Christopher Brimley updated February 4, 2011


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  • Shenandoah & Western

    CP Rail 5040-2 No. 5726 waits at KW Tower for clearance before 1 B&O E8 No. 92 pulls up in front of the entering Kinneman Yard.
    Model Railroading - January 1995 - Page 40 Model Railroading - January 1995 - Page 41


    I can't think of a better use for an abandoned railroad station or freighthouse than to house a model railroad, and the Winchester Model Railroad Club has done a great job of bringing the two together. The club is located in the old Baltimore and Ohio freighthouse in Winchester, Virginia - right next to the CSX/Winchester and Western yard and scales. The latter factor actually can be quite a distraction, it can be more than a little difficult to get any work done on meeting nights when a couple of old W&W ALCos are busy shoving covered hoppers around outside. But the club hasn't always had this problem; back in 1982 when the four original members got together in a rented room at the corner of Picadilly and Cameron streets, all they had was a 12' x 17' layout room and an 8' x 10' meeting room. After five years and a misunderstanding with their landlord, the search for new quarters ended when a deal was cut with CSX to allow the club to rent the old freighthouse. Actually, their first response from CSX was "move it and it's yours," but since that wasn't a realistic option for the old brick structure a lease agreement was negotiated.

    When the club's 12 members moved in early in 1987, they were faced with removing 40-50 years of dirt and trash that had accumulated since the freight house had been closed. Surprisingly, the old elevator and scales were still in place and still worked. Charcoal dates on the walls suggest that the building was constructed in 1874. After hauling out all the trash, the club turned the construction work over to the Tri County OIC, an organization that trains local youth in the construction trades using on-the-job training. The club provided the supplies and the plans, including the basic benchwork and then got out of the way.

    The final result was a 15' x 16' meeting room and a 28' x 30' layout room with a 12' x 15' extension on one side. At the same time they managed to squeeze in a water closet and spray - paint booth - but that wasn't all. I forgot to mention that the club chose one of John Armstrong's custom layout plans for the mythical Petrograd Society of Model Engineers as published in his book Creative Layout Design. This plan was developed specifically for a room about the same size as the club's and has sufficient headroom under the layout to allow stand up access to the underside of the trackwork and scenery. Even more important, club members can move anywhere in the layout room during open houses without having to venture into the public aisles. In all it took about a year before the club could begin to lay track and add scenery, and a year later they opened for their first open house during Christmas 1989.

    The benchwork is your basic open grid, built on top of the 2" x 4" framing. Large flat expanses such as the yards at Winchester consist of plywood overlaid with Homasote, but in rougher terrain the tracks are supported on ribbons of plywood and Homasote. As they gained experience in the construction a few lengths of spline roadbed were added, and that has become the preferred method for curves. Track is Atlas code 100 nickel silver with Peco switches. A minimum radius of 30" with a 36" average means that just about any equipment can operate on the layout.

    The roundhouse at Winchester is still in regular use by all these handsome B&O steamers owned by Jim Carbough who also built the Heljan structure.
    Model Railroading - January 1995 - Page 42

    Scenery consists mainly of Hydrocal plaster over a network of cardboard strips, but Styrofoam is also used throughout the layout to establish basic contours, and it can't be beat for lift-out sections. These Iift out sections are critical for access to the yards at Kinneman and Petersburg. The rugged Mountain Division has some of the most realistic scenery I've seen.

    One important lesson the club learned was to plan all phases of construction well in advance, even with a John Armstrong trackplan. The mountain peninsula was con structed first and is the most complete. However, when it came time to run track between the mountain Division and the Valley Division, it was discovered that an elevation change of about two actual feet (not scale) was required to clear an exit door that was not part of Armstrong's original design. The final result was the limiting grade on the layout of about 3.5%, now appropriately named "Summit." However, it does provide a good excuse for three-and four-unit diesel lashups and helper service.

    Power routing is accomplished by conventional block control with cab selection using six-position rotary switches, the first position is an off setting. Four of the five cabs are powered by ITTC l2V DC throttles, with the last position reserved for a Keller Onboard system. The Keller system has proven itself to be extremely reliable - one receiver-equipped locomotive ran unattended for a week on a closed loop after the system was left on following an open house. Train routes are set by three to four dispatchers at a large control board in the loft over the meeting room. Portable throttles allow walk-around operations and although most of the mainline switches are powered, many of the industrial and branch line switches are hand thrown.

    A Quick Tour

    West Virginia is famous for mountains, coal and the Norfolk and Western. Here they all come together as an N&W Y6b shoves a string of empties into place. The mine is a Suydam kit constructed by Mason Cooper.
    Model Railroading - January 1995 - Page 43

    Let's take a quick tour of the layout to get oriented before going over the operating concept. Many trains originate in the main yard of the Shenandoah Division at Winchester, which includes a large passenger yard with a scale model of the still-standing station. The seven-track freight yard is over 20' long and terminates at the roundhouse, diesel shop and service area and intermodal yard on the south end; there is a large city scene to the north. A 110'-long double tracked mainline forms a continuous-run loop around the layout and also provides the connections to the Mountain and Valley was chosen because it matched the finished room dimensions so well. The real problem was taking what the trackplan provided and developing the operating concept.

    The Operating Concept

    Winchester is located in the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a few miles east of the West Virginia line. Historically, the town was served by the B&O and Pennsylvania railroads and is still served by CSX. In addition there is the Winchester and Western Railroad, a shortline that hauls sand out of their pit at Gore, and runs through to Hagerstown, Maryland. Tracks of the Norfolk and Western's Valley Line run a few miles to the east and the B&O rails still connect with those of the Southern at Strasburg to the south. With just a small stretch of the imagination, the double-track mainline became a north-south link between the Pennsy and B&O to the north and the Southern and N&W to the south. The long branchline was transformed into a major bridge route for traffic running between Winchester and Petersburg, West Virginia.

    Two Conrail units with a Winchester and Western sand train ease their way across a creaking truss bridge in the Valley Division while a Chessie 5035 and B&O GP38-2 roll by in the distance.
    Model Railroading - January 1995 - Page 44

    The plan is not without its problems although it appears at first glance to be a double-track line, the Mountain Division Divisions. The run through the Mountain Division to the Valley Division is about 160' to the interchange yard at Greenspring. A complete run through the Valley Division and back to Greenspring is another 100' run. Connections through Cumberland Wye or the high line between Winchester and Summit add flexibility to operations, and the staging yards at Kinneman and Petersburg will eventually make it possible to develop some really interesting and challenging operational scenarios.

    One of the more interesting complications faced by the club was fitting the Armstrong trackplan into a reasonable operating concept. Most of the time a trackplan is designed in advance to fit the room and operational concept of the owner. However, as I mentioned earlier, the Armstrong plan over which almost all the trains must run is single track. To complicate things, there are few passing sidings on the Mountain Division. The result is long waits for engine crews when a local or slow freight gets in the way. This also makes the job of the dispatchers a lot more difficult, and they do tend to catch a lot of flack for holding up trains. A number of the members who were not familiar with this aspect of prototype operations have found this to be especially frustrating. There were few sidings in the original plan, which now limits local wayfreight operations, and those that do exist do not have passing sidings which leads to more traffic conflicts. If there is any lesson to be learned from this example it is to plan your operations as you develop the trackplan and vice versa. That way you'll be less likely to end up with these kinds of limitations.

    Matt Welsh is finally working on the roof of the new sawmill as a Western Maryland SW7 heads down Farther grade with the log train.
    Model Railroading - January 1995 - Page 45

    Currently the club conducts operating sessions once a month during which a local, a passenger train, four through freights and various yard and industry switchers are run. With three to four dispatchers, one train master, and two in each train crew, about 23 members can be kept busy. Individual radio headsets keep the shouting down to a minimum and communication between the yard crews and the dispatchers is by a separate handset telephone system. Most trains are kept to lO-12 cars during operating sessions, although during open houses 20-30 car trains are run and on at least one occasion a 65-car train made the rounds.

    The club is financed by dues, donations at open houses, and the proceeds from two train shows each year. The open houses are the two to three Sundays before Christmas and New Year's Eve, during which as many as l,600 visitors have been entertained in the three hours that the club is open. After 13 years the train shows are more of a tradition than the open houses and are held the second weekend in March and November. The next time you're in the Winchester area on a Tuesday evening, drop by for a visit, out-of-towners are welcome just about any week but for locals, visitors' night is the third Tuesday of the month.


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