I began my first layout based on the Piedmont Subdivision back in the fall of 2000. When I finalized my original
track plan, I was pretty happy with it. The only major change that I made (and one that I had contemplated even as
I started construction) was to pierce the backdrop in Gordonsville and add staging tracks. For the most part, things
worked out the way that I planned and I started adding scenery. As I was working on the scenery, I started trying to operate
the layout. That’s when I ran into issues that I just wasn’t able to resolve. Here’s a list of the
To save space, my original plan for Louisa had a single stub-ended siding to serve the vermiculite loading facility.
Dealing with a facing point switch was a pain and didn’t really reflect how the C&O must have operated
in that location. I eventually revised the track in that area to provide a run-around, but the run-around
length was limited by not wanting to cut into the Doctors Road grade crossing scene and so the west end of
my model of Louisa never really looked quite right. Further, the track revisions led to going below my
minimum radius of 30 inches and that led to some difficulties in operation. To add insult to injury,
I later learned that the vermiculite loader didn’t exist until 1978, 8 years too late.
While I had staging tracks that were fairly adequate to the needs of the layout, I was never happy with
the compromises that I had to make to have them. West-bound trains, which should have entered the layout in
Louisa, actually entered the layout in Gordonsville on what should have been the north leg of the wye. Eastbound
trains also entered from what should have been the north leg of the wye and had to circle the layout before they
could enter Gordonsville on the west leg of the wye. That very quickly began to bug me.
All model railroaders need more space; that’s a given. But in the roughly 10' by 14' space I had
and with the broad curves that I had to use to get a decent representation of Gordonsville, my two towns were
really close together. The prototype towns of Louisa and Gordonsville are about 13 miles apart. My model towns were
so close together that a 10 or 12 car freight train could have its locomotive in Gordonsville and its caboose in Louisa.
In 2011 I became the sole owner of my home. The whole basement was now mine to do with as I pleased. I almost
immmediately began drawing track plans that took most (or all) of the space. Those plans usually involved moving Louisa and
Gordonsville farther apart, adding staging in a way that trains entered the layout at the appropriate points, and often
involved the addition of a siding between Louisa and Melton so that I could model the lumberyard in Trevilian. None of them
really caught my fancy, however, so my model railroad languished for about 5 years; I was loathe to put
effort into something that I planned to tear down. The only real change made was that I removed the staging tracks in order to
replace my water heater. I took the opportunity to have the heater moved to a place where it would be out of the way of a
In early 2016, though, I had a number of important insights about why I wasn’t able to make
any progress on a new track plan. The first concerned my home office, which is also in the basement. Most of my plans devoted
my office space to the new layout. My first important insight was that I really didn’t want to do that. My office is a relatively
pleasant space where I spend a lot of time. Further, a big feature of the room is a set of floor-to-ceiling bookcases (which are stuffed)
that were gifts from my Dad. He sized them to fit where they are and there’s nowhere else in the house that they could go.
The second insight was that most of my plans also involved a duckunder to reach my laundry facilities or they potentially
blocked access to the circuit breakers for the house. I’m in my 60’s and I don’t want to have to duck
under the layout carrying a basket full of laundry. The final insight came after reading the 2016 issue of Model Railroad Planning.
I had been trying to include enough staging for all of the trains that I wanted to run in an operating session: locals each way between
Richmond and Charlottesville, locals each way between Potomac Yard and Charlottesville, a manifest freight each way, and sections
of the George Washington each way between Richmond and Charlottesville and between Washington and Charlottesville. To do that, I
had to give up the possibility of continuous running (which I will admit that I enjoy - sometimes it’s fun to just sit back
and just watch the trains go by) and staging was taking up a huge amount of the space that I had available. The insight from MRP was that maybe
I didn’t need to provide all that staging. Maybe what would work would be a fiddle yard. And, with that, I was on my way.
As with my earlier layout, there were certain things that I wanted in my new layout — my givens and druthers in John Armstrong’s terms.
A minimum radius of 30" so that I can run passenger equipment. The C&O’s passenger service was much reduced in
1970 and the trains were short, but there were still passenger trains.
Manually thrown turnouts. I used Caboose Industries ground throws on my original layout and they were great in terms of ease
of installation and operation. However, once I began adding scenery and taking photos, it was painfully obvious that they were
way out of scale. I plan to use Blue Point turnout controllers on the new layout. The Blue Point controllers are mounted under the
layout and are controlled by knobs on the fascia. They also include electrical contacts which will allow powering the frogs on the
turnouts, improving operation.
While I am trying to build in possibilities for operation and I want my models of Louisa, Gordonsville, and the Pyrofax gas
plant in Melton to be as accurate as I can make them, one major goal for the layout is to be a railfan layout. What I mean by
that is that I want to watch trains on the layout from the places that I stand when I watch trains in those locations now and
would have stood to watch trains in 1970. For most of the scenes included on the layout (Gordonsville, Melton, the Doctors Road
grade crossing) a visitor will be standing south of the tracks with west to the left and east to the right. Had I adopted that
same vantage point in Louisa, however, a viewer would have been behind the passenger station looking at its back wall. The
C&O’s 1892 standard design is really attractive and I’d much rather see the track side of the building. Thus, my model of
Louisa is a kind of mirror image of the prototype.
The plan above represents what I’ve come up with as of the summer of 2019 (click the image to see a higher res version). It incorporates
changes I made as I built and upcoming changes that I plan to make as time allows. The plan allows me to keep my office and access to the laundry
facilities and electrical stuff on the left-hand wall of the basement. The fiddle yard beside the stairs allows me to stage two trains in each
direction at the same time and trains enter the modeled section of the layout in the correct places. I had to give up the possibility of modeling
the Pot Yard locals (but see below) and the Washington sections of the George, but I think I can live with that (and I might eventually
find a way to add removable staging that would allow running those trains during an operating session).
In addition, I had resources available this time that I didn’t back in 2000. One of the most important was an aerial photo of the
wye in Gordonsville. It was detailed enough that I could work out the scale and the radius of the curves through the wye. In 2000 I guessed
53". Using the photo I found that I was close, but off by a bit. What I came out with this time was 56.25". I was also able to space some
of the turnouts a little closer to the prototype and include both of the sidings across the mainline from the freight house, so when I begin
to add scenery everything should look right. The orignial version of the plan also included a short siding near Louisa to represent the Purcell lumberyard in Bibb.
The idea was that including the lumberyard would go a little way toward making up for losing the vermiculite loader. I did, however, also include the siding
that eventually served the vermiculite loader. It was there in 1970 (it served an auto loading ramp in the 1930’s). After beginning construction of the
layout I found an aerial photo of the area from 1969. There was some sort of building along the siding that was there as early as the 1950’s. According to
Gary Smith, it belonged to a feed company. All that I really know about it is that it was rectangular in shape, was described in one document as metal, and had a ramp.
Other than that, I have no real idea what it looked like, but I’ll probably try to represent it on the layout.
I did receive some very thoughtful suggestions from Jerry Simonoff. One was to reorient Louisa so that it was consistent with Gordonsville and Melton.
I think I’ve addressed my reasons for not doing so above. He also suggested double ending the fiddleyard tracks and using some of them to represent
some of the trackage in Lindsay. I haven’t double ended the staging tracks yet, but I am still considering that, or – now that I’ve actually built the benchwork
and seen how much space I have – adding an additional track in each direction. I did, however, add (or plan to when they
arrive) a couple of curved turnouts to create a siding between Gordonsville and staging to represent (somewhat poorly) the tracks in Lindsay. My plan is that that siding
will function something like staging; cars from the trains from Potomac Yard will be placed there between session to be picked up by the next modeled train and cars for
Potomac Yard will be dropped off by a modeled train during a session to be removed after the session.
I’m still open to suggestions and would like to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me at the address below.
Benchwork Construction and Laying Track
The first thing I did was to mount a backrop made of 1/8" hardboard. I just continued the backdrop straight
into the corners on my old railroad and forever had to avoid taking photos from angles that would show the corners
in the “sky.” This time I curved the backdrop through the corners. It wasn’t as hard as I thought
it was going to be and it avoids the “corners in the sky” problem.
Most of the layout is going to be anchored to the wall. This bracket — which follows a design from Jeff
Wilson’s benchwork book — was fairly simple to build, does a great job of supporting the layout, and
leaves more space under the layout. That makes it easier to work under the layout (say, when I need to do wiring)
and gives me more room to store back issues of magazines.
In this shot, I’ve mounted the first of the L-girders. I needed to get this one up so that I could construct
the first free-standing section of benchwork, which will be anchored to this L-girder.
Before I started building the layout, I had my 22-year-old heat pump replaced. After the installation,
I checked the trackplan against the footprint of the new unit. Everything looked fine, so I started
construction. Too bad that I wasn’t thinking in three dimensions, though. When I reached this point
it was clear that the ductwork was going to interfere with the backdrop. After studying the problem for a
few days, I decided to shift the backdrop and the track toward the front edge of the bechwork. Around the
same time, my water heater (which is right next to the inside unit of the heat pump) started leaking and I
had to have it replaced. It was only 6 years old. The idea that I might have to replace the new one in
another 6 years forced me to decide that the track looping around the water heater should be removable
to facilitate access to the heater. That plus the backdrop move cost me the ability to include the Purcell
lumberyard as I had originally planned (but see below).
In this shot, the backdrop has been painted. I don’t plan to add clouds. I try to avoid adding things to
the layout that undermine believability. That includes things that should move, but don’t, such as a figure
of a man jogging. He might look good in a still photo, but watching him frozen in midstride undermines the illusion
when visiting the layout in person. Clouds move and the same ones would not be hanging overhead day after day after day.
So, I left them off.
This photo (and the next one, as well) show the layout after all of the L-girders and joists have been
The risers and plywood subroadbed have been installed and the first of the precut cork switch pads
have been glued down.
The cork roadbed went in quickly.
Several tracklaying guides suggested starting with the most complicated track first. For me, that was
the west (on the layout) end of Louisa. In this shot, the first couple of switches have been installed.
Underneath the layout are the Blue Point switch controllers.
In this shot, the curve leading into Melton can be seen. On my previous layout I had problems maintaining
my 30" minimum radius as I laid the track through curves. Fast Tracks SweepSticks (the wooden template
between the rails) helped solve that problem.
The wiring for the track is in. I used 14-guage wire for the bus lines and 22-guage wire for the feeders. I used suitcase connectors for
most of the connections, so the wiring went pretty quickly.
Finding a place to put my DCC system was a bit of an afterthought on the old layout. This time, I put some thought
into the location. It had to be fairly close to an outlet and easily accessible. What I came up with was a shelf
below the narrow benchwork near the heatpump. As you can see, I use a Lenz DCC system with LH90 hand controllers. Next up
is to install the layout fascia so that I can wire up the ExpressNet plugs.
Rather than proceeding with the fascia, I decided to finish the rest of the benchwork. Here’s the first section of
benchwork that is situated in new layout space. Gordonsville will be located in the corner by the door.
The open grid benchwork in the near foreground will support the turnback curve between Gordonsville and the
staging tracks. This is the location of the duckunder to enter the layout area and using open grid benchwork
bought me a few extra inches of clearance above the ground. That’s a few extra inches that I don’t
have to bend down.
I’ve got a coat of primer on the new section of backdrop.
Once the primer dried and I fixed a couple of rough spots, I put on a coat of sky blue. I still have a couple of
spots begging for some light sanding and touch up paint.
Laying out the track plan on the plywood subroadbed for the first part of the layout was fairly easy; there were
lots of straight lines and curves with radii that could be drawn by drilling holes in a yardstick. The trackwork in
Gordonsville, though, was much more complicated and involved 56.25" radius curves. I first thought of drilling holes
in a spare tape measure I have, but discovered that even if that would work, I don’t have space to do it. I
finally resorted to printing out my trackplan full size using xTrkCad (which involved 22 pieces of paper that I then
had to tape together). I taped the trackplan down to the plywood and used pushpins to mark the track center lines. Then
I pulled up the paper and joined up the pin marks with pencil.
The subroadbed in Gordonsville is up on risers. Right below the camera’s position is the location of the bridge
over Route 15/33. I salvaged the scratchbuilt model of that bridge that I built for my old layout. The trick now is to
work out how to fit it in here.
I put my cardboard mockup of the Gordonsville freight station in place to make sure that everything fits as planned.
The sharp-eyed will note that the track centerlines here don’t quite match the trackplan shown above. As I laid
things out full-sized I realized that I needed to change some things. First, I placed the turnout leading into the
siding that served the freighthouse in the wrong place. If I had placed it according to the plan, it would have been
right in front of the freighthouse. That was an easy fix; I just moved it a few feet to the “east.” I also
eliminated one of the sidings across the main from the freighthouse. I had done that on the old layout, too, and it
bugged me. So, I added it into the new plan. However, seeing the everything full-sized reminded me of why I’d left it out
back in 2000: adding it crowded the scene to the point that it looked cartoonish because that second siding couldn’t
be long enough to be reasonable. So, I eliminated it. I now have an extra Atlas Code 83 left-hand turnout on hand.
The cork roadbed is now down in Gordonsville. I used HO scale roadbed for the mainline and N scale roadbed for
sidings. One issue on the old layout was the depth of the benchwork through Gordonsville. To work the siding for
the freighthouse required standing on a step ladder and reaching over an area that was going to have to be populated
with models of the Main Street stores. I cut the depth back significantly in the new plan.
It took days of fiddling with the risers and stacking bits of plywood to get bridge 1605 into place and level from
end to end and front to back.
Right after I started connecting feeders in Gordonsville, I remembered that I needed to cut gaps in some of the rails
so that I could wire in block occupancy detectors to trigger grade crossing flashers. The first step was to mark where the roads will be.
I was looking for something else when I found my cardboard mockup of G cabin. Having found it, though, it had to
end up on the layout.
Fitting a Blue Point switch controller in place to operate the turnout just off the east end of the bridge
was a bit of an adventure.
To the left in this photo is the Westvaco pulpwood siding and to the right is the track that forms the
Washington Subdivision side of the Gordonsville wye.
This is an overall view of the fiddle yard. Richmond staging is to the left, Charlottesville to the right. In the left
foreground, the mainline crosses over the water heater.
This section of the mainline is designed to be removable to allow easier access should the water heater need to be replaced.
I plan to put some kind of sides on it, both the protect against drops to the floor in the case of a derailment and to add some
In this shot, I’ve begun installing the fascia. It’s made of ⅛ hardboard.
I painted the fascia a nice dark green color (Behr’s Eastern Bamboo, to be exact). Now that the worst of the mess of construction
is done, I’ve set up a computer to run Decoder Pro. I think I need a keyboard tray to get the keyboard and mouse off the floor.
An overall shot of the east end of the layout. Louisa is to the right and Melton (the location of the Pyrofax gas plant) is
located at the bulge on the left.
An overall shot of the west end of the layout. The bridge over Virginia route 15/33 is visible toward the front of the shot on
the right and the staging tracks are on the left. In this view, we’re looking toward the duckunder that allows access to the
layout area from the rest of the basement.
In this shot, we’re looking into the layout area from outside. The Westvaco siding is to the left and
staging to the right.
I’ve installed the panel connectors for the hand-held throttles, throttle pockets (from MicroMark), and the
FlexLink controls for the Blue Point switch machines.
I had originally ordered the throttle pockets for my old layout. As a result, I ended up short one throttle pocket.
When I went to order it, I noted that they also had cup holders. What’s a layout without cup holders?
The next step is to rough in the scenery with foam insulation. In this shot, the first pieces of foam have been cut and placed
onto the layout.
This was as far as I’d gone with the foam in the summer of 2017.
In 2019 I acquired a 3D printer hoping to be able to design and print my own detail
parts. I haven’t managed that, yet, but I did find a free, customizable station sign
online. It looks right at home on the layout fascia.
I printed the previous signs before I modified my track plan to include Purcell Lumber in
Bibb and a siding to represent Lindsay. When I tried to find the original sign, it was no
longer available. In my search, however, I found a sign that included the original files
in the format from the 3D software I’ve been experimenting with. I had also acquired
a copy of the font file for the C&O’s station sign font from the C&O Historical
Society. With that, I was able to modify the more European-looking sign I’d found into
something more like the C&O’s station signs. Here’s the one for Louisa; compare
it to the first version above.
The next sections will chronicle my progress on scenicking the layout. I had originally tried laying them out in
chronological order, but that started getting messy as I jumped around the layout following my interests and the availability
of materials. So, I’ve changed to a geographical order, starting on the east end of the layout.
As I noted above, I thought that the changes required by my new heat pump would cost me the ability
to model the lumberyard in Bibb. There simply wasn’t enough space left to model the siding and the
structures. As I worked on the Louisa scene in the summer of 2019, however, I realized that if I used a
curved turnout and gave up on the buildings, I could add the siding. There wasn’t, however, a
commercial turnout that would fit and my last attempt at constructing a custom turnout did not end well.
Enter Jim at Jamestown Trains. As soon as a set of FastTracks
switch ties arrives, I’ll be adding a new siding to the layout.
In this shot, the new siding is in and I had added a photo backdrop of a treeline to the backdrop.
There’s a bit more space between the siding and the edge of the layout than I thought I would have.
I think I might be able to fit a selectively-compressed version of the Purcell Lumber buildings.
One problem that I ran into here was setting up a way to operate the Blue Point switch machine. I tried
their FlexLink system, but the geometry of the benchwork in this area and the location of the machine itself
led to a nasty S-curve in the plastic cable that had far too tight a radius to work reliably. I ended up
cobbling together a linking system from bits and bobs that I had lying around. The levers were cut out of an
old steel freight car weight. The lower end of the vertical lever in the background is connected to the knob
on the fascia.
As you can see in this photo, I really had to go all out to remove all trace of flexing from
the linkage. The connecting rods are made from a wire coat hanger. Since this photo was taken, I
glued a piece of 1x1 lumber to the bottom of the basswood “platform” to stiffen it
further. It looks a bit like a Rube Goldberg contraption, but so far it seems to be working
I’ve added trees between the tracks and the backdrop. That’s not prototypical - there’s
actually a fairly flat area with just a line of trees between Purcell and the road, but there was no way
that I was going to represent that convincingly in the space that I had available. I also have a posterboard
mockup of the buidlings in place. I found an aerial photo of Purcell taken in 1969. There were 5 buildings in
the complex then. I really only had space for the two that were right along the tracks and I had to model
them a bit less than half the width that they actually were. In addition, the end of the building facing the
camera in this image has since had a lower extension added (see the photo on the Bibb
In this photo you can see how close the buildings come to the edge of the layout. I really didn’t
have any more space.
If you know the real Purcell Lumber buildings, you’ll immediately notice that my models
are about half as wide as they should be. I think they work, though. As noted above, since 1970 an extension was
added onto this end of the building. My model of the end of the building was based on the look of that extension and is purely conjecture.
The Louisa depot scene was one of the more complete areas on my old layout. The passenger depot was pretty much scratchbuilt, but I used the windows and gable
trim from a couple of Gloor Craft Marlinton station kits. Because it was so close to the front edge of the layout, I felt like I needed to detail the interior, so
I made my best guesses about the interior layout based on the C&O’s standard plans. A couple of years ago, though, I got the chance to see the interior
(thanks to Gary Smith) and discovered that many of my guesses were flat out wrong. This photo shows the start of a new version that reuses as many parts from
the old one as possible.
Building a new version of the passenger depot was part of a larger plan to complete the scenery in the Louisa depot area. I had already roughed in
Fredericksburg Avenue when I discovered a discrepany in my sources about where the turnout leading to the house track was located. Of course, once I
found a photo that showed the location, it turned out that I had it in the wrong place. In this photo, I’d ripped out the old siding and turnout
along with the misplaced version of Fredericksburg Avenue.
The new turnout and siding are in place, with a little “kink” in the siding as on the prototype.
Work on the depot was also progressing. I built all four walls flat and then began joining them into the basic structure.
Fredericksburg Avenue (and Church Avenue on the other side of the depot) were paved with .060 styrene sheet. As far as I can tell from photos,
Church Avenue was very narrow and didn’t have lane markings in 1970, so I just hit it with Rustoleum gray primer. Fredericksburg Avenue gor a coat of
yellow down the center. I then masked the lane markings and sprayed gray primer.
Following measurements that I made on site, I laid out the station platform with a piece of foamcore that matched the thickness of my cork roadbed.
The curbing around the platform was laid out using 8x8 inch scale lumber, which was then painted concrete gray.
I don’t know exactly how the interior was furnished in 1970, but the two gray cabinets are still in there, as is the sink. Any idea why there
was a sink in the agent’s office when there was a bathroom just a few steps away?
If this wire can work as a power bus for the layout, it should serve as a bus for the power to the lights in the depot, right?
The completed depot in place on the layout.
Just to the east of the depot was a feedstore. I don’t have room for the whole thing, but the rear was visible in photos of the
station, so I had to represent it. My model is about half of the structure.
As best as I can tell, the building was gray in 1970.
Here’s a shot of the depot area. There’s still some work do do - I need to represent the feed store that stood behind the
freight station, for instance - but it’s looking fairly complete.
Right at the grade crossing with Frederickburg Avenue is a funeral home. I’ve represented part of the parking lot on the layout.
I’m not entirely happy with this area, especially the backdrop.
Here’s a view of the area to the “east” of the depot area. The Louisa water tank is visible in the background beyond
a scratchbuilt model of a large warehouse type building (I don’t know what the prototype building is actually used for). The house
on the right is a Walthers kit modified to resemble the prototype a bit better; the real one is much larger and just a bit
further from the tracks.
This is the view up Church Avenue toward the depot. The road surface is a custom-made decal based on the actual Church Avenue and was
applied over gray-painted styrene.
The Maddox Feed buildings were visible in prototype photos of the depot, so I needed to
represent them on the layout. The benchwork in this area, though, was too narrow to allow
modeling them in 3D. So, I built the models anyway, mounted them on a temporary base and
photographed them. It took a fair bit of experimenting with camera angles and print sizes
to get something that worked, but I think it’s pretty effective.
This photo shows some of the other buildings in the Maddox Feed complex.
GP7 5767 leads a local freight past the feedstore in Louisa.
The West End of Louisa
Here’s west end of the Louisa passing siding. It does bother me a little that this scene is visible from the Doctors Road grade crossing,
but there’s only so much space in the basement...
I was looking for a way to transition from the Doctors Road scene to Louisa. My normal answer is to use a thick stand of trees. The problem in
this case was that I need access to the tracks to couple and uncouple cars when switching Louisa. What I settled on was a corn field.
I always intended to put a fence around the cornfield and I wanted that fence to be a barbed wire fence. It
took me several years to find a way to adequately represent barbed wire. I tried one of the Woodland Scenics
barbed wire fences, but the tension required to straighten out the wire was more than my foam scenic base could
handle. This is what I finally came up with.
The remains of a wooden ramp still stand along the tracks in Louisa, but they’re in rough shape. That makes it hard
to tell what the ramp really looked like. I decided that a Blair Line ramp would be a good stand in. To bring it up to the right height,
I added a base of ⅛" Masonite.
Documents described the feed service building as a metal shed. When I worked out the approximate size from an aerial photo,
though, it seemed like it was fairly large for a shed. I opted to use a Rix building. I had to scratchbuild a base to match the
height of the wooden ramp.
The two sheds are from my previous layout and represent buildings that show up in all of my
photos of the area. They seem to have been moved a few times, but aerial photos show that they were
there in 1970. After a major mishap, I had to build new versions of both of them. The mocked up
building near the backdrop appears to be a fairly large shed. My photos show that the back wall was plain.
It ended up being one of my easier modeling projects.
The scene is looking fairly complete. Over the large red shed you can see the roof of what I believe is
some kind of commercial garage. I need to add more details, but I think it’s looking OK.
This is one of my favorite photos of the new layout.
The Doctors Road Grade Crossing
The grade crossing at Doctors Road was just a short walk from my family’s property, so I often
walked there to wait for trains. That made it one of my required scenes on the layout. It was the first place
that I started scenery on the old layout and it seemed only fitting to start there again on this layout. On my previous layout,
I had included a portion of Rt. 33 and the whole S-curve from the road to the grade crossing. This time, I started by
printing a Google satellite photo of the area and worked out the distances to scale. If I had built the scene to scale, I
would have needed nearly 3 feet from the track centerline to Rt. 33. Since I don’t have that kind of space, I chose
to model only Doctors Road and leave Rt. 33 out in the aisle. I marked the outline for the road using chart tape (most
markers will bleed through paint and other scenery materials).
The next step was to cut some 1/2" foam in the shape of the road.
In this shot, I’d begun roughing in the land forms with foam and Sculptamold. If you look closely,
you can see that I marked some of the foam with a marker. Go ahead: ask me how I know that marker will bleed through.
The dirt around the Doctors Road grade crossing has a yellowish or orangish color that I’ve never
seen elsewhere. I scooped up a bit on my last trip to visit the Piedmont (Ok, ok, I drove 3 hours to get there just to get
a small container of dirt). Then I had Home Depot match the color in a cheap, flat latex paint. I put down a
heavy coat of paint and then sifted dirt over the wet paint. So far, I have a nice desert.
I was never really happy with my representation of Doctors Road on the old layout. I had covered the road surface
with a mix of sifted dirt and Woodland Scenics gray N scale ballast. It never really looked like a dirt road to me.
This time, I spent a lot of time studying photos of dirt roads. This is what I came up with. I usually sift my dirt
with an old kitchen strainer. This time, I took that sifted dirt and sifted it again through a cheap pair of pantyhose
(only .69 at the local drugstore). I covered the road surface with that fine powder. Then I used what was left in the container
(what had gone through the sifter, but not the pantyhose) to edge the travel lanes.
Beginning to get rid of the desert look.
I still need more vegetation, but it’s beginning to look like the real place.
In this shot I’ve added more trees and grass, along with electric utility poles and some yellow flowers (it is spring, after all). There’s
still more to add, but the scene is looking fairly complete.
I always intended to add the lineside telegraph poles on my old layout, but never got around to it. This time I have and
it really makes a difference.
Here’s an overall view of the Doctors Road grade crossing scene.
This view is from just west of the crossing.
This photo captures what I used to see when I watched trains as a kid. I’ve
been trying to get this photo for years but none of my previous attempts worked; there’s
a heating duct right over the layout here. My photo editing skills have finally improved to the
point that I could get rid of it.
[NEW] Here’s another shot of a train at the Doctors Road grade crossing. I really like this one.
The Pyrofax Gas Plant in Melton
Here’s an overall view of the beginning of work in Melton. I’ve roughed in landforms with foam
and laid down a first coat of dirt from the actual location. Along the front edge you can see the .060
styrene I’m using for Route 33.
One issue that I had to solve was how to deal with the scenery on the far side of the tracks. On the prototype, there’s a relatively flat
space, then an embankment. One the other side of the embankment the land drops down and the telegraph line poles go down into that depression. Then
the land comes back up and there’s a line of trees (or there were in 1970). I didn’t have room for all of that. My answer was a photo
backdrop of trees. In this shot, I’ve blended one end of the backdrop into a stand of 3D trees.
This is just a test shot to see how the photo backdrop looks behind the gas plant office. The office building sat a bit higher than the rest of the
facility. I’ve roughed in the ground with Woodland Scenics foam.
After I had the landforms about right, I laid down a heavy coat of latex paint (I had it matched to the reddish color of dirt from the actual
location) and then covered the paint with sifted dirt. Then I soaked the whole mess with scenic cement. Once that I was dry, I added some static grass
and Woodland Scenics gravel for the parking lot and driveways. Note the t-pins in the background; I used those to mark the fence line.
In this shot, I’ve set the tanks in place to get a sense of where the concrete pad with a lot of the piping would go.
Here are more t-pins marking the fence line. I moved things around until they matched my photos of the plant as best as I could get them.
I knew that trying to install the back part of the fence would be a bear once I had the tanks and piping in place, so I decided to install it first.
I used a chain link fence kit from Walthers, but tossed the wire they provided and replaced it with .019 brass wire from Detail Associates.
My first attempt to get the fence material on was not so good. This picture pointed out to me how bad it was. I cut it off and tried again.
In this shot I had started installing the piping.
This is my best guess as to how the piping went. I’ve got quite a few pictures of the plant from many angles from over many years, all from
outside the fence. When I built my first version of the plant, I spent hours going over them and drawings of similar plants in model railroad
magazines trying to get the pipes right. It was a frustrating experience. I’d look at one set of photos and it would look like “pipe
a” joined up with “pipe b”, but in another set of pictures it would look like “pipe a” joined up with “pipe
c”. I did the best I could, but I have a feeling that if a pro came in and looked at my model the comment would be something like, “You
know, if they did it that way, it would blow up.”
The office building was saved from my previous layout. On that layout, I had the lights installed, but I never hooked them up. It was really cool to
finally see the the plant in the dark.
I based my model on the earliest photos that I had of the Pyrofax gas plant, which dated to the mid-1990’s. I had been desperate for
earlier photos for years. Then I got an email from Jerry Simonoff about a 1988 photo of the plant that he’d found on the Vintage Aerials site.
I spent a bit of time looking around that site and found a 1984 photo. I made a few changes to my model based on that photo. Then, looking for
something else, I found this one from 1975! You can see it on the Vintage Aerials site at the Vintage Aerials site.
One issue I recently had was that – based on my don’t model it if it can't be seen philosophy – I hadn’t really done anything
with the back walls of the office building. When I took my first video of the layout using a mini-camera, though, it was obvious that the back wall of the
building was just unpainted styrene. To deal with that, I used photo editing software to manipulate a photo I had of the building, printed it out to scale,
and glued it to the back of the building. I still need to do the other back wall, but I think it works. The tree between the building and the tracks was
added based on the Vintage Aerials photos.
When I first saw the gas plant, there was a small Amerigas sign over the window in the center of the larger building. When I
later learned that the facility was owned by Pyrofax in 1970, I simply replaced “Amerigas” with “Pyrofax”
on that sign. One thing that I learned from the Vintage Aerials photo was that that wasn’t correct. The sign was actually
individual letters mounted at the top of the wall. Fortunately, removing the old sign didn’t do too much damage to the model and
the new sign was easy to create with Plastruct letters.
This is my attempt to copy the Vintage Aerials photo. I think my model captures the prototype
Between Melton and Gordonsville
On the prototype there’s about 2 miles between the gas plant in Melton and Gordonsville. Much of that area is wooded, but in several stretches
there are homes between the road and the tracks. I had about 6 feet to model that 2 miles (which would require about 120 feet to model to scale),
so I opted for a couple of generic houses. These came from Walthers kits. I did replace the porch floors with real wood. I also detailed and lighted the
Gordonsville is meant to be the focus of my layout and I’m finally starting the
scenery in the Gordonsville area of the layout. I needed to include a representation of the
Exchange Hotel, but I simply couldn’t take a photo of the building as it exists today
and paste that on the layout; it was sitting derelict and abandoned in 1970. So, I built a
model of the front wall, photographed it, printed it out to scale (correcting for distance)
and put it up against the backdrop. That’s when I ran into problems. When I planned the
layout, I apparently got ahold of an old, incorrect map of Gordonsville that I’d once drawn
and I had the hotel and the road leading to it (visible in the right back of the photo) about 87
scale feet (an actual foot) to the east of where it should be. Moving the road to where it should
be would put the grade crossing right in the middle of the turnouts in the middle of this photo,
which wasn’t how it was on the prototype. That simply wasn’t going to work.
Changing the track was going to require major surgery, so I wanted to make sure that I got it right the
first (OK, technically the second) time. In this photo, I’ve laid new track components on the layout to check the fit.
To my delight, I discovered that the one siding that I’d eliminated when I started construction could be added back
in. Photos I’ve seen from my time period show that maintenance of way (MOW) equipment was often parked on these sidings, so
this change will give me a reason to model some MOW cars.
Once I convinced myself that everything would fit, I took saws and knives and other implements of
destruction to the layout to add plywood subroadbed for the new siding.
The new siding is in and the old one extended slightly.
I replaced any missing ties, masked the area, and the hit the track with a coat
of Rustoleum Camoflage Brown. As I go, I’ll weather the track to add some variation to
My plan is to complete all of the scenery along the backdrop before I move on to the
passenger station. That means modeling the freight house and the mill that stood along
the tracks. I mocked up the mill from posterboard using dimensions that I worked out from
photos. When I planned the layout, I eliminated the crossovers from the mainline to the
siding to save money. As I stared at the mockup and thought about operations, it became
clear why the C&O had those crossovers where they were: they eased access to the mill
and the freighthouse. Since I was doing major surgery anyway, they got added in.
The Gordonsville Freight House
I mocked up the freight house using posterboard years ago and that mock up has been
sitting on the layout ever since. In late 2021, I decided it was time to replace the mock
up with a real model. First, though, I wanted to get an idea of how things would work out,
so I mocked up Depot Street as well. When I had everything looking right, it was time to
start cutting styrene.
I’ve always wanted my model of Gordonsville to be as accurate as I could make it,
so my original idea was to laminate styrene strips to replicate the spacing of the boards on
the prototype. In this photo, you can see my first attempt at the west wall of the freight
station. The base was .030 styrene sheet and the boards were cut from .005 styrene. At this
point, it looked like it was going to work. Then I started cutting out the openings for the
windows. Turns out that the liquid styrene cement I was using was drying quickly, often before
I got a strip onto the base. Enough stuck to hold the board in place, but when I started
cutting, boards started shifting. And when I applied more cement to the edges of the openings,
the boards deformed. As a result, I ended up using Evergreen siding that was closest to the
original spacing, even though none of the available options matched exactly.
Scatchbuilding the windows was going to be a bear, so I tried 3D printing. I decided to
do the sashes and the inner parts of the frame on the 3D printer and add the external parts
of the frame using styrene strips. In this photo you can see my 3D printed part on the left
and a completed window on the right. Both are laying on a photo of the prototype.
The rest of building the station was fairly straight forward. Here’s the completed
station in place on the layout. The shed is from a kit by Tichy and the signal bridge from
Oregon Rail Supply.
[NEW] I needed to represent the Exchange Hotel, but I couldn’t simply take a photo and
paste it on the backdrop; it was sitting derelict in 1970. So, I built a model, photographed
that, and pasted that on the backdrop. You can see it behind the trees in this photo.
[NEW] I’ve powered the signals now.
[NEW] I really like how this scene is coming along. I just need some MOW equipment parked on the sidings.
Orange Madison Cooperative Farm Service
As noted on the Gordonsville page, what had once been a
mill building stood alongside the tracks near the freight station. In 1970, that building
was used by the Orange Madison Cooperative Farm Service. My first step in modeling the
structure was to work out dimensions and I had little to go on; in all the times I visited
that building, I never once measured any part of it. I did, however, have lots of photos,
including the one below, whcih was taken in June of 1953 and is about as good as it gets
for working out dimensions. The problem was where to start. I ended up buying some Tichy
windows that looked very close to the prototype and used the dimensions of those to set the
dimensions for everything else. In this photo, my posterboard mock up is in place on the layout.
To get the building to fit, I had to cut off the wall furthest from the camera and trim the roof;
the backdrop is curved there. I also had to compress the length of the portion of the building
that has its long axis at right angles to the track.
This photo of the steel water tank and the mill was taken by Doug Jones during
a 1953 fan excusion. (from a negative in the collection of Larry Z. Daily)
This is the mill building as it appeared in the 1990’s. Note the metal siding on the largest part
of the building and the remnants of a sign on the part of the building nearest the photographer. (Photo circa 1990 by Mark Herrmann,
used with permission.)
The oldest part of the complex - what I think of as the main part of the building -
was originally sided with clapboard siding (see the photo above). Before 1970, though,
the original wood siding had been covered over with metal siding that mimicked the
original wood. I used Evergreen siding, but scribed panel lines to match the prototype.
In this shot, the walls are all in place and I’ve started on the roof.
In 1970, the building was painted gray with white trim. As near as I could tell,
all of the roofs were metal. Throught the 1970’s, there was a cyclone of some
kind on the roof and nothing on the market was close to what I needed, so I designed
and 3D printed one to match.
When I first visited Gordonsville, there was part of a sign
that said “Farm Service” still hanging on the structure. In a 1973 photo from the C&O
Historical Society part of a sign displaying the Southern States logo below the word
“Orange” was visible. When I looked in a 1970 phone book, I found a listing for the Orange
Madison Cooperative Farm Service, which was associated with Southern States, so that’s what I
put on the sign.
As noted in the section on the design of the layout, I modified the original track plan to add
a double-ended siding between Gordonsville and staging. This new siding is meant to represent a
siding in Lindsay. It will function, in a sense, like visible staging. A train from Potomac
Yard with cars for Richmond would drop them in Lindsay for the next east-bound train. Those cars will
be placed into position between operating sessions. A train from Richmond with cars for Potomac Yard
would drop them in Lindsay and my operators (most likely operator - me) will drop those cars right before
their train enters staging and they’ll be removed between operating sessions.In this shot, I’ve
cut back the foam and added the cork roadbed.
It didn’t take long to get the flex track in place.
The push pins are to hold the track while the adhesive cures.
Here’s the east end of the completed siding...
...and here’s the west end. The siding capacity is approximately 7 50' cars.
Please note that, due to a huge volume of spam coming in on my email account, I’ve had to change my email address.
The new address is firstname.lastname@example.org (but remove the nospam and the dot before piedmontsub.com).
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