Nostalgia · Proto48 · Ruminations

My Influences

“Who are your influences?”

“Hmmm. Well, Bob Dylan for sure. Big Bill Broonzy. The Mississippi Sheiks. Oh! Oh! You meant the trains. Well…”


We all owe a lot to those who came before us. Clearing a path. Paving the way. I was raised on HO scale trains by my grandfather who taught me the art of scratchbuilding and handlaid track.

But the O scale bug bit me quite young. It was those All Nation O scale 40′ box car ads. Every month a new lettering scheme. I wanted to build every one. I saw those cars full sized on the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad and particularly remember the CN maple leaf box cars bringing Canadian lumber to town.


Under my grandfather’s layout, among the stacks of MRs, RMCs and Trains, was a Fawcett book featuring Frank Ellison‘s Delta Lines. I read that book cover to cover many times. I still have it. In those days, O scale was a mixed bag of cardboard sided reefers, crude castings and Lionel conversions. But Frank Ellison took us beyond that and introduced us to operations: way freights, hot shots, division yards, timetables. “Green lights to Donaldson!” I don’t go in for novelty stuff too much but I do have an NMRA heritage box car lettered for Delta Lines.

My Wabash mogul built from a Kemtron kit, builder unknown. Will be converted to P48 and repainted as D&NE 20.

B&O claim agent Mel Thornburg scratchbuilt wonderful O scale locomotives with just basic hand tools. His Thornburgh Builds a Wabash Mogul series in MR (beginning Jan ’59) was as complete a treatise on locomotive building as one could expect. Kemtron released a complete kit for the mogul with the article series. I love the lines of this locomotive and picked up a built model at SONC 2017. Yes, it needs a new motor, DCC, fresh paint and conversion to P48. Still I’d like to find another in kit form. I’ve always wanted to scratchbuild a locomotive. Maybe this is as close as I get.

Ultra Scale 50′ box car and Mar’71 MR with Bill Clouser box cars on the cover and his interview with Bob Hegge.

Another name that pops to mind is Bill Clouser. A professional model builder from St. Louis, his work appeared in MR during the 50s and 60s. You had to read the captions to be sure that it was MR — not Trains — you were reading. He was casting highly detailed freight car and traction models in metal filled resin way back then. He built his models to 1/4″ AAR meaning O scale built to prototype standards — including the track and wheels. We know it today as proto48. He sold his models commercially at one time. I have a Clouser 50′ box car.  A treasure to me.

Some of you might remember Paul Larson who edited MR in the late 50s. A master modeler, his HO Mineral Point & Northern layout and his model craftsmanship was ahead of its time. St. George owes a big nod to that full page color photo spread of Mineral Point way back in Dec ’59 MR (see lead photo). Later, when Paul was writing for RMC, he had moved to O scale. His article on detailing track in RMC Dec ’68 was decades ahead. The freight house in St. George will be based on the one he described in RMC Dec ’71.

IMG_20171229_161408275Perhaps my biggest O scale inspiration was John Armstrong. I met him several times on visits to his Canandaigua Southern in Silver Spring, Maryland. I never got to know him. I don’t know why. Maybe I was just too much in awe. Living in Alexandria, Virginia for many years, I could have joined the O scale gang up that way but was up to my eyeballs in On2 in those days. If time, money and basement space were no object, I would build a rendition of the CS centered on the CP division point yard at Newport, Vermont circa 1953. While attending the SONC in Washington DC some years ago we got word that John’s health was failing. He was heartbroken that he couldn’t be around to have the layout open. At his behest, his family and the CS operators took over and invited folks to see the layout one more time. What a bittersweet afternoon. He passed not long thereafter. Later, much of the CS was auctioned off. I started to bid on his Cementipeed 200 ton covered hopper but was quickly out paced. Atlas is doing up their X29 in CS lettering for SONC 2018 and I have one on order.


I would be remiss in not mentioning my good friend, the late John Peterson, of Annandale, Virginia. I met John in the Tulsa Lines narrow gauge hobby shop in Alexandria one Saturday morning somewhere back in the late 70s. He introduced me to modeling the Maine two-footers in On2. John was, I believe, the first modeler to appear in Great Model Railroads twice — once for his On2 SR&RL layout and again for his O scale B&M. A New Englander, John was a master modeler and his locomotive roster was something to behold. Steam or diesel, everything was re-detailed, beautifully painted and equipped with sound. John was a real inspiration to me and a great friend. In the days before brass imports flooded the On2 world, John converted an HO Mantua 2-8-2 into a wonderful On2 2-8-0 locomotive, SR&RL 25, utilizing the cab, superstructure and tender  from a NB&W mogul. It has PFM sound, of course. Jack Keene and I borrowed it many times to power our On2 portable display railway. It now sits proudly on my display shelf.

There are a lot of other influences not O scale. Allen McClelland — I still remember seeing his first photo in MR’s Trackside Photos as a young teen back in the early 60s. I’d never seen such realism. Frary & Hayden and their scenic HOn30 layouts. I loved the funky charm of Thatcher’s Inlet and the original Carrabasset & Dead River. There was Witt Towers and his protofreelance Alturas & Lone Pine. Remember his wonderful articles on operation in MR? Jack Work. What an exquisite model builder. Gordon Odegard‘s Clinchfield layout was perfection in N scale. Linn Westcott‘s Twin-T detectors, TAT-IV transistor throttles, L-Girder benchwork and zip texture scenery — all innovations.

In this current millennium, fine scale modeling has been taking a bigger place in my model railroading interests and I’ve made the transition to Proto 48. I haunt Gene Deimling‘s P48 blog and slobber over his latest scratchbuild. The D&NE is intended to be an incubator for fine model building. I hope my skills improve with age ’cause Lord knows I’m not getting any younger.


Achievable layout · Layout Construction · Track Plan · Trackwork

Just Around the Corner

With a few days off over the holidays, track bed has pushed forward around the corner from St. George. Laying out the last two turnouts at the south end of St. George requires that the 52″ radius curve at the end of the room be precisely set. That entailed construction of the first section of benchwork on the opposite wall up to the outside entry door and then a hanging section spanning the end of the room connecting the two sides. The new benchwork is a traditional four legged L-Girder table 10′-6″ long and varies from 3′ down to 2′ in width. I didn’t trust wall supports here as the framing for this wall is hung on the concrete foundation with power nails. It was never intended to support much more than the drywall. The hanging section at the end of the room is lighter 1″ x 3″ L-Girders mounted to the outer 1″ x 4″ L-Girders of the opposite walls. No legs.

New benchwork looking from site of covered bridge. .


Trammel in operation on connecting benchwork. St. George is to the right.

A joist was strung across the room at the approximate radius center from the end wall and a trammel erected. With the trammel, laying out the curve and plywood roadbed was easy. My trammel is a piece of lath with holes drilled at various inch intervals.

I didn’t intend to get into all this benchwork right now but that curve controls everything and needed to be set. You could argue that I should have started with it. The curve dominates the track plan on the opposite side of the room. I’m still working out the details but the main line will “S” curve to parallel with the wall and stop squarely at the end of benchwork. The basement entryway will need a removable span and I’m favoring a covered bridge — there were so many on these Northern New England short lines.

A long spur will be constructed back towards the inside of the curve. For what I’ve yet to determine. A quarry or a lumber and coal business? A hilly, scruffy area or a village setting? Hmmm. (Although I have a general idea of how the layout will evolve, I enjoy letting it grow organically around the room.)

Trap Rock Quarry on the W&OD. Herbert H. Harwood photo from  Rails to the Blue Ridge.


The quarry I have in mind (based somewhat on Trap Rock Quarry on the W&OD) would have a loader track, a couple of storage tracks and handle six or eight cars easily. That would require an additional dozen or so gondolas and hoppers on the roster. Maybe too much.


The lumber yard is winning out. I’m leaning toward a village setting named Nottingham. A second shorter spur would fit nicely on the backside of the “S”. Could site a creamery there. Another milk car every day. Shades of the nearby Montpelier & Wells River.

Well, that’s all a ways off. This area will serve as poor man’s staging area for a while. Lots still to do in St. George.

So, after straightening up the room, I’ll be back on the trackwork in St. George and build the river crossings. But I want to lay the roadbed on the curve and mark out guide lines for the ties before I dismantle the trammel. Unfortunately, I ran out of Homasote roadbed and need to order another batch from Cascade Rail Supply.

Layout Construction · Scenery · Structures · Track Plan · Trackwork

The Vision Thing


Looking south from the tail tracks at St. George. Track is abandoned after the road crossing.

I’ve spent the afternoon spiking in the tail tracks at St. George (4 spikes per tie), adding joint bars and detailing the turnouts. Still have quite a ways to go but it felt like time to take a look at the scene and try to visualize the end product.

The top photo looks straight down St. George as you would see it entering the layout room. The road (maybe “Railroad Ave.” rather than Main St.) is marked out with art board but will be constructed with light weight spackle as Mike Confalone demonstates in his videos. Track is abandoned at the crossing so the few inches on the near side will be quite decrepit and weed grown.

The caboose is spotted in front of the station as it would be after the local arrives and the locomotive runs around the train. The inbounds are parked on track 2 and the outbound train will be assembled on track 1 as switching progresses. If this was a mixed, the combine would be spotted there.

A box car is spotted at the freight house and in the distance a milk car is at the creamery (you have to use your imagination). Construction of that front siding will begin after tracks 1 and 2 are completely detailed all the way to the French River bridges. I’ve decided to replace the feed mill in the plan with a creamery as it generates traffic every day. Midway will be a simple feed storage shed and then the coal trestle.

Looking north.

The northward view shows the public delivery track to the left (west) of the station and you can barely see a black hopper to the right of the freight house at the location of the future coal trestle .

The blank wall to the left will have a series of building flats mostly up to eye level. There was a five story basket factory right behind the station in Peterborough at one time and I may do the same — well,  maybe only three stories.

I composed this scene with specific things in mind. I wanted a classic shortline terminal look, a slightly curvy track plan, no lines parallel to the walls or layout edge, and a somewhat busy center funneling to the river crossing. I’ve mentioned Paul Larson’s Mineral Point (MR Dec’59) as an inspiration. The 3 parallel tracks crowded between buildings come from Morrisville, Vt on the St.J&LC. And, of course, the overall look is based largely on Peterborough, NH, the end of one of the B&M mogul branches.

I know these grab shots look pretty ratty. I did at least move most of the tools and junk off the layout. But sometimes I need to stand around and do the vision thing to see in my mind’s eye just how it will all come out.

Proto48 · Track Plan · Trackwork

Crossing Over


I’ve started in earnest on the St. George crossover in front of the station site. This was a last minute addition to the plan as I discussed in Changes to St. George. In my fertile imagination, St. George was once a through station before the 1938 floods took out a bridge up the line. Two through tracks crossing Main St. help give the impression that there was once more to St.George and the D&NE.

But now, the Main St. crossing is the end of track. The stub end of track 2 will come in handy while switching. A couple of cars can be parked there out of the way but not over the highway crossing. It’s a more interesting design than originally planned and any resemblance to Paul Larson’s Mineral Point scene (Dec ’59 MR) is strictly coincidental.

These are code 100 #7 turnouts. I’m using the beautiful P48 cast frogs and points from Right-O-Way. Since these turnouts are being laid in place rather than constructed in a jig, layout is critical. The frogs must be carefully located so the actual crossover track is aligned correctly. No jigs or jogs allowed.

First, both outer stock rails were tacked down as straight as possible. Then the exact center of the crossover was marked. Then the point of each frog was located. Soldering an extension rail to the diverging side of each frog casting makes it a lot easier to get the crossover track aligned and in gauge. Guide lines at a 1:7 angle help align everything.

The frogs are electrically isolated by insulated gaps all four ways. Since the D&NE is DCC, everything else is either red bus (front) or black bus (back). Easy really. I solder feeders onto the bottom of most every rail and thread them down through a predrilled hole in the track bed. The frog gets a green wire that goes to the center pole of the routing switch on the turnout control. Helping to ensure they’ll be no power drop outs, traditional rail joiners are also soldered between rails. They’re disguised by splice plates.

Once the frogs were perfectly positioned, the point assemblies were completed. A 1/4″ hole was drilled through the roadbed under the throwbar for the actuator rod. For throw bars, I used O scale circuit board ties from Fast Tracks that I had on hand. They’re too wide so I ripped them down the middle using a motor tool cutting disk as a buzz saw. (I’ll get some HO ones next time.) Making sure to leave enough length to slide under the stock rail, two #68 holes were drilled 0.875″ apart for attaching the point bridles. This leaves a 0.080″ flangeway between the points and the stock rails. Another hole is centered between the first two for the actuator rod coming up from below. The points were attached to the throw bar with small brass pins passed through the bridles and soldered to the bottom of the throwbar. The copper on the throw bar was cut between the points (both sides) as I wire them hot.

With the points in place, the inner, curved stock rails and the closure rails were added. I’ll use Right-O-Way rail braces to detail the turnout; five to each stock rail and four more for each guard rail. No gauge plates on these old style turnouts. The guard rails will be formed from code 83 rail. (The smaller rail keeps them from being scuffed bright during track cleaning.) The pronounced bend is prototypical for turnouts on some of the B&M mogul branches of the time. I like them. Tons of splice bars will complete the track details.

These turnouts will be operated by Fast Tracks BullFrog controls through a choke cable brought out to the fascia. The BullFrogs have a built-in switch to route power to the frog in the correct polarity. The points and closure rails are wired to the same DCC polarity as their adjacent stock rail so continuity through the switch does not depend upon point contact.


There is a lot of spiking in yet to do along with turnout details. I’ll be at that for some time. But now tracks 1 and 2 can be completed down to the French River bridges. There’s another switch for the public delivery track that is laid mostly over one of the bridges. A somewhat extended lead allows the points to sit on dry ground on the other side of the river. Prototypical? You bet!



Research · Trackwork

The Bumper Stops Here

The freight house siding in St. George needed some sort of bumper stop to prevent errant cars from straying onto Railroad Ave. I choose the Hayes Cushion Wheel Stop for this siding and the public delivery track. The Hayes type SF cushion wheel stops (a.k.a scotch blocks) have been around forever (there are patents stretching back to at least the thirties) and are still made by Western-Cullen-Hayes. Lucky for me, Scale City Designs also makes them in a size more suitable to the D&NE. I picked up a few packages from their table at the Strasburg O Scale Swap Meet a few weeks ago.

See Western Safety Products WCH Type SF Wheel Stop

and Scale City Designs Hayes Wheel Stop – O scale 2 rail

Here are some photos I took a few weeks back of Hayes wheel stops at the end of a decrepit spur on the ex-B&M Hillsboro branch in Milford, NH.

And here are mine on the end of the freight house spur. Notice the big face up against the tie. It directs the force of a run away car into the roadbed.

Proto48 · Research · Trackwork

Nailing down the trackwork

It’s high time for me to nail down my approach to trackwork for the D&NE. Having about 12′ of track and 2 turnouts down, it’s not too late to tweak things before moving on to completing the trackwork in the St. George area.

Switch ladder off of track 2 in St. George.
Point area. This one is getting a Blue Point control.
Here are the vintage guard rails.

As you might recall, the D&NE is set in northern Vermont circa 1953 and follows track standards typical of New England shortlines of that period. I’m working primarily from photos of Peterborough, NH taken about this time and field trips along the ex-B&M Hillsboro branch as it sits today. This means primarily 75# rail (code 100), 52# rail (code 83) on some spurs, no tie plates and those shapely guard rails. Also, I’ve noticed that the outside splice bars sit quite proud of the railhead.

The first bit of trackwork in St. George was okay but something was bothering me — it just didn’t look right. The guard rails weren’t the right shape and the tie plates under the frog had to go. Also, I just had to take a stab at fattening up those splice bars. Better now then later with more track down.

Original attempt. Tie plates under the frog area. Guard rails not shaped correctly. Outside splice bars flush with the rail.

As it turns out, my field trips to the Hillsboro branch have yielded lots of old 75# track with no tie plates but all of the turnouts I saw were updated over the last 60 or so years or were new. The first turnouts in St. George were influenced by these but they shouldn’t have been. I went back to the excellent photos in Randy Brown’s Peterborough article in MR Planning 2000 and a few others found on the B&M Railroad Historical Society online archives for a closer look at vintage turnouts.

Dateline: Peterborough, NH, circa 1950. Light 75# rail. No tie plates to be found. None. There is a small flat plate under the point of the frogs. No gauge plates. There are rail braces along the stock rails near the points and at the guard rails. And the guard rails have that pronounced bend (I didn’t get that right at all).

In all of this track work, the outside splice bars sit proud of the rail. The old 75# track on the Hillsboro branch is that way today and I’ve seen it elsewhere. There’s a block of wood around the size of a 2×3 stuffed inside a piece of channel iron behind the outside splice bar. It might have been a poor man’s lock washer. Drawing the splice bars tight against this softer material put some pressure on the nuts and helped keep everything in place. [Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Anyone know better?] I’m going to try to replicate this effect. It’s very noticeable when looking down the line.

One of those proud splice bars on the Hillsboro branch at Milford, NH.

So, I bit the bullet and removed all of the tie plates, gauge plates, outside splice bars and guard rails from the first stretch of trackwork. I left the points alone – they were fine as is. A simple plate of 0.010 styrene was slipped under the point of the frogs. New guard rails were fashioned that better match those seen in the photos. Replacing the outside splice bars was tedious but it’s done. I backed up the plastic splice bar castings with 0.040″ by 0.040″ styrene to fatten them up.

Now we’re talkin’. The rail and various gubbins are painted with Model Masters Leather followed by oil washes of  burnt sienna, raw sienna and black. Then, Pan Pastels of similar shades were worked in. The freight house switch is operated by a Bull Frog mechanism from Fast Tracks. I’m trying a Blue Point on the lead switch. Both operate well but I hate installing these things under the layout.

Let’s declare victory and move along to the crossover and station tracks.



Ruminations · Scenery

Autumn Scenes

I’m a ways off from any serious scenery effort on the D&NE. Lots of trackwork to finish along with wiring and controls. The crossover in front of the station is next. And the 44 tonner is still in the shop. You know how it goes.

I’ve been thinking, though, about what I’m going to do on the scenery front. Mike Confalone models Northern New England too and his mud season scenery is something to behold! I have been tempted…

But sometimes I get the notion to plant the D&NE in the mid-autumn season. Just look out my front door.

Train Shows

Road Trip – O Scale Swap Meet

My wife and I took a road trip to Strasburg, PA last weekend to attend the thrice yearly O Scale Swap Meet in the Strasburg fire station. And I’m glad I did! Got a chance to see my good friend, Jack Keene, who was up from Maryland.

My shopping bag filled up quickly with a Des Plaines X29 boxcar kit, a passel of freight car detail parts, a set of proto48 trucks courtesy of show runner Rich Yoder and Tony Koester’s new book on transition era modeling. I was looking for a RY Models 70 tonner but none was to be found.


Main room at the Swap Meet. That’s Scale City Designs at the left.


After the show (it ends at 1 PM), we rode the dining car on the Strasburg railroad for a trip to Paradise (PA, that is) behind a steaming 2-10-0 behemoth. There were several great catches in the yard – a CV single sheath boxcar and 2 Rutland double sheath boxcars. I took lots of detail photos as both cars are on my to-build list.

Toward the end of the day we slipped over to the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum. I haven’t been there in some time. Incredible displays including another catch – a Lehigh Valley wrong way door boxcar.

We spent the next two days touring around Pennsylvania before heading for home. A great time was had by all.


Layout Construction · Proto48 · Research · Trackwork

How’d That Turnout?

Overview of the frieght house siding at St. George. Turnouts are nearly complete. Siding is code 83 and drops a little below the main tracks to the right. Sad looking freight house mockup helps set the scene. Detail work on the outside braced CN boxcar is languishing as effort is focused on trackwork.

Rail is going down slowly but surely in St. George starting with the freight house siding and the two turnouts that feed it. I’ve been researching trackwork both in photographs of the period (circa 1953) and in situ on the ex B&M mogul branches here in New Hampshire. My turnouts are a close approximation of those I’ve seen in photos of Peterborough, NH. Although much primitive trackwork exists, turnouts on the Hillsboro branch have been modernized over the last 60-70 years and haven’t been as helpful as I had hoped. I’m still looking for one out Bennington way that is more primitive. A hike is planned out of S. Bennington to the Elmwood Jct. site and beyond to end of track with the hope of bagging an older turnout. My Springer Spaniel Rosie will help suss that out, I’m sure. She has the nose for it.

A photo on page 64 of Model Railroad Planning 2000 is the best photo I have for a turnout of the period. It shows few tie plates, few rail braces, less of everything compared to a modern turnout. I also like the funky guard rails the B&M had at that time — at least out there. I’ve seen them in other photos. The D&NE turnouts are derived from this style.

St. George freight house switch nearly complete. Need rail braces outside the guard rails. They’re on order.

All the turnouts on the D&NE are being built in code 100 (75#) rail. This turnout, the frieght house switch, is nominally #6 but is actually an equilateral of sorts. Both legs are in easements facing opposite directions. The frog needed to be built on the workbench. It has Tichy NBW details.

Tie plates are from Right-O-Way and Grandt Line along with homemade ones in 0.020″ styrene. Rail braces, gauge plates and code 100 insulated joint bars are from Right-O-Way. Code 83 joint bars came from Foothill Model Works.

Beautiful guard rail castings are available too but I like to make my own in the style of the old B&M ones I mentioned. They are made from code 83 rail so that track cleaning won’t scuff off the weathering.

The points are tied together with circuit board ties and pins. I drill a pair of #68 holes in the circuit board ties exactly 0.562″ apart (or as close as I can get!) and then drop the pin through the saddle that is cast on the point. These are soldered to the circuit board cladding from the backside. As my points are wired hot, the copper cladding is cleaned off of the center of the ties, both sides.

The beautiful gauge plate is a brass casting from Right-O-Way. It’s insulated with a styrene spacer. Strictly speaking, in non-signaled territory like this with no track circuits, there is really no need for an insulated gauge plate but why not! As you can see, the slide plates are styrene with Right-O-Way rail braces.

The freight house siding is spiked with tiny stainless steel spikes from Proto:87 Stores. I’m using them primarily on foreground code 83 rail. You need a high power Optivisor for this work! For the code 100 rail, I’m using the small spikes from Fast Tracks. The goal is four spikes per tie but I fudge on background track and track that is behind a structure or buried in grass. The public delivery track was laid in code 100 rail with spikes every fourth tie as it is in the background and will be buried in dirt.

And no tie plates. The prototype didn’t have them, except at turnouts. This saves a lot of fuss.

[One thing I’ve noticed about proto-48 is that it seems a little easier to get the trackwork just right! Why is that? The flanges are so small yet the trucks track beautifully. What does the prototype know that we don’t?]


The point end of the freight house turnout.
A #6 turnout under construction.
The points for the #6 turnout on track 2 under construction. The stock rails are soldered to #6 brass flat head screws to firm them up as they are adjacent to the French River bridge.
Overview of the turnout ladder. Yeah… I’m a messy worker!

I can’t wait to paint and weather this trackwork! Some of the rail was sprayed with ruddy brown primer years ago. I’ll be sure to spray all of the rail ahead of time from now on. The plan is to touch up the rails and details with acrylic paint in rust and umber colors then apply Pan Pastels in various rusty, cruddy shades — all with a brush. Oily black highlights around the point workings along with oil drippings down the center of the track will help complete the picture. The ballast is a little plain and needs cinders and other variations mixed in. All good fun!

Layout Construction · Model Building · Research

Ideas for the French River Bridges

As track laying progresses, I’ve run into the French River. The railway crosses the French River over a pair of low bridge spans smack in the middle of St.George yard. Oddly, this was also the case in Peterborough on the B&M where the yard tracks crossed the Nubanusit River. Unfortunately, I have no low angle photo of the actual spans. If you have a copy of Model Railroad Planning 2000, pages 58-59 show these spans from above in a beautiful Phillip R. Hastings photo. Note that one of the bridges carries a turnout and so will mine – the switch to the public delivery track.

The railway crosses the French River on a pair of low, 3 span bridges.

Here’s are some shots of those old granite piers today.

Center piers at Peterborough, NH
Note the sharpened block pointing upstream.

I was out in Lyndeboro, NH on the B&M’s Hillsboro branch recently and found the bridge spanning the entrance to Pike quarry. The bridge is one lane wide, a span of maybe 12′-15′ and consists of six timbers, maybe 12″ by 12″. This would make the perfect bridge design for St.George as the spans are in the same range (14′). The granite abutments are also good inspiration for how this type of structure was constructed. Piers and abutments made from individual granite blocks cast in Durhams Water Putty will do the job.

Bridge at entrance to Pike Quarry, Lyndeborough, NH.
Simple, rugged construction.

Looks good to me! Let’s get started!