model train set on track

Coal Oil Mining Layout

e*Train Issue: Apr 2019   |   Posted in:

Layout as received

By Russ McFall, TCA# 98-47746   Spring 2019

I purchased an extraordinary “hand built” layout for historical value and restoration. The layout dates from the early 1900s and was built by Peter Snyder.  This elaborate 3 ft X 5 ft layout has “oil wells” and “animated” figures with a mountain, and coal elevator.  There is a 1908 Carlisle and Finch No. 17 mining set operating on an oval 2 inch ribbon track. The layout consisted of a mechanical belt pulley system driven by a 6 volt DC motor connected to a 6 volt car battery. The pulley system controlled a mechanical blacksmith, timing gears and operation of the layout (mining train, electric lights and oil well pumping rigs).

The layout was in remarkably good shape, considering its age, and as I would later determine, various moves throughout its history. The animated figures were driven by a system of leather belts and pulleys which in turn are driven by a battery operated 6 volt motor.  Of particular interest was a “coin slot” device which appeared to enable the layout to be operated on a “timed basis” as if it may have been a part of a carnival setup or penny arcade.


Doug Ridley helped me with the purchase and volunteered to research the history of the layout. He met with two cousins of the previous owner hoping to determine who built this marvelous item, where had it been during its 100 years of life, and what current connection it had to people today.

This meeting took place on February 16, 2017 at a restaurant in Lakeville, NY with both cousins, Tom Slocum and “Woody” Slocum, who was the prior owner.

  • Tom and Woody first saw the layout in the home of their great grandfather, a Mr. Nickerson.  Mr. N. owned a “Brick Factory” in Lavonia, NY which is a well-known railroad town south of Rochester, NY. 
  • The layout was later moved with the surviving grandparents to Chippewa Bay in the Thousand Islands of New York where it resided until it moved with the grandmother back to her family home of Lavonia, NY in the 1980s.
  • According to Woody, the layout was rediscovered at his grandmother’s home in Lavonia.  It had been stored in an outside shed where, due to general deterioration of the house and all outbuildings, it was poorly protected.  He took possession of the layout, patched the shed roof, and actively began to sell the layout some 35 yrs. later.
  • Further Information:  The maker, as shown on a plaque attached to the layout, is Peter Snyder.  The title of the exhibit is “Coal and Oil Mining.”  Mr. Snyder is rumored to have lived in Oil City, PA, which could explain the Coal / Oil theme.  It is believed that Mr. Snyder moved to North Carolina, but that’s where the trail has gone cold.
  • The layout was in the living room of Mr. Nickerson and was considered a family centerpiece approximately 50 years ago.

There are several unanswered questions regarding this interesting artifact.

  • Who is Mr. Peter Snyder and why did he build the layout?
  • Where was the layout between approximately the late 1920s and the 1950s when it was first seen by Woody Slocum?

One thing is certain, Mr. Peter Snyder, the builder of this incredible layout, was a mechanical genius.

Layout Restoration

The restoration process was going to be extensive.  Several critical steps were  involved.  First, pictures were taken of each angle on the layout. 

Pre-Restoration Pictures

Part of Pulley System
Light Wiring
C&F Mining Set
Part of Pulley System

Next came the generation of diagrams including the mechanical pulleys & rods, electrical and mechanical timing mechanism.


Pulley System
Connecting Rods for Timing & Switch System
Mechanical System with Pictures
(letters reference previous diagram)

Then after creating this information and planning, it was time to start the restoration.  Each of the steps is as follows:

  • Replace the missing and remaining leather belts with 3mm Ruffhane custom made belts
  • Replace the old broken telegraph wire with new cooper wire
  • Replace all the (missing) light bulbs with new reproduction ones (bayonet socket)
  • Change the power source to DC transformers (2)
  • Change the electrical wiring (cloth insulation) to early period telephone wire
  • Clean the mountain surface, repair portions and dye stain portions as required
  • Repair and reconnect the semaphore rod
  • Clean and remount the oil rigs, clean the coal tower and the small coal cars
  • Clean and correct the gauge on the mining train ribbon track
  • Fix the coin operation, tunnel clearances, and motor mounting
  • Clean all the brass (nameplates, corner plates and coin slot)

Post Restoration Pictures

Oil Well Pump
Name Plate
Coin Slot  
Coal Tower
C&F Track, Telegraph Poles, Semaphore
6 Volt Motor

Layout Post Restoration, Ta-Da!

And in Summary

Parts research, planning, parts procurement and part time restoration took over one year. I am satisfied with all portions of the project.  These include restoration and operation at the completion and, ultimately, the enjoyment of visitors.


Doug Ridley (assist with purchase, research history).
Ed and Chris Hartman (pulley belts – material and replacement).
Dave & Nancy Linton (editing).