No. 165: Modeling the Hermitage Coal Company

Since August I’ve been working on freight cars and finishing the traverse table for the layout.  I’m still working on some of the unfinished freight car projects, but I’m devoting October to getting the layout back in operation and completing layout structures.

One of the more visually interesting customers on the layout is the Hermitage Coal Co. As you can see below, Hermitage Coal was a small dealer with a fenced property on a shared siding.

There are no know photos of Hermitage Coal Co. Here’s the look I’m after, below–a local coal dealer with piles of different grades of coal on the ground, and a small office and a few conveyors. Walthers makes a nice conveyor that works great for the scene.

My interpretation of Hermitage Coal has changed since I started the layout last October, but the concept has remained the same. I want a flat coal yard with coal piles and a fenced yard much like the Sanborn map shows. This type of coal yard was very typical in the south and in small Midwestern towns.

Here’s a view of the coal yard area when the layout was in the track planning stage. In the original plan, I wanted to include two storage tracks in the middle of the layout—two long, stub-end tracks for car storage. The area I’m modeling didn’t have storage tracks, but storage tracks were typically built in industrial switching areas in the early 1900s and would be useful on a model railroad. I also planned the coal yard on the layout edge so I wouldn’t have to model the whole thing with all the details and vehicles and fencing and all that.

During planning, the storage tracks consumed more space that I had, so I eliminated them and decided to model the whole coal company instead. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve tried to make space for both the storage tracks and the whole coal yard.

Below. After laying the track and getting the layout operational last November, I ran trains around a few weeks and continued testing and planning. I discovered that I had not left enough useable room for the coal dealer, and felt I could make it right by moving the track over 5-4 inches closer to the aisle. The track was already glued down, wired, painted and ballasted. So I cut the wires, wet the track down with rubbing alcohol, and after the glue came undone I slid the track over a few inches. I pinned everything in the new alignment and let it dry again. It re-glued itself in place just fine but eventually I did have to add more ballast and of course re-wire the track.

To make the coal piles, I started with a small pile of real coal and wet it with rubbing alcohol, then wet it down with matt medium. I added more coal and repeated teh procedure until I had a reasonably large coal pile. I think they look pretty good.

Below. I started the coal piles before most of the scenery was complete. I have six or seven plastic containers with real coal in various sizes, so I used a different size for each pile to try and simulate different grades of coal. I’m not sure why those two piles in the center turned white. They look like burned coal, don’t they? Anyway I covered them with more coal and now they look like they’re supposed to.

My favorite is the large pieces of coal over on the far left end. They have a nice contrast to the other egg and lump coal piles. The two conveyors are by Walthers.

Here’s another view of the initial coal yard below. This was back around the beginning of 2021 when I was still trying out the Plastruct material for the concrete block company (the white building against the backdrop).

Below. Once I got the piles like I wanted ’em, I painted the ground with Tamiya Flat Black to simulate years of spilled coal and coal dust. This area will be surrounded by a fence and it’ll look right when it’s done.

Another view, below, from the left side of the layout.

Below. I cut a “test fence” from cardboard to see how it all looks. I cut the height at six feet.

One of the central design features of my little layout design was to ensure a “bowl effect”. Basically that means that taller buildings are in the back and on the sides, and flatter/shorter industries—like Hermitage Coal—are in the middle. So the layout should look a little bit like a bowl, or like you are reaching into a bowl when operating it. That concept keeps big things out of the middle of the layout where operators are leaning in to work.

Last winter, in an effort to maximize space on the little layout, I dismantled Hermitage Coal and tried it in different places on the layout. Having Hermitage Coal in the middle of the layout maximized the bowl effect, so I was wary of moving it. Nevertheless I did mock up Hermitage Coal in a few other places to really see if it worked better elsewhere. It didn’t, but here are photos from the mock-up sessions so you can come to your own conclusion.

First, below, here is Hermitage Coal at the far left end of the layout. There wasn’t much good about this option. There was still room for two cars but just barely. It also generated a backdrop problem, in other words now I have to decorate the backdrop on the left side of the layout. Additionally, what would I put in the original Hermitage Coal Co. place? Ultimately I rejected this plan because there wasn’t much room for freight cars.

Next I mocked up the coal company on the far right side of the layout. I had the same problem as on the left side—there was barely room for two cars, plus I had a backdrop problem again. In addition a low-height shipper here reveals the ugliness of the entrance to staging. That’s a no.

Last, I mocked up the coal company in the center of the layout, but on the other side of Hermitage Road. I liked the shape of the fenceline and how it followed the track on every side. Now that’s cool. The problem, once again, is there were just enough room for two 35-foot hopper cars and no room for trucks, a garage, or anything else inside the property.

The fence I’m using is made by Tichy. I originally made my own fence because I thought an uneven look would look best, but it looked terrible. Below, I painted the Tichy fence with a combination of Tamiya browns and then stained it with a black paint-and-thinner wash.

Here’s the coal company back at the original location. I will truncate the track a little but to fit the Southern Fuel & Oil Co. behind. Even with a few inches of track cut off I can easily fit three hoppers in the yard.

I’ll finish the coal yard and pot more soon. Meanwhile I’m working hard on the traverse table and also finishing up some freight car projects from August and September.

Here are two of the cars ready for the layout. The model below is a Kadee car that I sandblasted and repainted with the new Resin Car Works mini-kit. The trucks are Tahoe Model Works double-truss with semi-scale wheelsets. The car would look better with a real coal load.

Also finished was this car, below. This is an old Sunshine Models car that I stripped, rebuilt, and repainted. I used K4 decals. I’ve had trouble with K4 decals in the past but this time I used Walthers Decal Set to get them to settle down and that worked wonders. The paint used was Tru Color Rock Island Freight Car Red.

That’s it for this week. I have four more posts in work–just need time to get them edited and ready for prime time. I pray you all have a good week! – John Golden

6 thoughts on “No. 165: Modeling the Hermitage Coal Company

    • Hi Paul, yes I use regular Elmer’s Glue.  Makes it a little easy to make changes like that, but you have to watch it when laying ballast.  Haven’t heard from you in a bit…how’s everything going??  John G


  1. John,
    I make coal piles with black latex caulk, then spray 77 and glue coal to that. The materials may not be available where you are, but using the caulk saves using up all the coal.


  2. Hello, John.
    My wife (and I) enjoyed your coal yard article. Her grandfather owned a coal dealer in Cedartown, GA, served by the SAL. On occasion, they received boxcars with 50 pound bags of coal. It brought back fond memories for her.
    Tom Holley


  3. Found your site today on the internet. Am trying to get back into HO after a long absence. Liked your article on the coal yard. I’m trying to add some type of yard to my plans. One thing I noticed in prototype photos of coal yards, is most (all?) yards had a scale for trucks leaving the yard with coal for customers. I’m trying to find out the dimensions of such a scale. It would be a rather easy addition to any yard, but have not found dimensions of such a scale. Might you have them?



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