This past weekend I visited my friend Ed Cronin to operate his layout one last time before he moves. Operating trains on someone else’s layout is always a treat, even though this visit was bittersweet.
The Bessemer & Lake Erie is an ore carrier linking the Great Lakes to the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Ed Cronin has recreated the mainline from Albion to North Bessemer with several of the passing sidings, industries, and yards included. To fit all of this into a single basement, Ed has designed the mainline as a loop that crosses the room several times, with Albion and North Bessemer sharing the same yard. Traveling one direction on the loop is northbound, and the other is southbound.
Most of the major scenery is complete, so you can really immerse yourself in the landscape. The centerpiece of the layout is a river scene with two bridges crossing the river and mainline.
Because the prototype’s mainline hasn’t changed much over the years, the era of the route is flexible. Everything from massive 2-10-4 steam locomotives to F-Units to modern Tunnel Motors fits the look.
The most impressive aspect of this layout is the operations. In a separate room, Ed has recreated the Union Switch & Signal Dispatch Panel used by the Greenville dispatcher. The fully-functional panel allows the dispatcher to see where every train on the layout is located, as well as change any of the mainline switches. During an operating session, every train has an engineer and conductor. The dispatcher communicates with the conductors using radio headsets while the engineers operate the trains. Every train/conductor has a clipboard with instructions for picking up and dropping off cars.
Ed is moving to a retirement community this summer and must dismantle the layout. The good news is that he will be rebuilding this layout in a new space designed specifically for housing it. I’m really excited about this because it means the layout will have a home for generations to come.
Want to see more of Ed’s Layout? Check out this documentary I made a few years back: