Keeney Creek Shifter: The How and Why of a trackplan

Every model railroad has to be designed with a space limitation. Also what needs to be included into the design is the builder’s time and money. One other aspect, forgotten by many, is the time it takes to get to an operational model railroad. I like Trevor Marshall’s “Achievable Layouts” name to describe this important point, time to an operating model railroad. Graham really liked the Model Railroader’s Clinchfield project. I will admit, I like Appalachian coal railroads, but there are many fine examples of these types of model railroads. Even though I am a big narrow gauge fan, I really like the Anthracite standard gauge railroads. My choice would be something like Deane Mellander’s Cumberland and Susquehanna on page 84 in the Track Planning Ideas from Model Railroader . The trackplan reminded me of a  Maryland and Pennsylvania style shortline located in western Maryland- south central Pennsylvania. However the idea of a railroad running from Cumberland, Md to Harrisburg, Pa through several coal fields, including the Broad Top field and carrying bridge traffic reminded me more of a Lehigh and New England style railroad. However, in the end, we opted for an achievable branchline of either an Appalachian or Anthracite railroad.

Once we had decided on a branchline, the process of designing Keeney Creek was a rather short one, we are trying to get a model railroad up and running for a soon to be 8-year-old and his rather busy Dad.  We had limited our space to a shelf with a minimal depth of 12 inches, or 160 N scale feet. The maximum depth would be 320 scale ft, but as I explained to  Graham actual versus scale feet, I did not think we would make 320 scale feet very often. I briefly explained to him that the branchline runs in a very narrow valley, much like how our valley narrows down the street from our house. It narrows down to no more than 40 feet in some places. I have not looked at all of the Keeney Creek stream valley, but I doubt it gets quite that narrow. We decided to face roughly west so that Keeney Creek would be along the front edge of our baseboards most of the time. We wanted to capture some of the falls along Keeney Creek that we saw in photographs on various Internet sites. Unfortunately, I did not take any photographs of Winona when exploring that area of West Virgina almost 16 years ago now. I did have some memories, but they were a little cloudy due to distance in years from my visit to the area.

We wanted to have several tipples to switch, that was one of Graham’s requests, “some coal mines.” I wanted to make sure it would be a project we could build in small pieces and have it operational as we also built the interior walls in our basement and added more sections. Finally if we never managed to build the Clinchfield or Cumberland and Susquehanna we would at least have a stand alone model railroad. That said, I decided we would start in Lookout at the end of the branch and work our way down the grade to New River Gorge. We dug out one of our books, “Ride that New River Train” by Eugene L. Huddleston and looked through it for information. Luckily, there is a track and grade diagram in the book along with the mile posts and which spurs /sidings are privately owned (unfortunately we can not load the pdf file of this into WordPress). The information is from 1921, 34 years prior to our circa 1955 version of the branchline, but it provided a starting point.

Although my Dad had scrapped the line almost 40 years ago, he did not have the track diagrams or any photos of the scrapping. He had his memories and the thing that struck me the most was his description of the bridges above the switchback. My Dad said as he drove out onto the trestles, the tractor trailers loaded with rail and the outside tires on the tractor and trailer hung off the trestle! His other memories were of Winona, but no clear recollections of the end of track in Lookout. How much changed from the 1921 track diagram to 1955 we did not really know. Looking on a topographic map on the internet, we could see a coal mine labeled, but not the curve from the 1921 track diagram.

For our “Lookout” module we opted to include the  1921 curve, which we made into a 48 inch radius curve as well as a two-track coal tipple. This is not on the 1921 diagram, instead there is a 500+ foot siding. We decided that by having the curve and the tipple we could start with the first module being operational. Our RSD-5s could push empty hoppers ahead of them out of staging and onto the “stage”. We could then pull the loads from the tipple one track at a time and place them on the end of track curve. We could then go back and place the empties into the tipple tracks.  We could even have the RSD-5s appear without empties and pull the loads, placing them onto the curve and go back into staging to bring the empties in and place on the tipple tracks. We had an operating plan. Next to the track requirements.

The branchline track will be code 55 and the tracks for the tipple will be code 40. We decided on two number 8 switches, and made number 8 the minimal switch size as well. the entire module is flat, non of the over 4% grade yet! Why, we have not figured out the best approach to create this grade within the confines of our space and height restrictions. Off to the computer to order supplies and switch building materials.

Next post: Hopefully the track diagram and photos of our progress so far.


Introducing the Keeney Creek Shifter

Keeney Creek Shifter at work. From C&O Historical Society
Keeney Creek Shifter at work. From C&O Historical Society

Graham and I have started working on a new N scale layout. Graham decided after looking through lots of magazines and books that he liked coal mining railroads. He really likes the Model Railroader project railroad Clinchfield RR in N scale. However, right now we do not have room for it as we continue to do work in our basement.

After Graham decided on an N scale coal mining railroad, I started looking for a suitable candidate. My Dad had scrapped an interesting C&O branch in West Virginia in the 1970s. I recall him talking about it so I pulled out our “Ride the New River Train” and found the information we needed, the Keeney Creek branch to Lookout, WV. We decided to start in Lookout and work our way down the branch through Winona for now. We are still doing our background work, but we did start on our version of Lookout. We built a 12 inch deep by 48 inch long baseboard for the end of line. We will be using code 55 for the branchline and a mix of code 40 and 55 for the spurs and sidings.

Our version of the Keeney Creek shifter. Two RSD-5s and RS-1 at the end of track in Lookout
Our version of the Keeney Creek shifter. Two RSD-5s and RS-1 at the end of track in Lookout

Since our layout is going to be a shelf layout at a set height, I have not figured out the best way to recreate the almost continuous 4% grade from the C&O mainline along the New River up through Nuttallburg and the switchbacks to Lookout.

Follow along with us as we build an N finescale switching layout.