Fate of the Dorchester & Dixiana Branch

After nearly a year since the last post, those of you who check the site for signs of life occasionally (both of you) had probably given up hope.  What progress has been made on the layout?  I think I’ve laid about 6 feet of rail in the past year.  Life is busy, my family needs more time, my job is more demanding, and some of the friends who shared this dream when it started don’t live here anymore.  Excuses?  Of course!  But none that I’m ashamed of.  Life is full of seasons, and there are times in life when you have to set aside everything that’s not essential to focus on things that are truly important.

So what now for the layout?  I still love the hobby, love the Southern and Interstate RR, and I do desire to finish a layout someday. Changes in our family needs mean we need more space, and the layout is the most obvious target. While I’ve resisted the idea of having NO layout, I’ve come to the conclusion that my current layout is too much for me to build and operate. . . sigh. . .

I believe I need to simplify to a single-deck layout and no helix in the back room. Other than the helix, there’s no problem with the current footprint as long as I can open up more storage space underneath and clear a better path to the bathroom in the corner than going through the utility room.  It’s tempting to eliminate the upper deck and just complete what I’ve got on the lower deck, but when I really think about it, it’s the coal branch operations and mine runs I’m after more than the mainline and interchanges of the lower deck.  After tossing around many ideas and staring at graph paper for hours, I’ve come to the conclusion that a modified version of my upper deck is the best candidate for the redesigned layout.

I will consolidate the design into one room, so the branch to Dixiana will be shortened to stop short of going through the closet, but all loaders will still be modeled. The Glamorgan branch is tricky because it requires one loop of the helix to get all legs of the wye functional in the layout room, so I will likely need to truncate that end of the line to make it work. I plan to lower the top deck about 3″ to a more comfortable height that’s still close to eye level.

These changes will do many things:

  • First, I can concentrate on one railroad instead of three (this is both a positive and negative)
  • It will also reduce the amount of hoppers and other rolling stock needed which will allow me to complete trains in less time
  • It will cut down on the amount of electricity needed for lighting which will save me from putting in new breakers
  • There will only be about 1/3 of the track on the upper deck compared to the lower, so I’ll be able to finish it faster than before, and it means I don’t have to buy any more rail
  • It will allow me to work on scenery as I go (I’ve been holding off on the lower-deck scenery so I don’t mess it up when building the upper)
  • It will simplify operations so I can run a session by myself or with two people, though the amount of switching would justify two-person crews and keep four busy for a couple hours
  • I’ll also be able to raise my workbench, something that will become more important as I get older (the current one already hurts my back)
  • It will keep us in this house, at least for a while longer
  • The simpler project with a more reasonable finish line (I know it will never be truly finished) will motivate me to get back in the basement

So there you have it. The next update will probably be a bit of news on destruction, but I hope that will be followed by much more construction!

Ops Session #8

Last night the band got together again and had a great ops session. With lots of other life going on, there has been very little progress on the layout, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time. We set a new benchmark by running six trains including the Interstate’s 1st and 2nd hill crews, 1st and 2nd mine runs, the N&W yard job and L&N 864/865. The crew included Stuart, Nathan, Patrick and me, and even my son, Noah, ran the N&W for a bit. It warmed my heart to hear him say “I want to run trains again” today!


Patrick works the head end of the 1st Hill Crew’s train blocking cars at Norton before heading to the Clinchfield connection at Miller Yard


Stuart is the conductor for the 1st Hill Crew. Two-operator crews are the norm for this train due to the blocking and interchange work required.


Nathan opens up the throttle on the 1st Mine Run to make the top of the 2% grade of Norton Hill.

Lessons learned:

  • Actually fix the switches identified as “trouble” from the last session so they don’t cause problems again.
  • Taking a break in the middle of the session is a good thing for both friendship and the feet.
  • People will actually drive 60 miles in the snow and sub-zero temps to operate a layout with friends (thanks, Patrick!).


Ops Session #7

By my math, last week the Dorchester & Dixiana Branch had its seventh ops session. I’ll admit this isn’t a very impressive number for a layout that was started 8 years ago, but it does sound rather lucky. . .

The occasion for the session was a visit from Stuart Thayer, long-time friend, co-builder of the layout, and now Kentucky resident. Another of the original crew, Nathan Zachman, was also on hand, and long-time L&N modeler Bob Chapman joined us for his second session. We ran four trains: Second Mine Run, Second Hill Crew, N&W Yard Crew and L&N 864/865.


Nathan and Bob finish their work in Norton and prepare to take the 2nd Hill Crew to Dorchester Jct. while Stuart works the Dorchester Branch in the background. Note the new tracks laid on the upper deck in what will be the Esserville Scales area.

Technically speaking, the area I’ve modeled was worked by the Interstate’s First and Third Mine Runs. Once the upper deck is running, these trains will be added, but for now, I’ve given the Second Mine Run (which worked the Interstate’s Roaring Fork and Pardee Branches off layout) a little extra territory to work the short Dorchester Branch on the lower deck. Stuart ran the mine run like a pro including turning the train at Dorchester Jct. and shoving up the branch to work the four stub tracks before returning to Andover.

Nathan and Bob teamed up on the Hill Crew which they picked up on its return leg from Miller Yard to Andover, loaded with Clinchfield interchange traffic bound for the L&N. After dropping off a few cars for the N&W, working the Pepsi plant at Norton and pulling the interchange, the Hill Crew departed for Dorchester Jct. where they had to wait for L&N 864 which was setting out it’s Clinchfield-bound cars in the interchange. This marks the first time the L&N and Interstate have met here, and the yard-limit rules kept everyone safe.


Engineer Nathan finishes his set-outs in Dorchester Jct. while conductor Bob directs his steps. They had to wait for the L&N to finish up their work before they could access the tracks just as the real Interstate crews had to do on occassion.

Meanwhile, I had fun working the switching puzzle which is the N&W’s Norton Yard (or the tiny piece of it that’s modeled on the layout). I’ve worked it enough that I was able to avoid the major pitfalls and keep things moving albeit one car at a time thanks to the short tail tracks.

Overall the session worked well and fixed a few issues identified in previous sessions. On the positive side, the DCC worked flawlessly, there were significantly fewer derailments, and only one car had to be placed on the “bad order” track. On the negative side, some unclear instructions resulted in a few cars leaving Norton that should have stayed–I’ll clear this up for next time.

As you can see from the first photo, I’ve been laying a little track on the upper level, and while progress has been customarily slow, it’s great to have at least a little progress on the upper deck. At least there was enough change that Stuart claimed it was “major progress” from a year prior–good to hear the year has at least yielded enough progress to be noticed! ;-)

Real railroader on the layout

Last week, the layout had another “first”–the first career railroader as an operator. Charlie is a long-time railroader with the Southern, NS and AAR, and last week he stopped by to talk trains and operate a mine run. The layout’s been in “construction mode” for nearly a year, so it took a while to get things back into operational condition, but in the end, we had a mini ops session with a mine run to Dorchester that also had a couple of switching tasks in Norton to do. It was fun watching the way a real railroader looks at the switching problems, and I’m sure the HO scale folks in the caboose appreciated it!

Charlie working Dorchester Jct

Charlie working Dorchester Jct

After spending all my hobby time updating Appalachian Railroad Modeling recently, it was very motivational to talk trains and see some trains running again, and I’ve made a new friend to boot. Thanks, Charlie!

First Construction on the Upper Deck

It’s been a long, long time since my last update on the layout, and after a long season of dormancy where I’ve worked on a few models but not the layout, I’ve finally started construction again.  This new progress marks a significant milestone–there is now construction on the upper deck!  If you look at the trackplan, you can see that the upper deck represents the Interstate’s Glamorgan and Dixiana branches and will be home to nearly a dozen loaders and a couple of small industries.  Construction methods are the same as on the lower deck:  open-grid benchwork and cookie-cutter subroadbed made from plywood and 1/4″ luan.

Here are some photos of the progress.

Looking down the center peninsula.  The subroadbed will eventually support the loader at Brutons Siding and Esserville Scales.

Looking down the center peninsula. The subroadbed will eventually support the loader at Brutons Siding and Esserville Scales.

End of peninsula showing the base for what will be the Guest River. The loader at Esserville will straddle the tracks in the background.

End of peninsula showing the base for what will be the Guest River. The loader at Esserville will straddle the tracks in the background.

The tracks for Esserville climb toward the backdrop while the Guest River and Roys Siding occupy the foreground. This scene will eventually be dominated by a large bank of coke ovens.

The tracks for Esserville climb toward the backdrop while the Guest River and Roys Siding occupy the foreground. This scene will eventually be dominated by a large bank of coke ovens.

It’s been very gratifying to get back into construction, and I can’t wait to finish the helix and get trains up to this level and all the loaders.  Stay tuned for more updates soon!