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  • Trackside Coal Tipples

    The PRR decapod is drifting downhill and will be working the train brackes all the way to Weirton Junction. It is at the front of a westbound symbol freight, CIN-1 as it rolls by the Hanlin Coal & Coke Co. tipple just west of Dinsmore Tunnel. Hanlin Coal & Coke is typical of the small trackside tipples that dotted the coal country landscape for much of the first half of the 20th century.
    Railmodel Journal - January 2008 - Page 8

    Bill Neale

    In the early part of the 20th century, many coal mines were small entrepreneurial operations that employed a couple dozen people, and produced small numbers of carloads. The tipples were usually small structures with only one or two loading tracks and were often located close to mainline tracks to reduce costs. Some of these mines lasted into the 1950s or 1960s.

    The most frequently modeled coal tipples are the massive 3-4-track structures that Walthers used as the prototype for their modern mine. These were very common in the heart of the Eastern coalfields. They produced whole trainloads of loaded coal, all clean and sorted by coal grade. They are often reached by a long rail spur that brought the railroad close to the mine head. In most situations, the tipples had holding tracks to either side of the loading area for loads and empties. When modeled correctly, they require substantial space. Looking at pictures of these large operations, it seems that no two tipples were the same. While these large mines are interesting, my focus is on the smaller less-often-modeled trackside tipples.

    At the Jefferson Tipple. One track holds the empties, and one track holds the loads. The mine only loads one grade of coal, or perhaps it is just mine-run coal, and is neither sorted nor cleaned
    Railmodel Journal - January 2008 - Page 9

    Sometimes smaller mines were tucked in between these large operations, where a small landowner retained mineral rights and ran a small mining operation. Sometimes these small mines were on the edge of larger coalfields and survived as independent operations because the larger

     companies were not interested in the small car loading these mines generated. These smaller mines usually had narrow-gauge mine tracks that ran from the mine head to a simple tipple where a few hoppers were spotted for loading. Later period examples might have a truck dump instead of rails. Sometimes these tipples loaded mine-run coal, which was coal that had not been cleaned or sorted by size. Sometimes the tipples had very rudimentary cleaning and sorting capabilities.

    I can trace my fascination with these small tipples back to the Indianapolis NMRA National Convention in 1963, where Jack Work won Best of Show for a ratty looking scratchbuilt mine that would later be copied in plastic by AHM. It was a wonderful model that left a lasting impression on me. Now, as I am building my shelf-style layout, the advantages of these small tipples have become apparent, and I am able to satisfy my desire to emulate Jack Work in my own humble way.

    Railmodel Journal - January 2008 - Page 10

    These small tipples take minimal space and Ii e adjacent to the mainline, making them ideal for shelf layouts. These tipples are generally simple wooden and corrugated metal structures that can be constructed in a couple evenings. The buildings received little, if any maintenance, and rarely saw any paint. The small volume of cars at each tipple, plus the proliferation of the tipples, can be supported by a wandering coal shifter working the tipples from one end of the railroad to the other. A 2-8-0 with 15-16 cars can service 3-4 of these little tipples, making this a nice operating addition to the rest of the raiI traffic flowing around them.

    Prototype Mines

    The railroad I am interested in modeling crosses the West Virginia Panhandle north of Wheeling. This Pennsy route was along the northern edge of the great central Appalachian coalfields. In this area, some of the coal veins were very close to the surface and were accessed via drift mines or slope mines. Oddly, 20 miles to either side, and 20 miles to the south, many mines were deep shaft types.

    These drift mines required small initial investments to get into operation and were often evidenced by small tipples along the mainline. By the 1950s most of the drift mines in this area had become strip mines, and the tipples were actually just truck dumps. They looked much the same, but had trucks driving up to the tipple dump instead of a mine car.

    N&W Prototypes Used as Examples

    Almost no pictures are availabl e of these PRR Panhandle mines. Some of the larger mining operations were documented, but all the smal ler tipples are lost to history. To model some of these operations, I had to look further south. The N&W railroad was meticulous in photographing industries along their mainline, so I turned to their archives for inspiration. The N&W archives are managed by Virginia Tech University, and they graciously made these photos available for publication. They asked that we provide the following acknowledgement to the collection of the photographs, and that we identify each image by its identifying number.

    The first image from the from the Virginia Tech collection is a classic line-side tipple. It is the Lillybrook tipple in West Virginia, Image NS0717031052. taken in April 1960. Hoppers are loaded from only a single track, on the left side of the mainline. Up the slope to the left are or possibly a truck dump. It is hard to determine the actual situation from the picture. To service trucks, a conveyer was built over Looking at the track arrangement, you could speculate that the truck-loading area was once used for railcars. There also appears coal-loading apparatus further down the line.


    Tipples that crossed over mainlines are not that uncommon. Records from the 1930s indicate that the PRR Panhandle had several mines that crossed over the top of its mainline. The'going rate for intruding on the air rights over the Pennsy tracks was $12 per month. Not much when for a miner to rent a company house was about $6 a month.

    Railmodel Journal - January 2008 - Page 11

    "Norfolk & Western Railway Historical Collection, Photograph Special Collections, Digital Library and Archives, University Libraries, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University."

    The Virginia Tech online database contains hundreds of wonderful photographs that will educate and inspire almost any modeler, regardless of the prototype that interests you.

    Model Railroad Impact

    These photographs from the N&W provided the motivation for the Hanlin Coal and Coke Company tipple. I wanted my model to be a typical example of a trackside tipple. It was a very simple structure, tall timber and plank construction, with a corrugated metal roof. The tipple is just east of the Hanlin Passenger Station. The tipple has only one track, with the ability to load three 70-ton cars. Theoretically, the mine head is located somewhere in the aisle, and only the tipple is modeled. In HO scale, this tipple needed about 3 inches for the loading track, and maybe another 2 inches for some foreground scenery.

    My second mine is the Jefferson Coal and Coke tipple, which has two tracks. Actually, it loads coal on one track, with the empty cars waiting on the adjacent track. Somewhere behind the tipple, out of sight from the operator, the two tipple tracks converge and there is a short kick back track. The kick-back track allows the empty cars to be rolled over onto the loading track, one at a time, until all are loaded. Like the Hanlin tipple, all these prototype pictures of simple tipples inspired this building. It occupies only 4 1 /2 inches in width, and is maybe 30 inches long from switch ladder to tipple. The continuation of the tipple tracks through the backdrop to the kick-back track is simulated by the orientation of the scenery.

    Look carefully at your current model railroad for opportunities to build a small mine along your right-of-way. Perhaps the farmer that sells a bit of land to the railroad notices a coal vein in the cut made by the railroad. The farmer decides to go into the coal mining business. He hires some men to build a tipple and dig out the coal, and he encourages the railroad to build a spur. Now your local has to pull a couple loads out of the spur, and set off some empty hoppers each day. The cost is a number 6 switch and a piece of flex track. You need little more than 4 to 6 inches of benchwork width to add the spur and small tipple.

    I think a strong case can be made for the further development of smaller tipples on our model railroads. Few industries can provide the same carload volume with as little layout real estate consumed. I encourage prototype research using the enormous resources now on the internet. Direct your search engine to look only for images, and you can get more modeling ideas than you can possibly use in a lifetime from the coal mines and tipples the search engine will return.

    Article Details

    • Original Author Bill Neale
    • Source Railmodel Journal
    • Publication Date January 2008

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