Keep Your Model Railroad Locomotives Well Maintained
Monon’s Brownsville Erecting Shops Keep Locomotives on Track
Every model railroad needs maintenance facilities to keep the trains rolling. Roundhouses for locomotive maintenance are common on steam-era model railroad layouts, but much of the heavy rebuilding work was actually done in a separate erecting shop, which usually had a machine shop attached or very close nearby for fabricating the many replacement parts needed by a steam locomotive.
The Monongahela Railroad erecting shop at Brownsville, Pennsylvania is a great example of such a shop that could be built on a model railroad layout. Unlike many of the larger railroads, the Monon facilities are limited in size, so they don’t have to be “selectively compressed” as a model railroader would have to do to fit facilities modeled on a major railroad’s shops.
In 1900 the Monongahela Railroad Company was formed to provide access to the rich resources of the Lower Connellsville field of the Pittsburgh coal seam. The Pittsburgh seam is the most commercially important coal bed in Pennsylvania and has been called “the single most valuable mineral deposit in the world.”
With the rapid expansion of iron and steel production in the Pittsburgh area after the Civil War, exploitation of the Connellsville coking coal resources were growing dramatically. Parts of the area were served by the Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroads. Both railroads saw a need to increase their trackage in the area, but were loath to build tracks that paralleled those of their competitor that would foster competition that might lesson the rates either railroad could charge customer. So the PRR and P&LE formed a joint venture and named it the Monongahela Railroad Company, after the Monongahela River, the course of which the tracks would follow.
The 30 years following its formation in 1900 saw the Monongahela Railway grow into one of the nation’s largest coal-carrying railroads. Its tracks reached much of the eastern portion of the Pittsburgh coal bed and daily operations required 69 steam-powered locomotives. Facilities to service these locomotives were concentrated at the railroad’s three principle termini: South Brownsville, Pennsylvania; Osage, West Virginia; and Fairmont, West Virginia. The shops at Fairmont and Osage included small repair and maintenance facilities, but the yard and shops at South Brownsville offered the most comprehensive facilities.
The original yard facilities of the Monongahela Railroad did not include an erecting shop; overhauls and major repairs were performed for the company by its parent companies. When a roundhouse was built in Brownsville in 1910, the original engine house was converted into an erecting shop. The blacksmiths’ shop adjacent to the original engine house was converted into a machine shop. However, in 1916 a fire destroyed both of these facilities.
Railroad managers planned an integrated six-bay erecting shop and machine shop to replace those destroyed, however World War I forced them to complete only two bays of the erecting shop, and use spare stalls in the roundhouse for a machine shop. The erecting shop was designed transverse fashion, where a locomotive entered on one track, and then was lifted and moved to a repair track by a traveling overhead crane.
Six years later, the erecting shop was expanded to the prewar plan by adding four repair tracks, car and pattern shops, and an 8,000 square foot machine shop.
With the large window areas, models of the erecting and machine shops would benefit greatly from detailed interiors. Placed close to the front of a model railroad layout and provided with interior lighting, the models would be an impressive focal point on any model pike.
The plans and photos offered here were recorded for the Historical American Engineering Record, a project of the National Park Service maintained by the Library of Congress. The plans were delineated by John G. Eberly, Eva Molinitz, Dana Peak, Mark Pierson, Christopher H. Marston, and Jack Conviser in 1992
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