Preliminary System Map

This is the high level “System Map” for the CH&FR Railroad.  It is still a work in progress, but I found it necessary in order to work out some of the operations plan for the railroad.

As you can see (in red), the CH&FR runs a basic route between Chestnut Hill, WV and Frost River, KY, through the town of Glover’s Bend (my actual current layout under construction) along the (fictional) Watash Creek near the (very real) Tug Fork River. There is an interchange with Norfolk Southern at Williamson, WV, enabled via trackage rights over the NS mainline there.  The actual connection to the NS line happens somewhat north of Williamson, but CH&FR trains run all the way to the yard to spot cars.  This keeps NS from having to build a new siding just for CH&FR traffic.

Likewise, CH&FR runs north to Russell, KY over the CSX line to drop cars for interchange there.  This enables two things:  first, CH&FR has access to two of the 5 major Class I railroads, and so can trans-ship anywhere in the country.  Second, the CH&FR does a brisk business shuttling through freight between Williamson and Russell, avoiding some (probably fictional) legal, regulatory and practical hassles with the two railroads transferring freight themselves.

An extension is planned from Glover’s bend to the (also very real) NS rail yard at Danville, KY.  I may change this to come in to Lexington instead.  There is a branch line in town that used to extend at least as far as Winchester to the East.  If I can establish that this line went somewhere near, then I may propose that the CH&FR is revitalizing the old right of way, rather than building a new one into Danville.

Costs for the proposed Danville /Lexington connection are being partially supported by NS as it provides a short circuit route from Roanoke, VA (and thus points east) and St. Louis, MO.  Currently, traffic from Roanoke must go either North to Columbus, OH or south to Chattanooga, TN.  The relatively small amount of high priority freight that can benefit from the shorter route isn’t enough for NS to build the line itself, but is plenty to justify the CH&FR considering it.

In our Virtual Interchange operations game, the connections to Russell and Williamson become the gateway from the CH&FR to the other layouts in the game.  For instance, NS owns the former Pennsylvania RR lines near Pittsburgh, and so traffic bound for the TCIRR in that area will go to Williamson.  Traffic bound for the railroads in Michigan, can go either to Williamson or to the CSX yard at Russell, depending on preference.  Westbound traffic would head to Russell, and thence to Cincinnati, and so on.

I will be posting more about this as we go along, including possibly some additional detail on just how and where the CH&FR ties into the NS and CSX mainlines along the Tug Fork river.

Layout Update 15 Oct 2010

It’s been a while since I posted a general update on the status of the layout.  Track work continued apace to the point where both yards and the outer mainline have been laid.  There are several trouble spots that require attention, and in particular both of the curved grades on either end of the layout may need to be ripped out and completely rebuilt.  But trains are running.

ON one end, the track is not level across the rails, which actually generates a nice superelevated effect, except that the outboard ties are floating up in the air. I will need to reseat that track and make sure it follows a level profile around the curve.  I believe the grade is otherwise acceptable here.

On the other end, I have realized that the lower half of the grade is actually level, creating an overly steep grade at the very bottom leading into the staging yard turnouts.  This is creating some issues with cars derailing when shoved forward by the cars behind them.  In this case, the only choice will be to lift up the track and regrade the subroadbed to a more consistent slope.

Most of the rest of the work needed appears to be routine track rehab:  vacuuming up stray bits of foam, cleaning the rails, filing down solder joints and frog guard rails, and so on.  I’m working these out one at a time as I find them while running trains.

Next up is to build the big Central Valley Truss Bridge for the upper loop (it’s on its way) and the second MicroEngineering Deck Bridge for the mine yard.  These will need to be installed (along with the other upper bridge, which is an RTR Kato plate girder bridge) to complete the track work.  After that, all that will be left is the Town Branch, which I don’t want to commit to until I finalize the town and industry design.  In the meantime, I have a temporary piece of track tacked down to allow cars to be spotted.

In general, I’m learning a few lessons about track design.  Like how important it is to leave space between the track for scenery, and how hard it is to reach across a 38″ table.  And how easy it is to derail a train by forgetting to throw a switch.  I’ve successfully installed a Caboose Industries Ground Throw, and worked out the positions required to work an Inglenook Sidings puzzle in the town yard.

Even after running operations, I’m fairly pleased with the design.  For a single operator, it will be important to provide easy access to both sides, and adding power remote switches will help tremendously with that.  I need to get my mind started considering detailed scenery design, but I can’t help having some fun running trains and wondering about how to connect an expansion.

I’m already considering how to connect a removable platform for a wye and an intermodal yard…

New Museum Piece


Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

Dateline: October 10, 2010
Glover’s Bend, WV

The Chestnut Hill Historical Preservation’s Frost River Museum today unveiled its newest addition, a 36 foot refrigerated boxcar (“reefer”) brightly festooned in a period H.J. Heinz Co. paint scheme.

The car was discovered languishing on a siding in Nitro, WV by Norfolk Southern officials taking a visual inventory after the breakup and acquisition of Conrail in 1999.  It was in poor condition, barely recognizable, and very, very old.  Norfolk Southern decided to donate the car to a museum willing to restore it, and the CHHiPS was willing to take on the job.

The car was placed on a flat and shipped to the CH&FR Railroad’s maintenance shops at Frost River, KY, where a complete overhaul and restoration of the car’s structure was undertaken, with special care to maintaining the historical integrity of the design.  Michael Frost, Chief Mechanical Engineer for the CH&FR, had a set of his newly patented hidden roller bearing trucks built, which cleverly conceal modern FRA-compliant roller bearings inside the journal boxes of otherwise historically accurate trucks.

Once the car’s “bones” had been rehabilitated, young Nathan McCallister and the boys from Boy Scout Troop 1221 went to work cleaning, sanding, and repainting the car to a historically accurate Heinz 57 paint scheme, as part of Nathan’s Eagle Scout Service Project.


End View of Reefer Car
End view of HJHC488


The car will be on static display at the CHHiPS auxiliary display track at Glover’s Bend, WV.  In keeping with the CHHiPS and CH&FR’s “living history” initiative, the car will also be used in occasional revenue service, making deliveries of small quantities of refrigerated goods throughout the region.

CHHiPS staff are still researching the history and records of the car to discover just exactly how old it is, where built, and where placed in service.  Anyone with information relevant to the history of this car are encouraged to contact the CHHiPS by commenting here.

Virtual Operations

I and a few others over at started a new experiment the other day.  Virtual Operations.  Also known as Virtual Interchange or Virtual Car Forwarding.  This isn’t some new invention.  There are some extant examples of this on other forums and groups, but it is new to us.  So far, it has been a fun way to add some operating interest to our modeling.

The basic idea is that we are pretending that our varied layouts are actually connected in a rail network, and so we can send shipments of various goods and materials  back and forth to and from our various industries.  We don’t actually physically exchange cars, but only the “paperwork” associated with them.

For example, I have a coal mine and Bob has a parts factory.  I may send a half dozen carloads of coal to Bob, while he ships me two boxcars of parts.  I will send my loco out to the mine, pick up the coal, bring it back to the yard and switch it into another train headed out to the interchange (my off-layout staging).  Once the cars are spotted on the interchange, I’ll send Bob a telegram to that effect.

Bob will then place a half dozen of his own coal hoppers (standing in for the ones I’m shipping him) on his staging track, and send a train out to pick them up, most likely dropping off the boxcars with my parts in the process.  He then telegrams me that the hoppers have been picked up and the boxcars dropped off.  To complete the transaction, I place a couple of my box cars on my staging, and send a train out to pick them up and deliver them to the end customer on my layout.

We’re using a thread on the website to post all of the “telegrams” and a separate thread for discussion.  So far we’ve handled several direct transactions, including a mis-ship and a through-transfer from an imaginary third railroad to the South.

The net effect is that all of a sudden that train I’m making up in the yard has a purpose beyond just something I made up in my own mind.  I have a customer I’m serving who needs that coal today, by golly.  I have a supplier for the customers on my layout and a source for all that traffic I’m putting together.

Like anything, this could get out of hand and become more work than it’s worth, but so far we’ve kept it light and entertaining.  One interesting aspect is that the settings and eras of our layouts don’t match.  I recently shipped some coal and chemicals in modern 100-ton hoppers and a 22,000 gallon tank behind a GP40.  They arrived at the customer in old wood-sided hoppers and a 13,000 gallon tank behind a steamer.

If you’re tiring of dreaming up reasons for the traffic you have, this can be an interesting way to generate traffic and activity on your layout, and so far it has definitely been a plus for mine!


Operations Begin at Glover’s Bend Yard


Dateline: October 2, 2010, Glover’s Bend, WV

Celebratory sodas were shared all around today as the first freight cars were moved about the newly operational CH&FR interchange yard at Glover’s Bend.  The small (by industry standards) three-track yard is situated just outside the town of Glover’s Bend, and will provide switching services for local turns, as well as “set-outs” for interchange traffic with CSX and Norfolk Southern.  During light operational times, the yard will also serve as a training ground for CH&FR crewmembers and yard masters, helping to keep their safety and operational skills sharp.

Aerial view of Glover's Bend Yard
Aerial view of Glover's Bend Yard

For now, the yard is known simply as Glover’s Bend Yard, but company officials indicate they are considering dedicating it in honor or memory to someone significant to the history and development of the region.

A source at CH&FR told reporters that crews at the yard expect to spend the next several weeks in “shakedown mode”, training employees, testing and improving the track work, and installing safety and operational equipment before the first revenue freights begin running.

In particular, the source reports, yard crews will be drilled through several variations on a switching puzzle known as “Inglenook Sidings“, which involves sorting random selections of cars into a randomly chosen train order, to sharpen the crew’s efficiency at sorting cars and making up trains.  Crews spent the day yesterday measuring and placing markers along the yard tracks to indicate the “out of bounds” areas for the puzzle, as well as marking safe clearance points on the tracks near the yard ladder switches.