The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway was formed by a merger of several small Virginia railroads (including the Virginia Central and the Blue Ridge Railroad) in 1869. It ran from Richmond to Huntington, WV initially, but later it opened the Peninsula Extension in order to ship coal to the new coal piers in Hampton Roads. This actually resulted in the formation of the City of Newport News in that area. The coal train business was very profitable and the railroad began expanding further into the Midwest to Ohio and Illinois.
The Chesapeake and Ohio later merged with the Baltimore and Ohio and Western Maryland Railway to form the Chessie system in 1972, which carried the famous kitten mascot. It then acquired the Seaboard System and the Louisville and Nashville Railway, along with the Atlantic Coast Lines and the Clinchfield Railroad to become CSX Transportation. The company later acquired over 40% of Conrail when that railroad was split with Norfolk Southern in 1998.
The C&O primarily made its profits from coal, but also hauled general freight and later intermodal traffic serving multiple industries. Passenger service was provided as well, often traveling through the beautiful scenery of the Appalachians and especially the New River Gorge. The Chesapeake and Ohio was known for its double-track mainlines in the Midwest, although most of its eastern trackage was single line, except for the section between Richmond and Newport News.
Passenger trains owned by the C&O include the famous George Washington, Fast Flying Virginian, Sportsman, Pere Marquette and the Resort Special. Chessie, the sleeping kitten, was one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever developed and helped make their passenger service much more popular than it might have been otherwise. However, the C&O’s passenger service was ultimately eliminated in 1971 with the advent of Amtrak.
The Chesapeake and Ohio remained very strong even during the Great Depression, which brought a lot of other American Railroads to their knees. The C&O used the cheap labor and materials available at that time to expand and rebuild itself.The railroad served its country well during World War II, bringing huge loads of goods and men to Hampton Roads, which was a major departure point to the European Theater.
There are many areas and eras of the Chesapeake and Ohio that would lend themselves to model railroading. A portion of the railroad anywhere within the Appalachians, along the New River Gorge, along the James River, would be conducive to forming a great layout. The C&O operated in major cities like Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati and others that would allow a lot of switching and industry service. Charlottesville was also an important junction for both industrial and passenger service. Passenger service to and from any of these areas would be exciting to model. The Chessie diesels are beautiful locomotives that would look good on any layout depicting the Mideast and Midwest US from Hampton Roads to Chicago from 1972 to the mid 1980’s. The C&O locomotives would be appropriate for the time period from 1889 to 1972 – a much broader period of time in which to choose your era. The Chessie System operated from 1972 to 1986. The period for CSX would be anytime after 1986.
An interesting short line that might make a good modeling project is the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad from Clifton Forge through Lynchburg to Richmond along the James River. This was a lower water level route that could haul longer, heavier loads without having to deal with higher elevations. This was merged with the Chesapeake and Ohio in 1889 as the James River Subdivision and became one of the major lines of coal transportation to the east coast.
Also, further north from the James River Subdivision, the Mountain Subdivision, from Clifton Forge to Afton and the Piedmont Division from Afton to Richmond would offer spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain scenery for the modeler. The Blue Ridge Tunnel near Afton and a canyon at Buffalo Gap would provide points of interest as well. For those who like the variety of showing more than one line on their railroads, the B&O interchanged with the C&O at Staunton, and the N&W interchanged at Waynesboro, while the Southern joined at Gordonsville.
If you like Appalachian scenery and lots of potential for modeling mountains, rivers and tunnels, the C&O should be high on your list.