No. 119: Railfan Day on the Rhine

#2 at High Level

Back in the early 1990s I was a young Air Force navigator flying C-141s out of Charleston AFB.  One of our usual runs was to Rhine-Main AB in Frankfurt, Germany.  I flew there often. 

Sometimes we’d get a day off between missions so we’d go downtown and see the sights.  We would often rent a car and drive up the Rhine River valley between Rudesheim and Koblenz to visit the little towns, and shop, and see all the castles, and experience the very best of Germany.  We always stopped in Rudesheim as a joke, because Rudesheim was where we would have to hold if Frankfurt/Rhine-Main couldn’t get us straight in. 

I snapped this photo of a Deutsche Bahn train in 1991 on one of those trips through Rudesheim.  I remember saying “I’ve gotta get back here someday for some railfanning.”

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That day finally came last weekend.  My wife graciously took over all the family errands so I could get up to Rudesheim for a couple hours of train-chasing.  It was an awesome day!

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It is an easy one-hour drive on the autobahn from my house to Rudesheim.  First I stopped in Bingen, seen above, on the opposite bank from Rudesheim, to get cash and take a few photos at the busy rail junction there.  There are busy double-track mainlines on both sides of the river; the freight-trains mostly run on the other side of the river.

To get to the other side of the river, one must take the ferry.  4.80 Euros each way.


Below.  On the ride over I could see that I was already late to the parade.  Three freights zoomed by as I was making the ten-minute crossing.

Rudesheim marks the beginning of the “upper half of the Middle Rhine”.  This roughly 25-mile long part of the Rhine River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is well known for it’s dramatic scenery, quaint towns, vineyards, and castles–44 of them–lining the way.  It’s also known by railfans as a place where hundreds of trains pass every day. 

The massive statue on the hillside above Rudesheim, seen below, is the Niederwald monument.  Its colossal central figure, a woman known as Germania, represents the reestablishment of the German empire after the country defeated France in the Franco-Prussian war in 1871. 

I found a nice tourist site that has some good photography and traveler’s tips on the Rhine River.  If you’re interested you can check it out at

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Below.  This was my objective for the day–the depot area at Rudesheim am RhineI arrived around 1100.  The first train I was able to shoot was this one, below.  The big signal tower in the background make a great backdrop but it appears to be retired. 

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Right behind it that freight, just a few minutes later, came this ICE (Inter-City Express) train.

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I shot both of the trains above against the sun.  There wasn’t anywhere in Rudesheim to set up on the sunny side of the tracks, so I decided to bug out and go up the river to find a better spot. 

As I was leaving, I noticed this old track leading to a few warehouses behind the depot.  This runaround was barely big enough for an engine to run around a single car.  There’s a prototype for everything.

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I drove the car up to the next town–about 2-3 miles up the river–hoping to find a station platform on a sunny, inside curve.  Here’s the place…

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The depot here was on an s-curve and I could only see signals in one direction.  It also became really hazy which changed the light.  Nevertheless about a half-dozen trains came at me in just 15 minutes.  Here are the first and second…

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The third–a heavy rock train–came at me quickly.  I was able to get this super-hazy shot…


…but the “away” shot was a little better.

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Two passenger trains followed.

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These were followed by a couple more freights.

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The second freight was running slow, so I got in the car and chased it up the river.  Most of the automobile traffic is on the opposite bank so I had the road to myself to shoot through the window.  I paced it at 100 kph–about 65 mph.  On the drive another two or three trains came at me and I wasn’t fast enough to shoot them.  It has now become cloudy and quite cold out.

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I went to the station at Lorch and set up at the end of the depot platform.  The parade continued.  

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Below.  Next, this passenger train appeared.  Everyone on the platform thought this train was stopping, but it kept moving–at probably 55-65 miles an hour.  Note the one person taking cover at left.


This cool hotel or gasthaus stands next to the track near the Lorch depot.  It makes a nice backdrop.  Check out the diagonal windows on the tower–bet there’s a spiral staircase inside.


This homely engine appeared next.

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The away shot reveals another train coming.  This was another fast-moving through passenger train.  No stopping!

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A few minutes later, another westboard freight hummed by.  

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This train included a large number of steel loads.

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I walked to the opposite side of the platform, and in just a few minutes this train sneaked up on me, silently, at about 60 mph.

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After 45 minutes in Lorch I moved a little farther west to Kaub.  I found another retired interlocking tower here, and I was able to see signals in both directions.  It was a nice spot!

The first train I was able to photograph was this little S-Bahn scooter.

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It was followed immediately by an intermodal train.

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The most recognizable landmark at Kaub is the Pfalzgrafenstein Castle (as seen below).  The castle sits right in the middle of the river and was built as a “toll castle” in the 1300s.  It is one of the most famous landmarks on the river and was literally right across from where I shot these photos. 

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At 2 p.m. it was time for me to head back home.  I saw a few more trains, but this was the last one I was able to shoot before leaving.  I love the fast, electric freights.

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I made the short drive back to Rudesheim and got in the queue for the ferry.   The parade of trains continued as I waited; I saw three more in maybe 10-15 minutes.  I was able to shoot this one through the passenger side window. 

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It was a great day and I’ll definitely have to do it again when the weather’s better.

P.S.  While I stepped away, my daughter Kirsten sat down and typed me–and you guys, I think–a note.  I couldn’t end better than this!

This is a special note from Kirsten.  I know you love me Dad, and you know I love you!  Make sure to LIKE and subscribe and comment down below.  See you guys next week. Kisses!

No. 107: The Ackley Layout – Rebuilding the Bump Out, Part 1

I was looking at old photo sets the other day and went through a folder I shot on the CSX lines in western Illinois in 2004.  The photo below was taken on the old B&O main track between Shattuc and Carlysle, about 30 miles east of where I lived in O’Fallon.  I thought it was interesting because of the way the siding track was sunken into the ditch, and have always thought it would be interesting to model.  The standing water, line poles and jointed rail add to the cool factor.


Nearby, in a junk yard in Centralia, there were a few grounded box cars that brought back memories of the old days.  


These are former Missouri Pacific single-sheathed box cars, rebuilt in the early 1950s with steel sheathing and new doors and roofs.  The car above still has the brake gear installed on the end.  The car in the background below is similarly rebuilt, but has inverse ends.  You never know what you’re going to find out there, so keep hunting!


Rebuilding the Bump Out

Last year, in Post #37, posted in March, 2017, I described adding something I called a “bump out” to provide a little extra room for industries in the aisle.  That post can be found at  I got the idea from Warner Clark’s Proto48 Nickel Plate layout.

Here’s where I started with the rebuilding project.  This isn’t bad, but I wanted room for a second car spot (the real one had four or five spots) and therefore needed a deeper bump-out. 

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Below.  Here’s the plan.  Tighten the curve to 24-inch radius (that was the original plan anyway) and increase the depth of the bump-out another five or six inches to make room for another industry.

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It took less than an hour to snip the rail, remove the supporting structure and then pop off the Styrodur sub-base.  Cleaning up the mess took a lot longer.

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Next, I soaked the track and roadbed in rubbing alcohol and removed it, along with a small portion of scenery on both sides of the track.

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Below.  After a lot of cleaning and shaping the subroadbed, I tested the new track alignment.

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Below.  I secured cork roadbed with a heavy, German glue that is close to adhesive caulk sold in the U.S.  I used Micro Engineering Code 55 flex track.  I cut all the ties apart from underneath and spread them out to better represent little-used spur track.

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Once I had the roadbed and track alignment determined, I then built a frame for the new bump out.  1 x 4 pine boards were connected on the bottom of the layout and then a frame was built around those board at the front of the layout.  All that is left to do now is install new Styrodur subroadbed, fascia, and then scenery material.

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With the new piece of Styrodur in place, I can now finish laying the rest of the track.  FInishing the fascia is a more time-consuming job—first I have to buy it, then cut it, then test-fit it, and then probably go get it cut again to get it exactly right.  I use a wood shop that’s away from home to do all my heavy and/or precision cutting, and it takes time to go out there and get that work done.   In the meantime I can finish laying the track and get the scenery going, which is a lot of fun.

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Below.  I glued the roadbed in place and pinned it into position with my wife’s sewing stickpins.  As always I test-fit everything, and here the elevator is in position to check clearances.  Yep, it’ll be tight, and I may have to install a small piece of plexiglass here to keep things from tumbling off the layout.

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Below.  With the track in place and painted, I laid down a thin coat of Hydrocal to form the scenery base.

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I painted the scenery base…  


…then wired the track, test-ran an engine on it, and then tested the building fit.  I’m satisfied with everything so far.  

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Next, below, I painted the ties with a variety of grays, tans and browns, mixed together on a palette and applied with lacquer thinner.


Then, below, I applied my special ballast made of screened dirt and cinders I collected from PRR roundhouse site in Richmond, Indiana.  I laid it down and then soaked it with rubbing alcohol to knock off the surface tension, then secured the ballast with a mixture of 60% water, 25% rubbing alcohol, 15% Elmer’s white glue, and a few drops of dishwashing soap…give or take a few percents on each ingredient.


Finally, with the ballast dry, I put a building and a few cars down and ran a train by, and everything’s looking real nice.  The new bump out fits two cars easily, and I can still easily reach around it.  All this work was done in about 20-30 minutes every other day over about ten days.


Next up, scenery for the bump out.  Well…maybe sometime in January, after I finish a few new freight cars.

Below…one more photo of the B&O lines, this one looking east somewhere in southern Indiana.  How I miss you, B&O Lines!  – John G




No. 106: Petersburg, Virginia on the Seaboard Air Line

One of my all-time favorite railroads is the old Seaboard Air Line, which ran from Richmond, Virginia to Miami, Florida and a whole lot of places in between.

I grew up in Georgia and researched, railfanned and modeled the SAL for decades.  When I bought my first house in 1992 I set aside a small bedroom to model the SAL route through Petersburg, Virginia, which I thought was a perfect prototype for a small, one-town model railroad.  I collected a lot of information about Petersburg over the years and I thought a blog post about the place would be inspiring and fun.  

Below.  A northbound SAL train about to pass underneath the ACL overhead bridge in Petersburg.  Four motors are pulling a long train with a whole lot of head-end traffic. 

SAL in Petersburg

Below.  Here’s an aerial photo of the compact, very modelable SAL route through Petersburg, circa 1957.  The major features, from right (north) to left (south):

  • A very long steel viaduct over the Appomattox River and the N&W
  • A short branch into town (to warehouses, a suitcase factory and SAL’s Market Street Station)
  • A short stretch of factories along the main track
  • A small, two-track yard along the main line
  • A “new” depot built in 1944
  • More warehouses
  • An ACL overhead crossing (no interchange)
  • And just out of view, a small yard to interchange cars with the N&W

…and that’s it.  The long Appomattox River bridge and the ACL overhead bridge serve as bookends, with a station and a bunch of industries jammed in the middle.

SAL Petersburg Central 1956 2

Here’s a rotated view of the photo above, calling attention to the some details.  

Petersburg Highlights

Below.  This aerial photo from around 1959 that shows the N&W “old main line” running along the top of the photo from left to right.  Seaboard’s long bridge across the Appomattox River and the N&W can be seen diagonally on the far right.  The shadow cast by the bridge is prominent.  

Petersburg 1958 Aerial 1

A quick Google search of “Seaboard Railroad, Petersburg, Virginia” will reveal a few more photos I couldn’t add here.  There are a few nice ones in the online J. Parker Lamb photo gallery at  Check ’em out if you have a chance.  

Below.  A southbound SAL train charging over the bridge.  The date and photographer are unknown, but looking at the consist this appears to be The Orange Blossom Special.  

Petersburg, Eval Silvar

My old friend Walt Gay kindly allowed me to use some of his photos for this post.  Walt has lived in the Petersburg area his whole life and railfanned the SAL extensively.  Here are two of Walt’s photos from the early-SCL era, showing how tall the viaduct was over the river and the N&W.  Thanks Walt!

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SCL607 Petersburg

SAL’s first station in Petersburg station was built in the 1880s and was a stub-end terminal located on Market Street near city-center.  A single-track branch left the main track at Dunlop Street and stub-ended at the Market Street Station.  The branch also served the massive Seward Luggage Co., an SAL freight house and a few other small customers on the way to the station.  The branch was less than a mile long and can be seen in the large aerial photo shown above.  Last time I checked, around 2002, the old Market Street station was still standing.


Below.  Along the branch to Market Street, SAL installed a small diesel fuel facility for local switchers.  The huge Seward Luggage Company complex is in the background.  Photo courtesy Bob’s Photos.

Petersburg, Bob's Photos

To eliminate slow back-up moves to the Market Street Station downtown, SAL sold it and built a new depot on the main line on Dunlop Street around 1910.  A wonderful photo from the online Barriger Library collection is included below.  It is the only known photo of the Dunlop Street Station.  The view is south.  In the left foreground you can see the branch to Market Street leaving the main track and curving away from the main track. 

The Dunlop Street Station was located on the sharp curve leading to the viaduct, and trains stopping here–in either direction–would often leave cars hanging uncomfortably over the bridge.  Starting and stopping heavy trains on the sharp curve was also a problem.

Old Petersburg Depot, VA

Below.  I have a mountain of slides and prints taken in this area going back to the early 1980s, but they are all in storage back in the U.S.  The few images I do have include this view of some small factory buildings at the site of the old Dunlop Street station.  The main track to the viaduct curved sharply to our left.

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On the other side of Dunlop Street were a few factories.  A larger warehouse complex has been saved and turned into loft apartments.  Another factory–the Titmus Optical Supply Company–is still extant but it in a poor state of repair.  I have a ton of pictures of Titmus but they too are all in storage.  Here’s a good view of the small plant thanks to Google Earth.  The view is distorted a little because of the 3D image software; interestingly the software makes it almost look like a painting.  SAL used to run along the grassy side of the building at left.  There were at least three or four car spots.

OPtical Co

Next to Titmus is the Long Manufacturing Company, seen below.  Long had spots for 2-3 cars on a slightly lower level adjacent to the main line.  The factory consisted of two long warehouses, a couple of large Quonset huts, and another steel fab building.  This is another Google Earth view.

Long Mfg Co

In 1944 SAL built another new station about a half-mile south of the old station on Commerce Street, adjacent to the Long Manufacturing Company site seen above.  This was SAL’s last depot in town, and was a small, classy, colonial-style depot with a long platform.  SAL retired and razed the Dunlop Street station after the new depot was placed in service.

Good photos of the 1944-built station on Commerce Street are hard to find.  On the track side, the station was obscured by the long platform and photographing the depot itself was practically impossible.  On the street side, well…nobody bothered taking pictures.  The station itself was small–just a few rooms.

Walt’s best photo of the depot is this one below.  Walt took this photo to record one of the last runs of the old Silver Star passenger train.   That’s SCL 515, a former ACL E-6, in the lead.  This view faces north.  


Here’s one of my all-time favorite Walt Gay photos, below.  This view is also at Commerce Street but facing the opposite direction.  This view shows a northbound SCL train ready to hoop up orders at Commerce Street.  The lead engine is a former SAL E-7, originally SAL 3017, now in SCL paint.  Love the rainy, late afternoon ambiance.


Below.  Here’s another cool Walt Gay photo showing an SCL-era train, southbound, passing Commerce Street—just barely out of view at the far left—and the quarter-mile long row of warehouses next to the depot.  In a moment this train will be heading under the ACL overpass.  This image was probably made around 1970.  The engines display a neat mix of early SCL liveries.  In the lead is an SCL GP-40 in the “bumblebee” scheme (the former ACL colors).  Next is a former SAL GP-35 in dark green, and third is another former SAL engine, a GP-40, in “Jolly Green Giant” paint. 


If your a diesel-era guy there’s a decent ACL-SAL-to-SCL conversion roster online at  That’s the site I used to figure out which SCL e-units are in Walt’s photos.

A few hundred yards south of the 1944 station the SAL ducked underneath the double-track main line of rival Atlantic Coast Line.  There was no ACL interchange here, just an overhead crossing.  However, just past the bridge was a connection with the N&W, whose line ran along the Appomattox River valley nearby as seen on the aerial photos.  SAL and N&W shared a three-track connection here. 

This photo, below, courtesy Bob’s Photos (it may originally be an H. Reid negative) shows SAL 1109 moving tonnage under the ACL bridge.  For decades SAL operated a local “Petersburg Turn” from the road’s main classification yard in north Richmond to Petersburg and back.  This could be the turn, picking up cars from the N&W connection. 

SAL 1109, by the way, was one of 50 F-7 class 0-6-0s built in 1930.  They were widely regarded as the most modern and powerful 0-6-0s ever built.  I was paging through the old Richard Prince SAL book last night and found a photo of 1109 in Richmond, so I suspect this engine was assigned there until the end of steam in 1951 or so. 

Petersburg Barriger Library (2)

Below.  This Walt Gay photo in the exact same area, about 25 years later, shows an SCL-era passenger train overhead on the former ACL overhead bridge.  As the photo says, we’re looking “railroad south” on the SAL lines.


The photo below is from 1957, showing the SAL at center and the N&W line at top.  The interchange yard is the diagonal trackage seen on the top left of the photo.  Coast Line can be seen going from top to bottom of the photo on the right side.  The SAL Commerce Street Station is just out of the view to the far right.  If you blow up the photo, you can also see that the fair is in town.  See all the tents and rides and things on the bottom right?

Petersburg 1958 Aerial 2

My friend Herman Wilkins grew up in Petersburg and was an SAL fan, and he wrote to me often.  He once wrote, Incidentally, that is the circus in your photo that is seen on the field to the right of the ACL mainline. When the circus came to town, it always set up on that field.  Look at the line of white cars on the SAL track between the SAL mainline and the interchange track to the N&W.  I am almost certain that is the circus train.  At one time, sometime after 1958, there was a Pepsi bottling plant built at that location.  After the SCL merger, the old SAL mainline was cut north and south of Petersburg and a connection built off the old ACL to the old SAL line. It was called the Battersea Lane connection after the nearby, historic Battersea area of Petersburg.  That track served the Pepsi facility.  I haven’t been able to tie down the date that connection was built but it was definitely after the Seaboard-ACL merger in 1967.

South of the ACL overhead crossing and the N&W connection there wasn’t much else on the SAL.  There was a hospital that took a carload or two of coal for a heating plant, and a few miles further south was another N&W crossing at Ryan (seen below, with the SAL running top to bottom). 

At Ryan an SAL connection ran up alongside the N&W to reach a long yard to interchange cars with both N&W and ACL.  The interchange yard ran alongside the N&W and was called “Seacoast”–a combination of Seaboard and Coast Line, since N&W used it to transfer cars to both roads.  In later years a steel plant was built at Ryan and was served by both SCL and N&W.  NS has all that business today.

Ryan Aerial 1956.jpg

There wasn’t much else on the rest of the Richmond Subdivision all the way to Raleigh, which is a big reason why the whole line was torn up in the 1980s.

I built a small layout of the town scene but moved to a condo two years later, and the little layout came down for good.  The warehouses and luggage factory on the branch and the warehouses along the main track offered just enough switching.  The N&W interchange served as the major industry, so to speak.  I also modeled the Ryan connection as visible staging to add a little bit more switching.  The SAL viaduct and the ACL overhead offered some visual breaks and interest.  It was a fun layout.

For kicks, I’m adding an excerpt from a 1944 SAL employee timetable, which shows 24 scheduled trains a day on the single-track, CTC-controlled line through Petersburg, not including locals.  I hope you can download it.

SAL 1946 VA Div'n Pg 1

SAL 1946 VA Div'n Pg 2

Hope you enjoyed this little trip through Petersburg.  My personal thanks to Walt and Herman for sharing the memories.  – John G





No. 103: Illinois Central’s Belleville, Ill. Station Area

Thanks to work and family there hasn’t been much modeling happening lately–none, in fact.  To keep the discussion going here is a story on a nice modeling site near my adopted hometown of O’Fallon, Illinois. –

Near my adopted hometown of O’Fallon, Illinois is the small city of Belleville, Illinois.  Illinois Central’s busy St. Louis main line ran through Belleville, and while I was visiting St. Louis this summer I spent a few hours railfanning around the old station area.  I’ve always thought IC line through Belleville would make an interesting one-town layout. 

Belleville grew up as a small industrial center and coal mining town in the shadow of East St. Louis.  Three big railroads made their way through Belleville: Louisville & Nashville, Southern, and Illinois Central. 

The nice view of Belleville’s Illinois Central station was taken by my buddy Loren Casey in 1992, long after the depot was sold off by the IC.

IC Belleville Station 1992 6

A few shortlines moved Illinois coal through Belleville too, most notably the St. Louis, Belleville and Electric–which ran under wire–as shown in the photo below.  The StLB&E is one of my favorite electric roads, with odd-looking engines and gritty, suburban coal mines.  The photo below is provided courtesy of John Carty.

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Illinois Central’s main line to St. Louis is now operated by CN, and it’s still busy.  IC’s ornate brick station still stands on Illinois 159 just south of downtown, and near the depot there were a number of rail-served industries and a lot of main line action.  I’ve always thought this area would make a great one-town layout, or LDE as it’s called–a Layout Design Element.

Here’s an aerial view captured from Google, showing Illinois 159 running north-south right down the center of the photo.  The depot is just to the right of IL 159 at lower center and the large freight house is across the highway on the left.  A few of the old industries are still there, and the remnants of a few short sidings can still be seen.


Here’s a circa 1970 view of the depot after it was sold off by IC.  I included this view because it’s the only one I have that shows the large coal dealer that existed behind the depot.

Belleville, IL May 4, 1969

Below.  Here’s a Sanborn map, circa 1920s of the depot area.  In the World War I era IC had a small depot on the west side of IL 159 closer to the freight house.  This depot was removed in the 1920s and a larger depot as seen above was built across the street.  In addition to the coal dealer there were a few more tracks behind the depot that reached freight customers closer to downtown.   


Here’s a nice view of an eastbound train at the new depot, circa the mid-1960s.  This photo is from the Kohlberg Consortium Collection, courtesy John Kohlberg.  Love that slant nose!

Belleville, IL 7-66a

A few hundred yards south of the depot and just out of view of the Sanborn maps, a short branch left the main line and turned north to reach a couple of plants.  And these are plants of great modeling interest too–an iron stove foundry and a brick plant.  


The large brick freight house on the other side of IL 159 can be seen in the background of the photo above.  Here’s another view provided by John Kohlberg.

1001 Belleville, IL; freighthouse and depot

The depot was sold off by the railroad around 1970 and the freight house became the depot for IC as far as freight operations were concerned.  An operator was stationed there in the 1960s, hence, the order board and train order stand.

Belleville, IL at Illinois Ave.-Route 159 crossing; looking west; 1966 ICRR Photo

Below.  Here’s a view of the freight house from July, 2018.  It too was sold off in the early 70s.  


Here’s the other half of the Sanborn map from the World War I years.  This view is a few hundred yards west of the depot.  Things get interesting behind the freight house.  There was a water tower next to the freight house, and behind it were a number of tracks that reached team tracks and commercial customers. 

The tracks heading off to the left of the photo, according to John Kohlberg, are the “southbound main”.  IC had two mainline routes running south out of St. Louis that met here in Belleville.  “When IC installed CTC here in the 1960s”, John told me, “they pulled up the southbound main.”


Here’s an aerial view of the same area today.


Behind the depot is this cool grain elevator.  If you look closely in the views of the freight house posted above you can see this building in the background.  It had a large red and white Purina checkboard painted on the track side of the building.


Half a block north is this more modern silo complex.


Here’s another view, below, looking west.


Below.  A closeup of the loading machinery. 


Across the tracks from the grain silos is this structure.  It’s unlikely this exact structure was standing in the 50s or 60s, but there is plenty of evidence that there was once a siding here, and there are remnants of concrete bins everywhere, plus old telephone poles and other things, that indicate there was a once a thriving industry in this spot.


Just across the tracks is the huge St. Elisabeth’s Catholic Hospital complex.  One of my daughters was born there in 2004.  IC delivered coal to the hospital’s powerhouse for decades.  


An update.  After I posted about the siding to the power plant at the hospital, Loren Casey wrote and corrected the record:

Just a quick note about something I found out from the old IC crew guys I meet with once a month.    That spur next to St Elizabeth’s hospital was not for coal delivery to the hospital.   It actually went past the hospital to an Illinois Power facility a couple blocks further north.  Coal and other things were deliverd.   The old heads were talking about delivering long poles that had to be carried on two flats and that they would groan going around a curve up that spur.   


So there it is–a neat little place to model with a neat depot and freight house at center stage, plus plenty of industry in every direction.  Plus there’s lots of run-through opportunities too.  I hope to find more photos and also find out if and where the IC line interchanged with the Southern and electric roads, as that would add a lot more  modeling interest.  – John G

No. 99: The Swiss National Railway Musuem

On Friday I took my family on a long Labor Day weekend trip to the Ticino region of Switzerland, close to the Italian border, for a weekend of hiking and swimming.  On the way we stopped in Lucerne, which is about a 90-minute drive south of the Germany-Switzerland border at Berne, and visited the Switzerland Transportation Museum.

The Swiss Transportation Museum is small but breathtaking.  As you can imagine it is clean and perfectly organized.  The museum devotes a separate building to automobiles, trains, airplanes and shipping, and has a lot more going on, like a planetarium and a chocolate museum, plus a whole lot of cool hands-on stuff for kids.  My kids are outgrowing a lot of the hands-on stuff but we agreed that the things they had here are about the coolest things we’ve seen at any museum.  More to follow on that later.

The Prototypes

The first thing that greets you at the main entrance to the railroad museum is this Crocodile, which was famous for hauling freight trains on the steep grades through the Alps.  There were 51 of these electric engines running from the 1920s into the early 1980s.  The engine below is in perfect mechanical condition.


Here’s a heavy 2-10-0, set up over a pit so you can walk underneath the engine and inspect the running gear.  I have never seen the underside of a steam engine until now.


The museum is full of fabulous locomotives, including this cool mainline electric commuter train set…


…and a whole bunch of rack or funicular engines…



…and my growing favorite, a little narrow gauge steam engine.  This one is kept safe on a retired flat car.  This particular engine was built in 1880 to a gauge of 750mm (that’s 2.44 feet) and was retired after World War II.  It was the first engine preserved by the museum.  


The Museum also included a number of trolley or streetcars, which I am learning to enjoy more as I get older.  This one below looks like an old Brill car and was my favorite.


The Models

The models at this museum are second to none.  Perfectly scaled, exquisite models abound here in all the museums.  Here are a few of the thousands of impressive ship models in the shipping museum.  This is a warship…in 1/48 no less…


Here’s are a few more of the big models.  There were probably another 500 upstairs, all scratchbuilt models of boats that served on the Swiss lakes.



It is the railway models, however, that steal the show.  In the railway building are hundreds of models in all scales in glass cases. 

THIS is the motivation we prototype modelers need to do our best work.  If our models—ships, planes, trains or something else—are the best, maybe they’ll someday be featured in a place like this.  Second-rate models won’t be saved.




Interactive, computer-operated models are here too.  Touchpads, seen at each end of this case, bring these models to life.  It’s a lesson for us on the value of animation.


Finally, here is a model of sorts of the new Gotthard Tunnel.  The Gotthard Tunnel was completed through the Alps in 2016 and is 57 kilometers in length.  That’s just over 35 miles.  35 miles!  The model is an interactive display that describes each mile of the tunnel and how it was built.  The model itself must be 100 feet long, maybe more.  They even have huge chunks of granite from the tunnel here, and offer you a hammer and chisel so you can try and whack chunks off of it (you can’t)—all to demonstrate the power of Swiss tunnel-drilling machines.


The museum is so proud of the tunnel that they’ve included a model of the tunnel at the exit of the museum:


The museum was full of interactive things for kids to do.  In the rail museum they have this fun train yard where kids could assemble trains and move cars around from yard to yard.  


Outside the museum there’s a huge open area in the middle with all kinds of race cars and boats and things for the kids to play with.  There is also this huge inter-model set, where boys were loading equipment onto trains and moving it down the line to an unloading crane.  They could also load containers on ships in the adjacent pond.  Everything was steel, and the loads were going on and off the cars with a crash.  It was great!


South to Tochino

Today we were in Locarno, Switzerland, and I was able to photograph a few passenger trains as the stub-end station in town.  There’s nothing too remarkable about these trains other than they are fast, efficient, reliable, clean and operate on time.



On the way to our rented cottage in Ronchini we parallel a 3-meter gauge suburban trolley for about a mile.  My son was able to get a few photos through the windshield—in pouring rain—as we raced one of the trains to town.  


It’s been a great trip and I’ll get back to more modeling of Ackley, Iowa circa 1950 in a couple of days.  – John G


No. 96: Deutsche Bahn Museum, Koblenz

I spent way too much time in June and July doing this…


…and not enough time finishing up models for St. Louis RPM.

However, summer is a great time to travel in Europe, and a couple of weeks before St. Louis RPM I visited the big Deutsche Bahn Museum in Koblenz, which is about an hour north of where I live. 

Koblenz lies at the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle Rivers and has always been a major transportation center.  The Deutsche Bahn, or “DB” for short, runs along both sides of the Rhine River here.  A large, retired shop complex on the south bank now hosts the large national museum.  Here’s a Google view, below.  


After you pay the whopping three Euro-bucks to get in (U.S. $3.50), here’s the view you get.  The old shops contain nicely restored steam and electric engines, along with nice displays of signal equipment and other neat stuff.


This little beauty was chopped in half…


…but the other side shows how the steam engine worked.  I’ve seen quite a few displays like this in Europe. 


A side room had a nice display of restored clocks, signs, and some huge LGB-size models.


Here’s a modern 0-10-0 Dampflok (steam locomotive) tank switcher, below, in the shops in immaculate condition.


Outside, the museum was absolutely chock full of passenger cars, diesels and electrics–many of which still operate in excursion service.  Too many pieces to count!


The museum grounds include a number of large-scale model railroads as well.  I visited on a Saturday and was hoping the model trains would be running, but like elsewhere in Europe in the dead of summer there’s not a whole lot going on.  Just drinking parties–not too much else.



The museum ground also include an old roundhouse site and a brick-lined turntable is still in place and in use.  The German museum site mentions about the area, Im Zweiten Weltkrieg waren die Bahnanlagen in Lützel häufig Ziel alliierter Luftangriffe  which loosely translated means during the Second World War the railroads here were frequently attacked by air.  

The engines above and below are stationed on the old radial tracks.


Near the turntable, on the adjacent main lines, today’s trains keep rolling silently by.


Other engines on the radial tracks included this thing, which kinda looks like a steam engine and a diesel—and a little bit like an electric too—all in one…


…and this very sleek-looking switcher.  This one looks a little to me like an RSC-2, or more specifically an SCL RS-2C.  


There weren’t many freight cars on the property, but this auto carrier caught my eye.  There were many more freight cars on the other side of the active DB mainlines, not on display.  Personally I’d like to see a lot more freight cars.

The summer sun was right on top of us, hence the yellow glare.


Among the few freight cars on display was this rebuilt flat car, which looked all about like an American-built car except for the buffers. 


A closer inspection the trucks are marked “US Patent, Gould, 1943”.  Assuming these trucks and the carbody are original, does anyone know the lineage of this car?


Next to the Americanische flat car is this German coal wagon, which has markings indicating it was used during the 1940s around the time of the Berlin Airlift.  This is a neat car–open top with side doors and no hopper bottom. 


There’s a good Wikipedia site that covers the museum and it’s history online at 

I hope you enjoyed the side trip.  Next, St. Louis RPM Meet Report, Part 2.  – John G

No. 93: Slovenia National Railway Museum


Prototype modelers are always in need of motivation.  I spent a week on vacation in Slovenia in June, and during that time I broke away from the family for a few hours and visited the Slovenian National Railway Museum in the capital of Ljubljana.  

To my great surprise it was—hands down—one of the most awesome museums I’ve ever been to.  It was full of motivation and a few surprises too.

The photo above is the view you get as you enter the museum grounds.  The roundhouse and exhibits are is excellent shape.  There are steam engines–many of which still operate–all over the grounds.


This complete narrow-gauge train was on one side of the museum.  The engine is an outside-frame 0-6-0 that ran on narrow-gauge cog trackage.  Below, a massive 2-10-0 sitting outside the roundhouse.  


Below.  In better light, this 2-8-2 passenger engine was also on the radial tracks.

One of the things that makes this museum so easy is that everything is in English.  There is a story here that, after Yugoslavia collapsed, the Slovenian government decided that everyone in the nation should learn to speak English because it would not be wise to expect Slovenia to be part of the European community and expect everyone else to speak Slovenian.  Slovenian kids start taking mandatory English language classes beginning in 6th grade.  Everybody speaks English.  It’s like being in Germany.  


I was unable to get a good photograph of the turntable as there was much work in progress on the radial tracks.  The turntable can be seen here in the distance, with a large 4-6-0 engine a right.


Does the turntable operate?  Oh yeah–it has to.  There are a half-dozen steam engines in the roundhouse that still run.  

There was one diesel mixed in with the steamers outside–this thing, which looks pretty interesting.  


Below.  Before going inside, I ran across this tank car in the back of the museum.  I recognized the trucks as U.S-manufacture right away.



Below.  Here’s a closer view of the trucks.  They are absolutely of U.S manufacture.  Does anyone know the lineage of the tank, the car and/or perhaps the trucks?


Once inside the roundhouse things got very interesting.  There were about nine or ten steam engines inside, several still in operating condition.  


The engine below, with what looks like a front-end throttle, was built in 1906 in Austria and was one of a few oil burning engines in Slovenia during the steam era.  According to the fact sheet nearby, the engine was discovered in a forgotten engine shed in 1996 and it went right to the museum.


A number of narrow gauge engines are in the roundhouse and display on narrow gauge carriages, for lack of a better term.  This one, below, was built in 1892 in Linz, Austria, and was rebuilt again in 1930 for service in a Slovenian iron works.

What a cool little engine this is!  A model could be the centerpiece of a little switching or industrial layout.  It is in immaculate condition and I would guess that it still runs.


This display, below, includes memorabilia from the days when the Slovenian railways were under Yugoslavian control.


I didn’t take a picture of the most impressive engine in the roundhouse, a big Austrian 4-6-0 passenger engine that looked like was running the weekend before and smelled great–like dirt and oil.  It was tucked away in a corner and impossible to photograph.


Below.  Half the roundhouse is a fully-functioning steam engine workshop.  According to the guy working the front desk, there are two engines being rebuilt in the backshop.  I opened the door to the shop and shot a photo quickly…


Then the museum operator opened up “the signal shop” for me in one of the adjacent buildings.  This building includes a large number of beautifully restored interlocking machines, signal equipment uniforms, communication equipment, and other things, all of which were in superb condition.


Below: Signs and grade crossing equipment.


Below.  The shop contained about 20-25 interlocking machines like this one below.


Another interlocking machine, slightly different than the others.


More interlocking equipment, below.


Here is a nice display of uniforms, some of which date back to before 1900.  Note the trainman’s uniform on the left–it included a ceremonial sword.


Here, below, is a wonderful display of what we call in the U.S. “date nails”.  Date nails seem to have fallen out of favor in the U.S. in the 1960s, but they are still widely used in Europe.


Below.  A beautiful replica of a station office complete with immaculate period equipment.


Below.  In the back of the communications museum building is a large open area full of speeders, velocipedes, handcars and other equipment.  


This little speeder was my favorite.  I saw it in the corner and said “Oh yeah!”  It’s just a simple speeder car but I really like the front.


There was so much more to see and learn, but my visit ended in just 90 minutes as I was needed back in Radovljica by the family.  For this post, I’ll end with a prototype model.  According to the display, the model was made by Mr. Mirko Dolinsek, a designer of wood castings in the railway workshops in Maribor.  He made only three wooded models, using 20 different kinds of wood.  It is displayed on an operating turntable with mirrors so visitors can see all the detail.  It is exquisite.


I hope you enjoyed the tour as much as I did.  You can check out the museum’s website at and

See you next week at St. Louis RPM!  – John G





No. 85: 40 Minutes at Einsiedlerhof

The following post doesn’t have anything to do with modeling.

We threw a big birthday party for one of my daughters on Friday night, and it was a lot of work, so yesterday morning–after dropping the birthday girl off at volleyball team practice–my wife gave me a kitchen pass to “chase trains” for a while.  It was a beautiful, cool, clear, sunny day so I went out to a few places nearby to take some pictures.

The first place I went was Otterbach, a nearby town that has a little museum set up in a retired interlocking tower.  Apparently there was a lot of freight action here in the old days as there is a steel mill next to the S-Bahn (passenger/commuter rail) station.  Here is the interlocking tower, which guarded the junction of at least three lines plus tracks leading to the mill.  Two of those lines are still very active.


The museum was closed but there are a few retired signals on display outside.  A friend in Stuttgart, Peter Aue, told me the signal on the left is called a flieger signal (Flying Signal).  Americans would call it a semaphore.  There are a lot of these still serving on the German railways today. 


An old interlocking machine, below, sits outside.  I understand they have a working machine inside that you can play with–like the one at the Marion Union Station museum in Marion, Ohio.


Just like in America, retired tracks are everywhere.


Next I drove toward Einsiedlerhof, a town near Kaiserslautern, to set up on the Deutsche Bahn double-track, electrified mainline to try and catch some freight trains.  On the way I drove by a place in Kaiserslautern where locomotives are usually tied up.  I saw a switcher there so I drove over to photograph it.  When I parked the car, I noticed that I parked right next to a turntable pit.  I’ve driven by here a hundred times and never seen it before.  How cool was that!


I understand the DB used steam engines here into the 1970s so this turntable was probably in use a few short decades ago.


And finally, below, the reason for the drive by…


I finally made it to Einsiedlerhof around noon.  The Einsiedlerhof station sits right on the DB mainline that is the main trunk into France and Belgium.  There’s a lot of freight and passenger traffic on this line, and a lot of local S-Bahn traffic, so I was sure I would see some trains.    

I set myself up on the inside of a curve to get the best sun, but because I was inside the curve I couldn’t see any trains coming in either direction, and I couldn’t see any signals either.  A few minutes later a high-speed Inter City Express (ICE train) whooshed by.  I didn’t even hear it coming.  I’m mostly deaf in one ear but this guy came so fast that it was no-kidding passing me before I even heard it. 

This is a passing shot…and I barely had time to get this one.


A few minutes later this ghastly S-Bahn train came by.  These trains are ugly, and even uglier with the graffiti.  However, they’re quiet and comfortable to ride in, and they’re fast and efficient and always on time.


I repositioned myself on the far side of the Einsiedlerhof station where fortunately I could see signals in both directions.  I was really hoping to see some freight trains, but the first man up was another S-Bahn.  This train stopped at the depot and a couple minutes later silently sped away.  


About ten minutes later a westbound container train appeared at a full gallop.  This is what I came to see. 


The intermodal was followed a few minutes later by another S-Bahn commuter train…


…and then another, this one entering the main line off the junction with the S-Bahn line to nearby Ramstein village.  After a brief stop this train scooted across to the right-hand main without a clank.


A short while later, with all the signals still at red, an eastbound intermodal freight sneaked up behind me and stopped at the signal where I was standing at the end of the platform.


An engineman got out of the engine, wearing an orange safety vest, appeared to insert a key in the door and lock it, then casually walked to the depot.  Another S-Bahn covered with “gra-filthy” appeared a few minutes later and stopped at the station.  Then, unfortunately, it was time for me to head home. 


It wasn’t quite like a day at Tehachapi, or driving along old US 30 in Nebraska with all those UP trains rolling by, but it was nice to be trackside again…even if it was only for a little while. 

Speaking of Tehachapi, here’s a photo I shot in the Tehachapi area in 1988.  That was 30 years ago…man , how time flies.


I hope you and your families enjoy a blessed Easter celebration!  – John G

No. 71: St. Louis Aerial Photography

NKP Roundhouse

A few weeks ago I got really frustrated trying to find Sanborn maps for some areas I’ve been researching in St. Louis.  I’ve been trying to assemble material for a couple of blog articles on small layout ideas but have not been able to gather suitable information.

In frustration, about three weeks ago, I went back to the US Department of Agriculture website and ordered a complete set of their earliest available aerial photography for the entire St. Louis area.  The process was so easy that I’m disappointed with myself for not doing it much earlier.

The USDA site can be found online at  I e-mailed a request, carefully following the instructions on their site, and included a map that highlighted the areas I was interested in.  I also told them I preferred digital copies since hard copies are much more expensive and take longer to print and deliver.  

I got a response from Linda Cotter at the USDA the following day.  She sent me an entire set of 28 photos for the St. Louis and East St. Louis area for just $25.  The images are from 1955 through 1958.  The images are TIFs; they’re about 400 megabytes each and were sent on a thumb drive and arrived here in Germany in just eight days.  It was necessary to crop them down and convert them to JPEGs to present here.

Here’s an example of the photos.  The image below is at the where the MacArthur Bridge lands on the west bank of the Mississippi.  The area just south of the bridge has always intrigued me.  In the transition era there was a maze of track with warehouses and industries everywhere.  Soon after these photos were taken, the area north of the bridge was obliterated to fit in a massive interstate highway bridge and junction, and also the Gateway Arch park.

Under MacArthur

Here is a view of the same area, below, from the Barriger Library collection on Flickr.


The photos are fascinating.  They answer a lot of questions I have had about St. Louis’s rail history and local industries.  In the photos, all the yards are still in place, all the roundhouses can clearly be seen, and nearly all of St. Louis’s famous industries are right there in black and white.

Below is an area I’ve been studying for years, just off the Missouri Pacific about a mile west of St. Louis Union Station.  I like the yards and the tracks curving sharply into the factories

STL Area 2

The image below is the same area today, from Google Earth.

FullSizeRender (4)

There are some other cool things to be seen—or not seen—as well.  Landmarks like the St. Louis Browns stadium, the original Monsanto plant, the ACF plant next to the Budweiser brewery, and East St. Louis in all it’s economic greatness (no kidding!) can be seen.  There are no hideous Interstate highways, no Poplar Street Bridge, and no Gateway Arch

By the way, the earliest photos maintained at the USDA date to about 1955.  If you want earlier photos, you’ll have to talk to the National Archives in Washington D.C.  The good news about the USDA collection is that it is virtually complete in it’s coverage of the United States.

Below, the B&O Cone Yard roundhouse, which was still standing along I-55/70 in East St. Louis the last time I was in town in 2017.  The PRR main line runs through the center of the photo behind the roundhouse.

Cone Yard Roundhouse

The imagery isn’t quite as sharp as what you can get on Google Earth for example, but they’re good.  In almost all cases you can make out tracks, rolling stock, and other details.  

Below.  I’ll have to talk to Ed Hawkins about this one…but I think this is the ACF plant on the Missouri side.  Can anyone help me confirm this?  On the right along the river is the Missouri Pacific main, and at the bottom left is part of the compact Manufacturer’s Railway yard that served the A-B brewery.


There is so much more in the photos that I can’t share here.  They’re priceless for the prototype modeler and researcher.  And at just twenty five bucks, they’re worth every penny.  – John G

No. 40: Eisenbahnmuseum Neustadt

What does this post have to do with prototype railroad modeling?  Nothing…but I thought you might like seeing something a little different.

A few typically cold, overcast and rainy Saturdays ago I visited the railroad museum in Neustadt, Germany, which is about 45 minutes away from my home.

I have never been a fan of European railroading but now that I am living in Germany I have taken a little more interest.  Most German railroading today looks like the photo below.  This is the passenger station at Neustadt very near the museum.  Most railroading in Germany is about moving passengers–it is fast, safe, efficient, and well-maintained.  Freight traffic is limited to specific routes.


Just out of the picture to the left, along the wall, is a nice little museum contained in a few older buildings.  This is the Eisenbahnmuseum Neustadt—the Neustadt Railroad Museum.  The museum was founded in 1967 and moved to it’s present location in 1972.  My online buddy John Hodson told me about last year.

The view below is what greets you upon entering the museum grounds.  The main building at center is a retired steam engine shed.


The museum grounds are cramped, and most of the collection is outdoors.  Even the collection housed indoors is under a shed and is for the most part exposed to the elements.  It’s not very fun too look around on a cold day.  It is cramped and photography is difficult.  Nevertheless it was definitely worth my time to see the collection, which included locomotives, rolling stock, signals, and a variety of equipment.  The fireless tank engine and freight car are right up front as you walk in.


Below is a very interesting display.  A steam engine has been literally chopped in half so you can see how steam was created and routed through the “engine”.


Below.  I have never been a fan of VW busses, having driven one occasionally in high school.  However, I would drive this one if given the opportunity.  This was an inspection car for the Pfaltz Railway.  There is no steering wheel–just a speed control where the steering wheel should be.  I don’t recall seeing if it was stick-shift, but that would be interesting.


Another view, below, of the VW Inspection Van and the tracks leading to the museum trackage.


Speaking of the museum trackage, at the entrance end is a cool three-way switch.  You don’t see too many of these around the US, but they’re all over Europe.  The only one I ever saw on an active line was on the Aberdeen and Rockfish in Aberdeen, North Carolina–and that one is a stub-end!


There are a few freight cars in the collection, including these wagons pictured below.



The museum also has a nice collection of signal equipment.  A few of these semaphore-type signals are still active on a few lines around Germany.




In addition to these 1:1 signals, the museums very-very-narrow gauge line can be seen at the bottom of this photo.



Under the shed in the museum are a number of pieces of rolling stock in good condition, including steam engines and passenger cars used in excursion service.  Photography is virtually impossible.  Outside, behind the museum, are a number of pieces of rolling stock including this rusting engine.


This is a self-propelled snow plow engine in very good condition.  Other engines are also kept in good condition.




And finally…here’s the pride and joy of the museum.  The 18 505 was built in 1908 by Krauss-Maffai in Munich.  It is a 2’C1′ locomotive type, weighing in at 163 tons.  Top speed was 120 km/h. It is in good condition and smells great–like a steam engine should.  I believe it is still in running condition.


If you’re interested in more information, the museum’s website is