No. 121: John Barry Visit…and Rebuilding the Marshall Canning Co.

Last week my friend John Barry was visiting Europe and he spent a couple of nights at nearby Ramstein Air Base.  John is a well-known Santa Fe modeler and historian, and he maintains an interesting blog.  We met a few years ago at the Virginia RPM meet and have kept in touch ever since.

John and I had dinner last Friday evening at one of my favorite local restaurants, Berndt’s Blockhouse–up on the hill in Weilerbach–where we enjoyed a couple hours of dinner, beers and conversation.  John is a former C-130 pilot and instead of talking about trains we spent most of the night talking about work and aviation and Air Force stuff.  Here’s John about to plow through a plate-full of schnitzel.


Rebuilding the Cannery

About nine months ago my friend Doug Harding sent me a couple dozen photos of rail-served customers he found at the Ackley Heritage Society.  I wrote about the photos back in an earlier post, The Marshal Canning Company of Ackley, Iowa, Part 5, which can be found at

Marshall Canning plant 1952 edit

Included in the package Doug sent were a few photos of Marshall Canning in Ackley that “changed everything”.

One of those photos is shown above.  This is a circa 1952 photo according to the information from the Ackley Heritage Society.  In the process of moving the layout from one side of the room to the other, I’ve been refreshing the scenery and fixing all the little problems on the layout—including rebuilding the cannery buildings to a more prototypical appearance.

The photos, especially this one shown above, reveal some details about the cannery that I hadn’t been aware of.  Apparently, there was a power plant at the cannery into the mid to late 1950s.  Doug, Clark Propst and I talked it over online and we agreed that the photos seem to indicate that the plant burned coal for power and/or heat.  Doug told us the plant was converted to gas in the 60s or 70s.  The photos didn’t reveal everything needed to make a credible scale model but they did show enough to warrant rebuilding the model on my layout.

I finished the major rebuilding work three weeks ago.  Below, here’s how the cannery looks today.  It still ain’t perfect, but it’s a lot closer.


I rebuilt the model in several stages.  First I refreshed the main cannery by stripping everything off of it, including the windows, and then rebuilding it with all-new windows and new details.  Second I scrapped the “annex”—the long warehouse formerly to the right of the main building—and built in it’s place a facsimile of the power plant.   Finally, I rebuilt a portion of the annex into a smaller building that can accept a single car.

The model of the cannery on my old Ackley layout in Illinois, shown below, included a large “annex” building that could accommodate three cars.  To be more prototypically accurate, there should’a been a power plant between the main building and the annex.


I rebuilt the main cannery building by replacing the windows and refreshing the rest of the details.  I also painted the windows, doors and a few other details red.  Why red? Well, I wanted the building to “pop” a little more and the brown windows just “wasn’t doing it” for me.  The prototype appearead to have white windows around 1950, but I thought white would be ugly against the beautiful brick finish.  Red is not prototypical but I can live with it.


The inspiration for red trim comes from this Eugene Van Dusen postcard of a New York Central train on the South Bend Branch in northern Indiana, circa 1952.  I really like the look of the factory building on the left.

IMG_5968 (2).JPG

The windows are from Tichy and I also installed a new door on the front of the building using a part from a Walthers Cornerstone set.  Replacing the parts and repainting everything was easy but very time-consuming. I haven’t finished the roof yet, but that job will involve painting the roof black and adding a few details.

Another unprototypical thing I want to do is add a large sign that says “Marshall Canning Company” on top of the building.  The idea is to change the sign when I want to run a scenario featuring another railroad.  I can just change the sign that way and it can become another factory or something that would better fit a different scenario.

Including a Power Plant


I had zero information or photos of the power plant.   I made something as simple as possible—just a brick facade with a covered conveyor belt connected to it.  I added two smoke stacks on top of the power plant per the prototype photos.  Those stacks need some work still but we’re getting closer.  I need to paint everything and add a few more details and then re-scenery the whole area.

I had a leftover fuel tank from the old Grandt Line set that I decided to use too, just in case the plant needs oil for heat or anything else.  The prototypically-based idea is that the plant receives a drop-bottom carload of coal which is conveyed into the building where the boilers and heating plant is located.  I wanted to keep it simple.  Simple is good.

The annex, on the far right of the building shown above, is simply a cut-down version of the original annex I built.  I used Walthers brick sheet for the job.  That stuff is great.  I tried to splice half-used pieces together–hence the multi-color appearance.

Once again, here is the original version built for this layout:


And here is today’s rebuilt version:


I like the rebuilt version a whole lot better!

Here’s a closeup of the conveyor.  I’ll add details and supports once new ground cover is installed.


Another view of the “annex”, below.


And finally, a view with a car spotted.  The power plant adds a nice dimension to the facotry model.


The Cattle Pen

I am also getting around to installing the cattle pen.  I’m using the Walthers Stock Yard set and just using what I want to make a simple square pen.

Here’s the Sanborn view below.  The pen is on the left side of the track just below Herman Avenue.

Ackley 1930 96007 (2)

Below.  I’ve laid out some pieces from the Walthers kit to check the size and fit in the available space.  I think it’ll work out nicely.  The large pieces on top are parts from the covered feed troughs, which I won’t be using.


Below.  Construction has begun!  More to follow in a later post.  In case I didn’t mention it earlier, the cattle pen on my layout wasn’t used after 1950 so I’m modeling it abandoned and overgrown.


I pray you all have a great week!  – John G


One thought on “No. 121: John Barry Visit…and Rebuilding the Marshall Canning Co.

  1. Oh do I have comments! First I commend you on the rebuilding. I agree it is a better looking structure for your time period. I like the conveyor for the coal, but I actually think the coal was lifted via a “leg” like a grain leg. Look at the photo from the 1950’s #22, has 523 in the lower right corner. It shows a vertical leg, and the smoke stacks. Also notice the addition has a rounded or barrel shaped roof, not flat.

    As to the stockpens, on the Sanborn map, the “shaded” patches on the street side of the pens are hog sheds, ie a low roofed structure to protect hogs from the sun. Hog sheds are included in the Walthers kit, but are too tall. Cut them down to 4′ in the back and about 6′ in the front. No need to ride a horse in there, just enough clearance to walk in and chase out hogs.


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