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January 2018

Model Railroader has been the leading model train magazine for the past 75 years.  Each month, we bring you step-by-step modeling projects, fascinating photo tours of model train layouts, unbiased product reviews, new product announcements, tips from the experts and much more!

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A new life for the Texas & Pacific

A model railroad seldom survives the passing of its owner, since he’s the primary designer and builder of the layout. In most cases, the owner leaves years of personal enjoyment and work behind, but unless other family members have participated in building the layout, there’s seldom anyone left with the knowledge or interest to keep it operating.

The cost of dismantling and selling a large model railroad is difficult to rationalize because it normally has to be removed from a family home. Thus, the most expedient approach is usually to save and sell the individual models and trains, but scrap the layout. This means all of the modeler’s artistic scenery work is lost in the process.

This article relates an unusual approach to this problem in which a beautifully crafted model railroad, the HO scale Texas & Pacific, was given a new life after its owner had passed away.


Scratchbuild a compact industry

One of the things on my to-do list for a research trip to the American Midwest was to find a small, modern, rail-served business I could model on my layout. This turned out to be harder than I expected.

Although I found several small businesses that used to be rail-served, the rails looked like they hadn't been used for decades. Many times, the track wasn't connected to the main line anymore.

Then in Grand Island, Neb., I got lucky: A small Safety-Kleen facility that was still served by rail. Safety-Kleen is an oil recycling business, and the one in Grand Island receives a tank car or two at a time. It was perfect for my needs.


Going Southbound

A GP9 with five cars and a caboose in tow picks its way through the weeds. You can almost hear the cicadas singing and feel the perspiration run down the back of your neck on a still, hot summer day in North Carolina.

It’s 1957 on the Winston-Salem Southbound, and this Electro-Motive Division diesel has only been on the property since spring. The railroad is busy serving its regular customers and delivering material for a new project, the construction of Interstate 40.

This is the scene on Model Railroader’s 2018 Winston-Salem Southbound Tar Branch project layout. The 2'-9" x 8'-2" switching layout is an all-star collaborative effort between the MR staff, Model Railroader Video Plus, MR contributing editor Tony Koester, and MRVP contributing editor Gerry Leone.


Minnesota's Otter Tail Valley

While researching another of my interests, conservation of the North American river otter, I learned about the Otter Tail Valley RR (OTVR), a 71-mile short line that operates between Fergus Falls and Moorhead in west-central Minnesota. At the time, I felt nothing more than a slight interest in the OTVR.

A couple months ago, I got the urge to design a new railroad using the skills I acquired building my current one. I wanted my new layout to be set in the modern era. With limited space, I was concerned about the length of modern trains and rolling stock.

Then I remembered the OTVR. The short line had everything I wished for, including a manageable size, coal trains, and interesting scenery, along with a cool name.


A signal with flag stops

Everyone knows what a flag stop is: a place where trains have no scheduled stops but passengers can board if they “flag” the train. The question is, how did they actually signal the train to stop?

Some railroads just had the engineers check for people on the platform, while the more affluent lines used a flag station signal. These small, manually operated signals were sold by United Switch & Signal, General Railway Supply, and others, ❶ and ❷, and were used well into the 20th century.

My HO scale Stockton & Copperopolis RR has several flag stops, and I thought these signals would add operating interest and give the crews something to watch for when running passenger trains.


Weeds and junk

Rarely is a railroad yard, engine terminal, or any industrial lot, a pristinely landscaped piece of real estate. When I visited the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR’s yard in Chama, N.M., I wondered if I could find the railroad between all the metal parts scattered around the engine terminal. This tourist railroad runs steam locomotives and other vintage equipment between Chama and Antonito, Colo., along a stretch of the former Denver & Rio Grande Western Ry.’s narrow gauge San Juan Extension. The present-day Chama Yard is also the prototype for my HOn3 (HO scale, 3 foot gauge) modular layout.

To make the modeled scene look like the real thing, I couldn’t have a carefully manicured green lawn surrounding the tracks and structures. Often the land around a yard that’s not being used for some other purpose is overgrown. It’s also a dumping ground for all sorts of junk, including freight car parts, leftover building materials, and old timbers.


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