No. 127: Ackley Layout Ops Session (Seaboard Air Line)

Hi Friends!  I hope you’re all doing well and are enjoying a nice back-to-school weekend.

In April or May I ran an ops session on my Ackley, Iowa layout using New York Central equipment.  I joked to one of my friends online that I should run a Seaboard session, and then thought “Hey, that’d be a cool idea!”  So a few weeks ago I pulled out all the Seaboard equipment I had left, and all my southeastern freight cars, and ran a “Montgomery Line” ops session.  It was a lot of fun.

SAL Pitts, GA - Salter

The SAL Montgomery Line—sometimes called The SAM (the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery)—ran from Savannah, Georgia to Montgomery, Alabama.  It was a low-density branch line and by the 1950s typified rural Georgia railroading.  The prototype photos above and below are all from the late 1940s, taken by master photographer Hugh Comer.


Light rail, little engines, short trains, and country depots–that’s what the Montgomery Line was all about.


In honour of the photo above, I thought I would use something special for this ops session.  And here it is—“the big engine”—Baldwin Centipede 4512.  This is a BLI model of one of SAL’s 12 1949-built Baldwins.  The versio I bought has sound and DCC installed and it runs pretty well.  The paint is excellent.  The model is actually a PRR prototype but it is definitely close enough for what I want it to do.

Below, here is 4512 leading a short train into town.


Below.  Here’s another view of the short train on the main.  In the consist are a couple of FGE reefers, a tank car, and an ACL ventilated box car.


Running a Seaboard scenario gave me the opportunity to take out the SAL Standard No. 2 depot I built back in 2004, along with all the section and tool houses I built for an SCL Modeler article in 2008.


I made up this session as I went along.  The first thing I did was cut off the train on the main track and then pick up two empties on the Carsten’s lead.  Yes indeed, the Centipede will get around the 24-inch radius curve, but it looks pretty silly doing so.


Here, below, I’m pulling those two empties back to the main track.  I’ll put them on the head end, and then work the back end and spot a couple of cars at the cannery.


Now I’m back on the other end of the 16-foot layout.  First I’ll pull these loads from the cannery and then spot empties in their place.


Whoops!  As I was pulling the cars, and trying to take photos at the same time, one of the cars split a switch and turned over.  That’s an ACL car, so I’m sure my Seaboard crew could care less…


Speaking of oddballs, here’s an oddball car getting a workout.  This is a model of one of C&O’s rebuilt cement hoppers.  I built this model using an Intermountain hopper as my starting point and used Microscale decals for all the lettering.  It was a lot of fun to build.  Apologies for the poor lighting.


Here I have already dropped the loads and am spotting the empties.


Man, that is a big engine!


Now I’m on the City Track, pushing the loads and empties out so I can spot new cars.  I enjoyed getting all these southeastern cars out on the layout for a run.  This Central car (Central of Georgia, not New York Central) is an old Intermountain model that I rebuilt and painted.  The SAL AF-1 at far left is a Sunshine Models kit.


After pulling the Central car and that SAL auto car, I’m spotting that ACL vent on the City Track.


Finally I sorted a few cars on the sidings for the next train to pick up, then reassembled my train on the main track.  My train has now swelled to a whopping 12 cars.  The big Baldwin can easily handle them…if it doesn’t break down, which I understand the prototypes were prone to do.


After checking with the agent-operator, we can pull out and continue down the line.


SAL 5227 is bringing up the markers.  This is an Overland brass model that I bought when I was in college in 1986.  I have repainted it three times!


This session was a lot of fun.  I need to do an M&StL session next.

Here’s a parting shot.  Back in 2008 I was able to take a full day to photograph virtually the whole line from Savannah to Montgomery.  Back then, there were a lot of remnants of SAL heritage left.  Here’s a photo of one of my favorite depots, this one at Milan, Georgia.


Have a wonderful weekend!  – John G


And a postscript.  My buddy Tom Holley, recently retired from 30+ years of engine service with NS, wrote the day after I published this article to tell me:

Hello, John.
I really enjoyed the Seaboard operating session you featured on your blog. Great photographs of great models, on a great layout. Made me want to fly over there and switch cars with you.
As an addendum, the SAL engine was referred to as a “Thousand-legger” down here.
Your information about the SAM line reminded me of a story my dad told that happened when he was running to Montgomery from Columbus on 71 and 40. The Central crossed the SAL at Hurtsboro at grade. The crossing was not interlocked, and both railroads rules required trains to stop, and, if no opposing traffic was approaching, cross the other carrier.
Back then, Central’s train 40 out of Montgomery (the flip side of 71) was always heavy. My dad developed the technique of, when it was dark, approaching the crossing at a slow speed, cutting out his headlight, and looking for a headlight on the SAL. If he didn’t see a headlight on the SAL, he’d just drag across without stopping, and save trying to start the train again.
That worked fine, until one night the SAL engineer turned his headlight out, too. My dad had just started on the crossing when the Seaboard engineer cut his light on. My dad was already on the crossing, so, technically, he was in the right. The brakeman jumped…the fireman stayed, and SAL train stopped very, very close to my dad’s train. My dad kept on pulling, the brakeman caught back up, and on they went.
After that, though, my dad started stopping at the SAL crossing…
Warmest regards,
Tom Holley

7 thoughts on “No. 127: Ackley Layout Ops Session (Seaboard Air Line)

  1. John
    I love the session. I grew up in South Florida with FEC on one side of town and SAL on the other. This was 50s and early 60s, I left for USAF in Jan 1970. My other southeastern favorite is Southern I rode the line many summers from Old Fort to Asheville.
    Bill Michael


  2. Hi John,

    Your layout is beautiful and I very much enjoy seeing photos of it getting a workout. I especially like your track and need to go back and study your track construction posts as I would like to try to replicate your results. Keep these types of blog posts coming. Are these I-Phone photos?

    Also, as one of your former editors at The Seaboard – Coast Line Modeler I could have predicted a SAL op session would result in a derailment if not more mayhem. (In fact I may have sent just such an e-mail or planned to earlier.) Trying to pin the cause of those cars on the ground on the poor ACL car who was trapped in an SAL train is not fair as that boxcar probably sensed that it was in a part of the South close to ACL operations and might be able to escape somehow and run on a REAL railroad if it somehow worked free of the consist and got away from the SAL crew. I will grant that centipede is a great looking locomotive and SAL 5227 is a nifty looking caboose.

    Hopefully you can do an ACL or C of G Op session in the future too if you have the right kind of equipment in your collection over there.




    • Gerry, your enthusiasm for the Seaboard is contagious. I’d be happy to run an ACL session but I don’t have enough broken equipment laying around to faithfully replicate an ACL scenario. If I can find a junk sale here I’ll consider buying something so I can do it justice.

      Yes, these are iPhone 6 photos. I’ve given up on using anything else. My son has an iPhone 10 and I use that occasionally and the photos from that device are much better. Too bad we can’t just buy the camera on that phone!



  3. I particularly like your trackwork – ties are slightly irregular in position and color! Nice scenery with lots of detail, and a convincing little garden.


  4. John: Found your “No. 26: code 55” with your method of re-aligning ties – I’ve been using the same method but I see that some of yours are also slightly out of alignment left to right (perpendicular to the rails) – are those the wood ties? Also, I’ve been dry brushing my ties with various shades of gray but it’s wicked tedious – how have you handled it?


    • Hi Brian, I took a little time yesterday to look back at that post. Yes, I broke the webbing apart onth e flex track to space the ties out, and also added a few wood ties here and there. The idea was to break up the perfection of manufactured flex track. On the painting–yes, I paint each tie individually and it is wicked tedious as you say. My layout is small so I don’t mind investing a little extra time doing that. I laid all the track and extra ties and everything down together, then brush-painted the base color I used Testors “Rubber”). To weather it I started with the base color and add a little gray and lighter browns to get some color variation. I’ll paint a few ties, then skip a few and paint one or two more, and keep going down a stretch of 2-3-4 feet. Then use a slightly different color and do the same thing. I thinned most of the weathering mixes with thinner to try and get that paint into the tie details–kinda like a wash. Then I had to go back and paint the rails again, but I think it all worked out alright. If I were to do it again I’d try and find a way to spray it all, because after all the paint applications some of the details are lost in 2-3-4 coats of brushed paint.


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