Layout At A Glance
Module Theme: Shortline
Scale: O Scale
Track: Code 148
Turnouts: No. 5
Min. Radius: 36"
Article by: Jim Spavins
Published: October 10, 2016
Having spent my entire modeling career building in HO scale, I decided it was time to try something new. I'd always wanted to build in a larger scale - in particular O or S. Given the availability of O scale equipment for what I wanted to model, the decision was fairly easy. However, since I had never built anything in O, it was important to start with a smaller layout that could be used as a test bed to give O scale a try and see if I wanted to devote more time and resources to a larger layout. As a lifelong HO modeler, my first shock came when I started looking up prices for track and rolling stock - yikes! Fortunately, I realized I would not need the same quantity of track and rolling stock so the final cost for this layout seemed reasonable to me at the time. Since this was my first attempt at an O scale layout, I wanted to keep things simple.
The idea was to model a freelanced branchline based on the former Wood River Branch in southern Rhode Island. The real railroad was just 6 miles long and was abandoned in 1947. Using artistic license, this layout was a freelanced what-if version for the railroad if it had survived to a modern era. The scenes were generally freelanced but attempted to capture the flavor of the former railroad.
In addition, this layout was designed to be modular so it could be taken on the road to train shows. One of things that was disappointing to me at the time was that the O scale group within my club had not been actively displaying its layout for about 10 years. Part of the idea with this layout was to generate some interest in O scale modeling again with club members - a goal which unfortunately it fell short. Since it was just me working on the layout, the design needed to be small enough to fit in my vehicle and also simple enough to set up in about an hour or two by myself.
After developing the module standards for the railroad, the next step was to put pen to paper (or more accurately mouse clicks to CAD program) and develop some sketches for the railroad. I wanted a flexible design which would allow for several different layout configurations. After a number of discussions with various club members, I settled on a maximum layout size of 12′ x 16′. I felt this was a reasonable size from both a cost and construction time point of view. It also meant ten module sections which seemed like enough to have some variety of scenes.
The plan which developed consisted of four corners, four 2′ x 4′ modules, and two spacer module sized at 1′ x 4′. All of these modules could be arranged in a variety of ways. The smallest layout could be 8′ x 12′ (in several arrangements) as well as optional configurations of 12′ x 12′ or 8′ x 16′ or 12′ x 16′. Most importantly, the layout had the potential to be expanded in any direction if other club members had decided to build a few modules as well.
After a very busy couple of months working on the railroad, the layout made it's debut at the 2012 Railroad Hobby Show in West Springfield, MA. The entire 12′ x 16′ ten section layout was operational and some basic scenery covered the layout. A lot of people stopped by to see the layout in the Young Building. In all, over 20,000 people attended the two day show at the Big E.
Operations on the layout went fairly smoothly - however painting track only a few weeks before the show proved to be problematic as myself and fellow club member Jonathan Harger spent the better part of Friday and early Saturday cleaning the track. By Saturday everything was running very smoothly. Unlike the HO layout - whose claim to fame is spectacular crashes and derailments - the Wood River Branch layout only saw one minor derailment caused by a new box car purchased at the show (the trucks were not adjusted properly).
I would like to thank Jonathan and Dan Delany for bringing equipment to run at the show (since I still don't own much!) as well as to Matt Wiwczar and Les Hazler for helping run trains and setting up the layout.
You can check out a video of the Mohegan Pequot Model Railroad Club's layout at the show, including the Wood River Branch, on YouTube here.
Wood River Branch modular layout design. | Track plan by Jim Spavins.
Around the Layout
Hole No. 7
Many years ago, one of the club members built a HO module of a par 3 golf hole. The model of the hole was built after a real golf course located near Wood River Junction. The real golf hole is not located next to a rail line and the model was simply fitted into the module with the mainlines to the front of the golf hole. However, after looking at the historic topo maps of where the line used to run and the present day land use in the same location, it appears that the former railroad used to run either next to or through the same golf course. The HO module was retired many years ago and I always wanted to bring the theme back to our display. So on this module set, one corner module and one 2′ x 4′ module are connected to form a nice par 3 dogleg. In scale terms, it is about 100 yards. The tracks run along the edge of the fairway. Of all the 10 module sections of the railroad, Hole No. 7 reached the highest level of completion.
One of the 2′ x 4′ modules had a siding leading to a team track. The team track module reached about 50% covered with scenery. The road was basically finished and the hill on the left side of the module is covered with some ground foam. The right side of the module is still bare. Eventually, the plan was to add a concrete loading dock and a fun mini-scene with the railroad club loading modules into a box car on the siding.
Stone Arch Bridge
This area of New England is notorious for the amount of stone in the ground. Almost every property is lined with stone walls just to find a place for it all. The real Wood River Branch had only one bridge over the Wood River which started out as a wooden covered bridge. It was washed out in a flood in 1927 and was replaced with another wood structure. However, I am a fan of stone arch bridges and have built a few over the years. So, with a twist in the history of the real railroad, the bridge was a stone arch bridge. The small 1′x4′ stone arch bridge module was about 80% complete. The bridge itself was finished however, there was no water in the river.
Hope Valley Station
The nickname for the railroad was the "Yellow Dog Line" as the four railroad stations were all painted in yellow. This module was to represent a generic version of the Hope Valley depot painted in the road's yellow livery. There was some ground foam added to the front of the module just for the show. A temporary station had been put in place along with some paint representing where the parking lots and platform would eventually be located.
Hope Valley Yard
The biggest module set was a pair of 2′ x 4′ modules which made up a very small yard. It included a track for an enginehouse as well as a small feed mill along with a storage track. For the show, one of our club members, Tom Murphy, displayed some of his hand painted buildings along the back of the yard. These are very well done and really stood out. Hmm, maybe I need to rethink this rural branch railroad thing and build an urban themed layout!
The second spacer had just a generic scene of the railroad running through the woods. This module was only scenery and was to serve as a photo diorama when I started working on detailing railroad equipment.
Between the Team Track module and stone arch bridge, the main line was to curve through a marsh scene. The main lines were elevated along a fill. This photo is from when the module was still under construction...I never took a photo when it had ground foam on it.
I am always amazed that many clubs do not offer some kind of display providing some background information on their club or layout. This final corner had some basic scenery and a stand with a display having information about the layout.
Alt 1 - 8'x16'
This alternative plan included eight module sections - with the two 1'x4' spacer modules removed.
Alt 2 - 8'x12'
By leaving the yard module set as well as the two spacer modules out, the smallest practical layout arrangement - at 8'x12' - could be setup.
After the 2012 Railroad Hobby Show, I lost the space to store and setup the railroad. I needed to downsize so I initially planned to reconfigure the layout into a 8'x12' design - with an option to go up to 12'x12' for shows. The Hope Valley Yard module was demoed and then the Golf Course 2'x4' module and Hope Valley Station corner module were rebuilt into the new Hope Valley scene. The two spacer modules, Golf Course Corner, Great Marsh, and Club Info modules were all left as is. After a few months, between the space issues and a lack of interest from other members, the project was eventually abandoned and I returned to building HO scale modules.
Revised Wood River Branch layout plans. | Track Plans by Jim Spavins.
Overview of Rebuilt Layout
An overview of the rebuilt layout - setup in a 12'x12' configuration. The new Hope Valley scene is on the left.
Hope Valley Rebuild
All of the elements of the original Hope Valley Yard scene were rebuilt into a more compact 2'x4' and corner module set. On the corner module, a two track enginehouse was planned and the grain elevator was planned for the other spur on the right hand side of the module.
Wood River Branch History
The Wood River Branch was a 6 mile shortline which ran from Wood River Junction to Hope Valley, RI. The railroad was founded in 1872 with ambitious goals but was finally abandoned in 1947. This small railroad served as the inspiration for the O scale layout. Below is a summarized history of the railroad.
The Wood River Branch Story
The Wood River Branch began as the Wood River Railroad in January of 1867. The line was incorporated to construct a railroad linking Richmond Switch, on the New York, Providence, and Boston (Stonington Road), and a final destination of Greene, RI, on the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad. The twenty mile route through Woodville and Hope Valley was authorized and $600,000 granted to be raised to begin construction of the line.
However, progress stalled and the Wood River Railroad line was never built. In May of 1872 a new corporation was formed to build an abbreviated section from Hope Valley to Richmond Switch. This line, the Wood River Branch Railroad Company, issued $60,000 of stock with $20,000 of the stock being purchased by the Stonington Road - effectively making the Wood branch Railroad a subsidiary of the Stonington Road.
The line was completed in on July 1, 1874 and the Railroad Commission's Report from 1876 recounts the first train:
"This road was completed so that accommodation trains commenced running July 1st, (1874) and the day was made a day of rejoicing for the people living on the route, as the trains ran free during the day and were well patronised...(T)he terminus is at Locustville, distance five and forty eight one hundredths miles; passing through Woodville and Hope Valley. The bridge over Wood River is thoroughly and substantially built, and measures eighteen and a half feet in height in the clear...the whole cost of the road, including the rolling stock was $110,000. The rails are well laid and connected by fish joints rendering it very easy riding."
Despite its small operations, the line managed to make money in the early years. A half dozen or so mills dotted along the Wood River Valley combined with passenger traffic, provided a steady stream of income for the railroad. The road's original equipment consisted of one locomotive, one passenger coach, and one caboose. In 1879, a new locomotive was added to the roster, together with another passenger car. On average, the line carried about 50 passengers a day and 10,000 tons of freight a year.
Though the turn of the century, the railroad operated at a breakeven level. However, in 1924, the Wood River Branch could not make payments on $56,000 in first mortgage bonds. These bonds were wholly owned by the New Haven Railroad, which did not foreclose on the property because it did not want it. In late 1927, a flood washed out parts of the Wood River Branch line - including the bridge over the Wood River - and stranded the lines equipment and two foreign line freight cars at Hope Valley. Local shippers petitioned the New Haven to re-open the line which it did in 1928. However, passenger service was discontinued at the time.
In 1937, the New Haven sold the line to the owner of the feed mill at Hope Valley - Roy Rawlings. For a grand total of $301, he received $33,600 (par value) in stock and the $66,500 in first mortgage bonds. The road was operated until 1947 when the Rawlings mill burned and the railroad was abandoned.
"The Wood River Branch Railroad Company" Peirce, Merle K., Volume IV, Number 2, Narragansett Newsletter
"Wood River Branch" Karr, Ronald Dale, Chapter 20, The Rail Lines of Southern New England
Here are a few additional links to explore as you desire:
Langworthy Public Library
The main library in Hope Valley, RI, has an interesting video on line about the history of the town which covers the construction of the railroad. There is even a few videos of the old railroad in the movie. Check out the page here. The video file is large so be prepared for a wait to download.
In addition, the library has a collection of original Wood River Branch documents and photographs in their archives. (See the list here.)
Known as the "Peanut Roaster" on the Wood River Branch, the first diesel on the line was a Plymouth switcher. This website here has the owner's manual of the Plymouth scanned as images along with several photos.
Rhode Island Photo Collection
Here is a site with a number of photos of railroads of Rhode Island in the early part of the 20th century. There are a few photos of the Wood River Branch. See the site here.
New Haven Historical Society
The Wood River Branch has been featured in a handful of Shoreliners - the New Haven Historical Society's magazine. You can visit their website here. Below is a list of articles and issues with stories about the railroad.
Volume 19 Issue 3 1988
- Wood River Branch Railroad - The history of a Rhode Island short line railroad. 6 pages with photos, map and timetable.
- Highlights in the Life of a Shortline Railroad - Historic dates in the history of the Wood River Branch Railroad. 3-1/2 pages.
Volume 20 Issue 3 1989
- More Wood River Branch Railroad - Two more interesting photos turn up of this Rhode Island short line railroad. 1/2 page with photos.