LEF&C, PA Diesel Era track plan HO

  • Size: 19′ x 12′
  • Scale: HO
  • Minimum Mainline Radius: 24″
  • Minimum Aisle Width: 27″
  • Designed by Dan Bourque

LEF&C LogoThe Lake Erie, Franklin and Clarion Railroad was a 15-mile long coal hauler in northwestern Pennsylvania. Like other PA short lines such as the Montour, Cambria and Indiana and Pittsburg & Shawmut, the LEF&C ran its operations with a handful of diesel switchers. With its simple track arrangement, compact motive power and a number of industries in addition to the coal loaders, the LEF&C makes a great subject to model even in a modest space.

The Layout

This track plan depicts the LEF&C in its diesel heyday in the late ’70s and ’80s when four loaders and most of the industries were still operational. It’s designed to fit into a large 16′ x 12′ bedroom with a closet, and while the space between scenes is significantly compressed, this plan depicts every area of operational interest on the railroad between its terminus at Clarion, PA and its connection with the Pennsy (Penn Central, Conrail) at Summerville, PA. The biggest compromise to fit the entire 15-mile railroad in a bedroom is the use of 24″ radius curves and lots of hidden track, but the LEF&C’s small motive power make this possible.

The layout is divided into four scenes, two on each level. The lower level represents the southern end of the railroad at Summerville where the Conrail had a small interchange yard. The Conrail section of the layout is a fully functional two-track main, allowing continuous running of two trains simultaneously if desired. Also included in this scene is the large brick factory just across Redbank Creek from Summerville. The next scene is Holden, site of a wye and two loaders. The tail track of the wye is truncated, but the loader can still be served using one leg of the wye. Also included in this scene is the second interchange with the Conrail (NYC, Penn Central and later Mountain Laurel)–this interchange was more valuable during the NYC era, and enough of it is modeled to allow the interchange of a dozen hoppers.

On the upper level, trains transit through Strattanville, home of several industries (lumber, mattress factory) including two loaders. The northernmost loader was between Strattanville and Clarion, and it’s been moved into the fourth scene, the end of the line at Clarion, PA. Clarion was home to the railroad’s tiny yard, a small engine servicing facility in the middle of a wye, and a glass factory.

Because the LEF&C only had 6 locomotives at its peak, this layout can be easily run with an entry- or mid-level DCC system, though walk-around throttles would be a must. Construction would be fairly straightforward, though the outside of the helix would need to be well crafted to allow building Holden wye without cut too far into the aisle. Most switches could be commercially bought, but some would need to be modified (curved a bit). There are a lot of track transitions through backdrops, but most are hidden well behind either prototypically placed bridges (very handy) or curves surrounded by scenery and trees as view blocks.




Lake Erie, Franklin and Clairon MP15DC #28, date and location unknown -Jeff Parsons collection

This layout is designed for 1-2 operators–there just isn’t room for more, but luckily the railroad only needs 1-2 to run it. Operations followed the same basic pattern throughout the diesel era. Trains would start in Clarion with 2-3 diesels and a cab. During the 1950s and ’60s, the units would be black-and-yellow Alco RS1s, and during the ’70s through ’90s, SW1500s and MP15DCs. The train would work its way from Clarion to Summerville, picking up cars at industries and coal loaders along the way and dropping them off at one of the two interchanges in exchange for new cars. On the return trip, trains would drop cars at industries and supply the loaders with empties before tying up in Clarion. It sounds simple, but the sheer number of spurs needing to be switched, the combination of facing- and trailing-point switches, and a shortage of run-arounds would make this quite the switching puzzle.

During the ’60s, one train per day in each direction was sufficient because only one loader was active. This train usually worked in the afternoon and evening when the businesses were idle. With more loaders and coal traffic during the ’70s and ’80s, more trains were needed each day, though the basic pattern of operation was still the same. In addition to different motive power, this layout offers variety through the non-coal industries. Boxcars, lumber cars, tank cars and covered hoppers were regular visitors to the line. Additional variety could be gained by idling one or more loader during a session, and if you really wanted a challenge, you could model a “low time” in the per diem freight car business where surplus LEF&C boxcars and hoppers (they owned several hundred) could clog run-arounds and yard tracks making moves more challenging.

The PRR/Conrail interchange could either be visibly staged, or a PRR/Conrail train or two could actually be run from the hidden portion of their loops into the interchange yard to exchange cars, adding even more variety of motive power and cars. No matter which era or variations were modeled, each operating session could be made unique, and a session would easily take a couple of enjoyable hours.

Things I Like About this Plan:

  • Captures an entire railroad in a small space
  • Lots of switching
  • Good variety of industries
  • Continuous running loop and working interchange

Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:

  • Narrow aisles
  • Small minimum radius on curves
  • Lots of hidden trackage

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