No. 27: Modeling the Georgia Northern in Pavo, Georgia

I am pleased to offer my first guest post, this from my longtime friend Tom Holley.  Tom is planning a small, one-town model railroad based on the Georgia Northern at Pavo, Georgia.

Tom is a third generation professional railroader—an engineer with Norfolk Southern—and a good man.  His regular assignment these days is running the Coosa Pines switcher near Birmingham, Alabama.  Tom is seen below in the cab of some Norfolk Southern EMD something-or-other still in primer paint.  Tom’s Dad ran the work trains that built Coosa Pines, and his Grandfather retired as the section foreman at Coosa Pines. I hope you enjoy Tom’s story!


“Son, any idiot can copy better than he can invent.” – O.R. Holley, Jr.

As a third generation Central of Georgia (now Norfolk Southern) railroader, it would seem only natural that the Central would be what I model. For years, even I thought it that true. But because of my familiarity with the Central in my neck of the woods, I couldn’t come up with a viable layout plan. I was just too familiar with the areas I wanted to model, and was not able to live with the compromises required to make them work as a layout. If a yard has three 80 car tracks, that’s not going to fit in a 10 x 14-foot foot room. That kind of compression just wouldn’t work for me; I concentrated on what was wrong with the layout rather than what was right or doable.

As luck would have it, I discovered the Georgia Northern, and met Steve Flanigan, Ken Lehman, and Tom Klimoski while searching for new layout concepts. The three aforementioned gentlemen have (or had) well-executed Deep South layouts manageable in both scope and complexity. They proved to me that a smaller layout could be well-detailed and operationally satisfying.


Ed Mims Photograph, used with permission.


The Georgia Northern was a Pidcock shortline running from Albany to Boston, Georgia via Moultrie. The line was purchased by the Southern in 1966.  By 1990 the line from Moultrie to Boston was gone. For my purposes, I set the layout in the 1972-1976 time frame.  That allows me to model down to Pavo and Barwick.  Since I started railfanning in Columbus in 1973 I have a pretty good selection of source material for Southern power, equipment, and documents.


Columbus, Georgia, mid-1970s.  Photo by Tom Holley.  This is the familiar look Tom will try to capture on his layout.


Another factor in era selection was the operation of the line.  By the mid-1970s the line’s track condition had seriously deteriorated. In the 1973 employee timetable, track speed was a maximum of 10 miles per hour.  The line operated as yard limits, with trains run only on an as needed basis.  So we have slow speed to make the trip seem longer, and no need for a dispatcher or dispatching system.  As an added bonus (at least for me) I can operate power both my Dad and I have run (specifically the 5000 class GP38-2s).  Two track plan ideas are below.




Operations are simple.  The local train leaves Moultrie (staging) and runs to Pavo.  At Pavo we switch the house track, Gold Kist (shippers of corn and soybeans), Parrish Brothers (shippers of corn and soybeans), and Tide Agricultural (receivers of bulk fertilizer materials).  The next stop, if you want to run that far, is Barwick.  In the 1970s there was one business in Barwick that received bagged fertilizer. With your switching done you run around your train for the run back to Moultrie.  The railroad from Pavo to Barwick was abandoned in 1976 so that sets the late end of my era.  Here is an employee timetable, a route map, and an excerpt from the timetable with speed restrictions:




All in all, by observing prototypical speeds and operating practices, an operating session should take about an hour to an hour and a half.  For an old lone-wolf modeler like me that ought to be long enough.  After all, I get to switch boxcars for twelve hours a day at work.


Here’s another Tom Holley photo from the mid-70s, showing an example of the short trains seen on the Pavo line. 



This photo was also taken around Columbus, Georgia, in the mid-1970s.  Tom often refers to the Central of Georgia Railway as The Standard Railroad of Columbus, Georgia.


Research on the line has been challenging.  I can’t find a track chart so the town layouts are based on topo maps, Google Earth, and photos from NETR Online.  Since the line has been gone since 1976 and 1990, it’s hard to tell where the railroad even was.  A retired track department employee who worked there has been very helpful, and the Moultrie Library has gone above and beyond what is customary to help me.  I finally just planned the layout based on the data I had, plus my 28 years of railroad experience.

Construction progress?  Well, I’m behind…way behind.  But after working 10- to 12-hours a day and enduring a two-hour commute each way, my level of enthusiasm is lagging.  I’ll build it; probably in fits and spurts when I’m on vacation.  I think it’s an achievable layout and fits my modeling needs nicely.

After all, as my Dad said, any idiot can copy better than he can invent.


Tom’s Dad, O.R. Holley, Jr.  He spent his entire adult career on the Central of Georgia and Southern Rwy.  He hired out in maintenance of way in 1930, began firing in 1935, and was promoted to engineer on March 3rd, 1941.  He retired on August 28th, 1978.  This photo was taken in the mid-1970s when a steam excursion engine was tied up in Columbus.  Tom says “My Dad and three other old heads were the only guys in town that were still qualified on steam, so whenever an excursion was in town they split up the run between firing and running.  That’s right–those old men FIRED that engine with a scoop!  Some people pay a lot of money to get washboard abs–my Dad got his honest and kept them until the day he died.”

Thanks, Tom, for the great post and the great memories!


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