Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Visit to Seth Gartner's Layout

As Lionel Strang often says, the internet was created so model railroaders can get together and this past week, that's proven to be true. On my way down to South Carolina to visit family, I posted on a few model railroad Facebook sites that I wanted to know what there was to see in the area. Despite my initial flub of saying I was visiting the "Charlotte, SC" area (there is no "Charlotte" in SC), Lionel texted me right away asking if I wanted Seth Gartner's number. And from that initial - and I should note very fast - contact, I was able to arrange a visit to Seth's beautiful layout.

Although I've heard him on the AML and Model Rail Radio podcasts, I'd never met Seth in person. But podcasts tend to remove those "first date jitters" and I felt like I knew Seth from the moment he came to the door and we shook hands. Of course, his great hospitality and friendliness would have done that even without the podcasts.

Seth models an area in Ohio based on where he grew up and he's done an impressive job of capturing the look and feel of the prototype - and has even included a lot of actual prototype elements, including a scratchbuilt model of the yardmaster's office where he used to visit when he was younger. The town of Minerva itself, while of course having to be selectively compressed, includes all the major elements and "spotting features" of the area, including the factory his grandfather started and an interesting use of a roundhouse. But more on that later.

You don't typically think of Ohio being coal country, but true Buckeyes know that Ohio has a rich history of coal mining. And, despite a steep decline in the industry, Ohio still ranks 10th out of 26 coal-producing states even today. Consequently, Seth's layout includes a lot of coal mines along the line. In keeping with the prototype, many of these are strip mines (underground mining is more typical in WVa, for example) and he's used a bit of modeler's license to include more mines than might have been active during his 1960s timeframe. But the whole presentation is very effective - and, frankly, I wouldn't have known that coal wasn't still king in 1960s Ohio if he hadn't pointed it out.

In fact, the entire layout is incredibly effective, with almost all (guessing 80-90%) of the scenery done. He focuses primarily on the NYC, but the P&WV and other roads make an appearance through interchange - either actual/active, or by representation. It's a double-decked layout, but there's no helix. Seth has very cleverly developed a way to get from one level to the other via a long, folded back-and-forth "no-lix" that allows operators to see their trains occasionally in scenes along the way between the two levels.

While the towns along the line are cool - and provide the bread & butter of TT&TO operation - the highlight of the layout, for me anyway, was his modeling of the steel industry at one end of the layout at the top level. You see it on the left when you get to the bottom of the stairs and it is truly impressive.

But enough of my ramblings. Pictures are worth a thousand words and, frankly, you'll appreciate what Seth has accomplished far more through photos than through my inadequate descriptions. They don't do full justice to the level of his modeling (I'm no Lou Sassi), but hopefully this selection of views will give you just a taste of what it's like to be in Ohio coal country during the 1960s.

The first hint of things to come - the huge steel making complex at the bottom of the stairs.

Overview of Minerva, OH rail yard c. 1960s

A typical - and wonderfully modeled - farm scene along the line.

Minverva residential area, including the station.

Steam is long gone by the 1960s, so the roundhouse is no longer used for engines. True to the prototype, a local manufacturing firm needed the overhead crane and just added its factory to the existing structure. IIRC, they made transmissions for the auto industry.

Here's one of the places Seth hung out as a youngster - the Minerva, OH yard office, faithfully reproduced here.

Another view of Minerva, looking up the street from the station. I took note of how he did the beautiful sidewalks and curbing since I'll need some of that on my layout soon.

The steel mill is located in St. Clairsville on the deck above Minerva. This - and other - shots of the complex really don't do it justice, but hopefully you'll get a sense of what Seth has done. He started with Walters components, but didn't stop there - scratchbuilding and kit-mingling components until he got what he wanted.

Another closeup view - and with a particularly effective use of a mirror. Can you spot it?

One of the scenes along the line. Seth used "leftover" overhead crane parts to model another industry. Despite the main building being a "flat" it still conveys the look and feel of a large company.

I love these little farm/residential scenes that he's included - perhaps because similar scenes will make up a lot of the ROW scenery on the Valley Line. Just getting some inspiration - and tips for future use!

One of the many coal mines along the way. But did you notice the little electric railway on the upper level - complete with catenary? Yes, that existed on the prototype as well. And you can see waaaaaay back in the distance a trestle that the electric line uses to get across the valley. As with all photos on this site, you can click on the image for a larger view.

One of the coolest things about Seth's layout - and not often modeled - is the "passage of time." Abandoned track, old roads, and here - an old abandoned mine, filled with water. Complete with an old car that some locals pushed over the cliff.

Another mine - but this one with a very interesting use of old hoppers as a retaining wall. Like so many of the scenes on the layout, Seth got this idea from the prototype.

Showing not only the passage of time, but another industry in the region he models, Seth included these abandoned brick kilns.

You could fit this little coal loader in just about any space on your layout.

I love scenes "along the line" like this that evoke a simpler time. And, speaking of time, note the footings that used to support a water tank during the steam era. The tank is long gone by the 1960s, but the foundation remains.

Another farm scene - very effectively modeled, despite being right up against the backdrop. This particular farm, owned by an African American family, marks the beginning of the grade where you have to be sure you have enough speed to get you up the hill. That's exactly how the prototype operators marked the spot, so Seth included it on the layout as well.

Just a quick example not only of some cool trackwork, but of how so many railroads in Ohio crossed and interchanged with each other. This location is just outside Minerva, OH and shows three (IIRC) different railroads.

Thanks again so much to Seth for being willing to let me visit him and his great layout on such short notice. And he even remembered the dime for scale (AML listeners will get the reference ;^) Already looking forward to my next visit!

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