No 180: Rebuilding Hermitage Road, Pt. 1

I went to Paducah, Kentucky last weekend–about a two-and-a-half-hour drive–to attend my daughter’s swim meet. Between the morning and afternoon races I took an hour to drive around the old Illinois Central locomotive shops, now run by NRE, and I also railfanned some old factories downtown. Downtown by the Ohio River is a nice display of railroad equipment, including this IC 2-8-2 and a rebuilt caboose.

The last time I was at Paducah was in 1988 when I stopped for an evening on a family trip–35 years ago. I wasn’t able to get into the NRE facility last weekend but back in ‘August of ’88 I waltzed right through the gate and was able to touch and photograph all kinds of cool things, including this guy:

And this guy:

I didn’t have time to stop by Mt. Vernon, home of the once-huge Mt. Vernon carbuilding shops. Mt. Vernon lies about halfway between my home and Paducah but in all the years I’ve lived here I never bothered to go there.

Or so I thought. When I was looking through my old Paducah slides I found that I had indeed been in Mt. Vernon and just forgot. This is from 1990, back when the shops were rebuilding locomotives for Precision National. It’s not the best photo but there was a lot going on back then.

Layout Work

Meanwhile, in the basement, work commenced this weekend on O’Fallon’s only active railroad–a new and improved Hermitage Road layout.

I mentioned a few months ago that my layout got bashed up during the move from Germany. A few weeks ago I took a day off of work to meet my buddy Lonnie Bathurst at his house, and there we cut new wood for my new layout and also wood for a demonstration layout for our friend Tom Mann.

The new layout will be very similar to the original Hermitage Road only this one will be slightly longer and include a little more track and a few more industries. It will still be a small, sit-down style layout that I can move easily. The track plan will be a little different. I will include a few “dummy turnouts” to hint at more industries off-layout in the aisle. Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

The mock-up above includes a lot of rebuilt turnouts I’ve been slowly preparing for the layout int he last month or two. The wye is a rebuilt Shinohara Code 70 and the others are various rebuilds of Micro Engineering and Shinohara turnouts, plus a few made from Central Valley tie strip.

The photo below shows some industry planning. The pieces of paper help me make sure I’m leaving enough room for all the industries I’d like to model.

The material I’m using for the benchwork top is similar to what I used on the original layout. The original Hermitage Road was built in Germany, and I used a German product called Styrodur, which is a BASF product and is similar to American blue styrofoam. Styrodur is much more rigid. I can’t find Styrodur here but I found something at Lowes that’s similar; LG Project Panel. Project Panel is a multi-purpose insulation product and is both light and sturdy, and I can even carve a few features like a ditch or two if I want.

Freight Car Builds

Work continues slowly on 12 new freight car models, like this one below, that I built this fall. This one is a B&O M-58 that is the result of a lot of work by a lot of different modelers. Fenton Wells was the major instigator here; he had Chad Boas build a parts kit and Mike at K4 Decals make a decal set.

Four or five of the new models are O scale (Proto48) cars, which take a little more time to weather and finish. I’ll get everything done in the coming months. My Proto48 USRA hopper, below, is coming along nicely. Decals are by Resin Car Works. Heavy weathering next!

Other Work

Last Thursday evening I gave a Zoom presentation on rebuilding RTR turnouts to a group led by Ron Christiansen and Greg Bueltmann. I’ve known Ron for 20 years through RPM events–he’s a great guy. Greg is also first-class guy, and he’s currently serving as the Superintendent of the NMRA Michiana Division.

When the government shut down the country for covid, Ron and Greg set up an online group to keep people in touch and encourage more talking about trains and modeling. Eventually they began hosting weekly presentations on Zoom. Greg manages a huge database of all our Zoom presentations which can be found here: My turnout presentation can be found here:

My talk was about three ways to rebuild RTR turnouts. An example can be seen below; this is a Code 70 Shinohara wye that has been mostly rebuilt using all the original rail, a new throwbar, home-cut wood ties, and a Proto87 Stores #4 frog. More details are on YouTube.

Here’s another one I rebuilt using the same techniques using a Micro Engineering Code 70 turnout. In this closeup, below, I’ve replaced the cheap ME frog and replaced it with the beautiful casting made by Details West. Ties are scale 6 x 8-inch wood strip which I cut myself.

Also included in the presentation was a short talk on modernizing older Tortoise switch machines.

I’m considering using a Barrett Hill electronics package on the new Hermitage Road layout, but Barrett Hill equipment only works with late-production Tortoise machines with the green circuit board. I was able to buy replacement green circuit boards online for $2.50 each and rebuilt seven machines for under twenty bucks. Here’s what they look like disassembled, above. The machine is simple and replacing the board takes about ten minutes.

That’s it for now. If you have time to watch the presentation let me know what you think. – John

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