V. S. Roseman
West Street is as far as you can go in New York City without falling into the Hudson River. This layout is a recreation of a small part of a railroad that was fairly important to New York City, but hid among the shadows of the West Side Highway or in the forests of Staten Island.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad is often thought of as connecting Baltimore and Washington, D.C. with the midwest, but the B&O once had a thriving New York Division, including an interurban-like electrified operation and important tidewater terminals on Staten Island, plus a freight yard and terminal on the busy west side of Manhattan Island.
Other than the bridges of the New York Central (also used by the New Haven) and the Pennsylvania and Long Island Railroad tunnels, there was no railroad access to this important island city, so railroads reaching the west shore of the Hudson had to use marine operations to reach Manhattan.
Freight cars were shunted onto carfloats. These were 350-foot-Iong, flat-topped vessels having railroad tracks laid on the deck to hold up to about 20 freight cars (similar to the Walthers HO scale models described and detailed in the April 1999 issue of "The Journal") and moved about the harbor by railroad tugboats. These were usually referred to as "tugboat drill jobs" or "marine drill jobs" depending on the individual railroad.
The Baltimore and Ohio was able to secure a parcel of land a block square at the end of West 26th Street, just at the southwest edge of Midtown Manhattan. It is for the true historians of this kind of thing to find whether the original West 25th Street ever was cut all the way through to West Street (12th Avenue) or if, in fact, the B&O took title to the land between 25th and 26th Streets and later took over the rest of the property between 24th and 25th as shown in the layout sketches.
Regardless of the original history of the land, tracks were laid, paving was provided for teams (later motor trucks) for unloading box cars: a large freight station and storage warehouse were constructed, and the railroad was ready for business. Of course, there was a track from the yard across West Street to the river where there were float bridges to permit the unloading of the rolling stock from the carfloats. With the increase in traffic in Manhattan in the post World War I period, the West Side Elevated Highway was constructed over the middle of 12th Avenue, which by this time stretched over a 200-foot width.
Smoke abatement laws shortly after the turn of the 20th century proposed outlawing steam locomotives on Manhattan Island. In 1925 Ingersoll-Rand offered "smokeless" diesel electric locomotives that would be capable of handling the various railroads' traffic terminating in the New York City area. As a result, the Central of New Jersey, Reading and Baltimore and Ohio Railroads were among the first customers for these engines.
Baltimore and Ohio diesel number 1 was renumbered 195 around 1940. In 1956 it was again renumbered to 8000 and in 1959 was brought to Baltimore for scrapping, but was saved for the National Railroad Museum in St. Louis. MDC has a similar model in HO scale.
The color photograph, taken from from the comparative safety of the sidewalk of West Street, shows 195 working a cut of cars. This was a busy area, with the streets full of trucks: uptown-bound with fabric and dresses, downtown-bound with sides of beef and pork; deliveries to department stores, merchandise just off the ship piers, and of course deliveries to the yard and right off the box cars for the waiting shelves of stores all over the city. The sidewalk too, was often congested with workers with hand trucks, carts, dollys and all sorts of wheeled vehicles at a pace only seen in a big city. Above, on the West Side Highway, automobiles raced by bound for their individual destinations.
When I first saw photos of the Baltimore and Ohio's West 26th Street freight yard I thought: What a neat model railroad layout THAT would make! In fact, virtually any of the various railroad properties in New York would make great switching layouts. In N scale you could fit the whole railroad on a 3 x 5-foot board with a good part of the river on which you could store extra carfloats. In HO, this layout would be just a bit too big to fit on a 4 x 8-foot board, although with a few structures reduced and possible omission of a few of the parallel tracks it could be done. However, the HO scale version of the layout as drawn will fit nicely in a 5 x 8-foot space. If you have an extra foot for a 5 x 9-foot layout, you could extend the Hudson River to leave room to "park" a few carfloats on the river itself. In larger scales, you would have to consider going to a room-sized layout or simplifying what is here, but unlike many model railroads, you really can model the whole thing without any compression if you wish to do so.
The "staging" yard for this layout can be a series of shelves to hold spare cars on carfloats and a simple steel table or cart on casters. The steel cart should be large enough to hold two to four carfloats. When a train is ready to be made up for an inbound run to the layout, it is assembled, car by car, on two or three carfloats. The carfloats are then pushed up to the carfloat bridge by rolling a couple of carfloats (perhaps accompanied by a scale tugboat) on the steel cart to the main layout. The loaded carfloat is then aligned with the float bridge and the train is pulled off the float a few cars at a time by the yard engine and into the interchange yard on the layout.
Floats are loaded with an outbound train and the cart is pushed away to the staging yard to be unloaded onto the shelves so new inbound cars can be loaded onto the carfloats.
The actual layout of tracks was changed several times over the years as photos have cropped up that do not match the versions I have labeled 1935 and 1941. Even these titles are a bit arbitrary, but the earlier layout is based on some sketch lines on land usage maps and photos of construction dated 1935. The later map featured the freight house noted as being built in 1941, while the former freight platform was now listed as a semi-enclosed structure. This could have been a closed building over only a small part of the the foundation, or, more probably, a two or three-sided affair with a roof supported by pillm"s providing some cover from the elements for shipments being moved right off freight cars and onto trucks.
The earlier layout provides only a couple of possibilities for getting the engine around the cars to drill them (spot them on their respective sidings), while the later arrangement has the short track (one or two cars and the engine) at the northwest corner of the block outside the big warehouse. In addition, this later scheme has three other long tracks that permit holding a fairly long string of cars (eight to ten cars-just like a single track of a carfloat) which would permit the engine to get all of the cars off the float quickly, thus minimizing the time that flagmen (probably a whole army of them) would have to stop traffic on busy West Street ( 12th Avenue). I have never been able to get an employees' timetable covering this particular operation, but I am sure that crews would have been instructed to avoid any unnecessary movements on or across 12th Avenue on account of the dangers in trying to stop traffic for the train. You can see on the sketch showing the 26th Street floatbridge that there is no escape route for the engine anywhere outside the yard, keeping maneuvering on 12th Avenue to a minimum.
The marine operations on any railroad would usually include both inbound and outbound car movements whenever possible. The catfloat would be brought in by the tug, tied lip to the floatbridge (the ramp) and the cars removed as quickly as possible, reloading with empties (or loads) and then moving the cartloat out. Usually, a string of cars would be brought into the railroad (West 26th Street for exanlple) and another string would be lined up ready for movement out to the catfloat, one in, one out, until the float was full of cars going back to Staten Island or Jersey City (over the years B&O used both thieir own facilities or the CNJ's at Jersey City). Where necessary, a carfloat (usually from another railroad) would deliver a single car or two.
At locations like Long Island City on the L.I.RR and Jersey City on the CNJ and Lehigh Valley, carfloats full of cars (or empty floats) would be lashed up to pilings awaiting their tugboats, In addition to the obvious application of this plan for a switching layout, it could also be used instead of a staging yard or hidden yard on a large layout like a club railroad.
The Walthers HO scale tugboat and the brass imported railroad tug boats are ideal for use with this kind of model layout. I chose to use the old Pyro model tug (it's about 1/80 scale) that I purchased at a swap meet, with a built-up wheelhouse to more closely simulate the tall cabins of CNJ's railroad tugs. It was easy to cut down the hull to use as a water line model with that plastic kit. This model is also available as a "diesel tug" under Lindberg, Revell and other kit labels. Don't confuse this kit with the very small scale model of the WW II "Taurus" and Wellington Towing Co. tugs also offered by Revell as they are too small for HO, although only a bit too large for N scale. With very little change, the 1/80 scale tug could be used with S scale. (I built my tug in 1980.)
Carfloats could be used to connect two railroads across a room, to store cars (and you could display carfloat models loaded with freight cars on shelves when not in use), to complement a carfloat industrial or switching layout, or to use in place of fiddle yards or staging yards.
Carfloat operations were common in many locations up and down the East Coast, on the Great Lakes, and in the San Francisco Bay area, so you can change the site of this layout from New York to a variety of other cities and railroads. And as none of this really has to be accomplished in any specific fashion, you could model a river or suitable body of water with resin or your favorite hard material on your layout surface and put rollers or wheels under your marine equipment such as carfloats and tugs.
My fantasy would be to build a layout like this in a completely waterproofed and watertight environment (up to around three or for feet from the floor) with creosoted or waterproofed layout structure (and very careful electrical circuitry). Then fill the room up to the seawalls around the railroad with real water and float your carfloats around your harbor as needed. Radio-controlled and self-propelled tugboats would interface nicely with command control railroads and would make drilling carfloats a lot of fun. And your layout would be the most popular place in town on hot summer days.