- Size: 22′ x 30′
- Scale: N
- Minimum Radius: 20″
- Minimum Aisle Width: 30″
- Designed by Dan Bourque
The Nicholas, Fayette & Greenbriar railroad, more commonly known as the NF&G, was a paper railroad set up by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1929 to resolve the battle between the C&O and NYC on which road would serve the rich coal deposits being developed along the Gauley and Meadow Rivers. The heart of the NF&G was the assembly yard and engine facility at Rainelle, WV. Between the yard and engine terminal was Meadow River Lumber Company, the largest hardwood sawmill in the world. The NYC reached Rainelle from the west via Gauley Bridge, WV. The C&O reached Rainelle via a steep grade from Meadow Creek, WV. Originally, the C&O’s connection ascended Meadow Creek via a double switchback. In 1947, this switchback was replaced with a pair of loops that became a signature feature of the NF&G (the NF&G loops). Despite replacing the switchbacks, the grade on the loops was still nearly 3.5%! Several branches of all sizes left the NF&G main. While some were owned solely by the C&O or NYC, two of the largest, the Rupert Sub/Big Clear Creek Sub to Clearco, WV and the Kanawha & Eastern (K&E) Sub to the Quinwood, WV area were jointly served by both roads.
This layout represents the busiest portion of the NF&G around Rainelle, WV in the late steam to transition era (late 1940s and 1950s). It’s a very large layout, especially for N scale, but N was chosen to better showcase the big features of the line including the NF&G loops, Meadow River Lumber, and the lines on either side of the Meadow River west of Rainelle. Because of the smaller scale, I chose to focus on the mainline operations rather than the switching at the mines. Though the distance between scenes is compressed, I’ve tried to model the key elements of the most important scenes like the loops and Rainelle with as little compression as practical. Like the real NF&G, the heart of this layout is Rainelle, WV where mine runs (“shifters”) were dispatched to the various branches to bring in loads of coal, and coal drags were assembled and shipped off to the C&O at Meadow Creek and the NYC at Gauley Bridge. The bulk of the layout represents the NF&G main between the NF&G loops and Rainelle, and the rest of the layout is dedicated to modeling a portion of the three main lines that ran geographically north and east of Rainelle. A handful of loaders (7 total, all prototypically placed) are modeled along these lines to give crews some work to do and make it clear this is coal country.
One of the key features of the NF&G was the tough grades east of Rainelle, and these are modeled faithfully with the 3%+ grade up the loops to Top Siding and a 1/7% ruling grade against loads from Rainelle to Top Siding. This allows staging to be accessed without a helix on the RR east end of the layout via the steep loops. At the other end of the layout, a three-track helix takes trains from all three RR west lines to the staging level. The end of the Rupert/Big Clear Creek Sub was served primarily by the NYC, so a shared double-ended staging yard for the NYC links Clearco with Peters Jct. This allows empty trains to head up the branch to Clearco and be recycled as trains of empty hoppers coming in from the NYC to Rainelle. Conversely, loaded trains leaving Rainelle for the NYC can be recycled as mine runs returning from Clearco. Likewise, the C&O’s two staging yards are linked by a double-track continuous running connection. C&O loaded trains leaving Rainelle for Meadow Creek can be recycled as shifters returning from Quinwood (K&E Sub) or Russelville with loads, and empty shifters heading up the branches can be recycled as trains of empties returning from Meadow Creek. In this way, a handful of trains can be used to simulate dozens.
Scenically, this area is a mix of wooded hills and rolling fields. Thanks to the Meadow River Lumber Company, much of these forests have been cut and replanted, so evidence of this should be visible in the scenery. Because of the snakelike nature of the track plan and the number of locomotives needed, a high-end DCC system with wireless throttles is highly recommended. Other than building the three-track helix, construction would be very simple and straightforward, and the design allows easy access to track and switches, both visible and hidden. I didn’t draw it, but I would recommend installing an access hatch inside the largest loop of the NF&G loops. One downside about this design is crews will have to walk around peninsulas to stay with their trains. The Beelick Knob peninsula forces this walk for mainline trains, but the walk is short. The largest peninsula means crews operating on the Rupert Sub would have to walk all the way around it between McRoss and Rainelle, though crews would be able to leave Rainelle, make this walk, and still look along the wall from McRoss to see their train departing Rainelle.
Operations on this layout would keep 4-6 operators busy for a few hours, and thanks to the ability to auto-recycle trains in staging, the crew could run trains to their heart’s content. A dispatcher would be needed to call crews and keep trains separated, and a yardmaster/hostler would be useful in Rainelle. Other crews would act as road crews and mine run crews, shuttling trains back and forth from Rainelle to the various branches. The basic setup is a mix of empty and loaded hopper cuts in Rainelle with enough motive power in the engine terminal for a few trains. The basic flow is simple. 1) Empties come in via road runs from both C&O Meadow Creek and NYC Peters Jct staging and drop their cars in Rainelle Yard, engines and cabs go to the engine terminal. 2) Yard crews break down the hopper cuts and make cuts of empties bound for each branch (a mix of C&O and NYC cars). 3) Mine Runs pick up power in Rainelle, attach it to a cut of empty hoppers, and head out one of the lines from Rainelle. Some of these mine runs will have a handful of loaders to work in the modeled area (dropping empties only) before heading to staging. 4) Loaded mine runs are run from staging back to Rainelle, picking up any remaining loads along the way, dropping their loads in the yard and taking the engine and cab to the terminal. 5) Yard crews block coal and divide NYC from C&O, and 6) road crews pick up power in Rainelle, couple up to a string of loads, and head to staging.
Each mine run would represent half of a mine run (out or back) except for one. While not definitive, evidence suggests that the branch to Clearco was primarily worked by the NYC, and the branch to Quinwood and beyond was worked primarily by the C&O. Everything RR east of Rainelle (toward Meadow Creek) was worked by the C&O. One C&O shifter would be called to work these mines and industries along the main between Rainelle and the loops including one loader at Bellwood and two loaders on the branch to Beelick Knob. This shifter would take its empties up the grade toward Top Siding, drop empties at Bellwood and the two Beelick Knob loaders, and pull their loads upgrade to Meadow Bridge. Rather than haul the loads up the steep grade to top, they would likely be left in the siding at Meadow Bridge for a later road crew to haul to Meadow Creek. Another special job would be a Meadow River Lumber Company turn. The Meadow River Lumber Company ran a branch from the NF&G at Rupert, so this train would start in Clearco staging, climb the helix, and run through Rupert and McRoss hauling flatcars full of fresh timber for the sawmill in Rainelle. This crew could also work the plant, hauling flatcars of raw timber around to the ponds behind the sawmill, pulling cars of loaded lumber from the widely spaced tracks on the other side of the plant, and replacing them with empties. At the end of the session, a Meadow River shay would take a string of empty flatcars back up the Rupert Sub to staging. Additional cars of raw timber could be spotted along the branch at Surbaugh and the second siding at Meadow Bridge for mine runs to bring back to Rainelle.
Motive power for all of these operations is pretty straightforward. In the steam era, the C&O used class H4 and H6 2-6-6-2 Mallets as both mine run power and road power for the loops. The NYC used heavy 2-8-2s for both its mine runs and road trains. In the early diesel era, motive power was probably 4-axle geeps for both the NYC and C&O including GP7s and GP9s. For the C&O, Bachmann makes a plastic H4 2-6-6-2, and Kato makes a plastic New York Central 2-8-2 that would work well for this layout. Pushers were used in both directions between Rainelle and Meadow Creek, helping loaded trains up the 1.7% grade to Top Siding, and helping empty trains up the 3%+ grade between Meadow Creek and Top Siding. I don’t have any experience working with pushers in N-scale (especially pushing on empty hoppers), but doubling loaded trains up the grade was also done, and shorter empty trains could be run up the loops if helper operations are problematic–this also solves the problems of having to remove pushers in staging.
Things I Like About this Plan:
- The NF&G loops can be modeled well
- Continuous running and “infinite staging”
- Good mix of mainline running and switching
- Not all coal (lots of lumber)
Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:
- Have to walk around peninsulas to follow some trains
- Three track helix must be constructed
- Long run below the layout for continuous running