Thomas Eckhardt's


West End  

  Cumberland Division 

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My B&O West End layout has a somewhat twisted history. I always loved mountain railroading, and having had the fortune to witness the last years of mainline steam in West Germany, I wanted to build a layout with steam. Indeed, the West End layout started out as a German Railways post-war layout. Overtime, I became more and more interested in US model railroading, perhaps due to the multitude of kits available for kit bashing and painting, which was much more interesting than the finished German models that just needed weathering and renumbering.

Two encounters converted me to the B&O: a visit in 1980 to Sand Patch with mountain railroading at its best (despite snow in early October, and yes it was on my honeymoon..), and the following year witnessing the C&O 614 stomping up Seventeen Mile Grade at Swanton, MD. That would be something to model, never mind that it was a C&O engine! I also discovered that on the B&O, the transition from steam to diesel took quite a long time with both coexisting for more that a decade, so I could have the best of both worlds.

Thus the theme of my layout (having moved into a house with a basement in 1987) would be a B&O Allegheny crossing with long twisting grades. The West End layout incorporates many of the features I wanted, double track main line with a need for helpers, long and twisting grades, but also good opportunities for yard switching and locals switching. Although the layout is called West End, and indeed the stations are named after real locales along the West End, the profile of the layout differs from the prototype as it has only one mountain range to cross, not two as the real B&O had.

The layout is set up as a big loop. A modelers license connection from Grafton to West Keyser allows one to reach the foot of the west bound grade from Grafton directly. During operation east and westbound trains can be dispatched from Grafton. This seems to happen rather often, and at times the staging yard is not even used, except for the passenger and mail trains.

For operations, it is not strictly a West End Affair, as I like to sprinkle bit of Sand Patch activity into it, such as the Western Maryland ore train, or the Pittsburgh stone train. I am also a bit more liberal with motive power use than the real B&O, so Alco FA/FB sets are regular power, as are Big Sixes. A typical coal drag takes about 30 minutes from the time it emerges from the staging area until it disappears again on the other end, so during an operation session, perhaps a half a dozen trains are run. Besides mainline runs, there are mine shifters to serve the five coal mines along the mainline, locals to Terra Alta and Tunnelton, and transfer of coal, ore and stone trains to the steel mills, providing activities for every taste.

I have chosen the era of the fifties because both steam and diesel co-existed. Originally, I started out with a pure diesel roster, as B&O steam engines were not readily available and I was not familiar with brass engines, particularly the conversion to DCC control. In the last couple of years, I mastered the art of painting brass engines and I was also able to acquire some painted models. Hence the emphasis is steadily shifting from diesel to steam operations. The new sound decoders are a far cry from the earlier chuff-chuff decoders and allow a pretty prototypical operation. This enhances the enjoyment while operating steam engines.

Well, the layout is still a work in progress. Although everything is landscaped, scenery needs to be added to much of the lower level. People are also largely absent from the layout, with the exception of some train crews. This will hopefully change with my retirement. Recently I have gotten into the B&O CPLs, I started out building a prototypical signal bridge (from and enjoy the building of the CPL signals, so this seems to be just a beginning.


I am very grateful to my wife for enduring my daily sanity breaks in the basement (from work, NOT her). I thank my two sons Nicolas and Lukas for allowing me to share the room in the basement with their layout that eventually was completely dismantled. I also wish to thank my test operators, Ihor Sydoriak and Fran Giacoma for their time and effort in identifying points for major surgery in the layout, so that the layout now runs pretty well with minimal mishaps.

I am indebted to Scott Dunlap for all the heavy lifting to make this website possible, and to Dan Vandermause for encouragement and pointing me in the right direction to create it.

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Site updated on March 14, 2018


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