By Steve Goaring/photos by Dan Munson
Having grown up on Illinois Central’s St. Louis District, it had always been my intent to model this portion of the railroad; but as work and family progressed over the years I became a fan of Midwest branch line railroading with slow speeds and weed-grown right-of-ways. After I had moved into my new house in 2004, I staked out a 12×21’ area in the basement and began to search for a subject for a medium-sized layout that could be operated alone or with two to three operators.
I remembered some pictures I had taken back in the mid-1970s of the then-abandoned Illinois Terminal O’Fallon Branch. I realized this was the railroad for me: slow speeds, busy interchanges, a coal mine, plus with some “modeler’s license,” I could include an IC train. Yes, the IT O’Fallon branch was perfect for my plans.
ABOVE: Illinois Terminal GP7 1603 crosses the Ogles Creek bridge headed south to O’Fallon to work the Baltimore & Ohio interchange and O’Fallon Lumber.
The railroad can trace its roots back to the original Illinois Traction System, which was reorganized as Illinois Terminal in 1937. The 550-mile system centered near St. Louis provided freight and passenger service throughout southern and central Illinois. Passenger service declined in the postwar era, finally coming to an end in 1958, making ITC freight-only. In 1956, nine connecting railroads purchased ITC, and electric operation came to an end.
Up until 1970, Illinois Terminal was divided into two divisions, the Electric Division and the Diesel Division. The Diesel Division covered IT’s St. Louis-area operations from Federal Yard in Alton to Granite City, Wood River, and Edwardsville, and on to McKinley Yard in Madison. The O’Fallon Branch split off from the Alton-McKinley main at Troy Jct. Heading due south the branch crossed over and interchanged with Pennsylvania Railroad at PAIT (Pennsylvania-Illinois Terminal), continued to O’Fallon where it interchanged with Baltimore & Ohio, and west to service Peabody Coal Company’s St. Ellen Mine.
ABOVE: It’s late afternoon and the IT Alton Docks Mine Job is arriving at the Peabody Coal mine at St. Ellen, with a fresh cut of empties. Loads will be picked up and taken to the Alton Dock for barge loading on the Mississippi River.
I decided to proto-freelance the layout as I personally like the late transition era of the late 1950s and early 1960s, but in that period the St. Ellen Mine had been closed and interchange traffic had fallen off making it uneconomical. By 1970 it was being used for car storage and was officially abandoned after the 1982 merger with Norfolk & Western. On my branch line it’s the summer of 1961, Peabody has invested cash for new equipment and purchased a connecting block of high-BTU Illinois No. 6 seam coal, and signed a new contract with Springfield City Water, Light & Power. With this new business and the upturn in interchange with PRR and B&O, business is booming on the IT branch.
After spending some additional time doing further research of this operation, I began construction in August 2009. Over the next seven years, with my job at times keeping me busy seven days a week, I finished the benchwork and laid basic trackwork. In 2016, I decided it was time to retire; my wife and I wanted to begin traveling more while we still were in good physical shape…
ABOVE: Two Illinois Central GP9s with a coal train bound for Springfield, Ill., wait for their orders at Troy Jct. before proceeding north to Mont and Illinois Central trackage. This train runs three days a week delivering coal from St. Ellen Mine to Springfield City Water, Light & Power Co.