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The V&O Story

The V&O Story

by Jeff Junker

Why bother reviewing a book that’s been in print for almost 20 years? Precisely because it HAS been in print for almost 20 years.

Page through any modeling railroading magazine and there’s bound to be at least one story featuring a train layout running motive power and rolling stock of a non-existent railroad of the modelers creation. Chances are good that it can trace its lineage back to the concepts W. Allen McClelland wrote about in The V&O Story.

The book, published by Carsten Publications, details how McClelland created the Virginian & Ohio from the ground up. His railroad has the look, the feel, and the smell of a real railroad. He even refers to it as a miniature railroad, not a model. The key to the book’s longevity is why he did his railroad the way he did it. He standardized rolling stock; he created a “fleet” consist of motive power; he based his paint schemes on influences of the region he modeled.

“In order to create a realistic miniature railroad, one must understand the prototype,” writes McClelland.

And that he did. He visited locations, freight yards, and chased trains. He studied how railroads operated, how they conducted business, and what businesses they were in. Using the prototype, he designed his railroad to be part of a larger transportation system. None of the going around in a circle – – none of the trips to nowhere. His trains needed a purpose, a reason for riding the rails. As he puts it, “The purpose of a railroad is to move stuff to where it has to go.”

He chose to model coal trains through the Appalachians because that’s what interested him.

In his book he offers suggestions on how to approach this:

    • Develop your concept before beginning construction.
    • Make sure the scenery complement the railroad.
    • Structures should fix a geographic region and should match the theme
  • The equipment should provide visual clues as to the era and geographic location.

A preconceived idea I had was that the section on power supplies would be archaic. He used a system designed in the 60’s by General Electric, which allowed for independent operation of locomotive by installing a receiver in it. Hmmm! Sounds like very early Digital Command Control.

McClelland helped create an event horizon in model railroading.

Explains long-time modeler Demetre Argirode, “The V&O was one of the first in “modern” times to model prototype railroading in a non-prototype livery and was heavily covered by the model press. There were others, however. Frank Ellison’s Delta Lines was one of the protean, if not the seminal, prototype freelanced model railways. Like McClelland, Ellison was prototype in all but livery, in 1947! So, you see, the idea is not new. “

“What is new is the interest of the modeling community in prototype freelancing. In Ellison’s time modelers were not as sophisticated or serious as they are today. In those early days most model “pikes” were caricatures rather than serious attempts at prototypical operation. They went from nowhere to nowhere and didn’t have a single industry or interchange track. Trains ran from one end of the board to the other. Such endeavors were typical of the times, however, and that was the focus of the model press. W. Allen McClelland influenced a change in that type of thinking.”