Category Archives: Model Railroad

Bradford County Safari and LSOPS 9 (Part 2)

Part 1 here.

Continuing on from Towanda to Allentown, I hooked up with 3 other attendees for LSOPS 9. We were scheduled to visit 3 railroads on our visit, but one layout owner had to drop out due to unexpected illness. This worked out for the best, as we then spent an entire day at Jim Hertzog’s amazing Reading Railroad. First, though, we spent all of Friday evening at Larry Reynolds’ PRR Horseshoe Curve layout :

We spent nearly 6 hours at Mr. Reynolds’. I was assigned to the east end of Altoona yard, and was too busy to really get a good look at the rest of the huge layout!

The next morning we were up bright and early, and headed to Jim Hertzog’s for a crew brief and morning op session. After a break for lunch at an excellent nearby café located right next to the NS tracks, we returned to Jim’s place for an afternoon session. For the morning session, I was assigned a mine turn that ran from Shamokin to Locust Summit and back. For the afternoon session, I marked up on a coal drag from Gordon to Shamokin and back. All these trains were headed by Reading steam. (Hooray!!)

Jim Hertzog’s Reading:

A most excellent weekend. I would encourage anyone who is interested in model railroad operations to attend one of these events, even if you are relatively inexperienced. Most layout owners are very accommodating towards neophytes who are truly interested in “playing the game.”

Note: A slightly longer version of this write-up was published in the Division 5, Mid Central Region December 2017 “Trainwire” Vol. XIII No. 12. Full PDF of that issue here.

Scenery Update 8-17

Made a decision back in May to try to make a major leap forward toward getting more scenery completed on the model S&NY. Knowing that scenery creation requires 50 square feet of mess, whether one is doing 1 square foot or 30 square feet of scenery, I figured I may as well take a big bite of it.

Also, each section I wanted to complete contained at least one bridge for a total of 3. Lifting even one bridge would take the railroad out of commission for op sessions, and doing things all at once would minimize the disruption.

That was the plan, anyway…

Bridges out:

Next, lots of cardboard webbing. A hot glue gun, clothes pins, and a heavy rubber glove help things go relatively quickly. I spent just as much time cogitating on how the landforms should look as actually gluing cardboard:

In the center of above photo, you can see I also fabricated a stream bottom and rough bank edges using foam and a hot-wire cutter. I felt this corner of the railroad would also need more lighting, especially once the trees were in place (I’ve found that dark green tree-covered hillsides tend to suck up a LOT of light), so I installed an additional 2-foot LED fixture back there.

Next came plaster bandages over the cardboard. The green foam is where rock castings will be affixed:

Then, I slopped flat black latex paint over the larger areas I knew would be covered with puffball trees:

The track in the above photo gets reeeeal close to the backdrop on the left, so I used rubber rocks from Cripplebush ( hot-glued directly to the backdrop. Not sure I like the rectangular look of the rock wall, and I may peel it off and cut it to alter the shape a bit. I plan a farm scene with a typical Pennsylvania bank barn in the left foreground, and I made a foundation for the scene out of gatorboard which was hot-glued in place.

The black paint gives the mountainsides a “Mountains of Mordor” look, but that will be all covered up by trees. Eventually.

Also fabricated a new smooth stream base at this location from 0.060 styrene sheet, since the foam underneath was kind of chopped up. Trying to get the foam smooth with spackle was going to be a losing proposition.

Next is to start placing all the rock outcrops at the various cuts and other places.

Anyway, that where things stand now. I’m not using any amazing new or innovative techniques, and I may have bitten off just a bit more than I can chew with this much scenery at once, as it is certainly taking much longer to make progress than I anticipated. The scenes are also much, much deeper than I would ever build again; but hindsight is always 20/20, they say. The scenes should photograph well, once done, though.



Cutting up cardboard in a 95 degree garage is not very “model railroad-y”, but sometimes one has to do the grunt work to advance a project…


When NOT to add track…

Started work on a major scenery project, part of which will encompass a relatively deep portion of flat benchwork just “west” of the town of Laquin. As part of that, I have to decide how far should the mountainside come forward toward the track and aisle. (Overall trackplan here.)

My initial thought was to use that flat empty space and add an additional spur off the main track, heading west back toward the town of Wheelerville:

I have a couple of Walthers curved turnouts in the stash, and used them to sort it out visually:

One of my regular operators has a bunch of Fast Tracks jigs, including curved turnouts, so getting a turnout to fit here is not a problem. There is also room under the benchwork to place a switch machine, and room on the fascia for another turnout control, so those issues were not a consideration.

The main advantage of an additional spur would be the increased operational interest of an additional car spot or two that would need to be worked during an op session. Laquin in real life had a number of industries that I did not include on the model, due to space constraints and other factors, so putting a plausible industry here would not present an obstacle.

However, after thinking it over, I decided not to place another spur and industry here, for purely aesthetic reasons.

The layout design, as is, allows for a progression of sorts along the line from Wheelerville, down the valley to Laquin, and once the turn is made into that town, both the train and the operators are IN Laquin. There are sidings to be worked in town, but with a runaround track in the town proper, there is no need to go back out onto the main until the work is complete.

If the proposed spur was added, the crew would be working backward around the aisle corner toward Wheelerville if eastbound; or going around the corner working ahead and “returning” to Laquin if westbound.

This back-and-forth, I felt, would subconsciously break the feeling of “going somewhere” and progressing on a journey up and over the mountains during a session.

Some might believe I am overthinking this and making more of it than is there. Perhaps, but the late Frank Ellison thought that a model railroad is a stage, and the trains players upon it. If so, then the players must tell a story, of sorts, and I think we must take that into consideration at some level in order to have a truly successful model railroad. If an extra bit of track detracts from, rather than adds to the story, leave it out.

This leads to the question of what to put in this “negative space” scenically. I’ve thought about that too, and have a few ideas. Time will tell….


Op Session #16

Op session #16 was held 03/11/17. Only a couple of minor issues with a Bowser PRR F30 flat car and an older Stewart hopper derailing.

In the flat car’s case, I think it is a function of insufficient weight. The older Stewart hoppers I have do not track very well, possibly because the bolsters are not wide enough. I also think the coupler boxes are too wide, and when shoving these cars, the too-wide swing forces the cars off the rails. Will try to sort that out before the next session.

Aside from those minor bugs, the session was considered a success by all.

Included here are some videos shot by Jerry J.:

No. 6 upgrade at Masten Loop

No. 6 whistles for the Wheelerville grade crossing

No. 6 downgrade over the “Big Fill”

No. 7 westbound at Wheelerville

Photoshop Fun #2

SNY #105 drifts downgrade over the Masten Loop. September, 1939

Photoshop Fun

S&NY #112 pounds upgrade over Pleasant Stream sometime in September, 1939.

Wheelerville Store

Slow progress continues on recreating this scene in HO on the model S&NY:

Finally finished weathering the house/store in the background in the above photo:

The structure was kitbashed, starting with a City Classics Company House. A Tichy storefront was cut down and replaced the lower front side of the company house. The addition is scratchbuilt, along with the porches and roofs. Chooch flexible stone material was a close match for the kit foundation, and that was used under the addition. Signs are a mix of homemade and commercial offerings, and the “interior” made up of flats created from downloaded images. Window treatments are manila envelope material and homemade from internet images. Weathering is layers of oil-turpenoid washes, powders, and Pan Pastels.

I left off the porch stairs for now until the model is permanently affixed to the layout. I was afraid I’d break them off during handling otherwise. Also still needs a few details, like a gravity-fed gas pump and perhaps a red Coke cooler on the porch. Oh, and a dog. Gotta have a dog lounging on the porch for passersby to pet…

3/26/17 ETA: Google Maps screenshot of the same area today. County road has been re-aligned; the original road is still in front of the house. The SNY station would have been right about where the bush is at the corner of the two gravel roads on the modern view.

OP Sessions #14 & #15

Op Session #14 was held Sunday afternoon, 20 November 2016. Since the holidays were upcoming, I tried to add a little seasonal “flavor” to mix things up a little for my regular crew. After 13 sessions, these guys were starting to more or les settle into a routine during the sessions and I don’t want the sessions to get stale.

To that end, the (model) S&NY scheduled a “Holiday Shoppers Special”  to carry passengers from the rural areas served by the railroad to the “big city” of Williamsport.

Management posted a message notifying all employees of the special train:

The special was run as a second section to through freight train No. 5 westbound and return as a second section to through freight No. 8. I thought this would be the best solution, since neither #5 nor #8 had any scheduled stops enroute, and are second class trains. If the special had run as an extra train, it would need multiple orders giving it priority over other trains in order to stay on time.

Also, I doubt many model railroads run trains as sections, so I thought this would be a good timetable and train order exercise for my crew guys.

The special still needed running orders, though:

The signals engine #112 would display in real-life 80 years ago would be green flags by day and green marker lamps by night. The engineer of #112 leading train No.8 would call the attention of any trains he meets to these signals by blowing one long and two short blasts of the whistle. If no acknowledgement from the other train, No.8 would have to stop and determine why.

Since all my locomotives are sound-equipped, the crew running the special was able to comply with this requirement, and the other train could reply properly.  I didn’t actually make any HO-scale green flags, so the engineer simply said “green flags” to the other engineer. All in good fun!

Here, #112 leading Train 22 meets the special at Wheelerville:

We were a little short of engineers for the session, so the coal extra had no helper crew. The extra engineer misread the timetable and thought he could safely double the hill from Marsh Hill to Wheelerville. Fortunately, he realized the error before any real harm was done, and was able to duck into the station track at Wheelerville to clear both No.5 and No.22, who were scheduled to meet each other at Wheelerville:

No major glitches during the session, other than occasional signal loss from one throttle at the far end of the layout at Towanda. Eventually a second receiver may have to be installed in that room if the problem recurs.


Session #15 was held on a very snowy evening on Saturday 10 December. I wanted to open this session to a few local operators, but the weather conspired against that, and only two could make it. The only change I made to this session was the motorcar normally used on Trains 2 and 3 was replaced by 4-4-0 #105 due to heavy holiday express traffic. I pulled a couple of express cars out of storage and added them to the railroad for No.2 to pick up. The motorcar lacks the guts to haul more than one milk car up the grade to Wheelerville, and the 105 barely made it with a consist of a brass combine, milk can car and two express boxcars.

The coal extras were annulled, and the through freights and local were the only trains run. Here, both work Newberry yard sorting out heavy interchange traffic off the NYC and RDG:

Cooperation pays off, and Newberry is empty a few minutes later as No.24 departs:

Short clip of the action at Newberry here.

Minor glitches included recurrent derailment of one truck on an older Stewart RDG hopper. The Stewart trucks are not the best, and I may try reaming out the journals before replacing the truck.

Otherwise, another rewarding session.


Building Wheelerville Depot Pt. 2

Slow progress continues on the Wheelerville depot:



Bill Caloroso - Cal's Classics

Bill Caloroso – Cal’s Classics

While it’s not an exact match, I think it’s certainly “close enough”. The most obvious differences are the nameboard should be more recessed under the roof overhang, the wood “bumper” under the freight door is too large, and the telegraph sign is a little oversize.


Still have to permanently place the building, build up the surrounding scenery, and add the small details like the Ford speeder and milk cans. That will have to wait until the hole is drilled for the train-order semaphore.

Update 11/10/16: The position of the station name sign bugged me all day. This evening I moved them back further under the eaves. MUCH better, I think; and now my OCD is satisfied: