PRR NYC Cherry Tree & Dixonville, PA track plan N

  • Size: 14′ x 16′
  • Scale: N
  • Minimum Radius: 15″
  • Minimum Aisle Width: 30″
  • Designed by Dan Bourque thanks to help from Henry Statkowski

PRR Logo (plain)Sometimes in the coalfields, even the fiercest of competitors join forces for a common benefit. The Cherry Tree & Dixonville was formed in 1903 as a paper company owned jointly by the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad. The CT&D was essentially 34 miles of coal branches which extended from the PRR’s Susquehanna Extension Branch and the NYCs Pittsburg & Eastern line from Clearfield, PA, the heart of NYC coal operations in Pennsylvania. The NYC operated mine runs on the CT&D out of Cherry Tree yard while the PRR ran its mine runs from Barnesboro or Spangler several miles south of Cherry Tree (the NYC also had trackage rights over the PRR to Spangler where it connected to the Cambria County Railroad which it owned).

NYC Logo PlainThe CT&D was built by the PRR and maintained by the NYC, but the two railroads traded off operating the line with the PRR operating odd years and the NYC even years, though the NYC always did the dispatching. The CT&D had a lot of neat features for a branch. First, a loop was built to keep the grade at Fleming Summit, the highest point on the line, to a gentle 0.8%. A cutoff allowed lighter trains (passenger trains and westbounds) to bypass the loop on a 2% grade. Second, the line interchanged with the Cambria & Indiana, a coal-hauling shortline, at Manver, PA–most of the C&I’s traffic at Manver went to the NYC (the PRR had a better connection with the C&I further south).

All along the multiple branches of the CT&D were loaders and a few other industries including brick ovens and a manufacturing plant near Dixonville. Passenger trains were operated by the NYC until 1936 and the PRR until 1947. The passenger trains were the only trains allowed to exceed the 25 mph speed on the branch (they could go 35). Just prior to the 1968 Penn Central merger, when heavier 100T cars were becoming the standard, the PRR began to route its trains through Clearfield and over the more suitable NYC connection to the CT&D. After the merger, the CT&D was run just like any other PC branch. Subsequently, Conrail operated the branch until most of the loaders had ceased operation. The line was sold to RJ Corman who continued to serve an operation near Clymer, PA into the new millennium.

The Layout

This N-scale layout captures all of the major parts of the CT&D on two decks and is designed to fit into a large bedroom or small basement. Like the prototype, the profile is down-up-down with Cherry Tree at one end and Dixonville at the other. There were no industries on the east side of Fleming Summit, so after leaving Cherry Tree, the layout ducks into a helix up to Fleming Summit on the upper level. A compressed version of the loop and cutoff and the line to Wandin with its coal loaders occupy the upper central penninsula. At Wandin, the Possum Glory Branch (no kidding, that was its name) cuts off the mainline and heads back down the helix to Manver (connection with the C&I). The interchange with the C&I is operational and connects with the yard at Cherry Tree behind the backdrop–this provides a continuous running loop AND automatic recycling of loads and empties. In other words, when a crew places empties at Manver, they pop out at Cherry Tree for the next crew, and when the crew brings loads into Cherry Tree, they automatically pop out at Manver to be picked up as new C&I loads. In between, they make a transit of the lower and upper decks including two trips through the helix to simulate the many miles between Manver and Cherry Tree. The remainder of the layout occupies a shelf around three walls and includes several loaders on the lines to Heilwood, Sample Run and Dixonville.

Truth in advertising: the track arrangements were based on track charts, but the actual placement and types of loaders uses a little creative license on my part to fill in the gaps from research. When in doubt, I put a loader on the siding. The manufacturing plant near Dixonville is still there today, but the rails to it were pulled up prior to 1952–I left it as a rail-served industry to add interest.

Lower Level

Track plan PRR NYC Cherry Tree & Dixonville, PA N scale - Lower

Upper Level

Track plan PRR NYC Cherry Tree & Dixonville, PA N scale - Upper


This layout could easily support 2-3 operators or be run by 1. After the limited passenger service went away, the line was served by PRR/NYC mine runs and NYC C&I turns. The NYC used primarily 2-8-2s and later A-B-B-A sets of Fs or Alcos and then GP7s/9s or even RS3s.  The PRR likely used 2-8-0s, 2-8-2s and even an occasional 2-10-0 followed by Fs, FAs, early GPs and an occasional SD7 or 9 in the diesel era. Hoppers were primarily 55T and 70T cars until the late ’60s. While the PRR and NYC traded dispatching responsibility, they both ran their own trains on the branch.

Knowledge of operations beyond this is limited, but I will outline a plausible operations scheme. An NYC mine run could be operated out of Cherry Tree (visibly staged) and operate up the branch working loaders shipping on the NYC. At another time, a PRR mine run would be run out of Spangler staging (marked “Cresson” on the plan) to work the remaining tipples and industries. For variation, the shipping arrangements for various tipples could be changed from session to session so PRR and NYC crews would always work slightly different tipples. Per the timetable, westbound trains would use the loop cutoff at Fleming Summit while all eastbound trains would use the loop.

The remaining trains would be NYC turns bringing empties to the C&I and collecting loads. These turns would originate at Cherry Tree where the crew would assemble the train from two cuts of empties in the yard. The train would run up the helix, through the loop cutoff, around to Wandin and back down the helix to Manver. At Manver, the crew would pull past the wye, cut their train in two, and shove the empties back into the C&I interchange. The crew would assemble their new turn from the two cuts of loads at Manver and run back up the helix, through Wandin, over the loop and back down to Cherry Tree. Finally, the crew would pull around the wye at Cherry Tree, and shove two cuts of loads into the yard. Miraculously, there would already be another set of empties in the yard ready to be hauled to Manver, and the C&I would already have two more cuts of loads waiting. In this manner, an indefinite number of C&I turns could be run in a session using only two sets of hoppers. One last element: while the NYC and PRR both “owned” the CT&D, the NYC did all the maintenance and was reimbursed by the PRR for 50% of cost, so an occasional NYC work train could run on the branch and clog up sidings to keep operations interesting.

Obviously, a Penn Central or Conrail ops session would be a little simpler for mine runs, but the C&I turns would still work well.

Things I Like About this Plan:

  • Includes an entire branchline
  • Automatic recycling of loads/empties for C&I
  • Continuous running loop
  • Loop scene at Fleming Summit
  • Open staging (not covered by scenery)
  • No duck-unders
  • Generous aisles
  • Two railroad operation

Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:

  • Lots of unprototypical bridges to hide transitions through backdrops
  • Unprototypical grades on upper deck (track climbs from Fleming Summit to Wandin due to helix restrictions)

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