The Pennsylvania Southern Railroad is an HO scale freelance model railroad layout set in southwestern Pennsylvania. The era is 1980. That year was near the height of the colorful Incentive Per Diem boxcar boom. Railbox cars were also very common. Conrail was only 4 years old and its car fleet was still in a colorful state. The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie was still around. The Montour was hanging on for dear life. Seaboard System, CSX, and Norfolk Southern (the new NS) had not yet appeared. Finally, cabooses were still a common sight at the end of every freight train. A very esoteric detail of the era is that the lube stencils were still 2 panel, not the 3 panel type that came into existence in 1982. My hope is that someone who knew railroad history could walk in and immediately know the year. The layout is owned by Bob Weinheimer and is located in Charleston, WV.
The modeled portion of the railroad is just part of a system connecting Pittsburgh with Chattanooga, TN. The layout is spread across two rooms and even pokes into the garage. The larger room is 14’ wide and 35’ long. The smaller room is 10’ wide and 22’ long. The smaller room is home to Pittsburgh, the main yard on the layout. There is a large staging yard below Pittsburgh that represents all points south of the Pennsylvania West Virginia state line.
The layout was designed and construction started well before the current double deck concepts took root. As a result, it is essentially one level. The layout is point to point with no wyes, turntables, reverse loops, or other ways to turn trains or run continuously. This really has not been much of a limitation. There is a 12 track staging yard past Pittsburgh in the garage. As mentioned, the other end of the layout is an 11 track staging yard under Pittsburgh. There is a short branch that ends in a 4 track staging yard.
The yard in Pittsburgh has 7 main classification tracks as well as a 3 track subyard. There is an intermodal terminal, an engine terminal, and a significant base of industrial customers requiring lots of attention. A second classification yard in Washington, PA has 6 classification tracks. This yard provides great relief to Pittsburgh and has proven to be very beneficial. Other towns on the layout provide an incredible amount of industrial switching. There are also a number of coal trains, intermodal trains, and even a grain train from time to time. All of the operational details will be explained on the Operation page.
The layout is built in part on L-girders and in part on box grids. Track is Atlas code 100 flex track and switches. Most switches are number 6 with a few number 4s in industrial areas. Tortoise switch machines are used in selected areas on the visible portion of the layout and in all staging yards. The staging yards all operate with rotary switches driving a diode matrix that powers the switch machines. If, for example, you want track 7, just turn the knob to track 7 and listen to the machines do their thing. An LED on the switch machine contacts confirms that the switch was thrown. In early 1996 we installed Lenz DCC. I have not regretted this decision for a minute. There are no signals on the layout.
Trains are dispatched with a modified train order system that is a hybrid of classic train orders and more modern track warrants. This system was developed for use on Lin Young’s Grafton and Greenbrier and lends itself very well to layouts where the distance between towns and control points is very small compared to the prototype. This keeps radio chatter to a manageable level. The train schedule was developed to best serve the railroad’s customers. Cars destinations are determined by a program I have written. Train crews receive switchlists that indicate where cars go. A typical session of trains takes a good crew about 15 hours to run. Needless to say, we spread that over several meetings. I am fortunate to have a great operating crew that meets monthly. We do have extra sessions from time to time as the crew is always looking for an excuse to run trains.
The rolling stock fleet is large. There are about 600 cars on the railroad with about 200 lettered for the Pennsylvania Southern. Railroads that connect directly with the PS are well represented while secondary connections are fewer. As noted above, there are large numbers of IPD and Railbox boxcars. I have tried to have a large number of few types of cars in the PS fleet rather than a few examples of many different types. Motive power is heavy on SD-40-2s and SD-45s. Smaller numbers of four axle units are represented. Power from the Chessie System, Norfolk and Western, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie, and Conrail also appear.
This is a well traveled layout. Most of it was started in Louisville in the early 1980s. In 1985 it moved to a new basement near Philadelphia. Of course, it grew into its new home. Another job change brought it to Charleston in 1988. The available space was much larger and offered significant potential for layout improvement. Overall, the railroad has been a great hobby for the past 26 years.
The links to the left near the top of this page will tell you more about the layout itself as well as how it is operated. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to click the link below to send me an email.