Ernie Little’s Norfolk Southern Connector, Manassas, VA

November 14th, 2015

Pictures by Marshall Abrams


      The Great Valley of Virginia, as the Shenandoah Valley is sometimes called, has apparently become a very popular location to model, as attested to by our second successive tour of a home layout set in that area. This time it was the HO scale Norfolk Southern Connector we were seeing, the work of Ernie Little, a retired Prince William County, Virginia Fire Department Battalion Chief and Fire Marshall who now lives in Manassas. Ernie’s railroad represents a more recent time frame and a more free-lanced concept, with fictional towns replacing the real ones actually there. His version stretches from Roanoke up the length of the valley and beyond to a terminus at Nickel City, Pennsylvania, a great name for a small town even if it isn’t a real one.

      The current railroad is 20’ by 16’ arrangement with 200 feet of continuous single track main line, one lengthy passing siding, staging tracks, and numerous yards; there are future plans for a second level to accommodate dual track operation. The bench work is L-girders supporting ½ inch plywood or ½ inch plywood with ½ inch homosote, depending upon the structural requirements. The track is Atlas code 100 flex track on a cork road bed, all of which is ballasted. Turnouts are Atlas, Shinohara, and Peco, with either hand-throws or Tortoise slow motion switch machines. Locomotives operate on a Digitrax DCC system that operates on radio, infrared, or plug in throttles. 

The layout began as a simple double tracked oval and expanded from there, analogous to the way that John Allen’s initial four foot by seven foot G&D (Ancient Modeler #7), eventually evolved to fill most of the room, and the original section can be easily identified apart from the rest. Although nothing was moving while I was there, a Norfolk Southern GP-9 with a sound unit was idling on a siding, and a pair of Amtrak FP-40’s were parked on the original section, both with freight trains. In addition to the trains on the layout there was a case on the wall with several varied first generation diesels, both in Southern green and C&O yellow and blue, and a Southern 4-6-2 decorated for the Crescent Limited. Ernie has successfully resisted the impulse to fill up every available space on the layout. On line structures and industries include a quarry producing and shipping gravel and other materials with appropriately related heavy trucks and earth moving equipment, an intermodal service facility with its overhead traveling crane, an oil depot with large tanks and tank cars, and typical small town stores and business along both sides of the main street in one of those fictional small towns set in the center of the earlier layout that reflects the architecture of the Shenandoah Valley as it still appears today. There were ample opportunities for switching and operations should one chose to pursue that path, all spread around the layout in such a way that it didn’t appear at all crowded, and there was more than adequate space to move around the room for viewing and operating convenience. And there’s a moveable three foot section of the main line can be raised 90 degrees vertically to allow access through an inside door to the garage.  

      Ernie has been working on becoming a Master Model Railroader and has four NMRA achievement program certificates to his credit so far: Association Volunteer, Engineer-civil, Engineer-electrical, and Chief Dispatcher; he is presently directing his efforts towards earning an AP scenery certificate.  

    Generally speaking, most modelers feel it’s more desirable to have a larger space in which to work when it comes to constructing a model railroad; unfortunately, that larger space isn’t available to all of us. However, you can build a realistic layout in just about any sized space if you limit yourself to the essential elements that are important to you and avoid any superfluous clutter that distracts from your primary modeling objectives; smaller can work well too, as Ernie Little has demonstrated with his Norfolk Southern Connector railroad.

Bob Rosenberg