The Louisiana Eastern Railroad

In a recent post, A Mini-Reunion at Covington, I had mentioned visiting Matt Hardey’s Louisiana Eastern Railroad layout.  Well, I didn’t get that exactly right.  Matt started his dream with the New Orleans Great Northern Railroad.  The prototype eventually was acquired by the Gulf, Mobile and Northern, which itself later became the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  Matt has come up with several operating schemes for his layout.  By using equipment and such for different eras, he can operate the road as the NOGN, or a later era of the GM&O.  Another variant is a “what if” scenario, running steam powered Louisiana Eastern trains over the GM&O via trackage rights in the Covington, Louisiana area during the early 1950s.  Matt has a collection of LE rolling stock, which is what I was fixated on during my visit.

Most of the readers of my ramblings are from this area and are likely to be familiar with the Louisiana Eastern Railroad.  However a few of you may be scratching your head and thinking “never heard of it”.  The Louisiana Eastern was the vision of Paulsen Spence.  An excellent piece about Mr. Spence and the Louisiana Eastern has been written by noted author and local historian Louis Saillard, and can be found here on Chris Palmieri’s website.  I’ll touch on a few of the highlights of the LE gleaned from Louis’ treatise here.

Born in Baton Rouge, Mr. Spence had made his fortune with his Spence Engineering Company and his considerable number of patents for various steam regulating valves.  Eventually he turned his interest to the sand and gravel business, starting a gravel operation in the late 1940s.  He utilized steam locomotives (that he had recently acquired) to move the cars of gravel from the pit to the interchange with the nearby Illinois Central.  The Comite Southern Railroad was born.  In 1950 Mr. Spence acquired a larger gravel pit operation a short distance away.  Included with that sale was the one mile Gulf & Eastern Railroad.  In late 1950 the Louisiana Eastern Railroad was chartered and that’s where the dream began.

Now, the gravel business was good for Mr. Spence, with well over 200 cars of commodity eventually emerging from the pits each week.  But he had a larger vision.  Mr. Spence had been purchasing recently retired steamers from various roads beginning in the mid 1940s and throughout the 1950s, and he eventually had about three dozen of the breed on the property.  The reason for these purchases?  Mr. Spence had conceived the idea of creating a railroad that would run from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Pearl River, Louisiana near the Mississippi border, a distance of nearly 100 miles.  In Baton Rouge, he would have access to the Illinois Central, the Kansas City Southern and the Missouri Pacific.  Near Pearl River he would interchange with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio and the Southern Railway.  With these connections he could effectively create a bypass around the rail traffic congestion in New Orleans.  The steamers were the power for that railroad.  Buying these locomotives at bargain basement prices just made good business sense to Mr. Spence.

Grand plans to be sure, but things came to an abrupt halt in late 1961 when Mr. Spence died suddenly from a heart attack while on a business trip to New York.  The dream was dead.  Everything was sold off and most of the steamers were soon scrapped.  I believe four of the locomotives survived and can be found in various parts of the country.  One of the most interesting locomotives was one of several 4-4-0 types that Mr. Spence had acquired.  Locomotive No. 98 was purchased new by the Mississippi Central Railroad in 1909 and eventually sold to Mr. Spence in 1946.  She still survives and is in operation on the Wilmington & Western Railroad, where she still carries her number of 98.  There are a number of YouTube videos showing her in service; see her during the Wilmington & Western’s Springtime Steam Spectacular in 2014.

A few other links for information about the Louisiana Eastern can be found at the HawkinsRails website, and on Wikipedia.  But if you want the very interesting and detailed story, be sure to read Louis’ piece linked to above.

-Jack

A Mini-Reunion at Covington

This week has been one of several social gatherings for me.  It began last Wednesday when Wayne Robichaux, “Tomcat” Kelly and I drove over to Covington, Louisiana to spend the day touring several layouts.  The three of us are former operators of the late Lou Schultz’s Alleghany Subdivision of the C&O Railroad.  Our hosts were also members of that same operating group, so this was not only to be a series of layout tours, but also a “mini-reunion” of sorts.

We motored over to Covington during a steady rainfall, but that didn’t dampen our spirits.  We arrived at the first layout, the Southern Railway’s “Rathole”, under construction by Walter Rieger.  Also there were our other hosts, Matt Hardey, Mike Walsdorf and Sam Urrate, and the layout tour commenced.  Walter has essentially completed the first third of his layout, and is now hard at work doing benchwork and laying track on the remainder.  The bulk of the layout is a two level mushroom design, with a third level for staging.  The focus will be on hot and heavy freights running on a fully CTC controlled mainline.  One must see the completed section of this layout to appreciate Walter’s attention to detail, and the completeness and authenticity of the design.  I’ll be following it’s construction over the next several years.

We broke for lunch after touring Walter’s layout, heading over to Bud’s Broiler for one of their famous burgers grilled over a real charcoal pit.  I was especially pleased with this selection of eatery, as I grew up a few blocks from the original Bud’s Broiler on City Park Avenue in New Orleans.  I was a regular patron of the establishment back in the 60s (and which is still in operation).

After lunch we headed over to Matt’s rendition of the Louisiana Eastern Railroad.  Matt had recently completed grafting a beautiful section of a layout that he had acquired onto the peninsula of his layout.  And he has done a masterful job of integrating it into his original layout.  Had he not told me what he’d done, I would have thought it had always been there.  Matt really enjoys building very detailed structures with interiors, and I enjoyed studying them, continually finding more and more to see.

And last we visited Mike’s L&N Railroad.  Mike has an attic layout, and that thing has one of the longest runs I believe I’ve ever seen on an HO layout.  The layout goes around the four walls of the room, and into a long U-shaped peninsula in the center.  But get this . . . it has three levels!  The room is over 50′ in length, and while I don’t recall its width, it is wide enough that Mike has four foot (and greater) aisles through most of the layout.  He says it takes about an hour for a train to traverse the entire line!  He is relatively close to completion on the trackwork, and scenery already has a good start.  The layout will feature both CTC and some APB signaling, and should be quite interesting to operate.

I believe all three of these layouts will have good operations when the time comes, and that can’t be too soon.  I really miss the operations we had at Lou’s, and I’m hoping I’ll be invited over to run on these pikes someday.  The tours were excellent and I’m glad we made the trip to see them.

Late that afternoon we departed Covington and then made a stop in Hammond just to see if anything was running on the CN line there.  Our timing was impeccable.  We arrived just in time to see a southbound freight roaring by, headed by a couple of KCS units . . . an unusual sighting.  And a few minutes later, the southbound local came charging though town hot on the tail of the first train.

Upon arriving back in Denham Springs (about 8:30 pm), Tomcat decided to call it a day.  Wayne and I headed over to the Lagniappe Restaurant near my home for a late supper.  A great day, indeed!

But that wasn’t the end of the week.  Today, Friday, Syd Dann dropped by my house for a visit.  I gave him an update tour of the Louisiana Central, and he then went to his vehicle and labored to carry a large grip into the train room.  Inside was his latest acquisition, an O scale 2-6-6-6 Allegheny!  Man, that was one massive locomotive (even as a model).  After our show-and-tell, we headed up Highway 16 to Watson’s Pizza Place, where I ordered one of their famous Watson Supreme pizzas.  I really love that pizza!  Naturally, my eyes were larger than my stomach, so I’ll be chowing down on the balance of my Supreme for lunch tomorrow.  No problem, there.biggrinAnd the week still has another day left.  In the morning I’ll be attending the weekly ROMEO breakfast with some railroad friends at the Warehouse Restaurant over in Baton Rouge.  I know I’ll have gained five pounds this week by the time I finish it.

But what a delightful week it has been.

-Jack

Side Stepping Burn-out, Part Deaux

I have to confess, I really haven’t felt much like working on the layout for a couple of weeks now.  Sure, I’ve been heading out to the layout room most each day, but I really haven’t been very productive . . . mostly looking for “low hanging fruit” to work on.  I reconditioned a bunch of old Tortoise switch motors.  And I transferred a sound decoder and speaker from a “basket case” Bachmann modern 4-4-0 to another similar model I have that is running and intact.  Another small project completed.  And I spent a day checking out my newly repaired digital camera.  But none of this was advancing the state of the layout itself.

The last two weekends have featured back-to-back NRHS* Chapter banquets, one in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and the other in Hammond, Louisiana.  I attended both and thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of each day.  The journeys were good, the meals were good, the presentations at both were excellent, and most importantly, I really enjoyed the company of fellow modelers, railfans and historians.  Today was the Hammond event, and afterward Ron Findley and I headed over to the train depot to hopefully catch a few trains.  Traffic was a bit slow, so we decided to just stroll down Cate Street (along the track) and I started photographing the wonderful old buildings along that street.  I guess Ron and I really got caught up into it, as we ended up strolling to the end of the business district, then started down Thomas Street where we repeated our photographic endeavors.  And then there was Oak Street, and finally, Church Street.  I believe I ended up with several hundred images, and I totally enjoyed our little foray.  We eventually found our way back to the depot, where I noticed that there was quite a bit a material staged along the tracks and maintenance-of-way area.  There was a crane parked on a spur, and one of those neat (Difco?) side dump ballast cars.  Lots of rail, ties, ballast, spikes, tie plates and more.  I suspect that this was material left over from the recent trestle repairs down at the Bonnet Carre Spillway. For those of you who are unaware, the CN experienced a major fire there a couple weeks ago that took out an entire span of trestle between two concrete fire breaks.

But back to my original confession above, I have been going “hot and heavy” on the layout construction for over a year now.  You long time readers may remember I went through an intense period of burn-out during my second year of construction and got very little accomplished, relatively speaking, as a result.  I even wrote a post about it, Side-Stepping Burn Out.  When I returned to serious construction a few months later, I knew I would have to change my work habits to help avoid this problem in the future.  In large part, I’ve done better because I will work on something -say, trackwork- for several weeks, then I’ll switch off to something else; benchwork, electrical work, workshop projects, just about anything to break up the repetition and boredom that sometimes occurs when building a relatively large layout (mostly single handedly).  But the burn-out symptoms have been rearing their ugly head again for some time now.  And I’ve simply backed off from what I’ve been doing.  I’m feeling a bit better about things now, especially after these two great Saturdays, and I suspect in another week or so that I’ll be raring to get after it again.  To be sure, I continually feel some guilt for letting this time pass without “real” production, but I’ve told myself that this is after all, a hobby.  And if I’m not happy doing it, then it ain’t a hobby!

So not to worry, the Louisiana Central will continue to see heavy construction, albeit with just a short delay.

Hmmm, now I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to fit those neat city buildings in over at Willis.

-Jack

*National Railway Historical Society

Tracing the Louisiana Central

This past Friday Wayne Robichaux and I took another field trip. This excursion was a repeat of an earlier trip in which we had “followed” the Louisiana Central from it’s beginnings near the east bank of the Mississippi River, to it’s eastern terminus at Bude, Mississippi.  That trip was made in the dead of winter so that we would be able to see better into the terrain.  Friday’s trip found the landscape in full summer greenery.  While it was considerably more difficult to see beyond the edge of the road in places, the look is more akin to the way the modeled scenery will look as I will be placing the time period in the summer.

We were able to precisely discern several of the locations where I’d taken photographs several years ago.  However several other scenes I’d previously photographed were hard to identify this go-around due to the extensive foliage and because of the passage of time.  I re-shot many of the scenes as a comparison, but didn’t discover anything “new”.  While there are way too many photos to post here, you can see the original collection on the website.

We broke off late in the afternoon and headed over to McComb, where we caught the northbound Amtrak train, with a northbound CN freight hot on his heels.  As most of you know, a local railroad museum makes its home in the depot at McComb.  Outside, a former Illinois Central Mountain steam locomotive, along with a few cars, are on display under a shelter roof.  We were pleased to see that an extension of the train shelter is well under construction.  This will place the recently acquired passenger cars on display under shelter as well.  After checking things out, we drove south on Highway 51 to Hammond where we caught one additional train before heading back west to home.  It was an enjoyable day!

Progress on the layout was a bit light this past weekend, but I did manage to assemble a few more car kits.  I also painted a new rack I’m making that will hold Dremel bits.  Oh, and I finally got started on those code 70 turnout DCC modifications that I’ve talked about several times in the past.  I’ve got a pair ready for installation on the layout now.  If anyone shows any interest, I’ll have to take a few photos showing what I’ve done with them.

-Jack

Rained Out

Yesterday Ron Findley and I joined a couple friends from Covington for a get-together at Tom Davidson’s home over in Hammond.  As many of you already know, Tom is a vast sea of knowledge about things railroad in southeastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi, especially when it comes to the Illinois Central.  Tom did a nice presentation on the railroad history in the greater Hammond area.  Of particular interest was the information presented regarding the strawberry shipments made from what was once known as “The Strawberry Capital of the World”.

Afterwards we had planned to shoot photos of several small industries and businesses around Hammond, but unfortunately the rains commenced.  Ron and I hung around for several hours, but it eventually sank in that this was not just a thundershower.  We relented and headed home.  We’ll simply return on a sunny day in the near future to complete our mission.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had started constructing a few easy car kits.  I’ve continued on that and now have a nice train full of new rolling stock added to the active roster.  I’m really enjoying this and I plan to continue assembling at least a few kits each month now.

A Group of New Cars Another Group of New Cars

As stated earlier, I won’t be detailing or weathering any of these cars initially . . . that can come later once the layout is operational.  However these cars are equipped with Kadee couplers and metal wheelsets.  Everything has been checked, adjusted and lubed so that these cars are ready for service.

I’ve also done a little more work on the assembly of the road bridge that I also mentioned earlier.  I’m assembling it in place so that it hopefully will fit the spot well when scenery work is started.  I’ll post a photo in the future once it’s completed and painted.

-Jack

The Field Trip Bonus

Wayne Robichaux accompanied me for part of my field trip last weekend.  We decided to head north up Hwy. 51 for a look at things between Hammond and Tangipahoa, Louisiana.  While we didn’t notice any older trestles or bridges to photograph, we did come across this old abandoned fuel oil dealership located a bit south of Amite.  This caught my eye as I plan to have a couple of these facilities on my new layout, one each at Monterey and Willis.

I took quite a few photos around the premises and thought I’d share a few of them here.

Here’s the overall view looking south east at the facility.  That’s a bi-level platform on the front of the building.  The CN mainline is about 25 feet behind my right shoulder.Fuel Oil Dealer - Looking Southeast

And looking east we see the loading shed for the trucks.  That’s the main pump house at right.  Note the small tank end in the distance.  This tank was separated from the three main tanks.Fuel Oil Dealer - Loading Shed

The loading shed detail:  the piping from each of the tanks rises next to the platform.  Each has a flow meter on it, then a hose and nozzle for filling the delivery trucks.  Note the supports for the missing signage at the roof ridge.Fuel Oil Dealer Shed Close-up

And finally, an overall view looking north east:  Visible here is the concrete dam built around the tank farm to contain any spillage.Fuel Oil Dealer Looking Northeast

This will aid tremendously in arranging at least one of my facilities.  Since the pumps and piping were still in place, I was able to discern the literal “flow” of the business.  My theory is that if you want to model a business or industry convincingly, you must understand the process or the flow of the business so that you can logically place the structure(s) and supporting elements.

As an added bonus to the day, we had six trains pass by while we were trackside (all duly recorded on silicon).  Taking a break from layout construction to do a little railfanning and research was what I needed.

-Jack

A Field Trip

Most of my readers are aware of the Canadian National (former Illinois Central) line that runs east from Baton Rouge to the connection with the north-south mainline in Hammond.  This line has been under an upgrade project for some time now, with lots of tie replacement, plenty of new ballast, and most significantly, the replacement of all the small wooden bridges and trestles to concrete and steel structures.  I had made a note to myself some time ago that I needed to photograph some of the old wooden trestles before they were demolished.  On a recent trip over to Hammond, I had driven down Hwy. 190 which parallels the line for much of it’s length.  I was shocked that only about a half dozen wooden structures remained, and those were grouped in a rather small area just west of Livingston.

So, this past weekend I grabbed the camera and set out to document these last few hold-outs while they still exist.  My aim was to not only document the structure, but to take some close up shots that I could use for detailing and creosoting (painting) these same structures on my own layout.  Here are a couple samples from the 60 or so images that I grabbed.

This is typical of the trestles left, a few are a bit shorter:CN Trestle

And a close-up view of a couple bents:CN Trestle Detail

This is a small “bridge” (actually, more like a big wooden box culvert):CN Bridge

Note the variations of color and texture on the wing walls:CN Bridge Detail

The day was clear and bright and I over exposed a bit because I wanted to get some of the color and detail beneath the trestles.  It is very apparent why most models painted flat black don’t look much like creosoted structures after you study these images.  Not only are the many colors apparent, black, grays, tans, etc., but the textures and streaking are very pronounced.  This should be interesting to try to simulate.

More later…

-Jack

The Tall Timber and Santa Fe

Last Saturday I managed to drag myself out of bed early enough to make breakfast over at the Warehouse Restaurant in Baton Rouge.  An informal group of railroad enthusiasts and modelers usually gather there on Saturday mornings to socialize and enjoy a good breakfast together.  Jim Lofland was there and after the meal, he invited a few of us to drop by his home for an impromptu operating session on his Tall Timber and Santa Fe Railway.  Wayne Robichaux and I accepted, along with Gary McMills, and shortly after we were getting a tour of all the latest things to happen on the railroad.  Gary had other obligations and couldn’t stay for the session, so just Jim, Wayne and I started the trains rolling.

Jim’s layout has been in existence pushing 40 years now.  Even though the construction is very “old school”, it still looks good and operates very well.  Jim keeps everything in fine tune and trains run smoothly.  The layout recently received a make-over with hundreds of new trees installed.  Jim loves to build structures and as a result, industries on the layout frequently change as newer buildings replace the old.  I hadn’t been to Jim’s in several years, so there was an awful lot of new stuff to check out and study.  The short session went well and I’m happy that Jim invited us over for a visit.

I’ve hunkered down beneath my layout these past few weeks and have been busy installing Tortoise switch machines.  The weekend before, Ron Findley and I had gone over to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for the NRHS Mississippi Great Southern Chapter’s annual banquet, and as usual it was excellent.  The advertised guest speaker had cancelled at the last minute due to illness, however David Price and Dan Watson put together a splendid presentation about their exploits back in the 60s ferreting out and visiting quite a few shortlines (many of them steam powered) in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.  They ended the show with me clamoring for more.  After the banquet while heading toward home, we managed to catch a couple freight trains passing the depots at Hattiesburg and Slidell.  A really nice day!

This Saturday Ron and I will head over to Hammond for the NRHS Southeast Louisiana Chapter’s banquet, and we’ll probably hang around the depot over there for a bit afterward.  The traffic has increased on the CN line and it’s not uncommon to see BNSF and UP power on the trains.

And I’ll be installing more Tortoises the day after.

-Jack