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. 173: The Rapido Pennsylvania Railroad X31 Model

It has been a very busy year at home and at work, and I’ve only been able to post three times on the blog. since January 1st. My last post was last week after a good railfan trip; the last modeling post was more than 60 days ago. Here’s a catch up.

Despite the lack of modeling and railfanning I was able to take the family on a few trips. Covid restrictions here are 99.9% history and everybody’s traveling again. I took the family to Eindhoven, Netherlands in late February for a long weekend–that was beautiful–and in March I took my youngest daughter to Andalusia, the region on the southern coast of Spain, for a week-long father-daughter getaway. We went there for hiking, sun and fun. There wasn’t much sun, but we went on a few epic hikes and had a great time together.

Below. During our trip to Spain, my daughter and I visited Gibraltar. Here’s a snap from near the top of the rock, with the channel between Gibraltar and Morocco in the distance.

We also hiked a trail in the mountains northeast of Malaga formerly known as “the most dangerous hike in the world”–the Caminito Del Rey. Part of the trail is seen below. The trail was rebuilt in 2015 and it is perfectly safe now, but it is still pretty scary.

Okay, enough of that boring stuff. On to modeling!

The New X31s

By now, most of you prototype modelers have seen Rapido’s new X31 cars. They’re outstanding models. I recall 15 years ago or so, the guys on the old Steam Era Freight Cars list on Yahoo Groups saying “We need a 21st-Century model of the X31!” Thanks to Bill Schneider and the guys at Rapido, we’ve finally got it.

My first two cars came in the mail in February. The Pros: I’m impressed with the overall appearance, paint color, lettering, running boards, fine details, ladders, wire grabs and sill steps. Brake gear is good, not great, but good. The Cons: The coupler boxes are ghastly (I understand they’ve gotta meet NMRA standards, but there’s gotta be a better to to replicate draft gear) and trucks (in the era of Tahoe Model Works, these are just plain bad). Bottom Line: They look great and are layout ready.

Below. The Prototype, circa April, 1937. Courtesy Bill Lane.

I upgraded my models starting with the auto car first. I replaced the couplers with Kadee #78s (and cut off those pesky trip pins) and replaced the trucks with Bowser PRR coil-elliptical trucks with Kadee semi-scale wheelsets. I painted the trucks with ScaleCoat 2 Oxide Red–that’s a really close match for the factory paint. That was it.

I started the weathering process by airbrushing the model with a few coats of clear Testors Dullcote. When that was dry I added a drops of Scalecoat Oxide Red to the Dullcote and mixed it up nicely–making a semi-opaque flat–then sprayed the car again to provide a flat overall finish using something close to the original color. Here’s a view of the opaque below.

Finally I airbrushed the underframe and lower side sills with a medium brown color to simulate some dirt build-up, and then added some car-knocker’s chalk marks with an artist’s pencil. Lately I’ve been using a white pencil for newer chalk marks and a medium gray pencil for older marks, and I like the effect. Finally I finished up with a little highlighting with various dark colors applied with a paintbrush. I sprayed on one more very light coat of the opaque mixture and called it complete. The placard is from Microscale.

Next I finished my single-door X31. Here’s the car right outta the box:

To prevent the cars from looking alike, I decided to heavily weather the single door car like the X31 in the photo below. Charlie Duckworth sent this image to the Proto Layouts list, which was originally taken by Joe Collias in St. Louis in the late 40s. I like the roof weathering and the contrast between the running boards. Check out the PRR T-1 on the right!

To begin, I replaced trucks and couplers as I did with PRR 69402 above, and then gave the model a few light coats of Dullcote.

Next I slowly applied AIM Weathering Powders–Rust and Dark Brown–to the roof. I applied the powders panel-by-panel and took my time. The Dullcote layer gave the powder something to stick to. I worked the powders in with the brush, toothbrushes and soft files. I found that a soft, thin flexible file works great to take off some of the powder and give a streaking effect. When I was happy with the appearance I applies Dullcoat to seal it, and then painted the individual running boards with tan, medium gray and oxide and then lightly sanded the colors in to blend them together. I wanted a stark contrast between the running boards and roof, and I think I got the effect alright.

On the sides, I slowly streaked the same AIM powder mix on the side sand ends. I used wet 0000-grade steel wool to work off some of the powder to get the look I wanted. I wanted the weathering to gather at the top and the bottom. I sanded a little harder on the lettering to weather the letters in to the background. Those details really pop with a little bit of weathering.

I applied and re-applied the chalk several times on the sides to get the look I wanted. Finally I added some chalk marks and sealed it for good with a last shot of Dullcote. I used a dark brown/dark mud mix on the underframe and added AIM Delta Dirt on the lower ends–a favorite weathering color. I think this model turned out pretty well and I’m eager to try it again.

Incidentally, here’s a Bowser car I built and painted in the late 1990s. It was photographed in 2001. The Bowser cars are still nice models and the price is right. I’ve got a repack stencil on the left side of the car, and black trucks. I must’ve finished five or six of these just like it.

Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Rapido’s X31s. An X32 series would be nice–the 50-foot cars–and an X31F–the jeep carriers–would be nice too!

Three-Way Switch

Two weeks ago I drove up to Frankfurt, and on the way I stopped in Darmstadt, a small city right south of Frankfurt. There’s a lot to see there, including this–a three-way switch on a heavily-used industrial track that spins off the freight yard north of the city.

I’ve only ever seen two types of three way switches: 1) The symmetrical type, where tracks diverge on either side symmetrically on each side of the straight track, and 2) The asymmetrical, where a track diverges in one direction and another second track diverges 10-15 feet forward in the opposite direction.

This one in Darmstadt is different still. See below. In this arrangement, we have a straight leg with two tracks diverging in the same direction. It’s not quite a three way. I’d almost call it a compound turnout. Still, it has a Cool Factor of 10.0.

Here is a closer view of all three frogs.

Below. A view of the linkage on the second switch. It is brick-lined. I’ve never seen that anywhere else. This is motivation enough for a scratchbuilding challenge.

I haven’t seen too many of these in the U.S. In fact I can only remember seeing one–the famous three-way stub switch leading to the old engine house on the Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad in Aberdeen, N.C. I did find one online recently, on the Flickr Milwaukee Road Project site–this one on the loop track in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin (see it at lower center where the road crosses?):

While on the subject of track, I did about three hours of railfanning this morning in nearby Mannheim. I stared at this turnout near Waldorf for 20 minutes. It looks like a double-slip, but on closer inspection I’m not so sure. It looks like another compound switch of some type. Whatever it’s called, it’s a work or art.

It was a good day of railfanning and I’ll write more about it sometime. The next post will cover a few National Car Company cars I just completed. Enjoy your weekend! -John G

No. 172: Roundhouse Day

Even though I model American railroads, I find railfanning in Europe very exciting. There are lots of trains to admire and photograph, and lots of older facilities still standing for modeling inspiration. Here are some words on a railfanning trip to Frankfurt yesterday.

I took the day off of work on May 6th and drove to Frankfurt to railfan and also visit four roundhouses still standing in the area.

I didn’t expect to get to them all. Last weekend I went to Darmstadt to photograph two roundhouses extant there. I was unable to photograph either of them. One is deep in railroad property and I was unable to get to it. The other belongs to a museum that’s only open on Sunday. Trespassing in any way is Verboten in Germany, so I came home empty-handed.

Below. The Darmstadt-Kranichstein Railway Museum is the largest railway museum in the state of Hesse. It can be seen in the distance behind the interlocking tower. The site is now owned by a club, and includes a retired roundhouse, car shop, and yard.

Today was different. It was a warm, clear, sunny day, and with a little begging and pleading I was able to photograph all four roundhouses–well, 3-1/2 of them. Here’s the story.

The first roundhouse was at Bischoffsheim, a few kilometers south of the Rhine River and Frankfurt. There’s a small yard there and a roundhouse viewable on Google Earth. See below. The line at the top left leads to the very busy main line on the south bank of the Rhine River. At right the main line diverges in three directions; one of which leads to a massive Opel plant just out of view. The roundhouse can be seen at the bottom right.

Bischofsheim turned out to be quite a hot spot. First stop was the train station where I took pictures of the parade of passenger and freight trains from the passenger platforms. I was there a little over an hour and saw about 30 freight and passenger trains of all kinds.

Below. This is a Hessische Landesbahn train, or Hessian State Railway at Bischofsheim. HLB operates regional passenger-train service in the German state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is located.

Below. One of many freight trains seen today–this one is on the diverging line to Frankfurt. Unfortunately I had to shoot into the sun.

Another freight, this one with better sunlight but a shadow cast by the overhead walkway. This train is coming off the Rhine River route. The overhead walkway, by the way, provides access from Bischofsheim station at left to the center track platforms. Whether or not you like German railways this is a great railfanning spot!

Below. Here was something unusual–I think it was a DB inspection train. Its shown here heading into the yard from the Rhine River line. It stopped in the yard for a few minutes and then went blazing past me–backwards–on the line to Frankfurt seen on the right. Also take note of the single-slip turnout at right. Single and double-slips are everywhere here.

Below. This is a ICE (Inter-City Express) train. I saw about seven or eight here today, another 20 at other places throughout the day. ICE trains don’t stop at Bischofsheim. They blasted through at–just guessing–80 mph, maybe faster. Probably a lot faster. They are fast and practically silent, a combination of factors that can be very dangerous.

Below. After an hour on the platform I navigated through the dense city streets to the roundhouse area. I stopped and asked a couple of railway employees if I could photograph the roundhouse. Somehow between my broken Deutsch and their broken English it was determined the answer was no, but I could park and try around the other side if I wanted to. There was a lot of railway activity so I grabbed a few photos and left. This roundhouse is privately-owned now, and most of the tracks have been removed. Again, no trespassing.

The fellow I talked to said the roundhouse was built before 1900. Here’s a view of the stonework, below:

Thankfully, the turntable is still in place and operational. Two things I noted were the the pit is very shallow–only about two feet or so, and there’s a manual hand-crank–like an old handcar crank–on the opposite side to spin the table manually. No Armstrong bar.

Feeling good, I then drove 35 minutes north to Hanau, a small city east of Frankfurt, to try and photograph the double-roundhouse and double turntables there. Like Bischofsheim, the Hanau Hauptbahnhof is situated between multiple diverging lines in each direction. There are separate, side-by-side freight and passenger yards. A retired engine terminal where the roundhouses still stand is located in the northeast corner of the yards.

Below. Upon my arrival I stopped to photograph this “flying signal” near the roundhouses. What a beauty. I discovered there are quite a few of these still in use in the area. They change aspects with a screech and a “ka-clunk”!

Here is the first of the two roundhouses at Hanau. The roundhouses are literally located right next to each other. They are both operated by a museum club, so I walked in and politely asked if I could take photos. They allowed me to take photos but only outdoors–what a shame since both roundhouses are full of steam engines.

Below. Next to the roundhouse above is this smaller, six-stall roundhouse and shallow turntable. This table also has a hand crank on the opposite end.

Below. A second view of the smaller roundhouse. It is clean and very much in active use. I didn’t photograph inside as I was instructed, but I did take a look. This one was full of diesels. Also note the stall numbers refer to the track numbers, not the total number of stalls.

Below. a large pile of beautiful Fossil Fuel for steam engines.

Active main lines pass on each side of the roundhouses. Here’s a DB electric passing at about 40 mph. In an hour over 20 trains passed on either side of the terminal.

On the opposite end of the yard, near the passenger platforms, is a control tower and more semaphore signals. There are also plenty of crossings and single-slip switches. The overpass in the background provides a great vantage point for…

…photographing trains from above.

Below. To the right of the photo above is the passenger main line, although I saw–but failed to photograph–a number of freights there too. The lines cross over each other in the background and in both photos the flying crossover can be seen on the concrete embankment on the right.

For some reason, many of the passenger trains on this route were powered by freight engines–that spiced things up a little bit.

Sadly, I left Hanau around 3:00 o’clock and headed west to photograph the last roundhouse of the day. This one was is West Frankfurt–Frankfurt Hochst–close to the main lines coming west out of downtown Frankfurt.

Below. Here’s an HLB on the main lines, slowing for it’s arrival at the bahnhof in the distance. The roundhouse is off to the right. I only saw one freight train in the hour I was there–the one in the distance with the blue engine. It didn’t budge.

It turns out the roundhouse was inside the massive I.G. Farben chemical plant next door. The plant is surrounded by a ten-foot-high brick wall, and there was no hope in trying to talk the guards into letting me in. However, I got little bit lucky. There was a highway overpass next to the plant and I was able to get a shot over the fence. See below.

Below. It’s only half a shot, but under the circumstances I’ll take it. There’s a turntable in there somewhere, and a half-dozen switchers are in view. A closeup reveals the roundhouse with a date-stamp of 1918. It is good to see it still in daily use at 104 years old.

Below. Google Earth has a good winter-time view, as seen below. Part of the I.G. Farben railroad complex can be seen, along with the roundhouse and turntable at lower center. The plant would make an interesting model in any era–lots of freight traffic!

So there you have it–four roundhouses in one day. I left at 6 p.m., to head home, tend to the family and then get to the workbench for an hour where work continues slowly on a few National Car Company reefers.

Until next time…

– John G

No. 164: Musée du Train, Brussels

Last Saturday I went to the Musée du Train–also known as Train World–in Brussels, Belgium. Here’s a short report.

Train World is Belgium’s brand new national railway museum. It’s headquartered in a large, retired, 1887-built station on the north side of Brussels at Schaarbeek.

Above. This former passenger station now serves as the main entrance for the museum.

Train World opened just a few years ago. It has a very-French National Railway Museum feel. It is very theatrical, with exhibits lit dramatically. There are video displays everywhere, and collections of equipment and paraphernalia all over. Unlike the French museum though, Train World is much smaller–only two large halls with a small mix of diesel, electric and steam locomotives, and that’s about it. Nevertheless it is definitely worth the trip. The trains here have “quite a track record” as their ads say.

Below. Outside the museum, clean, modern trams scurry around everywhere.

Below. It cost about ten bucks to get in. Inside the passenger station, the ticket counters are preserved with a variety of era-specific equipment, with video displays showing what this depot was like 75 years ago. Impressive, hand-made 1:20th scale steam locomotive models are enclosed in the large cases on the floor.

The rolling stock collection is housed in a few separate buildings adjacent to the station. Upon entering, one is greeted by the smell of oil and machinery—that’s how I knew I was “home”. Here’s the view:

These are completely restored, Belgian-built engines dating to 1900. Similar types were sent to China and operated there for half a century.

There are screens running video loops everywhere in the museum. On the walls, on the floor, in passenger car windows, even in fireboxes. The videos show maps and scenes of railroading in the glory days. It lends some motion, or action, to the displays.

A nice display of builder’s plates from various eras. Exactly the same as US plates, but completely different.

This track display was excellent. This short section of track includes a variety of individual displays of track from different eras, from the 1830s to today. Along the walls are all kinds of tools and equipment, signals, and signs. And like the rest of the museum, this display it dramatically lit and there are videos everywhere showing equipment in action. The section show below, on the left, is original track from the mid-late 1800s.

Here’s another photo of the track display:

The next room has the darling of the collection—a shrouded 4-4-2 still in operating condition.

The next and last bay has a display with a few diesels and electrics.

At the far end of the museum, there’s a large window where one can view the still-active five-track passenger mainline outside. I waited about a minute. Nothing. Then, three trains passed in view—all at the same time.

No train museum is complete without models. The layout is awesome but I found it interesting that they honored Belgian railroading with an Alpine setting. Shouldn’t we have rolling hills here, akin to an American Midwest layout?

Below. Here’s the most fun you can have at Musée du Train. It’s a full-up passenger train simulator. It was crowded with kids—and that was great—so I didn’t get a chance to run it myself. It’s hard to see but in this photo, the little engineer on the right is getting hands-on training with the museum-lady at left. She’s teaching him how to run the trains, obey signals and speed restrictions, and stop on target at the platform. It wasn’t easy and he missed it every time. He was having a blast trying though.

The gift shop as a restored steam engine overhead. Nice setting for a book shop!

The gift shop also has a Lego model of the museum’s station building. As a amateau Lego fan, this is very cool, and they nailed it—shape, colors and all.

After leaving, I went to the passenger platforms outside to get a few photos of passing trains. This is Schaerbeek Station—just east of the massive freight yards and steel mills in Brussels. In 20-25 minutes I saw about 15 passenger trains.

My impression? This is an excellent museum, but it’s small compared to many others. Glaringly missing is a freight car display. If you are traveling and can only pick one, head to Mulhouse, France and visit the French National Railway Museum first. It is ten times the size as Train World. Nevertheless Musée du Train was a fun day, and close to the city and great shopping and restaurants. For more info, see

Later that day I visited the Brussels Urban Transport Museum—the city trolley museum—which houses an extensive collection of trolleys, busses and equipment dating to the 1880s. That visit was a lot more fun and I’ll do a short report on that when time permits.

Hope you enjoy your weekend! – John

No. 159: 12:30 to Zermatt

Over the recent fourth of July weekend I took my family to Grachen, Switzerland for a week of Alpine hiking. Grachen is a mountain-top village a few miles away from the highest peak in the Swiss Alps, the Matterhorn.  The hiking was hard but there were breathtaking views in every direction.

Above. One of my daughters a thousand feet above Randa, which we’ll visit later. Below, the fam and I are taking a break from a hard hike up the mountain before crossing the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, about 7,700 feet above Randa. The bridge is 494 metres long on the Europaweg trail.

Later, below, a Swiss Ibex on the trail. We saw many on this day. He moseyed along after a peaceful standoff.

Below. A few miles from Grachen is one of Switzerland’s most well-known ski destinations, Zermott.  We spent two days hiking from town, and after our hikes we ate, toured, shopped, and enjoyed a some of the local ambiance.

Zermott is a “car-free” town.  To get there, one takes “The BVZ”—the Brig-Visp-Zermatt Railway.  We caught the 12:30 to Zermatt here, at Randa. The Randa station is the oldest station on the BVZ–it was built in 1891.

The BVZ is a 44-kilometer-long, 3.3-meter (1000-mm) gauge electric railroad that connects the main Swiss railroad system in Visp, Switzerland—a town just outside the valley—with Zermott. The line has been in service since 1890 but is modern in every way. The BVZ is single track with traffic control and signaled sidings, plus tunnels, bridges, snow/avalanche sheds, and quiet and efficient trains. There’s even freight traffic to make things even more interesting.

Below. The BVZ features “racks” that allow trains to climb steep grades between Visp and Zermatt. A closeup of one of the racks is shown below. The racks are double-rows of steel teeth, fastened to steel ties to keep everything in perfect alignment. When trains reach the racks, a powered cog wheel is lowered from the engine to power trains uphill and secure the going downhill.

The maximum incline on the railroad for “adhesion” is 2.5%, but the rack/cog system allows climbs of up to 12.5%. Rack-less track, as seen below, is clean and well-ballasted, and full of date nails. See the weld line?

Below. Some BVZ action. Here’s a bad photo of a very fast freight headed to Zermatt. Freights regularly handle fuel, groceries, building supplies, and just about everything else needed in Zermatt. The Matterhorn is just around the corner to the right.

Below. Here’s a rear view from a Zermatt-bound train. We have entered a rack section at the end of the siding. There’s an electric switch indicator on the right–note the lit, vertical signal on the retaining wall at right.

At the top of the hill, we have exited the rack and have met not one but two trains about to head down the rack.

At the modern Zermatt dead-end terminal, the train shed included both passenger and freight trains. The little engine here is a captive Zermatt switcher.

Below. This engine type–a Deh 4/4 in the Zermatt train shed–was my favorite type I encountered. I saw these running all week on freight and passenger trains. They reminded me a little bit of old American doodlebugs. More info on the engines can be found here, but it’s all in Deutsch: A splendid picture of this engine is online at

At Zermatt the BVZ connects with a famous railway line called the Gornergrat Bahn. This 1000-mm, narrow gauge electric railway takes passengers up steep, scenic route up the mountains to a ski area. At the ski area near the top of the mountain, the line is elevated with ski tunnels underneath so skiers can “shred the GNAR” underneath the embankment.

Below. We didn’t ride the Gornergrat but I did walk past their terminal on several occasions. Here’s their engine house in Zermatt, a half kilometer from the BVZ train shed. Note all the tracks here have racks installed, even on level lines.

Below. The business end of the terminal, showing a train embarking passengers and about to head up the mountain. The complex rack track is very interesting stuff.

Below. The racks on the Gornergrat’s turnouts make them look like three-way turnouts. And, unlike the BVZ, there are no steel ties here.

Finally, we took one last train ride for our last hike of the trip. We took the Sunnegga-Rothorn funicular train, seen below, from downtown Zermatt up the mountain near Sunnega Peak, which is very near the Matterhorn. Below, we’re late and my family is scrambling to get on the train in time. Of course I’m lagging behind so I could “get the shot!”

The ride to the top was only three minutes. Here’s the view at the top:

We hiked for hours to lakes, peaks, mountain huts and more.

On the way back down the mountain, I somehow managed to get in the front car again. Halfway down the mountain there was a little passing siding, and I was able to get a photo of our “down” train meeting the “up train” in the tunnel. There it is at the right. Crazy stuff!

The Swiss love their little railways and it shows.  If you’re intereste you can read more about the BVZ and it’s Zermatt connections at .

Next time, back to modeling. – John G

No. 137: Trolleys of Prague, Czech Repulic


Over Christmas week I took the family skiing in Slovakia.  It was a 13-hour drive from Germany to the Tatras National Park in Slovakia, so we stopped halfway–in Prague, Czech Republic–to enjoy a nice evening at the Prague Christmas markets.

My son has been to Prague several times and told me all about the trolleys there.  I’m not much of a trolley fan but I was pleasantly surprised.  We stayed in a cool Air B&B on the east side of the river, overlooking the Charles Bridge, and on the morning of the 24th I got up early and walked to a little square called Malostamske Nameste to take a few “snaps”.

According to Wiki, the Prague tramway network is the largest such network in the Czech Republic, consisting of 88.5 miles of track, 931 trams and 25 daytime routes.  It was the variety of cars that caught my eye.  There are all types running–old and new–and hundreds of them.  I only railfanned (“trolley-fanned”?) for an hour and there were too many trains to count.

I took the photo below as my wife was driving into the city on the 23rd.  Driving in Prague is a nerve-wracking experience and she didn’t drive for much longer.  I’ll talk a bit more on that later.  Look at the death grip she’s got on that wheel!


Below.  I snapped a work train near our parking garage on the evening of the 23rd.


Below.  Here’s the square at Malostamske Nameste, where I was able to go on the morning of the 24th to do some proper railfanning.  This is one of the closest stops to the Charles Bridge and it’s a popular, busy stop.  If you care about car types, this is a “Modernized” Tatra T-3 according to Wikipedia.


Below.  This is an older Tatra T-3 type.  I like these cars–they seemed to be the most plentiful on the day.


Below.  Cars came to Malostamske Nameste about every five minutes.  I rarely saw mixed consists, but here is an older and newer Tatra T-3 lashed together.


Below.  These are the newest cars, made by Skoda.  I’m sure they are quiet and comfortable, and efficient, but they are also boring and un-inspirational.


As an aside, I was in Luxembourg City a few weeks earlier and took a tram into the city, again to visit a Christmas market.  Here, below, is a photo of the modern cars there.  They’re clean and comfortable, but where’s the appeal???


Back to Prague.  Here are two older cars going around the corner.  You’ve gotta really pay attention when walking and driving in the city.  There are cars, pedestrians, bikes and trolleys everywhere.  Before turning any direction you need to check over your left shoulder to make sure there’s not a tram overtaking you.


Just around the corner was a cool pass-through with the trolley on the far left, a vehicle tunnel at center, and a pedestrian walkway at right.


Below.  Here’s an old T-3 coming through the tunnel.  Yep, that’s gantry track!


Here’s the station signal.  Semaphore rules–horizontal means stop, and “forty-five” means go.  The stonework along the tracks has a cool factor of 100%.


Track is clean and well-maintained.


Midway through the morning, an old museum train came rumbling around the corner.  It was running on a regular train route.


The crew was dressed in period uniforms and using old-style conductor procedures.  This fellow was having a grand time with all the riders.  All the tourists wanted to take a snap with him, especially all the old Chinese tourists.  He was all smiles.  Also note behind the museum cars–one of the modern Skodas has caught up to the museum cars, but there are no riders.  Everybody wanted to ride the old cars.


Off they go…


Meanwhile the parade continued.  Below: The older and the new.


Here’s a view on the other side of the pass-through.  This is one of 94 Tatra KT8s on the system.  This train is heading away from us.  Note the signal at right indicating stop.


My family had a nice time in Prague, and the railfanning was a blast.  I’ll catch up on freight car modeling in the next post.


Blessings to you and your families!  – John G

No. 133: Brunswick, Maine Track Study

A few weeks ago I took quick trip to New Hampshire to take my son to get his drivers license.  He got his license the first morning of our trip.  We spent the next couple of days shopping and also went up to Brunswick, Maine for a few hours to visit Bowdoin College.
The photo above is on the departure out of Frankfurt.  Here’s the city, below, around 7:00 a.m.  Frankfurt was levelled during the war by the British and American bombing campaigns, and rebuilt as “an American city” featuring New York City-style skyscrapers.  It is the only city in Germany with skyscraper buildings.
While at Bowdoin, Jacob went off to an orientation appointment and I had about 90 minutes to hang around town.  Naturally I went “down to the tracks” to poke around and take a few photos.  I don’t model Maine railroads but track study is important to the railroad prototype modeler, as track is a model too and getting it right is important.  Here’s what I found.
First I went to the passenger depot just off campus and found the local double-ended passenger train had just arrived.  The train turns here and returns south after about an hour break.
Right around the corner were a few old buildings that appear to have been rail-served at one time.  Here is the most interesting one, below.   Many thanks to the guys at Gorham Bike Shop for letting me on their property to shoot around the building. They told me it was a former lumber shed.
Below.  Nearby the lumber shed on one leg of a wye track, this old telltale is still in service…sorta.
How come the modern modelers never include stuff like this on their layouts?
With time running out I slowed down and did a little track study.  I was drawn to an old switch stand near the telltale, shown below, then took some time to photograph track details.
The last patent date on this switch stand is 1907; I wouldn’t be surprised if it is 110 years old.  It is a Ramapo No. 17.
Below.  A double-ended gauge rod near the turnout.  There were quite a few of them on the wye and at the turnout.
Note the color of the ties too.  They’re not gray, and not tan, but somewhere in the middle.
Below.  These devices are adjustable rail braces that help keep track in alignment at turnouts.  I don’t know how long this type of rail brace has been in service, but these appear to be as old as the track itself.
Again, note the tie colors and the slightly contrasting color of the track and fasteners.
Here’s a joint bar, of fishplate, with the bolt heads on the inside.  The wire provides additional electrical continuity.
Here’s another joint bar, below, with two bolt heads and two nuts on the inside rail.
Below.  Even more details.  It’s hard to see in this photo, but this rail was forged in 1915.  Another nearby rail, which I couldn’t photograph because the detail was partially hidden in a shadow, was forged in 1909.
Finally, I went looking for date nails.  In 1991 I spend a weekend in Caribou, Maine with a broken C-141, and in 2001 I visited the Conway Scenic Railroad in New Hampshire.  In both places I noticed date nails everywhere, so I had a hunch I would find them here in Brunswick.  I did—lots of them!
I love date nails.  I think they tell a great story.  Here’s a rare one, below—1943!
Here’s a few more.  They’re still in great shape.  I’m glad they’re still there and haven’t been pulled up by a nail-hunter.

I hope you enjoyed the random thoughts.  Have a great week!  – John G

No. 126: Railfanning at Lesce-Bled, Slovenia…and Finishing a Few Freight Cars

In June I took my family to Slovenia and Croatia for a little get-away after school ended.  We spent a week in Radovljica, Slovenia and then spent a couple of days at a seaside resort in Pula, Croatia.

Radovljica (pronounced Rad-ol-ska) is one of the most beautiful, pleasant places on the Earth.  We love life there.  The people are wonderful, the cost of living is low, and the scenery there–near the magnificent, unspoiled Triglev National Park–is breathtaking.  If I could move there and retire, I think I would.


One morning during our week I went to a nearby mainline railway station, Lesce-Bled–about ten minutes east of Radovljica–to photograph some mainline train action there.  I saw and photographed seven trains in less than an hour—three “scooters” (my term for local passenger trains) and four through electric freight trains.

Below.  Here’s one of the big freight trains, below, entering the siding at Lesce-Bled to wait for a scooter to pass.


Below.  One of several westbound mainline freights passing the Lesce-Bled station.   These heavy electric trains are fast and quiet, and are able to start and stop very quickly. 


Here’s a westbound scooter that appeared later in the morning.  The Lesce-Bled depot is beautiful.  The mountains in Triglav National Park can be seen in the distance.


Nearby the depot is this neat, retired freight house.  There are long loading platforms along each end.   It looks like a lot of buildings that used to line the right-of-way in the U.S….only this one is of course in the former Yugoslavia.


Just east of the depot is the ubiquitous double-slip switch.  They seem to be present everywhere in Europe.


Here is the switch stand for the double-slip.  It is a very simple, interesting arrangement.  Wouldn’t this make an interesting modeling project?


After a week in beautiful Slovenia I took my family to Croatia to spend a few days in Pula, which is an ancient Roman city on the Istrian Pensinsula on the Adriatic Sea.  While there we visited this former Roman coliseum which is remarkably intact.  Pula was alright, but we liked Slovenia a whole lot more.


2019 has been a terribly hectic, frustrating, disappointing year in a lot of ways.  Summer has been tough.  There hasn’t been much time for modeling.  Nevertheless I did finish a few models when I got back from the trip.  Here are a couple of photos.

Great Northern 31456 is an ancient Sunshine Models kit I bought on eBay.  This is an all-time favorite prototype; I have an O scale model of one as well.  I finished the model with Tahoe Model Works Andrews trucks (the prototype had Dalman-Andrews trucks), plenty of wire details, Kadee scale couplers, Miscrscale decals, and Tru Color paint.  I weathered the car with artist’s oil wash that I described in an earlier post, found here at


Here’s another Great Northern car–this one a more familiar double-sheathed prototype.  The model is from Westerfield.  I finished it with Tru Color paint and Microscale decals, and weathered it with the artist’s oil wash and highlighted many of the boards with artist’s pencils.  I used Aim weathering powders on the roof and then gave the whole car a shot of Testors dark tan to grime-up the underbody.


Here’s a better view of the roof weathering.


Finally, I finished my new Rapido NP box car.  I ordered the car online but the guy sent me the wrong paint scheme even though I was very clear about what I wanted.  What a hassle–it would cost me too much to ship it back, so I sandblasted it ordered Microscale decals, and finished it the way I wanted.  Here’s the model I got, below; it’s beautifully finished but the paint is incorrect for my modeling era.


I sandblasted my model, painted it with Tur Color paint, and decaled the car per prototype photos in the RP Cyc series of books.  I replaced the trucks with Tahoe Model Works trucks–and that was it.  The rest of the model is factory-finished.


So, those are the three new cars that joined the fleet in late June.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing the upcoming Rapido USRA models!

I also finished a New York Central RS-2, seen below, which I’ll detail in a later post.  I enjoyed the build and also very much enjoy running the engine, as it has Loksound and DCC installed.  Here’s the finished model with some light weathering and crew installed.


There are many more posts coming in the next week.  I’ve got all the photos but just need time to put the posts together.

I hope you’re all having a great, happy, healthy, prosperous summer.  I send to you abundant blessings from Germany!  – John G

No. 123: Modelbautag at the Feldbahn Museum, Frankfurt


Last weekend I drove to Frankfurt to visit the Frankfurt Feldbahn Museum for Modelbautag

Feldbahn means “Field Railway”, and is a term used to describe German narrow-gauge industrial railroading.  The Feldbahn Museum just west of downtown Frankfurt is the largest operating museum of it’s kind in Europe; they maintain a large stable of equipment and a giant mainline loop in nearby Rebstockpark.

Last Sunday was a great day to visit, as this day was also Modelbautag, or Modeler’s Day, at the museum.  I expected a train show with vendors and models but there were only a few modular layouts and a couple other things on display, and that was it.  More on that later. 


Though Modelbautag was a disappointment, I was happy to find a number of the little engines steamed up and moving trains happily about.  

After being there about 10 minutes, I had a goofy smile on my face and kept saying to myself “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” 


After another 10 minutes, I texted my wife and wrote “This is a life-changing event.  I’m not coming home.”


This gauge of this railroad is 600mm, which was something of a standard in Germany.  600mm works out to just under 23-1/2 inches, or what we would consider in America as “two foot gauge”.

Below.  The museum probably has about 35 or 40 locomotives, but here’s the star of the show—a Jung 0-6-0 built in 1952.  If I am translating the technical sheet correctly…the type was originally designed for the Wehrmacht in 1944.  This engine is heavy compared to the other engines and it’s really got some get-up-and-go.

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There are diesels too, some with side rods like this one.  I understand these engines are very loud when operating.


This engine, below, is also a diesel.  There are a half-dozen like it around the museum.  


I’m not sure about interesting little this engine.  I think it is battery-powered.


Inside one of the two locomotive shops was this very unique engine.  This is a Benzollokomotive, or oil locomotive, built in 1905.  It is the oldest of its type in the world.


Here’s a view of some of the 600mm trackwork.  Yep, there’s a three-way switch and a double slip right together, plus a crossover up ahead on the left.  How cool is that?


I found the trackwork on this turnout to be very interesting.  There is different size rail, and some of the railhead appears to be different widths, hence the multiple fishplates.  The ties interlace.  The rail is held to the ties by bolts, not spikes.  And some ties are metal, while some are wood.


There are two car shops.  The track in this smaller shop, below, is very-small-radius industrial track, but still 600 mm, with what I call “kick-switches”.  There’s no switch stand or linkage–you just kick the points over.


Here’s a pile of panel track, or what perhaps the Brits would call “set-track”.  Like a model train set, you can set up a Feldbahn anywhere.  They’ve got straights, curves, turnouts and bumper tracks, all secured by metal ties.


Above.  Near the back of the small car shop is this miniature wye.  I estimated the whole wye takes up about 20 feet.  I like the picnic car too…


Here’s an example of the utility of these little railroads.  This photo below was on display in one of the engine shops.  After the terrible war, tracks were easily laid right in the streets to aid cleanup and reconstruction.

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Also on these side tracks is this 1950-built electric Eimerkettenbagger, which my wife translated as a “bucket, tracked, excavator”.  The buckets at the far end of the machine scoop up dirt and dump it into the tipper car in front.  While I was standing here a museum worker came over and cranked it up.  It was noisy but the cool factor was huge.


There was a larger car shop building nearby with a few dozen freight and passenger cars inside under construction or restoration.  I thought you might enjoy this photo of the trackwork inside the shop.


Back inside the main locomotive shed, there was the obligatory German meal with fest tables set up everywhere.  It was a super-hot day and the beer was flowing freely.  I had a good laugh when I saw one of the engineers up in the cab of an engine drinking a glass of beer.  


The rest of this building is full of every kind of 600mm locomotive —diesels, steam, you name it.


The other locomotive shed included a very small model railroad exhibition.  The models were small but backdrop was priceless!


The fellow on the left set up a very nice modular narrow gauge layout, about 1:24th scale or so.


Here’s another view of his nice layout, which ran very well and included s small stable of sound-equipped locomotives.


This guy and his dad had a great display of G scale Feldbahn models.  They both spoke excellent English and we had a nice conversation.  He is definitely an RPM-er and I told him so.


This guy does nice work.  The little engines had sound and DCC and ran very well.



Above and Below.  These nice Feldbahn dioramas are on display in the museum. Obviously teh Germans are very serious about the little trains.  There’s a lotta love here.


It was a great day of train watching and learning all about the Feldbahn.  Here’s one last photo…of one of the little trains, heading off for a short run around Rebstockpark.


How can you NOT love this stuff!  – John G




No. 122: Cité du Train – The French National Railway Museum


Two weekends ago I made the long drive down to Mulhouse, France to visit Cité du Train, the French National Railway Museum.  This museum presents the history and technological achievements of the French railway network, particularly the SNCF–the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer–which, since 1938, is France’s national state-owned railway company.

Don’t laugh.  I had read a lot about the museum and understood it was one of the very best in the world.  I expected it to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be that good.

The museum occupies a huge area on the south side of Mulhouse about an hour north of Bern, Switzerland.  The museum is full of steam, electrics, passenger cars, models, and lots and lots of memorabilia.  It is crystal clean.  The equipment is beautifully restored.  No old cars or engines rotting away outside.  It is first-class in every respect.

This place makes the B&O Museum look like ametuer hour.  It is fantastic—hands-down the best railroad museum I’ve ever been to.

Below.  I’m on the way.  You don’t see highway signs like this in central Illinois!


I have arrived!


After paying up (13 Euro-bucks—about $15 US), this is your first view, below, upon entry into the first of the two massive indoor museum buildings.  This building is filled with gleaming engines and passenger cars, and subway cars, and a good history of the SNCF during The Occupation.

You may notice how dark it is inside.  The interior is very dark, but the exhibits are all dramatically lit.


Below.  This huge 4-8-2 is immaculately restored.  It was built for the eastern rail lines in 1925.  It’s so clean you could eat off of it.


This part of the museum also includes a number of life-size figures depicting life on the railroad.  The figures are essentially dolls and are somewhat whimsical…and 100% French.

The photo below shows figures of an engineer and a man on the ground, posed aside the massive 4-8-2, having a conversation.  There are speakers inside the dolls, and they play recordings of men shouting to each other, with locomotive sounds in the background.  My camera picked up a lot more light than can seen with the human eye.  The real scene is quite dark—almost blacked-out.  In the dark, dramatic light, the figures look and sound absolutely real.   The effect is striking.


Below.  Part of this museum building includes a series of exhibits of life during the German occupation.  This exhibit depicts a 4-6-0 locomotive wrecked by the French resistance.


One of many freight cars in the museum, below.  The other end of the car has a staircase to a covered brake platform.


Below.  There are many passenger and subway cars inside this part of the museum.  Inside most of the dining cars, tables were set up for meals like that seen below.  This is a common display in many of the better rail museums.


A very unusual French-built engine for front-line service in military zones.


Between the two main museum buildings is a large outdoor area, adjacent to the active SNCF main tracks, that has an operating turntable, diesel engine rides, modern electric locomotives, miniature train rides, and a lot more stuff.  Below is a nice exhibit of interesting signal equipment.


This cool electric is posed on the turntable.  Inside the museum is another such engine.


Below.  This is the first exhibit you encounter as you enter the second indoor museum building.  Unlike the first building which is very dark inside, this building is very well lit.  This is where the bulk of the museum’s equipment resides.  There are dozens and dozens of beautiful steam and electric locomotives, passenger cars, and exhibits here.

This part of the museum is set up by era.  Each track corresponds to a different era on the French railways.  This huge 4-6-4, below, is set up on rollers, and it runs every 20 minutes so visitors can see the running gear in action.  Note the sign says it is a “Hudson” type.


Restored steam is everywhere inside the second building.  This heavy Pacific, most of which is painted in a rich maroon color, was set up over a pit so you can walk underneath.  This particular engine was regularly assigned to a division between Paris and Calais.  It was taken out of service in 1967.


Here is yet another Pacific, below, depicting a World War I-era scene.


More steam…it is everywhere inside, in a bewildering number of types and styles from many eras.  This track includes locomotives from 1900 and earlier.


I had never seen one of these unusual, uncovered engines until this day.  I’ll bet it wasn’t a great job for the crew, exposed to the weather and everything coming out of the stack.


Here’s another old engine.  Check out that single, huge driver on each side.


In addition to the crew being exposed to the weather, they also had to work right next to that huge spinning driver.  Very interesting…


Recognize this engine below?  It’s a Mikado-type, built by Baldwin in 1945 for the French Railways.  I understand it was rebuilt by the French at least once during it’s service life.  It is in spectacular condition.


SNCF has operated high-speed electric main lines, similar to the PRR, since the 1920s.  The museum collection includes a number of high-speed electric engines like the one below.   The museum considers these engines as if they are Formula One cars.  It’s a very interesting comparison, and the comparison carries through to another exhibit—which I didn’t photograph—of today’s super-fast TGV trains.


Here is a restored freight electric from the Midi Railways.


This is a dual-service electric engine built after SNCF took over as the national railway company.


This one, below, kinda looks like a refrigerator.


The museum, of course, includes thousands of models of many scales.  This handmade model from the 1930s features completely operational running gear, and operates every two minutes.  Its prototype companion sits on an adjacent track.


This model is an award-winner.  Love the medal!


Tucked away in a corner of the museum is a modeler’s room.  This room includes a large number of static displays and two operating layouts.  For one Euro-buck you can make the trains go.


Below.  This excellent all-metal model stands beside it’s prototype engine inside.


This model display case is near the entrance to the building.  It includes a large number of handsomely finished models in many scales, the smallest of which are probably O scale.


Below.  More exceptional prototype models in many different scales.  It’s too bad they aren’t running.


Below.  This electric engine model is set up on Ikea sawhorses just like my HO layout!  I had to include a photo.


And finally, to close out this post, I couldn’t resist including a photo of a French wine car.  Wonder if it’s red?


Until now I never appreciated the depth and breadth and history of the French railway scene.  And I’ve never been to a railway museum that both celebrates the past -AND- boasts of the future of railroading.  NO museum in America has the nerve to brag about railroading’s future…but this one does, and SNCF—with TGV, high-speed rail and a very modern freight-train network—has got the street creds to do it.

Even if you don’t speak French, you may enjoy checking out the museum’s website at  If you want more details, the Practical Information section of the website includes details on most of the museums’ collection.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!  – John G