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Take a trip to the past at model train display

Photo by Suzanne Stewart Train enthusiast Bruce Elliott, right, discusses his model train display with guest Doug Bernier. Elliott has spent years collecting trains and, in the past year, has designed and constructed a model featuring five lines of the B&O Railroad.
Photo by Suzanne Stewart
Train enthusiast Bruce Elliott, right, discusses his model train display with guest Doug Bernier. Elliott has spent years collecting trains and, in the past year, has designed and constructed a model featuring five lines of the B&O Railroad.

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Snuggled away on North Fork Loop in Green Bank, in a simple red building with black trim, is a portal to the past – specifically the 1950s, when the B&O railroad was utilizing steam engines to navigate hundreds of miles of train tracks.

Train historian and enthusiast Bruce Elliott has dedicated his time to creating a model replica of several locations on the B&O railroad and combining them in one large loop that fills the building.

“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.”

Specific indeed. The locations are from the Piedmont Division of the B&O – Somerset, Pennsylvania; Point of Rocks, Maryland; Fairmont, West Virginia; Patterson Creek, West Virginia; and Garrett, Pennsylvania.

Although the stations are, in reality, miles from each other, spread across the east coast, Elliott joined them to create one loop of some of his favorite spots on the B&O.

The attention to detail is on point and Elliott continues to add a little here, a little there, as he finds time and supplies to do so. The scenery includes houses, roadways, cars, rivers and mountains.

“The scenery will be over your head – you better remember what your friend’s pants look like, because if you get separated, that will be the only way you can find them, by looking under the tables,” he said, laughing. “I made the rocks with molds of real coal. No one can make a better rock mold than nature.”

Construction of the display continues and the railroad lines will soon intersect and connect through the center of the model.

“I build by the seat of my pants,” Elliott said. “I knew what I wanted to have. I just knew I had to do it as it came along. If I could put all this out on a drawing and then say, ‘this is what I’m going to build,’ it would never happen. I would draw you something that would either be way too small or way too over drawn. This will be ongoing for the rest of my life.”

Beginning at the door and traveling counter-clockwise, the display begins in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The layout is exactly 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 photo- graphs 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 timeframe 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 to ‘55, that tells me the lunchroom 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 this timeframe – 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.

Sadly, the majority of the real Fairmont railroad is gone, grown over by weeds and out of commission for good.

“All this, today, is weeds that high,” Elliott said, holding his hand a few feet above the model.

“You have to go to Google Earth to find the foundation for the roundhouse. You can’t even see it there. There are two telephone poles here that used to support transformers for electricity for here. That’s it. This coal tower that I thought would never go anywhere because it was rebarred concrete – that’s a lot of effort and a lot of money to take it down – it’s gone.”

While it is common for a railroad to be demolished to make way for new industry, Elliott said there is nothing in the place of the roundhouse.

“I could understand it if they were doing something here,” he said. “They’re not doing a thing. This track still exists and goes up over the bridge onto the Monongahela River. This track still exists and it’s the connection another mile up to the track with North Fork Southern, the former Monongahela Railroad which [North Fork Southern] bought out.

“For me, it’s hard to grasp,” he continued. “I’m a kid. I’m sixty-two at the end of the month. I can’t get over the fact that I rode passenger trains on this track here between Connellsville and Grafton. To look at it now, it’s like ‘what happened?’”

The state of the railroad today is why Elliott chose to make his model illustrate the B&O in its heyday.

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. “Somer- set 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 repairs models, buildings and pieces of scenery.

Elliott plans to be open every Saturday in December and the first Saturday in January, noon to 5 p.m. He is also open on Monday and Wednesday, or by appointment. He suggests calling ahead to ensure he is available to open the exhibit to the public.

Elliott may be contacted at 304-456-5389 or

The exhibit is located on North Fork Loop in Green Bank. In 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.

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