No. 149: Display Cabinets for the Train Room

Over the recent Labor Day weekend–when covid restrictions were relaxed and travel to France was still possible–I took a day of leave and went to Verdun, France, site of the tremendous, 11-month-long German army assault during World War I.  I visited the excellent War Museum there, three vast graveyards, many of the battlefields, the Ossuary, and Ft. Douaumont.  It was a beautiful day but a very sobering learning experience.  It’s hard to believe it was real.


Above.  Some of the trench lines still exist.  They can be found all over the place.  This one, near Ft. Douaumont, has been preserved to a certain extent.

Incredibly, all the land in the area still looks like this, below–completely chewed up by a year of constant artillery fire.  Deep in the newly-planted forests, the land is still pock-marked.  They said 130,000 bodies are still out there somewhere.  Again, it is hard to believe it was real.


There is one German cemetery nearby, with over 5,000 dead, and a monument to ten thousand more…


The Battle of Verdun Museum is clean and modern and very well done.  An English language site can be found here: Mémorial de Verdun. A museum and a memorial to the Battle of Verdun (  Among the fascinating displays are helmets and equipment found on the battlefield with bullet holes shot through them.  This change purse, carried into battle by a French soldier, was gifted to the museum.


Near the trench lines is the Ossuary, the big building in the background, which is the largest monument to the French army and their sacrifice.  In front is the largest of the French war cemeteries.  Many of these graves have the remains of multiple men.


The Ossuary is famous as the repository of human remains found on the battlefield.  Since the end of the war, remains have been dug up by salvage crews and souvenir hunters, and if the remains can’t be identified they are brought to the Ossuary for internment.  The basement of the entire building is full of these small rooms, seen below, each holding scattered remains.  I really didn’t want to look in the basements, but felt like I had to.  Here is a photo of one of the many rooms below.


Well, you didn’t visit the blog to see bones, so let’s get to the modeling stuff.

Back in August, after my son left for college, I determined that I had nothing to show my modeling to visitors.  I embarked on a small program to build displays and a small switching layout.  It had been a year since I moved from Albersbach and dismantled the Ackley layout for parts, and there was no place to showcase my work.  

The first project was to build two wall-mounted display cases, a small one for eight pieces of HO rolling stock to fit in a specific place on a wall, and a larger O scale display that holds ten pieces of rolling stock, designed to fit on a wall on the stairwell to the train room.  The small HO display is below.   I made it from 2-1/2-inch-wide specialty wood and painted it the same color I used for the Ackley layout fascia.  I’m able to use the “Wood Shop” at Ramstein Air Base so I have access to all kinds of woodworking equipment. 


I also built two small “display shelves”.  I saw a similar design online on a Japanese modeling site, and modified that design to produce an HO scale and an O scale display track.  Each display has track, ballast, and static grass on a finished display with a small fascia around all four sides.  The HO display was finished first.  The O scale display was built to Proto48 fine-scale standards and all the track had to be completely handlaid, including laying down scale ties, tie plates, rail and the works.

Here is the HO scale display shelf under construction, below.  This isn’t the best photo, but it’ll give you an idea what it looked like before I installed track.  I used a piece of 3/4-inch plywood leftover from a bed-making project, and attached a short Masonite fascia around all four sides.


I installed N scale roadbed, then Micro Engineering Code 55 flex track.  I painted the rail, ballasted the track and added static grass.


The finished display is below.  The lighting is poor, but you get the idea.  Now I have a small, weathered, model display track that I can put anywhere in the room, or I can even hang it on shelf brackets.


The Proto48 display was a lot more involved.  The concept started the same: A heavy piece of plywood, sanded and painted, and dressed on all four sides with very short Masonite fascia.  Below, I have made a roadbed from low-profile cork from the craft store, and am laying O scale ties.  The initial coat of paint used on the ties was Testors Rubber.


Here are the ties.  I used Grandt Line parts for all the track details, and Right-o-Way Code 100 rail.


Below.  Here’s the old man himself, installing ballast on both the HO and O scale displays.  I ballasted both displays using dirt I brought over from the site of the PRR roundhouse in Richmond, Indiana. 


Below, I have added static grass and also added a little Woodland Scenics foam on top.  Next comes the hard part!


Below.  Adding tie plates and 39-foot sections of Code 100 rail.  I pre-painted the tie plates and rail with Tamiya Medium Brown.


Below.  With the rail spiked down, I tested the gauge with a pair of Rich Yoder trucks.  Works good!


Here’s a snap of the display track all finished and on top of some bookcases.


Models look nice on display here.  This is a modified Intermountain car kit.


I also built a Proto48 display cabinet for the stairwell leading to my third floor train room.  Again I used specialty lumber from the local German do-it-yourself store, Hornbach.  It turned out well.


Both displays turned out very well and I finally have some nice displays so show off some models on those nights when the boys come over for a beer.

The last display I mentioned is construction of a small switching layout.  I tried for months to design a switching layout around the Milwaukee Road’s Mason City, Iowa freight house, but I couldn’t design something satisfactory in the space available. 

I also tried to design a very small, Midwestern-themed, end-of-the-line layout.  I wanted to model the Milwaukee Road at Preston, Minnesota but again I couldn’t fit everything I wanted into the space available.  Below, the Milwaukee Road station at Preston, Minnesota, circa 1965.  Photo courtesy the Midwestern States Archive.


Finally, after I decided to go back to my Seaboard Air Line roots and build a very generic, “composite” layout based on the switching district located next to SAL’s former Hermitage Yard in Richmond, Virginia.  

Below.  Here is SAL’s small Hermitage Yard in Richmond.  Photo is looking north.  Just behind the diesel engine house in the background is the switching area being modeled.  Photo circa 1964 by Bill McCoy. 

SAL 1474 Hermitage Yd., Richmond, VA 12-57

That layout is well underway and I’ll post some information on it very soon.  I’m building the layout in the British cameo-style and so far I love the results.  


Merry Christmas!  May God bless you and your families this Holy-Day season!  – John

5 thoughts on “No. 149: Display Cabinets for the Train Room

  1. Merry Christmas, John!

    Those are some great accomplishments to high lite your modeling efforts. You are quite the craftsman in any gauge and we look forward to the progress of your switching layout. Any chance of seeing a track plan sometime?

    BTW, you are not an “old guy”! Compared to most on this site you are a young guy and look to be in good shape to boot.

    I enjoyed your explanation and description of the German/French war sites and am humbled to remember the Christmas Eve in the War when Silent Night was sung by German soldiers and picked up by English and French(?) soliders on the other side. Then this gesture leading to a Christmas cease fire. Oh, that each side of an argument, today could lead to respect and understanding of the other…not necessarily, acceptance but agreement to differ how different our world might be?

    Blessings to you and your family for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    Barry…a real old guy.


      • Hi John,
        I’m OK but have been keeping a low profile in the hobby of late as I am not doing much modeling. Although I have statred a book on WWI which is an environmental analysis although that is a long term project. look forward to seeing and hearing more about your Richmond layout. I notice the front fascia is higher than the backdrop which I assume is part of the top and lights. It looks very nice. We need to stay back in touch. Enjoy Christmas and stay safe. More soon. Gerard


  2. While living in KC I volunteered at the National WW 1 Museum. If you are ever in KC be sure and visit, I can assure you it is first class a not a bunch of old equipment laying around. I was amazed at people’s lack of knowledge of this pivotal event and precursor to WW2 and some of the issues we have even today.

    Best WW1 movie, Paths of Glory with Kirk Douglas.



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