No. 162: 16 Days, Pt. 3

Work on the railroad continues as the family is traveling in the U.S. for two weeks.

One of the industries I built this week for my Hermitage Road switching layout as a “grocery warehouse”. In the area of Richmond, Virginia, where my layout is set, there were quite a few grocery warehouses, and I wanted to include one on the layout so I could use refrigerator cars. There are no known photographs of the grocery warehouses in the Hermitage Yard area so I was forced to proto-freelance something.

On my old Ackley, Iowa layout I built a large cannery as seen in the photo below. This week I took the building out of storage and took it apart, cleaned and repainted everything, and then reconfigured the walls into a much smaller building that fits in the corner of the new layout.

Below. A view of the Marshall Canning on my Ackley Layout. The building was 36-inches long.

Below. The new grocery warehouse on the Hermitage Road layout. On the right side of the layout, the track runs behind the building; I intend to build a loading dock that extends past the end of the building on the left. The windows are ready to go–all I need is time to paint and weather the building.

Here are the old doors and windows from Marshall Canning. The windows and personnel doors are from Tichy, and the loading dock doors are scratchbuilt using scribed styrene and strip styrene. I think the building will look nice with a medium-brown brick with red trim. The large Sitterding mill behind the grocery warehouse will have green trim to keep all the buildings from looking alike.

Below. Believe it or not, I have already built two grocery warehouse models for the Hermitage Road layout. Here’s the first one I built, using a Walthers Cornerstone building I had on hand. On this side of the layout, the track runs in front of the building to simulate that it continues to other industries. This structure was built to fit behind the track. With the track in front, I get to enjoy seeing my freight cars a little more.

I used Robert’s Brick Mortar on the building and I think it came out really nice. Alas, I thought this building was too tall, and took over the scene, so it has been removed and is stored away. The Southern Fuel and Oil Co. will go in this spot instead.

This spring I built a second grocery warehouse using Walthers Modulars. This version was only two stories tall so it was less imposing, but after I completed it, I felt it was too big and too deep. It just didn’t scratch the itch. I wanted to use Walthers Modulars for the Sitterding building, so I dismantled this one and have reassembled in into the current Sitterding building which was shown in the last post.

The Southern Fuel and Oil Co. will go in this spot instead.

Meanwhile, work continues on freight cars. These are two favorites, below, but I haven’t used them on the layout yet because I was unhappy with my roof weathering efforts. The model on the left is an Intermountain 1937 Modified car, and the model on the right is an Intermountain “War Emergency” box car. Both these models were built and painted about 6-7 years ago.

Below. Here are the roofs. When I built these models, my research indicated that Viking roofs on CMO and C&NW cars were galvanized with paint on the seams caps. I painted the roofs on both cars like the one on top; with silver, and black or red seam caps.

Why didn’t I like these roofs? In the first place, galvanized metal doesn’t really look silver. It’s more gray, so I wasn’t happy with the finish. In the second place, I recently talked to Ed Hawkins and he said that ACF documents indicate that roofs on both of these cars were painted the same color as the carbody. Below, I’ve sandblasted one of the roofs and will blast the other this weekend, and repaint them soon. The roof on top, incidentally, has a Kadee running board and the roof on bottom has a Plano metal running board.

Y’know…after sandblasting…the one of the bottom looks pretty good just like it is, doesn’t it?

While I was sandblasting, I put an old Kadee hopper in the booth and blasted the paint off it as well. Earlier this week I ordered a Missouri Pacific detail set from Resin Car Works, and I’ll use that to rebuild and repaint this car. I will model one of the MoPac cars with the horizontal seam on the sides.

From the Resin Car Works site, below. The model I’m interested in is on the right:

The link for the MoPac decal and detail set can be found at

Also in progress is this new build, a CB&Q 50-foot steel box car using the Proto 2000 model. I got a couple of kits from my friend Greg Silva. I’m using a printout from a Ted Culotta presentation to help me get the details right.

Car construction consumed a couple of evenings this week. One of the hardest jobs was installing Kadee bracket grab irons on the car sides. I used the template from Yarmouth Model Works. Getting the template in the right place isn’t easy. Once the template is in place, I drill the holes and then remove the template. Then I have to enlarge the holes to fit the mounting tabs on the back of the grabs. I use canopy glue to affix the parts, and when it’s dry I go over the whole area with Tamiya liquid cement to melt everything together. Then I sandblast it so the Kadee parts will accept paint. It’s a lot of work but the parts look great.

Here’s the workbench during construction of the new Q car. I cut out all the parts, and build the subassemblies, and then assemble the car when all the subcomponents are ready. There’s a whole lot of after-market parts on this table–from Yarmouth, Hi-Tech, Detail Associates, Cal Scale…the list goes on. No wonder I don’t have any money!

You can see another car there on the right. That’s an Intermountain 1937 Modified car kit that I’m finishing right behind the Q car. That’s Missouri Pacific 1937 Modified car and I’m using the awesome National Car Company mini-kit for that build. I’ll talk about it next time…

The last thing I did this week was swap components from two Kato engines to convert my Milwaukee Road DC RSC-2 to sound/DCC.

I took apart my NYC RS-2, equipped with a SoundTraxx sound/DCC setup, swapped the trucks, and married the sound/DCC underframe with the RSC-2. I felt kinda like Dr. Frankenstein doing this–taking an engine without a brain and swapping it for one with a brain.

Here are the victims in the lab. Body parts all over the place!

After an hours’ worth of work, I had a sound/DCC-equipped RSC-2. I still have some work to do on the cab–it needs a crew and open windows, and I also need to replace a few grabs and lift rings.

The next night I put the NYC RS-2 back together and sold it on eBay for cheap. No need to keep too much stuff around the house.

Work continues this weekend, as I paint freight cars, finish the traverse table, and continue structure work. Only 36 hours are left…gotta work hard tonight! – John G

No. 154: Hermitage Road Update, Feb 2021

Traditionally December and January are big modeling months as most guys are trapped inside for Winter. Not so here, as my family kept me busy and out of the attic train room until about mid-February. I also had a double-laptop meltdown, which precluded any work on the blog along with a whole lot of other stuff.

In the last 20 days I’ve been able to get a huge amount of work done on a lot of projects, and also on the Hermitage Road layout. The layout is now at the point where all the track is laid, operational, and scenicked. Fascia is painted and re-installed. All that’s left now is construction of a few buildings and finishing the backdrops.


A long-term goal remains construction of a traversing table for staging instead of a traditional fiddle yard. I’ll insert a drawing as soon as I can make one. Right now the plans are all in my head.

In January and February, with what little time I had, I was able to paint, detail and weather the beautiful Seaboard VO-1000 that I leased from John Moenius. This is a Stewart-Bowser model that I upgraded with various wire parts, cab details, and a whole lot of weathering and overspray. John already had DCC and sound installed and it runs like a dream. It is my new favorite engine and I hope you like it too.

Here’s the prototype at Raleigh, North Carolina in 1949. Photo by Wiley Bryan.

SAL 1402

Here’s the model I’m using:

I’m also working on an old Proto 2000 PRR GP-7 to run during a PRR scenario. I really like the early PRR 8550 series GP-7s with the top-mounted air tanks, steam generator and antennas, so that’s what I’m building. Yes, that’s a passenger engine but I really like the look. I’m sure even the prototypes were used for local chores every once in a while.

Here’s the prototype I like:

Other engines in the queue are a Milwaukee RSC-2 and—thanks to my friend Jim Dick—an as-delivered C&NW GP-7 that I am crazy about.

Meanwhile the layout is progressing well. Here’s a view today of the industrial track ladder.

In the next few posts I’ll back up and discuss track-laying, “moving a track”—which I had to do to make more room for the coal yard—and distressing the track, which is one of my favorite sub-hobbies.

I tried a few different things when laying and ballasting track. One of the things I thought up was coloring the matte medium I use to secure ballast. Yep, I added black paint to the Elmers Glue/water/soap mixture and the results were very interesting.


Finally, I’ve been putting some finishing touches on my friend Eric Reinert’s New York Central box car. You might recall that I’ve been working on this car for quite some time. I wrecked the original kit that Eric sent, and got a new one—and here’s where we are today. I salvaged the underframe and one of the ends from Eric’s original build, so it’s a Frankenstein of sorts.

Here’s a photo I took on the layout the other night. I just applied the right filter from my iPhone and this was the result. Not bad.

Much more to follow and with God’s glorious blessings may we all come out of this covid mess quickly, and with our health, and with our freedoms intact!

Next: Turnouts on Hermitage Road.

John G

No. 129: Three New Engines for the Fleet

I had an unusually tough summer, but despite all the challenges I managed to get some good modeling done.

At the end of March I had some unexpected trouble with St. Louis RPM planning, and after a lot of praying I resigned from that whole thing.  That hurt, and I was bitter for a while, but it was the right thing to do for a lot of reasons.

In April I broke my shoulder playing soccer, and that caused a whole basket-full of problems.  The worst problem was that I couldn’t sleep, so I walked around like a zombie for months.  I had surgery to repair my Supraspinatus, and that too caused a lot of trouble.

Making everything worse was the weather.  It was one of the hottest, dryest summers ever recorded in Southern Germany.  Nobody here as air conditioning, so when it’s hot you’ve gotta live with it.  My large vegetable garden–my summer hobby–burned up in the heat.  Then we had a major water leak in our rented house and when the water wasn’t turned off, we had difficulty with water pressure.  For about three weeks, into early August, it seemed like we were living in the tool shed.

No right arm, no sleep, no running water, no exercise, no modeling, no a/c, bad work environment–man, the grind don’t stop as the kids say these days…

The Good News is our loving God who kept me healthy and focused and strong, and gave me plenty of endurance.  While it felt like all the troubles would never end, they have ended now, and life is better.   Through it all I knew He was on my side, so I never worried about a thing.

Back to Modeling

After my surgery the family went to the U.S. to visit relatives.  I stayed home to recover and carry on at work.  I was able to get some modeling done on the brutally hot evenings, even with very limited use of my right arm.  I managed to complete three or four unfinished models I’ve had on the workbench for a year, and reorganized every box of spare parts and supplies, and sold a few models, and also finished two new engines for the fleet.  IMG_6693

Here’s one of the new locomotives, below.  It was the star of an earlier post, which can be found here: The model is an old Kato RS-2, one of the best running and most beautiful models ever made.  I bought this to fulfill a desire to run a New York Central scenario on my Ackley, Iowa layout.  Here’s the model right out of the box–crisp and clean.


I immediately sent the model to my friend Mike Christianson in Albert Lea for installation of Loksound (DCC and sound).  Mike did a marvelous job.  The engine runs even better than before and sounds great.

When I got it back in June, I installed a few detail parts and a crew, but otherwise didn’t do too much to the model.


Below.  After the detail parts were added and painted to match, I sprayed the model with a light coat of Testors Dullcote, and then added a few more detail parts on each end (like MU cables and couplers), and then lightly weathered the model using both a paint brush and an airbrush.  My choice of weathering colors is Testors Dark Tan in the little round bottle.  Here’s the finished model below.


Another project was this NYC GP-7.  I bought this engine from a friend last year.  It is an old Proto 2000 engine of course.  Here is a photo, below, of the engine right out of the box.  These Proto engines are nicely detailed and simple, and great for upgrade projects.


I installed Cannon replacement fans, horns from Details West, new wire grabs, eyebolts, and a lot of other parts on the cab and on each end.  The MU stands came with the model.  The cab sunshades were scratch built from scrap styrene.


After all the detail parts were installed I airbrushed all the replacement parts carefully with a satin black I mixed myself.  Some of the details get lost when painted black, but the overall apperaance is excellent in my view.  The prototype engines had yellow handrails but I don’t want to mess around and paint those slippery handrails with anything, including Dullcote.  At some point later I may replace the hahandrailsith wire, and if I do they’ll get the proper coating of yellow trim.  For now, that can wait.


On my Ackley layout my engine of choice has always been a rebuilt Proto 2000 PRR GP-7.  It wasn’t the PRR paint that was a big deal, it was the powered underframe.  Mike Christianson installed a Tsunami 2 sound/DCC board back in 2013 and this engine runs like a dream.  The current keeper keeps the engine running smoothly.  I recently sold the PRR shell and am now using the powered underframe under the NYC engine.


Here’s the crew for the GP-7, which I modified using the popular Labelle set.  I call them Doc and Marty, like the main characters in the movie Back to the Future.  I repositioned a few arms and repainted the figures, and had to amputate a few limbs, but I got the crew I wanted.


Here’s Marty, with his repositioned arm hanging out of the cab.


After a light coat of Dullcote to blend everything together, and some light weathering, the engine can be seen in service at Ackley.  There’s Doc, hard at work!


The next engine to be finished is another Kato product, this Milwaukee Road RSC-3.

MILW RSC-2.jpg

The prototype photo below was taken by Ed Wilkommen in 1949.  This photo and hundreds of other excellent Milwaukee Road and C&NW photos, and much more, are online at the fabulous Lake States Historical Society site, which can be found at  Warning: If you haven’t been there yet, you WILL spend every waking moment on that site for the next two weeks.

MILW RSC-2 984

I’m working on the next post, which will be photo essay on a recent M&StL ops session on the Ackley layout.  I’ve got some good photos and I’m excited to get them on the blog as soon as I can.

On The Move…Again

Meanwhile…the upcoming Ackley post will probably be the last on the Ackley layout.  We are moving to a new rental home next month and the new house doesn’t have a suitable space for the present layout.  The plan is to store the Ackley layout and build something new.

The new space is two 13-foot-long walls in a downstairs den.  I don’t know what I’ll be modeling yet, but I’m leaning toward a Milwaukee Road location somewhere in Iowa or southern Minnesota.  Due to the space limitations, the layout will have to be something small and comforting…maybe something like this:

IMG_4224 (2)

I would appreciate your thoughts as I move forward with the new plan.  I’ll post some details soon.

I hope you all have a blessed week!  – John G

No. 91: Inspiration for an M&StL 2-6-0

Back in February I took two of my kids to Metz, France for a day of indoor skiing.  I thought it would be a low-cost activity (it wasn’t) and a good way to keep our “ski-legs” into the spring (it was).  It was like skiing in a giant refrigerator, and it was actually a whole lot of fun.  The runs weren’t too long but there were all kinds of jumps and moguls and things to keep you interested.

Anyway there is a single tow-bar that takes you back to the top of the hill.  Any disciplined skier knows you’re supposed to ski in a straight line on the t-bar, but lots of troublemakers like me tend to zig-zag around to keep ourselves entertained.  At this place, zig-zagging on the t-bar is strictly prohibited; there are signs all over the place telling you not to do it. 

I had a good laugh when I first saw the signs.  Here’s a photo of one of them, below on the left.  It says, Do Not Slalom…you risk Derailment! 


From Ski Moguls…to 2-6-0 Moguls… 

I finally bought one of the little Bachmann 2-6-0  “Sound Value” Moguls in March and boy am I glad I did.  This is a neat little engine that looks good, sounds good and runs great.  The photo of the stock model below is provided courtesy of Bachmann Industries.




My buddy Clark Propst has always provided a lot of inspiration for me and my modeling.  Clark bought and repainted a Bachmann Mogul last year–pictured below, repainted as M&StL 316–and he raved online about the engine’s simplicity and excellent sound and performance. 


When my engine showed up at the house I ran upstairs, set it on the track, fired up the NCE.  Right out of the box the engine moved along smoothly at Speed Step 1.  It sounded great. 

Yup, Clark was right again.  This engine was worth every penny. 

I had a great time running it around my little layout.  In fact I had such a great time with it that the next day I sold my stupid, overpriced Broadway PRR 2-8-2 on EeBay.  It looked great but the sound and motor control was ridiculous.  I’m keeping my BLI PRR 2-8-0 that I also paid too much money for; it’ll need $200 in work to bring the operation and sound up to par but I’m willing to do that for one of those dogs.

After seeing everything Bachmann provides at low cost I’m never buying another BLI engine again.  Ever. 

Yes, I’m bitter.


I want to rework my engine to appear something like M&StL 332, pictured above.  I model 1950 and the 332 was long gone by then–probably retired around 1948.  But I can plausibly backdate 24 months or just run it anyway like Clark does on his early 1950s layout.  I don’t think any modelers here in Germany would notice.

The Bachmann engine is pretty close to the 332 but there are some obvious differences.  Here is a short list of things I noticed about the 332 that are different from the Bachmann engines. 

  • Stack and domes are all the same height
  • Wood cab with two large windows
  • Different cylinders
  • Front-mounted headlight
  • Large, solid pilot wheel
  • Footboard pilot
  • Coal bunker height is different
  • Large headlight center-mounted on the coal bunker

The first night I had the model I took the tender apart to see how easy it would be to modify it into something that looked like the 332’s tender.  Within an hour I had already cut down the tender sides and filled in the coal bunker with a styrene cap.  The next night I added footboards, markers, couplers, air lines, a headlight visor, and trucks from Precision Scale.  I want to add a push-pole, rivet detail on the bottom side sill, maybe some chains on the engineer’s side, and–at some point later–a larger headlight centered on the tender deck.  For the meantime the changes look reasonable.


The engine looks good but it could use a few more details to get it closer to the 332.  I started modifications by adding a pilot deck, an air line and markers to the front end.  I removed the tiny factory-installed headlight and replaced it with a spare headlight and mount from a Bachmann 2-10-0.  The front-mounted headlight really changes the engine’s appearance.  I also removed the plastic bell casting and installed a Cal Scale bell.



After about two hours of work the engine now looked like this (below).  Just moving the headlight really altered the engine’s appearance.   


Next I turned my attention to the cab.  I cut the windows out of one side and attempted to install a second window on each side like in the prototype photo.  I cut new window holes out of the side…and it looked terrible.  See below.


I ordered a new cab and after getting a tender shell by mistake, I finally got the replacement cab a month later.  I decided to just leave the windows like they are for now and modify a new cab later at my leisure…or never.

More to follow as I get this baby built up.  If you’re on the fence about getting one of these engines, just jump.  It’s worth every penny.

I hope you all enjoyed a day off from work on Memorial Day, and took a moment to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.  – John G




No. 75: Douglas Street Crossing at Ackley

The Douglas Street crossing, or “center road” as I call it, was started last December during the Winter Offensive.


I wanted to model Douglas Street as a dirt road since I expect the real road was hard-packed dirt in 1950.  Below, here is a close up from the 1970 aerial photo of Ackley that has been shared previously.  It kinda looks like a dirt road…

Ackley 2

I began construction of this road the same way I did with the other roads on the layout, by first building a subroaded base of HO scale cork roadbed (below), and then covering the subroadbed with Hydrocal from Woodland Scenics.

Middle Road 1- 251

In case you’re wondering, the “Stacked” glass is from a favorite burger joint in St. Louis.

I also used Hydrocal around the area to complete other scenic landforms.  I used a thin cork material I bought at a German art store as the subroadbed for the town site, trackside industries, and so forth, and planned on painting that with the dirt-colored paint and calling it complete.  After giving the cork a coat or two of paint, however, it just didn’t look right.  I went back later and covered it with a very thin layer of Hydrocal and then reapplied the paint, and that turned out a lot better.

Middle Road 1- 252

Douglas Street crossed four tracks—the main track, a short passing siding, an industrial track, and a team track that ran behind the depot.  The team track also served the Standard Oil distributor, and M&StL’s trackside dock, and probably was the site of the REA pole yard at some point (mentioned in M&StL 1930s documents).  I included the spur so I could model Standard Oil and the dock, but then the track turns, runs across Douglas Street and continues into the abyss of the aisle. 

Below.  This is a picture from last December, which isn’t very notable except it does show the Douglas Street cork roadbed and the siding that trails off to the left in the photo.  The real track ran behind the depot to a stub end. 


I don’t know if the track behind the depot was used by 1950 so I have modeled it as an out-of-service track.

I painted the dirt road with this German paint I’ve been using, a Mocha-colored home interior paint.  I know I’ve mentioned this repeatedly in past blog posts.  The color reminds me of dirt you might see in Georgia or Minnesota—maybe not so much in Iowa.  My buddy Clark Propst tells me that Iowa dirt is “black”.  I know what he means but modeling that is tough.  Initially, below, I tried a darker paint to try and simulate the “dirty dirt” you’d find on a dirt road in Iowa.  Not black, but dirty.  It didn’t turn out well.

Middle Road 1- 256

Above.  A whole lot of sanding and filling and shaping finished the road.  After it was painted, I sprayed a darker color, Testors Dark Tan, down the middle of each lane to simulate packed dirt on the tire tracks and loose sands and pebbles between the tire tracks.  Then I went back with different colors of tans to try and streak the road a little bit.  The darker colors between the rails happened naturally when I was cleaning the track with a Bright Boy.


The crossbuck is an old thing I’ve had on hand for about 30 years.  I have no idea who the manufacturer is.  I specifically installed the crossbuck on the other end of the road off-center.


The telephone poles are a kitbash.  I used poles from the outstanding Rix telephone pole set and crossarms from the Walthers Electric Utility Pole set.  In some cases I have mixed crossarms on the same pole per the prototype.  I really want to improve my telephone pole models and when construction comes to a close on the layout I’ll have the time to go back and get some of those projects done.  Showcase Miniatures has some cool accessories that can help with that project.

Middle Road 1- 261

Photo backdrops will complete the scene.

New Rolling Stock Projects

December was a very, very busy month with work, kid’s activities and Christmas celebrations, but I managed to take some time to clear off the workbench and get two new projects started. 


The first project is not quite a new project, but it’s one I need to finish.  This is a Bachmann Russian Decapod that I’ve had since 2002.  Yep, that’s 16 years.  I generally don’t keep projects around that long but this is a must-have model for fans of the transition-era Seaboard Air Line.   

I’m detailing this model to represent SAL 501, which was an original Russian that ran on the railroad until 1951.  The photo below is a little messy but it shows the engine disassembled into it’s major components for detailing. 

Interestingly the electric motor has Buhler stamped on it.  Not Buhler as in Ferris…but Buhler as in the outstanding electric motor company.  Who knew.


I finished the tender about ten years ago and have finally begun detailing the locomotive.  When the fun work is done I will attempt to install a TCS-WOW DCC/Sound system in the tender.  



Below are a couple of photos of Gainsville Midland 206 as it was being prepped for display in Winder, Georgia.  206 was originally SAL 518 and it is really, really close to the Bachmann model right out of the box.  If I were to start again I’d stick with the 518–it’d be a lot less work.

These are Bill McCoy photos, used with permission.

GM 206 Atlanta, GA 1965

GM 206-2 Atlanta, GA 1963

Second is a freight car project for Frank Hodina’s Resin Car Works blog.  Frank sent me special parts and decals to build a C&IM USRA wood gondola—a car I’ve been interested in modeling for a long time.  Frank asked me to do an article on the car for the blog so when you finally see the car it’ll be on the RCW site at  Eric Hansmann runs this blog for Frank and it is a great site.  It’s worth your time to check it out.

Happy 2018!  – John G