An N scale empire depicting the old Chessie System in the "New River Valley" by Gerard Rodriguez.

The project

The base of the layout started with the preservation of two previous modules :
  • The first module, in code 55 (2nd price from AFAN) where is located the coal dealer "Valley coal Co" which, originally was a part of the display at the "Salon de la Maquette" exhibition (changed to code 40, the next year). In 1989, the modules (3) "New River" in code 40 (1er price from AFAN) were dismantled but the mine and the buildings were saved for later use.

  • The second module preserved was the one I named "Pere Marquette", displayed in 1991 (1st price from AFAN).
  • I started to consider a layout based on the "New River Valley" (West Virginia), in the era of the Chessie System. The depot is located in Huntington (West Virginia) for the Western part. Then, the line passes through the Appalachian Mountains (still in West Virginia) via the Sewell station and the coal mines, to reach, on the east part, the suburbs of Baltimore (Maryland) and Chesapeake Bay.
    From Huntington to Baltimore, there is 320 miles approximately. The Baltimore terminal allows to setup a barge for railcars, along wirh its tugboat as well as fishing boats. There is, even, a bulk carrier for the "Continental Grain Co"... But the whole scenery is totally fantasy and only the places exist...

    Due to the amount of equipment and scenery items that I have accumulated during those last 20 years, my 13 square meter (~145 sq. ft.) room became really too cramped so that, in 2009, I decided to enlarge it by an additional 19 square meters (~210 sq. ft.).

    After the unavoidable paperwork with my local administration, I got the permit to build this extension. By retrieving some space here and there, in addition to this extension, I was able to get a total area of 32 square meters (355 sq. ft.) for my layout. During the construction phase, i spent some time designing the future track plan of my layout on graph paper.

    Starting in 2008, in the two first rooms, I began building the layout structure, as well as the hidden yard. In parallel, I built some structures for later use on the layout.
    The wiring of the depot section started end of 2009, when the large room was complete. The layout structure, in the large room, was built in 2010 and the whole layout structure was complete in September 2010.
    In between, a good portion of the scenery for the depot and the Yard West was achieved. Thanks to the recovery of some buildings from the recently dismantled layout : Free Heaven Harbor Terminal, I was able to save some time for the third part. Especially, the large grain elevator : "Continental Grain Co" that I enlarged wit 5 more siloes. Also, "Kahns Cannery & Sons" modified to straighten it. For the other buildings, only slight cosmetic touch up's was required.

    At the end of 2012, the first two portions of the layout are scenicked at 95%. Only some lighted signals remain to be installed. I will soon be able to start working in the large (3rd) room where a good part of scenery is to be done. But 99% of the buildings are almost ready to be installed.

    In the mean time, I undertook the installation of embedded speakers for miscellaneous sounds along the layout (RR crossings, seashore, etc...).

    Starting early 2013, I spent a lot of time working on the 3rd room part of the layout (ballast, scenery, setting out of the buildings, sea layout...). The boat fleet is from our friend C. Le Corre, renowned for his talent of model making and founder of Team Track Forum.

    The Company

    The "New River Valley" company came to life, in my home, in December 2012 but, in reality, was alive in the years 1970. The area officially named "New River Valley" really exists in Virginia but is not really located where I placed it, although my layout flirts with the New River at places. This is "modelistic license". This little company does not own any track but uses generally the tracks from the Chessie System (C&O, B&O, WM, etc...). so, we can say that it leases its services to the great Companies.

    Some facts about the layout

    Gérard Rodriguez
    Scale N (1/160th) code 40.
    Size 12,00 m long (40 ft) - ~220 sq. ft.
    Structure L girders, sectionable .
    Track/switches Micro-Engineering code 40 track. Handlaid code 40 switches using the FasTrack system (#8 for the main line, #6 elsewhere). 146 turnouts and 7 crossings
    SEEP PM4 switch motors
    Minumun radius 50 cm (20 in.)
    Maximum grade 3,5 %
    Layout control DCC Digitrax Radio, Super chief + Booster.
    Decoders from several brands
    Signalling In progress. several signals from Sunrise, NJ International, Alkem Scale Models.
    Controlled via Photocells in the track.
    Car movements 31 Enterprises receiving or shipping cars...
    Car storage by section :
    • East : 260 cars
    • Middle : 80 cars
    • West : 226 cars
    Capability of 500 cars moving simultaneaously.

    Track plan

    (Clicking on the track plan will display an enlarged version [733 kb] in a separate window - CAUTION : large image).

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    The track plan is purely fictious and has only been conceived to make traffic. The loops will be only used for passenger trains. In order to spice up the moves, the remaining of the traffic is being handled from point to point
    This required to make two yards (as was done on the FHHT, which proved to be of great interest) Those yards are used to distribute cars to the various industries without jamming the main lines. Excluded from the East yard are the unit trains to industries which have their own yards (Continental Grain Co, SHELL Gas...).

    A hidden yard has been implemented under the West section of the layout, so as to store passenger trains (see plan at right) This yard includes two sidings. The tracks are fitted with a detection system in order to be informed of the occupied tracks.
    In addition, detectors (of the Photocell type) are placed at each end of each switch so as to make sure the switches are clear.

    I have arranged the buildings around this layout so as to create many industries served by the train. Some buidings were already ready to be installed. Others were salvaged from old exhibition modules, (and, lately from the FHHT). Many switching moves will be possible thanks to all these industries. Switching moves can occupy a single operator, or several.

    The following pdf file allows to get an idea of the capacity of the storage tracks (or industrial stubs) on the whole layout : Track Capacity. You may note that a total of 566 cars (equivalent 50 ft) can be stored on this layout, not including the running traine.

    Scenery - Rolling stock

    Click to enlarge A good part of the buildings are commercial kits (laser, wood, cardboard, plastic, etc...). On many of them, I changed the ladders, railings, etc... by brass etched parts because the original details are often oversized when molded in plastic.

    Many other buildings are completely scratchbuilt, following plans, photos, or just out of my imagination. Alain Joigneau, Jean Soukiassian, Didier Tisserand, Christophe Le Corre have joined the crew and participated to the building of these structures.

    The following structures are made from cardboard/paper (you may locate them on the track plan, above) : SJ YOUNG, MONARCH, ORBIT IN, Freight House REA, Ice House, HA PETERSON, ALISO SON'S, J. BAUM, WABCO, CARTEN'S, ACORN, LJ KINGSLEY, KAHN CANNERY, Mill Four, KING & WHITE LOAF FLOUR, Mc TIGHE Grocery.
    Styrene was used to build the following buildings : CONTINENTAL GRAIN Co., Cuve SHELL, Sand Tower, Yard Office, Boats & Barge.
    At last, the remaining structures were build from wood : VALLEY COAL, Interlocking, Open Fishery, HARRY's Fishery and the ferry apron.
    And many more details !

    The telephone poles are from Atlas and Bachmann, reworked in size and color. The yard lighting masts are from ALKEM (some of their parts have also been used at the top of the Coal towers). The lighting poles are homemade with nickel-silver wire and small pieces of nylon wire. Some transfer sheets were made (with the help from my friend Alain Joigneau) for the "RR Xing", the "Stop" signs and also the yellow road lines.

    The background trees are mostly of Chinese origin, improved with Woodland Scenics texture foam. The foreground trees are mostly chenille trees from Ksi-Gressent. The individual or grove trees are from Sylvia (made in France), JTT (US/Vietnam) and also Woodland Scenics with Fine Leaf Foliage.

    The figures are from Preiser, Woodland Scenics, Noch and some Bachmann.
    The vehicles are from Athearn, Woodland Scenics, Wiking, Marsh, Classic Metal Works, GHQ and other craftsman manufacturers. Some are superdetailed or modified with brass parts from Train Car Model.

    The ground is made of sand coming from various beaches that I encountered during my vacations and sifted for proper size. Flocking is then added for variety. I mostly use Woodland Scenics foliage, coarse and fine turf and, also, grasses from Mininatur (Scenic Express) and others.
    In the two smaller rooms, the background was made with with cloudy sky posters from Faller. Some touch-up was required at the junction between sheets. In the large room, I painted the background with sky color and added clouds using stencils hold at a small distance from the background. The wooden backgrounds, villages and town come from Scenicking Backgrounds with some Kingmill Enterprises buildings for variety.

    The mountains have been made as follows :

    • In extruded foam for the mine mountain. More than 300 trees were required to cover this portion.
    • With wood forms, mesh wire and plaster bands for the New River mountain (for train pathways).
    The plantations have required more than 1300 trees.

    The signalling, driven by "Photocells" located in the center of the tracks, is connected to BA-1 type Logic Rail Technologies circuits for the signals heads and Grade Crossing Pro for railroad crossings (with associated blinking lights and sound).
    The special circuit required to handle my gauntlet track (on the large curved trestle) was created by my friend Marcel Jeanson. This circuit controls the switches, signals, as well as the power to the tracks.

    The bulk of my motive power is made of equipment from KATO, ATLAS, and a little of CONCOR, Arnold Rapido, MiniTRIX as well as a brass H8 from Key. Everything has been DCC'ed, including the old machines. Click to enlarge

    The rolling stock comes mainly from MicroTrain, Athearn, Intermountain, ExactRail, with some Bachmann, Atlas, Concor, and others. Some of these eqsuipments have been modified in my own shop for specific uses.

    The diesel motive power is composed of 60 diesel locos with DCC, including two with sound (one is a couple ConCor/Kato E8 with the decoder installed in the dummy unit ; the other is located in a Bachmann/Spectrum Doodlebug). In some cases, I had to mill the locomotive chassis to make room for the decoder/speaker. The decoders I use are mostly N & Z Digitrax decoders with a few decoders from NCE, TC, Lenz etc...
    For old generation locos, I had to rework the wheel flanges so that they can run on code 40 rails.

    In addition, there are 16 steamers, also equipped with DCC and sound for a good part of them (the remaining of them will be equipped soon). Only the Atlas Shay cannot be fitted with sound due to the lack of space for a speaker and sound decoder.

    The rolling stock is composed of 566 cars, all weighted to the NMRA specification, with coupler attached to the body and with low profile wheels. Some of them are super-detailed with many commercial details. A part of the fleet has been weathered but a good number of cars remains to be done. These will be taken care of when the layout scenery is complete.
    The fleet is as follows : 125 Box 40ft, 84 Box 50ft;, 74 Covered hoppers, 37 Flat cars, 31 Gondolas, 160 Hoppers, 14 Maintenance cars, 36 Reefers, 4 RoadRailers, 5 Live Stocks and 26 Tanks cars. Also, 42 Cabooses including 4 transfer cabooses (most of them kitbashed).

    Power supplies

    Two suitcases have been fitted with the Power supplies to the layout : One for the two small rooms (West & Center) and one Cliquer pour agrandir Cliquer pour agrandir for the large room (East). These power supplies include :

    • 10 volts for underground lighting (light for the Photocells and for the hard-to-reach places.
    • 15 volts from a ring transformer for the main track power to DCC Boosters (One Digitrax DCS100 5 Amp DCC command station & Booster for the two small rooms and one Digitrax B150 5 Amp Command Station/Booster with intelligent AutoReverse)
    • 12 volts for the lighting circuits (Circuit flasher DC&C Station "Beacon et Fire engine"). 5 volts for the animated signs and others (from a PC power supply block).
    • A specific 12 volts supply for electronic cards (Logic Rail "Grade crossing pro" "Blocs Animator BA1" and ITTP Sound modules), as well as the Tony's train "Auto-reverse et circuit breaker" cards.
    • 20 volts transformers for the SEEP PM4 switch motors with Gaugemaster capacitor discharge units.


    Cliquer pour agrandir The operation of the layout is manual with handling of cars, by type, using destination cards (cards defining, after each loading/unloadig operation, the next destination of the car). This is accomplished under fast time, a full day (24 hours) taking place in 8 actual hours, which is fine for N scale.

    This system ensures the contunuity of the game and increases considerably the appeal of running trains (no time to get bored).

    The operating sessions have started ; we play at 5 people : one for preparing trains on the paper (Wheel report, Number and types of cars, direction et companies to be delivered), and the other 4 switching the cars in order to prepare the trains in the yards and, then, driving them to their destination with the Wheel report and their cards (also respecting the fast time, obviously).

    The car cards with their waybills, in their boxes, are distributed around the layout. The photo at left shows one of these boxes.

    A few pictures...

    (Click on the photos to see them full size and click on the full size photo to close it).

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    1. The "West" section

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    2. The "Middle" section

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    3. The "East" section

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    4. Close up's on some details (among others...)

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    5. A sample of the rolling stock

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    And now... the videos :

    A first video, shot from the outside of the layout, allows you to appreciate all the scenery and installations (January 2015 video - 31 min)

    Here, we give you the control of the loco in order to discover the layout from the inside. Have fun ! (January 2015 video - 14 min)

    See you soon...

    Possum Valley

    Page created by : Jean-Louis Simonet/Gérard Rodriguez,
    Photos : Gérard Rodriguez,
    Last update : 04/08/2015
    © 2003-2015 Jean-Louis Simonet,
    Gérard Rodriguez,
    Claude Doussot