Christopher W. Wiley

Modeling interest = prototype modeling, scratch building, scenery

Line modeled = Chesapeake & Ohio Railway

Eras modeled:

Home layout = mid 1950's to mid 1960's

Module = early 1930's

Home Layout = C&O's James River Subdivision

Module Name = Pearch, VA


I got started in model railroading in December 25, 1969 when Santa Clause brought me my first train set. Sometime around the mid 1970's I changed from HO Scale to N Scale and of course, my first purchase was a "Postage Stamp Series" N Scale boxcar.

Currently I have built a NTRAK module and am working on what is my 3rd home layout. In both models I am attempting to model prototype scenes along the old C&O Railway's James River Subdivision. Maybe I should be criticized for not being creative and dreaming up my "own railroad" by attempting to merle copy a prototype railroad during a certain time in history. But, researching, searching, and researching this section of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway is what the hobby is all about for me. I love building scenery, scratch building structures, and running trains so why not model a specific section of a real railroad. To me it provides a perfect venue and plenty of operational challenges and opportunities. Perhaps, by taking this approach, it has challenged me to look beyond many of the typical modeling issues of what color to paint the cars, what number to put on it, etc. and to notice the stonework built by the canal company in the early 1800's. I truly now better understand the development of transportation from dug out canoes and horse drawn packet boats to today's railroad and how the railroad operates and impacts the areas it serves. I guess that the C&O's James River Subdivision caught my attention as a young boy because it is where I lived, and the fascination has grown ever since.

The layout and module would have not been possible without the resources available at the C&O Historical Society ( and The track diagrams, blue prints, photos, and members all provide invaluable assistance in making all this possible. And yes, there is a C&O "standard" for the ferryboats that the railway company operated to help drum up business from across the river.

In addition to the friendships, jokes, and desserts, one of the other beauties of a model train club is the sharing of ideas, resources, and skills. Tom Nelson and I worked together on the many trash bags full of lichen that had to be processed. And trains definitely would not be running had Mike Lugar not kept me from crossing my wires and electrocuting myself.

My Home Layout:

Modeling the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's James River Subdivision

I have always dreamed of modeling the C&O's James River Subdivision. Once I got to thinking about it, what other section of the C&O can one prototypically model the early diesel era than this section? One can model the real railroad and very easily "get the impression" of the real railroad. Freight trains with one or two diesel locomotives (a lashup of six diesel locomotives would be as long as the "local freight" train on a model). Main Line "through trains" with an occasional local freight trains, and "Dinky" Passenger service mixed in between would be very prototypical on the real railroad and possible on a model.

I set the following goals for the layout from the onset.

Goal 1 Through the use of scenery, structures, and track arrangement I want to create the essence of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's James River Subdivision. This will include scratch built structures, canal locks, culverts, and aqueducts, scale scenery that follows the contours, and big open scenes.

Coal drag rolls by the depot at Gladstone VA

An east bound coal drag rolls by the depot at Gladstone VA - the eastern end of the James River Subdivision. (As one can see lots of structures are still under construction.)

Goal 2 To operate trains in a manner similar to the C&O Railway's operations during the 1950-1964 time period on the James River Subdivision. This will include trains identified by C&O Train numbers, making similar stops, running on similar schedules, and similar train consists.

Sticks of rail

The Section Gang has new "sticks of rail" spotted and ready to install at Stapleton VA. Across from Porridge Creek is the foundation of David Staple's old mill and the Section House is barely visible in the distance.

Goal 3 Point to point operation between Gladstone and Clifton Forge with ability to cheat and run trains continuously when desired. Westbound trains will always be running west and eastbound trains will always be running east.

My home layout is an island style layout with 88 feet of mainline laid thus far. It is situated in a 25x26 room along with the washer, dryer, hot water heater, and heat pump. I am attempting to model many scenes of the prototype and the mountains serve as the scene dividers and backdrops for many of the scenes.

Gladstone construction

Construction of the Gladstone portion of my model started around 1990 while I was living in Miami Florida. The late Roger Weil carried me to a lumberyard in his Plymouth Voyager van and we hauled the necessary lumber back to my apartment. Saws and sawdust, and cork roadbed began flying everywhere for the bench work and track laying. Amazingly through some more than coincidental events, I moved back to Lynchburg (my home town) in 1991 to start a new job. The moving company moved the module to my apartment and I began work on scenery. When I bought a house and it was time to move, it turned out that what went into the spare bedroom was not coming out. Somehow I forgot that adding several mountains would cause problems getting the module out of the doors. Well, lucky for me we were able to get it out of the sliding glass window of my second story apartment and lower it down without harm. (Where is the camera when you need it?)

After moving into the new house I now had a basement! I began drawing on pieces of paper and experimenting with track plans. Nothing worked! Nothing I came up with did what I wanted it to do. Then I called on the best track plan designer I know, my father Aubrey Wiley. He has amazing skills in this department! And with little to no effort he scribbled out the basics of the track plan. My recuperation from surgery, though long and painful at times, provided time to work out many of the track plan details and specifics.

The next step I took was to draw chalk lines on the floor where the bench work was to be built to make sure everything fit. Then up came the bench work with lumber and scrap polyextruded foam board found at local construction sites.

The Scenery on the model is polyextruded foam board with some hydrocal castings, some plaster rock castings, and some real rocks. All this was covered with latex painted "dirt", ground foam "grass, weeds and bushes", and lichen-covered hills. The river and creeks are made of Envirotex while the drainage ditches are simply "hot glue" poured in.


Many of the Structures were scratch built to represent specific structures and some commercially available kits were used to represent the more generic structures, or one that is real close to the one being modeled. (I.e. NC Cabin in the photo below is scratch built and the 10 ton coal house is a wooden, laser cut kit by Blair Line.)


Though the track is laid on a good portion of the layout, there are many "scenes" in-between that need to be "filled in" / finished and MANY wires that need to be soldered. I look forward to many more years of enjoyment in building my "dream layout" and I cannot wait to operate it prototypically!

My NTRAK Module:

Modeling Pearch, Va. on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's James River Subdivision

Pearch, VA

On my home layout I am attempting to model the old Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's James River Subdivision. Obviously I cannot fit the whole thing in my basement. So when some friends said, "lets start a club for N Scalers and build some modules" that was all it took to get me build one of the many scenes I could not fit into the home layout.

Yes, I had been to Pearch as a young boy, but it was the information I found out about this river community while researching at the C&OHS' Clifton Forge Archives that really got me interested in modeling this scene. Pearch was a typical river community along the James. The origins of the community date back to canal days and continued as a station stop in the Richmond & Allehaghany. During the early days of the C&O, it had a main line, passing track, and a house track that ran behind the depot - ideal for a traditional 3-track Ntrak module. But, what especially attracted me to modeling this scene was the fact that this was one of the locations along this line that the C&O operated ferry to carry freight and passengers from across the river. Bottom line, I wanted to put a ferryboat in the river!

I had collected a good bit of historical information about Pearch during earlier research that I had completed on the James River Subdivision. The following is some of what I found.

Located in Central Virginia along the old Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's James River Subdivision, this small river community was first referred to as Pedlars. The name was changed to Pearch sometime around the turn of the Century. To the train crews on this line, Pearch was known as the best place to eat lunch on the entire subdivision! Train crews, especially the ones on the "local", frequented the spring just behind the water tank. The wooden water tank at Pearch was the last one on the James River Subdivision.

The 1906 C&O Ry Industrial Guide & Shippers Directory described Pearch as being twelve miles west of Lynchburg, having a flour mill, that many apples were shipped from this station, and that timber was abundant. There were two roads down into Pearch. One was along the riverbank that came down from Holcomb Rock and the other came down from Rt 501 near Coleman Falls.

The passing track was first proposed in 1916 and has been enlarged over the years. The loading track or house track runs behind the depot. The telegraph office was in the middle of the structure and the telegraph call letters for the stop were FY. Interestingly there was a store inside the station. Mr. Fegans had a store inside the station for years. His son, Clarence Fegans, took over the store and eventually moved it to Holcomb Rock. Carl H. Nelson (engineer with 51 years of service on the old C&O) noted that this was the only station known to have a store inside of it.

The Richmond & Alleghany Railway established and operated a ferry here to handle people and vehicles across the river - without charge. This was done in an effort to get business from the other side of the James River (Amherst Co.). The ferry at this location consisted of a flat boat that accommodated two-horse wagons and the men to operate them. W.T. Newell, (C&O Marine Superintendent) described the C&O's cable ferries on the Upper James as being "Real Primitive". "They were 50 feet long and the power to move the ferry across the river was supplied by the current, as the ferry was bridled to a cable stretched across the river, putting the side of the boat at an angle to the current." The duties of the railroad agent here at Pearch included operating the ferry. Perhaps that is why so many different people were agent at this location?

Having this background information helped me understand the community and enabled me to identify the track arrangement, the structures and their location, as well as the location of the roads. All coming together to help create an accurate portrayal of this location. During my search for information I used the following resources from the C&OHS Archives Collection.

- C&O Ry. Track Carts - 1916 Valuation photo
- Industrial Guide & Shippers Directory - Standard Drawing for Ferry
- R&A Timetables (1880-1889) - Several X series Drawings
- C&O Station Agent Books (1898-1944)  

Not only is it just studying photos and dusty old RR books, but also talking to the people that ran the RR and people that used the RR. I then discovered that these people WERE the Railroad. Conversations with Bill Bursey, Jack Manor, and Carl H. Nelson (Steam and Diesel era engineers on C&O James River Sub) and Bill Martin (childhood resident of nearby Holcomb Rock) provide the human element to the story of Pearch.

In summary, I found that in searching for and finding all this information has made modeling this module much more interesting and meaningful.

The module, built to NTRAK standards, is 30" wide (extra 6" added on the front) and is 4 feet long. The frame is constructed from wood and the rest is polyextruded foam board added on top of the wood. The track is on a 2" piece of foam board fastened to the top of the wooden frame. The base of the riverbed is inch foam board. I simulated the water in the river with Enviro-tex, the ripples in the water were created using small scraps of poly-fiber (Polyester fiber used for quilting) that were stretched out and pressed into the Enviro-tex just after it was poured. The rocks used in and around the river were collected from the banks of the James. All other "rocks" are plaster castings made from homemade rock molds. Homemade lichen was used to represent most trees, while Jack Vormittag (fellow member of LyNchburg N Scalers) made the other tree from pinecones and sumac.

The following is an overview of the resources and kits I used to complete my module.

Tool House = Scratchbuilt using information from C&OHS Modeler's Information Packet (interior and exterior drawings, information concerning painting, etc.)

Section Laborers House = Scratchbuilt using information in C&O Standard Structures book by Tom Dixon.

Coal House = wood laser cut kit by Blair Line.

Ferry Boat = I couldn't quite make the river wide enough to support a 50ft long ferry boat, but what I built is based on C&O Standard Drawing No. 11

Ferry Boat Cable Structure = based on prototype at Hatton Ferry (76 mi east of Pearch)

50,000 gal. Wooden Water Tank = wood kit by JV Models.

Pump House = I have no idea what prototype looked like at this location so built the one shown in the C&O Standard Structures book by Tom Dixon.

Privy = Scratchbuilt using information in C&O Standard Structures book by Tom Dixon.

Depot = Almost certain prototype structure was built by the predecessor R&A. Model is scratchbuilt based on 1916 C&O Valuation Photo in the C&OHS collection. Basic exterior dimensions were figured from information on several C&O Ry. X series drawings.

Mail Crane = ? Yet to be determined ?

Poage Water Column = Sunrise Enterprises produces this wonderful water column.

House on the Hill = Blair Lines' wooden, laser cut "Company House" kit.

I enjoyed the challenge of making an accurate as possible model railroad scene that portrays the community of Pearch, Virginia. I often say that I enjoy Researching, Searching, and Researching and looking at history for direction in my modeling. This is a big part of what the hobby is all about for me. I love building scenery, scratchbuilding structures, and running trains so why not model a specific section of a real railroad and learn a little of history along the way?

Maybe I should be criticized for not being creative and dreaming up my "own scene" by attempting to merle copy a prototype scene, of a certain time in history on the C&O's James River Subdivision. Hopefully the module reflects a culture, technology, and a way of life in a community long gone from the banks of the mighty James River.

I guess one question remains to be answered. Wonder if any of the club members will read the background about this module and stop a train on my module so the train crew could go back behind the water tower to eat their dinner?