A visit to the Fernwood Lumber Co.

  by BGTwinDad
, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Fernwood Lumber Company, an On30-scale (O scale narrow gauge) model logging layout owned by Pete Birdsong, the NMRA Division 10 Superintendent, and based on the real Fernwood Lumber Company which operated in Mississippi in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Pete’s layout runs from Camp 2 on the far left, around Magnolia at the end of the peninsula, and into the lumber mill at Fernwood on the far right.  All of the track is hand-laid, most of the scratch-built, and the dirt is real dirt from the South.   Even the log cars are hand-built from scratch (except the running gear).  It’s a beautifully detailed layout, and has been featured in the Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette.  Trains are controlled with Digitrax wireless throttles, and most all of the locomotives have onboard sound, which greatly enhances the realism of the model.

The real surprise is just how much operational fun is packed into such a small (track-mileage-wise) layout.  A crew of seven was kept busy for two hours (which flew by!), moving eleven trains and hauling 47 cars and about 475 tons of product around the layout.  When I left, the logging operations were still going.

NMRA Division 10 members operate Pete Birdsong's On30 FLCR layout

When I first arrived, Pete introduced me to the crew, gave me a quick tour of the layout, and explained the computer system he uses to generate (paper) train manifests and switch lists for the crew to follow.  True to the backwoods 1910 era he models, there are no signals or radios or other communications.  Access to each of the the two single-track mainline segments is controlled by a semaphore flag that must be passed from one train to the next.  If you don’t have the flag, you don’t have access to the track.

Though I had visited expecting to be only an observer, before long Pete was handing me a manifest and a throttle, and encouraging me to try my hand.  My first adventure in operating the layout was Train 62, which needed to take a gondola from Camp 2 and trade it for a boxcar waiting at Magnolia.

I had to wait for Tom to bring engine #6, the 0-4-0 seen in the opening photo, back to Camp 2 before I could start.  Bill, the Camp 2 yardmaster moved the gondola and my “bobber” caboose into place, and I slowly moved Train 62 onto the left leg of the wye and waited for Randall to clear the main and deliver the red flag that would allow me to occupy the main between Camp 2 and Magnolia.  Once the flag was acquired, I eased the “tiny” loco (37 times bigger than my own N scale models!) onto the main.

A few minutes later, I rounded the bend and pulled onto the siding at Magnolia, where Brian cleared his switcher and allowed me to back the gondola onto the freight house track and pick up the boxcar for my return journey.  Another operator then had to wait for permission to enter the Magnolia yard limits while I backed across the return loop track to begin my return journey to Camp 2.

Crew members build a train at Camp 2

Glancing at my watch, much of the time had flown by, but I thought I had time for one more run, so Pete handed me Train #63, which runs from Camp 2 past Magnolia all the way to Fernwood.  This train (conveniently) used the same #6 engine, but this time I had to haul three boxcars the full length of the layout.  Again I acquired the red flag and proceeded to Magnolia, where I traded it for the green flag that would allow me passage the rest of the way to Fernwood.  Once I negotiated the return loop at Fernwood, I backed the set-out cars onto the yard track and picked up the cars slated for the return journey.

I was all set to go, but a call from home reminded me that I was “dead on the law” and Train 63 would require a crew change to proceed further.  I had a wonderful time meeting Pete’s fellow club members and operating on his layout, and I hope to return soon.  I must say, if you have the opportunity to visit an operating session in your area, do take advantage of it.  It’s a great way to spend a few hours railroading!