Harvesting Little Egypt’s Black Diamonds
The Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad’s mainline through Southern Illinois became an important mineral feeder during the sporadic coal booms in the mid 1950’s to the late 1970’s. The coal was that mined locally on the line was sorted and shipped to a variety of destinations daily. Southern Illinois coal was indeed the fuel of the Midwest.
The Missouri Pacific railroad purchased the C&EI railroad in 1967. The MP began a massive upgrading of the C&EI line; which included the Joppa Subdivision. The Joppa Subdivision included ex-CEI trackage from Benton IL to Joppa IL. The line was a busy section of trackage and boasted a respectable coal revenue into the late 1980’s; even after the MP-UP-WP merger of 1982. It was worked mainly with four axle EMD diesels; and supplied several good paying jobs to local men and their families in and around West Frankfort, IL. My adolescent years were littered with memories of Jenks Blue MP diesels sitting across from the depot in West Frankfort. MoPac was a fixture there until around 1995. The online mines started shutting down in the early 1980’s and culminated with Freeman 4’s closure in 1987. There was still interchange coal to pickup on the line; but the two large mines just south of West Frankfort were now closed; and the Jenks Blue diesels in West Frankfort would soon be gone. Coinciding with this series of events was the UP-MP-WP merger. Jenks Blue would vanish system wide as well.
Over the years I have been trying to get this layout up and running in my current available space at our present home. The room has several large dormers ( 6′ x 6′) that were used for helices. However, I realized that I was always trying to put too much into this plan; and it took several life events…for me to finally realize what I REALLY WANTED. With renewed interest, I will focus on the Benton-West Frankfort area. I might go as far south as Neilson Jct in the future…but included towns will ONLY be West Frankfort and Johnston City, IL. Those are areas that I remember well from my youth.
This layout will include Benton Junction; West Frankfort Yard; West Frankfort; Jenkins’ siding; and the Buckhorn Industrial branch…which will include both Zeigler 4 and Freeman Number 4 mines. I will model the entire mine trackage setup with minimal compression…and should be able to switch 25 to 30 car trains in and out of the mines. Loksound 5 decoders will be used in my Genesis GP38-2’s and GP15-1’s; which serve as mine power. I plan on making the Buckhorn Industrial Branch as close to scale as possible; and plan on expanding it when space allows.
I have been documenting the topography of that area lately…to get the proper “lay of the land” and to get an idea of where and how to make the country road grade crossings. I’ve finally decided to build a layout that is focused on one or two towns; and a specific type of operation. Visible staging will allow for the possibility of run-through trains on the north end at Benton; and a photo backdrop and staging tracks will constitute Joppa IL on the southern end. But, I am really concentrating on the Benton-West Frankfort-Johnston City area. This is the area that I am most fond of and remember all too well. My family is all but gone now…and I often remember them when I am traveling down in West Frankfort to document buildings and topography. It’s a trip down memory lane for me and a really cool prototype to remember. A time when small town America was vibrant and strong. Jobs were prevalent in our town. A young person could possibly grow up and retire in his/her own hometown.
I plan on getting the layout operational and have some fun operating it for the next 2-3 years or so. Scenery will be accomplished with the new Woodland Scenics “Field Grass System” and I am using the Magnorail system to animate some vehicle traffic in downtown West Frankfort. There will be some interaction with the trains at Main Street using this system; detection; and stationary decoders to put the cars and such in motion. Things that I never though possible are now a reality.
I’d love to go back in time just once and relive those summer evenings when we could listen to the quiet roar of Southern Illinois Coal. I remember those summer nights with the windows open and listening the clanging of steel on steel…as the trains were built and being prepared to be shipped to markets far and wide…but they were marshalled right in my hometown of West Frankfort, Illinois.