The Roundhouse Podcast

Layout Tour: Ed Cronin’s Bessemer & Lake Erie Layout


Extra 156 prepares to head south from Butler to North Bessemer.

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.

A northbound loaded coal train passes through Kremis.

A northbound loaded coal train passes through Kremis.

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.

At the Greenville roundhouse, two EMD locomotives are serviced.

Two EMD locomotives are serviced at the Greenville roundhouse.

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.

This part of the dispatch panel covers Filer to North Bessemer. I generally serve as dispatcher during the sessions, routing the trains across the single-track mainline.

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:

5 thoughts on “Layout Tour: Ed Cronin’s Bessemer & Lake Erie Layout

  1. Ralph Renzetti

    I just found this video on the Roundhouse, I wished I had seen it sooner! I’m hoping you will continue in the hobby in your new digs, it would be a shame to have a great modeler leave the hobby.

  2. John Huntzinger

    My wife comes from north of Meadville (Crossingville, close to Albion) and I discovered the B&LE as her parents were passing away. I missed the F-7 days but got to see the tunnel motors. I also discovered Ed Cronin’s fabulous B&LE layout (got to operate on it once-Wow!). Stopped in Albion (where the RR crossing is awash in taconite pellets) last summer and got to see a train come through. Would like to see more B&LE coverage but also like what you’ve done-thanks for doing this.

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