Boomer Operator 2

A B&O mallet storms from a tunnel on the B&O West End.

While I have not started a new home project layout this past year, I have been able to operate on a number of interesting model railroads. One of these layouts is inspired by a stretch of the Baltimore & Ohio in West Virginia, and not far from where I lived in Morgantown, W. Va. Thomas Eckhardt has been building his HO scale B&O West End layout for a couple of decades. The main line is running, nearly all track is complete, and much of the scenery has been installed. On occasional weekends, a crew gathers to operate the West End.

Thomas models the era just before the end of steam operations in the early 1950s. Many large B&O locomotives work to move the long freight trains over the steep and winding double track mainline between Grafton and Piedmont. The layout is not an exact representation of the B&O West End, but it does capture the flavor of the towns and region that is passes through. Here’s a pair of B&O EL class 2-8-8-0 locomotives passing a coal mining operation.


During operating sessions, Thomas lines up several through freight and passenger trains, in addition to a handful of locals that work a couple small towns and the coal operations along the route. Here’s Tunnellton, W. Va. with a long coal train snaking along.


One of the more difficult elements to convey on a basement model railroad is the feel of railroad traveling through the mountains. Thomas has built several scenes along his railroad that capture the West Virginia terrain quite well. Here’s one of my favorite railfan spots on his layout. The main line uses a large fill to cross a narrow valley. Beyond the scene Thomas has painted a panorama on the backdrop that offers a view of distant mountains and valleys.


About twenty feet along the right of way, Thomas has modeled the distinct elements that characterize mountain railroading, cuts through terrain and walls holding the railroad in place.

Cuts and Walls

In order to fit the railroad and accompanying mountain grades into a limited basement area, Thomas has used multi-level construction for his layout. Much of the railroad is on two levels, but there are a few locations where there are three levels of running. Here’s an image to give readers and idea of the elevations. That’s Harold on the right and he is just over 6-foot tall.

From the aisle.

I am fortunate to live fairly close to Thomas so I often lend a hand to set up operating sessions a few days before the event. Most of these images were taken with my iPhone while I piloted trains over the layout to set up the next session. It is much easier to take railfan images like these if you are not in the midst of a busy session. I never know what locomotives I will be using when I help prep the layout. Thomas will often have me use a loco that he has just upgraded or acquired so that it gets some break-in running time before it is needed during a real session. Here’s another spot I like along the layout. This is just east of Grafton where the grade starts getting tough. The tower is painted in the original B&O structure colors of Indian Red and black.

Q Tower

Most of the steam and diesel locos are equipped with sound, and the layout uses Digital Command Control to operate the trains. I’ve enjoyed my opportunities to run on Thomas Eckhardt’s B&O West End layout. Working the local towns, pulling loads and spotting empties at the coal mines, and running through freights with large steam or several diesels consisted together make for a diverse operating model railroad. While I’ve been unable to begin a new layout of my own, it has been exciting being a part of an operation that is a larger project than what I would probably undertake. Please leave a comment below. All comments are reviewed and approved before they appear.

2 thoughts on “Boomer Operator 2”

  1. So Cool! Looks real. Good perspective. You should see some of the video clips Thomas has done from the Locomotive as it does its round.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.