Coal-fired curiousity

This is another of those posts I’m writing for myself as much to share.

As fuel for my idea of a layout focused on unloading cars (as I’ve been discussing in the most recent posts) I started to get a bit of a profile of the “ideal” subject. I’m not looking for a particular subject but to see enough photos and learn enough to start to form a composite impression of what this subject might look like. For example: In the back of my mind I was forming this whole layout concept around the operation that was the backbone of the Kennebec Central Railroad for almost its entire existence:

  • Several times a year a barge-load of coal arrives at the KCRR’s coal dock;
  • Barge should be unloaded quickly;
  • No provision to store coal at barge unloading point;
  • Railroad used to move the coal, four cars at a time, from the unload point to the Veterans Home in Togus, Maine;
  • There is an unloading trestle at Togus;
  • Cars are fed, one at a time, up the unloading trestle where they are unloaded;
  • Engine stays with car and “waits” while car is unloaded;
  • Once entire train is unloaded the process repeats itself until all coal has been moved from the barge to Togus.

When I first discovered the Kennebec Central in the pages of Linwood Moody’s book, over twenty years ago, I was mesmerized. I instantly connected with the idea of this five mile long railroad created to serve those who found a life at Togus. While the imagery of the KCRR’s trains traveling the line, back-and-forth, was easy to connect with it was the coal process that I struggled with. Remember, of course, that at the time I was stuck on the idea of delivering the car and not waiting for it to be unloaded. I equated the style of operations at Togus with a more toy-like function you’d find in an animated Lionel Trains accessory. In my quest to be taken seriously as a model railroader I wanted nothing to do with the spectacle of a Lionel-like coal trestle. Though my interest in the KCRR never waned it frustrated me that I couldn’t reconcile what was actually happening with a convention I’d developed…until I started to understand the potential in this as an operating plan that could serve a small layout quite well and got over my silly definitions of “right” and “wrong”. Once I started to better understand the potential in the KCRR example, I wanted to know if what happened at Togus happened at other places. Like any good nerd, off to I went to start searching.

My initial searches were for coal-fired power plants. The results featured massive operations way beyond the scale of what I wanted or needed for the small layout concept I was considering. The KCRR again came to my rescue in reminding me that the KCRR served a hospital. To that I remembered Phil Parker’s layout based on a very similar operation serving the Hellingley Hospital Railway (by the way, check out some video featuring Phil’s layout on Youtube – click HERE). I narrowed my searches to focus on universities, colleges, and hospitals that were served by coal-fired power plants. From this point forward, I started to find results that were getting very close to what I think I’m looking for. To bookmark these, I started this post. Here’s the summary of the best I’ve found so far:

Things started looking positive when I found a photo on the website. Atlantarails describes their photo, on the website, as:

Tight Squeeze The sound of 567’s fill the air as these veteran EMD’s shove four cars up the steep inclined spur to the UGA heating plant which runs on the front lawn of one of the University’s buildings.

Back to Google and I found this image on the Online Athens website which shows the University’s coal pile:

This type of coal yard is just about perfect for the small layout idea that I’m currently fooling around with. The coal trestle itself doesn’t look to be more than one car long. The piles of coal around the trestle look like much more than one car can deliver at one time and I imagine that to fill this yard an operation not unlike the KCRR’s must happen. Further to the above image, I noticed that there was a link on the photo that led to more photos showing trains serving the University’s plant. Check them out here:

Onward I kept searching looking for similar photos and this evening I found some of the University of Michigan. Check out this beautiful GE 45 tonner that was owned by UM and would have been used to shove coal hoppers into their plant:

More just finding photos of the UM operation, the University’s own website had this terrific web page discussing the University’s railroad (it’s rich and it’s personal):

For now I like that I’ve developed a better understanding of a favourite railroad. I’m really amused with the potential this style of operation and its potential for a small model railway. Reflecting on the UM story above, I quite like the full-circle feeling I get, for now: it was Linwood Moody’s very personal style that probably made the KCRR so compelling in the first place and it was an equally inviting story that I’m closing this idea with (for now, but there’s much more here to explore).

The Maine Two Foot FAQ is a terrific website and really is the singular “go to” place for information on Maine narrow gauge railroading. The site includes a terrific collection of track maps, including ones to illustrate the KCRR:

Re-reading this post, I see an unintended pun I opened this post with. That’s neat.

As always, thank you for following along and reading this far. I really appreciate it. Thank you.



  1. Now THIS is a cool idea. I love that little UGA coal “dock” and the steep grade limiting them to two cars at a time.

    1. Yup, that dock was exactly the style of operaton I was looking for. Now to see if I can find more, in a similarly modern context. Wouldn’t a few in Canada be neat to find?


      1. Me too?

        Steve Hunter suggested the example of the construction site from the building of the Trent Canal at Trenton, Ontario. A photo he found showed a neat small yard by a set of locks. You could see some small steam engines moving construction materials around.

        Altogether a scene rich with fine 19th century industrial action and one I find rather appealing.

        I’ll keep diving.


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