More Manheim because it’s May?

“because it’s May?” I don’t know. As blog titles go it sounded viable when I wrote it out. Too late now.

Seth Eberly photo used with permission

I wouldn’t even know about the Manheim Industrial Railroad if it hadn’t been for Jack Hill’s blog post about it (read that post here). A couple times since the railroad has shown up in other places and I believe it is still operating today. Last year I published a quick post on the railway to link some images I had found. Seasons have changed but the little railway is still just under two miles long, still only has one turnout, still only moves propane for Ferrellgas in Manheim, Pennsylvania. I friggin love this railroad. I think about modelling it probably more than any other. There, I said it.

When I first saw the Seth Eberly photo I opened with I was already charged with Jack Hill’s summary of the railroad’s operations. Building on what made it into the kind of railroad we both know I find attractive (“one car at a time”) was that it also offered something that’s unique to modern railroading and the Eberly photo summarizes the scene beautifully. Where industrial land might have been overgrown those kinds of properties in more recent times are often reasonably well manicured. Just look at that scene–it’s like a flat sheet of styrofoam, dusted with ground foam almost all the way up to the edge of that cork roadbed. I’m not a fan of “Supertrees” but if ever there was going to be a place where they really look good it’s the backdrop for this scene. A model could be just that simple. Also, because of that same simplicity, editing it into the frame of a model railroad is made easier because that open view invites you to move closer to the track and get closer to the trains.

The railway’s connection to Norfolk Southern is to the left of where those two photos are taken and you can explore around the site by clicking on this link to Google:

  • It looks like Ferrellgas can unload three cars at a time if I understand how the pipework is designed and based on what I see in the aerial photo
  • There’s about two more car lengths inside their fence so maybe five cars total “inside the fence”?
  • When the railroad opened they used a Trackmobile, Eberly’s photo shows a 44 tonner, today it’s probably still that East Penn B30-7 #7874

Because the aerial photos are so crisp and because building model track is so much fun you have some interesting data to study:

  • Looks like a sunny day in the photos so the same aerial imagery could be used to determine grass and ballast colours
  • I think you could even estimate time placement from the aerial photos

Those aerials are so crisp you can import them into CAD software and draw scale model track right overtop the drawing. I’ve done this a number of times and, this afternoon, I did it again using Templot.

  • Stretching a turnout template over the aerial photo shows that a #9 frog works very closely and there’s a very slight curve in the turnout
  • In N scale there’s about 1.75″ between the siding and mainline and in HO there’s about 2.75″
  • That track sure looks straight but in carefully studying it today it really is a series of gentle tangents which would be rewarding to include.

I didn’t adjust the tie spacing from Templot but did export N and HO scale versions of the plan, focussed on Ferrellgas directly as PDF files and you can look at them here:

I’m in no rush to move on from the Victoria project I’m currently working on. As a study it offers a kind of insight and educational opportunity I wasn’t able to tap into before and I want to keep learning from it. Everything I do after this will benefit from this experience. We’re anticipating some possible change in our lives in the near future so I’m not sure what Victoria’s long range plan is and I’m reluctant to start over–frankly I don’t have the emotional strength to right now. That said, I’ve been drawing and redrawing layouts based on Manheim for too long and “what’s next” will likely operationalize one of these plans. I don’t know what that will look like or any of its details but I do want to explore the layout further, so when this new opportunity catalyzes I’m ready.

This layout “needs” one engine and maybe a dozen tank cars. Why not collect a couple models in different scales to see what I enjoy working on? I’ve never really owned many “modern” train cars so this will be fun. It’s been a long time since a model of these types of cars has been available in O, HO, or N so this is a good time to be patient.

I should build a study model of the turnout and use this as a platform to evaluate options for the turnout mechanism and details.

Despite the amount of time I spend rereading Jack Hill’s blog post or looking over the few photos I’ve found of this railway I haven’t written about it much. I find rereading my own words helpful, so as an aid for future Chris, I’ve opened a new cateogry on the blog and I’ll gather all these posts under into this: Manheim Industrial Railroad.

As connected as I feel with this railroad my model wouldn’t need as literal a representation and would be equally good moved into Canada and existing in a parallel universe. My memories of railroading on Prince Edward Island are another connection to Manheim because the railroad I am familiar with in Charlottetown was really just about exactly the same thing. Where at Manheim, Norfolk Southern drops ten or a dozen propane cars I remember how CN would bring propane into Charlottetown in equal blocks. It might be just as fun to imagine a Canadian Manheim Industrial Railroad that uses a secondhand RSC14, or moved into the 2000’s a rented CN GP40 like Krista and my favourite 9590. How the model relates the prototype is at once important so the work is respectful but that the model exists would provide enough connection that it need not be exacting.

Speaking of Canadian options, Eric Gagnon has written about similar facilities here in Canada–check out this post on his blog:

Categories: How I think, Manheim Industrial Railroad

Tags: , , , ,

6 replies

  1. If it was coal-fired, I think I could turn a phrase about a Manheim Steam Roller train.

    If you happen to see that ‘Conductor tells railfan to stop filming, first amendment’ video on Youtube, forget the drama but a NS SD40-2 doing street-running with lots of horn was pretty cool.

    And I’d probably get arrested if I got that close to the Gibson Gas plant these days. The time was right!
    Thanks for the tip o’ the hat, Chris!

    • Somewhere in the process of how things are recycled oil, coal, and natural gas are all part of the process right? So, we’re not so far from the Manheim Steam Roller idea after all.

      Now I’m tempted to go look at that street running video. Wow

      Thanks for the Canadian place for Manheim. I enjoy rereading your posts on that local example and it was great rereading it again.


  2. Whatever happened to Jack Hill’s blog? A brilliant read that suddenly stopped. I tried searching in case it had restarted in another guise but no luck.

  3. Hi Chris,

    Nice to see Manheim getting some love! Switching this facility was interesting because (1) you had different commodities (propane and butane) going to specific spots; (2) empties needed to be flipped to the far side of the loads for NS to pick up (limited headroom to work with here!); and (3) busy Doe Run Road did not have flashers, thus every move needed to be flagged across. Sometimes you’d have to temporarily cut the crossing for a few minutes to let traffic through.

    We’d pick up paperwork from the business office in the aerial photo. The Ferrellgas folks were/are very nice people.

    Typically the East Penn crew who worked the nearby Lancaster Northern would taxi over and switch Manheim either before or after running the turn to Reading, Pennsylvania.

    • Hello. Thank you for the comment and extra information!

      “propane and butane” I did not realise they distributed both from this facility. I was thinking it was propane only. Looking at the aerial photo it doesn’t look like they have room to unload any more than the three car spots so I’m guessing unlikely they could use a portable unloading station elsewhere on the property. Because this is all new to me are the connections on a tank car for butane different from those on a propane car and then are those three sports dedicated to each type of fuel? Or is it more a case of Ferrellgas would provide direction on which fuel should go to which spot on that particular day to coordinate their plan.

      I assume that because they could receive more than one type of fuel this also means that there could be times where what’s being shipped isn’t coordinating perfectly and within that cut of cars NS drops off there could be weird combinations. In the 10 car example there’s probably a hierarchy that would be cycled through to unload all ten cars. This program would be complicated if, within that order, they need a mix of cars on the three spots/stations in an order that isn’t the same as NS dropped off.

      In a Facebook post, in the East Penn group, I saw notes from a chase that indicated that the railroad and NS were coordinating across two legs of the wye (their interchange) where empty cars are dropped on the western leg and loads are received on the eastern leg. That must make things simpler when more cars are received than can be processed in a day.

      In studying the photos I can find and the aerial imagery from Bing and Google some details I can’t make out:
      -I can’t see a switchstand for the actual Ferrellgas siding though I can see where it should be so I’m assuming what’s there is a ground throw?
      -I can’t see a derail on either the Ferrellgas siding or on the track between the switch and Doe Run Road so I assume that cars for Ferrellgas are tied down in only these three locations: either leg of the wye or within the Ferrellgas fence?

      Thank you so much for the comment and also the introduction to this railway. As confessed, I spend a lot of time daydreaming how to translate this into a model in our home and to do it right. I see, in this, something genuinely good to operate on that I’m looking forward to and its wonderful to have this time now to study the details of how it should be represented. The volume of details to be processed are so few that this is itself a wonderful opportunity to indulge in a deep dive on each question and really learn something about this prototype.

      I’ve never modelled “modern” railroading before but spend a lot of time trackside here in Halifax. I love how a prototype like Manheim offers something accessible where it’s almost on a human level and clear not just why the railroad exists and but also how personal its life is.

      Thank you again for your notes. I can’t say that enough.


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