Chris Smith's Norfolk and Western Fuel Satisfaction
March 29 , 2014

Layout Pictures by David Arday and Marshall Abrams

Lower Hidden Plan N&W Middle & Upper Plan
N&W Lower Hidden PlanN&W Middle & Upper Plan

A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Whatever your modeling scale may be, you have to be impressed when you descend the stairs to a basement and are greeted by double heading O scale N&W Class Y6’s hauling a long train of empty N&W hoppers with two N&W cabooses trailing behind, and then watch as an O scale N&W Class J pulling a nearly as long string of N&W head end equipment, heavy weight Pullmans, and a few light weight streamlined cars at the end passes it going in the opposite direction. Such was my introduction on Saturday, March 29th to Chris Smith’s Norfolk and Western Fuel Satisfaction Railroad, and a grand introduction it was indeed!  Featuring a double track main line for bi-directional continuous operation on three levels, and with a solidly constructed supporting bench work in a 24’ by 26’ space that occupies a sizable portion of the basement of his Silver Spring, MD home, the rather intriguing name was taken from some Norfolk and Western promotional literature from about the same period as the setting of the railroad itself: 1953, when N&W steam was at its pinnacle in transporting coal from Appalachia to the Virginia  tidewater area ports.   

Built by their shops in Roanoke, the N&W had a fleet of steam locomotives that were second to none when it came to efficiency, power, and aesthetics. I personally never saw the prototypes in regular service; by the time I got to Virginia in the early 1960’s, they were long gone but watching Chris’s brass imports and MTH models perform is probably as close as you can get nowadays; they looked great and ran flawlessly, and you can’t ask for much more than that to brighten a gray, rain-soaked March afternoon. The scenery, while only about 35% complete, is beautifully done; I particularly liked his fences that protect against rock slides, an essential feature on a railroad that requires tunnels and deep cuts to get through the mountains of West Virginia. He had to have the wire mesh custom made in order to keep it within scale dimensions. And then there was that special piece of equipment that he had designed himself, something I’d never seen before that I’ll call, for lack of a better name, a “car duster.” About two feet long, it covered two tracks like a snow shed with a PVC pipe connection in the center and two Shop Vac like suction attachments to either side. You run the cars through it, blow air into the PVC pipe to stir up the dust in or on the cars, and then draw it away with the vacuum attachments. I expect it works great with his O scale equipment, but I would probably be reluctant to try it with the smaller scales; it might suck up the cars along with the dust.
Additionally, Chris had produced his own layout information sheet as a handout that included further details as well as maps of the various levels, which I have summarized below:

Inspiration: The N&W east/west two-track mainline west of Welch WV, between Ieager and Bluefield In 1953.

Layout Specs: The layout was designed using 3rd Plan It computer software so that sub-roadbed could be CNC routed at a local shop. The design was then printed out at 1:1 scale on large plotted sheets and transferred to plywood using tracing paper. Construction began in the spring of 2003.
•   Basement footprint: Approximately 24’ x 26’
•   Mainline run: 200’
•   Grades: 2%-3%
•   Roadbed: California Roadbed (Homa-bed) painted with latex paint.
•   Track: Atlas
•   Turnouts: Old Pullman rebuilt (Some with ROW frogs), with the frogs powered through switches at control panels.
•   Switch machines: Tortoise
•   Minimum mainline radius: 56” inside track of lobe. All other mainline curves are 60” and 64” or greater.
•   Power control: NCE DCC or conventional DC controlled through toggle switches
•   Wire: 10 gauge bus and 18 gauge feeders to each rail.
•   Since the right corner of the bridge spanning the aisle rests directly over the track below, there will be a hill and tunnel approach to the bridge for those tracks instead of the awkward balancing act for the corner of the bridge. The brads heads will be removed from track after it is ballasted. The switches for mine tracks will eventually be controlled by Tortoise machines and toggles when fascia is put in.

Operations: The yards at Ieager to the west and Bluefield to the east are too large to represent here, so they are considered offstage. Trains travelling from points east and west run to and from the hidden storage and staging level representing Bluefield and Ieager. From points west (offstage) empty hopper trains run to small holding yard called farm. From the holding yard empties go to mine, loads out to holding yard. From the holding yard loads go to points west (offstage). From points west (offstage) trains run to holding tracks at farm and are split. Engines from west Ieager (offstage) or east from Bluefield (offstage) arrive to take remainder of train up Elkhorn grade where there is a limited amount of local mixed freight switching.

Future Projects: Since the right corner of the bridge spanning the aisle rests directly over the track below; there will be a hill and tunnel approach to the bridge for those tracks instead of the awkward balancing act for the corner of the bridge. Brads heads will be removed from track after it is ballasted. The switches for the mine tracks will eventually be controlled by Tortoise machines and toggles when fascia is put in.

The railroad utilizes the top two levels for operating purposes (see maps), with the lower third level set up for staging and storage. The aisles were of adequate width for viewing and moving around so foam rubber scenery wasn’t necessary (for those of us with greater girth who remember that particular feature on another O scale layout), and the lighting was especially efficient, with fluorescent bulbs above diffusers covering the entire ceiling. It was another marvelous opportunity to observe the creativity and craftsmanship exhibited by a member of the Potomac Division, and it’s really appreciated when they invite us over and share it with us.
                                    Bob Rosenberg