Influential Five


That’s my dad and I at the top of the stairs, visiting a shay locomotive on display at Columbia Falls, Montana.

A couple years ago, I posted my own “Railfan Five”, ( a listing of five photos that I took while railfanning that tell my story.  The original inspiration for the challenge came at the time when the ALS Ice Bucket challenge was the rage.

As I spent time recently reviewing my projects and making plans for things that I want to get done, along with looking at some old family photos, I found myself thinking about a group of people that I’d call the “Influential Five”.  People who nudged, inspired, taught, shared, and otherwise made my journey into railroad modeling something that has become a life-long passion.  I thought it would be fun to share

I’m going to list five “entries”, but there are actually seven people here.  As I go along, I’m sure you’ll understand why.

Number 5:   My Grandfather and Father

No list of this kind can be complete without including my Grandfather and my own Father.  Grandpa was a railroad man, working for the Milwaukee Road.  As a small child, Grandpa took us to visit the railroad yard where he had worked, and some of the memories of exploring the passenger trains with him and the guys who were still working there who remembered him and called him “Boss” have stuck with me.  My dad also worked for the Milwaukee Road for a time, and it was dad who made sure as a small child that I rode trains, had trains to play with and explore, and took me all over the country with the family riding not only Amtrak but tourist trains and visiting museums.  Without both of them being involved in that interest, and sharing it, I would not have wound up on this path.

Number 4:  (Tie) Jim Martin & Ed Bingle


My first 4×8 layout.  I’m on the left, my brother is middle, and Jim Martin is on the right.  My Santa Fe 0-4-0 is pulling the train on the outside loop.

My first HO scale trains arrived with “Santa” the year I was 7.  A 4×8’ table, painted blue, with a black road painted on it.  The outside loop of track had a passing track installed, and the inside loop, smaller, was not connected.  Two DC power packs were included, one for me and one for my brother.  The following year, the outside loop, which belonged to me, received a 4×4 mountain loop extension from Santa, and a note that two gentlemen who I knew from our church congregation should be told about it and asked to finish installing what the elves didn’t have time to finish.


The opposite end of that original 4×8 layout.  Ed Bingle is at the lower right next to his wife, my dad is in the middle of the frame, and Jim Martin’s daughter is on the left.

Years later I learned, after discovering the facts behind Santa, that Ed Bingle and Jim Martin, those two gentlemen, were the builders of that layout.  Both of them had HO scale layouts of their own, but they built that first layout for us at Christmas, and I was hooked completely.  I still have the Santa Fe 0-4-0 switcher that pulled the vast majority of the trains I ran on that layout for years.  Thanks to Ed and Jim, I got my start.

I was lucky a few years ago to track both of these men down, and write to them, in thanks, for their contribution to my life and passion with this hobby.

Number 3:  Ann Kistner


Ann Kistner was a great friend for many years.  Here we are reading “The Little Engine That Could”.  Even then we had trains in common.

Ann was someone who was also interested in trains herself, and she made sure I got to see things, read things, and go to her house to help with her G scale trains.  If it wasn’t for Ann bringing me magazines that she had, taking me to see special things, like the movement of SP 2472 from the San Mateo County Fairgrounds where it had been on display onto the SP mainline to San Francisco, I would have missed out on a great deal of events that I still remember to this day.  I talked to Ann about once a week through my High School years, at church, or elsewhere.  She always had something about trains to share and talk about.  I’m fortunate to have had such a person contribute to my interest.

Number 2:  Bill Dreslein


Bill was a man who did a lot of things in his life.  He’d been in the Army during WWII, was a fireman, an usher at our church, and right after WWII, had worked for the Southern Pacific in the San Francisco Bay Area as the relief foreman at the Bayshore roundhouse.  A bunch of the magazines that Ann would bring me, she had gotten from Bill.  Pacific Rail News magazines would show up from the two of them regularly.  As I got to know Bill better and better, he shared stories about his time on the SP with me, and passed along some of his memorabilia to me for my own collection.  I use some of his tools from his time working on the SP at my own workbench still.  Bill’s sharing his stories, and his friendship, continued to support my own interest in trains and railroading.

Number 1:  Jack Burgess


This list wouldn’t be complete without my friend Jack.  I met Jack through the Yosemite Valley Railroad Historical Society and his own website while doing research into paperwork for operation many years ago.  Within a week or so, I’d abandoned the freelanced railroad that I was working on and was gearing up to prototype model the YV.  Jack’s friendship has meant that I’ve had someone to not only get historical information from, but also modeling tips and assistance from.  His standards in modeling have influenced mine.  I’ve learned to be a better modeler from him, and his friendship is something I am honored to have.  Without Jack’s influence, I wouldn’t be modeling what I model, the way I model it, and continuing to try and be better at the work I do.


There are my “Influential Five”.  Without those people, I wouldn’t be the railroad modeler, railfan, and in some cases the person that I am.  While you’re working on your own projects, who has influenced you?  Who are your “Influential Five”?

Time for me to get back to the workbench!


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Freight Car Mania!

It’s been a busy week at the workbench!  I’m very happy to be able to report that all but 2 cars made it across the workbench over the weekend in some form.  Most of the cars were there for weathering, while a trio was there for decal work.


As usual, there are a large number of boxcars that I’m working on this year.  This MKT car from Speedwitch is shown here getting started by having some color added with Prisma pencils.


Quite a few cars that I’m working on this year are steel prototypes.  The pencils also can help start weathering these by running a color slightly lighter and a shade darker, or a shade of brown or orange that appears to be rust, over the seams, the rivets ‘pop’ with some color.


After pencils, I typically move to a wash of artists acrylics.  I make a really thin wash by mixing a variety of colors, from white to gray to black to brown and anything in between.  This mix is gray, black, and a burnt umber color. 


This pair of R-30-12-9 cars from Red Caboose started getting weathered with the wash pictured above.  I’m working from photos by Jack Delano that were taken early in World War II, and trying to achieve similar weathering.  The wash is applied from the top down, and I’m happy with where these cars are so far.  There’s still more to do.

Most notably, my GN double sheathed boxcar got the end lettering replaced.  When the car was built, I didn’t realize that GN had the distinctive paint on their cars that they did with the sides in boxcar red and the ends, roof, and frame all black.  Having recently painted the black on the car, I needed to replace the end reporting marks and numbers.  A pair of Precision Scale frameless tank cars that have been lingering for years also made their appearance for decals from Speedwitch Media.  I’m please with how they turned out.


A pair of UTLX Type V 6000 gal tank cars rest after decal work.  These are Precision Scale frameless cars.  I replaced the brake gear with Tichy equipment and applied decals from Speedwitch Media.  The next step for these will be to seal the decals with Future and find the right trucks.

As the week started, I’ve been hunting for the proper trucks fro those Type V tank cars.  An article by the late Richard Hendrickson from Railroad Model Craftsman, December, 1995, discusses modifying Bowser PRR caboose trucks to the proper appearance. Having followed the article through the construction, I want to have the proper trucks on the models for 1939.  The prototypes were built with Archbar trucks, but those were later changed to 5’ wheelbase Bettendorf trucks.  I discovered this week that Bowser parts 74012 and 74013, either of which will work, are out of stock at the manufacturer.  I may have located a trio (one pair to practice on, two pair for actual cars) but we’ll see.

As we close in on the middle of August, with RPM Chicagoland not far off, I’m in a great spot with the cars I want to take along this year for display.  By the end of this month, I may even be in a position where I can tell you that some of the cars are done and ready for roster shots.

Time to get back to the workbench!


Posted in Model Trains, Modeling Update, RPM CHICAGOLAND, Uncategorized, Workbench | 1 Comment

Freight Crates


A stack of Freight Crates sitting in my workshop storage space.

About five years ago, during a move, I had an experience that I never want to have again.  I had packed my models in some A-Line storage boxes for the move and entrusted the models to the moving company as I was flying to my new home and my things were coming along behind.  Several days later I discovered that the boxes had been dropped, and my locomotives, cars, and other railroad models had all been damaged badly in the move.

It was about that time that I discovered Freight Crates, a model storage system from Fast Tracks.  The laser cut boxes with bubble-wrap inserts are perfect for preventing another episode of model loss like I experienced before.


A “pizza box” of two new Freight Crates.

The boxes come packed in a box that resembles a pizza delivery box.  The assembly of these solutions is relatively straight forward.  Using yellow carpenters glue and making sure that everything is square and once fit, that the excess glue is cleaned off, makes sturdy boxes with an easy locking mechanism that prevents the bottoms from falling out of the lids.


My “trick” for holding a glued corner joint while it sets…. blue painters tape around the corners and over the top.

One thing I’ve found that works for me in building these is to have a roll of either plain masking or blue painters tape handy.  When I get a joint glued and joined, I wrap the tape around the joint tightly to keep everything in place while it dries.

Because my models tend to be finished, photographed, potentially shown at an RPM, and then stored for later layout use in the future, these boxes make lots of sense.  I have confidence in getting them to the shows that I won’t have damage to the cars, and nothing will unexpectedly fall.

If you’re at this year’s RPM Chicagoland, and haven’t seen Freight Crates in person, and are interested, look me up and I’ll be happy to show them to you in person.


My goals for July were ambitions, and I missed the mark a little….

I had set out to have all 42 freight cars ready for the airbrush.  In reality, I got 38 freight cars for the YV ready for the weathering shop.  Everything has been touch-up painted and is sealed with dull coat.  The benchwork for the Free-Mo module did make progress, it didn’t get to the point of standing as I need to still build the legs, but it did get to the point of being able to test-fit the pink foam to the top.  As I reported last week, the components for Snelling Station were found to be out of tolerance and were discarded, but two structures for the Free-Mo module did get a start on construction.


A few of the tank cars for the Yosemite Valley in-progress.  Top to bottom:  Precision Scale frameless tank cars (2), Tangent Scale Models 8,000 gal tank, Intermountain 8,000 gal tank (2)

With August here, and RPM Chicagoland fast approaching at the end of October, it’s time to get this “freight” rolling!  My goals for August are:

  1. Finish weathering and assemble all 38 freight cars that are ready to start the process.
  2. Get the Free-Mo module standing on legs with pink foam installed and a coat of paint on the foam.
  3. I would like to finish my RPM presentation by the end of August so I can fine-tune it in September.

Progress shot of my free-mo module.  The pink foam is test-fit on the benchwork. I still need to build leg pockets, and legs, before I attach the foam and move forward.

If I accomplish those things, I’ll be in a really good spot headed into September!

Time to get back to the workbench!


Posted in Goals of the Month, Model Trains, Modeling Update, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Ongoing Projects


This GN double-sheathed boxcar from Westerfield has lingered for almost 2 years without being finished.  It’s going to RPM Chicagoland this fall.

There isn’t a lot of “new” going on here, yet.  That’s not to say there isn’t stuff going on.  I’ve spent the last week, and especially most of the last weekend, at the workbench or out in the garage with the freight cars for the YV, getting touch-up painting done and everything nicely sealed for the weathering shop.


I removed the plastic running board from this RTR car, and in this photo, you can see the work I’ve been doing to fix the holes from the old mounting pins before adding the Yarmouth Model Works running boards.

This stage of construction can seem to take forever.  Touch-up painting takes a while, especially on the number of cars that I tend to work on.  Fixing little details that are broken also can take a while.  I’m only 2 cars short at this point of having all the YV freight roster cars that are built currently ready for weathering.  I’m going to try and get those two cars, a re-detailed 1937 boxcar from Intermountain lettered for ATSF and my struggle this year, an Intermountain X29, finished as well.  The 1937 boxcar is getting a new running board setup from Yarmouth Model Works.  The detail on the replacements is fantastic, but I’ve been personally challenged in bending the etched parts properly, so after consulting with Pierre Oliver, I’ve ordered a new plain that should let me properly grip the small parts to do the bending.  The remaining X29 has languished and hasn’t moved since the last 2 kits hit the floor.  I’m still of the mindset that I need 3 of these cars, or more PRR boxcars at the very least, but getting this one car done before October is still on my radar.


Over the weekend I got out some pieces of styrene that I had cut almost two years ago to build Snelling Station with.  The pieces were cut with a Circut hobby cutter based on measurements from drawings and dimensions for doors and windows checked against dimensions from Grandt Line for their doors and windows that I had purchased for the build.  I found myself greatly excited to be at the point where I was ready to start building this station.  However….

I knew about a year ago now that my Cricut wasn’t cutting as exactly as I wanted, and that the alignment unit wasn’t responding.  I had done all the troubleshooting and determined that the unit needed repairs, would would cost as much as a new unit.


Parts for Snelling Station on the Yosemite Valley Railroad cut on a Cricut.  Test-fitting doors showed these to be cut incorrectly and outside of tolerances, so these were discarded.

With the Cricut issues in the back of my mind, I sat down to start fitting the doors and windows into the station walls, and immediately discovered that my cuts were not right.  After measuring, I found the door to be .060 to .090 too big for the door jam, and out of square.  I checked the windows, and found the same issues.  The walls were discarded at that point.  I’ll go back to the drawing board for the station.  I have the tools to do cutting of everything by hand, and I will likely return to that method in the short term.


Time to get back to the workbench.


Posted in Goals of the Month, Model Trains, Modeling Update, Uncategorized, Yosemite Valley Railroad | 2 Comments

A Helping Hand, Here or There


The main yard on my friend, Dennis Drury’s former California, Oregon, & Western railroad.  I helped Dennis build the staging yard (below what is pictured) his helixes, and this yard.  Getting help with a model railroad project from other like-minded molders can add to the enjoyment of the hobby.

How does one build a model railroad?  I’m not talking about the concept of the track, the wiring, the locomotives, or cars.  I’m thinking about setting a goal, and meeting that goal.  Do you do it alone, as a “lone wolf” and then invite others to participate in what you’ve built to make it operate and come to life, or do you invite or hire others to help with a vision and bring others in from the beginning, or even at some point in the process?

There is no right or wrong way.  I’m not opining on anyone’s choices.  I have, however, been thinking about the choices available to me.  The primary reason I lean toward inviting or hiring others from the outset is my vision challenges.

Take a look at this news video:

Then read this little piece:

I look at stories like that of Jimmy Deignan, who also has challenges, but loves models and model trains.  Jimmy acquired assistance from others, who became or were friends, and has had a beautiful layout to enjoy and share.

For my part, there are some things that even though I can see the detail, even with assistance, I can not or have not yet solved how to manipulate and see those details at the same time.  I can select details, direct placement, and set standards, but some things I simply can not see to do.

Those projects I used to look at as an issue, a problem.  I didn’t want to ask for help, or find a specialist.  I selected only projects that I could see to do got done.  A lot of that has previously been because I had tied so much of my path in modeling to the NMRA AP program.  Now unhooked from the requirements of the AP, and with my philosophy of using every tool I can to achieve the goals I’ve set, those tools including the things in my workshop, and the help of others, to overcome my vision challenges, I am much more relaxed with the idea of not building everything myself.

Does that affect my standing as a model railroader?  I don’t believe it does.  There are lots of railroaders who hire out DCC installs, custom painting, kit building.  There are others who either hire out or put together groups of people to build their whole layouts, either for them or with them.

Model railroading is a huge, and I feel growing, hobby.  There are things I love doing, like building cars, structures, laying track, building benchwork… but the things that I can’t do, I’m going to keep my standards, and find others willing to meet those, to help me.  I’m going to invite others to participate, and hope that I get a chance to participate with them in their layouts.

I think it’s important to view locomotives, freight cars, structures, trees, and anything else, as a pice of a puzzle.  The goal is modeling the railroad.  The equipment on that layout, the “actors” if you will in the miniature scenes we build, are detail parts.  It’s interesting to think of a locomotive as a detail part, isn’t it?  But in the overall scheme of the layout, that’s what it is.  A moving part.  The modeler is putting together the whole layout, not necessarily the individual pieces.

This is my perspective.  I have no reason to say anyone is right or wrong.  Some of my best modeling friends prefer to model and build everything themselves.  That works for them.  I applaud them for their efforts and admire their layouts.

No matter the approach, we’re all model railroaders, or railroad modelers, and we’re all trying to have fun and enjoy our hobby.  That in the end is the goal.

Time to get back to my projects!


Posted in Layout Construction, Model Trains, Uncategorized, Yosemite Valley Railroad | Leave a comment

Another Train Ride Get’s Me Focused on Goals

Being summer, it’s time for riding trains as often as possible.  When tome doesn’t always allow for sitting at the workbench with models, sometimes, like I said before, you just gotta ride a train.

A few years ago, the Illinois Railway Museum returned their 2-10-0, Frisco 1630 to service.  The first year it was pulling trains, we tried a couple of times to catch a ride, only to be foiled by the learning curve it takes for volunteer crews to maintain and operate these unique machines.  It took us a couple more years before we made it back to IRM to ride 1630, but in the last month, we’ve been there twice, and ridden on the steam powered train twice.

Being a modeler of steam, I find it greatly inspiring to ride these relics.  Every time I see one, I’m reminded that they are hand made, unique, almost living things.

It’s energizing to ride a train.  There’s just something about being there, full scale, that is exciting and exhilarating.  If you haven’t ridden a train, and there is one near you, go for a ride.  It can get your modeling juices flowing.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I didn’t post a goals review, or goals themselves, for June.  The month kind of got a way a little with being busy at work and with getting ready for some family events.  Looking back, the last Goals of the Month were posted for May of this year.  Yikes!

The first goal for May was to get the rest of the ;arts and trucks for my in-progress cars ordered.  That was accomplished, and I’m please that everything is here.  The second goal was to make some progress on the Snelling and National Lead scenes.  Since that post, as I hope you/re read, I’ve had several “ah ha” moments when it comes to planning and building the YV. Going along with that, building those scenes has been stopped, even though building the structures for those scenes will progress soon.  I’d have to call that goal abandoned.  The third goal was to blog once a week, and I’ve kept to that goal until the first week of July when I took a break for a family vacation.   Overall, I did pretty well.

Looking forward, now in July, it’s prime painting and wood-working season here for me as I have access to the garage most days.  That means I’m going to set some aggressive goals for July and hope to meet them.

First:  I’m going to have 42 freight cars ready to airbrush at the beginning of August.  With only 3 cars having gone through my self-developed weathering process in June, I’m going to be taking up some steps and techniques that I’ve been reading about and watching videos of.  It will be fun to share those with you.  My goal there will be to weather things not the same every time I sit down with a car.

Second:  I have some wood working to do to get a Free-Mo module standing for my a ModelersLife podcast project layout by the end of July.

Third:  I would like to try and get the walls and roof cut for a model of Snelling Station on the YV by the end of July.   I have all the materials and drawings ready to go.  It’s time to start building some structures to see how the 10 year plan is going to work out.

If I accomplish those things by the end of July, I’ll be in great shape to finish all the planned cars and have them ready to display at the RPM Chicagoland in October.

Time to get back to the workbench!


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East Troy Electric Railroad: Industrial Spur Speeder Ride

Sometimes, you just gotta ride a train.

We recently had a chance to ride on the East Troy Electric Railroad during their 2017 Railfan Weekend.  Having gotten there early, we secured two seats not only on the first train out of the day, riding a 1925 interurban car from East Troy to the Elegant Farmer stop and back, but also on a speeder ride into East Troy along what had once been industrial trackage.  The fascinating ride was a lot of fun.

This little museum railroad has some surprising equipment on their line.  Sprung frogs (not points, but yes, the frogs are sprung on the passenger routes to provide smoother rides), beautiful Southern Wisconsin scenery, and beautifully restored equipment.

The speeder ride is a treat.  That doesn’t happen very often.  At this time, the track have been cleared about 2/3 of the way down the former freight line that kept this little railroad operating until about 20 years ago.  Three large industries formerly were served along it, though none are rail served anymore.

I could share photos, but I made a video of most of the ride instead.  Unfortunately the audio didn’t turn out like I had hoped.  The northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin area is prone to lots of noisy wind at this time of year.  No matter, I have added some music instead of making you listen to wind in the microphone.

The East Troy Electric Railroad can be found online at

I hope you enjoy the ride.  Right now, it’s time to get back to the workbench!


Posted in Real Railroading, Uncategorized | Leave a comment