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Dean Ripple's B&O Monongah Branch
     February 22, 2020

  by Bob Shepard

By the early 1950s the B&O’s Monongah branch was already a tired line. A conglomeration of smaller lines weaved together by the B&O, the branch had worn track, old bridges, and generally tattered infrastructure. But the region it ran in, just south of Morgantown, West Virginia, had coal and lumber so despite the antique infrastructure, the branch boasted a lively, regular schedule of train traffic, with coal and some lumber moving outbound and merchandise for the towns along the route incoming.

While these element may have made life trying for the workers on the railroad, they are the stuff of model railroading, and Dean Ripple’s B&O Monongah Branch preserves a 1950s West Virginia moment in a 12 X 16  HO scale layout, which features part of the run from the B&O’s mainline at Grafton, WV, to Charleston, with a major central engine house and yard in the middle at Buckhannon and a connection with the Western Maryland in Elkins.

All of the B&O trains are led by brass locomotives, mainly Mikados and other smaller engines. The level of detail and weathering on the engines is stunning. Perhaps even more impressive is what is on the inside, as Dean has ripped the innards out of these older engines and fitted them with new motors, DCC sound decoders (Tsunamis), and extra electrical pickups. His most perilous surgery involved fitting a decoder into a brass Vanderbilt tender, as it necessitated cutting through the metal directly. The patient survived and today runs perfectly and looks great. 

Track and turnouts are mainly Peco 100, resting on cork roadbed. By painting the rail the same color as the ties and adding realistic ballasting (from the Arizona Rock and Mineral Co.), the use of bigger rail is hardly evident.  

Operating sessions are held every two months using train orders and sequential timetables.  In addition to coal, trains move lumber and merchandise to and from a variety of industries, including a feed mill, a freight station, lumbermill, tannery, and supply warehouse. All represent real industries on the branch, albeit the structures are freelanced. A limited number of passenger trains serve the communities along the way.

The railroad is also operated by Dean’s son Joseph, who’s been running trains for 14 of his 18 years. Joseph has his own collection of Pennsy motive power that regularly infiltrates the B&O territory.

The only remaining piece waiting to be finished is a coal mine and some nearby worker housing. Further expansion?  Maybe -- but another possibility is a G Scale shelf layout running around the remaining wall space in the basement.

For more on the layout, as well as some railfanning photos, see Dean’s website at:


Photos by Marshall Abrams (MA), Bob Shepard (BS) or Dean Ripple (DR)