ton Sand Tower, new 1947
  • 195,000 gal Water Tank, 1939
Everything on that list is pretty doable for the layout except the coal tipple. The W&LE liked to build massively long coal tipples for their yards that to me resemble a wooden roller coaster with a small barn on top. A cable would pull a coal hopper up the ramp and dump it's contents into the holding bins at the top. These are very distinctive structures and look like a good challenge to scratch build, but they also would unfortunately hog up a lot of layout space. I wish the Wheeling would've built a coal tipple here like the one they had at Jewett, which is a dead ringer for the Walthers wooden coal tipple kit. Here's the Pine Valley coal tipple.

W&LE Coal Dock Pine Valley Yard, Dillonvale, OH May 31, 1927
I've always had a hard time compressing and cutting things out of my plans. I just want to stick to the prototype as close as possible, but I might have to draw the line at this coal tipple. Everything else looks like it could translate well into a model version. Here's the prototype.

Pine Valley Engine Terminal 1947
Instead of braving the cold wind and snow and getting another piece of foam from the garage, I just used the basement floor, along with some flex track and paper switches to throw a quick mock up together.

Pine Valley Engine Terminal mock up
It could be compressed a bit here and there, and yeah I did throw in the "roller coaster" coal tipple just to see... The roundhouse sadly didn't make the cut, as it would encroach to far into the aisle and isn't completely necessary with plenty of other track space for engines. A Walthers 90' turntable will be adequate for turning the W&LE/NKP I-3 2-6-6-2 engines with the smaller Mikado tenders.
Overall I'm happy to say that it looks like the engine terminal can work in the 10' of space allotted and look pretty close to the prototype.

In other news.

Earlier my friend Tim Moran had stopped by to share some ideas and help me plan the Adena Railroad with his track planning software. As a big surprise he brought over a decommissioned Free-Mo module for my son Brendan to play with while layout construction slowly starts.

Brendan quickly decorated it with some of his buildings and cars and happily switched it the rest of the evening! Thanks Tim!

Tim is a fellow Nickel Plate Road modeler with a focus in modeling a small section of Canton, Ohio. He is also involved with the Western Reserve Free-Mo group here in Northeast Ohio. The group joined up with other Free-Mo groups for a large display at the 2014 NMRA Convention in Cleveland this past summer that was a blast to see.

If you don't know what Free-Mo is check it out at

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Getting things started again, redo!

In my "Getting things started!" post last week, I hung metal shelf brackets along the wall at the only elevation I can run behind my basement steps for the upper level. With some pieces of pink foam and some flex track I mocked up a fairly prototypical but condensed version of the Pine Valley Yard in Dillonvale, Ohio.

I really liked the arrangement I laid out and I could better understand the flow and function of the yard in 3D rather than on paper. The only problem was it was just too high!

The elevation needed to get behind my stairs is at 62". I thought this height might be manageable, but I quickly realized it wasn't, especially for a yard 8 tracks wide at it's deepest point. Near the beginning of the yard there's about 12 feet to that clearance point, which meant I could drop the upper level about two inches creating an 1.25 to 1.5% grade. This is actually similar to the prototype where westbound trains are coming up out of the Ohio River Valley. So like the prototype, most trains headed west wouldn't be very long and based on previous tests should be able to handle that grade.

Another evening of work redoing all the shelving brackets and I was back in business, amazing the difference two inches can make! Using a step stool is now a lot more optional.

This time I took things a step further and started cutting some Atlas flex track and added some switches to actively test out the arrangement. A functional mock up I suppose. Lance Mindhiem has written about doing something similar, using Atlas snap switches and flex track to test and adjust before laying down Micro Engineering track on his CSX Miami layout.

The new easier on the neck 60" high Pine Valley Yard.
I realized after inserting the above photo, it looks like I ballasted a temporary yard. It's actually a 1/8" black rubber mat used to prevent loads from shifting in semi trailers. I thought it could be an alternative type of subroad bed, and they were free as my work was just just throwing them away. So far the quieting effect when used on pink foam is extraordinary.

Doing all this has been great for my son who has been very excited to finally get to run some trains. Teaching him switching moves has been very entertaining as well! Thanks to Tim Moran for the idea to get something up and running for my son's enjoyment while the big picture gets worked out. Combining it with testing a possible future section of the layout really kills two birds with one stone.