I’m pleased to introduce you to my next model railroad project, the 2-rail O scale St. Tammany Scenic Railway, a 1:48 layout in 8 modular sections. The St. Tammany Scenic (reporting marks: STSR) is a fictitious shortline railroad based loosely on a quiet branchline that once spanned St. Tammany Parrish in southeastern Louisiana, north of New Orleans and adjacent Lake Pontchartrain. I grew up in that parish (county), and I cut my young railfan teeth chasing slow-paced Illinois Central Gulf local jobs along the Shore Line branch. The look and feel of this new project honors my roots in the flat piney woods of the Feliciana region of Louisiana and likewise indulges my appetite for my favorite railroad encounter: the shortline. I enjoy the slow pace and leisurely operations of a mom-and-pop shortline railroad.
As I thought out my goal of building a shortline layout in 1:48 scale, I knew I wanted to draw on my late father's impressive collection of transition era 40’ rolling stock. I also knew I wanted a slow-paced shortline pike that offered interesting switching possibilities. What's more, I knew I would not soon have the time, money, or permanent space to build the kind of big, broad-curved pike that one really needs to make mainline movements shine in O scale. Given all of this, it occurred to me that the St. Tammany branch I knew so well as a kid now offered me all the great elements to make for a small-scale railway: just the right length of line (under 40 miles), an interchange point with a Class 1 railroad on one end (at Slidell, with the Southern Railway), a few small communities along the way, a river crossing (Lacombe), and a terminating town with a small industrial base (Covington). So I wanted the STSR to be a point-to-point railroad, interchange to industry and back again, with a concealed connecting track on one corner to make a loop for display show running. Finally, given the region’s fame 75+ years ago for its clean “ozone” air, resulting in some local resorts and hotels, the STSR has reason to offer mixed train service to lineside communities on its daily switching run. I imagine the STSR to exist in the prosperous postwar years, but before 1960. That time frame allows for modeling the first-generation diesel-electrics and transition-era rolling stock that I now possess.
I have fun imagining the following: The STSR will offer weekday switching service to the line's primary industry, the Blanc Maple Furniture Company — makers of quality maple dining room furniture (named for my grandmother, whose dining room set I now posses). Blanc takes in boxcars of raw wood materials and produces loaded boxcars of furniture and loaded wood chip hoppers of debris. The line will also switch coal hoppers for the Jory C. Sharp municipal electric generating station (named for my high school railroad buddy and electrical genius), pulpwood racks at a line side loading yard, tank cars for a bulk oil distributor, gondolas for a junk yard, and various loads for a handful of team tracks in use along the line. Many of these sidings existed for years on the prototype branch.
As noted above, mixed train service will be offered using a shorty heavyweight combine and coach Patrons interested in one of the lineside resort hotels (including the Elizabeth Manor, named for my wife) can catch the daily Southern Rwy local out of New Orleans in the morning, cross Lake Ponchatrain, and detrain at what on the STSR is known as Johnstown (in real life, Slidell). Then they board the waiting St. Tammany Scenic combine or coach for mixed train passage through Eleanor Springs (Abita Springs) to Carlton (Covington). Passengers offload at the downtown depot while STSR crews switch the nearby generating station, junk yard, and the furniture factory. Motive power for the "Ozone Route" will be first-generation B-B diesel-electric power: currently a Baldwin VO1000 and General Electric 70 tonner are being rebuilt, slated for the roster. I imagine that the St. Tammany Scenic would have just made the transition from steam to diesel, a bit later than its nearby mainline connection: the venerable Southern Railway system, which along with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio is my favorite mainline fallen flag. Occasionally, a loaner locomoitve from the Southern might even make an appearance in STSR mixed train service.
This 1:48 project, my third layout to build, represents my return to O Scale after 20 years in HO. I grew up on the wonderful 1:48 with my father, the late John C. Hawkins, who enjoyed the "king of scales" immensely since his own childhood during WWII. He developed two large 2-rail layouts in his lifetime, over 50 years amassing an impressive collection of custom-built and custom-modified rolling stock and motive power representing most of the Deep South mainlines and short hauls he loved. Later in my childhood, we befriended Gordon Payne. In Gordon we not only found another 2 rail 1:48 guy in southeast Louisiana, we discovered an impeccable craftsman modeler. Together, the three of us enjoyed nearly a decade of operating Gordon's portable O scale sectional layout all across the south at various shows and meets. Those were great years. After my father's death in 2009, I decided it was time to return to O scale and make use of a great many of his models and structures. Those fun train show and swap meet experiences, combined with the fact that I am not in a position to build a permanent in-home pike, led me to consider a sectional layout as the best way to enjoy operation while highlighting the best of our equipment.
Check out the BLOG for regular updates on construction of the layout, motive power, and rolling stock.
Welcome aboard the "The Ozone Route."