- Size: 47′ x 51′
- Scale: HO
- Minimum Mainline Radius: 30″
- Minimum Aisle Width: 30″
- Designed by Dan Bourque
The north end of the Clinchfield Railroad is an amazing piece of railroad, full of tunnels and spectacular bridges. Besides the scenery, the Clinchfield’s mainline and branches were loaded with coal tipples, and the connection with the C&O at Elkhorn City, KY meant a lot of overhead non-coal traffic. When the CSX was formed in 1986, trains roamed freely past Elkhorn City, and the former C&O yard at Shelby, KY became the new stopping point, but other than that, the character of the Clinchfield’s mine runs and pusher operations remained intact.
This layout represents the line from Kingsport, TN to Shelby, KY in the late ’80s, either just prior to or just after the CSX merger. The loaders selected represent those still in place at the time of the merger, from what I can tell. Moss No. 1 was idled in the late ’80s, but its physical plant remained into the mid ’90s. The bookends for this layout were set with Shelby, KY on the north end and Kingsport, TN on the south. I also wanted to capture all of the major interchanges and yards as well as some key bridge scenes such as Pool Point (near Elkhorn City) and Copper Creek Viaduct (near Kingsport). While the layout area I had to work in was significant, there is still quite a bit of compression to fit in all the major scenes.
The railroad crosses Sandy Ridge about midway between Shelby and Kingsport, so there is a distinct peak in grades between the two end points. To get this profile into the trackplan, I chose a down-up-down double-deck design with both ends on the lower deck and the remaining railroad on the upper. This meant I had to pick two areas of the prototype to “gap” (not model) where the helix would be. On the lower deck, this was easy–there isn’t much operation between St. Paul and Copper Creek Viaduct. On the upper deck, I chose the area between Berta and Freemont, VA–I gave up a couple of loaders but was able to keep all the branches. Another challenge was keeping the grade prototypical with such a long run on th upper deck. To solve this, there are a series of single-loop helixes to “correct” the elevation behind the scenes so the visible grades are correct. The lower deck also uses these loops, though the one between Copper Creek and Kingsport is mainly designed to create the feeling of distance between the two points (the layout skips over Speers Ferry). Because the end points of the railroad were close together on the lower deck, it was easy to create a double-ended staging arrangement with a connection for continuous running.
On this plan, the mainline is prime, and the branches are secondary. Consequently, most of the branches share the scene with the main, though I’ve tried to keep major scenes from overlapping. I’ve also tried to highlight a few key scenic elements. For example, Copper Creek Viaduct and Pool Point Bridge are modeled to scale yielding enormous bridges and impressive scenes. The bridges over the Holston River at Kingsport and the bridge over the Russel Fork at Levisa Jct. were bonus scenes that worked in nicely. Another scenic area is “The Breaks” between Elkhorn City and Tower. In this area (also a state park), the Clinchfield clung to the hillside with cliffs above and below. The Clinchfield crosses over the Russel Fork a handful of times, so to get the orientations of both Elkhorn City and the Breaks right, I went the “wrong way” from Elkhorn City onto the penninsula and then back again at Towers. While crews have to tromp around the peninsula to pick up their train, I felt it was worth it to get the scenic orientations right.
This is a big layout with lots of trains and a signaled mainline, so an upper-end DCC system with accessories would be a must, preferably with a computer to help with the signaling. Using radio throttles would also help avoid entanglements between crews on different decks or while scooting around the peninsula for the Breaks. While there is no office for the dispatcher, a laptop running JMRI’s PanelPro could be stationed just about anywhere. Because of the number of people required to operate this layout, I tried to leave aisles as wide as possible–most are around 36″ wide or better.
Operations on this layout would require around a dozen people. The yards at Shelby, Dante and Kingsport could easily justify 1-2 yard crews apiece, and at least 6-7 crews would be needed to move all the mine runs and through freights. And don’t forget the dispatcher. This road offers a little bit of something for everyone. For those who love classifying and industrial switching, there is Kingsport. For those who love hostling locomotives and blocking coal cars, there is Dante and Shelby, for those who love just running trains, there are dozens of trains daily traversing this line, for those who love helper operations, most trains needed a lift between Elkhorn City and Tower (though the helpers might stay on from Shelby to Dante). And for those who love mine runs, boy does this layout have mine runs! Most mine runs would Originate at Dante and work North. At least one “shifter” would work the myriad of loaders at Elkhorn City, another could work the Haysi Railroad, and another the Freemont Branch. Trains would also be needed to handle the McClure Spur and Moss No. 1. Still another train or two would be needed to work the interchange with the NS at Boody, and if this layout is run pre-1986, trains would have to stop at Castle to pick up loads left by the L&N/Seaboard System (they held trackage rights over the N&W/NS from Norton to St. Paul).
Through freights, both coal and non-coal, would be heavy over the line, and post-1986, the NS would add even more traffic between St. Paul and Speers Ferry (the helix bertween Copper Creek and Kingsport continues down to NS staging representing Speers Ferry and Bulls Gap, TN). With a single-track mainline, numerous mine runs and locals and a helper district to worry about, the dispatcher would be hopping, though having 11 passing sidings would help. I estimate it would take 30-60 real minutes to move a train from end-to-end on this layout.
Despite the compromises to get this much railroad into this space, operations would basically work just like the prototype and keep lots of folks busy for hours. Add to that some awesome scenery possibilities, and you’ve got an amazing model railroad.
Things I Like About this Plan:
- Awesome scenery possibilities
- Prototypical grades
- Helper operations
- Lots of trains
- Continuous running loop
Things I Don’t Like About this Plan:
- “Reset” loops take up a lot of space
- Some track in/out arrangements might be tough for crews to follow (non-linear)
- Branch line scenes mixed with mainline