No. 175: Back to My Future

My work in Europe has come to an end and I’m now back in the U.S.—back to my future—where I will be working in the airlift headquarters at Scott AFB, Illinois.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Germany and given the opportunity I’d spend the rest of my life there. I enjoyed the people, the culture and the work. I was a member of a great church. I enjoyed a thriving hobby and railfanning life there. I raised my children there. It was the best thing I ever did for myself and my family. My outlook on everything has changed for the better.

Unfortunately, the moving process to get back to the U.S. was very stressful. Our last three months were spent packing, downsizing and giving away stuff, packing and sending off our household goods, selling and/or shipping cars, and doing a massive amount of administrative work. We were working days, nights and weekends to get everything done in time. I actually left a month later than planned because there was so much to do. To say it was a stressful move is an understatement.

I planned to quit modeling around April 1st, but continued to work on a few projects until April 15th and then closed up the workbench for good. I had big plans to take a week-long trip to England to get to a train show or two and railfan, but I was too busy to get away. Maybe next year.

Below. Here are some of the 20+ “train boxes” pre-packed for the movers. These boxes contain kits, some finished models, layout items, and track and electrical equipment. Most moving companies greatly appreciate when things are packed ahead of time, and normally they don’t bother going through it. Pre-packing also reduces chances of theft.

A major consideration during any move is shipment of rolling stock models. I packed my finished rolling stock models in flat, padded storage boxes, and then secured them in this cabinet which was locked and sealed with the movers present. Here’s our man wrapping up the cabinet for shipment. There are over 200 finished rolling stock models inside–I estimated about $15,000 to $20,000 in models inside.

In the U.S., movers usually fill a large truck with individual items, then take the truck back to a warehouse, download it, and re-pack it more efficiently. Your stuff mysteriously disappears after everything is downloaded and before it is repacked. I moved 11 times in the U.S. and to alleviate theft I always hauled a rented trailer with my computers, valuables, a bed, and my rolling stock. That way I could keep my eye on our high-value items–plus have a place to sleep when I got to my destination.

There’s a better moving system in Europe. In Germany the movers pack your household goods into crates and seal them in front of you. The crates are loaded into containers and forwarded to the U.S. on container ships. If the crates arrive at the final destination open, with the seal broken, then the movers are 100% liable and the insurance claims are easier to prove. I take pictures of everything as they’re doing it.

In 2020, during covid times, I built a small switching layout I called Hermitage Road, which depicted some of the switching lines near the Seaboard Air Line Hermitage Yard in Richmond, Virginia. Inspired by our European modeling friends, I build Hermitage Road as a small British-style “Cameo Layout”. I built it using lumber, track and parts from the dismantled Ackley layout and had it 90% complete in four or five months.

Here’s one of the last views of the layout in operation. As I write this, the layout and all my train stuff and household goods are on the Maersk Tennessee V232–which is still in dock in Antwerp.

Below. Here’s the little layout all wrapped up prior to being loaded into a moving crate.

Since August 5th I’ve been back in Illinois living with my fam in an empty, rented house. I am blessed here with a big basement that awaits Hermitage Road and all my stuff. See the photo below. We plan to put a family TV room to the right, and use another bedroom downstairs for storage. The rest of hte basement is mine. I’m certainly not planning on filling it with trains, but there is an unobstructed 34-foot wall (seen at left) for Hermitage Road. The workbench will go on the back wall and the wall between the doors at right is reserved for two bookcases.

Assuming there’s no mishap with my stuff, or the ship don’t sink, my stuff should get here around October 1st. Right now the plan is to hang Hermitage Road on the wall at left, and–when time and money permits–build a second layout depicting a small Midwestern town, sorta like the old Ackley layout.

I intend to hang the layouts on stringers attached to the ceiling. Back in 2003 I put up a loop of track in a 30 x 30 unfinished basement–I called it “The Giant Loop” and it was hung on the ceiling rafters as seen below. I hung stringers to the ceiling rafters and attached shelf brackets to the stringers, then put the layout on top of the shelf brackets. It was simple and went up fast, and it left the space underneath the layout clean and unobstructed.

I’m thinking that I can hang a long, narrow shelf on that 33-foot wall–maybe 15 or 20 feet–and that would be suitable for a new small town layout. I could have the benchwork up in a day or two.

The more I stare at this big empty basement, the more inspired I become. Inspiration is funny–sometimes it finds you, and sometimes you have to work to find it. In this case I think inspiration found me.

Speaking of inspiration, I went to the National Train Show last weekend in St. Louis. I wasn’t interested in too much on display, but this scene on the Credit Valley Freemo layout really got me going. The broad curve with all those brown 40-foot box cars is awesome. It is very inspirational in it’s simplicity.

What can be said about moving? It’s the pits, but sometimes you’ve gotta do it to learn and grow. I tell my family that moving is a great way to re-make yourself and start good, new habits. In that way moving is a blessing. I hated to leave Germany but I’m ready to start a renewed life here in Illinois with a better outlook on life and modeling. I hope to see you guys at some modeling events soon and share the good news.

And here’s the Good News! God has said to all of us, For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster. To give you a future and a hope! – Jeremiah 29:11


5 thoughts on “No. 175: Back to My Future

    • Gene, you have inspired me more than you know.  Thank You!  I’m looking forward to meeting you someday soon–maybe at Naperville 23?? John Golden


  1. John, that was a “nice write”, as always. I seem to have learned a little something from all the topics that you just shared with us regarding your move. And like your thoughts on one of the few things that caught your eye at the NTS, of all the things you talked about, one stuck out that caused this 3:45 am comment, was that curve.

    Your mention of that eye catching scene of the vast curve filled with a long string of 40′ boxes, and I, in turn, could follow your thought pattern as you took off and began to imagine how you might fit, or want to fit, that vision into your next layout. I think that very process of having the vision, and then creating the end result, is partially responsible for so much of the choices and decisions that modelers make. Especially, the artsy modelers. Somewhere in the Disney empire, it is promoted that ” If you can dream it, you can do it”. I first saw that in the GE Cavalcade Of Progress shortly after Disney World first opened. It has stuck with me for the 5 decades since I first “learned that”. It has and always will guide me in many aspects of my life. I think I will someday I will be visiting a layout in O”Fallon, and will be seeing a track plan or eventually a scene that allows the viewer to feel like they are a part of a long freight easing around a gentle curve, and rumbling along a main line to somewhere on the other end.

    And as I was watching you think, i drifted off to assess that single thing we all talk about when investing our resources in attending some event. That being, did we take away something useful? Of all the resources of time, talent, people and money that was invested by so many to create a week-long NMRA National conference, you walked away with a vision and then perhaps a goal, about a curve…. I somehow know that there will be such a curve.

    All part of getting “back to your future”.


  2. Sir: thanks for you recent post. My family too spent 7 years in Germany with two transoceanic moves. Agree with your sentiment about living there. German people at least in Bavaria were very gracious and inviting. The railroading was phenomenal and I had many interactions with German models. One club was all American O scale. I am grateful to the Lord for our move though, we got rid of things that encumbered us and were able to bless other families with things we could pass on.

    I just returned from the NMRA convention in St. Louis. There is a LOT of rail activity and modeling in the region, so you have much to look forward to. Make sure you check out the TRRA Madison, Illinois yard. A big overpass gives great views and you can park nearby in a small church parking lot. The Lord is indeed kind to us.

    Blessings, Andy Chandler



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