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January 2019

Model Railroader has been the leading model train magazine for the past 85 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!

Subscribers get exclusive online access to hundreds of track plans, product reviews, videos, bonus articles and more.
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80 years at Webster Groves

The St. Louis & San Francisco Ry. (Frisco) called the station Webster Groves, but the local community called it Shady Side, after a nearby neighborhood. Today, the railroad depot at 8833 Big Bend Boulevard in St. Louis County, Mo., is the last depot remaining out of the five that once stood along the Frisco within the city of Webster Groves. It’s also one of only two remaining depots out of about two dozen on this rail line in St. Louis County.

But this isn’t just a story about a railroad depot. It’s the story of a unique model railroad club that began 80 years ago, and through some unlikely occurrences, ended up owning its only home and becoming the caretaker of a piece of local history.


Midwestern scenery basics

For me, modeling scenery is the most rewarding phase of building a model railroad. It’s especially rewarding when people recognize a scene on my layout as a place that they’ve been, even though the modeled scene is completely fictional. Featured in the May 2017 issue, my HO scale Union Pacific Daneburg Subdivision may not be a model of a specific prototype location, but I’ve done my best to make sure the layout scenery captures the flavor of a Midwestern landscape.

I made research trips to western Iowa and eastern Nebraska. This layout’s green scenery is quite different than the Southern California desert setting of my previous model railroad.


85 and still alive

Readers of Model Railroader have been introduced to thousands of layouts in the magazine’s 85 years. One of the first to debut – and to meet its demise – was founder Al Kalmbach’s O scale Great Gulch, Yahoo Valley & Northern.

Subscribers got to know the railroad and its equipment almost reluctantly. The first how-to articles on building track and rolling stock appeared here and there in 1934, possibly written by necessity to fill last-minute holes in the layout of what was then The Model Railroader. Readers didn’t really learn about the whole railroad until after it was “abandoned” in 1936.


Last ride on the Ohio Southern

Though most people are familiar with my HO scale Ohio Southern (OS) as presented here, I built my first iteration of the OS on a 5 x 9-foot table when I was in junior high school.

There was a real Ohio Southern, a subsidiary of the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton (DT&I) in the early 1900s. My parents were also employed by the DT&I, further fueling my interest in the railroad.

The direct-current layout featured a loop of track with two reverse loops, a four-track yard, and a locomotive service track. The layout was powered by a 12V DC power pack.


Build the N scale Canadian Canyons

Massive motive power; two-mile-long unit trains of containers, grain, potash, or coal; and rocky, rugged, tree-covered river canyons – British Columbia, Canada, offers some of the most spectacular and exciting modern railroading on the planet. That’s why it’s also the subject for our N scale Canadian Canyons project railroad.

After looking at the realistic photo on this page, you may be surprised to learn that it’s just one of several big scenes we’ve packed into our 5½ x 8-foot model railroad. With its high scenery-to-train ratio, N scale is a great way to capture the size and scope of mountain railroading.


20 innovations that changed the hobby

The hobby of model railroading looked very different when Al Kalmbach launched The Model Railroader 85 years ago. Train sets were more toys than scale models, cars were made out of wood and cardboard, and practically everything had to be scratchbuilt or at least assembled. Different manufacturers’ trains ran on different electrical currents, there were several competing coupler systems, and shredded asbestos was considered a great choice for ground cover. (We no longer recommend that.)

To borrow a line, we’ve come a long way, baby. Our model railroads are more realistic than ever, both in how they look and how they run. A lot of that is thanks to the National Model Railroad Association, whose Standards and Recommended Practices made it possible for products from any manufacturer to work with those of any other. But equal credit goes to the manufacturers who saw the chance to revolutionize the hobby and took it. Here’s a look back at some of the innovations that turned model railroading into what it is today, presented in order of their introduction.


Decorate and detail a 1950s tandem van

When Mike and Jerry, lead characters of the late-1950s TV show Cannonball, hit the road behind the wheel of their sleeper-equipped GMC tractor, what might they have been pulling? If they had worked for McLean Trucking Co., dispatch might have assigned them trailer 8006, a 35-foot, corrugated-side tandem axle van built by the Fruehauf Trailer Corp. of Detroit.

Always looking to increase the load carried per trip, McLean typically operated the most modern and up-to-date equipment seen on the highways in the late 1950s. The drop-floor design of this trailer allowed for a few more cubic feet of capacity and was typical of trailers built for long-haul carriers prior to 1957.


Back to the Timber River Ry.

As Model Railroader looks back at layouts featured in the mid-’80s for its 85th anniversary, one that stands out is John Tews’ Timber River Ry. We first published the TRR in January 1985 as part of the National Model Railroad Association’s 50th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee.

The Timber River Ry. features iron ore railroading on a layout that has hosted more than 300 operating sessions since the late 1960s. Operators have included retired MR senior editor Jim Hediger and former publisher and executive editor Terry Thompson. That’s not the only connection to Kalmbach Media. John’s grandfather was Al Kalmbach’s first commercial landlord; he owned the print shop where the first issues of MR were printed. [Cody Grivno builds a model of it in this month’s Step by Step. – Ed.]


On the Web

The latest features on our website

From the Editor

We've come a long way in 85 years

Railway Post Office

Letters from our readers

Ask MR

Which railroads ran Vanderbilt tenders?

Step by Step

How to build a multi-media kit

DCC Corner

New sound decoder fits tight installations

The Operators

Boy Scouts, auto execs, and presidents

Trackside Photos

Featured layouts from your fellow model railroadersIssue Item

Index of Advertisers
Trains of Thought

A quaint place in the country



Layout plans for realistic operation.

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