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 hope for. 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 found that with seven interchangeable parts he could build a variety of 1938 ARA boxcars. His models were built to 1/4″ AAR meaning O scale built to prototype standards — including the track and wheels. We know it today as proto48. They were sold commercially at one time as Ultra Scale. 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. I got to see his original V&O and it was just as stunning in person. 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 and Al Armitage. What exquisite model builders. 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.



2 thoughts on “My Influences

  1. As we are roughly the same age the influencers are similar. My focus has been narrow gauge for 45+ years or so throw in the Schwedlers from Coronado, Bob Brown from the Gazette, George Sebastian-Coleman, Bob Love, Jim Harper and Bill Schaumburg for starts.
    I haunted the Menlo Park CA club house in the SP station while my Dad got his DED at Stanford 1958 – 1961. The O scale yard was up front under an elevated viewing platform. Checked Frank Ellison out of the library almost every month.
    Business travel from 1980 through 2014 allowed me to visit some great layouts and people around the country.
    It has been a great journey.


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