The room remodeling construction is finished; the walls have been primed and painted. I am now awaiting new carpet and padding. The scope of the layout has been decided and I am busy working on the motive power fleet. That’s where we stand today as I write this. I am finally getting ahead of some of the stuff that lay in front of me recently. This includes my weight and overall health. As we await coming of Spring, I am motivated and getting things in order for assembly, paint, and finish. I will have the layout drawing up by the last week of February. I will begin documenting the construction of both the layout and the rolling stock. Here we go!!

For years, I have been been wringing my hands over the space of my current layout room…not realizing what was actually right in front of my face. I was trying to put too much layout in a room that could not possibly handle the designs. Additionally, I could not possibly complete the layout that I was attempting to build over time…the track work; engineering; scenery; etc., as a solo operator and builder. The tasks would have been daunting. It sometimes takes a look in the mirror to get the big picture. In this case, that picture was all encompassing. I was the “kid in the candy store”. Sometimes, just because one CAN do something…doesn’t mean they should attempt it.

The late John Armstrong, often considered the “dean” of model railroad design, utilized a series of determining factors called ‘givens and druthers’  when designing one’s layout. So, what are my givens and druthers? Simply put: What do I really want? What are my interests? I resolved recently that I would forgo the northern half of the layout regardless of space for the very reasons I listed above. Time and effort; as well as the way to operate them. Building a large layout with all those towns and such would be a gargantuan task, no doubt. This was especially true when one adds in the subtle “add-on” details of each scene. The cars, townsfolk, buildings, grade crossings, etc., would be years worth of work. Additionally, I would still have the southern half of the layout to build. So, I made a decision. I’d start the layout at Neilson Junction and proceed south from there to Joppa IL. I based this on the traffic patterns I was trying to replicate with this layout.

I would include the MP traffic from West Frankfort and Benton Jct via staging and send my empty coal trains to staging when they trundle past Neilson on their way north. That was the most logical conclusion, really. How did I arrive at this? Well, it goes back to the givens and druthers.   I am a BIG fan of the Missouri Pacific. I have been all my life. I grew up in West Frankfort and saw their engines on a regular basis. West Frankfort was the headquarters of the Joppa Sub. In model railroad form, West Frankfort is simply an overflow yard for excess coal hoppers and a place for northbound cars from CO&E (Crab Orchard and Egyptian RR), and other northbound traffic. My focus was the Missouri Pacific coal traffic to Joppa, IL in the late 70’s. I have the necessary equipment now, thanks to Athearn Genesis and Blaine Hadfield (Arrowhead Models and ExactRail LLC). Yes, I am giving up the idea of the CO&E right now…but that line could be a model railroad all its’ own.

Besides, I couldn’t realistically model CO&E in this timeframe because they operated a steam engine ( ex-Robervall and Sanguenay 2-8-0 #17) from the late 70’s to 1986…and there isn’t a prototype model available of it. I don’t think there will ever be a model. Sure, I could use the new Rapido MP SW1200’s when they arrive, but that would move the era up to 1986. MP was on their way out of existence as a Class 1 carrier…and the Joppa Sub mines had one more year of operation…before they were closed. The line had a few more years of operation before it was torn up from Vienna Jct. south as well (1993). The closest I want to get to that era is 1983. Yes, I could build some Athearn RTR WFAX 5 bay cars up; and add in Tangent Scale Models UP Bethlehem quads to simulate the coal traffic. But; again, this would be par for the course for another complete layout on its’ own merits.

I have equipment now that would allow the MP, BN, and Conrail trains from that area to be faithfully reproduced in miniature; along with the beautiful scenery of the area that time forgot: The Cache River Wetlands. I have grown to love this place of thousand year old Cypress trees and swamps…in fact, it looks like something right out of the Florida everglades or the Bayou. Bridges, rock outcroppings, steep grades; S-curves; and the Shawnee National Forest. Oh, and some really cool coal traffic to boot. I’d rather focus my energies on this area and use my extensive coal hopper and four axle GP fleet on full display…working the grades and trundling through scenes full of bald Cypress trees; traveling over tall steel trestles; or climbing Goreville Hill in Run 8. I can stage several coal trains and use most of my diesels in reserve…Not to mention the Interlocking Towers of Neilson and Vienna Jct…complete with train order (lighted) signals and semaphores. BN trains will travel through this area as well…3-4 trains are likely. There is new BN stuff coming…so I’ll be able to cash in on them. I’m building new BN SD40-2’s from ScaleTrains models that I have stripped and will be repainting and detailing. If the someone in the industry produces a C30-7 in BN, I’d be in for 4-5 of them for the BN coal trains. Plain and simple. There is also rumor of CORRECT ICG hopper cars from this era as well. I’ll be primed for their release too. This would enhance my coal traffic down the line.

I will build a small diorama of West Frankfort eventually for photos and perhaps as the start of a modular layout for train shows. In fact, I won’t rule West Frankfort totally out of the big picture…But, for now, I’m laser-focused on the Joppa Sub as described here and in the overview. I have no regrets for waiting this long…If I had thought of this earlier, I wouldn’t have torn the room down and rebuilt it. Now, the room will look very nice and the layout will match. A new office space is located in a former helix location; as well the terminal connection to the Digitrax Loco-net from my computer. The BN trains will be automated to run between the Neilson and Vienna Junction. I can program their sound and lighting to work as well while they are under computer control. The Conrail trains will have to be manual…so I can let the Conrail Karnak Turn take the place of the MP 409 on my train schedule sheet. All those beautiful Arrowhead H39’s will yield an excellent looking Conrail train. It’s an exciting time around here!!

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Thomas Austin

I am a Southern Illinois Native. I am a fan of nostalgia, and the history of Southern Illinois. Model Railroading has been a large part of my life; and it helps serve that interest. Through this interest I have learned much about the region; the people; and the industries that gave us all hope of building a life beyond our formal education. Small Towns in the Midwest built this nation...and this site aims to share that fact with the world.

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