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Tom English’s On30 Railroad Layout

  • Updated
  • 9 min to read

Tom English and his wife Carole are long-time residents of Big Canoe, moving here in 1998. Tom retired from his career as a data network engineer and analyst in 2002.  As with all the other Big Canoe model train hobbyists included in this series, he was exposed to trains as a youngster when he received a Lionel ‘027’ train set at age nine. The ‘027’ refers to the track diameter, that if set up in a circle would create a 27-inch diameter layout, which is too small for modern O-Scale trains. “I didn’t really get into the hobby again until about 25 years ago. Several years later I helped found the Country Roads modular train group,” Tom said.  This group built an HO modular layout that was set up and operated at local train shows for several years.  The group was disbanded some time ago “because most of the guys believed they were getting too old to set up the layout several times a year,” he stated. This appears to be a common problem with the organized model train clubs around the country.

“I selected the On30 scale because a close friend models in this scale and my hands and eyes work well with this size,” said Tom. “I like to do free-lance modeling and scratch building or kit bashing that works well with the On30 scale,” continued Tom. On30 is the same scale (1/48) as O-Scale but uses a narrow gauge track that was typical in mountainous areas. The narrow gauge allows the track to make shorter radius turns than a standard gauge track, which is essential in mountains and valleys.

“I started the layout in 2012 and have been working on it since that time. I added the power station extension about a year ago and would like to extend the main line at some point in the future,” Tom said.  “Model train layouts are never done,” he continued.  “I’ve had some help from a group of North Georgia modelers who have been extremely helpful with all aspects of building a layout. My wife is extremely helpful with colors and scene composition,” said Tom. “I like to run and operate the trains, but I really enjoy researching an idea and then building kits and scenes while improving my modeling skills,” added Tom.

Tom’s layout occupies an entire room in his basement.  At the front of the layout is a small river scene and dock area with a tugboat and a gravel barge with a load of gravel that has just been dumped from waiting hopper cars.  “My layout is set in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky in the mid-1930 to early 1940s era. I wanted to model the coal mining and logging industries that were prevalent in the southeastern Kentucky area where I was born and in southern West Virginia where I was raised,” said Tom.


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Overall view of Tom English’s ON30 railroad layout.

At the far right of the layout is a small grouping of tourist cabins that appear to be fully occupied. These small cabins are typical of the era when roads were unpaved and accommodations were simple.  Several people are canoeing or boating while others are enjoying the view from benches or eating at the covered picnic table.

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Small tourist cabins sit by the side of the small lake.

Downstream from the tourist camp is a scene that was typical throughout the Kentucky and West Virginia mountains in this era: a small still making “White Lightning.” The bootlegger does not appear to be concerned about revenuers since he is taking a nap with his trusty shotgun laying across his lap.

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The local moonshiner dozes while his moonshine brews.

A lumberjack works alongside the tracks to cut up a tree that he has felled.  He is getting his crosscut saw ready to cut the tree into sections while two other crosscut saws lay on the log in front of him. Cutting timber was hard work in the days before gasoline powered chain saws.

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A lumberjack preparing to cut up a tree.

Two logging trains sit on sidings being loaded with logs headed to the sawmill. Lumberjacks work to finish loading logs on the flatbed cars of one train, which has a working caboose with crew quarters at the end. Logging trains in the mountains were usually short because of the often-steep grades and weight of the logs. Narrow gauge engines were built for durability and not for looks and were usually short, with only four or six main driving wheels. “The railroad is named after the Island Creek Coal and Lumber Railroad (ICC&L RR) and is modeled after trains that operated in West Virginia in the early part of the 20th century,” said Tom.

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Lumberjacks load the last of the flatcars at a siding near the logging site.

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Logging trains wait on sidings for their turn to head to the lumber mill.

Around the mountain from the logging operation is a coal mine with several loaded coal hoppers sitting on the siding waiting to be picked up. Coal comes down a chute from the mine further up the mountain into a large storage bin, where it can then be sent down two chutes into the hopper cars.   On the front porch of his weathered cabin a man talks to his friend who is leaning against the well-worn pickup truck.

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A coal mine is located on the side of the mountain with coal hoppers loaded with coal.

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Two men discuss the weather in front of a weathered cabin.

Tom stands beside the track with the town of Jenkins, Ky. behind him. “Train operations are controlled by the DCC controller that I’m holding,” said Tom. “DCC stands for Digital Command Control, which sends a digital signal through the track to the engine.  With this I can control the engine speed and other functions,” he continued.   Beside Tom are two narrow gauge steam locomotives, one of which is connected to a work car and caboose.

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Tom holds one of his DCC controllers while standing in front of the town of Jenkins, Ky.

A young boy pushes his homemade scooter beside the road in front of the church parsonage.  Flowering shrubs in the side yards of the parsonage and church indicate that it may be springtime.   

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The Jenkins church and graveyard are at the edge of town.

In a small town many of the buildings do double-duty. The Jenkins Fire Department and the post office are in the same building with a garage for the only fire truck.  The postmaster is probably a member of the volunteer fire department.

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The Jenkins Post Office occupies the same building as the Fire Department.

The town hardware store handles much more than hardware by providing needs from bait to beer and ammunition to the community.  A store employee helps a customer load his bulky purchase into the back of his stake-bed truck.

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Jenkins Hardware store.

“When building structures for the layout I tried to name some of the buildings for family, and it turned out that the service station kit was appropriately named after my wife’s husband,” said Tom.  Tom’s Service Center looks busy with a car getting gas while a mechanic works under the black coupe. The owner of the blue motorcycle is apparently inside the shop.

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Tom’s Service Center does a thriving business.

“The ‘Stumble In, Stagger Out’ bar is named after a real bar in the area of Kentucky where I was born,” said Tom.  A Model A Roadster is parked beside a 1931 Stutz Bearcat, while their owners are working toward “stumbling out” later in the day. 

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The Stumble In Stagger Out bar is a popular attraction in town.

The last building in Jenkins is Cabbo’s Café, a great place to eat.  “I named the café after my wife Carole’s nickname, but that’s another story,” Tom said. After eating, you can stop by the drug store to pick up your prescription on the way home.   If you need a good wagon, there is one for sale in the lot next to the café.  

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Jenkins Drug Store and Cabbo’s Café are near the edge of town.

A freight train powered by one of the ICC&L RR engines is parked in front of the Jenkins depot. Passengers arrive and depart on the left side while freight is handled on the freight terminal on the right side of the depot. A Central Truck Lines truck is parked next to the depot to pick up freight delivered by the train.

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Engine 799 sits beside the Jenkins train depot.

“The Aracoma Hotel is named after a local Indian Princess,” stated Tom.  Two hotel guests chat on the bench on the front porch while the operator of the Jenkins Gazette newsstand next door waits for a customer to show up.

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The Jenkins newspaper stand sits beside the Aracoma Hotel.

“I added the center extension of the layout in the past couple of years to provide room for additional track and structures.  As the trains enter the new section, they pass Dad’s Garage, which is a small one-person repair and maintenance shop,” said Tom.

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Take your car to Dad’s Garage if you need it repaired.

The new extension viewed from the end, with the Appalachian Power plant at the right and coal hoppers parked on the far side of the plant. A small village is being developed on the other side of this section alongside the track.

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This recent addition to the layout is a section with a coal-fired power plant.

Several stores and offices are being built along the track that leads to the power plant.  Tom even has his own cigar store next door to Big G’s Fish N’ Chips and Big John’s Groceries.  You can purchase milk for 58 cents per gallon and five loaves of bread for $1.00. What a bargain!  The last building is occupied by the Moloco Oil and Land Office if you are interested in buying land.

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Tom’s Cigars and other buildings are recent additions to the layout.

As the trains leave the new section, they pass by an engine house and then the yard where trains are staged. The work train on the left has an interesting engine that looks more like a caboose.  “The flatcar in the middle of this train contain a steam-powered logging skidder, which has a winch used to pull large logs from where they are cut to a central staging area,” Tom stated.

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Several cars and IC&LRR engines are parked in the yards.

At the end of the yards is a turntable that is used to rotate engines so they can move into one of the two engine houses for maintenance and repair out of the weather. The turntable does not have to be large because the narrow gauge engines are short.

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An engine turntable with two engine houses is located at the end of the rail yard.


“Besides coal, the other large industry in the mountain area was logging and this required a local sawmill.  The sawmill needed to be located by the railroad for delivery of logs and hauling the rough-sawn lumber to market,” said Tom. Logs are loaded at the near end of the mill and exit as rough boards on the other end.  A stack of lumber has been loaded on one of the flatcars while other boards are stacked at the end of the mill. 

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Just beyond the train yard is the lumber sawmill.

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The sawmill operator watches as a log is cut into lumber.

The police department in Jenkins keeps a close watch on the roads, as one speeding citizen is finding out after being stopped by the cops. The driver doesn’t look too happy as the cop reaches for his ticket book.

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The Jenkins Police Department regularly patrols the local roads.

The ICC&L railroad also hauls gravel from a mountain quarry to the river docks for transport by barge to destinations up or down river. Four gravel hoppers are lined along the dock as one of the hoppers has just completed unloading its cargo into the barge.

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Gravel from a mountain quarry is unloaded into barges.

Since we live in the mountains there is bound to be a bear around, and Tom has one on the layout above the track. The bear is just coming out of his cave in the rocks and wondering whether it is really wake up time.

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Momma bear is emerging from her cave after a long winter’s nap.

When asked about his future, Tom replied “I want to add more scenery and trees, more detailing and lighting and, of course, you never have enough engines.”

We thank Tom for sharing his On30 model railroad with us.

Click on the video below to see Tom’s railroad in action.

This article concludes the series on Big Canoe model train layouts.  If you are a model train enthusiast and have a layout in your home and would like to be included in a future article, please contact Barbara Schneider at   If you are interested in joining a Big Canoe model train club, please contact the author at We already have a few potential members from these articles willing to help form a club.

Model trains are just one of the many hobbies of Big Canoe residents, as evidenced by the long list of clubs and organizations in Big Canoe. As the old saying goes “Thar’s something going on in them thar hills,” with our residents involved in all kinds of hobbies.  If you have a hobby and would like to see it featured in Smoke Signals, please contact Barbara Schneider at the above address.

Big Canoe's Tom English has constructed an On30 scale model railroad representative of the Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia areas where he was born and raised.