When Green Bank resident Bruce Elliott decided to create a space to show off his model train collection, he went with the old adage – bigger is better.
While most model train displays consist of one or two trains running through a picturesque little village, Elliott’s is a miniature replica of five railroads as they looked during operation in the 1950s.
“At this level is a sense of reality,” Elliott said. “These are actual, real places that really do currently still exist on the railroad, but this is in 1950-55. I’ve got a notebook of research material in order to do things and do them right. There’s a great deal of work that goes into it. You just don’t get a lot of trains and start. That doesn’t work at this level.”
To achieve the goal of authenticity, Elliott had Jacob Meck Construction put up a building just to house the display.
“This building was started in May 2013, and I started moving into it with my stuff in December of 2013,” Elliott said. “In March of last year, I started down there in the corner with putting the first boards together and this is where I’m at since March 16.”
At this point, the track is laid and most of the trains are in place and operable. While Elliott says a project like this is never finished, it is close. All it needs is some scenery, including mountains and rivers, and a few more scale model buildings.
Elliott will open the exhibit to the public every Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. beginning the first Saturday of February.
“I enjoy sharing this,” he said. “I enjoy operating it for people. I enjoy the questions that they have connecting the railroad in general, because for them it is the railroad, in general. I just chose to be specific.”
Very specific. The exhibit includes replicas of tracks and trains owned and operated by the B&O Railroad.
Beginning at the door and traveling counter-clockwise, the display begins in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The layout is exact as to how Somerset looked in the 1950s, with a few adjustments.
“Actually Somerset was always a single track mainline,” Elliott said. “Everything else that I wanted to do was double track mainline. Well, it’s my railroad and I fudged it a little bit and made it into a double track mainline, but everything else with that exception, is on point.”
Along with the tracks and a train, the scenery is true to the era, including buildings that are no longer there or are now used for another purpose.
“The track going up here is what we call R.I.P. – Repair In Place,” Elliott said pointing to a section of the track. “It’s a garage for trains, but no structure. They were repairing in place, outdoors, and they did that year-round. The west yard is represented, so is Somerset Feed, Sinclair Refining and Somerset Lumber Company. There were more industries in that mile-and-a-half, but I don’t have the space to put them in so I’m putting in the ones that will work the best for the freight traffic that the railroads were running at that time.”
The Somerset section of the exhibit also has a special piece – the roundhouse.
“My father completely scratch built that entire turntable in the mid-60s at a point in time in the hobby that if you wanted a roundhouse and a turntable, it was you build it or you don’t get it,” Elliott said, laughing. “That was the option in the 60s.”
Moving on from Somerset, the next town is Point of Rocks, Maryland, located in Frederick County.
The train station, which was designed by architect E. Francis Baldwin, is still there, although it is no longer used for its original purpose. It is now used by CSX for maintenance-of-way.
“The first floor was where the little machine shop was, where they could work so they didn’t have to take it back to Baltimore and could keep it relatively close to whatever they were working on,” Elliott said. “The second floor of the building was the Division Superintendent’s offices.”
While the train station is still there and can be viewed for scale purposes, the same can’t be said about all the buildings that were around the railroads in the 50s. Elliott relied heavily on photographs from the time period in order to create, from scratch, scale replicas.
“Photographs like this told me what it looked like, and it told me where it was in relation to other buildings,” Elliott said of a building he made. “Another thing you learn about is time frame makes a difference. September 27, 1929, at that point in time, Point of Rocks did not have this brick attachment on the back of it and it did have a small little lunch counter. I have a color picture in a book taken in 1953 of this without the lunch counter. If I’m doing 50-55, that tells me the lunch room was gone and this was still there.”
Like he said, he pays close attention to every little detail.
Leaving Point of Rocks through a tunnel, the exhibit lands in Fairmont, which takes up a considerable amount of room. In the 1950s, Fairmont was a hub for freight due to the coal mining industry.
“Coal was coming into Fairmont but it was leaving for the lake ports for export to Canada,” Elliott explained. “It was leaving for the Mahoning Valley in Ohio. It was leaving for Gary, Indiana, for the steel industry there. It was heading on to Grafton and then east into Cumberland and Baltimore.”
The Fairmont layout also includes an impressive roundhouse which was rebuilt in the 1950s.
“All railroads had figured out by 1950 that steam was very labor intensive and very dirty, and the diesels were much more efficient and cleaner, and they were the way to go,” Elliott said. “So they come in here to Fairmont and tear down the old roundhouse and rebuild it in 1954. I’m glad they did but I’m totally amazed why they would do that.”
In its heyday, Fairmont had a lot of traffic coming through on the railroad and the B&O managed to maneuver trains around one another on one mainline – a feat Elliott is still trying to figure out.
“Everything was serviced on one side of Buffalo Creek, and the yards and the old mainline going out of Moundsville were on the other side of Buffalo Creek,” he said. “So, every time a train comes into the yard and the engine has to be cut off and serviced and another one for the same train put on it, everything had to come out on the mainline. That’s odd. Most times, mainlines were always open and you had in this time frame – you had the better part of fifty, sixty trains a day in and out. They did it. They were crazy, but they did it.”
Due to space limitation the impressive freight yard only represents roughly 20 percent of the yard at Fairmont. That is how large the railroad was at that time.
From Fairmont, the exhibit travels to Patterson Creek in Mineral County. It is a small portion of the model but an interesting piece. Patterson Creek is unusual in that it goes from a double track mainline into three tracks to use as a bypass.
“For the railroad, there was no bypassing until the Patterson Creek cutoff was built,” Elliott said. “The cutoff went over to McKenzie, Maryland about twelve miles west of Cumberland and it completely bypassed the yards.”
Next from Patterson Creek is the last railroad, Garrett, Pennsylvania, which connects to the other side of Somerset, completing the circle.
“Garrett is actually on the mainline of the railroad, the Chicago mainline,” Elliott said. “Somerset is on a branch line that came off of this same mainline further up the track.”
Accompanying the model train exhibit are photographs and paintings of trains lining three of the four walls. The fourth wall has a built-in glass cabinet displaying more model trains. In a back section of the building is Elliott’s workshop where he creates and fixes models, buildings and pieces of scenery.
The exhibit is located on North Fork Loop in Green Bank. From Green Bank, turn onto Back Draft Road, at the first intersection, take the left road and follow North Fork Road to a red building on the right.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org