Jim Spavins Track Plan Logo
Dismal Creek Branch HO Scale Layout

Dismal Creek Branch

An Appalachian Coal Hauling Branch

Track Plan At A Glance

Layout Theme: Appalachian Coal Branch
Layout Type: Permanent Layout
Size: 18'x23'
Scale: HO Scale
Era: 1940s-1950s
Track: Code 83
Turnouts: No. 6
Min. Radius: 33"
Max. Grade: 2%

Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: September 27, 2016

One of the popular layout themes is Appalachian coal hauling railroads set in the 1940s and 1950s. Just like the plan from last week, another one of my friends has also recently purchased a basement and wants to fill the space with his version of a freelanced branch line serving the coal mines of Appalachia during this time period.

His layout space is 18'x23' and is already finished. There is one support column in the middle of the room and the main electrical panel is located along the long 23' wall. One of the requirements for the layout is to incorporate his existing Dismal Creek Coal Mine module set he has been building for the club as the main coal mine on the layout. It is fairly large with capacity for 50 hopper cars! By incorporating the module, this would help streamline the construction effort as well as provide a use for the module outside of when it is setup at club events.

In addition, some of the other requirements for the layout design included:

Railroad Schematic

After looking at what might fit in the room, the first step was to develop a little bit of a back story for the branch line so there was a basis for the plan. The basic idea was that a branch line existed off a mainline which served several coal mines. Each day, several turns would bring empties and take loaded hoppers from each of the mines. In addition, a set of locals would serve the other industries on the line and a small passenger train would make the rounds a couple of times a day up and down the line. A concept was developed and the schematic - showing the mainline and passing siding locations - as well as the grade profile is shown below.

Dismal Creek Branch Mainline Schematic

The mainline schematic for the Dismal Creek Branch. | Diagram by Jim Spavins.

Dismal Creek Branch Mainline Grade Chart

The mainline grade chart for the Dismal Creek Branch. | Diagram by Jim Spavins.


Around the Railroad

With a schematic in hand, the layout shown at the beginning of the article was created. The idea was to model just a portion of the branch line at the location of the helper service on the branch line. The highlights of the layout include the large Dismal Creek Coal Company mine (part of the existing module set), the town of Dismal Creek, and a large trestle. A number of other small industries dot the mainline - like a mine supply company and an interchange with a logging railroad. The scenes were made somewhat deep (typically 2.5' to 3') to allow room for scenic elements like large, tree covered mountains to dominate the railroad. The two ends of the visible portion of the railroad are fed by a staging yard located on a lower deck set about 12" below the main railroad reached by a 3-4 turn helix on each end of the line.

Dismal Creek Branch Staging Yard

The staging yard for the Dismal Creek Branch. | Plan by Jim Spavins.


Operating the Railroad

The layout is designed for two operation modes - visitor mode and operator mode. The visitor mode allows for continuous running, hands off operations of the layout. In addition, the layout owner wanted the ability to test run long - like one hundred car long - coal drags which would be used on the club's modular layout. The visible portion of the railroad is long enough to accommodate this need and the continuous loop allows for these trains to obtain a reasonable workout to find any bugs.

The other mode - operator mode - would allow for four to six people to bring the railroad to life following the operations scheme set up for the layout. To operate the railroad, the typical operator roles would need to include:

Train Operating Sequence

While the operation plan is still under development, the initial plan includes 12 total trains during the operating session. Each has a different level of difficulty, which allows for new operators to take out a simple train, like a passenger train which only makes a few stops, to learn the territory. However, there are some more complicated trains to operate - like the locals - which will keep the challenge going and brining operators back. At present, the typical train sequence during an operation session would be as follows:

1. Passenger Train No. 1 (Westbound) - Departs staging yard, makes stops at Dismal Creek Coal Company and Dismal Creek, Terminates in staging yard

2. River Mine Turn (Westbound) - Departs staging yard, runs through layout, Terminates in staging yard

3. Local Freight No. 10 (Eastbound) - Departs staging yard, makes setouts/pickups at Dismal Creek, makes setouts/pickups at Dismal Creek Coal Company, makes setouts/pickups at Summit, Terminates in staging yard

4. Valley Mine Turn (Westbound) - Departs staging yard, runs through layout, Terminates in staging yard

5. Passenger Train No. 2 (Eastbound) - Departs staging yard, makes stops at Dismal Creek and Dismal Creek Coal Company, Terminates in staging yard

6. Dismal Creek Coal Turn (Westbound) - Departs staging yard, Terminates at Dismal Creek Coal Company

7. River Mine Turn (Eastbound) - Departs staging yard, adds helpers at Dismal Creek, runs through layout, cuts off helpers at Summit, Terminates in staging yard

8. Local Freight No. 11 (Westbound) - Departs staging yard, makes setouts/pickups at Summit, makes setouts/pickups at Dismal Creek Coal Company, makes setouts/pickups at Dismal Creek, Terminates in staging yard

9. Dismal Creek Mine Turn (Eastbound) - Adds helpers at Dismal Creek Coal Company, runs to Summit, cuts off helpers at Summit, Terminates in staging yard

10. Passenger Train No. 3 (Westbound) - Departs staging yard, makes stops at Dismal Creek Coal Company and Dismal Creek, Terminates in staging yard

11. Valley Mine Turn (Eastbound) - Departs staging yard, adds helpers at Dismal Creek, runs through layout, cuts off helpers at Summit, Terminates in staging yard

12. Passenger Train No. 4 (Eastbound) - Departs staging yard, makes stops at Dismal Creek and Dismal Creek Coal Company, Terminates in staging yard

This would be a fair amount of work for a crew of four to six people for an evening. However, there is enough variety of jobs to keep crews interested and engaged in the layout. Hopefully, after an evening on the Dismal Creek Branch, the operators will feel like they've spent a day railroading in Appalachian coal country in the 1940s-1950s.

For Track Plan Tuesday's, I am digitizing all of my old track planning notebooks and sharing the designs here on the website.  To see all the plans, visit the track plan home page at: jimspavins.com/jimstrackplans.