West Virginia - the Mountain State


Nevin Wilson's FM&P Division of the Baltimore & Ohio

I met Nevin Wilson in late 1999. I was researching the rail operations of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) in the Morgantown, W. Va., area. The work ended up as an article and layout design in Model Railroad Planning 2001. Nevin was searching or something new to model that would offer more diverse operations than his previous layout that featured Thomas, W. Va., and the Western Maryland Railway there. I passed along many details to Nevin, and he had his HO scale layout up and rolling pretty quickly. He has captured the look of the B&O along a five mile stretch of track as it passes through Morgantown in an era where steam locomotives were still in regular use - the early 1950's.

Nevin is now looking at a new railroad concept in On3 or On30. His HO layout will remain operating until after the Mountain State Express convention. Those attending the convention will have an opportunity to see Nevin's layout first-hand. Afterwards, the wreckin' ball comes out to change the layout. Nevin does work quickly, so I hope to offer updates by mid-2006.

Crossing Decker's Creek
Here a B&O Baldwin sharknose crosses Decker's Creek on a through truss bridge. This photo pays hommage to a similar prototype image owned by former Morgantown resident Bob Kennedy. Bob has graciously supplied a number of details on the B&O rail operations and rail history in Morgantown.
Seneca Glass

When modeling a specific location, a number of factors enter into the process that affect the end result: available space, available modeling and prototype materials, and personal talent. Nevin fearlessly walked right into this project and began churning out models that offer a great representation of the structures once found along the B&O right-of-way. Nevin knew he could not reconstruct all of these buildings to exact scale, as he did not have that kind of space for his layout room. He compressed building length and omitted some elements to offer a perception of the industries once found in Morgantown, W. Va.

Seen above is his model of the Seneca Glass factory, most of which still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places. While not an exact replication of the building, Nevin has captured the look of the plant with the furnace room and different additions to the warehouse and finishing sections of the factory. This glass factory is one of the key elements of modeling the B&O through Morgantown, mainly because it remains standing and we can see it today.

Yard Overview
Another element of the railroad is a small yard just south of the Decker's Creek bridge. Several warehouses and the freight depot were one located here: a cold storage plant, bottling plant, flour mill, grocery warehouse, a small meat plant, and more. These businesses supplied provisions for the residents of Morgantown. These were the grocers and wholesalers that provided the foodstuffs for the local population. Almost every mid-sized town with rail service has a district of warehouses that met the daily needs of the community. This district would also be a busy spot on the railroad, as crews would be spotting strings of boxcars and refrigerator cars at the many loading docks on a near-daily basis. Nevin models the early 1950's, a period just before highways were improved to enabled trucks to move merchandise quicker than the railroads in West Virginia. In the distance looms the Mississippi Glass factory that was once a landmark on the southern end of town. Safety window glass was a specialty of this plant.
Morgantown Freight House
The B&O freight house stood for many years, but no photos have been found of this structure. I passed it many times after I moved to town in 1985. Through reminiscing and some sketches, Nevin has created a version that comes fairly close to a few memories. Until the mid-1960's, the freight house was where large parcels were delivered as less-than-carload freight. If a family ordered a new TV, or washer, or freezer from Montgomery Wards, or Sears & Roebuck, or JC Penney, the item would be shipped to the local freight house for delivery or pick up. The freight house size would reflect the population size of the community. Nevin's version has been shortened a bit to fit his space.
Beaumont Glass
West Virginia Window Glass
In addition to Seneca Glass, the B&O served three other glass factories within a few hundered yards of each other. Nevin has modeled the brick Beaumont Glass complex, and the corrugated sheet metal US Plate Glass plant, which was located across the tracks from Seneca Glass. Morgantown had a total of seven glass factories within the city limits. Nevin has modeled five of these on his model railroad. Boxcar loads of clean silica sand, soda, lime, ash, and other additives were spotted at the materials houses near the furnace rooms of these glass plants. Unloading was usually done by hand with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Mississippi Glass used a conveyor system from a trackside bin, but the others seemed to rely on cheap labor to move the raw materials. Other inbound loads would include raw wood for making shipping crates, barrels and boxes, and excelsior packing material that was used when packing the glass product in crates and barrels.
A QD freight passes the Beaumont Glass plant.

The local switching was a nice extra in modeling the B&O through Morgantown. A surprising number of through trains kept this a very busy railroad for many years. A document of coal trains operating from Fairmont, W. Va., to Bowest yard near Connellsville, Penna., in August of 1949, reveals an average of five B&O trains and two Western Maryland Railway trains per weekday. The WM served a few coal mines just south of Fairmont and had trackage rights over the FM&P to Bowest yard. The document did not record trains operating from Bowest to Fairmont, and it does not seem to include mixed frieght movements, called QD trains on the B&O.

So hypothetically, an average of seven loaded coal trains in one direction should mean an equal number of empty coal trains the other direction, and if you add at least one QD and one local freight in each direction, plus a loaded coal train from the M&K branch and a returning empty coal train to the M&K....that would be.....TWENTY daily train movements along this five mile stretch of railroad that Nevin is modeling. That's a pretty busy railroad for his room!

  Nevin and I hope you've enjoyed this quick tour of his HO scale layout. Several other model railroad layouts from the north-central West Virginia region are featured at the home page. Take a few minutes for another tour. All aboard!