Basis of the History

The official history of the fictional prototype Northern Delaware Railroad, upon which the model railroad was based, was derived from the earliest accounts from the Nordel Newsletter and actual events and discussions that took place in early NorDel business meetings.

In one of the business meetings in the first year of existence of the Nordel Club, a number of proposals were put forth for naming the “prototype” of the model railroad the club was about to build. President Paul Hoerner’s proposal – The Diamond Lines (a name he very much wanted adopted) – set off a rather spirited argument, and loud denunciation, by one of the older Delaware natives. He noted that this was the name of a defunct Delaware bus line and no way was he going to accept having his railroad named after a bus line. The membership eventually voted to adopt, as the official name of the “prototype: ”The Northern Delaware Railroad.

The "Route" and "How It Got Its Name," below, originally appeared in the March 2005 Nordel Newsletter and were adapted from “Lost Records Found,” (Nordel News, Jan, 1995) and "Diamond Line’s an Error" (Nordel News, Feb 1995) by rail historian Sihde Trak, a pseudonym for Paul Hoerner, co-founder and first president of Nordel. Slightly modified versions appeared in the December2011 Nordel Newsletter.

The Route & Map

The basic route was developed in discussions that took place in the business meetings with full participation of the membership, although Paul Hoerner had a major influence on the outcome.

The railroad routing on the official map was devised by Steve Condiff with the help of Paul Welsh, consistent with the route specified in the official history. The map and the official history were slightly modified in 2017 by Paul Welsh and Lloyd Thayer to make them conform better with the reality of the model's track arrangement.

The Club Name

"Nordel," of course, is an extraction of the name of the prototype railroad and although it is one acceptable name for the club it is not a proper name for the prototype or model Northern Delaware Railroad. According to the current by-laws, the official name of the club that models the imaginary Northern Delaware Railroad is The Northern Delaware Model Railroad Club. The following shall also be considered valid names for the club:

·     Nordel (not Nor-Del, Nor Del or NorDel)

·     Nordel Model Railroad Club

The name “Nordel” has not been without controversy since it is the name of a Dow Chemical Co. synthetic rubber. Since our Nordel is not a rubber there is no trademark conflict, but some folks don’t like a railroad name that is the same as a rubber.

The Club History

A fairly comprehensive history of the first 10 years of the club appeared in the October 2012 Nordel Newsletter. It was derived from a more-complete version held in Nordel archives.


The Route

The Northern Delaware Railroad Company was founded as a "bridge route," between the Baltimore & Ohio in Wilmington, Delaware, and the B&O in Hagerstown, Maryland. It also linked the Port of Wilmington to markets in northern Maryland, southern Pennsylvania and northern Virginia through connections with the Pennsylvania, B&O, Western Maryland and Norfolk & Western railroads at their primary terminal in Hagerstown.

The original plans also included trackage rights (obtained from the B&O and shown as a red dashed line on the map) to complete a direct link from the Port of Wilmington to Cumberland, Maryland, and to provide a terminal point for a planned branch line to coal mines in Romney, West Virginia. This link never became profitable because the branch line to Romney was never built and the B&O dominated the traffic between Hagerstown and Cumberland, including Wilmington Port traffic (the tracks were theirs, after all). Trackage rights on the B&O were eventually terminated to save money.

In later years, a decision was made to extend the main line from Hagerstown to Strasburg, Virginia, to serve a large coal mine and to connect with the Southern Railway, thereby opening markets in southern Virginia and southern Maryland. The plan included a yard at Winchester to provide a bridge route between the PRR and the SR, to allow the PRR to compete with the B&O and N&W for markets in the south.

The Strasburg extension came just in time to save the railroad from bankruptcy as coal became the most important freight carried by the railroad and the traffic with the SR grew rapidly with the industrial expansion of the south in the post-WWII years. The NDRR had been extremely expensive to build because it traverses the mountains instead of following the valleys, like other railroads, and the massive lift bridge over the Potomac River wildly exceeded cost estimates. The bridge has since been converted to a static (non-lift) bridge since there is no river traffic on the Potomac.

How It Got Its Name

The Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland Railway Company was chartered in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1860 and was shortly thereafter re-named the Northern Delaware Railroad. It seems that a surveyor for the DP&M tired of writing the name of the company over and over and wrote a letter to the board of directors suggesting the shorter name.

But another name, The Diamond Lines, had already been proposed and there ensued a lengthy and acrimonious debate among members of the board as to which name would prevail. Eventually Northern Delaware Railroad won out because there had once been a stagecoach line named The Diamond Lines, and no self-respecting railroad could carry the name of a defunct stagecoach line!

The diamond-shaped herald, however, was adopted as a unifying symbol by members of the board.