VGN Mullens to Matoaka, WV track plan HO

  • Size: 34′ x 37′
  • Scale: HO
  • Minimum Radius: 36″
  • Minimum Aisle Width: 30″
  • Designed by Dan Bourque

VGN Logo (plain)Elmore, WV was the heart of the Virginian Railway’s coal operations. Besides being the major coal marshaling yard and and the base for mine runs and helpers, Elmore (along with nearby Mullens) was home to large facilities for big steam working the coal branches and mainline west and the electrics working the helper grade east and mainline to the Virginia coast. It was precisely for these attributes that a friend wanted to model this area.

The Layout

This large layout was designed for a friend who had a very specific goal in mind and some big constraints. My friend has a large collection of brass steam locomotives and wanted his layout to showcase them. His collection includes the C&O, the Virginian and the N&W, so the layout had to incorporate all three. He also wanted to capture the motor barn at Mullens as close to scale as possible, and because of the big brass locomotives he would run, the layout needed 36″ minimum radius curves. Operations were a consideration, but they were secondary to the desire to showcase the locomotives. On top of this, the cross-hatched area around two walls had to be left open, and duck-unders were not an option.

With these considerations in mind, I developed this trackplan. It has considerable operational potential, but trade-offs were made to omit lots of mainline to focus on the key areas. The centerpiece of the layout is Elmore yard with the steam terminal and the electric motor barn framing the yard nicely. The motor barn is nearly scale size, and most of the tracks were included. The steam terminal is scaled down but still provides plenty of tracks to showcase locomotives. The yard is short but still functional. To get the C&O into the layout, I chose to include a portion of the Winding Gulf Branch northeast (RR west) of Elmore. On the Winding Gulf Branch, several large tipples were served by both the C&O and Virginian–this plan includes 4 of them, enough to justify 1 or 2 C&O mine runs per day. To get some prototypical running distance between Elmore and Helen (the first major loader), I have run the Virginian along the front edge of the benchwork but under the scenery to a point under the steam terminal at Elmore. The C&O uses the turn-around loop under the steam terminal as a helix to get to staging.

The remainder of the layout is dedicated to the Virginian’s double-tracked main from Elmore to Matoaka where it connected with the N&W (just one track, not a major interchange). Due to space limitations, I chose to focus on the western slope from Elmore to the summit of the helper grade at Clark’s Gap, and the 5 miles of mainline from Clarks Gap to Matoaka are represented by 5 turns in a helix. The N&W connection at Matoaka is functional, and N&W staging would allow operation of N&W steam to work the small interchange. If the N&W was not an issue, I would have modified the plan to include only a one-turn helix for Clarks Gap tunnel, and the Matoaka benchwork would be used to model the storage tracks at Algonquin where trains added tonnage left by earlier trains for the trip downgrade to Princeton–this would allow more prototypical operations of the helper grade. The modeled mainline for the west slope is compressed but captures a few of the tipples along with the tunnels and high steel trestes characteristic of this line. The line has a prototypical 2% grade, so helpers would be a necessity on the model, just as on the prototype. The single-turn helix between Covel and Micajah is meant to increase running distance, but it is short enough that helpers can still be run safely. Staging is not depicted, but there is plenty of space under the layout for Virginian, C&O and N&W. There are 4 short helixes to get to the staging level: C&O, N&W/VGN from Matoaka to Roanoke, VGN from Mullens to Deepwater, and the VGN from the Winding Gulf to Pemberton (can be omitted). The intent is for the helixes from Matoaka and Mullens to be connected to a large (or two large) double-ended staging yards under Elmore/Alpoca/Covel to allow for continuous running. If the fourth helix is built from the Winding Gulf to Pemberton, the C&O could also have a continuous running loop separate from the Virginian.

Track plan VGN Mullens to Matoaka, WV HO scale

Operations

This layout could easily keep 8 or more operators busy for hours. For prototypical operations, a dispatcher is a must, and other positions would include an Elmore yardmaster, a hostler, two local operators (mine runs and helpers), two mainline operators and a C&O/N&W man. Operations would consist of trains of empties along with merchandise freight bound for points westward moving from Matoaka to Elmore under electric power. Empties would be dropped off in the yard for sorting and dispatching to local tipples. Merchandise trains bound for Deepwater would need to swap power for steam because Mullens marked the west end of electrification. The yardmaster would put together mine runs from the empties with a couple daily going to the Winding Gulf and a couple for the mainline. Local operators would take out these mine runs, set off empties and bring loads back to Elmore. Loads would also come in from Deepwater staging. Loads would then be blocked into short trains for the trip up to Clarks Gap. In reality, it took 3 trains to Clarks Gap to equal 2 from Clarks gap to Roanoke. Local “Hill Jobs” would push a loaded train up to Algonquin, just past the summit at Clarks Gap, and return to Elmore. The next loaded train would be pushed up to Clarks Gap and trade the helpers for half of the previous train’s loads before continuing east. However, with the current track plan, all loaded trains would lose their helpers before entering Clarks Gap tunnel and make the trip to Roanoke solo. Additional jobs would include C&O mine runs and N&W interchange runs. Throughout the session, the hostler would be kept busy shuffling power between the two engine terminals and Elmore Yard and swapping out electrics for steam and vice-versa.

Having said that, my friend will probably only have 1-2 operators at a time. No problem, with only a couple of operators, trains would just be run in sequence without the need of a dispatcher. Helper operations could be accomplished either by two operators or by one experienced operator with the help of DCC. During minimal operator sessions, a C&O train and a Virginian train could be set in motion on the continuous running loops to keep things more interesting–the only problem would be the unprototypical practice of electrics moving beyond Mullens (about 3 feet of scenery on the layout).

Things I Like About this Plan:

  • Good showcase for locomotives
  • Generous minimum radius
  • Plenty of switching and mainline operations
  • Well designed for helper operations

Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:

  • Key areas omitted (Algonquin)
  • Tight aisles between stairway and Elmore
  • LOTS of helixes (difficult construction, lots of hidden trackage)

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