The Arpee & Western (A&W) Railroad is a fictional, freelance model railroad serving the Catskill mountain region of the northeast region of the United States. Since the A&W depicts scenes from the late 1930s, it reflects a time when railroads were still the chief means of transporting both passengers and freight. It also reflects what I remember railroads were like when I was growing up in this same area. Of course, only steam locomotives were used for mainline service since conversion the to diesel electric power would not come along for another ten years or so. The 1930s were a period of tough times for all of the northeastern United States, but especially for the area served by the Arpee & Western. But the proud managers of the A&W followed the policy of "make do, fix it up, or do without" and tried to run a well-maintained, on-time railroad that was at least marginally profitable in the Depression era.
The Arpee and Western is primarily a single-track bridge line between two other railroads in the area. One is the mighty Glenwood and Dixon Lines and the other is the Ulster and Delaware. We'll talk more about these two railroads later and the role they play in the A&W's prosperity. The A&W scene is set in the Catskill mountain region close to the Hudson River and metropolitan New York. While the A&W is a fictional railroad, it does represent the scenes and railroad equipment that were typical for the region at that time. It provides local freight service along it single track mainline, which runs from the lowlands at Arpee Yard to its western terminus at Union Summit, high in the Catskill Mountains. Along the way it serves local industries such as cement, coal, manufacturing, paper, brewing, and agriculture. The A&W provides local passenger and commuter service and provides trackage rights for first class Pullman service provided by the Glenwood and Dixon. The Ulster and Delaware, which also has an Otis cable railway going up the mountainside, serves Catskill mountain vacationers. These passenger trains, plus an active interchange of freight between these three railroads, keeps the mainline very busy.
Along the A&W Right-of-Way
A journey from Arpee Yard to the terminus at Union Summit takes several scale hours due to the ruling grades, curves and tunnels. Such a journey is best described by following a local freight along the mile post markers.
Arpee Yard is the busy eastern terminus of the railroad. There are numerous local industrial sidings serving a brewery, ice house, freight house, power station, dairy, plus printing and manufacturing industries. Near the yard is a steam engine servicing facility with a roundhouse, turntable and car repair location. Nearby Berkeley Yard is a four-track passenger station located below the main street of town of Berkeley Heights. All A&W passenger and commuter trains leave from the Berkeley Heights station.
A separate A&W branchline runs eastward out of Arpee Yard to Claremont station, and then crosses over Lake Katrine and returns to Arpee Yard via the Edwards wye. This branch was the first construction on the A&W, and provided needed revenues while the remaining mainline was being constructed through the Catskill mountains to Union Summit.
After leaving Arpee Yard westbound the freight must take the crossover at GD tower and the plunges into one of the many tunnels (i.e. scene dividers) on its way west. It emerges at the town of Edwards, which has several industrial sidings serving a coal yard, junk yard, produce vendor, sawmill and a lumber yard. All local passenger and commuter trains serve Edwards as well as a daily Edwards freight turn. At the Edwards wye the mainline continues west, but there is an eastbound connection with the Claremont branch.
Leaving Edwards westbound, the mainline passes through the Schenectady valley and emerges at Albany - a major industrial area. Albany station has a team track for freight and milk car loading. Albany is also the home of the ARGENT coalmine, which requires a daily coal train to bring in empties and take out full loads. Albany is very busy since it has one of the few passing sidings permitting opposing traffic to safely pass each other.
Preceding westward the main line again tunnels through the nearby mountains and emerges at Marshall Junction where the Ulster and Delaware crosses the A&W mainline. A short distance west of Marshall Junction station is the town of Lancaster where the E.C.G. cement works has three sidings on the U&D railroad.
Leaving Lancaster the mainline again burrows deep into the mountain area called "under de steps" and emerges at Madison. Madison has a large industrial area with a freight station, oil dealer, brickyard, farm co-op, brewery and a paper mill. There also is a passenger station with a team track for milk loading, and a downtown district. Madison includes a passing siding to facilitate meets between opposing trains. Nearby are two freight interchange tracks belonging to the U&D, which are switched twice daily.
A short distance beyond Madison the mainline ends at Union Summit station. Here is a multi-track mainline plus numerous industrial sidings serving local industries including a bookbindery, a paper processing plant and several manufacturers. (There also is a reversing loop at the west end of town that allows trains to reverse direction for their journey eastbound back down the mountain. (About 600 feet of track is included in the current plan. The scenery is about 95% complete and includes about 1500 hand made trees.)
The Interconnecting Railroads
The A&W has interconnections with two other railroads, the G&D and the U&D. The G&D is a major first class line in the region that competes with the nearby New York Central. A small portion of the G&D is included in the layout and it runs from Dixon Yard, which is south of Arpee Yard to Glenwood junction to the north of Arpee Yard. Dixon has a large storage yard for the G&D trains as well as a turning wye. Due to a short tail track on the wye, many switching maneuvers are required to reverse the directions of inbound trains. Dixon is connected across an aisle to the main layout via a dropdown bridge. There are three industrial sidings in Dixon serving local industries. Glenwood junction has several storage yards and a turntable to facilitate turning the equipment. The G&D interchanges freight cars twice a day at Arpee yard as the G&D through freights run from Dixon to Glenwood and return. The G&D also has passenger service trackage rights over the A&W and runs two passenger and Pullman trains to Union Summit and back everyday. The junction point between the two railroads is at GD tower just west of Arpee Yard.
The Ulster and Delaware is a short mountain railroad that begins at Rondout station east of Marshall Junction. Rondout has a three-track yard and is the originating point for all U&D trains. Freight traffic from Rondout proceeds west to Marshall Junction and then over the A&W mainline to Madison where there is an interchange with the A&W. Two U&D freight trains are required each day, primarily to serve the E.C.G. Cement mill in Lancaster. The U&D also runs three daily passenger trains from Rondout through Marshall Junction and up the Catskill mountains to Katerskill station. At Katerskill passengers change to the Otis cable railway which rises to the mountaintop and the famous Catskill Mountain House resort. The Otis trip take 10 minutes to reach the top of the mountain.
The traffic that these two interconnecting railroads interchange with the A&W has helped keep it solvent throughout the great Depression, and the management of the A&W works very hard to keep all the trains rolling and on time.
Locomotives and Rolling Stock
The A&W railroad has never generated enough equipment orders to have its own fleet of locomotives and cars built for it. It has been thrifty in buying the following motive power from nearby eastern railroads and various manufacturers:
USRA Light Pacific by Sunset and assigned to the G&D
a Mantua Camelback
Reading Lines Class I-8 Camelback
A Baldwin produced by Spectrum and assigned to the G&D
Ma and Pa Consolidation by Aristocraft
NYO&W Class U Camelback
A Mogul by Aristocraft and assigned to the U&D
Mantua Camelback switcher (now retired)
Two truck Shay locomotive by Roundhouseand assigned to the U&D
A Tea Kettle used for railfan excursions
In addition to these steam-powered units, the progressive management of the A&W has been experimenting with some newer forms of internal combustion engine power. At least on a trial basis the A&W has the following units in operation:
A 1929 Jersey Central diesel electric box cab by Roundhouse
A HH-1000 Alco 1000hp by Hallmark
A VO-1000 diesel electric switcher by Stewart
A Gas-Electric Mail/Baggage Combine with trailing Coach
The intent is to evaluate these newer forms of power to see if they could possibly someday replace all the good steam power that now is in use. No further experiments beyond these present units are planned.
While of different vintages and heritages, this motive power is in good condition and is equipped with the latest in DCC receivers making for improved operations and simplified control.
In terms of other rolling stock, the three railroads have an assortment of craftsman type kits and other equipment assembled in the A&W shops over the years. Many are custom lettered for each of the three railroads. There are also a large number of vintage, open- vestibule passenger cars assigned to the U&D plus a large number of cabooses (or is it cabeese?). A good number of foreign railroad cars are present as well. The total rolling stock amounts to just over 100 units of various types.
History of the Arpee & Western
As you might expect the current A&W layout is not the first model railroad by that name. In fact it is the fifth A&W configuration, the first of which was a truly portable, fold up version that was constructed during the 1950s while in the U.S.Navy during the Korean war. This first layout was on a four by six sheet of plywood that slid under a double bed and could be folded in half for moving. The movers always thought it was a stereo set with all the wiring hanging out the backside. This early period was also a time for kit construction from early craftsman type car and building kits, some of which are still doing duty on today's A&W. The second, third and fourth A&W layouts were planned and constructed in various homes that have been owned since leaving the Navy. None of these layouts survived subsequent moves, but did provide great experiences in planning and trying different construction techniques. When the final arrangements were being made to build the present home of the A&W, a large unfinished basement was one feature high on the necessity list. After the initial move-in period it took about six months to prepare the basement area for both a workshop and a model railroad space. Having this space heated and air-conditioned has been a great help in being able to work in the basement year round. (Being retired also helps a great deal.) By having the ceiling, floor and walls sealed and painted, dust and dirt have been minimized.
My original interest in trains of all sorts started with a hand-me-down Lionel standard gauge set that my father helped set up in the late 1930s. From there my brother and I went into Lionel tinplate. This evolved into an O scale layout with hand laid track and an outside third rail for power pick up which was called the Glenwood and Dixon Lines. The G&D pretty much filled up the second floor of a two-car garage, and lasted until college days and Navy service in the early 1950s. The current A&W grew out of these experiences and the need to fit smaller spaces suggested HO rather than O scale.
Standards for the Current A&W
The previous configurations of the A&W included many of the typical sins of model railroad construction, which precluded smooth operation, and ease of maintenance. This time with another fresh start the following standards are being followed:
Use of nickel silver code 83 flextrack, with all joints bonded
Homobed track base over plywood track boards, all painted before laying track
Minimum 30" radius for all mainline curves and No. 6 turnouts
Maximum 1.5% grades on the mainline
Kadee couplers and NMRA weighting on all rolling stock
Minimum 3' aisles
Lightweight benchwork, L-girder and 1" x 3" joists
Plaster scenery over lightweight forms and screening, with a painted fascia
A Lenz DCC system divided into eight blocks with electronic circuit breakers
One of the most pleasurable features of the current A&W railroad is its operating group that was formed in January of 1995. For the lack of a better name we are known as the AWOGS or Arpee & Western Operating Group. This group was started with three friends, two of who had never been involved with model railroads before and certainly not with operating a large layout. We meet about every three weeks in the afternoon and slowly but surely began to learn how to run a railroad. This group has gained a good number of new members and now numbers between 10 and 15 at each operating session. We also have been fortunate to have gained two members who have similar sized layouts and we now operate on their railroads as well. This round robin group meets each week for three weeks in a row, running each of the railroads in turn, and then takes a week off for the local NMRA division meeting on the fourth Tuesday of each month.
The A&W operations are based on timetable operations with a schedule containing 23 daily trains. This includes 4 trains on the G&D, 5 trains on the U&D and the remaining trains on the A&W. There is a mix of both freight and passenger service on all three railroads. We use a fast clock at a 6 to 1 ratio and cover about 18 hours of the daily schedule in each three-hour operating session. A car card and waybill system is used to route the freight traffic. Full operations requires a Dispatcher, Yardmaster, two teams to run the U&D and the G&D operations, plus crews to run the A&W trains. If we have extra operators, we work in two man crews and use two man crews to train new members. This has been a most enjoyable group, and two of the original members are still involved. This year in January 2002 we passed our 100th operating session with fourteen members present. I will say that this sharing of the A&W and its operation with this group of friends has certainly proved to me that this is one of the world's greatest hobbies and we all have a great deal of fun together.