From G to Z
The Confessions of a Model Railroading Addict
Above: a 1:29 scale Doodlebug, a Lionel O-scale FA-2, a 2-rail O-scale baggage car, an HO-scale ALCO S2, an N-scale boxcar and its Z-scale twin.
In The Beginning...
Let's face facts, it takes a great deal of dedication and will-power to restrict yourself to modeling a specific railroad, be it proto-freelanced or prototype, in a specific scale, and in a specific era. Temptation abounds, especially these days with so many wonderful ready-to-run plastic models on the market. Sure, you might be modeling the Milwaukee Road's Pacific extension circa 1920 in Z-scale, but those O-scale Norfolk Southern heritage units from Lionel that you just stumbled across for 40% off at a train show are Ooooh! Soooo pretty! You just know it is impossible to resist these preciouses!
My interest in model trains began, as so many do, with Lionel Trains (3-rail O-scale, 1:48), when I was 3-years-old. In my grandma's closet, I discovered a huge box of them from when my uncle was a boy, and I would play with them on the kitchen floor - no track or transformer, just moving them about in push-toy fashion. That Christmas, a month before I turned 4, I got an O-27 set of my own: a steam locomotive, gondola, flatcar, and caboose. I was in Heaven! Or so I thought... The next year we moved to Brighton Beach and, while the Lionel set didn't expand, I now had the ultimate "model railroad" outside my window: an elevated, 6-track-wide section of the New York City subway system. Now __THAT__ was Heaven! (My mother and grandma, I believe, had a differing opinion of the Brighton EL. LOL!)
In the mid-1980s I discovered HO-scale (1:87.1) models and the learned that there was more to model trains than loops of tinplate equipment chasing its tail. In the 1980s and '90s, my modeling went from randomness (Amtrak E60CP, BN F-units, and a UP DDA40X on a 4x8 sheet of plywood) to focusing on a "what-if" version of the NYO&W in HO-scale. It was, however, still somewhat random with everything from a 2-8-2 camelback to F45 and FP45 diesels to a scratch-built transfer caboose. In other words, the theme was O&W post-1957, but the reason for equipment was never thought out or explained. Which might explain why I got away from the hobby for 15 years - randomness just didn't hold my attention.
Though I stopped modeling, I didn't walk away from trains completely. Magazine features like the "Maumee Route" and merger news in the prototype world all stirred my imagination. And from that the Hoosier Lines was born. More properly the Cleveland, Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway (CISL), the Hoosier Lines was an Eastern / Midwestern railroad, not unlike the New York Central or the Pennsylvania Railroad, running from New York City to Chicago and St. Louis. But whereas the NYC & Pennsy languished and died in Penn Central, the CISL flourished, merged, and expanded into one of the last class one railroads in North America, and the first one in the US to have a foot in each ocean (the Atlantic and the Pacific). This mega-system was a paper model railroad, its system outlined in notebooks, sketch pads, and photocopies of railroad atlases. Like the O&W before it, the CISL eventually died around 2001 due to a lack of focus. In the end, it was little more than a collection of interesting railroads strung together with little rhyme or reason.
Life and writing fiction filled my life from 2001 until 2011. That's when I decided to get back into the hobby. My plan was to build a British branchline terminus layout in OO-scale (4mm or 1:76.2). And while the hobby shop I went to had some of what I was looking for, the price for just one locomotive was more than my entire budget! Plan B was N-scale (1:160). A Maine Central RS-11 (green scheme, ex-Portland Terminal #802), MEC gold scheme caboose, a couple of cars, and a cheap Bachmann beginner set for the track and pack. Again I was starting out with an eclectic mix. BUT! Being older and wiser, I realized this early on and started looking for a specific thing to model. I was going to put aside my proto-freelancing past and become a prototype modeler! Hey, it lasted for a couple of days this time....
The Worcester, Nashua & Portland Railway (N-scale)
I found my prototype in the pages of the 2000 edition of Model Railroad Planning, a magazine I'd had at that point for over a decade. The feature on Peterboro, NH, spoke to me. It was a small town that could be modeled full size in my limited space (2x12 feet), and the track plans were laid out as a branchline terminus - exactly like I wanted in OO-scale! It was set in the late 1950s and nearly all my N-scale equipment was from the same period. Perfect! There was only one little problem (ain't that always the truth?): it was a Boston & Maine line but I had Maine Central equipment. To the paint booth! Yes? NO! Instead, the proto-freelancer in me started asking "what if...?" questions.
The Nashua Line: What if the Maine Central, New York, New Haven & Hartford, and the New York Central's Boston & Albany had successfully gained control of the Boston & Maine's Worcester, Nashua, and Portland Division line as a way of breaking the B&M's monopoly on Boston-Portland traffic? That is the premise of the model railroad I began planning at the beginning of 2012. It is set in October, 1956.
The Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road (HO-scale)
Because of a number of private things that happened within my family, development of the WN&P got delayed. Into that void, I started digging out the long-stored boxes of my HO-scale equipment. I confess, here and now, that I am a model railroad addict. Looking at the old stuff made me revisit ancient model railroading idea - namely the what-if version of the O&W. What harm could there be in a little "paper railroading" and rethinking of that what-if scenario? What harm, indeed! HO-scale equipment now easily outnumbers N-scale by 3 to 1! And not one, but two HO-scale model railroad concepts were born of that thinking.
The LO&HR: The Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road is a mid-1960s merger of a handful of commonly owned, but independently operated, railroads in the New York - New Jersey - Pennsylvania region. Set in January, 1972, it is surrounded by Penn Central and the other bankrupt (or nearly so) railroads of the region, and bankruptcy is knocking on its door too. One of the thoughts guiding me with the LO&HR was that I wanted to model a gritty railroad in the grips of a Northeastern winter.
The Middletown Industrial Railway (HO-scale)
Some of my HO-scale equipment was too modern for the 1972-era LO&HR. After some thought of moving the LO&HR later, I decided to revive the Middletown Industrial Railway idea I had had some years back. The MIRY was my concept for a "Railroad You Can Model" article to promote the P-FMSIG. It is based on a what-if scenario that saw the portion of the NYO&W around Middletown, NY, having survived into the then-modern era (c.2000) as a shortline railroad.
The new MIRY is still very much a work-in-progress (hence no page link). The current concept is that the LO&HR ended up in Conrail in 1976, and that eventually the secondary lines around Middletown, NY, were sold off to form a shortline: The Middletown Industrial Railway. The MIRY operates portions of the old NYO&W, Middletown & New Jersey, ERIE, and New Haven. In some ways, it is even rustier and grittier than the LO&HR. No era has been decided upon yet, but it's definitely after the Conrail merger and branchline purge, and before the end of caboose use or the introduction of ditch lights - so let's say that it might exist somewhere around 1980 to 1986. Winter in the very early 1980s would allow the MIRY to share foreign line rolling stock with the LO&HR.
The Bonne Terre Railway (N-scale)
In March of 2016 I left Brooklyn, NY, the land of my birth, for the muddier pastures of rural eastern Missouri. While the apartment there is bigger than the one back in NYC, the clear runs of wall space are somewhat shorter. Scratch the WN&P. Scratch the LO&HR. Forget the Lionel and the MIRY. And enter the 40" x 80" Bonne Terre Railway: an N-scale model railroad mounted on wheels (attached to the old nightstand that the benchwork is mounted to). The BTR is inspired by the late Art Curren's HO-scale track plan for a layout that he dubbed BTR for its "breaking the (mythical) rules" of model railroad track planning. I've mirrored the plan and expanded / tweaked it a bit to get more out of the design, and I am drawing its industries and operations from the local Missouri-Illinois Railroad (formerly the Mississippi Valley & Bonne Terre, and later the Missouri Pacific, then Union Pacific).
From G to Z: The rest of the fleet!
You might recall that I previously mentioned that I am addicted to all things related to model railroading. As a result of this addiction, I have models ranging from a tiny Z-scale (1:220) boxcar to huge doodlebug (a self-propelled passenger coach/baggage car) in #1-gauge / G-scale (1:29) - all in addition to the aforementioned O, HO, and N -scale rosters. I also have some equipment that doesn't fit with my chosen eras - Amtrak equipment in N & HO, a circa 1835 steam train (the DeWitt Clinton) in HO, etc. etc. Roughly 300 +/- models across all scales. A small collection compared to some, but definitely tangible proof of my addiction.
Some of these odd-ball models, like the DeWitt Clinton, I hope to eventually build era-specific dioramas to house them. While others, like an HO-scale pair of R-21 subway cars, are here for sentimental reasons and may never get a prototypical setting to live in. It should be noted that my dream is to someday have a big enough space to have multiple layouts and dioramas so that everything has not only a prototypical home, but room to stretch its legs (spin its wheels?). Though they might be pretty to look at, I feel that models stored on shelves are just memorials to what might have been.
Speaking of dream layouts, the final aspect of my hobby interests - at least as far as this overview is concerned - are the things I'd like to do, but whose concepts are barely thought of beyond the "that might be fun" stage. These would be the occupants of those multiple layouts and dioramas. Inspired by the late John Armstrong's Canandaigua Southern, and Frank Ellison's Delta Lines - both O-scale systems, I'd like to revisit my Hoosier Lines concept as the basis for a Proto:48 (vs. Lionel tinplate) O-scale model railroad. Whether populated by big steam or modern diesels, this layout would be a tribute to those men's layouts.
Also in O-scale - or larger - is an idea I've had as a result of the research I'm doing for the WN&P. Reading about early American railroads of the 1830s and 1840s has given me the urge to design such a model railroad. Serving tiny towns with one or two locomotives and a handful passenger and freight cars, connecting to the outside world by transfer to boat or wagon, and having all sorts of unique things that would soon vanish in semi-standardization of the later half of the 1800s, all sounds very attractive. It would be a scratch building project to be sure, but as that's one of my favorite parts of the hobby, it wouldn't be a onerous chore. I was tempted to do something like this in HO-scale using the DeWitt Clinton as a starting point, but the equipment of the era is so minuscule to begin with that the thought of trying to power a scratch built locomotive in that scale is daunting - to say the least! I'm leaning toward calling it the Bedford Valley Rail Road and setting it in the Northeastern US, either on the Hudson River or along the coastline between New York City and Portsmouth, NH. I'd prefer to operate it with battery power and radio control, but by using such a large scale, it would probably be possible to use strap rail that is also electrically alive.
There are some obvious items missing from my collection of scales: American Flyer / S-scale, British OO, TT - a scale between HO and N, tiny 1:450 T-scale, anything narrow-gauged, and all of the stuff bigger than O-scale (with the exception of my 1:29 Aristo-Craft Doodlebug) - Oh! and I don't own anything that's 1:1 scale (yet!). Narrow gauge, and classic tinplate toys, do not hold a strong attraction for me, nor do most "toy" model trains. And tiny T-scale is a novelty that I'll probably never buy except so that I can say I have one model in every scale. British OO - which, at 4mm or 1:76 scale, is just fractionally larger than American HO's 1:87.1 - still holds a special place in my heart, and were it not for insane international shipping rates, I would probably already have a small roster of those models. *ahem* As you can see, it doesn't take much to get me to wander all across the broad spectrum of this hobby. Well, as they say, model railroading is FUN!
In Addition... Most of the above section (From G to Z: The rest of the fleet!) was written in early 2015; as I type this, it is now four days before the start of 2017, and in the intervening two years I have had an increasing reliance on reading and magnifying glasses to do most everything involving close-up work. This is partially due to age, partly to health issues, and mostly as payback for years of making fun of my mother's need for reading glasses. Karma is real! While I have no intention of giving up N or HO scale modeling at present, these vision issues have spurred me into exploring my options for the future.
Recently (mid to late 2016), there have been several articles in the hobby press about 2-rail O-scale (vs. 3-rail Lionel, etc.) switching layouts. Generally, these layouts have one to three locomotives, a dozen or so cars, and a couple of industries with interesting switching requirements. Some are standard O-scale, some are Proto:48 (finer adherence to scale, including a narrower - truly 1:48 scale - track gauge), most involve a degree of scratch building rolling stock and hand laying track. These articles were the final kick in the caboose, so to speak, and so I've added a GP9 locomotive kit and motley assortment of freight cars, nearly all of which need repair work, so that I can explore 2-rail O-scale as a possibility for the future. Could I do the same with Lionel instead? Maybe. The nicest thing about this hobby is that there are a great many avenues that all lead to that ultimate destination: FUN!
~AJK - 27-Dec-2016