The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The OO Gauge Norfolk and Ohio

When the topic of great American OO layouts comes up, certainly very near or at the top of all lists would be the Norfolk and Ohio of Carl Appel. I first saw this layout in a 1980 Kalmbach publication, Classic Articles from Model Railroader. The article is “Norfolk & Ohio Revisited,” reprinted from the November, 1958 issue. The photo below is a scan of a photo in that issue and gives an idea not only how large the layout was but also the realistic scenery of Appalachia.

Appel was a jeweler in Allentown, PA who started in OO in 1939. This layout is arguably the most impressive ever constructed in American OO. It was large, 13 feet by 45 feet. The eleven photos in the 1958 article show realistic scenery with water, bridges, and mountains (including a model of the N&W Island Yard in Lynchburg, VA), long trains, and big locomotives, especially a scratchbuilt 2-8-8-2 of N&W prototype but many others are visible. The track work with broad, sweeping curves is very realistic; the track itself is Midlin, a favorite OO track of the period that had an extra fin on the bottom of the rail that fit into slots in the ties.

In short about all one can do is look at the photos with a sense of awe. This was quite a different layout than the typical "spaghetti bowl" layouts of the day.

For a larger dose of awe, this is actually the second feature article on the Norfolk & Ohio; the first one appeared in the August, 1948 issue of Model Railroader, pages 524-528. Eight more photos of the layout may be found in this issue including one of Appel himself. In this article Boomer Pete focused on the scenic successes of the layout and wrote,
It’s not that Appel’s OO gauge Norfolk & Ohio had exceptional locomotives or fantastic control devices or buildings complete to pigeons on the roof ridges …. It is a model railroad made of components such as you or I might make. But everything is so beautifully planned that the overall impression is one of perfection. No single phase of the railroad is neglected in the slightest, and the result is photographic realism such as I have never before seen. Yet it is an example of what any of us might create, with average ability but infinite patience and painstaking care.
It can't be emphasized too much that the novelty of this layout back then was that it was based on replicating an actual prototype scene. The caption for the photo above reads "This yard and engine terminal in OO is inspired by the Island Yard of the N&W at Lynchburg, Va. River channel at left has been drianed to provide the major operating space." Continuing in the text by Boomer Pete, "Appel figured you can't beat nature, so he picked an actual scene for the germ of his track plan." He studied aerial photos, vacationed in Lynchburg, and "took dozens of photos of the bridges across the river, even to details of construction and abutments." As I think is reflected in this final photo. Later in the text Boomer Pete relates "probably the most stunning effect of all is the background, a flat photographic panorama which makes the countryside back of the railroad stretch without limit into the distance. Most model railroads end at the wall."

The actual models seen in the 1948 article are mostly pretty standard models of the day, but check out the engine on the turntable in the middle photo above (click on the photo for a better view). The 1958 article gives more nuts and bolts details on the layout, including notes on equipment and a track plan. Both articles are very worth locating and reading in full.

As with the other classic layouts featured in this series of posts the layout is a memory now. Appel passed on in 1997. Periodically Norfolk & Ohio items are sighted on eBay. Hopefully many of his models survive; it was an impressive layout of a type highly unlikely to ever be seen in American OO again.

For more see:
Updated 2013

Also note: The third image above was used on the cover of the Model Railroad Equipment Corp. catalog that was first advertised in December of 1949. See this article for more.

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