Bob Johnson's West Virginia Midland Railroad, Jefferson, MD

May 14th, 2016

Slide Show by Marshall Abrams

Map of the West Virginia Midland Railroad

    There’s an old expression that’s sometimes used to describe someone who is exhibiting a certain degree of cluelessness about something or other: They “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Bob Johnson has managed to build his West Virginia Midland in such a way that because it has so many trees, you often can’t see the “forest,” if you will, of all the intricately done details that he has incorporated into it unless you look very, very, carefully, or have someone nearby that’s familiar with the railroad and can point them out to you. His work is a first class example of detailed modeling at its best, but you’re likely to miss much of it if you’re not paying close attention. 

    The railroad itself is an HO gauge B&O/WM/WVM arrangement in an E-shaped configuration for point-to-point operation with off line staging areas, one of which has its tracks in a sliding drawer where they can be lined up to an arrival/departure tunnel; there are working interchanges between the Class One railroads and the West Virginia Midland (and its subsidiary, the New Dominion Lumber Company), all of which is set in the mountains of central West Virginia (Webster County) in the summer of 1954. There is also an additional 50’ around the wall shelf extension connected to the rest of the railroad by a movable 4’ long bridge just inside the doorway to the room. The construction is conventional “L” girder with some modifications and table top yard areas; scenery is plaster over cardboard supports with an abundance of rock castings, but the principle scenic highlights are the trees, approximately 4000 of them (I didn’t try to count them), hand-made from wild hydrangeas that are painted and then dipped in ground foam while still wet. Motive power is provided by first generation B&O and WM diesels and steam equipment, primarily geared locomotives (with one 2-6-6-2) for the WVM and the lumber company, all controlled by the Lenz Digital Plus DCC system. 

Operations are accomplished using time tables and train orders. Each session takes about three hours using a 3:1 fast clock so that three sessions of around eight hours each are needed to cover a full day. A typical session would utilize a dispatcher, an operator, two yard crews, and four road crews of one or two people in a crew. Road operations include a mix of through freight and passenger trains plus local turnarounds that work specific industries or towns on the line. Car movements during operating sessions are controlled by a car-card/waybill system. Major traffic producers on the Midland include a limestone quarry, a coal mine (with a second simulated mine as part of one of the staging areas), a coke oven, a lumber mill related to the logging industry that’s presently under construction, and industrial areas around Webster Springs and Cherry Falls. The intervening sections are modeled as would be expected with heavily forested mountains to create the impression that you’re in Appalachia.

 Each major industry is designed to be a “stand alone” independent scene that is large enough to represent a viable source of revenue for the railroad and to also keep the crews busy during operating sessions; the limestone quarry has large dump trucks that bring the stone to a collection shed where it’s sent by conveyer belt to a tipple and loaded into hopper cars for shipment. And while most of the steam power on the railroad consists of Shays and Heisler geared locomotives, that particular industry is serviced by a rare Vulcan Duplex B-B rod locomotive. The logging operation on Big Mountain, at the end of one of the peninsulas, has a steel cable reinforced hoist for loading the logs; what appeared to be “horseshoes” on one of the logs are really extra eyes for hoist, one of those things that had to be pointed out or it would have been missed by us visiting novices. And there also were some cows there that must have wandered away from a nearby pasture because they definitely didn’t belong where they were, in the area between the tracks. But in another location, there were cattle in pens ready to be shipped out somewhere to eventually become burgers and baseball gloves. Then there was a coke oven against one of the walls that could hold six hopper cars, but the approach grade was so steep that only three cars could be pushed up at a time, making for some interesting switching moves as one of the operators of the layout explained to me. And the coal mine has an overhead trolley wire to supply the small narrow gauged electric locomotives that worked the mine. 

I spent a lot of time Saturday peering over, around, and between trees, and I did need some coaching from two of his regular operators on some of the details, but it was well worth the trip up there, rain and all, to see what can be done if you have both the talent and the time to accomplish what Bob Johnson has done with his railroad.

Bob Rosenberg