How To Model Train Layouts The Buffalo & Susquehanna Railroad

The Buffalo & Susquehanna Railroad

By Bryson Sleppy | April 28, 2023

| Last updated on May 8, 2023

A Pennsylvania mining and logging railroad in 225 square feet

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A model steam locomotive pulls a passenger car over a bridge.
Buffalo & Susquehanna Railroad No. 265, a 4-4-0, is seen rolling through the bridge at Driftwood. Mike Frank photo

For most of my 70 plus years I have been interested in trains. Wherever I lived, I built a number of layouts in basements and attics. It was not until I became interested in the life of the Buffalo & Susquehanna Railroad that I thought it would be a railroad to model. It could not be called a short line, at only 300 miles in length, but it was very fascinating because it had to overcome main line switchbacks, steep grades, tight curves, and fierce competition. The company started out in the logging business in 1885 hauling lumber out of Austin, Penn. under the name Sinnemahoning Valley RR. Then in 1893 it was reorganized as the Buffalo & Susquehanna (B&S) and the lumber business became the Goodyear Lumber Co. When the forests became depleted, the company got into the coal and coke business. They operated a number of coal mines and coke ovens north of Pittsburgh. Then in 1932 the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O), looking to expand into Buffalo and Rochester NY, acquired the B&S and its neighbor, the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh (BR&P). The B&O operated the B&S portion of this acquisition until 1955 when the Salzberg Scrap Company purchased what was left of the B&S and operated it until 1979 as the Wellsville Addison & Galeton (WAG).

Because I was so interested in the B&S, I made many trips into Pennsylvania to visit the line, talk to retired employees, and at times rode the WAG. I amassed so much information, photos and material that I published a book on the subject in 1966.

Model steam locomotives and a caboose sit in a yard with shop buildings in the background.
This broad view of the yard at Austin shows the shops and the Goodyear log pond. The company houses are in the background. The two-truck climax is leased from the Emporium Lumber Co. The Goodyear Lumber Co. did have a climax, their number 20 was a three truck. Mike Frank photo

What really got me thinking of building a layout depicting the B&S was the availability of the B&O 2-8-0 class E-60 by Sun Dancer. This was an actual B&S locomotive! Also the Old & Weary Car Shop came out with a set of B&S hoppers. This clinched it, I had to build a layout! Coming off a 20-year hiatus from model railroading, and at 70 years old, this would be maybe my last attempt at building a layout. I started to plan a layout depicting the B&S. The Buffalo & Susquehanna lent itself to modeling. It was a small railroad with small facilities. It had tight curves and steep grades. Ten car trains were the norm rather than the exception and it served the lumber and coal industries.

A model steam engine switches cars at a coal mine.
The B&S is switching coal loads and making up a train for the trip to Addison. It might be noted that the store house in the foreground was a project that was in MR in the late 1950s. The mine is typical of the mines in the Pennsylvania area. Mike Frank photo

I started building the layout in 2005 in an 1840 house which we purchased the year before. There was one major drawback – I had no basement or great room to build what I would consider the dream layout. What I did have was a 15 by 15-foot bedroom on the second floor. To put in as much as I could to simulate the B&S realistically, I had to do it on two levels using a helix. The other thing I realized was that going point to point would save room and that’s how real railroads run. To get better acquainted with the B&S, I went to the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum in Strasburg where there is a collection of B&S blueprints. These blueprints came in handy while modeling structures.

A model steam locomotive pulls a passenger car over a bridge.
B&S No. 265 pulls business car No. 35 out of Austin, crossing Freeman Run Creek. Mike Frank photo

Having limited space, I could not incorporate all the great features of this interesting little railroad such as the switchbacks, Newfield Junction, or the shops at Galeton. That would take up too much room. However, I could build the shop facility at Austin. This was where the original shops were located. There was a roundhouse, back shops, depot and the Goodyear Lumber Company. Another feature I could model was Wharton where there was a wye. One leg of the wye led to Austin, one led to the mines, and the third leg led to Galeton and the main B&S shops, which I was not going to model. Beyond Galeton were interchange points with the Erie and the NYC. I chose the interchange at Addison to model. These were all small yards and easy to duplicate. I admit that I had to use some artistic license in the modeling process. For example, there was a wye at Addison, and I put in a turntable in Austin. I also had to turn the roundhouse 90 degrees in order to fit the space I had. The model of the coal mine at Sagamore is nothing like the actual mine complex. It was a very large operation in reality.

A model steam engine pulls boxcars over a small bridge.
A freight train with empty box cars crosses Freeman Run and enters Austin. Mike Frank photo

Since this was a new layout, it was set up for DCC by Digitrax and all seven locomotives were equipped with sound. I used Code 70 rail and No. 6 switches by Micro Engineering. The curved turnouts on the layout are by Shinohara. On the lower section of the layout I used Code 83 rail. The curves were held to a 24-inch radius minimum. For the roadbed I laminated two half-inch Homasote sections together; I prefer Homasote to using plywood for roadbed. The helix was put together in the basement workshop by using 3/16-in. plywood and laminating segments to build a four-foot continuous circle. It was a like a giant slinky. I took this up to the railroad room and installed it with a 3 percent grade leaving a minimal clearance between loops. In this old house with its sloping floors, the helix was a challenge.

A model steam engine sits on a turntable.
The turntable at Addison was installed by artistic license because there was actually a wye in this yard. As far as I could figure out, the B&S had only two turntables on its railroad, one in Galeton and one in Blasdell on the Buffalo line. Mike Frank photo

I built a staging yard on the lower level which I call Hornell. This is a very small area but does the job since I only run short trains. The Erie had major yards and shops in Hornell. Hornell is where the empty cars come from, and the loaded cars go. I might add that the coal loads and lumber loads are removable and are able to be taken out of the cars at Hornell and then put back in at the mine at Sagamore or at the saw mill in Austin.

A model steam locomotive sits under a water tower.
The Erie 2-10-0 pauses to take on water at Addison. The water tower is owned by the B&S as well as the turntable, but the Erie does use it to turn their locomotive for the return trip to Hornell. Mike Frank photo

On the layout, the Erie runs from Hornell to Addison using a Bachmann 2-10-0. Two B&S 2-8-0s are housed in Austin and one in Addison. The lone passenger engine, a Bachmann 4-4-0 is housed in Austin. The two geared engines, a Lima shay and a climax, work the Goodyear Mill at Austin. Both of these are Bachmann. Goodyear did have a three truck Climax but since I have a two-truck, it is lettered for Emporium Lumber Co. which in reality, Goodyear actually leased from.

A model steam engine and coal hoppers sit under a coal mine.
The Sagamore Mine is always bustling with activity. Mike Frank photo

Being pressed for space, I had to cut a hole in the wall at Addison in order to have a tail track to operate the yard. This extension runs into a closet using a square tube. This prevents clothes from ending up on the track. Another space saver was to put a turntable in the staging area. This eliminates the need for switches and a tail track. The other reason is to be able to turn my steam locomotives. Another thing I did to make the layout look larger was to use mirrors at Austin both along Main Street in the business district and on the wall at the end of the yard. Tracks butting up to a wall did not look right and the mirror did the trick. I had a lot of actual photos of Austin, so I used one showing the company houses, had it blown up at the local copy shop and used it as a backdrop.

A model steam engine pushes hoppers over a bridge.
B&S No. 159 pushes empty hoppers towards the Sagamore Mine. Mike Frank photo

On my many trips into Pennsylvania, I picked up cinders and lumps of coal from along the B&S. I crushed it for hopper loads and roadbed. Leaves ground up in a blender are used for ground cover. I made my own molds for the stone work on the bridges and kitbashed most of the steel work on the bridges. The scenery is built up using chicken wire, newspaper, plaster wrap, and Sculptamold.

Model steam locomotives sit in a yard with shop buildings in the background.
The three-stall roundhouse and the two-stall machine shop were built using actual B&S blueprints. Mike Frank photo

There is enough to do on the layout to keep two or three people busy running trains. A passenger train is run between Austin and Addison and back. The Erie runs a train between Hornell and Addison with empties and picks up loads at Addison. The B&S road engines are always busy hauling lumber and freight between Austin and Addison and, of course, the coal trains to and from the mine at Sagamore. Sometimes the coal train will require two locomotives to get the hoppers up the 3 percent grade to the mine. The Goodyear Lumber Co. runs a log train to the woods with the shay, and the climax can be busy switching cars at the saw mill.

Photo of a man with a book in his hand in front of a model train layout.
Mike Frank photo

Paul Pietrak has been retired since 1995 and is a long time Buffalo & Susquehanna fan. So much so that he published a book on the B&S back in the 1960s. This project led him to publish three other railroad books. Entitled The Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh, The Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern and The Coudersport & Port Allegany and the New York & Pennsylvania. A fifth book entitled The Western New York & Pennsylvania was published with two other railfans in 2000. Along with his model railroad, Paul collects railroad lanterns, keys, and buttons. Back in 1966 he started a newsletter for the Key Lock & Lantern collectors. He lives with his love Mary Anne in Orchard Park, N.Y.

2 thoughts on “The Buffalo & Susquehanna Railroad

  1. I’m a big fan of Paul’s work — I wish his books were still in print. It’s nice to know that he’s a modeler, as well as an author and rail historian. The layout looks great and replicates a fascinating railroad!

  2. My grandfather and his two brothers worked for the B&S in Galeton PA in the 1910s. I have many fond memories watching the WAG and still have relatives in Cowanesque Valley. Thank you for sharing your story.

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