No. 150: Hermitage Road

In October, 2019 my family and I moved from my house in Albersbach, Germany to a much more modern and efficient house closer to work. Doing so meant I had to dismantle my point-to-point M&StL Ackley, Iowa layout and move it to the new place. That wasn’t a big deal as I built the layout to move.

Above. The Ackley, Iowa layout nearly complete in 2017.

As I related in an earlier post, moving the layout did go so well. Most importantly, Ackley did not quite fit in the new layout space so I carefully stored it in the garage. As I contemplated building a new, smaller layout for the new space I thought it would be wasteful to buy things for a new layout when I already had all those things on the Ackley layout. Moreover, the Ackley layout got a little bashed up in the move. Eventually I decided to scrap it, and salvage it for parts, and move on.

I considered a lot of options for the new layout. I have covered in exhaustive depth my plans to model The Milwaukee Road freight house in Mason City. At the same time I also considered building a small layout based on the Illinois Central freight house in Champaign-Urbana. I also looked at the Illinois Central freight house in Decatur, and even planned a layout based on the huge Milwaukee Road freight house in downtown Minneapolis.  None of the plans worked out to my satisfaction.

Below. The back end of the IC freight house in Decatur. With the main line out of the picture on the right, and a few more industrial sidings on the left, I thought this area would make a great small switching layout.


Allow me to back up a little bit. The genesis of this small layout concept is something I have called The Factory. The Factory concept is a small, 2 x 8-foot layout featuring a single industry that had a little bit of everything and offered just enough for a 20 or 30 minute ops session. I found a few factories that would work, such as Decatur Soy (in Decatur), and the American Radiator Company in Litchfield, Ill. I’ll do posts on both of these places later.

An example of The Factory is below–the American Radiator Co.–with map courtesy of my best friend Lonnie Bathurst. The plant was in Litchfield and was served by the Big Four. The plant had a need for coal (gons and hoppers), sand (gons and hoppers), fuel and lubes (tank cars), machinery and raw materials (box cars), and out-shipping in box cars. Probably some stuff on flat cars too, as there is a gantry crane seen in photos. That’s lots of different kinds of cars to handle. It’d make a nice, small layout–perfect for a 30-minute ops session.


The American Radiator Co. concept worked, but it just didn’t scratch the itch.

Finally, one evening in October, while looking at railfan slides and some maps of the RF&P and Seaboard switching districts on the north side of Richmond, Virginia, I found a switching area that had just about everything. There wasn’t one large industry, but a layout based on a variety of small rail-served customers in this area offered an opportunity to use a lot of different freight car models. The area was pretty generic so I felt like it could be Anywhere USA, just as the old Ackley layout was.

The area is located right behind the old SAL yard, alongside Hermitage Road. Thus, “Hermitage Road” was born.

Below. This is another Bill McCoy photo of Hermitage Yard in north Richmond. The tracks at the far left are the RF&P and ACL main tracks to Richmond’s Main Street Station. The tracks immediately below are the SAL main tracks to the RF&P Acca yard, which is in the far background. The area being modeled is behind the engine shop at the far right.

SAL 1474 - 1470 Hermitage Yd., Richmpnd, VA 12-57 - Copy

Unlike every other layout I’ve ever built in my life, Hermitage Road doesn’t follow an exact prototype arrangement.  Instead, it combines features of four different industrial tracks and puts them into one place.  I call it a “composite layout”.

Below. Here’s an aerial that shows the basics. SAL’s Hermitage Yard is at center. The big wye is the ACL-RF&P connection to Richmond’s Main Street Station, which is just out of view at the bottom right. Hermitage Road is the four lane road crossing at right from top to bottom next to the old baseball grounds.

Hermitage Yard Aerial

The layout is 6 feet, 10 inches long and 17 inches wide, with room for a staging yard less than six feet long. Hermitage Road has just six industries and a team a team track–at most 13 spots. There is no run-around and no complex track or features. There are only three tracks, one with a short switch-back. That’s it.

As you can see below, the layout is well underway and all the track on the visible layout has been secured. The staging yard will be built when the visible layout is completely wired and operational.


The six industries selected represent the wide variety of customers served behind Hermitage Yard.  Actually a few of them were just off of Ellen Road, and I thought long and hard about naming the layout Ellen Road as a tip-of-the-hat to a favorite English football club, Leeds United, who play at a stadium called Elland (with a d) Road.  For the layout, I like using the word Hermitage better—it is more descriptive, and I like the association with the old Seaboard yard and also the word’s Christian heritage.  So, Hermitage Road it is.

In early Christianity, a hermitage was a place where Christian men lived on their own to escape the temptations of the world. According to Wiki “…these retreats were caves or small buildings in deserts, mountains, forests or on islands.” In a way, Hermitage Road is my place to escape the world to relax and play trains.

Below. I’m hoping Hermitage Road will look something like this. This 1991 photo was taken in a SAL-Southern Rwy switching district on the south bank of the James River.

VA RR Photos, Jun 2005 (40)

Here’s a short breakdown of the industries and tracks:

  1. The track nearest to the aisle includes an unnamed grocery warehouse, an unloading ramp/team track, and the Southern Fuel and Oil Co.  Five spots total.  The grocery warehouse can take refrigerators, box cars and ventilated box cars.
  2. The center track serves one customer, the Hermitage Coal Co.  which can accept hoppers and gondolas, and even box car loads of coal.  Two to three car spots will be available.
  3. The track farthest from the aisle has two industries, the Alcatraz Paint and Varnish Co. and the Richmond Cinder Block Co.  The Richmond Cinder Block Co. is the largest of the industries on the layout; it receives raw materials via hoppers, gondolas and covered hoppers and can ship out blocks in box cars or gondolas.  About four car spots total.  The Alcatraz Co. can take box cars and tank cars–one of each.  Alcatraz also had an asphalt side-business so that will drive a demand for an additional tank car when needed.  

This variety of industries allows me to use box cars, tank cars, flats, gons, hoppers, vents and reefers.  For a freight car modeler, it’s perfect.

Below: The concept photo for the small Hermitage Coal Co.


The layout is designed to be somewhat like an English cameo layout.  English cameo layouts usually feature a very simple design and an operating area entirely framed by fascia top-to-bottom.  Hermitage Road is framed in a similar fashion. It is constructed of lightweight materials and will be easy to bring downstairs for parties or to RPM meets or other events.

Here’s what the little layout looked like a few weeks ago, below, as I was still mocking up structures. As of today the layout is completely wired up and operating.

I hope you and your families had a wonderful Christmas celebration, and are looking forward to a great year ahead. I am! – John G

9 thoughts on “No. 150: Hermitage Road

  1. Lots of research always makes for a better layout. Nice work thus far. If I can suggest, check out, the Atlantic Coastline/Seaboard Airline Railroad Historical Society. The amount of information and resources they have on all things SAL/ACL/SCL/SBD is staggering.


  2. John
    I like the layout and concept. How will you operate/switch the layout?
    I have considered a similar concept to “downsize” using just 6-1/2 feet of my current shelf layout but it does not have a runaround so wondering how best to operate.
    Bill Michael


    • Thanks Bill. I will have a very small staging yard on the right side, but still haven’t made a track plan for it yet. It will have to have a short runaround to serve the switchback. On my last Ackley layout I was able to run it sitting down and really enjoyed that. This layout is at sit-down height too, and I enjoy it immensely. I can relax, lounge, or get up close, or whatever. I’d be interested to see what you’re thinking of modeling. John G


      • John
        I have a shelf layout that is 20ft long and varies from 24in to 16 in (staging is 16 in). it is based on but not exact the Florida East Coast Railway branch lines particularly the 5th District. The 5th District was the remnant of the Oversea Railway that went to Key West. After the Hurricane of 1935, it was abandoned south of Florida City. Lots of agriculture there. My main problem is layout is in an unfinished upper story room and it gets COLD in NC mountain winters. That is why I consider a smaller portable one for those months. Below is some information on the 5th District from Richard Beall, both he and his father worked that district as engineers. My era is late 50s to 1960. I love the FEC red and yellow it is what I grew up seeing in my hometown in South Florida.
        FEC 5th District
        The designation was Train #41 southbound and #42 northbound. There were times in the 1950’s, that there were as many as five sections of these trains because there was soooo much business down there. First and second #41 & 42 would be mixed freights, while all other sections carried perishables. There was also a Goulds switcher that went on and off duty there. In 1960, the yard was still at Buena Vista and the trains naturally went through downtown Miami. There were times when a baggage car was spotted (usually around Kendall Wye) in which they loaded strawberries. At night, a northbound would pick this car up, usually behind the caboose on the rear and cut it off at the Miami Passenger Station. A crew would place this car on the head end of Train #76 “The Havana Special” for fast northbound movement on the last train of the day.

        I have found a couple of shots around Princeton but need to have a couple others printed. I believe this might be the busiest and most compact area for you to model.

        I got the neg’s, yesterday and they are most appreciated. I am out of town next week, so I hope to get to printing them week after next. Thanks again,


        The first GP, GP7 #609 was painted into the second red & yellow scheme (the one you emailed me of 617) on April 4, 1958 and the only GP’s that ever made it into that scheme were 608, 609, 617 thru 621. No GP9’s were ever painted in that scheme. Those 7 engines were assigned to Buena Vista in the later years of the 1950’s and possibly very early 1960’s, so you would almost always see 617 thru 621 on the Homestead locals in those years. Once in a great while, when the train was heavy and they didn’t want to call a crew for a second section, you would see two Geep’s on the train back to back, but not very often. The FEC, after being sold to the Dupont Estate in 1961, started painting the engines into the first blue scheme in early 1962, so thus only 39 out of 110 engines ever received the second red & yellow scheme.

        The two most shipped items were tomatoes and potatoes. Also shipped were cucumbers, squash, radishes and corn. During the season, a baggage car was spotted on the Kendal Wye and was loaded with strawberry’s and picked up that evening “behind” the caboose and was cut off at the Miami Passenger Station. It was then placed on the head end of Train #76, “The Havana Special” for 10:00 PM departure. No citrus from South Dade that I know of. That came from the “K” Branch and mid-state on the FEC.

        The crate company handled square wooden crates, wastes and taller baskets called “hampers.” They also had cardboard boxes for tomatoes.


        There was a small quarry across US #1 at Naranja about a mile south of Perrine. There was also a “scales” there.


        The 5th District was dark, train orders only!

        Station was gone by the time the photos were taken and nothing rebuilt in that spot.

        Hey Bill, the cabooses were not assigned, so you could see any one of 47 different cabooses down there. There were 60 – 700-series wood cabooses but 13 of them were lost to wrecks or sold-off over the years. They were 701, 704, 705, 706, 707, 708, 712, 714, 716, 717, 718, 752 & 754, so you probably don’t want to use those.

        S&M received 40-foot boxcars with bulk and bundled fertilizer. Also 40-foot tanks cars w/liquid fert.

        I don’t remember the lumber company getting anything but 40 & 50-foot boxcars. The team track unloaded all kinds of different cars.


        Comment from Richard on FEC223 photo south of Hialeah:

        A few times here and there you could find an SW down there (Homestead area-wcm). The job you’re seeing is called the “Long Belt Job” because it operated on the Belt Line only. It serviced industries along the line, but primarily it went to Medley and worked the rock pits. After pulling the loads and respotting empties, they took the loads down to the scale track located just west of the airport runways and weighed each car. They would then take them down to Kendall Junction and turn everything on the wye and head back to Buena Vista. The caboose stayed close to the engine for lavatory reasons, cooking and ice accommodations as well as an office for the conductor. 16-hour days back then, and that job was 16 every day!


        Mixed train service on #’s 41 and 42, Buena Vista to Florida City via the main line (not via Hialeah Belt) lasted until the last trip of the passenger car in either 1940 or ’41, I would have to double check.

        However, apparently the “mixed train” service continued until either the late 40s or early 50s as Railway Express was carried and possibly closed pouch mail as the trains were still shown in the employee timetables as

        Richard Beall answer to Florida City question:

        If you are modeling a straight away, this is another good one because the track ran about 1-1/2 miles straight to the end of the line right at the 396 mile post. Except for a run-around track opposite the Florida City Market, and Florida City Canning, all tracks were on the east side so you would need the end-of-the-line to your left while looking at your layout. Some pretty nice switching in the area with lots of rail traffic with freight of all kinds. You could even build a portable add-on or extension when operating that would incorporate the “Market” which ran east, southeast. If you send your mailing information, I can forward a drawing of the area. I will have to check on what photos I have, but black & white’s are $8.00 each and color is $12.00 all for 8 X 10’s. The GP7’s “lived” on the 5th District and once in a while the BlL2’s. Numerous times, you could see two GP7’s or GP9’s coupled long end to long end for heavy trains. During the season, there were as much as five trains a day operating on this line. First and second Trains 41 & 42 were true local freights pedaling everything. Third, forth and fifth 41 and 42 were reefer trains working the packing houses, with a switcher that went on and off duty at Goulds, Florida.



        I don’t know what time the Goulds Local went on duty, but probably early AM. Although the local switched anything the freight agent needed done at any location, it’s primary purpose was to pull tracks of loaded reefers from packing houses and replace them immediately with empties so that the packers could load virtually around the clock.

        I do have photos of GP7’s & GP9’s working all areas of the 5th District in both B & W and color. Probably more in early blue schemes, bit I do have all. B & W’s are $8.00 & color are $12.00, but if you buy in quantity, I’ll definitely give you a good discount!


        Growers Selling, Inc., Woodie Tomato Coop, Harold Kendall, C & C Packing were all packing houses, as well as East Glade Growers and South Dade Growers Assoc. During the different seasons, different independent growers would have their crops packed and shipped at some of the larger packing houses such as So. Dade Growers Assoc. often referred to as the “Big House.” Others packaged their own but loaded their boxes or hampers into reefers spotted on the Goulds Depot house track, which was on the back side (east side) of the depot. Some of the businesses and packing houses were on the same lead or storage tracks.

        Woodbury Chemical and S & M Farm Supply were fertilizer houses that received all kinds of products in boxcars and tank cars. ABC Bag & Crate was at the north end of Goulds and sold all of the growers and packing houses every kind of box, hamper or crate known to man, and naturally, we spotted boxcars there on a regular basis.

        South Dade County produce was the same on the entire 5th District line. By far the biggest shipped products were tomatoes and potatoes, but we handled corn, cucumbers, squash, okra, pole beans, watermelons and strawberry’s as well. Before the potato season, we would get many, many loads of “seed potatoes” which were prime spuds that were cut up and planted to grow the potato plants.

        Once again, I have several very good photos of the area that could help you if you are going to model this area of the FEC. I could try to draw something out and fax it to you, but I would have to give it some thought, because it has been so long.

        Warren Tank Cars, Oil and Propane on 5th District

        I don’t know what customer the Warren cars came from but 95% sure they are oil tankers, definitely not propane. (response to tank cars on Broward Turn)

        On the fifth District, there was an oil company that unloaded from a truck at S. W. 22nd Ave. team track, Mile Post 370, Standard Oil at Homestead just south of FEC Fertilizer on their track at Mile Post 394.5, and Homestead Air Force Base got oil & fuel tanks as well. Propane tank cars were spotted at Naranja Gas at Mile Post 390 and Homestead Gas at Mile Post 393.
        Icing on FEC
        Richard Beall:
        On the 5th District (Homestead Line) they were iced from Royal Palm Ice trucks that drove along side the reefers. The ice went up to the rooftops on conveyors and were poled into the hatches on the four corners of each car into bunkers on the ends of cars.
        There was a large icing platform on the far west track at Fort Pierce that iced reefers if they had gone a certain time limit over the maximum on reefers on through freights that came into Fort Pierce and for produce coming in from Belle Glade.
        There was an icing platform for the same purpose at New Smyrna Beach that I believe was on the west side of the yard. Lots of produce houses north and south of NSB that the locals worked.
        Another large icing platform on the east side of the “B” Yard tracks in South Bowden Yard for final icing before leaving FEC property for certain time limit over the maximum reefers on through freights arriving at Bowden, along with reefers arriving from Palatka.



  3. John, your Hermitage Road concept has inspired me to think about reducing lofty ambitions to a scope more likely to be attained! One question: will you retain the Ackley time period in order to use the same rolling stock? (And, if so, what happens to that beautiful RS-1? 🙂


    • Hi Dan, thanks much for the kind comments and Happy New Year 2021! I’m one of those few guys that thinks smaller is better–I don’t think building a massive layout is the only way the achieve modeling objectives. Smaller is okay! Anyway, yes, I’m stuck in the 1949-1950 timeframe and the new layout will be set in 1950, but I suppose I can redefine the era easily with a change of engines and rolling stock. I don’t know if I can go much earlier, or much past about 1965. It’d be pretty cool to run a Jolly Green SAL engine around, wouldn’t it?

      Anyway, enough about me. Can you tell me what you’re modeling? Do you model and particular time, place and location? I’d like to hear about it.

      John Golden


  4. John, Happy New Year to you and your family! I have faith and confidence that 2021 will see all the world eventually climb out of the doldrums imposed by the Covid.
    The SAL liveries (locomotives and freight cars) rightfully attract admiration, and I hope to see some red and black switchers as I continue to follow your blog, but my focus has always been on the upper midwest of my childhood and youth. Roster is heavy on equipment for northwoods (pulp and paper) service with the minimum passenger equipment necessary to satisfy the Public Service Commissions. Era would be late 50’s/early 60’s (sadly no steam engines) when paper making still emphasized pulpwood logs rather than wood chips.
    Have always enjoyed your articles in the ACL/SAL/SCL Society’s fine publication and MRH and have admired your work on the St. Louis RPM. I hope all aspects of planning, building, and operating Hermitage Road give you satisfaction and look forward to following your progress.


    • You’re very kind, Dan–thank you! I’ve always loved the SAL and can trace it all back to a Warren Calloway photo on the back of an ancient Extra 2200 South magazine. Growing up in Savannah just reinforced it all. Do you model anything in particular–any time, place or railroad?


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