PRR Chartiers Branch: Hazel Mine - Introduction
My high-level, overall, plan is to build a number of stand-alone dioramas. This allows me to go through all the model railroading steps of layout construction repeatedly (which I enjoy), such as building the framework, sculpting the scenery base, laying the track, building the structures, and detailing the scenery. Also, by focusing on just one such diorama, I can make it as detailed as I want, and take my time. It will provide a great sense of accomplishment.

February 22, 2018

When I have the space to do so, the plan is to then take these stand-alone dioramas and connect them with some, possibly hidden, flextrack, to form a more conventional model railroad layout. A simplified concept is shown in the diagram below. The green rectangles represent dioramas. In this concept drawing, they are placed in a corner, and the corner is occupied by a loop of track or an over/under helix. The idea here is that a train leaves one scene (or "stage") and doesn't re-appear into the other scene until some time has passed. If the trains are shorter than the loop, a crossing track can be used; if they are longer than the loop, then a one-turn helix can be employed to avoid the engine hitting the rear of the train. Of course, this concept can be extended to allow for a multi-level helix, or to make the loop into a storage/staging yard. This corner loop would be hidden from the normal operating viewpoints, but would be accessible via the back of the layout. And, of course, stand-alone dioramas can be connected with just pieces of flextrack when they are placed next to each other in line.
Currently, I am building what I have called the "Hazel Mine" diorama. My objective is to build a true-to-scale replica of the Hazel Mine coal tipple area found in southeastern Canonsburg, Pennsylvania as it was in the summer of 1924. The mine was served by the Pennsylvania Railroad-owned "Chartiers Branch". In early 2018 I received more detailed prototype information that made it obvious to me that the early part of the 20th Century was a much more active time for the Chartiers Branch. There were lots of mines open, many passenger trains ran each day, and the volume of freight traffic on the branch line was tremendous. So much so that a substantial portion of the branch line was double-tracked. Although I enjoy diesel locomotives, I knew that at some point in time I wanted to have more steam locomotives than diesel ones, which means that I'll have to scratchbuild them in S-scale. So, I made the decision to switch from modeling the summer of 1950 to the summer of 1924. Scratchbuilding steam locomotives is now no longer an option!
From 2008 through 2014 I had my first S-scale layout, which was a freelance-design switching layout very loosely based on the PRR's Chartiers Branch. I became increasingly interested in modeling true-to-scale and to do away with freelance. I just couldn't figure out how to accomplish that without owning a football-field-sized building. Then, in 2015 the concept conveyed above came to me. I wanted to make it modular and as light as possible, so I spent that year experimenting with building modules out of some form of foam. All my experiments failed, but I documented them on all in a dedicated article. Even though those experiments failed, I was convinced I am on the right path, so in late 2015 I demolished my S-scale switching layout. In 2016 I finally build a version similar to what I am currently building, but I used 3/4" blue insulation foam board inside the plywood framework of the modules. Over the 2016/2017 winter, the foam moved on me and caused the track work to fail. I have since sworn off any kind of foam board for layout structural components (although plenty of other modelers are using it extensively). So, in 2017 I trashed those modules, and decided to go back to building the modules in the same manner in which I had built my S-scale switching layout, i.e. out of plywood framework and using ceiling tile as the sub-roadbed. This is what I have documented here in this section of my web site.