Welcome!   Use a browser to view the website's pages at right

Towns and Geography


OK first, let's hit the name of the whole enterprise:  Suffolk Northern.  Norfolk Southern.  Get it?

My brother and my folks both lived in Virginia Beach for a time.  When visiting Hampton Roads, not knowing my British geography all that well at the time, I was amused by the fact that well-known Norfolk, Va., had a smaller and less-well-known counterpart - Suffolk, Va. - up the Nansemond River a bit and, as the name implies, to the south.  

Later in the 80's, once as ever I was discussing trains with my late friend Roger Rassche, and he mentioned the upcoming Norfolk Southern merger.  Possibly being in a drunken stupor, I enjoined his statement with "or Suffolk Northern," just for laughs.  Roger snickered and said, "Dude I think you just named your layout."  

I had been mulling over names for my intended Appalachian coal road for a while, and that did seem more unique, prototypical, and ironic than any that were already on the table.  Also Roger was a forceful personality and was definitely not going to let something like that go.  He once took another offhanded comment of mine, where I referred to my '67 Olds as a "pig," and enforced it as a name for the car that ended up lasting the entire 19 years I owned it.  Even my boys referenced "The Pig" on elementary school projects about fun stuff with Dad.  

Yep, "Suffolk Northern" it would be.  


Description:  The eastern nominal terminus of the railway, and HQ & shops location. 

Influence:  Norfolk, as in NS, N&W.  Op. cit.

Reference:  With the name settled, all that needed to be explained was how the agricultural community of Suffolk, Va. became the seed of a vast transportation empire.  

So here's how it happened.  In the mid-19th century, agriculture was still king.  Suffolk was wealthier and more influential than now, and its city fathers sought to connect it with other nearby wealthy and influential cities, Petersburg and Richmond, that their mutual wealth and influence might yet increase by the bond, in the railroad boom that was then underway.  So they chartered a line that would link those communities, heading north out of Suffolk - hence the railroad name.  Their first objective was to establish a deepwater port on the lower James at Ballard Point, before turning inland towards Petersburg.  

Suffolk continued to be the HQ just because it always had been, and because of the availability of flat land on the coastal plain for yards and shops. 


Description:  Major industrial center in the deep Kanawha River valley in West Virginia. 

Influence:  St. Albans, W. Va.

Reference:  Monty Python's Flying Circus, plus minor-league hockey.  In the "Nudge, Nudge" skit, Eric Idle goes on a standard nutty rant, often resolving various speculations about Terry Jones' wife with, "Say no moooore, say no more!"  We in the "crew," as did many friends outside it, found this hilarious.  

In that same era, a number of that same group were at the Cincinnati Gardens once to watch the Cyclones play.  Under the influence of a significant amount of beer, we were enthralled to continuously hear "SAY NO more!" blasted over the P.A.. Eventually we calculated that this had to be a player, and determined that we must discover this distinguished fellow's actual name, at all costs.  And it turned out to be, as so many great hockey players would be, a French Canadian - named Martin St. Amour.  

This was a pivotal enough event that old "Saynomore" absolutely had to be immortalized on the SNR.


Description:  Division point yard in the Blue Ridge. 

Influence:  Covington / Clifton Forge, Va.

Reference:   It's where the piedmont to the east segués into the mountains of West Virginia.  

(Thought that one up m'sef.)   


Description:  Wayside town in coal country. 

Influence:  This was originally supposed to be a Thurmond, Welch, etc., hardscrabble sort of place.  But I ended up building a nice curved brick platform for the depot, paved the main street (W.Va. state route 20) in brick, and created some much more respectable-looking backdrop flats than I'd expected.  So now I'm thinking of it more as a White Sulfur Springs type - still a small working town, but a jumping-off point for an elite resort in the mountains nearby, as well.  The Queen City and Tidewater now regularly drop business cars at the platform for the executives' restorative benefit.

Reference:   Zippy the Pinhead's 29-Day Guide to Random Activities and Arbitrary Doughnuts (National Lampoon, 1994), plus Nancy & Sluggo.  This is so convoluted that I can't even begin...  Only three or four people on the planet could possibly ever have gotten this joke, and one of us is already dead.  If you should happen to be a model railroader who has also read this book, email me the answer to the question "What's fun, Ernie?" and I will buy you drinks for the rest of your life.  It's just...  nevermind.   


Description:  Tiny little flag stop out in the sticks. 

Influence:  Handley, W,Va., plus the little town on the Virginian where the prototype for this laser kit lived.  Note that this depot was recently moved to this spot - from up near the summit, when the Mineshaft Gap siding was extended west to accommodate full-length trains.  And I have yet to re-do the site and actually park the thing.  Not like it would look much different.

Reference:   Dan Hadley, Sierra Northern.  Dan is another friend in my original crew, whom I've known for pushing 40 years.  You may not know Dan's name, but chances are you've seen his work, if you've ever watched Pentrex railfan videos or Allen Keller's Great Model Railroads.  Dan was the freelance videographer on a majority of both of those productions, following a career as a cameraman for ABC.  Dan is a gentleman with an artist's eye - and his Sierra Northern shows that off beautifully.  

It's ironic that we both ended up with freelance railroads with the initials S.N., which is one reason the Suffolk Northern uses the reporting marks SNR.  That plus deference to the Canadian Pacific.  


Description:  A small town in the Virginia Blue Ridge, ancient foundry site, and junction with the Kentucky & NorthEastern RR.

Influence:  Longdale Furnace, Va..  As you follow the C&O on I-64 near Clifton Forge, there appears out of the canopy of the woods, a brick smokestack.  Exiting the freeway there, on VA-269, you can drive a few hundred yards and see what is left of an ancient foundry, or, the "furnace" or "forge", which includes some foundations and this smokestack - pretty much out in the middle of nowhere.  It is fascinating, and perfect justification for having more on-line industry than would fit in St. Amour.

Reference:  Brian Field, Kentucky & NorthEastern RR., plus Roxy Music.  Brian Field is one of my oldest friends, and an original member of the "crew" as far back as 1979.  We had always planned on our railroads connecting, and so the interchange town on my layout is so named because it's where the SNR ferries cars to Brian.  Plus, "Ferry" is an ideal ancient town name in the colonies - e.g., Harper's Ferry, etc..  Aaand, Bryan Ferry wrote songs and sang lead for the '70s English progressive rock band Roxy Music.  Altogether it is, I think, a triple-entendre.   


Description:  Tiny little flag stop in the Blue Ridge. 

Reference:   "Dominion".  It's a cool word.  And it sounds like it belongs in Virginia.   

Influence:  MacDougal / Hawk's Nest, W. Va,, on the C&O.  Dominion's depot is in an impossibly tight spot clinging to the brow of the hill above the river, but I wanted to work one more passenger stop into the sub east of Segway.  On the C&O, both of these stations were tiny little buildings on the brink as well, and on opposite sides of the New River, both sitting within spitting distance of the C&O bridge.  


Description:  Not a town, but a railroad siding location, partway up the westbound ruling grade.  

Influence:  Cumberland Gap, etc..  "Gap" is so of the region.  And on the layout, MG is situated in a holler (aisle), between - and distant from - the area's coal mines.

Reference:   Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned To Quit Worrying And Love The Bomb, Stanley Kubrick, 1964.  This is the eternal satirical masterpiece of the Cold War, in which Peter Sellers famously plays 5 different roles, including Dr. Strangelove himself, as well as the President - and talking to one another, even.   

The quote, however, is from George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson - "Mr. President, we cannot allow:  a mine shaft gap!"  There's a climactic scene that leads up to this quote that's too long to explain here (even for me), but here's the last 5 minutes of it.  Honestly though, if you've never seen the movie, treat yourself.  It is an essential classic.    

This one definitely came before the railroad, like "St. Amour" did, and finding a home for it on the eventual SNR was an imperative.  


Description:  Location of a mine tipple and coke works, partly up the westbound ruling grade, just across the state line west of Segway.

Influence:  Low Moor, Va. on the C&O, near Covington.

Reference:  The military Claymore mine (see full description on the "Name References:  Customers" page).  I knew I needed to have a coal mine named Claymore or similar to implement this play on words, so the railroad location name followed the mine name.  Both of which pre-dated the railroad by a generation.


Description:  A minor summit midway up the westbound ruling grade.  This was the actual summit on the old SNR, when portions of the layout were in the previous house.   These days the downgrade west thereof bellies out beyond Hadley, and begins the climb anew, up to the ultimate crest at Misty.

Influence:  Clarke's Summit, Va., for example, Lee's Summit, Mo., and similarly named places.  

Reference:  The Camp David Accords - in which President Jimmy Carter brought Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt together to a summit at Camp David in 1978, to negotiate a peace treaty.  I needed a summit name, and this came immediately to mind, it having been all over the news - and my Government class in high school - for weeks while it was happening.  And "Carter" is as identifiably Southern a name as, say, "Lee".  


Description:  Summit of the westbound ruling grade.  Known colloquially simply as "Misty". 

Influence:  To me it sounds West Virginia-y the way "Mossy" does.  Astute observers will note that the lighting at Misty is cool white (other side of the mountain from the photo above) - a break between the lower-elevation areas in the rooms on either side, which use soft white.  It adds to the feeling of getting somewhere, and crossing a watershed.  Literally and figuratively.    

Reference:  Led Zeppelin, "Misty Mountain Hop", 4th album, 1971.  A tribute must be paid, in the land of esoteric references, to my absolute favorite band of all time.  

I originally also wanted to call the light-helper returns back down the hill the "Misty Mountain Hop", as in "caboose hop", but that would be pushing it.  But I thought about it.  

"Why don't you take a good look at yourself and describe what you see?
And baby, do you like it?"
(Cue yet another incredible Jimmy Page guitar solo.)


Description:  Location and name of the Barrett County Coal Co.'s original tipple.  

The substantial Big Slide Seam was exposed not so long ago, geologically speaking, by a very large shear fracture along the spine of the ridge in that vicinity, which caused much of the face of the ridge to give way in a massive landslide.  This slide not only revealed the coal deposit, it offered a good location for a drift opening in the seam as well.   

Influence:  Coal-field naming randomness.  

Reference:  In reality, I painted myself into a corner by building the central ridge (Virginia Hill) way too high, with the coke oven battery already in place at Claymoor, and after having already begun the BCC subroadbed.  I needed a geological event to explain how there was room in the valley for both the coke works and the BCC tipple, not to mention the swooping BCC RoW - and a vertical rock face was just the ticket.  

And the name was a logical choice, since stuff in the coal-fields is named after just about anything nearby.    


Description:  The SNR's coal marshalling yard in the area, located just a mile up the Kentucky & NorthEastern's connector from Bryan Ferry, Va.. 

Influence:  Lots of Welsh influence in the coal fields.  With Wales being the U.K.'s West Virginia, the Welsh had a great deal of experience in mining, and many emigrated to the U.S. during the coal boom, to join their Scots-Irish cousins who had settled the area. 

Layout Notes:  Cardiff is a staging yard in a hermetically-sealed sarcophagus, shoehorned into the boiler/utility room, along the front wall of the house.  The 4-track yard also includes Pineville, Ky., which is the yard and maintenance HQ for the Kentucky & NorthEastern RR.  

Don't miss the "How It's Made:  Cardiff" page for entertaining details about this insane endeavor.



Description:  A primary commercial thoroughfare, and the center point of the SNR's Della St. Yards.

Location:  Eastern St. Amour, W.Va.

Reference:  Della Street was Perry Mason's secretary.  What an awesome name.  

She was played by the lovely Barbara Hale in the TV series, 1957-66.


Description:  A ramp street which runs down from uptown St. Amour to the river flats, passing under the elevated tracks of the original passenger station. 

Location:  St. Amour, W.Va..

Influence:  Pete Rose Way (formerly 2nd St.), downtown Cincinnati, on which the Reds' Riverfront Stadium was located.

Reference:  Pat Rose, an old friend of the original "crew".  Pat is not a modeler per se, but a "railway enthusiast" and a very entertaining gentleman.


Description:  A County road running from Claymoor to Big Slide, W.Va..  The road crosses the SNR main above the westbound ruling grade, just as the line emerges from the State Line Tunnel, on an old iron through-truss bridge that is a popular location for railfan photographers. 

Location:  Claymoor, W.Va.

Reference & Influence:  The former PA-53 bridge over the former PRR main at Cassandra, Pa., now known as the Railfan Overlook.   I've spent many a day here with the old crew.



Description:  A creek with an underpass, a waterfall, and another underpass below, in rapid succession.  

Reference:  M. C. Escher, (1898-1972), Dutch artist.  Escher was renown for line drawings and sketches with optical tricks and impossible configurations.  His most recognizable works were of Renaissance-esque structures that were mesmerizing but unremarkable - until you realized that a stream flowed into itself, for example, or a stairway climbed up to itself.  Plus they had arches.


Description:  A concrete arch viaduct, carrying the mainline across the Wicked River valley in W.Va..

Naming influenceNew River, Mad River.  River names can be descriptive; they need not be proper nouns.  

Design influence:  Eastern US arch viaducts, plus the Kentucky & Tennessee concrete arch bridge at Yamacraw, Ky..  I had always loved Starucca Viaduct, Tunkehannock, etc. for the towering masonry structures that held such massive equipment so high above the valley.   When I worked in Harrisburg, Pa. "a while" - as they say in Harrisburg, Pa. - I had a chance to see the PRR arch bridges over the Susquehanna up close.  We had just made the move to the new house back in Cincinnati, and I determined that this would be the method I'd use to build a removable bridge across the utility room upper door.  I was thrilled to find a prototype for such a thing in Appalachia, courtesy of the K&T Ry..   

Model notes:  This viaduct had to be sturdy, in case it ever needed to come out, in order to fully open the door to the utility room - for (God help us) a new boiler, water heater, or other infrastructural calamity.  That is the primary factor leading to it being masonry rather than steel.  It's framed with 1x3s on a 2x4 base, with the sides cut from 1/4 plywood.  The arches were then lined with .020 sheet styrene, protruding a couple of millimeters beyond the plywood.  This formed a curb for a layer of plaster to finish the front wall.

Note that the gradient at that location is almost 3%, so while the piers parallel one another, they are not at right angles to the roadbed.  Getting the arches right on the side walls was nuts.  Nothing like death-defying feats of geometry to make you glad to be done with something. 

Reference:  Wicked River was the name of my son Aidan's high school band.  

Personal note:  I know - HS bands - but these guys were actually really good.  They wrote their own music, which was proper blues/guitar rock; played at Bogart's, in OTR, and all over the city; and won band contests - one of which had studio time as the prize, which they used to cut and release an EP with 4 original songs on it.  Sadly all three members went to different colleges, so that was it for the band - well, that iteration at least.  They were broken up before they were old enough to legally enter any of the numerous bars they had played at!  But you could hardly ask for better as a dad.

Here's Wicked River, live at the Madison Theater in Covington (Ky.) for their EP release concert, May 2016.  Aidan is on drums this set, with pals Kyle Costa on bass and Ian Campbell on lead. 


Description:   A steel arch deck truss bridge, carrying the mainline across the valley of Gloucester Fork, near the summit at Misty, W.Va..

Influence:  N&W and C&O bridges galore, CP Stoney Creek and Fraser River arch bridges, and the WV Turnpike approach bridges to the former Allegheny Tunnel, near Cabin Creek, W.Va.. 

Reference:  West Virginia and Kentucky are full of streams named "Something Fork" - as in, a tributary of a larger stream.  Gloucester is pronounced roughly "gluster", both in the Eastern US as well as in the UK.  Gloucester Fork is twisted and inscrutable - a tribute to endeavors led by overconfident, underdisciplined, self-absorbed, blame-shifting windbags.  Not that I've ever been near any of those.   

Model notes:  This bridge began life as a Faller Bietschtal Bridge kit.  I made a number of changes to make it less Austrian and more North American in appearance:
  1. Single-track it!
  2. Build new abutments for the approach spans (the original stone arch ones are re-used at LaMont)
  3. Remove the flooring to create an open-deck design
  4. Add a pair of I-beam stringers to support the track, in the absence of the solid floor
  5. Remove the walkways along the arch 
  6. Paint it black, as Mick Jagger would say, in lieu of the European blue.
The result is appealing, I think, and most importantly, diverts attention from the fact that the scene is only 7" wide, and such a bridge would belong at least a quarter mile further up the valley from the track below.  

(need photo)


Description:  The creek which flows near Bryan Ferry, Va.. 

Influence:  Longdale Furnace, Va..

Reference:  Simpson Creek, plus Ren & Stimpy.  With the influence of the real town of Longdale Furnace, Va., upon Bryan Ferry, Va. on the SNR, Stimpson Creek is a nod to Simpson Creek, the actual run which flows beside the foundry in Longdale Furnace.  And a tribute to Stimpson J. Cat. 


Description:  A large ridge which the SNR main winds along, around, and through - on the lower half of the westbound ruling grade, from the state line to Carter's Summit. 

The creation of the state of West Virginia in 1863 gave this ridge its name, because its spine formed the border between the Virginias.  

Reference:  My favorite aunt, Ginny Hill, after whom my sister was named.  Also, Bugsy Segal's femme fatale, if you're up on your gangster lore.  Note that while both are named Virginia Hill, those are two different ladies, BTW.


Description:  A sharp ridge separating Three Rocks, W.Va. to the east from LaMont to the west, as well as Stimpson Creek and Bryan Ferry below. 

The original settlers of the area called the high ridge Herald Hill because its lofty peak heralded the change in watersheds, and the steep drop-off beyond.

Reference:  The Music Man (1962).  Rare is the musical I enjoy, but this one is awesome - and we did it in high school.  

Slick-talking "Professor" Harold Hill descends upon innocent River City, Iowhay in 1912, and stirs up a clamoring for the musical instruments he sells, by announcing the formation of a wholesome boys' band - to distract all the impressionable town youth from the apparent "evil" in the community.  And how does he do it?  By fabricating a conspiracy that will peak the horror of the townspeople, of course! (Sound familiar?)

"Friends, the idle brain is the Devil's playground! 
Right here in River City!
Trouble with a capital "T"
And that rhymes with "P"
And that stands for Pool!" 

The very first exchange of dialogue in the play describes the "professor's" outlook perfectly:

Fellow traveling salesman:  "How far ya goin', friend?"
Professor Harold Hill:  "Wherever the people are as green as the money.  Friend."


Description:  A very tall ridge on the far side of the James River, between Dominion, Va. and Amherst, Va..  

The original builders of the Millsbrae & Atlantic named it Napoleon Hill because after the easy water-level build down from Millsbrae, the tunneling through this ridge would nearly wipe out the line's capital - much as the Battle of Waterloo had wiped out Napoleon. 

Reference:  Napoleon Hill (1883-1970), author of classic entrepreneurial success guide Think And Grow Rich, 1937.

Layout notes:  Despite the fact that Napoleon Hill still does not have any forestry on it yet, there are a couple of interesting points to be made about the picture above.

First, the hillside is approximately 3'x4' - meaning this area alone should require in the neighborhood of 500 trees.  (One big reason it's not done yet!)

Second, note the wide dark gaps between the sections, especially the vertical. That gap is about 3/4", and the one at the fascia is another 3/8".  This picture was taken in February, with the humidity in the train room down around 40% or below.  In August those gaps are nil, and it is all you can do to work a section loose - and that's with a 1½ ton air conditioner dedicated to half the basement.  This is an outstanding argument for foam, versus lumber and plywood - especially if there is any moisture in the air where you live.  

If the Bengals ever score a touchdown, the celebration song down at Paul Brown Stadium is "Jungle Boogie" by Kool And The Gang.  In my mind this is not just a reference to the natural habitat of Bengal tigers, but also to how closely the damp, verdant Ohio valley mimics that habitat half the year.  

(need photo)


Description:  A railroad block name, at the top of the hill between Three Rocks and St. Amour.

Influence:  Altamont, W.Va., and the Rolling Stones' infamous concert/riot at Altamont, Cal. in 1969.

Reference:  Sanford and Son (1972-77).  "Dummy!"


Description:  A railroad block name, between Segway and Bryan Ferry, and the location of a decidedly English-looking brick arch viaduct.

Reference:  Robert E..    Bit of a Virginia connotation there, you might say.

Model Notes:   I happened upon the viaduct model at a train show, and decided that if I'm "locating" that end of the railroad in Virginia, I'd need some good English influence for it - snarky comments about Thomas The Tank Engine notwithstanding.

Also, I have purposefully constructed the Piedmont Division (lower tier) using a lot of cut stone, because it represents the original Millsbrae & Atlantic, built in the 1860s.  A brick viaduct fits right in with this theme.  Whereas, the Alleghany Division (upper tier) is a later push westward through the mountains, and so is done mostly in concrete.    

Influence:  There is a pair of brick arch bridges that carries I-64 over Colonial Parkway near Williamsburg, Va., that captures the influence of Virginia's colonial era on the region.  The SNR. being a loyal Virginian corporate citizen, would only naturally honor its homestate's rich heritage.

Further to the west, near Mint Spring, Va., there is an abandoned stone arch viaduct paralleling I-64 that carried the former Valley Railroad over Folly Mills Creek, dating to 1874.

I have made the drive from Cincinnati to the NC Outer Banks, without exaggeration, at least a hundred times over the last 30+ years, basically following the route of the C&O.  You might say I've had quite a lot of opportunity to soak up the essence of the Blue Ridge, the Piedmont, and the colonial James valley.  And cut stone and brick have a lot to do with it.   

No comments:

Post a Comment