Sunday, October 19, 2014

Inspirational Layout Themes

While I'd intended on posting a series of "Achievable Layout" themes, the timing of my posts shows that life gets in the way of my ability to blog. My layout is progressing...well, at least work on the layout room is progressing. I've got ceiling fans up, wiring for the layout lighting in place and a new ceiling put up in the layout room. With "modeling season" ahead, I plan on adding a floor to the layout room and begin getting benchwork in place.

Sadly, I still haven't settled on a plan or theme for my layout; something the "Achievable Layouts" series was supposed to help clarify. Since I cannot find the time to create separate posts for each theme, I'll just summarize the themes I had in mind here. Mike Cougill has written an interesting piece on how he selected his layout theme, which sort of spurred this post.

Theme 1 - Illinois Central Hickman District. The Hickman District ran 51 miles from Dyersburg, TN to Hickman, KY. Once out of Dyersburg, the line served several farming communities and a large cottonseed oil mill at Tiptonville, TN. Power for the line was IC #610, a little EMD SW-1. Today, the line still exists as the TennKen railroad. Were I to model this line, I'd focus on modeling Tiptonville as there wasn't much beyond this point on the line. The Obion River had a swing bridge that would make for a signature scene. Dyersburg would also make a neat town to model, but the IC had a double-track mainline through there, a mid-size yard with roundhouse and an interchange with the GM&O. It's a bit much to pull off in anything larger than N scale.

Theme 2 - Columbus & Greenville post-1975. The Columbus & Greenville covered 151 miles between its two namesake towns. After 1975 there were several changes that added and subtracted from that mileage, but the railroad managed to keep running between these two towns until a washout in 2001 severed service. There are several towns along the line worth modeling: Columbus, Greenville, Greenwood, Winona, and Indianola being the primary ones. The major industry on the line is the catfish feed mill at Heathman, MS (just west of Indianola). Only Winona and Indianola are truly manageable from a modeling standpoint. The CAGY spun up with a fleet of Baldwin DRS-6-4-1500s and EMD SW-1s, but added some ex-FEC GP-7s in 1978 and later added ex-Southern GP-9s, ex-CNW GP-7s and ex-Santa Fe CF-7s. Even later, more ex-Southern GP-38s rounded out the fleet.

Theme 3 - Bonhomie & Hattiesburg Southern. This line was bought by the Tatum Lumber Company when the M&O sought to abandon their Hattiesburg Branch. The B&HS was famous for running steam until 1961. When they dieselized, they did so with two ex-Wabash SW-1s. I know very little about the industries on this line, but there may not be much to know. When the line was absorbed by the Illinois Central Gulf merger in 1972, almost 70% of its traffic was overhead traffic.

Theme 4 - Fernwood, Columbia & Gulf. This line was built by the Enochs Lumber Company and ran between Fernwood, MS and Columbia, MS. Power came in the form of an EMD SW-900 and an SW-1 (starting to see a theme here?). The SW-900 was the "road power" while the SW-1 switched the mill in Fernwood. On heavy trains out of Fernwood, the little SW-1 would couple to the rear and push the train out of the Bogue Chitto River bottom. The line connected the IC at Fernwood to the GM&O at Tylertown and the IC and GM&O at Columbia. When the ICG merger was proposed, the line stood to lose 60% of its traffic. For me, a model of the FC&G would include Fernwood, Tylertown and the grade in-between.

Theme 5 - Meridian & Bigbee. This line was built in 1928 and connected Meridian, MS with Myrtlewood, AL; but never really amounted to much until the paper mill at Naheola,AL was built in 1957. The line dieselized with a GP-7 and a GP-9. They picked up an ex-IC GP-7 in 1964 and several more Geeps and a CF-7 in the 1970s and 80s. The railroad interchanged with the Southern, GM&O and IC at Meridian; the Frisco (AT&N) at Riderwood, AL and the L&N at Myrtlewood, AL. The signature scenes are the paper mill and one-lane highway/rail drawbridge at Naheola, the depot and interchange at Riderwood, and the yard at Meridian.

Theme 6 - Gulf & Mississippi. A 713-mile spinoff of the ICG, this railroad only lasted from 1985-1988. There's plenty of opportunities for modeling, but the areas that would interest me most would be Starkville, MS; the West Point-Aberdeen line; the operations around Corinth, MS and the Middleton, TN to Woodland, MS section that required trackage rights to reach. The railroad operated with 30 ex-ICG GP-10s (and maybe a few GP-8s), but leased ex-Conrail GP-38s and ex-BN SD-45s. Four of the GP-10s were repainted in a very attractive G&M paint scheme. The train that operated over trackage rights used a caboose.

Theme 7 - Mississippi Delta Railroad. This line was spun-off from the ICG in the mid-1980s and operated by Gulf & Ohio railways to serve the large cottonseed oil mill in Jonestown, MS. I think they handled some contract switching for ICG in Clarksdale as well when ADM's soybean oil mill was in operation and Cooper Tire shipped by rail. This line is still in existence, but is now owned by a rail cooperative and operated by an independent. In the 1980s, they used ex-ICG units, two GP-10s and a GP-8. Today, they use a couple of ex-C&G CF-7s. The cottonseed oil mill at Jonestown would be the signature industry to model on this line. Otherwise, a few of the industries at Clarksdale would be interesting to model, but the declining traffic on this line renders it just a switching railroad.

Theme 8 - Illinois Central at Helena, AR. This was IC's only track in Arkansas and operated until the 1970s via a ferry connection. This would essentially be a switching railroad, but would allow me to model the IC's river operations as well. Lack of information on the industries served as well as the status as a switching railroad have caused my interest to wane.

Theme 9 - Illinois Central at Grenada, MS. Grenada was still a hopping place post-1967. IC still ran two passenger trains through town (the Panama Limited and City of New Orleans), but no through freights unless they were detouring off the Tallahatchie District. However, Grenada was the terminus for the Grenada-Durant turn, the Memphis-Grenada turn, and had a Water Valley-Canton local (41/42) that came through town but only stopped to pick up cuts of cars. A switcher worked a yard north of town, a few industries in-town and along an old Y&MV branch line. Train interactions would be THE attraction to Grenada. I've spent some time designing a layout to depict Grenada, but it's almost impossible to fit everything in HO scale, much less my preferred S scale. Not to mention the amount of equipment needed to pull this one off!

Theme 10 - Memphis Parkway Yard. This yard served the adjacent Ford Motor Company assembly plant, International Harvester and General Electric. Additionally, there were multiple small industries that shipped by rail. The line was switched by reciprocal agreement between the Illinois Central, Missouri Pacific, Cotton Belt and Frisco on quarterly shifts. The Illinois Central covered Cotton Belt's portion of the agreement, meaning you had six months of IC and three months of Mop and Frisco. This would be an all-switching layout and an intercity one at that. While I do call Memphis my hometown and the opportunity to model three railroads is tempting, I can't bring myself to build a layout that wouldn't have any trees. Sure, I could fudge a sapling in here or there, but this was down-and-dirty city railroading.

Theme 11 - Mississippi & Skuna Valley. The little line was owned by the Bruce Lumber Company (later Weyerhaeuser) and ran from Bruce Junction (just south of Coffeeville) to Bruce, MS. The line operated with a 70-tonner in the early 1970s, picked up an ex-Penn Central SW-9 and an ex-Santa Fe CF-7 which it used until abandonment in 2011. The major customer was the Weyerhaeuser, but the line also served a furniture plant, a propane dealer and a grain silo in Bruce. Otherwise, there were no other industries on the line. This would essentially be a switching railroad centered on Bruce, MS.

Those eleven themes all have their strong points and negative points. The trick for me is to determine what elements of these themes cause me to want to model them. Perhaps the answer of "What to model?" is not a matter of picking a single theme, but combining elements of multiple themes in a plausible way. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated!!