INT Roaring Fork Branch, VA track plan HO

  • Size: 11′ x 12′
  • Scale: HO
  • Minimum Mainline Radius: 24″
  • Minimum Aisle Width: 32″
  • Designed by Dan Bourque

Interstate Logo PlainThe Roaring Fork Branch was one of the primary coal branches on the Interstate Railroad. The Roaring Fork Branch left the Interstate’s mainline at Kent Jct, between the towns on Appalachia and Norton, VA. The Branch split at Dunbar, VA, and the ends of both branches hosted a slew of mining operations. During the Interstate era, this area was served by the Interstate’s Roaring Fork Mine Run; during the Southern era, these branches were served by the 2nd Mine Run. During the coal boom of the ’70s, these branches could produce more than 100 loaded hoppers a day.

The Layout

This bedroom-sized layout focuses on the branch from Kent Jct to the Pardee tipple at the end of the western fork. The eastern branch with the large Pine Branch loader and coke ovens as well as the junction at Dunbar have been omitted to fit into this small space. What remains is a series of four small loaders and the larger tipple at Pardee as well as Kent Jct. where the tracks join with the main.

There is a lot of compression in this layout, but it is designed to provide the maximum running distance in a small space. To achieve this, the layout is divided into 4 scenes, each occupying its own half-level. Rather than use a helix to get bewteen levels, the plan utilizes tracks climbing around the wall behind the backdrop. To make these tracks accessible, it would be wise to have a short backdrop with the hillside in front of the tracks with the sky behind to allow reach-over access. This has the effect of stretching out the distance between scenes to more closely resemble the prototype.

The four scenes chosen are 1) Kent Jct with it’s two small storage tracks, 2) Cane Patch, the first loader on the branch, 3) Clark to Whitfield, home of three small truck-dump loaders, and 4) the tipple at Pardee. Only the load tracks at Pardee are modeled, so a run-around was added in front of the loader to facilitate the swapping of empties and loads. While this is labeled an Interstate layout, the smaller loaders in the Clark/Whitfield section were added in the mid-’60s to ’70s, the Southern era. One wishing to build a steam-era or RS3-era Interstate layout might replace these small loaders with the old wooden tipple at Dunbar.

The layout starts at 40″ and climbs to 63″ following the prototype’s climb from the main up to Pardee. Due to the design, there is over 100 feet of running distance from Kent Jct. to Pardee–not bad for an 11′ x 12′ room. One major challenge with this design is hiding where the track transitions into the backdrop, something it does eight times. The mainline is simple because the L&N crosses over the Interstate just west of Kent Jct. For the transitions in the corners where the track loops, the backdrop is angled to block the view into the “tunnel” allowing the transition to be hid by trees and hillsides. The loaders at Cane Patch and Band Mill extend toward the aisle while the branch pushes toward the backdrop allowing a little foreground distraction. The remaining transitions would need a clever arrangement of hills and trees.

The staging level is not depicted, but the concept is a few tracks under Kent Jct and Cane Patch connected to the rest of the layout via a 2-3 turn helix. A reversing loop for staging could easily be placed under Cane Patch. An entry-level DCC system could easily power this space, though a walkaround cab is recommended to follow the train and aid in switching.

Track plan INT Roaring Fork Branch HO scale


Operations on the layout are simple but would still make for a couple of hours of switching enjoyment. The day would start with loads at each tipple ready to be picked up. The max capacity of the tipples is about 30 loads, so a corresponding number of empties (a really good-sized train) would be staged with the mine run. During the Interstate’s diesel era, power for the Roaring Fork Mine Run would be a single RS3. In the Southern era, the 2nd Mine Run would take 2-3 4-axles including F units and GP7s in the late ’60s and GP38s and perhaps a GP30 in the ’70s. The mine run, based in Andover, would take the wye at Kent Jct. and work its way up the branch dropping empties. Because of it arrangement, Cane Patch would be easier to work on the way back down the branch, so the first scene to be worked would be Clark/Whitfield with its three loaders. The stub-ended design of Band Mill would make for quite a challenge with all the loads and empties stacke in the scene.

Pardee is the oldest and largest loader represented on the layout. It would take quite a few moves to clear out and consolidate loads, run around empties and spot them. After finishing at Pardee, the mine run would work back down the branch, collecting loads along the way and finally giving Cane Patch its empties, easy now that its a trailing point move. With all the loads in-tow, the mine run would head back to Andover for the night.

While a single-train layout might seem repetitive, there are many operational variations which would add interest. First, the side tracks at Kent Jct. could be brought into play. On the prototype, trains bringing empties from the Interstate’s east end interchanges (N&W and CRR) would drop empties bound for the Roaring Fork in these tracks to be picked up by the mine run. A reciprocal use could also be emplaced where the mine run leaves eastbound loads in the side tracks before heading back to Andover–this would also require using the tracks to first do a bit of classification adding extra interest. Similar chores were performed on the nearby Glamorgan/Dixiana Branch to avoid bringing extra hoppers back to Andover just to be shipped back to Norton later. Another option is to “idle” loaders to vary which ones get worked, and perhaps adding the occasional covered hopper loaded with AN, tank car with antifreeze or flatcar with equipment to spot near Pardee would make for some extra switching.

Things I Like About this Plan:

  • Lots of running in a small space
  • Double-decked without a helix between levels
  • Lots of switching
  • Wide operating aisle

Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:

  • Small minimum radius (24″)
  • Lots of hidden track
  • Stub tracks instead of double ended at Pardee
  • Hard-to-hide transitions into backdrops

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One Response to INT Roaring Fork Branch, VA track plan HO

  1. Jon Hultman says:

    See Ed Wolfe’s outstanding book on Interstate mine runs and switching operations to see how they actually worked the branch, and how much effort was spent keeping the cab in the right spot. Great resource for any IRR/SOU coal layout!

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