No. 131: New Layout Considerations – SAL’s South Richmond Industrial Line

With our upcoming move to a smaller house in Ramstein village, which includes a much smaller train room, I’m considering options for a new, smaller layout.  The Ackley layout will be stored in the garage and hopefully survive the move back to the US in a year or two.

I don’t have the exact dimension for the new train room yet, and no details either—like, for example, which way does the door open into the room—so I’m not able to do any detailed layout planning.

Nevertheless, I’ve spent quite a few hours this week studying a short Milwaukee Road freight house branch into Mason City, Iowa.  Clark Propst has supplied me with maps and lots of great photos.  Studying that line has reminded me of another industrial line I have studied for 30 years–the Seaboard Air Line branch into the Manchester area of South Richmond.  I thought this would be a good time to write about that line.


Above.  Here’s the centerpiece of SAL’s branch into South Richmond, the freight house on Hull Street.  This is a mid-1950s view courtesy of the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper archives.

Richmond was the northern hub of the mighty Seaboard Air Line.  In the heydey, SAL had a triple-track mainline through the city, three yards, and several busy industrial branches that reached into deepwater ports and downtown areas.  Another branch left the main line at Bellwood and went east to Hopewell; that area is still crammed full of large rail customers today.  Richmond was also the site of the famous triple crossing which Seaboard shared with Southern and C&O.

A mile south of the James River was SAL’s South Richmond Yard, built at the onset of World War II to gather cars for industrial customers in the busy South Richmond/Manchester area.  Here is a circa-1952 aerial view, below, of the South Richmond area.  The SAL triple-track mainline is at the bottom; South Yard is to the left just out of the picture.  The branch into South Richmond can be seen leaving the main line at the bottom left.   The bracnh proceeds up Hull Street and is lined on both sides with factories, lumber yards, cigarette factories, and other industries.

Download this map and study it carefully.   The SAL line travelling up Hull Street branched off in four different directions to serve a large number of industries all over the area.  The large bank of buildings in the top left of the photo, I understand, were military supply buildings which were constructed during the World War II years.  You can see the SAL tracks–which crossed US 1 to reach them from two different directions–winding all around them.SAL South Richmond 2

Below.  This is a vintage topographical map of the South Richmond area, circa 1930.  The SAL South Richmond/Hull Street branch is seen at the bottom right running diagonally to the left.  The line travels up Hull Street and eventually connects to the Southern Railway’s shops on the James River.  Southern’s small classification yard is along the river to the left; ACL’s yard can be seen alongside the Southern yard.

Central Richmond West - Copy

Just for fun…here’s a photo of the ACL yards along the river, courtesy the Old Dominion Chapter, NHRS, showing the roundhouse and coal wharf.  In the distance, across the river, is Richmond.  SAL didn’t reach the ACL here, but SAL did reach the Southern just around the far end of the yard to the right.  ACL’s big yard in Richmond was Acca, shared with RF&P.

See the source image

The centerpiece of the SAL branch is the freight depot on Hull Street.  I’ve included this picture a second time so you can follow along easier.  This time, note the streetcar tracks corssing the SAL here.  Sanborn maps indicate there were at one time four streetcar tracks crossing here.


Below is another view from the 1952 aerial, showing the SAL line coming into the photo at the bottom left, proceeding past the freight house, and then passing through the large former-Phillip Morris building to reach the Southern Yard and shops.  I was once told that the SAL-Southern connection included a connection for both roads with the ACL, and the aerial photo seems to indicate such a connection just around the corner may have indeed existed.

SAL South Richmond

Below.  Here’s a view from Google Earth, looking south toward the old SAL main line at the old SAL freight house.  Miller Manufacturing buildings are at the back left.  The large factory at the top right, just barely visible, was a Phillip-Morris plant–also SAL served.  Easily noticeable is the curved walls in the factories to the right where tracks were laid.  Magnificent view!


Here’s the back end of the freight house, around March, 1983, showing some of the tracks still quite visible in the street.

South Richmond 4

Turning around, and facing the back down to the main line, is this view of the Miller Manufacturing Co.  Again this view is around 1983.  The Miller Company still owns a number of buildings in this area.   This is one of the many big factories that lined Hull Street–all of them served by SAL.

South Richmond 7

This view, below, from around 2005, shows the pass-through to the Southern Yard.  I believe this used to be a Phillip-Morris plant; now it is operated by Alcoa.  The tracks are long out of service.

Why is the pass-through such a big deal?  For modelers, this track provides an interchange with another railroad among dense city tracks.  That is something that is very rarely found, and important for model railroad considerations.

VA RR Photos, Jun 2005 (43)

A short distance from the freight house is another short SAL spur that runs nearby Southern’s South Richmond station.  In the view below, we’re looking down SAL tracks laid in the curb, with Southern street track crossing left to right.  Very interesting stuff!

VA RR Photos, Jun 2005 (40)

It has been awfully fun studying the SAL lines around South Richmond all these years.  Back in the U.S., in long-term storage, I have a large file cabinet full of photo prints and maps of the area.  I wish I had it all to share now.

I was always sure I would model this area someday.  I’m sure it would make a great model layout, if one could model from the main line connection, up Hull Street, and through to the Southern Yard for interchange.  Typical power were engines like this one, below–one of SAL’s 50 F-7-class heavy 0-6-0s.  Here the 1133 is shoving hard at SAL’s Hermitage Yards in North Richmond.


For now, I’m looking hard at the Milwaukee Road in Mason City.  But maybe someday…

And one parting shot.  Here’s a date nail still buried in the SAL tracks at the old freight house.  I wonder who pounded it in, almost 90 years ago…

VA RR Photos, Jun 2005 (53)

Enjoy your holiday weekend!  – John G


2 thoughts on “No. 131: New Layout Considerations – SAL’s South Richmond Industrial Line

  1. JOHN, love the idea of the Hull St line (kinda like the SAL’s Downtown Columbus, GA line, that I would like to model) or the St Louis switching layout. Still pretty much stuck with trying to do PRR’s President St line in N and/or the Chase’s Wharf area there in HO… but have a bunch of equipment in HO set up for the PRR’s operations around the City Block yard down to the waterfront at Chase’s Wharf, decisions decisions so tough. been collecting a bunch on N scale equipment for the dream layout SAL’s Tallahassee Sub from Lake City to Drifton and to expand to Tallahassee itself circa May/June 1950-51 (watermelon rush season)


  2. John
    I like the Seaboard. My home town, Lake Worth FL, had FEC on one side and SAL on the other. My cousin and I would watch them switch. I lived 4 blocks from FEC and he lived about 3 blocks from SAL.
    How is your planning and construction of the new layout coming along? Any update?
    Bill Michael


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