No. 184: MoPac Howe Truss Box Car, and the Generosity of Old Friends

Three weeks ago I got an e-mail from an old friend, telling me to expect a box in the mail. He didn’t provide any details. He just said “I’m sending you a box of goodies.”

I do a lot of model and parts swapping with other guys, so much so that getting a box of swapped goodies a month is a regular thing. But this box was different. It wasn’t a box of cut-up decals or leftover resin parts, or somebody’s leftovers. This box included two beautifully finished HO scale models, with a note that said “These models are a blessing from Bill Welch”. Wow.

The car above is a Sunshine ATSF GA-49 gondola. I’d never seen one before I opened the box. It’s an awesome car and it immediately became one of my favorite models. Below is another Sunshine car, this one a rarity–an N&W G-1 low-side gondola.

In the 15 or so years I ran St. Louis RPM, I learned that our hobby is full of very, very generous people. People who are generous with their time, and their hard work, and their money. People willing to share everything they’ve got. I was humbled then, and I’m again humbled today. These models are indeed a blessing.

Here is another new model received at about the same time, below. This is one of the new Rapido UTLX X-3 8,000-gal tank cars. It is gorgeous. I’m working on it this week, adding placards, new trucks, and a few more things to really sweeten it up. Well done, Rapido!

Our old friend Richard Hendrickson campaigned for a high-quality, injection-molded model of the X-3 for decades. If he were around today, I think he’d be well-pleased with this model.

MoPac How Truss Box Car

I wrote last fall that I was working on about 14 new HO scale models. Most of them are still in various stages of completion; this one–a Sunshine MoPac single-sheathed box car–was finally finished in March. Here’s the story.

According to Ed Hawkins, Missouri Pacific rostered over 4,000 1924-design Howe-truss single-sheathed box cars. I like single-sheathed cars, and given those high fleet numbers I feel that I can justify one on my railroad. I bought this old kit from my friend Tim O’Connor last year and built the car last fall and finished paint and weathering right about the time I received the other models mentioned above.

Below. There’s nothin’ like opening up a box of Sunshine Models goodness!

Here’s the prototype car. This is a Joe Collias photo from the early 1950s. Classic MoPac. The Sunshine car is a perfect replica.

Below. I began the build with the underframe, since that’s my least favorite stage of assembly. Below, I’ve followed the instructions and placed the valve and reservoir based on prototype photos included with the kit. I prefer to use Cal Scale brake gear but didn’t have the entire set on hand, and had to use a Tichy reservoir instead.

I connected the chain to the clevis at the cylinder piston using a short, .0125-inch piece of u-shaped wire. That allowed me to make an easy connection to the piston. Credit for that technique goes to Jerry Hamsmith.

Below. Here’s a photo of the completed underframe. I forgot to photograph it during assembly; here’s a view after the car was completed. This view also shows that I used Kadee #178 coupler boxes on the model, and Tahoe 40-ton trucks, and Hi Tech air hoses with brass brackets. It also appears that I used two different brands of “Code 88” wheelsets–see how the truck on the left has wheelsets polished to silver, and the one of the right has wheelsets polished to some other color??

You can also see that I tested using an artist’s pencil on the bottom of the weathered underframe. The lighter boards are where I tested a dark red pencil before I used it to weather around the rest of the model.

The superstructure was finished next. First I sanded the sides and ends the same height and length, to make sure the model makes a perfect box, and then added ladders, grabs and sill steps on the car sides. The roof has a running board made from Evergreen styrene, although I used the lateral running boards that originally came with the model. The A end was simple to finish–just ladders, a few grabs and a tack board and that was about it.

The last assembly completed was the B end. I finished the model per the instructions and used the prototype photo included in the instructions as an additional guide. The ladders are old Details West parts included int he kit. The air line attachment is a brass Hi-Tech details part. The sill steps are by A-Line, and the running board supports are by Yarmouth. It was a straightforward build; fairly easy since attaching a “stemwinder” brake wheel usually goes a lot faster than a power brake housing.

When construction was complete I sandblasted the model in my North Coast sandblast booth, and after I washed it and set it aside to dry, I painted it with Tru Color MoPac Freight Car Red.

I applied the kit-supplied decals in my usual manner, using Microscale Micro-Sol during application, and once dry using Walthers Solvaset to snuggle the decals around the details.

After a few applications of Walthers Solvaset to make sure the decals settled nicely, I sealed the finish with two coats of a mix of 50% Testors Dullcote, 25% Testors Glosscote and 25% paint thinner to set the decals.

Once the Dullcote was dry, I mixed a solution of black artist’s oil paint and paint thinner and dribbled it on each surface of the car (roof, sides, ends, and trucks) and allowed that to dry. That solution, which I’ve described frequently on this site, allows the black paint to settled in around the details and between the side sheathing boards, creating a dirty, well-used appearance. I also added a little more black weathering on the roof, this time carefully brushing on some AIM “Soot” weathering powder. Finally I colored some of the boards with a dark red, almost maroon artist’s pencil I mentioned earlier to highlight some of the sheathing boards. Then I sealed everything with one more shot of the Dullcote mix.

The last step was fixing the completed, weathered underframe to the superstructure. After a quick re-check on operating quality (coupler height, truck swivel, no wheel binds, etc.) the model was declared ready for service. This was a very enjoyable build and this one is definitely a keeper.

Looks like I need to untangle that chain!

Meanwhile, progress on the new Hermitage Road layout is progressing nicely. This week I finished a new version of the Alcatraz Paint and Varnish Co., using a Walthers locomotive shop kit. Here’s the model, and I’ll explain how I did it in a later post.

Hope you all enjoy your weekend. – John G

No. 183: Rebuilding Hermitage Road, Pt. 3 – Laying Track

I have settled on a track plan for the new Hermitage Road layout. Here is a view, below, of the original Hermitage Road track plan under construction in March 2020. It was pretty simple.

Here is the revision I have been planning up until a few weeks ago. It is similar to the first revision I posted last time:

I was a little unhappy with this track plan. It maximized the same space, but I didn’t like how everything was square with perpendicular angles. There was no flow.

The advantage of building the layout perfectly square with the front fascia and backdrop is that it makes it easier to apply backdrops. For example, it’s easy to make road that cuts perpendicular across the tracks disappear into the backdrop.

For weeks and weeks, I tried numerous ways to angle some of the trackage to break up the square lines, but in so doing I always lost precious industry space. Finally, one evening about three weeks ago I was looking at photos of a St. Louis switching district and decided to try to maintain the track arrangement but reset everything on the layout on a 10-degree angle from the front fascia. That’s about the angle of a #6 turnout.

I angled a few of the buildings against the backdrop and in an instant the whole picture orientation of the layout changed, and I liked it.

I played around track and buildings for a few days, and here is what I ended up with, below. I was well pleased.

Same space, same industries, and basically the same track plan. Gone is the boxiness. Gentle curves now lead to customers set on angles to the viewer. I’ll have a problem with roads disappearing into the backdrop, but I can handle that.

The layout is really simple, and if you’re a follower of Lance Mindheim you’ll this plan is “not complex”. However, you may notice the lead at the bottom of the plan. There are multiple “dummy” (non-operating) turnouts that lead into the aisle, and an odd S-curve leading into the coal dealer at the bottom left. The point is to suggest that there are more industries in the aisle. The reverse curve off to the coal dealer suggests an industry lies ahead to the left, off the layout, and the turnout to the coal dealer was added later. In the early 1900s, railroads did this all the time and trackwork in tight areas was awkward. It’s awkward here on purpose. In my opinion it is complex without actually being complex.

Auf Gehts!

Let’s Go! Now that I had a plan, I began laying track. I already had the yard lead laid from the previous track plan, so now I need to add the long sidings. This new track, shown below, will serve the Grocery Warehouse and a small, single-car industry-to-be-named-later.

Below. The track used on the grocery warehouse siding is leftover Micro Engineering Code 55 flex track removed from the original Hermitage Road layout. To remove the track from the original layout, I cut all the feeder wires and then soaked the track with rubbing alcohol for 10 or 15 minutes. Once the rubbing alcohol cut through the matte medium glue used to secure the track and ballast, I carefully peeled up the flex track with a scraper tool. The track was covered in glue, paint and ballast from it’s first application.

Next I brought the track up to the kitchen, where I soaked it once again with rubbing alcohol and let it sit for another 10 or 15 minutes. Then, I carefully brushed it with a toothbrush to remove as much dirt and ballast as possible. Oh…why the kitchen? It has long, hard, flat surface good for cleaning flex track, and I can make a mess up there and clean it up quickly in the sink.

I washed all the gunk off the track, then hit it one more time with the alcohol, and then used a medium-stiffness brass-wire brush to remove any remaining ballast on the bottom of the ties and on the side of the rails. I bought this particular brush in Germany but I’m sure there are many like it at Lowes or Menards.

When all that mess is done, and the kitchen was cleaned up (Pro Tip: Don’t forget to clean up the kitchen), and the track is dry, the old track looks something like this, as seen below: Ready for re-lay and re-paint (below). I just saved myself five or six bucks.

Here’s the recycled track, going into the grocery warehouse lead. I spread Elmer’s white glue (not school glue) on the cork roadbed and pinned the track into place. The pins keep the track straight and on the proper alignment. Note the irregularity of the tie spacing. That’s the result from cutting the webbing from underneath the ties and spreading them out a little.

Below. Here is new M.E. flex track being prepared for the other industry leads. In this photo the webbing between the ties is being removed. It’s a tedious process, but it allows irregular realignment of the ties, as shown above, which enhances the effect of track that has seen a little less maintenance.

Here’s the same result with new track, below. It looks great and is ready for laying and paint and weathering.

Eventually, all this track will look something like this. I’m striving for slight variation in tie spacing and color. This photo is from the first Hermitage Road layout. The ballast is finely sifted dirt from a roundhouse site.

With the track and buildings installed, I hope to paint and weather the track to look something along the lines of this, below. This is from Tom Johnson’s current L&IM layout.

Here’s the new grocery warehouse staged on the new track, below.

For the second “industry-to-be-named-later” on this track, I’m considering modeling the old Rosenegk Brewing Company. Rosenegk was on the RF&P, a few blocks away from the SAL main tracks–but it was actually on Hermitage Road as you can see below.

Below. A few months ago a modeler friend, Robert Hultman, saw the blog and sent generously some photos of a neat bulk unloading trestle just a block away from the brewing company at RF&P’s Bolton Street Yard. Robert sent a lot of photos; here are two, which show an RF&P Alco S-2 working cars dumping sand or gravel. I wish I had room for something like this.

Robert made the images above and below in June, 1965.

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter and are enjoying God’s rich blessings. Jesus was the first of those to be resurrected, and it was done in the full sight of mankind, to show man that God never lies, changes, or deceives, and that He fulfils all his promises. – John G

No. 182: The 2023 O Scale National and 2023 Savannah RPM

Two weeks ago I attended two modeling events back-to-back. First, on March 17th I drove up to Chicago from St. Louis to attend the annual O Scale two-rail Train Show and Meet at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center Lombard, Ill. I was only there for three hours, but I had a nice time and ran into a lot of old friends, and met some new ones, and also bought a few hard-to-find things. You can read more about that event at

Naturally the O scale community does things a little differently. This Milwaukee 2-6-2 was entered in the model contest hosted by the organizers. It was completely scratchbuilt in brass in the 1970s.

Very big engines were everywhere! Many of the vendor tables were manned by regular fellows selling off collections.

My old friend Ted Schnepf was there, selling his full line of O scale resin freight cars and parts. There’s Ted in the orange shirt at the right, holding court and talking to a few prospective buyers.

The O Scale National was a good time and it was terrific to see a lot of old friends. For a fresh look at the hobby, I recommend you attend an O scale or a European event. There’s a whole lot to learn out there.

The following weekend–on March 24th and 25th–I attended the Savannah Railroad Prototype Modeler’s Meet, hosted by Bob Harpe and his great team from the Savannah, Georgia area. The meet was held at the Southside Assembly of God church on the city’s south side.

Below. The drive to Chicago was characterized by low temperatures (15F), high winds, and snow squalls. The drive to Savannah a week later was totally different–clear skies, warm temps and LOTS of traffic. Here’s my view of Chattanooga, dead-stopped on the north (wrong) side of town on Friday, around 3:30, just as rush hour was taking effect…

The next morning, after getting a little rest, I was at Savannah RPM before the doors opened at 9:00 a.m. Obviously, everybody else was there before 9:00 a.m. too.

Savannah RPM is a small event, hosted by Bob and team as more of a friendly get-together than a regional or blockbuster event. That’s what makes Savannah RPM so cool–it’s small, and friendly, and you get to know everybody that attends. 40 modelers attended this year and it was casual and fun. The view below shows the main room where there are about 10-12 model tables, 8-10 vendor tables, three or four historical society tables, and a few giveaway tables tucked in the back corner. Clinics were hosted in a separate room.

I finally met my longtime online pal, Fenton Wells, at Savannah RPM. Here’s Fenton with his beautiful collection of FGE models. Fenton does terrific work and is a super guy, and a very motivational modeler. We spent half the day together on Saturday. I shared the other side of the table with Fenton–those are my HO and Proto48 models on display. I brought the O scale models specifically to antagonize Bob Harpe, but he didn’t take notice. I guess I’ll have to bring more next year.

What! More O scale? Yes indeed, and this piece is special. Georgia 302 was displayed by a gentleman who acquired the model through an estate. The engine was scratchbuilt in O (“five-foot”) scale, entirely in brass by the famous railroad photographer Bill Lenoir in the early 1970s. Bill’s craftsmanship is shown here in all it’s glory.

Below. Here is Stu Thayer, an old friend and an outstanding L&N modeler and historian. One of the most pleasant guys you could ever meet in the hobby.

This is the great Bill McCoy, at left, and the great Ed Mims at right. Both are retired railroaders and are giants in the southeastern modeling and railroad historical scene. Bill and Ed’s work is in the foreground. I spent a good half an hour drooling all over Ed’s heavily kitbashed purple ACL express car, seen at the far left of this photo. It’s a Walthers model that Bill re-worked. Bill fitted a prototypically-correct streamlined roof, made of wood, on the car.

John Degnan was at Savannah this year with an ever-growing display of fine S scale models. Note the use of the term “S Scale“. John is not quiet the king of S Scale but he’s certainly the prince. He’s driven quality manufacturers to S scale for over 20 years and here is the outstanding result.

Bob Harpe is a very-well-known locomotive builder and he brought quite a selection to display. Interesting that he’s using an old St. Louis RPM introduction card for his models.

It’s awfully nice to be back in the U.S. and have the opportunity to attend modeling events and catch up with old friends. Savannah RPM is worth your time to go.

I wasn’t in the Savannah area long–only two full days. I spent Saturday at Savannah RPM and on Sunday I went to Wilmington Island to visit my lovely 93-year-old Mom.

I’m back home now, recovering from full left-knee arthroplasty (“left knee replacement”) and contemplating continued work on the new Hermitage Road layout, seen below. Track laying is almost complete and I’ll send an update soon.

RPM Meets and specialty shows are great places to inspire prototype railroad modelers and meet old and new friends. Let good work and motivational people inspire you to do great work this year! – John G

No. 181: Rebuilding Hermitage Road, Pt. 2

February and March have been good months of work on the new Hermitage Road layout.

Here’s a mock up of one of two track plans I’ve developed. The layout is 7-1/2 feet long and 18-inches wide. I have another arrangement that I also like, but there’s no rush to make the decision and I’m letting the plans simmer for a while. I’ll share the other plan on the next post, but it looks much like this one with a twist. The reality is there’s not much room to do too much else other than something like this.

Like the original Hermitage Road, there are three tracks that span out from a single switching lead at the right. However, I’ve added two switchbacks on this version–one of which can serve as a runaround–and I’m also adding a few “dummy switches” to simulate more industries off the layout. I’ve added a crossing as well. There weren’t any in the area I’m modeling, but I like them.

Unconventional Benchwork

I built cut lumber and built the benchwork quickly and easily last month. That’s the conventional part, shown above. Below is the unconventional part. Instead of using wood for the table top, or subroadbed, I’m using LG Project Panel (the green stuff).

Wood is heavy, and this layout can’t be heavy because it has to be moveable. Furthermore, I can’t really add ditches and terrain features below the roadbed using wood. I used instead the Project Panel material–which is quite sturdy but light–and I can carve small terrain features into it. It is firm and flat. The only drawback is it is two inches thick which creates minor problems when using under-layout switch machines.

I used something similar on the first Hermitage Road layout, which I built while living in Germany. The product used there as called Styrodur and it was even more sturdy. The LG Project Panel was as close as I could find to Styrodur here in the U.S.

I glued the Project Panel to the top of the benchwork frame with benchwork and also secured it to the frame with sheetrock screws. On top of the Project Panel I glued 4mm cork to serve as roadbed for track and a foundation for structures.

The photo below shows a mock-up of track and buildings and spaces to see how everything fits. You can see the use of the 4mm cork on top of the green panel. The track plan is linear, and boring…hence my hesitation on pulling the trigger and putting down too much track at this point.


Like the original Hermitage Road layout, seen above, the new version of the layout will have seven industries and a total of 13 car spots.

From left (where the train enters the layout) are:

  1. Team Track (max two car capacity–box/refrigerator/flat/gondola/hopper/tank)
  2. TBD industry on the back wall at right (one car capacity)
  3. Southern Fuel & Oil (max two car capacity–tank and/or box cars)
  4. Hermitage Coal Co. (max two car capacity–hoppers and/or gondolas)
  5. Alcatraz Paint & Varnish (max one car capacity–tank or box car)
  6. Richmond Concrete Block Co. (max three car capacity–one covered hopper and two box/gondola/flat cars)
  7. Grocery Warehouse (max two cars–box or refrigerator cars)

Here’s the draft layout plan again for reference:

While there are 13 spots for cars, I don’t plan on moving a car in and out of each spot in a normal, 30-to-40 minute operating session. If I did, switching out 13 spots would require a maximum of 26 cars per session. However, I envision a typical 30 minute session I’d service 40% of the car spots, which looks more like moving 6 cars in an out–that’s 12 cars total. That’s more realistic and manageable.

Below. Mocking up the old industries on the new layout. In the foreground is a new grocery warehouse, and in the background is my old favorite, the Richmond Concrete Block Co. In front is an in-progress, scratchbuilt Code 55 wye. I’m testing how the industries, road and turnout will all fit together.

Meanwhile I’ve found a good prototype for the Alcatraz Paint & Varnish Co., which was next to the concrete block plant. No pictures of the real plant have been found, so I’m going to prototype-improvise and use the factory building on the right as the prototype for my model. The actual prototype is in Litchfield, Illinois on old Big Four (NYC) lines. You can see the Big Four main line in front of the factory.

About that “To Be Determined” space. I don’t have any plans for it yet but I could use another box car industry. Bill Michael gave me a cool photo of a grocery warehouse in Anderson, South Carolina. This is 1970, but I like the curved loading dock and the elevator house on top. I certainly don’t nee two grocery warehouses but building a customer on the layout to this design would be different and interesting.

Near the SAL main tracks on Hermitage Road was an RF&P branch that had a brewery–that was back in the 1910s. Maybe I could adapt the prototype above into one of the brewery buildings. I like beer, and modeling part of a brewery is tempting. More to follow on that later.


I dragged my wife to the National Transportation Museum in Kirkwood, Missouri (a western St. Louis suburb) a few Saturdays ago. It’s a nice museum with a pretty big collection of railroad equipment. It has changed since I was last there in 2004–and originally in 1990. In previous visits you got the feeling it was a real railroad museum. Today, it’s a lot more like a family-friendly place to take the kids to.” The gritty, blue-collar feel the place once had is gone.

Nevertheless there are still beautiful engines and things to marvel over. Here’s one of those things–a former C&IM USRA mike, nicely restored and prominently displayed. The B&O signal next to it has a control panel where you can change the aspect–that’s a cool feature.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance. Psalm 33:12

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

No 179: New Proto48 Builds

Years ago I had dinner with Ted Schnepf. Ted is a former Milwaukee Road track guy and now runs an online and traveling hobby shop called Rails Unlimited ( I explained to Ted that I had an HO layout and was fully-invested in HO scale, but I also enjoy building Proto48 freight car models as a side-hobby.

Ted said, “Oh yeah, you’re what we call a rubber-gauger. That’s a guy that bounces back and forth between a few scales.”

New Proto48 Builds

I’ve lived back in the St. Louis area for a little over four months now, and in that time I’ve focused on building many of the models stashed away in my “someday” box. Included in the someday box is about 15 O scale freight car kits of various types. I’ve built up three of them in the last two months. Here’s a report.

New York Central USRA Hopper

After knocking out 13 HO scale cars this fall I began the build on an Oscale Intermountain USRA hopper kit. It’s a beautiful kit–simple, nicely-detailed and BIG. The prototype for my car is below. Photo courtesy Jay Williams.

I started with the ends on this model. The ends are applied as one piece, which saves a lot of time, but I replaced the plastic grabs with brass and had to bend all the grabs myself.

Below. Here’s an in-progress shot of the ends. The ends are taped on awaiting glue to dry, and I’m adding grabs one by one. The next photo shows some of the work completed. I must say, the work is exactly the same as in HO, but completely different because of the size and the scope of work. I think this experience will help my HO scale building in the future.

I am modeling a modernized car and installed AB brakes on the model. The installation took three or four hours for the brakes alone. I know how to do it now, so I should be able to do it in half the time for the next car.

The coupler face plate was made from styrene and based on a few photos from rebuilt NYC cars. The trucks are San Juan Proto48 Andrews trucks, which have a beautiful cross-section but take yet another hour to build. The wheelsets are by Protocraft–they are exactly 4 ft, 8-1/2 in, not 5 ft, 0 in like standard O scale.

More to follow on this model as it gets sandblasted, painted and decaled. I’m really looking forward to finishing it.

PFE R-40-10

The second car I built up was this Intermountain PFE steel refrigerator car. This is another beautiful Intermountain model from the mid-1980s. The build is straight-forward, but I added replacement brake gear from San Juan, wire grabs, brass air hoses, and a few other details all around.

Below. Here’s my AB brake gear install. I used the San Juan AB brake set, scale chain, a bunch of wire parts, and some leftovers from the Intermountain kit. The trucks are Proto87 scale ARA trucks from Protocraft.

Below. Here’s another completed car view. I made my own running boards from Evergreen styrene, scaled out to 2 x 6 in 1-48 scale. I will model this car with hatches open. I like the variety of having a car here and there with the hatches open, although cars infrequently moved in that configuration. All the detail parts like the hinges, grabs, door locks, and etc. are taped to a piece of cereal box, ready to be painted.

Here’s the prototype for my model, the R-40-10 with Southern Pacific monogram, circa late 1940s. Bob’s Photo. I’m looking forward to having this car done too, and then building up a companion car.

Type 27 Tank Car

This is the O scale car I’m most excited about. I bought it online a few months ago and honestly this is the model that motivated this latest O scale building binge. It’s an ancient Intermountain Type 27 8,000-gal tank car that’s probably been in the box since 1985. I’ve wanted to build a few O scale tank cars for years. There are very few higher-quality O scale tank cars on the market and this one will build up into a beautiful model with a few aftermarket parts and a good paint job.

Here’s a near dead-on prototype for the Intermountain model, below. SHPX 20585 is about as plain-jane as Type 27 cars got. This is a simple petroleum-service car with all the brake components on the same side. The only difference I can discern is the heater pipes, which the Intermountain model doesn’t have. Photo courtesy Pat Wider.

Below. I started the project by building up the underframe and adding aftermarket brake gear. The brake gear set used is the outstanding kit made by San Juan. Interestingly it is cheaper that it’s best HO scale counterpart–the Cal Scale No. 293–but the San Juan kit is infinitely better detailed. An important aftermarket part missing in both HO and O scale is brake hangars; I used brass wire to simulate them as I do when installing HO brake gear.

The SHPX car being modeling had the valve installed above the cylinder. I studied drawings sent to me by Norm Buckhart at Protocraft and a few guys on the Steam Freight Cars list. Later production cars had the valve and cylinder on opposite sides of the center sill.

Below. Here’s the completed underframe with the brake rigging, trucks and additional details installed. Detailing up to this point was fun, and exhausting, and satisfying.

In addition to the brake gear work, the model needs a few additional upgrades to “robustify” it. One of those upgrades is improving the additional tank bands included in the kit. The kit parts just don’t cut it, so I made my own bands and added brass wire and Grandt Line turnbuckles to improve the detail.

Once all four replacement tank bands were in place, I was able to fix the tank body to the frame. Everything looks alright so far. By the way, the trucks I’m using are Protocraft 50-ton Coil-Elliptical freight trucks, which can be found at Few SHPX 8,000-gallon cars had these trucks.

Another item I had to scratchbuild was new side ladders. I made mine out of brass strip and wire I had on hand. First I taped the replacement ladder styles on the workbench using the ladder that came with the kit as a guide. Next, I marked and drilled holes to install the rungs.

Below. I made a little jig to hold the ladder so I could solder the rungs in position.

A whole lot of amateur soldering work later, I came up with this. I soldered the rungs to the stiles, and also had to solder an additional strip to the styles to I could bend them around the handrail. I’d like to build at least one more of these models and if I can improve my soldering skills I’ll make up a few replacements for this car.

And finally, there is this car, a 1958 cu. ft. ACF covered hopper. I didn’t build it–it’s an Overland brass model that I bought unpainted. I wanted to finish it as a Seaboard Air Line car, but after a little research I found it didn’t match any SAL prototypes. I scoured the RP Cycs looking for a prototype and only came up with two–Southern Pacific and Milwaukee Road. I asked Mike at K4 decals to modify his HO scale covered hopper set so it included the “Complex Tilted Box” monogram and will finish the model as an as-delivered CMStP&P car soon.

Someday in my retirement I’d like to build a Proto48 shelf switching layout. That day is coming pretty fast. When that day comes I’ll have plenty of freight cars ready for action.

I pray you will have God’s Blessing in 2023! – John G

No. 178: Freight Car Modeling, November 2022

Above. This former PRR Express X29 greets you at the gate of the Age of Steam Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Unfortunately for me, this was as far as I got into the museum, as they were closed the day I got there.

In September I flew to Baltimore to pick up a car at the port and drive it to St. Louis.  I flew to Baltimore the morning of Sept 20th, picked up the car, and drove all the way to Sugarcreek, Ohio.  On the way I stopped in Blue Ridge Summit, PA to visit Mainline Hobby Supply—that was cool—and finally I stopped for the night in Sugarcreek, Ohio so I could visit the Age of Steam Museum the following morning.  The “AOS” Museum closed unexpectedly that day—they told me they had to move locomotives around.  Instead I spent an enjoyable morning railfanning the brickyards in Sugarcreek before getting back on I-70 and heading “home” to O’Fallon.

The active rail line through Sugarcreek is former PRR, later famously taken over by the Ohio Central and now operated by Genesee & Wyoming.   The Belden Brick Co. is the major shipper here, with warehouses in several places in town and a few dozen active beehive ovens at their facility on Highway 39 in town. 

Several long, open warehouses like the one below were built for box car loading. There are four or five of them around town.

The railroad property in town includes a short branchline into town to serve the original Belden plant. The branch still has a grain elevator on it, and in the old days it probably had a few more customers. Check it out on Google aerial view.

Below. As I get older I geek out on the little stuff, like track–particularly older track. This branch to one of the brickyards has rail from 1913, and a neat mix of new and old ties. Some of the ties appear to have been hand-made. In this photo, look how somebody drove a spike into the end of this tie to apparently keep the tie plate in place, but over time it split the tie.

I spent the morning exploring and photographing the area, and the rest of the day dreaming how to model the branch with the grain elevator, team track and brickyards.  There’s nothing like a day railfanning to spur one’s imagination.  

Latest Modeling Efforts

I was able to get a whole lot of model building done in September and October.  I completely built up 12 new freight car models and am currently working on another three models—a 21-year-old Bachmann 2-10-0, a Branchline 40-foot box car, and an O scale Intermountain USRA hopper. 

Below. Here’s the 2-10-0 with the prototype–SAL 501. This model has a long way to go!

Below. This model under construction is one of the awesome Intermountain O scale USRA hoppers. This is a beautiful model. I’ve been working on this model here and there for two weeks. Two processes which have taken a lot more time are bending all those grab irons by hand and installing all the piping on the brake gear. It’s coming along though. This model will become a New York Central car, circa 1949.

I’ll wrote more about this model when it is finished and painted. The photo below shows the hand-bend grab irons being installed. This wasn’t easy and contributed to long time needed just to construct the model. The end of the model is an entirely separate piece, and I used the tape to hold it in place while the glue set.

Makes me sad to think that this kit has been in the box for probably 35 years, waiting for somebody to build it. Every model deserves to be built.

Back in HO scale land, here are two of the new Rapido USRA single-sheathed box cars. Back on October 13th I sent this to the Steam Freight Cars group on

I received my two cars this week–one Milwaukee Road and one C&NW. First Impression: Very nice models, good paint color, good lettering, nice weight, very well built, nice detail all around. A welcome addition to the fleet.

Second Impression: I really don’t like the spaces between the boards but I understand why the manufacturer did that. The wood sheathing on the Tichy model is much better rendered. Both my cars came with K brakes (with AB brake parts in a separate baggie–a nice touch). However, I think both K and AB brake renderings are poor, and paint on the underframe is very heavy (obscuring what little detail is on the brake parts). I’m replacing the brakes with Cal Scale. The trucks: No. Replacing with TMW Andrews. Running board is alright but both of mine came a little bent out of shape. Running board detail is poor. Nothing a modeler can’t fix.

I received my two cars this week–one Milwaukee Road and one C&NW. My First Impression: Very nice models, good paint color, good lettering, nice weight, very well built, nice detail all around. A welcome addition to the fleet.

My Second Impression: I really don’t like the spaces between the boards but I understand why the manufacturer did that. The wood sheathing on the Tichy model is much better rendered. Both my cars came with K brakes (with AB brake parts in a separate baggie–a nice touch). However, I think both K and AB brake renderings are poor, and paint on the underframe is very heavy (obscuring what little detail is on the brake parts). I’m replacing the brakes with Cal Scale. The trucks: No. Replacing with TMW Andrews. Running board is alright but both of mine came a little bent out of shape. Running board detail is poor. Nothing a modeler can’t fix.

Below. Here is the new Rapido car, pretty much right out of the box, next to a Sunshine Milwaukee 714000-series single-sheathed box car. The Rapido car looks great up against the Sunshine models, but it’s got a lot of weathering ahead of it. I’ll need to replace the trucks on the Rapido car with Tahoe Model Works Andrews trucks.

Below. I’ve removed the factory-installed K brakes and am halfway done installing a Cal Scale AB brake set. I retained the brake lever hangars and that was about it. I also replaced the Rapido #5-size couplers with Kadee #58s. I’ve drilled out the turnbuckles and added Tichy bronze .0125-inch wire for the brake rigging.

Below. This photo shows AB brakes installed on my Milwaukee Road car, at top, and my C&NW car at bottom. Once painted and weathered the cars will fit more into my 1949-1950 modeling era.

My Bottom Line: These are great models and I’ll keep them, but a carefully-built Gould/Tichy car with TMW trucks beats this model hands down.

Plans for Modeling Season

Last week I made my modeling plan for this winter. If I can stick to it, in three months I’ll have completed a bunch of models and be on my way to rebuilding the Hermitage Road layout.

  • The plan for November is to continue building new models and finishing unfinished projects.  A lot can be done in 30 days assuming that I have an average of one hour a day to work. 
  • The plan for December is to build a new Hermitage Road layout “box”.  My current layout, seen below, took quite a beating during the move, and—with a lot more space for modeling—I plan to rebuild the layout to be a little bit longer and also incorporate some new tech to the layout.  The track plan will be adjusted somewhat, and I will incorporate the traversing table of course.

Above. The layout took some damage during the move.  Several of the switch machines were broken off, and some of the switches (the ones that control the switch machines) got crushed.  The front fascia was broken in two places, and the Masonite backdrop is warped and needs replacement.

  • Then, in January, I’ll begin laying track on the new layout.  I’ve got a lot of turnouts to build.  Lucky for me I love that work and have slowly been collecting track and parts “in case I needed them”…

Time to get to the basement! – John G

No. 177: The Latvia Railway History Museum

About a month before leaving Germany I took the family on a week-long vacation to Oslo, Norway. On the way we stopped for a few days in Riga, the capital of Latvia, and we absolutely loved it.

Imagine my surprise when–riding a trolley from the airport to our center-city Airbnb–we passed right by something that looked a whole lot like a railroad museum. Sure enough, it was the Latvia Railway History Museum and it was about a mile from our apartment. I went to the museum the next day.

The museum is small, with collection with small locomotives, a model layout, and a lot of memorabilia indoors in an old car barn. The big stuff is all outside–a collection of 40 well-preserved locomotives and pieces of rolling stock. It was great fun and I hope you enjoy the coverage.

Surprisingly there were a lot of Americans in Riga and several of them were in the museum. I heard later that cruise ships tie up here for a day and that’s how all the Americans get here.

The engine pictured above is a Soviet class TE-3 locomotive, built in Kolomna, Russia in the 1960s. It is a heavy freight engine. Compare this to the SD-45, which was first built for American railroads in 1965. This TE-3 would look pretty cool in Seaboard Coast Line stripes.

Above. Here’s a map of the Latvian system. Riga is in the center on the coast.

Below. Inside the museum is a great collection of handcars, signals, and memorabilia. Also included is a huge, automated HO scale layout. The layout was very nice, with catenary and steam and electric locomotives pulling sounds-equipped trains on around on large loops. Check out the station scene below–the layout was thoughtfully built and very prototypical.

Below. This control station was removed from a station in Riga and brought here. Doesn’t that green color remind you of something you’d find in old Soviet Russia?

Below. This is an A class TEP-60 passenger engine, built at the Kolomna Electric Works the former USSR in the mid-1970s, and used for decades in Latvia.

Here’s one of the coolest engines in the collection, below. This is a TE-3, built is the “Riga Wagon Works” in 1966. It looks a lot like a U.S. doodlebug and trailer from the 1920s. Check out those trolley doors!

Below. This is a TEM-2 heavy switcher, built in Russia in 1971. The sign said 10,000 TEM-2s were built by 1971 and were “Soviet Russian copies of ALCO RSC locomotives”.

Below. I didn’t pick up any information on this engine, but an online source said it’s a Class VL-26 electric cargo locomotive, built in 1967 for the Murmansk Railroad in St Petersburg. In addition to picking up power from overhead it has battery packs that allow it to move for short distances on non-electrified tracks. Supposedly, “VL” in the locomotive name stands for “Vladimir Lenin”. The engine was used for a short while in Riga and retired there, and saved for the museum.

Below. Here is the rock star of the outdoor collection. This is a German Type 52 2-10-0 Kriegslokomotive, or War Locomotive, built at Henschel Works in Kassel in 1942. During the war Germany built 7,800 simplified 2-10-0s like this one in just 2-1/2 years. This particular engine was captured by the Russians after the war, re-gauged to Russian five-foot gauge, and put into service in the Soviet “Western Region” which including Belarus, the Baltic States, and Ukraine. It was under steam in Latvia until 1992 when Latvia gained its independence from Russia, then retired, re-gauged and held aside for the museum. What a history!

Below. This is a Russian Class L engine and was the largest steam engine regularly used on the post-World War II Baltic Railways. It is a 2-10-0, and was built in Voroshilovgrad, Russia between 1945 and 1949.

Below. This is a former German house car from the World War I era that has been restored by the museum. According to the museum all they found were the wheels, underframe and metal parts and rebuilt the rest from original plans. It is decorated in World War II-era markings.

Who says there’s no prototype for the horn-hook coupler? This coupler is on a Russian railway crane elsewhere in the museum. Maybe the Russkies copied this from an old Mantua model.

After leaving the museum I hiked back to our apartment in mid-town Riga. On the way I stopped on a big bridge over the Daugava River and took some pictures of Riga’s Soviet-era trolleys that are still in service. I took this photo on the bridge…

…and I took this photo at the stop by the railroad museum. The two cars are a little bit different, but interesting in a vintage Eastern European way.

I hope you enjoyed the little museum stop. The museum’s website can be found at

After Riga we flew to Norway and stayed there a week in a little cottage on a fjord south of Oslo. It was lovely and quiet there. I had planned to go to the Norway National Railway Museum, but it was a 2-1/2 train ride from our Airbnb and I didn’t want to leave the family for a while day. On our last night there, however, I made a brief stop at the NMJ Hobby Shop on the southeastern side of Oslo.

I didn’t know what to expect but I quickly found out that NMJ Norway’s largest model train store. It is literally the Caboose Hobbies of Norway–a massive store full of models, parts, paint, railroadiana, and inspiration.

There are cases and cases of brass locomotives of all types. The engines pictures below are Norwegian prototypes–brass, with full sound and DCC already installed.

The store was a few minutes from closing when I got there, but the owner–Finn Moe–and I hit it off right away. He spoke perfect English; he said he spoke five languages so he could keep up with all his customers. He kept the shop and we talked for an hour, and he took me on a complete tour of the store and explained everything to me. There are prototype railway signs, builders plates, lanterns, and railroadiana everywhere. It was really great!

Like most model shops in Europe, NMJ is full of dioramas. Here’s a different take on steam engine modeling…

Finally, here I am, below, with my new best friend Finn Moe. Finn is the owner of three NMJ stores–there are other stores in Sweden and Koln, Germany). What a gentleman he is. Finn explained that he spent a career in the plastics business and slowly built up the shop on the side. He retired years ago and now runs the shop full time. He develops and imports all the brass and a huge line of highly-detailed plastic rolling stock, and probably a lot more stuff he didn’t mention. Seriously, not only does he run Norway’s version of Caboose Hobbies but he also stocks it as Norway’s version of Overland Models, Walthers and Intermountain.

This place is worth a trip to Oslo by itself. I could’a spent the whole week there.

The NMJ main website is

Hope you guys have a great week! – John G

No. 176: Move-In and New Freight Car Work

Our major shipment of “household goods” arrived from Germany last Friday. My wife and I have spent most of our waking hours putting the house together. It has been A LOT of work.

Included in our household goods was my Hermitage Road layout, the traversing table, five metal cabinets and bookcases, and about 25 plastic tote boxes with model kits and supplies of all kinds. Almost everything arrived unscathed, thankfully. The Hermitage Road layout took a beating so I’ll have to assess whether to try and repair or start over. More to follow on that later.

Here is a photo of two of the cabinets. The packers in Germany simply wrapped up these two items with everything still in the cabinets, and didn’t put any packing material in there to keep the boxes in place. I was watching them but didn’t notice that detail. When we arrived in Illinois and the packing was removed, this is what happened.

The cabinet on the left is what I called “The $20,000 Cabinet” because there were over 200 finished resin models and locomotives in those white boxes. That cabinet also included about 8-10 cardboard parts boxes, several of which “blew up” in transit and spewed parts everywhere. The bookshelf on the right contained book binders and parts boxes, and everything on that arrived in a shambles. When the wrapping was removed parts and magazines and stuff were fell out all over the floor.

I took a lot of care to pack everything else except these couple of cabinets. I think I got really lucky. Obviously, these cabinets were turned upside down at some point. The real heroes here are those white car boxes–they’ve protected models for 30 years and 11 moves and they still soldier on.

A few days later the cabinets had been cleaned and rebuilt (see below). The cars on top are O Scale (Proto48).

My old workbench that I built at Travis AFB in 2002 got a new coat of paint and looks good as new:

We arrived back in Illinois on August 5th. We were able to move into our nice rental home the day we arrived, but we didn’t have any furniture and literally “camped” in it for nine weeks. Three weeks after we arrived we received a small, one-thousand pound shipment of “essential household items” which the military calls Unaccompanied Baggage. My Unaccompanied Baggage shipment also included five plastic totes filled with model kits, tools, and goodies. I told my wife the model boxes were essential for my mental health. Anyway, by August 20th I had everything I needed to set up a temporary workbench and start building models again. Here’s my temporary workbench:

I figured I had six to eight weeks to build up as many models as I could before our major shipment of household goods arrived, so I used what I had to my best advantage. I got a lot done, and I’ll do a short writeup on each car as it gets closer to completion. Here’s a run-down of the work completed.

Below. This is a new Rapido PRR Gla hopper model that I bought before leaving Germany. During the weathering process I really screwed up the finish, so I decided to sandblast it and complete it with Mount Vernon decals. I added new trucks, couplers, corner gussets, and a few wire details. Here it is awaiting paint and Mount Vernon decals.

Below. This is an Atlas 1932 ARA box car model I finished for an SCL Modeler article around 2009. I bought replacement doors from Speedwitch Media about five years ago and finally got around to installing them earlier this year. Along with the new doors I upgrade a bunch of details, but along the way I screwed up the original paint. I sandblasted the car and stored it for the move, and here it is, awaiting new paint and decals.

Below. This is an ancient Red Caboose CGW 1923 box car that I bought online as a decorated kit. My buddy Fenton Wells did one recently and motivated me to do one of my own. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the kit included the correct CGW reverse-Creco doors. Like, Wow! I used a huge number of aftermarket detail parts to upgrade the model, like A-Line stirrups, Cal Scale brake gear, Tahoe Model Works trucks, Hi-Tech brass hoses, and Kadee No. 178 couplers. I made my own running boards from Evergreen 2 x 6 strip styrene. All this car needs is paint touch up and weathering.

This car, below, is a CB&Q Flat Car by Jerry Hamsmith. Jerry sells these and other models independently; I think you can find them on the Resin Car Works site. It’s a nice resin kit with great castings and all the detail bits included, along with a nice decal set. I want to model this one with a lumber load to serve my Hermitage Road layout.

Below. This is an Intermountain 1937 Modified box car that will be finished as an Illinois Central 17000-17999 class car. which were delivered in 1939 from ACF. This model has a lot of after-market details applied, including Cal Scale AB brake gear, Yarmouth wood running boards with bronze support hardware, Yarmouth stirrups, Kadee grabs, Tahoe Double-truss trucks, Kadee scale couplers, and wire details all around. Looking at this picture I see I forgot to add the tow-hooks so I’ll have to go back and get that done.

Below. This resin car is one of the new Westerfield 1921 ARA C&NW box cars. It’s actually an old model, as Andrew Dahm used the original castings done by Frank Hodina for Sunshine Models 20 or more years ago. So it’s kind of a “Wester-shine” model. Andrew’s kit looks great and as a fun build. I finished this car with Cal Scale AB brakes, Yarmouth running board support, Tahoe Andrews trucks, Kadee scale couplers, Yarmouth stirrups and plenty of wire details all around. This is a cool car–very unique.

I bought this car from Bob Heninger just before I left Germany. This is an old Sunshine Missouri Pacific single-sheathed box car with Hutchins ends. It was a very straightforward build. It sure was nice to open up the box and see all that old Sunshine packing and everything. It made me a little nostalgic for the early 2000s. There are a lot of after-market parts on this car too–the same as the C&NW car above.

Here’s a practically one-of-a-kind model I bought from Tim O’Connor back in May, and I had time last month to build it up. Below, here’s a shot of my Sunshine Models Frisco 151000-series extended-height auto car. It’s a cool car but a little odd–a real “high-cube” of the 1940s. It looks like a square block. I’ll write more on this car in the coming months.

I have quite a few other models in progress, including:

Above. This is a B&O M-58 50-foot auto car. Fenton Wells and I had parts made for the car by Chad Boas this Spring. I had trouble getting the rest of the detail parts while I was still living in Germany, but here it is, 99% built up and almost ready for sandblasting. The car core is a Branchline 50-foot double-door car, with replacement roof, ends and doors from Chad, and aftermarket details all over. I did my best to approximate a Duryea underframe without having any reference photos of the actual prototype configuration. My model still needs a few more rivets.

And finally, below, here’s a model I’ve had for six years that’s finally seen the light of day. This is an O scale Intermountain R-40-10 steel refrigerator that I’m finishing as a PFE double-herald car. This is a beautiful kit. I’ve added a few aftermarket parts but only a few because the parts are so nice. I used a San Juan AB air brake set and that alone took two nights to install, but that’s what Proto48—O scale “fine scale”—is all about. The trucks are from Rich Yoder and are spectacular, but so is the price and that’s why I only have a few.

I’ve got a few more projects on the workbench but I’ll save those for the next post or two.

Moving is an outstanding way to renew oneself…to set new goals, explore new things, and learn, and let the change of pace and scenery work it’s magic. I’m happy to be back in a friendly place and I look forward to renewing friendships and enjoying some new modeling challenges. – John G

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