No. 164: Musée du Train, Brussels

Last Saturday I went to the Musée du Train–also known as Train World–in Brussels, Belgium. Here’s a short report.

Train World is Belgium’s brand new national railway museum. It’s headquartered in a large, retired, 1887-built station on the north side of Brussels at Schaarbeek.

Above. This former passenger station now serves as the main entrance for the museum.

Train World opened just a few years ago. It has a very-French National Railway Museum feel. It is very theatrical, with exhibits lit dramatically. There are video displays everywhere, and collections of equipment and paraphernalia all over. Unlike the French museum though, Train World is much smaller–only two large halls with a small mix of diesel, electric and steam locomotives, and that’s about it. Nevertheless it is definitely worth the trip. The trains here have “quite a track record” as their ads say.

Below. Outside the museum, clean, modern trams scurry around everywhere.

Below. It cost about ten bucks to get in. Inside the passenger station, the ticket counters are preserved with a variety of era-specific equipment, with video displays showing what this depot was like 75 years ago. Impressive, hand-made 1:20th scale steam locomotive models are enclosed in the large cases on the floor.

The rolling stock collection is housed in a few separate buildings adjacent to the station. Upon entering, one is greeted by the smell of oil and machinery—that’s how I knew I was “home”. Here’s the view:

These are completely restored, Belgian-built engines dating to 1900. Similar types were sent to China and operated there for half a century.

There are screens running video loops everywhere in the museum. On the walls, on the floor, in passenger car windows, even in fireboxes. The videos show maps and scenes of railroading in the glory days. It lends some motion, or action, to the displays.

A nice display of builder’s plates from various eras. Exactly the same as US plates, but completely different.

This track display was excellent. This short section of track includes a variety of individual displays of track from different eras, from the 1830s to today. Along the walls are all kinds of tools and equipment, signals, and signs. And like the rest of the museum, this display it dramatically lit and there are videos everywhere showing equipment in action. The section show below, on the left, is original track from the mid-late 1800s.

Here’s another photo of the track display:

The next room has the darling of the collection—a shrouded 4-4-2 still in operating condition.

The next and last bay has a display with a few diesels and electrics.

At the far end of the museum, there’s a large window where one can view the still-active five-track passenger mainline outside. I waited about a minute. Nothing. Then, three trains passed in view—all at the same time.

No train museum is complete without models. The layout is awesome but I found it interesting that they honored Belgian railroading with an Alpine setting. Shouldn’t we have rolling hills here, akin to an American Midwest layout?

Below. Here’s the most fun you can have at Musée du Train. It’s a full-up passenger train simulator. It was crowded with kids—and that was great—so I didn’t get a chance to run it myself. It’s hard to see but in this photo, the little engineer on the right is getting hands-on training with the museum-lady at left. She’s teaching him how to run the trains, obey signals and speed restrictions, and stop on target at the platform. It wasn’t easy and he missed it every time. He was having a blast trying though.

The gift shop as a restored steam engine overhead. Nice setting for a book shop!

The gift shop also has a Lego model of the museum’s station building. As a amateau Lego fan, this is very cool, and they nailed it—shape, colors and all.

After leaving, I went to the passenger platforms outside to get a few photos of passing trains. This is Schaerbeek Station—just east of the massive freight yards and steel mills in Brussels. In 20-25 minutes I saw about 15 passenger trains.

My impression? This is an excellent museum, but it’s small compared to many others. Glaringly missing is a freight car display. If you are traveling and can only pick one, head to Mulhouse, France and visit the French National Railway Museum first. It is ten times the size as Train World. Nevertheless Musée du Train was a fun day, and close to the city and great shopping and restaurants. For more info, see

Later that day I visited the Brussels Urban Transport Museum—the city trolley museum—which houses an extensive collection of trolleys, busses and equipment dating to the 1880s. That visit was a lot more fun and I’ll do a short report on that when time permits.

Hope you enjoy your weekend! – John

No. 159: 12:30 to Zermatt

Over the recent fourth of July weekend I took my family to Grachen, Switzerland for a week of Alpine hiking. Grachen is a mountain-top village a few miles away from the highest peak in the Swiss Alps, the Matterhorn.  The hiking was hard but there were breathtaking views in every direction.

Above. One of my daughters a thousand feet above Randa, which we’ll visit later. Below, the fam and I are taking a break from a hard hike up the mountain before crossing the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, about 7,700 feet above Randa. The bridge is 494 metres long on the Europaweg trail.

Later, below, a Swiss Ibex on the trail. We saw many on this day. He moseyed along after a peaceful standoff.

Below. A few miles from Grachen is one of Switzerland’s most well-known ski destinations, Zermott.  We spent two days hiking from town, and after our hikes we ate, toured, shopped, and enjoyed a some of the local ambiance.

Zermott is a “car-free” town.  To get there, one takes “The BVZ”—the Brig-Visp-Zermatt Railway.  We caught the 12:30 to Zermatt here, at Randa. The Randa station is the oldest station on the BVZ–it was built in 1891.

The BVZ is a 44-kilometer-long, 3.3-meter (1000-mm) gauge electric railroad that connects the main Swiss railroad system in Visp, Switzerland—a town just outside the valley—with Zermott. The line has been in service since 1890 but is modern in every way. The BVZ is single track with traffic control and signaled sidings, plus tunnels, bridges, snow/avalanche sheds, and quiet and efficient trains. There’s even freight traffic to make things even more interesting.

Below. The BVZ features “racks” that allow trains to climb steep grades between Visp and Zermatt. A closeup of one of the racks is shown below. The racks are double-rows of steel teeth, fastened to steel ties to keep everything in perfect alignment. When trains reach the racks, a powered cog wheel is lowered from the engine to power trains uphill and secure the going downhill.

The maximum incline on the railroad for “adhesion” is 2.5%, but the rack/cog system allows climbs of up to 12.5%. Rack-less track, as seen below, is clean and well-ballasted, and full of date nails. See the weld line?

Below. Some BVZ action. Here’s a bad photo of a very fast freight headed to Zermatt. Freights regularly handle fuel, groceries, building supplies, and just about everything else needed in Zermatt. The Matterhorn is just around the corner to the right.

Below. Here’s a rear view from a Zermatt-bound train. We have entered a rack section at the end of the siding. There’s an electric switch indicator on the right–note the lit, vertical signal on the retaining wall at right.

At the top of the hill, we have exited the rack and have met not one but two trains about to head down the rack.

At the modern Zermatt dead-end terminal, the train shed included both passenger and freight trains. The little engine here is a captive Zermatt switcher.

Below. This engine type–a Deh 4/4 in the Zermatt train shed–was my favorite type I encountered. I saw these running all week on freight and passenger trains. They reminded me a little bit of old American doodlebugs. More info on the engines can be found here, but it’s all in Deutsch: A splendid picture of this engine is online at

At Zermatt the BVZ connects with a famous railway line called the Gornergrat Bahn. This 1000-mm, narrow gauge electric railway takes passengers up steep, scenic route up the mountains to a ski area. At the ski area near the top of the mountain, the line is elevated with ski tunnels underneath so skiers can “shred the GNAR” underneath the embankment.

Below. We didn’t ride the Gornergrat but I did walk past their terminal on several occasions. Here’s their engine house in Zermatt, a half kilometer from the BVZ train shed. Note all the tracks here have racks installed, even on level lines.

Below. The business end of the terminal, showing a train embarking passengers and about to head up the mountain. The complex rack track is very interesting stuff.

Below. The racks on the Gornergrat’s turnouts make them look like three-way turnouts. And, unlike the BVZ, there are no steel ties here.

Finally, we took one last train ride for our last hike of the trip. We took the Sunnegga-Rothorn funicular train, seen below, from downtown Zermatt up the mountain near Sunnega Peak, which is very near the Matterhorn. Below, we’re late and my family is scrambling to get on the train in time. Of course I’m lagging behind so I could “get the shot!”

The ride to the top was only three minutes. Here’s the view at the top:

We hiked for hours to lakes, peaks, mountain huts and more.

On the way back down the mountain, I somehow managed to get in the front car again. Halfway down the mountain there was a little passing siding, and I was able to get a photo of our “down” train meeting the “up train” in the tunnel. There it is at the right. Crazy stuff!

The Swiss love their little railways and it shows.  If you’re intereste you can read more about the BVZ and it’s Zermatt connections at .

Next time, back to modeling. – John G

No. 137: Trolleys of Prague, Czech Repulic


Over Christmas week I took the family skiing in Slovakia.  It was a 13-hour drive from Germany to the Tatras National Park in Slovakia, so we stopped halfway–in Prague, Czech Republic–to enjoy a nice evening at the Prague Christmas markets.

My son has been to Prague several times and told me all about the trolleys there.  I’m not much of a trolley fan but I was pleasantly surprised.  We stayed in a cool Air B&B on the east side of the river, overlooking the Charles Bridge, and on the morning of the 24th I got up early and walked to a little square called Malostamske Nameste to take a few “snaps”.

According to Wiki, the Prague tramway network is the largest such network in the Czech Republic, consisting of 88.5 miles of track, 931 trams and 25 daytime routes.  It was the variety of cars that caught my eye.  There are all types running–old and new–and hundreds of them.  I only railfanned (“trolley-fanned”?) for an hour and there were too many trains to count.

I took the photo below as my wife was driving into the city on the 23rd.  Driving in Prague is a nerve-wracking experience and she didn’t drive for much longer.  I’ll talk a bit more on that later.  Look at the death grip she’s got on that wheel!


Below.  I snapped a work train near our parking garage on the evening of the 23rd.


Below.  Here’s the square at Malostamske Nameste, where I was able to go on the morning of the 24th to do some proper railfanning.  This is one of the closest stops to the Charles Bridge and it’s a popular, busy stop.  If you care about car types, this is a “Modernized” Tatra T-3 according to Wikipedia.


Below.  This is an older Tatra T-3 type.  I like these cars–they seemed to be the most plentiful on the day.


Below.  Cars came to Malostamske Nameste about every five minutes.  I rarely saw mixed consists, but here is an older and newer Tatra T-3 lashed together.


Below.  These are the newest cars, made by Skoda.  I’m sure they are quiet and comfortable, and efficient, but they are also boring and un-inspirational.


As an aside, I was in Luxembourg City a few weeks earlier and took a tram into the city, again to visit a Christmas market.  Here, below, is a photo of the modern cars there.  They’re clean and comfortable, but where’s the appeal???


Back to Prague.  Here are two older cars going around the corner.  You’ve gotta really pay attention when walking and driving in the city.  There are cars, pedestrians, bikes and trolleys everywhere.  Before turning any direction you need to check over your left shoulder to make sure there’s not a tram overtaking you.


Just around the corner was a cool pass-through with the trolley on the far left, a vehicle tunnel at center, and a pedestrian walkway at right.


Below.  Here’s an old T-3 coming through the tunnel.  Yep, that’s gantry track!


Here’s the station signal.  Semaphore rules–horizontal means stop, and “forty-five” means go.  The stonework along the tracks has a cool factor of 100%.


Track is clean and well-maintained.


Midway through the morning, an old museum train came rumbling around the corner.  It was running on a regular train route.


The crew was dressed in period uniforms and using old-style conductor procedures.  This fellow was having a grand time with all the riders.  All the tourists wanted to take a snap with him, especially all the old Chinese tourists.  He was all smiles.  Also note behind the museum cars–one of the modern Skodas has caught up to the museum cars, but there are no riders.  Everybody wanted to ride the old cars.


Off they go…


Meanwhile the parade continued.  Below: The older and the new.


Here’s a view on the other side of the pass-through.  This is one of 94 Tatra KT8s on the system.  This train is heading away from us.  Note the signal at right indicating stop.


My family had a nice time in Prague, and the railfanning was a blast.  I’ll catch up on freight car modeling in the next post.


Blessings to you and your families!  – John G

No. 133: Brunswick, Maine Track Study

A few weeks ago I took quick trip to New Hampshire to take my son to get his drivers license.  He got his license the first morning of our trip.  We spent the next couple of days shopping and also went up to Brunswick, Maine for a few hours to visit Bowdoin College.
The photo above is on the departure out of Frankfurt.  Here’s the city, below, around 7:00 a.m.  Frankfurt was levelled during the war by the British and American bombing campaigns, and rebuilt as “an American city” featuring New York City-style skyscrapers.  It is the only city in Germany with skyscraper buildings.
While at Bowdoin, Jacob went off to an orientation appointment and I had about 90 minutes to hang around town.  Naturally I went “down to the tracks” to poke around and take a few photos.  I don’t model Maine railroads but track study is important to the railroad prototype modeler, as track is a model too and getting it right is important.  Here’s what I found.
First I went to the passenger depot just off campus and found the local double-ended passenger train had just arrived.  The train turns here and returns south after about an hour break.
Right around the corner were a few old buildings that appear to have been rail-served at one time.  Here is the most interesting one, below.   Many thanks to the guys at Gorham Bike Shop for letting me on their property to shoot around the building. They told me it was a former lumber shed.
Below.  Nearby the lumber shed on one leg of a wye track, this old telltale is still in service…sorta.
How come the modern modelers never include stuff like this on their layouts?
With time running out I slowed down and did a little track study.  I was drawn to an old switch stand near the telltale, shown below, then took some time to photograph track details.
The last patent date on this switch stand is 1907; I wouldn’t be surprised if it is 110 years old.  It is a Ramapo No. 17.
Below.  A double-ended gauge rod near the turnout.  There were quite a few of them on the wye and at the turnout.
Note the color of the ties too.  They’re not gray, and not tan, but somewhere in the middle.
Below.  These devices are adjustable rail braces that help keep track in alignment at turnouts.  I don’t know how long this type of rail brace has been in service, but these appear to be as old as the track itself.
Again, note the tie colors and the slightly contrasting color of the track and fasteners.
Here’s a joint bar, of fishplate, with the bolt heads on the inside.  The wire provides additional electrical continuity.
Here’s another joint bar, below, with two bolt heads and two nuts on the inside rail.
Below.  Even more details.  It’s hard to see in this photo, but this rail was forged in 1915.  Another nearby rail, which I couldn’t photograph because the detail was partially hidden in a shadow, was forged in 1909.
Finally, I went looking for date nails.  In 1991 I spend a weekend in Caribou, Maine with a broken C-141, and in 2001 I visited the Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire.  In both places I noticed date nails everywhere, so I had a hunch I would find them here in Brunswick.  I did—lots of them!
I love date nails.  I think they tell a great story.  Here’s a rare one, below—1943!
Here’s a few more.  They’re still in great shape.  I’m glad they’re still there and haven’t been pulled up by a nail-hunter.

I hope you enjoyed the random thoughts.  Have a great week!  – John G

No. 126: Railfanning at Lesce-Bled, Slovenia…and Finishing a Few Freight Cars

In June I took my family to Slovenia and Croatia for a little get-away after school ended.  We spent a week in Radovljica, Slovenia and then spent a couple of days at a seaside resort in Pula, Croatia.

Radovljica (pronounced Rad-ol-ska) is one of the most beautiful, pleasant places on the Earth.  We love life there.  The people are wonderful, the cost of living is low, and the scenery there–near the magnificent, unspoiled Triglev National Park–is breathtaking.  If I could move there and retire, I think I would.


One morning during our week I went to a nearby mainline railway station, Lesce-Bled–about ten minutes east of Radovljica–to photograph some mainline train action there.  I saw and photographed seven trains in less than an hour—three “scooters” (my term for local passenger trains) and four through electric freight trains.

Below.  Here’s one of the big freight trains, below, entering the siding at Lesce-Bled to wait for a scooter to pass.


Below.  One of several westbound mainline freights passing the Lesce-Bled station.   These heavy electric trains are fast and quiet, and are able to start and stop very quickly. 


Here’s a westbound scooter that appeared later in the morning.  The Lesce-Bled depot is beautiful.  The mountains in Triglav National Park can be seen in the distance.


Nearby the depot is this neat, retired freight house.  There are long loading platforms along each end.   It looks like a lot of buildings that used to line the right-of-way in the U.S….only this one is of course in the former Yugoslavia.


Just east of the depot is the ubiquitous double-slip switch.  They seem to be present everywhere in Europe.


Here is the switch stand for the double-slip.  It is a very simple, interesting arrangement.  Wouldn’t this make an interesting modeling project?


After a week in beautiful Slovenia I took my family to Croatia to spend a few days in Pula, which is an ancient Roman city on the Istrian Pensinsula on the Adriatic Sea.  While there we visited this former Roman coliseum which is remarkably intact.  Pula was alright, but we liked Slovenia a whole lot more.


2019 has been a terribly hectic, frustrating, disappointing year in a lot of ways.  Summer has been tough.  There hasn’t been much time for modeling.  Nevertheless I did finish a few models when I got back from the trip.  Here are a couple of photos.

Great Northern 31456 is an ancient Sunshine Models kit I bought on eBay.  This is an all-time favorite prototype; I have an O scale model of one as well.  I finished the model with Tahoe Model Works Andrews trucks (the prototype had Dalman-Andrews trucks), plenty of wire details, Kadee scale couplers, Miscrscale decals, and Tru Color paint.  I weathered the car with artist’s oil wash that I described in an earlier post, found here at


Here’s another Great Northern car–this one a more familiar double-sheathed prototype.  The model is from Westerfield.  I finished it with Tru Color paint and Microscale decals, and weathered it with the artist’s oil wash and highlighted many of the boards with artist’s pencils.  I used Aim weathering powders on the roof and then gave the whole car a shot of Testors dark tan to grime-up the underbody.


Here’s a better view of the roof weathering.


Finally, I finished my new Rapido NP box car.  I ordered the car online but the guy sent me the wrong paint scheme even though I was very clear about what I wanted.  What a hassle–it would cost me too much to ship it back, so I sandblasted it ordered Microscale decals, and finished it the way I wanted.  Here’s the model I got, below; it’s beautifully finished but the paint is incorrect for my modeling era.


I sandblasted my model, painted it with Tur Color paint, and decaled the car per prototype photos in the RP Cyc series of books.  I replaced the trucks with Tahoe Model Works trucks–and that was it.  The rest of the model is factory-finished.


So, those are the three new cars that joined the fleet in late June.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing the upcoming Rapido USRA models!

I also finished a New York Central RS-2, seen below, which I’ll detail in a later post.  I enjoyed the build and also very much enjoy running the engine, as it has Loksound and DCC installed.  Here’s the finished model with some light weathering and crew installed.


There are many more posts coming in the next week.  I’ve got all the photos but just need time to put the posts together.

I hope you’re all having a great, happy, healthy, prosperous summer.  I send to you abundant blessings from Germany!  – John G

No. 123: Modelbautag at the Feldbahn Museum, Frankfurt


Last weekend I drove to Frankfurt to visit the Frankfurt Feldbahn Museum for Modelbautag

Feldbahn means “Field Railway”, and is a term used to describe German narrow-gauge industrial railroading.  The Feldbahn Museum just west of downtown Frankfurt is the largest operating museum of it’s kind in Europe; they maintain a large stable of equipment and a giant mainline loop in nearby Rebstockpark.

Last Sunday was a great day to visit, as this day was also Modelbautag, or Modeler’s Day, at the museum.  I expected a train show with vendors and models but there were only a few modular layouts and a couple other things on display, and that was it.  More on that later. 


Though Modelbautag was a disappointment, I was happy to find a number of the little engines steamed up and moving trains happily about.  

After being there about 10 minutes, I had a goofy smile on my face and kept saying to myself “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” 


After another 10 minutes, I texted my wife and wrote “This is a life-changing event.  I’m not coming home.”


This gauge of this railroad is 600mm, which was something of a standard in Germany.  600mm works out to just under 23-1/2 inches, or what we would consider in America as “two foot gauge”.

Below.  The museum probably has about 35 or 40 locomotives, but here’s the star of the show—a Jung 0-6-0 built in 1952.  If I am translating the technical sheet correctly…the type was originally designed for the Wehrmacht in 1944.  This engine is heavy compared to the other engines and it’s really got some get-up-and-go.

IMG_5999 (2).JPG

There are diesels too, some with side rods like this one.  I understand these engines are very loud when operating.


This engine, below, is also a diesel.  There are a half-dozen like it around the museum.  


I’m not sure about interesting little this engine.  I think it is battery-powered.


Inside one of the two locomotive shops was this very unique engine.  This is a Benzollokomotive, or oil locomotive, built in 1905.  It is the oldest of its type in the world.


Here’s a view of some of the 600mm trackwork.  Yep, there’s a three-way switch and a double slip right together, plus a crossover up ahead on the left.  How cool is that?


I found the trackwork on this turnout to be very interesting.  There is different size rail, and some of the railhead appears to be different widths, hence the multiple fishplates.  The ties interlace.  The rail is held to the ties by bolts, not spikes.  And some ties are metal, while some are wood.


There are two car shops.  The track in this smaller shop, below, is very-small-radius industrial track, but still 600 mm, with what I call “kick-switches”.  There’s no switch stand or linkage–you just kick the points over.


Here’s a pile of panel track, or what perhaps the Brits would call “set-track”.  Like a model train set, you can set up a Feldbahn anywhere.  They’ve got straights, curves, turnouts and bumper tracks, all secured by metal ties.


Above.  Near the back of the small car shop is this miniature wye.  I estimated the whole wye takes up about 20 feet.  I like the picnic car too…


Here’s an example of the utility of these little railroads.  This photo below was on display in one of the engine shops.  After the terrible war, tracks were easily laid right in the streets to aid cleanup and reconstruction.

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Also on these side tracks is this 1950-built electric Eimerkettenbagger, which my wife translated as a “bucket, tracked, excavator”.  The buckets at the far end of the machine scoop up dirt and dump it into the tipper car in front.  While I was standing here a museum worker came over and cranked it up.  It was noisy but the cool factor was huge.


There was a larger car shop building nearby with a few dozen freight and passenger cars inside under construction or restoration.  I thought you might enjoy this photo of the trackwork inside the shop.


Back inside the main locomotive shed, there was the obligatory German meal with fest tables set up everywhere.  It was a super-hot day and the beer was flowing freely.  I had a good laugh when I saw one of the engineers up in the cab of an engine drinking a glass of beer.  


The rest of this building is full of every kind of 600mm locomotive —diesels, steam, you name it.


The other locomotive shed included a very small model railroad exhibition.  The models were small but backdrop was priceless!


The fellow on the left set up a very nice modular narrow gauge layout, about 1:24th scale or so.


Here’s another view of his nice layout, which ran very well and included s small stable of sound-equipped locomotives.


This guy and his dad had a great display of G scale Feldbahn models.  They both spoke excellent English and we had a nice conversation.  He is definitely an RPM-er and I told him so.


This guy does nice work.  The little engines had sound and DCC and ran very well.



Above and Below.  These nice Feldbahn dioramas are on display in the museum. Obviously teh Germans are very serious about the little trains.  There’s a lotta love here.


It was a great day of train watching and learning all about the Feldbahn.  Here’s one last photo…of one of the little trains, heading off for a short run around Rebstockpark.


How can you NOT love this stuff!  – John G




No. 122: Cité du Train – The French National Railway Museum


Two weekends ago I made the long drive down to Mulhouse, France to visit Cité du Train, the French National Railway Museum.  This museum presents the history and technological achievements of the French railway network, particularly the SNCF–the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer–which, since 1938, is France’s national state-owned railway company.

Don’t laugh.  I had read a lot about the museum and understood it was one of the very best in the world.  I expected it to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be that good.

The museum occupies a huge area on the south side of Mulhouse about an hour north of Bern, Switzerland.  The museum is full of steam, electrics, passenger cars, models, and lots and lots of memorabilia.  It is crystal clean.  The equipment is beautifully restored.  No old cars or engines rotting away outside.  It is first-class in every respect.

This place makes the B&O Museum look like ametuer hour.  It is fantastic—hands-down the best railroad museum I’ve ever been to.

Below.  I’m on the way.  You don’t see highway signs like this in central Illinois!


I have arrived!


After paying up (13 Euro-bucks—about $15 US), this is your first view, below, upon entry into the first of the two massive indoor museum buildings.  This building is filled with gleaming engines and passenger cars, and subway cars, and a good history of the SNCF during The Occupation.

You may notice how dark it is inside.  The interior is very dark, but the exhibits are all dramatically lit.


Below.  This huge 4-8-2 is immaculately restored.  It was built for the eastern rail lines in 1925.  It’s so clean you could eat off of it.


This part of the museum also includes a number of life-size figures depicting life on the railroad.  The figures are essentially dolls and are somewhat whimsical…and 100% French.

The photo below shows figures of an engineer and a man on the ground, posed aside the massive 4-8-2, having a conversation.  There are speakers inside the dolls, and they play recordings of men shouting to each other, with locomotive sounds in the background.  My camera picked up a lot more light than can seen with the human eye.  The real scene is quite dark—almost blacked-out.  In the dark, dramatic light, the figures look and sound absolutely real.   The effect is striking.


Below.  Part of this museum building includes a series of exhibits of life during the German occupation.  This exhibit depicts a 4-6-0 locomotive wrecked by the French resistance.


One of many freight cars in the museum, below.  The other end of the car has a staircase to a covered brake platform.


Below.  There are many passenger and subway cars inside this part of the museum.  Inside most of the dining cars, tables were set up for meals like that seen below.  This is a common display in many of the better rail museums.


A very unusual French-built engine for front-line service in military zones.


Between the two main museum buildings is a large outdoor area, adjacent to the active SNCF main tracks, that has an operating turntable, diesel engine rides, modern electric locomotives, miniature train rides, and a lot more stuff.  Below is a nice exhibit of interesting signal equipment.


This cool electric is posed on the turntable.  Inside the museum is another such engine.


Below.  This is the first exhibit you encounter as you enter the second indoor museum building.  Unlike the first building which is very dark inside, this building is very well lit.  This is where the bulk of the museum’s equipment resides.  There are dozens and dozens of beautiful steam and electric locomotives, passenger cars, and exhibits here.

This part of the museum is set up by era.  Each track corresponds to a different era on the French railways.  This huge 4-6-4, below, is set up on rollers, and it runs every 20 minutes so visitors can see the running gear in action.  Note the sign says it is a “Hudson” type.


Restored steam is everywhere inside the second building.  This heavy Pacific, most of which is painted in a rich maroon color, was set up over a pit so you can walk underneath.  This particular engine was regularly assigned to a division between Paris and Calais.  It was taken out of service in 1967.


Here is yet another Pacific, below, depicting a World War I-era scene.


More steam…it is everywhere inside, in a bewildering number of types and styles from many eras.  This track includes locomotives from 1900 and earlier.


I had never seen one of these unusual, uncovered engines until this day.  I’ll bet it wasn’t a great job for the crew, exposed to the weather and everything coming out of the stack.


Here’s another old engine.  Check out that single, huge driver on each side.


In addition to the crew being exposed to the weather, they also had to work right next to that huge spinning driver.  Very interesting…


Recognize this engine below?  It’s a Mikado-type, built by Baldwin in 1945 for the French Railways.  I understand it was rebuilt by the French at least once during it’s service life.  It is in spectacular condition.


SNCF has operated high-speed electric main lines, similar to the PRR, since the 1920s.  The museum collection includes a number of high-speed electric engines like the one below.   The museum considers these engines as if they are Formula One cars.  It’s a very interesting comparison, and the comparison carries through to another exhibit—which I didn’t photograph—of today’s super-fast TGV trains.


Here is a restored freight electric from the Midi Railways.


This is a dual-service electric engine built after SNCF took over as the national railway company.


This one, below, kinda looks like a refrigerator.


The museum, of course, includes thousands of models of many scales.  This handmade model from the 1930s features completely operational running gear, and operates every two minutes.  Its prototype companion sits on an adjacent track.


This model is an award-winner.  Love the medal!


Tucked away in a corner of the museum is a modeler’s room.  This room includes a large number of static displays and two operating layouts.  For one Euro-buck you can make the trains go.


Below.  This excellent all-metal model stands beside it’s prototype engine inside.


This model display case is near the entrance to the building.  It includes a large number of handsomely finished models in many scales, the smallest of which are probably O scale.


Below.  More exceptional prototype models in many different scales.  It’s too bad they aren’t running.


Below.  This electric engine model is set up on Ikea sawhorses just like my HO layout!  I had to include a photo.


And finally, to close out this post, I couldn’t resist including a photo of a French wine car.  Wonder if it’s red?


Until now I never appreciated the depth and breadth and history of the French railway scene.  And I’ve never been to a railway museum that both celebrates the past -AND- boasts of the future of railroading.  NO museum in America has the nerve to brag about railroading’s future…but this one does, and SNCF—with TGV, high-speed rail and a very modern freight-train network—has got the street creds to do it.

Even if you don’t speak French, you may enjoy checking out the museum’s website at  If you want more details, the Practical Information section of the website includes details on most of the museums’ collection.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!  – John G




No. 119: Railfan Day on the Rhine

#2 at High Level

Back in the early 1990s I was a young Air Force navigator flying C-141s out of Charleston AFB.  One of our usual runs was to Rhine-Main AB in Frankfurt, Germany.  I flew there often. 

Sometimes we’d get a day off between missions so we’d go downtown and see the sights.  We would often rent a car and drive up the Rhine River valley between Rudesheim and Koblenz to visit the little towns, and shop, and see all the castles, and experience the very best of Germany.  We always stopped in Rudesheim as a joke, because Rudesheim was where we would have to hold if Frankfurt/Rhine-Main couldn’t get us straight in. 

I snapped this photo of a Deutsche Bahn train in 1991 on one of those trips through Rudesheim.  I remember saying “I’ve gotta get back here someday for some railfanning.”

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That day finally came last weekend.  My wife graciously took over all the family errands so I could get up to Rudesheim for a couple hours of train-chasing.  It was an awesome day!

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It is an easy one-hour drive on the autobahn from my house to Rudesheim.  First I stopped in Bingen, seen above, on the opposite bank from Rudesheim, to get cash and take a few photos at the busy rail junction there.  There are busy double-track mainlines on both sides of the river; the freight-trains mostly run on the other side of the river.

To get to the other side of the river, one must take the ferry.  4.80 Euros each way.


Below.  On the ride over I could see that I was already late to the parade.  Three freights zoomed by as I was making the ten-minute crossing.

Rudesheim marks the beginning of the “upper half of the Middle Rhine”.  This roughly 25-mile long part of the Rhine River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is well known for it’s dramatic scenery, quaint towns, vineyards, and castles–44 of them–lining the way.  It’s also known by railfans as a place where hundreds of trains pass every day. 

The massive statue on the hillside above Rudesheim, seen below, is the Niederwald monument.  Its colossal central figure, a woman known as Germania, represents the reestablishment of the German empire after the country defeated France in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. 

I found a nice tourist site that has some good photography and traveler’s tips on the Rhine River.  If you’re interested you can check it out at

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Below.  This was my objective for the day–the depot area at Rudesheim am RhineI arrived around 1100.  The first train I was able to shoot was this one, below.  The big signal tower in the background make a great backdrop but it appears to be retired. 

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Right behind it that freight, just a few minutes later, came this ICE (Inter-City Express) train.

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I shot both of the trains above against the sun.  There wasn’t anywhere in Rudesheim to set up on the sunny side of the tracks, so I decided to bug out and go up the river to find a better spot. 

As I was leaving, I noticed this old track leading to a few warehouses behind the depot.  This runaround was barely big enough for an engine to run around a single car.  There’s a prototype for everything.

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I drove the car up to the next town–about 2-3 miles up the river–hoping to find a station platform on a sunny, inside curve.  Here’s the place…

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The depot here was on an s-curve and I could only see signals in one direction.  It also became really hazy which changed the light.  Nevertheless about a half-dozen trains came at me in just 15 minutes.  Here are the first and second…

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The third–a heavy rock train–came at me quickly.  I was able to get this super-hazy shot…


…but the “away” shot was a little better.

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Two passenger trains followed.

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These were followed by a couple more freights.

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The second freight was running slow, so I got in the car and chased it up the river.  Most of the automobile traffic is on the opposite bank so I had the road to myself to shoot through the window.  I paced it at 100 kph–about 65 mph.  On the drive another two or three trains came at me and I wasn’t fast enough to shoot them.  It has now become cloudy and quite cold out.

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I went to the station at Lorch and set up at the end of the depot platform.  The parade continued.  

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Below.  Next, this passenger train appeared.  Everyone on the platform thought this train was stopping, but it kept moving–at probably 55-65 miles an hour.  Note the one person taking cover at left.


This cool hotel or gasthaus stands next to the track near the Lorch depot.  It makes a nice backdrop.  Check out the diagonal windows on the tower–bet there’s a spiral staircase inside.


This homely engine appeared next.

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The away shot reveals another train coming.  This was another fast-moving through passenger train.  No stopping!

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A few minutes later, another westboard freight hummed by.  

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This train included a large number of steel loads.

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I walked to the opposite side of the platform, and in just a few minutes this train sneaked up on me, silently, at about 60 mph.

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After 45 minutes in Lorch I moved a little farther west to Kaub.  I found another retired interlocking tower here, and I was able to see signals in both directions.  It was a nice spot!

The first train I was able to photograph was this little S-Bahn scooter.

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It was followed immediately by an intermodal train.

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The most recognizable landmark at Kaub is the Pfalzgrafenstein Castle (as seen below).  The castle sits right in the middle of the river and was built as a “toll castle” in the 1300s.  It is one of the most famous landmarks on the river and was literally right across from where I shot these photos. 

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At 2 p.m. it was time for me to head back home.  I saw a few more trains, but this was the last one I was able to shoot before leaving.  I love the fast, electric freights.

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I made the short drive back to Rudesheim and got in the queue for the ferry.   The parade of trains continued as I waited; I saw three more in maybe 10-15 minutes.  I was able to shoot this one through the passenger side window. 

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It was a great day and I’ll definitely have to do it again when the weather’s better.

P.S.  While I stepped away, my daughter Kirsten sat down and typed me–and you guys, I think–a note.  I couldn’t end better than this!

This is a special note from Kirsten.  I know you love me Dad, and you know I love you!  Make sure to LIKE and subscribe and comment down below.  See you guys next week. Kisses!

No. 107: The Ackley Layout – Rebuilding the Bump Out, Part 1

I was looking at old photo sets the other day and went through a folder I shot on the CSX lines in western Illinois in 2004.  The photo below was taken on the old B&O main track between Shattuc and Carlysle, about 30 miles east of where I lived in O’Fallon.  I thought it was interesting because of the way the siding track was sunken into the ditch, and have always thought it would be interesting to model.  The standing water, line poles and jointed rail add to the cool factor.


Nearby, in a junk yard in Centralia, there were a few grounded box cars that brought back memories of the old days.  


These are former Missouri Pacific single-sheathed box cars, rebuilt in the early 1950s with steel sheathing and new doors and roofs.  The car above still has the brake gear installed on the end.  The car in the background below is similarly rebuilt, but has inverse ends.  You never know what you’re going to find out there, so keep hunting!


Rebuilding the Bump Out

Last year, in Post #37, posted in March, 2017, I described adding something I called a “bump out” to provide a little extra room for industries in the aisle.  That post can be found at  I got the idea from Warner Clark’s Proto48 Nickel Plate layout.

Here’s where I started with the rebuilding project.  This isn’t bad, but I wanted room for a second car spot (the real one had four or five spots) and therefore needed a deeper bump-out. 

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Below.  Here’s the plan.  Tighten the curve to 24-inch radius (that was the original plan anyway) and increase the depth of the bump-out another five or six inches to make room for another industry.

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It took less than an hour to snip the rail, remove the supporting structure and then pop off the Styrodur sub-base.  Cleaning up the mess took a lot longer.

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Next, I soaked the track and roadbed in rubbing alcohol and removed it, along with a small portion of scenery on both sides of the track.

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Below.  After a lot of cleaning and shaping the subroadbed, I tested the new track alignment.

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Below.  I secured cork roadbed with a heavy, German glue that is close to adhesive caulk sold in the U.S.  I used Micro Engineering Code 55 flex track.  I cut all the ties apart from underneath and spread them out to better represent little-used spur track.

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Once I had the roadbed and track alignment determined, I then built a frame for the new bump out.  1 x 4 pine boards were connected on the bottom of the layout and then a frame was built around those board at the front of the layout.  All that is left to do now is install new Styrodur subroadbed, fascia, and then scenery material.

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With the new piece of Styrodur in place, I can now finish laying the rest of the track.  FInishing the fascia is a more time-consuming job—first I have to buy it, then cut it, then test-fit it, and then probably go get it cut again to get it exactly right.  I use a wood shop that’s away from home to do all my heavy and/or precision cutting, and it takes time to go out there and get that work done.   In the meantime I can finish laying the track and get the scenery going, which is a lot of fun.

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Below.  I glued the roadbed in place and pinned it into position with my wife’s sewing stickpins.  As always I test-fit everything, and here the elevator is in position to check clearances.  Yep, it’ll be tight, and I may have to install a small piece of plexiglass here to keep things from tumbling off the layout.

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Below.  With the track in place and painted, I laid down a thin coat of Hydrocal to form the scenery base.

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I painted the scenery base…  


…then wired the track, test-ran an engine on it, and then tested the building fit.  I’m satisfied with everything so far.  

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Next, below, I painted the ties with a variety of grays, tans and browns, mixed together on a palette and applied with lacquer thinner.


Then, below, I applied my special ballast made of screened dirt and cinders I collected from PRR roundhouse site in Richmond, Indiana.  I laid it down and then soaked it with rubbing alcohol to knock off the surface tension, then secured the ballast with a mixture of 60% water, 25% rubbing alcohol, 15% Elmer’s white glue, and a few drops of dishwashing soap…give or take a few percents on each ingredient.


Finally, with the ballast dry, I put a building and a few cars down and ran a train by, and everything’s looking real nice.  The new bump out fits two cars easily, and I can still easily reach around it.  All this work was done in about 20-30 minutes every other day over about ten days.


Next up, scenery for the bump out.  Well…maybe sometime in January, after I finish a few new freight cars.

Below…one more photo of the B&O lines, this one looking east somewhere in southern Indiana.  How I miss you, B&O Lines!  – John G




No. 106: Petersburg, Virginia on the Seaboard Air Line

One of my all-time favorite railroads is the old Seaboard Air Line, which ran from Richmond, Virginia to Miami, Florida and a whole lot of places in between.

I grew up in Georgia and researched, railfanned and modeled the SAL for decades.  When I bought my first house in 1992 I set aside a small bedroom to model the SAL route through Petersburg, Virginia, which I thought was a perfect prototype for a small, one-town model railroad.  I collected a lot of information about Petersburg over the years and I thought a blog post about the place would be inspiring and fun.  

Below.  A northbound SAL train about to pass underneath the ACL overhead bridge in Petersburg.  Four motors are pulling a long train with a whole lot of head-end traffic. 

SAL in Petersburg

Below.  Here’s an aerial photo of the compact, very modelable SAL route through Petersburg, circa 1957.  The major features, from right (north) to left (south):

  • A very long steel viaduct over the Appomattox River and the N&W
  • A short branch into town (to warehouses, a suitcase factory and SAL’s Market Street Station)
  • A short stretch of factories along the main track
  • A small, two-track yard along the main line
  • A “new” depot built in 1944
  • More warehouses
  • An ACL overhead crossing (no interchange)
  • And just out of view, a small yard to interchange cars with the N&W

…and that’s it.  The long Appomattox River bridge and the ACL overhead bridge serve as bookends, with a station and a bunch of industries jammed in the middle.

SAL Petersburg Central 1956 2

Here’s a rotated view of the photo above, calling attention to the some details.  

Petersburg Highlights

Below.  This aerial photo from around 1959 that shows the N&W “old main line” running along the top of the photo from left to right.  Seaboard’s long bridge across the Appomattox River and the N&W can be seen diagonally on the far right.  The shadow cast by the bridge is prominent.  

Petersburg 1958 Aerial 1

A quick Google search of “Seaboard Railroad, Petersburg, Virginia” will reveal a few more photos I couldn’t add here.  There are a few nice ones in the online J. Parker Lamb photo gallery at  Check ’em out if you have a chance.  

Below.  A southbound SAL train charging over the bridge.  The date and photographer are unknown, but looking at the consist this appears to be The Orange Blossom Special.  

Petersburg, Eval Silvar

My old friend Walt Gay kindly allowed me to use some of his photos for this post.  Walt has lived in the Petersburg area his whole life and railfanned the SAL extensively.  Here are two of Walt’s photos from the early-SCL era, showing how tall the viaduct was over the river and the N&W.  Thanks Walt!

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SCL607 Petersburg

SAL’s first station in Petersburg station was built in the 1880s and was a stub-end terminal located on Market Street near city-center.  A single-track branch left the main track at Dunlop Street and stub-ended at the Market Street Station.  The branch also served the massive Seward Luggage Co., an SAL freight house and a few other small customers on the way to the station.  The branch was less than a mile long and can be seen in the large aerial photo shown above.  Last time I checked, around 2002, the old Market Street station was still standing.


Below.  Along the branch to Market Street, SAL installed a small diesel fuel facility for local switchers.  The huge Seward Luggage Company complex is in the background.  Photo courtesy Bob’s Photos.

Petersburg, Bob's Photos

To eliminate slow back-up moves to the Market Street Station downtown, SAL sold it and built a new depot on the main line on Dunlop Street around 1910.  A wonderful photo from the online Barriger Library collection is included below.  It is the only known photo of the Dunlop Street Station.  The view is south.  In the left foreground you can see the branch to Market Street leaving the main track and curving away from the main track. 

The Dunlop Street Station was located on the sharp curve leading to the viaduct, and trains stopping here–in either direction–would often leave cars hanging uncomfortably over the bridge.  Starting and stopping heavy trains on the sharp curve was also a problem.

Old Petersburg Depot, VA

Below.  I have a mountain of slides and prints taken in this area going back to the early 1980s, but they are all in storage back in the U.S.  The few images I do have include this view of some small factory buildings at the site of the old Dunlop Street station.  The main track to the viaduct curved sharply to our left.

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On the other side of Dunlop Street were a few factories.  A larger warehouse complex has been saved and turned into loft apartments.  Another factory–the Titmus Optical Supply Company–is still extant but it in a poor state of repair.  I have a ton of pictures of Titmus but they too are all in storage.  Here’s a good view of the small plant thanks to Google Earth.  The view is distorted a little because of the 3D image software; interestingly the software makes it almost look like a painting.  SAL used to run along the grassy side of the building at left.  There were at least three or four car spots.

OPtical Co

Next to Titmus is the Long Manufacturing Company, seen below.  Long had spots for 2-3 cars on a slightly lower level adjacent to the main line.  The factory consisted of two long warehouses, a couple of large Quonset huts, and another steel fab building.  This is another Google Earth view.

Long Mfg Co

In 1944 SAL built another new station about a half-mile south of the old station on Commerce Street, adjacent to the Long Manufacturing Company site seen above.  This was SAL’s last depot in town, and was a small, classy, colonial-style depot with a long platform.  SAL retired and razed the Dunlop Street station after the new depot was placed in service.

Good photos of the 1944-built station on Commerce Street are hard to find.  On the track side, the station was obscured by the long platform and photographing the depot itself was practically impossible.  On the street side, well…nobody bothered taking pictures.  The station itself was small–just a few rooms.

Walt’s best photo of the depot is this one below.  Walt took this photo to record one of the last runs of the old Silver Star passenger train.   That’s SCL 515, a former ACL E-6, in the lead.  This view faces north.  


Here’s one of my all-time favorite Walt Gay photos, below.  This view is also at Commerce Street but facing the opposite direction.  This view shows a northbound SCL train ready to hoop up orders at Commerce Street.  The lead engine is a former SAL E-7, originally SAL 3017, now in SCL paint.  Love the rainy, late afternoon ambiance.


Below.  Here’s another cool Walt Gay photo showing an SCL-era train, southbound, passing Commerce Street—just barely out of view at the far left—and the quarter-mile long row of warehouses next to the depot.  In a moment this train will be heading under the ACL overpass.  This image was probably made around 1970.  The engines display a neat mix of early SCL liveries.  In the lead is an SCL GP-40 in the “bumblebee” scheme (the former ACL colors).  Next is a former SAL GP-35 in dark green, and third is another former SAL engine, a GP-40, in “Jolly Green Giant” paint. 


If your a diesel-era guy there’s a decent ACL-SAL-to-SCL conversion roster online at  That’s the site I used to figure out which SCL e-units are in Walt’s photos.

A few hundred yards south of the 1944 station the SAL ducked underneath the double-track main line of rival Atlantic Coast Line.  There was no ACL interchange here, just an overhead crossing.  However, just past the bridge was a connection with the N&W, whose line ran along the Appomattox River valley nearby as seen on the aerial photos.  SAL and N&W shared a three-track connection here. 

This photo, below, courtesy Bob’s Photos (it may originally be an H. Reid negative) shows SAL 1109 moving tonnage under the ACL bridge.  For decades SAL operated a local “Petersburg Turn” from the road’s main classification yard in north Richmond to Petersburg and back.  This could be the turn, picking up cars from the N&W connection. 

SAL 1109, by the way, was one of 50 F-7 class 0-6-0s built in 1930.  They were widely regarded as the most modern and powerful 0-6-0s ever built.  I was paging through the old Richard Prince SAL book last night and found a photo of 1109 in Richmond, so I suspect this engine was assigned there until the end of steam in 1951 or so. 

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Below.  This Walt Gay photo in the exact same area, about 25 years later, shows an SCL-era passenger train overhead on the former ACL overhead bridge.  As the photo says, we’re looking “railroad south” on the SAL lines.


The photo below is from 1957, showing the SAL at center and the N&W line at top.  The interchange yard is the diagonal trackage seen on the top left of the photo.  Coast Line can be seen going from top to bottom of the photo on the right side.  The SAL Commerce Street Station is just out of the view to the far right.  If you blow up the photo, you can also see that the fair is in town.  See all the tents and rides and things on the bottom right?

Petersburg 1958 Aerial 2

My friend Herman Wilkins grew up in Petersburg and was an SAL fan, and he wrote to me often.  He once wrote, Incidentally, that is the circus in your photo that is seen on the field to the right of the ACL mainline. When the circus came to town, it always set up on that field.  Look at the line of white cars on the SAL track between the SAL mainline and the interchange track to the N&W.  I am almost certain that is the circus train.  At one time, sometime after 1958, there was a Pepsi bottling plant built at that location.  After the SCL merger, the old SAL mainline was cut north and south of Petersburg and a connection built off the old ACL to the old SAL line. It was called the Battersea Lane connection after the nearby, historic Battersea area of Petersburg.  That track served the Pepsi facility.  I haven’t been able to tie down the date that connection was built but it was definitely after the Seaboard-ACL merger in 1967.

South of the ACL overhead crossing and the N&W connection there wasn’t much else on the SAL.  There was a hospital that took a carload or two of coal for a heating plant, and a few miles further south was another N&W crossing at Ryan (seen below, with the SAL running top to bottom). 

At Ryan an SAL connection ran up alongside the N&W to reach a long yard to interchange cars with both N&W and ACL.  The interchange yard ran alongside the N&W and was called “Seacoast”–a combination of Seaboard and Coast Line, since N&W used it to transfer cars to both roads.  In later years a steel plant was built at Ryan and was served by both SCL and N&W.  NS has all that business today.

Ryan Aerial 1956.jpg

There wasn’t much else on the rest of the Richmond Subdivision all the way to Raleigh, which is a big reason why the whole line was torn up in the 1980s.

I built a small layout of the town scene but moved to a condo two years later, and the little layout came down for good.  The warehouses and luggage factory on the branch and the warehouses along the main track offered just enough switching.  The N&W interchange served as the major industry, so to speak.  I also modeled the Ryan connection as visible staging to add a little bit more switching.  The SAL viaduct and the ACL overhead offered some visual breaks and interest.  It was a fun layout.

For kicks, I’m adding an excerpt from a 1944 SAL employee timetable, which shows 24 scheduled trains a day on the single-track, CTC-controlled line through Petersburg, not including locals.  I hope you can download it.

SAL 1946 VA Div'n Pg 1

SAL 1946 VA Div'n Pg 2

Hope you enjoyed this little trip through Petersburg.  My personal thanks to Walt and Herman for sharing the memories.  – John G