L&N Eastern Kentucky Coal Fields, KY track plan HO

ARRM’s 100th track plan and first place winner for the 100th Track Plan Contest is Donald Dunn.

Donald’s idea is to model the L&N’s Eastern Kentucky (EK) Sub coal fields including Hazard, Dent, the Carrs Fork Branch, Leatherwood Branch and Rockhouse Creek Branch in the 1970s. Donald grew up in this area and later worked for the CSX out of Hazard–he’s always wanted to model this area. I loved the challenge of fitting a lot of branch lines and tipples into this space.

  • Size: 25′ x 25′
  • Scale: HO
  • Minimum Radius: 29″ mainline, 27″ branch line
  • Minimum Aisle Width: 30″
  • Designed by Dan Bourque

L&N LogoThe Eastern Kentucky (EK) Sub (previously EK Division) of the L&N was all about coal, especially on the eastern end. The heart of the EK’s coal fields was Hazard, Kentucky, home to a yard and engine facilities for the dozen or so mine runs that plied the coal branches emanating from the EK main. The original main went from Hazard to Dent, then on to Fleming and Neon, but after WWII, the Rockhouse Creek Branch was constructed a bit further north, opening up new coal operations between Blackey and Deane, KY where L&N rails met (and later connected with) the C&O. Other noteworthy branches in the Hazard area included the Lots Creek Branch, Carrs Fork Branch, and Leatherwood Branch.

The Layout

This layout, designed for a large free-standing shed, represents a good portion of the EK Sub south of Hazard, KY in the coal boom of the 1970s. This was an interesting time period because coal was plentiful, and loaders were a mix of old wooden tipples, newer truck dumps, modern conveyor affairs and early flood loaders. Additionally, the L&N reactivated its mine run base at Dent, KY because lots of coal and poor track made some areas south of Dent impossible to serve on a single shift.

L&N EK Coal FieldsThe “must haves” on this layout are the yard at Hazard, the yard at Dent, and plenty of coal loaders for mine runs to work. I decided to model key areas in a series of vignettes on two decks with helices being used to “eat up” some of the less important distance between the key scenes. The vignettes include 1) Hazard, 2) the Davidson Branch Spur, 3) the EK main from Jeff to Dent, KY, 4) the end of the Carrs Fork Branch, and 5) the end of the Leatherwood Branch. Vignette 6, on the lower deck, is kind of a “choose your own adventure,” and I’ve drawn four possibilities: 6A) the Rockhouse Creek Branch from Shirley to Swanee, 6B) the end of the Lots Creek Branch, 6C) the Rockhouse Creek Branch from Maxie to Airco, and 6D) the end of the Rockhouse Creek Branch from Democrat to Deane.

6A) Rockhouse Creek Branch from Shirley to Swanee.  This is the first collection of loaders south of Dent including a large Southeast Coal Company loader at Swanee. This vignette allows for mine runs (~2 per day) bound for points south (like Maxie and Deane) to run through this scene to staging.

6B) Lots Creek Branch. This vignette models the several loaders at the end of the Lots Creek Branch which left the EK main just north of Hazard Yard. The middle of the branch is basically missing, but it includes some iconic tipples like the wood tipple at Ajax (which was still standing in the 1990s) and the fast loader at Arnold. However, building this vignette means all the mine runs south of Dent simply descend the helix into staging.

6C) Rockhouse Creek Branch from Maxie to Airco. This was a heavy concentration of loaders on the Rockhouse Creek Branch. It gives a mine run plenty of work to do while allowing at least one other mine run bound for Deane to run through the scene.

6D) End of the Rockhouse Creek Branch from Democrat to Deane. This area had two of the largest loaders on the branch, and the loader at Deane was shared with the C&O. The C&O is fully functional in this plan including its own staging which (like the other vignettes) allows for continuous running on the layout.

L&N EK Coal Fields, KY HO scale track plan

L&N EK Coal Fields, KY HO scale track plan

L&N EK Coal Fields, KY HO scale track plan

L&N EK Coal Fields, KY HO scale track plan

SBD yard switcher at Hazard, KY

SBD (former L&N) GP38 switches the yard at Hazard, KY, Oct 1985 -Stuart Thayer

Staging is set beneath the Dent peninsula below the lower deck. It represents the large yard at Ravenna, KY on one end and Deane/C&O on the other. The two yards are joined by a loop that allows for continuous running and a pair of crossovers near the helix to make a large reversing loop. This arrangement allows for both staging yards to be used for any train and some trains to be recycled during an operating session. Staging tracks are at least 15 feet long allowing for 2-3 locomotives, a cab, and 20-30 coal hoppers. There are only seven tracks in the main staging yard, so if needed, an additional staging yard could be built under Hazard.

The most imposing part of building this layout is the sheer number of helices–there are four. . . FOUR! Three are full height between decks and the other is half-height down to staging. While this is a lot of construction and hidden track, the helices are strategically placed to convey the prototypical distance between the modeled areas. The Leatherwood Branch also requires a swing-out section (to avoid a duck-under) by the door. The swing-out is designed to tuck away alongside Daisy, and it would only be needed twice a session to allow the Leatherwood No 2 mine run on and off the branch.

For running trains, an advanced DCC system with wireless throttles and lots of boosters is recommended to give operators freedom to follow their trains without tangling cords. The plan also has space for a dispatcher’s desk on the lower level. CTC on this section of the EK covered the main from Hazard to Blackey, KY.

Operations

A full operations session on this layout would require 4-6 operators. The “stationary” positions would be a dispatcher and Hazard Yardmaster. The other 2-4 operators would be road crews working the several mine runs and shuttling trains back-and-forth between staging and Hazard or Hazard and Dent. The basic scheme of operations is trains of empty hoppers running from Ravenna to Hazard, classification of those hoppers into mine runs, dispatching of mine runs from Hazard, mine runs trading the empties for loads in their assigned areas, returning the loads to Hazard, and sending extras of loaded coal north to Ravenna. For a late ’70s session, Dent would be reactivated as a mine run base adding the steps of moving empties and loads as extras between Dent and Hazard and classification in Dent.

SECX GP20s pass station at Hazard, KY

SECX GP20s (GP21s) at Hazard, KY -Jay Thompson

According to the excellent book The Louisville and Nashville in the Appalachians by Ron Flanary, the L&N had about 12 mine runs over this section of railroad during the coal boom of the 1970s. Each of these mine runs would be assigned 2-3 4-axle locomotives including weary RS3s until 1974 and C420s and GPs for the late ’70s. 6-axles would be used to haul trains to-and-from Ravenna and Hazard (and perhaps Dent in the late ’70s). For the layout, the following mine runs would have actual work to do: The First Creek Mine Run would work Bluegrass No. 3 and the Davidson Spur (vignette 2). Carr’s Fork No 1 would work Jeff (3) Montoco and Simmons (4). Carr’s Fork No 2 would work Hytemp, Wiscoal, and Anco (4). Neon No 3 would work the SECX loader at Swanee (6A), Leatherwood No 1 would work Deane, Airco and Maxie (6C/6D or run through 6A), Neon No 1 would work Jack Top and Shirley (6A). Neon No 2 would work Coolidge and Viper (3), Leatherwood No 2 would work Daisy and Leatherwood (vignettes 3/5), and South Turn Nos 1 and 2 would work Ajax, Duane, Arnold, Tribbey and Hardburly (6B – represented by staging for 6A/C/D). The only prototype mine run with no territory to work on this layout is the Fleming Mine Run. Each of these mine runs would consist of around 20-30 cars and take probably 30-120 real-time minutes to complete their task.

Because of the time required for a single mine run, a fast clock of about 4:1 would be appropriate. It may also make sense to run 12-hour (3 real hours) sessions instead of 24-hour sessions. Alternating AM and PM sessions would change the trains run and the tipples worked and add nice variety between sessions. Additional variety could be gained by varying the year and adding mine runs out of Dent for the Rockhouse Creek Branch. A 1979 session would also add the mint green GP20s and GP38-2s of the Southeast Coal Company to work their loaders on the layout (Swanee).

Things I Like About this Plan:

  • Tons of mine runs
  • Tons of tipples
  • Long mainline run
  • Variety in operations (even though it’s all coal)
  • Captures the key elements of this area well

Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:

  • Swing-out section
  • Narrow aisles
  • Four helices (FOUR!)
  • Some narrow scenes
  • Some unprototypical transitions through backdrops (extra bridges)
  • Needs more staging tracks

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2 Responses to L&N Eastern Kentucky Coal Fields, KY track plan HO

  1. Jon J. Hultman says:

    Wow!! This is amazing. I always loved ’70’s era EK and CV operations and this is cool. If someone builds it, we will come… to help operate it. And to think I was going to submit the Campbell’s Creek Railroad with its lone diesel and NYC or barge loader interchanges. That would have been on branch of this incredible design. Thanks for sharing.

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