Hellfire, Brimstone, & Damnation RR

Nonetheless I begged to see the activities down below. My uncle said, “You don’t want to go down there! There is nothing down there but hellfire, brimstone and damnation.” Yet this picture became etched indelibly on my mind thereafter.

 

Hellfire, Brimstone, & Damnation RR. “I think that a layout should tell a story.” (Robert Law)

by Robert Law

Everyone’s layout is an expression of one’s experiences and association with railroads.   I believe mine has taken a more circuitous path than others.  For me it begins when I was a young boy of about seven. My mother and I went to visit an uncle, a retired steel worker who lived on the outskirts of McKeesport, PA.  The single lane dirt road that led to his house offered an aerial view of the steel mills below. There was a steep embankment on one side with the old-fashioned post and cable guard rail to prevent cars from falling below. I could see the belching smoke of the steel mills with trains shuttling about here and there hauling odd looking freight cars. 

When we arrived, I begged to see what was happening below but was scolded and refused.  I felt trapped inside the house having to listen to my mother’s and uncle’s boring conversation.  Fortunately, they were in the kitchen and ever so quietly I slipped into the living room and then out the door.  I went across the road and sat on the cable watching the activities below.  After about 20 minutes, my mother and uncle came out to find me and give me a scolding.  Nonetheless I begged to see the activities down below.  My uncle said, “You don’t want to go down there! There is nothing down there but hellfire, brimstone and damnation.”  Yet this picture became etched indelibly on my mind thereafter. 

Some 15 years later at college I met Betty, the girl who would become my wife.  She also enjoyed trains.  When we married we went to see the Cass Mountain Railroad.  It was at this time that I became more fascinated with unusual steam locomotives.

Much later still, Betty decided she wanted to leave her career as a special education teacher   and study to become an electric power engineer.  Her first job was with Bechtel Power, which was then in Gaithersburg, MD, causing us to move from our home in upstate New York. As she prepared for her engineering licensing exam I ventured out so I wouldn’t disturb her. Curiosity took me to see the National Capital Trolley Museum.  Meeting with the volunteer staff there, I told them that I had a previous business of restoring old houses.  They encouraged me to work in the trolley shop and so I dedicated over three years part time to restoring an old New York City 3rd Avenue Trolley

When Bechtel moved to Frederick, MD, so did we.  We started investigating our surroundings and went to the B&O Museum where I got to see and climb around some camelback locomotives.  This is a truly ludicrous locomotive.  Because of the wide Wooten firebox, the engineer is consigned to a little compartment straddling the boiler.  The fireman is left to the acrobatics of having to balance himself on two bouncing and shifting footplates while tending the fire. The cab is open to the elements more than other locomotives and for the engineer and fireman to communicate with each other, they must use a “speaking tube.”

We also went to see the Strasburg Railroad and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.  There we not only encountered another camelback but also a GG1.  I had seen a few pictures of these from time to time but knew little of them.  I always admired the streamline appearance of the dark green and gold pinstripe livery. Betty quite naturally took to them as it was an electric locomotive.

When the Enron scandal struck, Bechtel lost most of its contracts for power plants.  Betty, being a junior engineer, was soon laid off.  In the recession that followed, she had some trouble finding work but at last landed a position with Con Edison in New York City.  We were loth to give up our townhouse in Frederick, MD because I had done so much work on it and we also thought Frederick would be a good place to retire.  With the willingness of our neighbors to look in on our place, we located an apartment right on the banks of the Hudson River in Jersey City, NJ that overlooked most of Manhattan.  It also overlooked the old Erie Lackawanna ferry terminal which was actively being restored at the time. 

Every month or so we would drive back to Frederick to look in on our townhouse and take care of things, always passing the Roadside America attraction.  Eventually we made time to drop in. This experience caused me to consider taking up model railroading.  I knew little of the hobby even though I had my car serviced at a garage where the waiting area had a stack of old magazines that included Classic Trains and Model Railroader. Those magazines gave me some conception of what was possible.

I was also faced with a dilemma.  As a young man I had suffered an injury to my hip.  With hip implant surgery I recovered and was able to do most things, including restoring old Victorian houses.  But with age, I started losing mobility.  By the time we moved to New York City it was getting harder for me to get around. I often had to resort to a cane.  We thought it would be best if I would take care of all the chores and shopping during the week so we could enjoy all the sights and entertainments of the city on weekends.  Nonetheless, this left me with much time on my hands which I tried to fill by reading history books.  Once I became bitten by the model railroad bug, I thought I could do the modeling in our apartment, box them up and then bring them back to our townhouse in Frederick to eventually put on a layout.  This I did on a tiny dinning table we had at the apartment which every late afternoon I would clean off for dinner.

I went to a hobby shop and got a Walthers catalog, magazines, and some how-to books, including John Pryke’s Building City Scenery for Your Model Railroad. As soon as I saw this a modeling concept began to slowly develop in my mind: a steel mill town in Pennsylvania that would have an electrified portion of the Pennsylvania Railroad passing through a steel manufacturing city with an anthracite railroad servicing the mills not unlike Bethlehem, PA.  My uncle’s comment about Hellfire, Brimstone and Damnation some 60 years prior was reborn as my model railroad.

Conceiving of a model railroad and delivering it now presented many challenges.  A townhouse does not have much basement space and we had already turned it into a combination office, library and entertainment room. With some ingenuity we converted a guest bed room into an office for Betty.  Bookcases were moved to create a wall.  This then left me with an area of about 19 by 11 feet. Not a lot of space, but enough for a respectable layout.

Next came the challenge of how to work in all the catenary and cables required for GG1’s.  I knew that modeling this would require a lot of work, possibly consuming too much time from getting the rest of the layout done.  I came up with the idea of building the city on a platform above the catenary system which could serve as a staging for these trains to appear and reappear. Thus, only a simple loop of track would be necessary for the GG1’s to play their part. To protect the pantographs as they went through under the city, Betty came up with a solution to use fasten discarded engineering drawings that had been printed on large sheets of plastic under the platform,  allowing the pantographs to slip underneath.     

I also had only built a few models as a kid.  All my life had been spent in building the macro not the micro. I decided to test my modeling skills by building the blast furnace kit first.  I figured if I could build that, I could build anything.  This was a challenge trying to build this on our tiny dining table at the New Jersey apartment.  Nonetheless, the parts held together enough for me to be able to transfer the model each evening to a small cabinet top a few feet away.

I chose the Fall of 1937 for the setting of my layout for several reasons.  First it was the “depression within the Great Depression.” This was so called because as the New Deal programs began to cause a recovery in the economy, Roosevelt desired to do some budget cutting.  This resulted in a recessionary economy which did not recover until the Lend-Lease policy started in 1939.

I think that a layout should tell a story.  The Great Depression opens a panorama of possible stories to be told in miniature scenes which I love to do: including hobo jungles, shanty towns, red light districts and tenement life. The New Deal programs hired photographers to go forth into the nation and record daily life in the 1930’s.  This provided me with all sorts of prototypes to work from especially industrial scenes.  It was also the point when the Pennsylvania Railroad was completing the electrification for the GG1. Dating a layout to a fairly specific date helps to eliminate anachronisms. I chose the fall season because it presents many interesting scenic possibilities and adds color to the depressing rust and grimy black of industry.

[This is the first part in a short series from Bob describing the history and construction of his layout. To read part 2 click HERE. -Ed.]

2018 MER Convention Report

by Bob Morningstar

The NMRA Mid Eastern Region held their convention at the Rockville Hilton This past October. The following is a recap of my observations as an attendee.  More information on the convention can still be found at http://potomac-nmra.org/MER2018/Main/index.html.

My overall impression was that the convention was well planned and executed. A convention official indicated approximately 200 were in attendance.

I stayed at the convention hotel Thursday and Friday because clinics were scheduled up until 10:00 PM each evening. This was a very nice, typical Hilton property, and the convention chairmen are to be commended for negotiating very favorable pricing. Room rates were almost ½ of what was available on expedia.com for the same location. There was ample free parking on site. The convention center was also accessible via the Twinbrook metro.

The only negative aspect of convention was that layouts on the tour were too far away or conflicted with evening clinics that I wanted to attend.   Some of these layouts were 1-2 hours away (one way travel). I found it hard to believe there were no closer layouts to view.

Many of the clinics were informative and well presented, yet some, while acceptable, were not convention caliber.

SMD member Jay Beckham gave a fine clinic on C/MRI. I learned a lot and now wish I had looked closer at it before I went with a Loconet solution on my layout’s signaling system.

I did spend an extra $5 and attended a 2 ½ hour 3D printing clinic. We were required to bring our laptops for hands on labs.   Using the  SketchUP program we designed and printed a B&O mile post. This clinic was well worth the time and I learned a lot of techniques on how to better use SketchUP.   I intend on taking the 3D design from the convention and printing it on my 3D printer at home.

The contest room had many models, including two that I submitted. I earned 3rd place in “On Line Structures.” I pried my scratch built WM yard light tower off the layout and placed on a piece of pink foam board with some ground cover to give it a finished look. This was my first NMRA competition and I learned quite a bit from the judges score sheets. The comments were helpful to understand their scores. I had no qualms with their ratings.

Bob Morningstar’s Western Maryland (WM) yard light tower is a scratch built rendition of the wooden WM light towers that were located near the yardmasters office at the east end of the Hagerstown (MD) yard.
It is constructed of Northeastern and Mt Albert scale lumber and Grandt Lines nut-bolt-washer castings. The searchlights at the top are non-functional and are made of Plastruct tubing with Canopy Glue lenses. The electrical cabinet at the base is a resin casting made from a latex mold. The master for the mold was constructed out of a block of wood and detailed with hinges and door handle. The timbers were individually stained with a diluted mixture of india ink and iso-propyl alcohol.
Build time was approximately 17 hours.
The scratch build model took third place in the Mid-Eastern Region, NMRA, 2018 convention model contest. (Tom Fedor)

My take away is that they look for contest quality models.  Mine were detailed for a level that I find acceptable for use on the layout but did not meet the grade to take 1st place. If a entry doesn’t have the same level of detail as a Tangent Scale Model, you will not be competitive. My light tower lost marks because I didn’t have the nut-bolt-washer details installed on one side of the tower.  This was a build decision I made, not wanting to super detail a side of the structure a viewer would never see when on the layout. My other entry was a Athearn “blue box” gondola that I had repainted and decaled for the Penn Central.   I got high marks for the paint and decals, but got dinged hard for lack of underbody detail and leaving molded-on ladders in place.

The Prince William Model Railroad Club had their module layout up and running with some really long trains.   They also had the John Allen Timesaver switching layout setup. At first my son, Nicholas and I were able to complete the switching puzzle in 42 moves (the host said the best you can do is 29 moves).  It took us 3 attempts to get it down to 32 moves but was an enjoyable hour spent with Nicholas.

Overall, it was a positive experience which both my son and I enjoyed together. We met many interesting people and the convention was worth the time and investment.

2019 SMD Spring Mini-Convention

On Saturday, April 13, 2019, with the support of Mainline Hobby Supply, the SMD will again host our very popular Mini-Convention at the Blue Ridge Mtn. Fire Co.

Join your fellow South Mountain Division (SMD) members in a day of great fun and fellowship, and spread the joy of model railroading.  On Saturday, April 13, 2019, with the support of Mainline Hobby Supply, the SMD will again host our very popular Mini-Convention at the Blue Ridge Mtn. Fire Co.

Our traditional format will be as follows…

Morning – Informal clinics.  We need 10 folks to volunteer to give one from 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM and repeat it again from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM.  No formal presentations required. Just talk about a model railroading topic that’s of interest to you.  Bring what you want to have as examples or visual aids (no projectors, no loudspeakers).  It’s just you, talking to the attendees as they walk past your table.  The guests are free to stay and talk with you for as long as they like, or move on when they choose. Don’t think of it as a speech. Don’t think of it as public speaking.  It’s just chatting with other interested model railroaders. Note that you have an hour break from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM.  That’s to allow you to get a snack, visit the rest room, look around to see what other clinics are doing.  Then, ten other members give their clinics beginning at 10:00 AM until 11:00 AM and repeating from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM.

As of this writing, Ron Polimeni, Harvey Heyser, Bill Wilson, Jane Clarke, Jerry Skeim, Jeff Adams, Andrew Dodge, Don Florwick, Bob Johnson, and Jay Beckham have signed up to give an informal clinic.  Jay intends to bring his 3D printer and print items on site.

Afternoon – Formal clinics.  At 1:00 PM Jeff Grove of Carolina Craftsman Kits kicks off the series speaking on Laser Technology in Modeling.  Ira Silverman follows speaking about his new book, The Canadian, the Last of the Great Streamliners. SMD member Alex Polimeni will bring up the markers, speaking on “Model Railroading as Game Design.” 

At 10:00 AM we will also have two “Make and take” clinics.  Jeff Grove of Carolina Craftsman Kits will, again, donate a group of (small, easy) craftsman kits and Mainline Hobby Supply will donate (small, easy) styrene (plastic) kits.  Just like last year we’ll encourage young people by giving them priority on the make & take sign up lists. Another way you can help is by bringing tools to loan for these clinics.  X-Acto knives, glue… Look for a list of items once our build leaders, Brian Greenawalt and David Sweeney, have had time to identify their needs.

SMD plans to have a modular layout or two set up and running as well.  Please contact me, Pete Clarke, at ebtmx5@aol.com or call 301- 253-4913 if you are aware of a modular group and have contact information for that group.

There will be some vendors there with model railroad stuff for sale.  Carolina Craftsman Kits, Nyce Collectables (railroadiana), and SMD member Grant Berry (Misc. stuff) have all signed up. I am waiting to hear back from more.

Of course you can, and should, carefully walk across the road to Mainline Hobby Supply.  Show them your gratitude for supporting this Mini-Con by making a purchase, and while you are talking to them, say “Thanks for sponsoring the Mini” out loud.

Again this year, SMD will purchase a $150 gift certificate from Mainline Hobby Supply and sell raffle tickets ($10 each) throughout the morning.  Also HobbyTown USA – Frederick (Richard Benjamin) has donated a $50 gift certificate that we will give as a door prize.  Both of these drawings will happen at 1:00 PM.

We will have food on site.

All this is just what I already know about!  There’s more in the pipeline. Look for a final update in your Spring Wheel Report.

A call to action! SMD really needs you to make this happen.  Please contact me to offer to help.  Mostly I need folks to give informal clinics.  Everyone who’s done one of these clinics has had a great time.  There are other things you can do. We’ll need extension cords, tools, labor for morning set up and afternoon clean up. Know of a modular group?  I’d love to hear from you. Just can’t do any of those?  Attend, tell others about it!

Did you catch the part about having a working 3D printer on-site? I intend to spend hours just watching that do its thing.  Come on down!

Blame the Brass

Alex Polimeni, superintendent, NMRA South Mountain Division 10. (Tom Fedor)

Clutter from the Super’s Desk

If you receive the NMRA Magazine, you may have already read the President’s Car column in the November issue. It was suggested to me that I read it before writing this, and I’m glad I did. If you haven’t, I’ll do my best to sum up Pete Magoun‘s words in a nutshell: “National can’t overcome the challenges that face the Association alone. Regions and Divisions control their own web presence and PR efforts, and it’s up to them to do the boots-on-the-ground work to build, grow, and prosper.”

Pete’s messaged really connected with me, because I believe SMD is ahead of the curve. We already have an incredible outlet through which to engage with the public in the form of the annual Mini-Con. Our membership is very much involved in the hobby both within and outside of SMD by way of operating sessions, enthusiast groups, open house tours, and conventions across the country. Not only that, but a recurring conversation at our meetings is the idea of stronger outreach and networking efforts to both new and long-time members. Furthermore, our newsletter editor and webmaster have been looking at options to overhaul our website. You can expect more dialogue regarding both of these subjects in the months to come.

I want to take this opportunity to apologize to those members who do not use email, as I did not mail reminders for those meetings as I promised in the Fall edition of the Wheel Report. Thank you for your patience and continued enthusiasm.

In closing, I need to thank this season’s hosts, Rich Randall, Bob Johnson, and Frank Benenati for opening their homes to the Division. Congratulations go out to member Bob Morningstar for his his “Golden Spike” Achievement Program (AP) certificate. We’ve built a strong head of steam in 2018, and I know we’re only going to pick up speed through the winter.

Winter Wheel Report Published

Greetings from the South Mountain Division of the NMRA.

This post is to notify members that the winter edition of the SMD Wheel Report is now available to download.

This first link will open the file in your web browser.

<http://smdnmra.org/files/WRpt_VOL1819No2_WEB.pdf>

-or-

The following link will take you to the SMD website Wheel Reports page.

<http://www.smdnmra.org/wheelreports.html>

Click on “2018/19” in the Winter column to open, or right click and choose “Save link as…”. Past editions are also available on this webpage.