Jim Brewer's Norfolk and Western- Shenandoah Division, Glenwood, MD

September 26th, 2015


 Pictures by Dave Arday


The first time I saw Jim Brewer’s layout in Glenwood, Maryland several years ago, I found it impossible not to be captivated by his HO scale replica of the old N&W Shenandoah Valley Division. The sheer massiveness of a 93’ by 30’ room, larger than some club layouts, hits you first before you even realize that there is an additional room about 24’ by 20’, in itself larger than many of us have in which to fit our entire model railroad. Then when you finally return to reality, you begin to appreciate what Jim and his crew have actually accomplished. Running south from Hagerstown down the valley to Roanoke, the N&W Shenandoah Valley Division (now NS) was one those prototype situations that was virtually begging to be modeled. Long stretches of relatively tangent single track running through the gentle, rolling hills of the beautiful rural Virginia countryside with its farms, quaint villages, and small towns along the river; extended passing sidings to accommodate long freight trains hauled by enormous, home built, steam power; passenger varnish behind streamlined Class J’s and K’s, all of which persisted into the late 1950’s until those store bought diesels finally took over. The setting is 1956, the transition time between the old and new motive power. The only downside was (is) that you really do need a sizable area to make such a railroad look right,  and Jim Brewer, unlike most of us, has it to spare. I was especially intrigued because of the propensity of model railroaders to fill as much of the available space as possible with trains, track work, and pertinent railroad structures to the detriment of forests, fields, etc., things more often found in a rural setting. I have attempted a similar what I like to call the “less is more” approach with my own railroad but with a much smaller area in which to work. 

This time around, it was every bit as well done as I remember it from my first visit, if not more so. Most of the scenery has been finished on the completed portion of the railroad that starts at Front Royal and an interchange with the Southern and will eventually end at a new section representing Waynesboro and an interchange with the C&O east-west mainline that is currently under construction. On this particular day, a sound equipped BLI N&W class A was lazily chugging around with a train of 20 some N&W hopper cars. The thing about a single track model railroad, even one as large as this one, is that running more than one train at a time requires someone to be there who’s paying attention. I know this from personal experience because I have a single track railroad myself and I’m not always alert to the locations of the trains; it’s much easier to put on one train and let it run unattended as long as it’s reliable. The bench work averages about 42 inches high all the way around (no hills in this valley) with L-girder and open grid supporting 3/4 inch plywood with code 100 flex track on Homabed. Turnouts are Shinohara with either hand-throws or Tortoise slow motion switch machines.  

As is usually the case, it’s the small details that make the railroad and this railroad could set the bar on how to do it without overdoing it; although I’m not all that familiar with the area, standing in that room makes you feel like you’re standing in the Shenandoah Valley. All of the stations are scratch built to replicate the prototypes, as are several of the larger on line industries. But there are also many commercially available structures to create local businesses for the small towns along the line and stock ME Viaducts and CV bridges over the myriad creeks and tributaries running into the namesake river. Appropriate signage advertising the products of the day are interspersed in logical positions to be seen by travelers on the local roads driving vintage appropriate vehicles (a ’56 Chevy comes to mind), and there’s one prominent roadside sign as you enter Luray advertising the famous caverns which looks exactly like the original as I recall it from a family visit there many years ago. There’s even a chain link security fence topped with triple stranded barbed wire around the soon to be completed Mercke Pharmaceutical complex and sections of telephone poles fully strung with wires. One of the rivers was so well done that I was forced to poke at it to prove to myself that the water wasn’t real. Elkton, for example, had a cornfield, a vegetable garden, and a full sized softball field (60 foot baselines) with the standard 10 players at their defensive positions in the game. When you have 3300 square feet to work in, you don’t have to contend with situations that require “selective compression” or any other kind of compression for that matter. And then there are the trees - many, many trees - in various shapes, sizes, and shades of green; apparently it’s not yet autumn, in the Shenandoah anyway. Finally, there are several scenes on the layout that are based on photos in O. Winston Link’s book of night photography on the line, and copies of the pictures were attached to bench work where those scenes are reenacted on the model.

When I write up home model railroad tours, professional meetings, or anything else, I try to focus on the highlights of the event for those who were unable to be there that day. But there’s no way one can do justice to a railroad like this with the written word. Pictures would certainly enhance your experience in such circumstances far more than writing alone can do, but nothing will adequately substitute for seeing it yourself. The next time an opportunity arises to visit Jim Brewer’s layout, do your best to take advantage of it.

 Bob Rosenberg