The idea of modeling this portion of the Rock Island line came after reading the May 1982 issue of Railfan & Railroad.
The idea of this layout had been rolling around in my for the past 10 years. It wasn't until I got the basement cleaned out that I was able to get a good feel for the way the layout would fit within the constraints of the basement walls.
Once I got a feeling for size and shape, I started doodling.
What I had in mind was:
1] A Linear type layout with a single mainline with sidings.
2] Operations rather than just a roundy round layout, but also wanted the option for continuous running. There are times when you need to set back and just enjoy the trains with a big bag of Cheetos!
3] A small yard on the main layout where the local could originate from.
4] A live interchange with the Illinois Central Gulf at Ruston, LA.
5] A short line that The Rock interchanged with called the Warren & Ouachita Valley. The W&OV operated over a small section of the line from Banks, AR to Warren, AR.
6] Plenty of industry to keep busy with switching.
After Months of sketching and doodling here is what I came up with.
Several minor changes have been made since I started and since the track took form.
I started with the placement of the yard. This was the best option since it was 16' long and the general shape seemed to fit nicely in the corner. This is also where we had it set when we had our Bend Track modules set up in the basement.
Since I didn't have a 60' x 100' building to create the layout in, I had to make some pretty heavy compression. None of the industry or track placement is modeled prototypical, I freelanced about 90% of the layout. There are a few sections that give the feeling of the prototype, but not many.
Since I was freelancing the layout, I also decided to set the era in June of 1983, which is about three years after the actual shutdown of The Rock in March of 1980.
With the date set I was also able to include some of my other favorite railroads as well as being able to re-write history a bit.
After watching the movie Forrest Gump, the spark of inspiration took hold.
In the part of the movie where their boat was the only one that seemingly survived the hurricane and they made their fortune with shrimp. This gave me the idea that hauling frozen seafood from the Gulf would turn out to be the Golden Fleece that The Rock was looking for.
The re-written history (according to me)
In the early months of 1979 as bankruptcy was drawing near, The Rock started hauling the seafood North from the Gulf and actually made a small profit from doing this, but they needed more capitol. They decided to start shaving off the mainline down to the bare minimum and sold off two portions of the line to the newly formed W&OV.
The first section to be sold off was the original line that the original W&OV had operated: Banks to Warren and the remaining section that connected to Tinnsman Jct. The second section was the branch that started at Haskell, AR and ran to West to Hot Springs, AR and South to Sparkman, AR.
After the purchase of these two separate sections, the newly formed W&OV moved their headquarters to the northern section and setup shop at Malvern, AR. They also received trackage rights to run between these two lines and interchange with The Rock at El Dorado, AR with a train they nicknamed The Razorback.
This helped but they still needed more capital.
Two other railroads seen their chance and opened talks with The Rock.
The Chicago and Northwestern seen and opportunity for a Gulf port to interchange intermodel at New Orleans, LA. The Missouri, Kansas & Texas wanted to haul a coal train further south.
They both offered to help revitalize the line in exchange for trackage rights.
Amtrak also jumped on board and created another train called The Rebel that ran from the New Orleans, LA to Little Rock, AR.
The Rock also continued to interchange with the Missouri Pacific at Alexandria, LA.
Things started looking up for The Rock.
Since I was pushing the envelope with this re-written history, I decided that I would push it a bit further (Hey it's my railroad right?). This would give me the excuse to have some of my other favorite railroads appear from time to time as detour trains. Namely the NS and the CSX. Since they were in the early years with their mergers, their trains would have most of their predecessors making an appearance as well.
The last thing, since it was 1983, cabooses were still widely in use. To me, a train just isn't a train without a caboose tagging along to bring up the rear. It also adds a little to the operational end of things.
With all this set into play the only thing left was to create the trains that would operate on the line.
Using the yard at El Dorado as a starting point, There are two manifests that feed the two locals based out of El Dorado.
The South bound LRMP [Little Rock to Missouri Pacific's yard at Alexandria, LA] and the North bound MPLR [Missouri Pacific to Little Rock]
Then the two locals: The NB Haskell Turn and the SB Winnfield turn.
The hottest train on the line is The Shrimper. This is the train that hauls the frozen Seafood from the gulf and is made up of mechanical reefers and refrigerated TOFC's. The only stop it makes is on the Southbound run to drop off livestock cars at the chicken processing plant called Flappers, located at Fordyce, AR.
Amtrak's Rebel makes one stop at El Dorado.
And finally, W&OV's once daily turn, the Razorback runs from Malvern to El Dorado and back.
Other trains that run are a grain train, an oil tank train, and an Intermodal. Also CNW's stack train, MKT's coal drag [BN will show up at times]. Detour trains from the NS and CSX. These all run as through trains and are staged in the yard and run to create traffic for the locals to work around or if we have enough operators that need something to do or just want to run a train.
With this set into place, the building commenced.