Moving forward

As has been confirmed on the recent Model Railcast Show, I’ve chosen the Baltimore & Ohio Wheeling Freight Terminal layout design for my next project. Overall the smaller scope of the project just seemed to fit the room better than the sinewy Wheeling & Lake Erie line that winds through industrial Newburgh, Ohio. I do hope to model that line at some point, but this space is just shy a couple of feet in both directions make it work well. The narrow 15 inch benchwork of the Newburgh design meets the railroad operating needs but limits the scenic scope of the urban fabric that is a mutual component of that rail corridor. I will put those ideas aside for now and hope they can be reconsidered in another house a year or two down the line.

A B&O crew somewhere in the Wheeling, WV area.

A B&O crew somewhere near Wheeling, WV early in the 20th century.  I’m betting this is a Benwood Yard crew. The image comes from the Ohio County (WV) Public Library Flickr photostream.

I’ve received many great messages on the blog and privately about both of the designs that were under consideration. One of these messages came from a long time friend and a talented modeler, Michael Hohn. Some of the questions in his post made me realize that I had not shared enough of my own “givens and druthers” for this hobby room and project. Let me take a moment to review some key issues that are guiding this project.

First, my wife and I are renting this home so I cannot remove walls, anchor the layout to the walls, or cut a hole in a wall to use space in an adjacent room.

Second, this is my hobby room and many things need to share the space with the model railroad. Here’s a quick review of those items.

  • My hobby work bench and several file drawer units that contain parts, many various tools, paint, materials, decals, and a variety of accumulated stuff.
  • Several boxes of research books, magazines and publications that I would really like to get out of the boxes and onto shelves. Fortunately the lion’s share of old magazines has been given away before a couple of previous moves. Those boxes get heavy!
  • Several boxes of unbuilt model railroad kits that are targeted for this project; freight cars, locomotives, and structures.
  • Several boxes of unbuilt model railroad kits that were obtained for previous projects. I hope to move a few of those boxes along to modelers who can better use the items.
  • Several boxes of built, weathered and ready to use freight cars, which should find an easy home on the model railroad as track is installed.
  • A computer workstation.

With all of these items at hand, I will need to use the space under the layout benchwork as efficiently as possible to fit the hobby stuff into the hobby room. By using space under the layout, the track height is taller than many typical model railroads. The rails will sit 52-inches off of the floor, which is about the same height as my armpit. The 24 inch benchwork depth at that height does not restrict my reach, but hitting those back four inches is a stretch. The tradeoff is worth the taller layout so I can stow goods and have a workbench under the layout.

Lastly, I want to build benchwork that can be reused easily in the next home for the next project. I want to keep standard sized components to ease disassembly and moving. I regret not doing this with the layout I was building in Ohio, but then again I did not think a move was going to occur quickly. Not having layout components in the New York home kept any layout from taking shape there. Using sectional layout components establishes a layout foundation early in the planning process and can speed steps along towards a big goal of operating trains.

An 1891 view of Wheeling.

This is an edit of a larger 1891 image. The B&O freight terminal and other rail terminals are labeled. The B&O passenger terminal has yet to be built. Click on the image for a large view. The image comes from the Ohio County (WV) Public Library Flickr photostream.

My friend Michael asked some good questions that deserve answers so the design process can be more clearly understood. He posted:  Start with the track west of Wheeling Creek; try to model this as close to the prototype as possible. Why do you provide only 2-foot-deep benchwork for this most important feature, a ready-made “layout design element?” Make it 3′ deep and I think you can fit all the track. You have the length you need if I understand the distances on the drawing correctly; the whole scheme west of the creek is only about 7′ in length.

When I first stumbled onto the valuation map that includes the Wheeling Freight Terminal, I had very similar thoughts on how to build this portion as a working model railroad. But when I became interested in building this in an available space, then realities hit home that affected the design. In early sketches I was trying to reflect the prototype track arrangement onto the available space, but I noticed the reach to uncouple cars on the team tracks meant reaching over the freight house. As the layout is tall, a direct visual on the team track switches would also be difficult as the freight house would block a direct view on several of the team track switches.

In reviewing how crews could operate this terminal, I felt separate crews for the team track and freight house segments would work well, but if the track reflects the prototype design then the crews would be in each other’s way in the operating aisle. If this terminal could be built in a larger room, or if this is a small portion of a larger layout, the terminal could be built similar to the prototype if the freight house and team tracks were on a peninsula with access on three sides. In this way, the team track crew could work that area from the opposite side of the freight house. This exercise only reinforces the notion that model railroad layout design is a real balancing act between many different physical parameters and personal desires. If one changes by a little amount and another changes by a little amount, then the whole final design may change a great deal.

Mike asked about increasing the benchwork width to make the tracks fit. I wanted to build this using standard sized sectional layout benchwork components. Layout width greater than 24 inches was not part of my preferences. If I could build this on a peninsula with easier access, then wider benchwork would be advisable and would enable the track to reflect the prototype arrangement. Unfortunately, my hobby space limits how the terminal trackage can fit.

Mike also noted:  You’re letting the tail wag the dog (or, the caboose pull the train) if you start with benchwork and make the track fit.

I will admit this is true, but it follows along with a main preference I established for the layout project in this hobby room; use sectional, standard sized layout components that can be easily reused. Compounding the decisions is the fact that we are renting this home and cannot do some of the usual things model railroaders do when building a layout in the space. I have a blank canvas, but there are restrictions that govern what I can do with that canvas, and those restrictions are wagging this dog.

Mike also asks:  Why not have two staging yards representing points east and west?

A few people have actually asked this and the answer lies in understanding the prototype. Before proceeding further, I do not have concrete evidence on how the B&O operated this terminal, so I will offer this good guess. Let’s take a look at a string of cars spotted in the freight house. Once they are emptied, or filled, I suspect the string was pulled across the creek to the small yard. Additional outbound cars were added to this string to form a train, which was then transferred further south to the larger classification yard the B&O operated at Benwood, WV. At Benwood, the string of cars would be classified based upon their destination, which wasn’t just east or west here. At Benwood, several B&O lines converged. There was the Ohio River line that went to Parkersburg and Huntington. There was the Old Main Line that went through Moundsville, then to Fairmont. There was the line over the Ohio River, which then split into two other lines; one to Newark and Columbus, the other to Cleveland and Lorain. And there was also the line back north to Wheeling that also went to Washington (PA) and Pittsburgh.

So staging isn’t as simple as east and west here, and the number of tracks between Wheeling Creek and the mainline connection imply an intermediate yard where things are picked up and dropped off. A few of the stub tracks are probably used to spot empty box cars and reefers for clean out. The main function of the freight terminal is the inbound movement of goods so merchants and customers can pick them up at the freight house or in the team track yard. East or west does not matter at this point, only inbound and outbound.

I suspect a transfer crew would bring a string of inbound cars from Benwood yard, just south of Wheeling, and drop them on a track in the yard off of the mainline. They would then pick up a string of outbound cars and take them back to Benwood. The freight terminal crews would then work on spotting these cars in the freight house or team tracks based upon the waybills. Again, this is just my guess.

An oral history interview with former B&O yardmaster Jack Fahey is posted at the Ohio County (WV) Public Library website. Through the course of the interview, he notes how crews from Benwood worked the Wheeling passenger terminal and all the industries in South Wheeling in the 1948 to 1970 era. This reaffirms my suspicion that inbound and outbound freight cars for the Wheeling freight terminal were shuttled between Benwood yard and the small yard just off the mainline near the freight terminal.

Michael asks:  Does the mainline towards Pittsburgh start a grade separation west of where your complex veers off? A slight grade separation would isolate the staging some.

Actually, it does. Just after the mainline connection with the small yard, the rails start up a ramped viaduct leading to a grade separation that was instituted when the Wheeling Passenger Terminal was built. The slowly rising viaduct can be seen in this Library of Congress panoramic image, although it’s a bit fuzzy. This viaduct could be a part of the background on the staging yard as it slowly rises, then curves towards the station area. Click on this image for a larger view.

By the way, directions can be confusing in this part of Wheeling. The view below looks east with north to the left. The B&O was an east-west railroad and I believe the Wheeling freight terminal was once the furthest western point on the original mainline, so anything to the right on the railroad here would be considered east. Once a connection was made here with the line from Washington, PA, then railroad east could also be headed out the viaduct similar to the photo view direction here. It can get confusing parsing east and west in this small spot as several B&O segments came together around Wheeling. Anyways, click on this image for a larger view.

Wheeling 1909

I hope that offers more background on the prototype and how I am fitting this into my available space and needs. I encourage readers to check out Michael Hohn’s HO scale late 19th century modeling of a rail line in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. He’s been amazing me with fine models since the late 1980s.

As an update on my project, I’ve built a couple of the sectional benchwork components and some leg units, but then I fell ill with flu-like symptoms that kept me from any type of work for over a week. I’m finally feeling better and hope to rip some additional lumber soon to push forward on the remaining benchwork sections. The progress to this point has lit my fire to keep moving forward. I’ll leave you with an image taken recently as I was positioning track switches to be sure they would fit well. Thankfully, these fit just fine!!!

Staging yard throat.

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