Copyright 1997 T. Sheil and A. Sheil All Rights Reserved


Back articles

Dad's Railroad

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the second biggest project (dinner was the first!) was building a model railroad for my father.  It was a lot of fun.  Dad isn't as concerned with scenery as he is with running the trains.  And even though he had worked for the Lackawanna Railroad, he isn't too worried about "prototype."  Not that he would settle for anything unrealistic.  The man likes to run whatever locomotives and rolling stock catches his fancy.  

Dad hasn't done any model railroading since the old Lionel set, and he wanted to get as much running as possible.  We opted for N scale.  The table was 30" by 72" Homasote.  Tools used included a couple of "train set" power packs, Atlas nickel silver track and turnouts, and AMI rubber roadbed.  There was supposed to be scenery, but aside from cracking open a "Village in a Bag", we still haven't gotten to it.  Once the trains started running, scenery was put on a back burner.

Audrey decided to try her hand at locomotive run-bys in N scale, despite hnot having the best elns for the job.  However, the pictures herein capture the sheer fun of model railroading for folks who just want to run those trrains - the heck with prototype!

Of course, everything came right out of our catalog.  We figured we had such a nice selection already, we couldn't go wrong.  Dad and my sister Kathy are pleased as ever with the LifeLike SD7s and E8s, Chessie Highballer set F9, Shessie FA, Pennsy FA2 and Ann Arbor FA2.  We asked Dad why he wanted to run the Annie, Milwaukee SD and Chessie instead of the lackawanna E8.  "I saw those E8s every day for 20 years.  I want to try soimething new!"

I guess our photos don't look like masterpieces of miniature design, but you gotta admit - they sure do show us what fun trains can be!  

Below is a photo of the REAL Green Mountain Railway, taken in March in Bellows Falls, VT.


All this effort spent re-acquainting myself with railroads and local history has uncovered something which we often miss, but don t know exactly what it is we are missing. Between 1962 and 1973, personality was squeezed out of many things that we used to take personally. Instead of presenting a pleasant face, we re hit with some corporate monolith which is all techno-streamlined and no personality. Things used to be personal, and the folks who ran them took pride in them. With today s depersonalized companies and products, pride has gone the way of the Stanley Steamer.

I ll start where I discovered this loss: railroads. Back in the `50s and `60s, our local commuter lines were more than a set of trains. Each railroad had its own special thing. You could feel the difference. The Lackawanna railroad was very proud of its on-time performance and its cushy long-distance passenger lines. They did such a nice job that they could even make a trip to places like Chicago seem worthwhile. The Erie had its prime passenger lines, too, along with its links to the Upstate dairy farms. The Pennsylvania called itself the Standard railroad of the world, because it felt it set the standard for efficient, reliable rail operations. The Central Railroad of New Jersey had its own crack passenger liners, including the elegant Blue Comet to Atlantic City in the old days.

In those days, my brother and I would be put on the train in Hoboken and we d be picked up in Otisville. The trainmen back then were used to this - it was common on all railroads - and they kept an eye on the kids until they reached their destination. Due to family connections, our last name was known on a couple of railroads running between Hoboken and places like Scranton and Port Jervis. That helped a bit, although the folks running the railroad acted as if it were their own and thus treated all customers pretty well. There was something to be proud of, too. People valued good, courteous service back then.

The trains themselves were painted to reflect a personality. The old Lackawanna trains looked best light grey with maroon and gold bands. When the Lackawanna and Erie merged, those colors became standard for the newly-created railroad. Pennsylvania had its various engines in Brunswick Green or Tuscan Red, with their gold and buff trim and the familiar Pennsy Keystone. The old CNJ was blue, with a silhouette of the Statue of Liberty. It was definitely a different time.

Today, commuter transit is handled by state agencies, such as New Jersey Transit and New York s Metro North. The trains are painted in modern colors and they look okay, but there s no personality to them. It s not like the old days. Instead of feeling like you re on a train in a real railroad, you fell as if it s just a ride from Point A to Point B. Monoliths like Amtrak, Conrail and Penn Central look more like corporate symbols than a way of life. We re inundated by faceless corporate symbols. Just look at the logos of modern vendors: Pathmark, Conrail, IBM, Microsoft. You don t get a feeling of people. Instead, there s this man-made ant-hill of marching drones and shiny machines churning out products. Talk about taking the assembly line one step further! Even companies that used to have personality have lost it. Look at Sears or any of the other old catalog vendors. They used to be an entity. Now, they re just one more of many faceless sellers whose catalogs fall on our doorstep.

Humans by nature are personal beings. We personalize things that are inanimate, so it s no wonder that we appreciate a touch of personality in any transaction. Who wants to hear a recording saying the one key if you want this, and the 2 key if you want that.... ? Who wants to deal with mechanized voices that have computerized and mechanized business until it resembles a bad day with The Jetsons? People react unhappily to depersonalization. Without the personal quotient, it s purely mechanism. Who wants that? Aside from some techno-junkies and computer addicts, nobody.

This social dehumanization is a large factor behind all the anger in our society today. People feel powerless because they feel that their personal input doesn t count. Government doesn t listen, business doesn t listen, the media doesn t listen. It shows in things like the factional rift in our government, where both parties are so busy with their own agendas that they forget the public. And when the public complains, each side tries to tell us that their platform is what we want - when we know damn well that we don t! We feel powerless when the media continues to churn out crap despite the fact that people want something better. We feel powerless when corporate policy has no consideration for the consumer.

Depersonalization really hits at major events, like Yule and Lincoln s Birthday. Washington and Lincoln were people we admire for what they did as presidents. Presidents Day doesn t sound like it s about historical people who counted. Yule has become a glitter fest of rampant mercantilism. The holiday for giving has become the holiday for greed and guilt. People feel that their gift has to be bigger, or else they will feel guilt over being perceived as cheap. Whatever happened to giving from the heart? It s a sad commentary on depersonalization that gifts count more than people. Yule used to be about decorating the tree and running electric trains and eating gingerbread and having fun (and annoying Mom). Today it s about Star Trek Barbie and Power Ranger dolls and who got whom the biggest gift. It sounds like people want to measure their love by extravagance. The more you give me, the more you love me. That s pretty sick! Before `65, we were a personable people. Now, we re a confused people faced by impersonal institutions who deal with us in a coldly impersonal manner. It s affected our attitude toward ourselves, our acquaintances and even our holidays. Instead of allowing an essence of personality into the most intimate of things, we re slowly beginning to measure our input in dollars, cents, pounds and cubic centimeters. Our only recourse is to retain a personal touch in our own lives. We have to separate the impersonal mass society from our personal society of neighborhood, region, friends and neighbors. Without a personal touch, we re in danger of losing the very humanity which makes Life worth living.

The Oddvar Report

In spite of himself, Oddvar has become something of a celebrity. The one- eyed, grey cat is a popular fellow with readers. Oddvar is still the laser-printer raider, and his nests are concealed throughout the shop. He occasionally purloins my glasses case. And he manages to make his way through the bungle of cutlery, printing supplies and boxes of boxcars. Oddvar had himself quite a problem when we decided to run trains under the Yule tree this year. He didn t know what to make of them. His first reaction was to keep his distance. Sadie didn t care, and summarily plopped herself across the tracks, oblivious to the Lackawanna diesel that careened into her. Freja eventually came to terms with the locomotive business. She would sit beside the tracks and tap the top of each car as it went by. This could go on for hours. Oddvar finally overcame his fear, and began chasing the caboose. That inevitably led to a derailment. Oddvar made a lot of derailments. He also found our Yule village appealing, and like a grey tornado, started his own program of miniature urban renewal. The last straw was when he made off with a Chessie engine. How he did it, we don t know. We found cat and engine in one of his nests. Oddvar s favorite sport is running out onto the neighbor s terrace and teasing her cats. He sits in plain sight, while his pals hiss and jump at the glass door. The grey furball manages to annoy them no end. If the other cats are out, Oddvar invariably gets into a hissing match. However, the big hissing contest is between their calico, Spite, and our Freja. They seem to enjoy standing there and hissing. No fur is ruffled, no tail is bottled. They merely hiss for up to an hour on end. Spite will cease hissing, if she sees me, because she finds me an opportunity to beg for treats. In the feline follies, food is more important then fun. We were testing new products - the IHC Pennsy HO Docksider - and Oddvar had to get into the fun. He ran around and around after the engine. Then, when I was examining the new HO scale Civil War soldiers, Oddvar grabbed a Goober and ran for a nest. With his own grey coat, our one-eyed feline has all the stealth and cunning of Col. Mosby of Mosby s Raider s fame. (In his time, Mosby won acclaim both for his military exploits and for his political prowess after the war - another example of a capable man translating ingenuity from one field to another.) In his way, Oddvar has become for us what Chessie the Cat was to the C&O. (If only we can match that venerable railroad's performance!)


The railroads were innovative marketers. Back in the days when trains were the major mode of transportation, each company tried to attract customers. Part of the marketing were fictional characters used to illustrate a feature of that particular line. Marketing to passengers meant promoting features which made the ride more comfortable, accommodating or swift. If you ve ever spent much time on trains, you can appreciate comfort. That goes double if you ever had to endure the old passenger cars that bumped and rattled and shook like all get-out. Because many rail travelers were going long distances, the companies had a challenge. What can you offer people that would make them choose your railroad over the other guy? The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad hit on the idea of selling comfort. Their product: a smooth ride that allowed passengers to relax. Everyone knew that rail travel cold be a jarring, bumpy, clackety-clack experience Most folks didn t like the rough ride, especially when on a long two or three day journey. To market the smoothness of its passenger cars, the C&O used two characters: Chessie and Peake. These were a pair of kittens. The logo for C&O passenger trains became an image of Chessie sleeping peacefully on her pillow. Chesapeake and Ohio passenger advertisements featured the image of the small gray tiger-striped kitten. It was a successful campaign and became so rooted in the public mind that Chessie ended up being the company logo for all its operations. The Chessie System bears the outline of a sleeping cat to this day: testimony to a successful promotional campaign. The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western railroad had another gimmick that started in the Victorian era. In the days of steam, passengers invariably had to deal with soot. A cloud of smoke issued from the engine and stretched back over the cars. That s why traveling attire was usually colored in an earth-tone. The D.L. & W. burned a different type of coal that most other railroads. It used anthracite, the coal mined in its operating region. Anthracite burns much, much cleaner than other types of coal. Railroad marketers seized on this as a hook to catch more passengers. People didn t like the mess of travel, so why not address the issue? A clean ride would attract many customers. Thus was born Phoebe Snow, a lass in white Victorian dress with parasol and cap. Her motto ran something like this.

My clothes stay clean My dress is white Because we run on Anthracite

The passenger line later became known as The Route of the Phoebe Snow. Phoebe s image became a logo for the D.L. & W. A silhouette of Phoebe and the phrase The Route of the Phoebe Snow appeared on boxcars and other rolling stock. A few years ago, a singer professional name was that of the old railroad logo. The D.L. & W. merged with the Erie railroad, and later they both merged into Conrail. Phoebe disappeared from the side of boxcars. Yet for years, she was the symbol of the Lackawanna Railroad. Much of our modern advertising can be traced to the symbols and campaigns of the railroads. The idea of addressing a public concern and promoting a solution through an eye-catching logo and characters is successful advertising. Chessie, Peake and Phoebe Snow were very successful characters who attracted customers. They were instrumental in making their companies a name brand.

Our Home Layout

Here are some photos of our own 32" by 40" N scale layout.  You can see Oddvar in the background, plotting his next foray against the railroad.  There's an Erie RS3 pulling the local commuter.  The Lackawanna local stop is just below the RS3, while up and to the left is the New York Central commuter stop.  If you look closely, you can see the lake and some folks goofing off nearby.  It's our first layout in many years.

NYO&W: A Lesson Learned

I recently read the story of a small Class 1 railroad that used to run only a quarter mile from the house upstate. The NYO&W has been out of action since 1957. Most of its track was taken over by other railroads; some was abandoned altogether. Today, the New York, Ontario & Western is an historical curiosity and the story of an enterprise that almost made it. The original idea for the NYO&W had merit, and its founders half planned and half fitted it together as they went along. Eventually, it stretched from Oswego on Lake Ontario to Weehawken, New Jersey on the Hudson River and west to Scranton, Pennsylvania. The hub of the railroad was Middletown, NY - a few miles from the old family fiefdom. Originally, the NYO&W hauled passengers, freight and milk. Milk runs were a considerable part of local railroads prior to 1960. Every passenger train had a few milk cars which picked up at every stop, and some of the larger dairies had their own sidings along the mainline. Milk was a lucrative third-place business for some roads and for a few like the NYO&W, a prime commodity. The NYO&W also owned three coal mines in the Scranton area. Coal was so profitable that no less than five railroads owned mines in the Lackawanna Valley region. The Erie, Lackawanna, Central RR of New Jersey, Lehigh Valley and Delaware & Hudson also hauled Pennsylvania coal. The hard coal of the Lackawanna Valley, called Anthracite, was preferred by many industries because it burned cleaner than the bituminous coal found in other regions. Anthracite was so popular that it was shipped around the country. Mining is a speculative business. In 1937, two of the NYO&W s three mines were played out. The railroad depended on its milk runs and one remaining mine. 1937 was the last year that the NYO&W paid dividends to shareholders. By sheer luck, it somehow lasted until 1957. The small upstate carrier even managed to dieselize its entire operation. However, revenues fell and the NYO&W couldn t make its pay. In 1957, the Federal government had to step in. Parts of the trackage were sold to other railroads, as were all of the rolling stock and locomotives. Some trackage was abandoned, as were some of the old stations. Other railroads had depended on coal, milk runs and passengers. The Lackawanna, Erie, D&H, CRRNJ and LV were coal hauling roads, after all. All railroads also did well by hauling mail, but that ended by 1965. The five railroads that survived into the 1960s eventually were merged into Conrail in 1976. Why did they survive to become a successful modern freight railroad, when the NYO&W failed? After all, they all hauled the same goods. They all had good routes. The other railroads did something that the NYO&W did not: they planned for change. It was evident in the 1940s that coal was going to be supplanted by other forms of energy, just as it was clear that the milk runs would run dry once dairies bought their own truck fleets. The NYO&W was so busy trying to survive that it didn t set aside time to plan and innovate. Those in the leadership position failed to jump into new markets in time. By 1950, it was too late. Those played-out mines should have been a warning to change. Instead, the company s leaders sat and did nothing. There s a lesson here for all of us. Coal and milk run out, as do technologies, professions, lifestyles and luck. Just because something had always paid the bill in the past doesn t mean it can make it in the future. And just because something was practical in previous years is no proof that it will remain viable in the future. Coal was a staple of American life for 200 years, but it s not that big a deal any more. What s the coal of our generation? Think of the many jobs that have disappeared forever due to newer technology. Consider the professions that are irrelevant in our time and place. What became of the fellow who made tubes for radios? He was replaced by the transistor. What happened to the folks who made boosters for TV antennae? Their jobs were displaced by satellite dishes and cable. The companies that anticipated the change and prepared to make the move have survived. Those who didn t break out of the status quo are gone, never to return. A fellow named Kenneth Chennault, vice chairman of American Express said it eloquently: To stay in business, you have to invent the company that puts you out of business. In other words, you want to be the first to make the product which renders your old product obsolete. It took millions of years to make the dinosaur obsolete. Today, it can be done in a few decades. Consider my own lot: three skills I had learned and used years ago are obsolete. Nobody works those trades that way any more. There are new materials and methods which do a faster, better job. Had I not taken the initiative, all of my skills would probably have become obsolete. Plan your own obsolescence by preparing for change. By making yourself willing to take that first step into the future, you assure that you will never truly be obsolete. Good planning and wise decisions can assure that you will always have a place in this changing world. *******************

What makes a thing obsolete? As I think of all the institutions of my early life that are gone, one thing is clear: they couldn t keep up. They weren t able to make it in the evolving marketplace. They were beaten, either by their own ineptitude in facing changing circumstances, or by competition from someone who did their job better. Complacency is as much an adversary as fierce competition. Complacency says, I m so well-established that nothing can budge me from my place. The complacent ones feel that they don t have to adapt, change or face challenges. Rather than confront change, they ignore it out of a sense of smug superiority. That is how the monoliths are eventually reduced to anthills. Life demands the ability to adapt to conditions. Those who fail to do so are planning their own permanent obsolescence. By giving in to the mental stagnation of complacency, they lose their vitality and then their relevance. It is only a matter of time before those stagnant pools dry up. We are supposed to be at the forefront of Life. That means living fully in this time and place. Life supports initiative, ingenuity and the willingness to persist at all costs. The deadliest enemy is not the competitor, but one s own complacency.

Did You Know?

The railroads helped upscale Southerners enter mainstream society. By insisting that shoes be worn by all passengers, they encouraged people to make the climb from Uncouth Hillbilly to Respectable Goober. The C&O is credited with tripling shoe sales in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Fifteen shoe stores opened in Lexington when the C&O made shoes a requirement.

Easy Giving

The trick to being over 40 is to live strategically. Two seasons demand more strategy - Spring and Yule. During the Winter Holidays, there s all that planning and shopping and gift giving, and then all the visits and parties and confusion. The Spring season invariably brings another kind of confusion. Folks between the ages of 35 and 55 generally have to deal with kids. If it s not their own kids, then its their siblings kids or their friends kids or their grandkids. During Spring, some of the kids are hitting those special occasions. There are the Kindergarten graduations, an then the first communions, and then the confirmations and bah mitzvahs, and the grammar school graduations, and the junior high graduations. The more folks you know, the more kids there are hitting one or more of these events. If you re someone a kid particularly likes, such as a favorite uncle or aunt, then it s the custom to give them something when they hit a special celebration. But what do you give them? One year they re into Kung Fu Power Rangers, the next it s Barbie or GI Joe, and then it s Star Wars or Batman or something. Who can sort it all out? Only a dummy gives clothes. Anyone who was ever a child remembers the disappointment when some fool gave them clothes as a gift. And not many children would be receptive to a book or anything cerebral. So what kind of gift can you give that will be appreciated and won t drive you insane or into the poorhouse? My way out of this is to give kids a train set. Any child between the ages of 5 and 14 is almost guaranteed to enjoy it. Seeing as a good train set can be had for under $50, it s probably one of the most affordable gifts out there. And there s the matter of appreciation. Trains are an almost guaranteed winner at any age. That s not true of fad toys. One year the kid would love Power Rangers, and the next she thinks Power Rangers are for babies. Even traditional toys can cause a problem. Give some kids a GI Joe, and their parents act mortified that you dared give a war toy. Give some children a Barbie, and their parents rant that the doll promotes sexism. They won t let the child keep it, and they act as if you re some kind of monster for even thinking of it. You can avoid all kinds of nonsense by giving one toy that nobody finds objectionable: trains. Kids love them, parents approve of them - in fact, most parents play with them more than the kids. You can always hedge your bet by adding something to the gift: an extra engine, some scenery, track, etc. I find that when giving trains to boys, the big locomotives are a hit. Girls prefer the more colorful trains. Lackawanna grey and Pennsy tuscan are fine for boys; girls prefer CN Red or Chessie gold and blue. For the girls, I add the little village in a bag and some miniature livestock. Pretty houses and small horses seem to add to the fun. For boys, a couple of trucks or some operating accessories do the trick. If you re at the age where you are obliged to bring gifts for the annual Spring events, you can save a lot of money, time and hassles by giving trains. They are one gift that always works. Kids love them, and their parents always appreciate them.

PC WhistleStop! Stunts

Folks are sending their tricks for getting more mileage out of our program. We re pleased that people are doing all kinds of crazy, creative work with our product. Of course, we re experimenting all the time. Here are some new tricks for you:

Interior decor: take a window scene you like. Now, take a building and cut out the display window. Cover the hole with clear plastic (we used blister packing). Paste your window scene inside the building, inside the wall opposite the open window. In the middle, place a few painted figures and furniture. You get better interiors this way.

Stations: cut open all windows on a station, and paste our Custom Kit station walls inside. This gives an interior from which to build. Place a kiosk or two inside, add benches and passengers, and in no time you have a typical passenger station bustling with activity.

Porch: mount a building on a 1/4 inch foundation of grey - wood or brickface is okay. Make sure the front end sticks out 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Build an awning over this overhang. Take the white picket fence and shave off the pikes at the top. Shave them down to the top horizontal beam. Use these for your porch railing. You might want to place the side with the extended vertical pikes inside facing the house. Place a pillar on each corner and on each side of the front opening. Add steps, and you have a house with a porch.

Tarpaulins: it is a common practice to throw a tarp over large sandpiles. To make the tarp, cut a piece of paper tissue (snotcatcher paper is best) and place it. Paint it with a slightly thinned acrylic paint: the most common colors are olive green and black. When it dries, it will harden and retain its texture. This makes an excellent tarpaulin. We used to use the same technique for model tanks years ago. You can also roll the paper to look like a rolled tarp, tie it with thread, and then soak it in the paint.

Curtains: use white and pastel colored snotcatcher tissue paper. Cut to size and glue inside the windows of buildings. Using colored thread, you can tie then back like some folks do with real curtains. Tissue paper has the right texture and lack of opacity.

Bullet holes: if you re doing a 1920s gangster scene or modern military, bullet holes are easy to make in plastic. Heat a pin and poke through the plastic. Do not make the holes too uniform. In real life, guns jump and rattle a little. Rarely does a machine gun leave a perfect line of bullets when striking a moving target. When done, use a hobby knife to clip off the circular burr left by the holes. Bullet holes chip a little paint, but not that much. A very thin line around the inside of the hole is sufficient. If it s a vehicle that was shot up a while ago, bullet holes attract rust, so paint accordingly. While I m at it: antitank shells do not leave gaping, ragged holes. They leave a hole their own diameter. The real damage happens inside the tank.

Burnt houses: folks used to take the Village in a bag and burn holes with a woodburner. That was in the 1960s. You have to chip away the burr, and you still don t have the best effect. For burnt or war-ravaged homes, use kits of buildings under construction. They make much more realistic war-ravaged or fire-ravaged homes.

People: when painting dark-skinned figures, be careful when painting the whites of eyes. Unless you are really, really good at it, leave the whites out. Otherwise, the figure looks like Mr. Bug-Eye. This problem goes back to Britains lead figures, all of whose old African and Asian Indian troops looked like they had just seen a ghost. That was a clichÆ in the 1920s, but doesn t look good on a model railroad.

Conductor figures: those railroad figures in coffee-can hats can be used for other things. Paint the uniforms Sky Blue, and you have French soldiers circa 1915 - 1929. Paint them Navy blue with Red hats and add a small cap, and you have gendarmes. White caps are the Foreign Legion; olive brown uniforms are modern Legionnaires. Folks doing European railroads or military miniatures can have fun with this.

Product Test: Switching to N

In erecting our new layout - an N scale, three-train operation set on a 32" by 40" coffee table, we had ample opportunity to test a variety of products. Among the things we tested were track by Atlas and LifeLike, turnouts, scenery products and miniatures. Then we ran our little diesels all over the place to see which train was really the best. The first task involved painting the scenery and laying track. We were able to get LifeLike turnouts at a lower price than comparable items by Atlas. As they say, you get what you pay for. This was an opportunity to run one against the other. Hands-down-winner: Atlas. Two LifeLike switches failed even before we set them up. The others were prone to cause derailments. Contrast that with Atlas switches, which didn t cause derailments - even with our most difficult locomotives. Hey, if they couldn t knock the FA2 off the tracks - and we were running it FAST and FURIOUS with a string of boxcars - they had to be good! The Atlas switches didn t dump our treasured locomotives, nor did they topple the clumsy Evans boxcars. The result: after more testing, we decided that we would carry Atlas track and track products. We will not carry LifeLike switches. The $4.00 difference in price is no bargain when switches are constant problems. Another set of products we tried were the scenery products of LifeLike and the new $19.95 Scenery Kit by Woodland Scenics. We found that LifeLike s small shade trees still hold their own, even when placed side-by-side with the tree kits by Woodland. This is not to say that Woodland Scenics is inferior. To the contrary! That scenery kit gave us 18 trees (only 11 were suitable for N scale - still a bargain), two bags of grass, three small bags in other colors, and tree stumps. There was also a foliage for trees that was also usable as ivy on covered hillocks. LifeLike s Earth was used for the construction site. We found that LifeLike ballast is good for gravel, and when mixed with Coal it has real possibilities. However, in N scale, the finer Woodland Scenics ballast is better as ballast. The only problem with the Woodland Scenics kit is that the tree boles are bare metal, and they have to be painted. The Pactra Hobby acrylics did this well enough. Running other things, we tested the Atlas RS3, LifeLike Proto 2000 E8 and SD7, and LifeLike F7A and FA2. Previous tests had already put Bachman s 0-4-0 and F9A out of favor - they ran poorly. The RS3 is cool and reliable, but doesn t have the pulling power of the E8. Unfortunately, the E8's front coupler is cosmetic rather than practical, making double-diesel operations a hop. The FA2 and F7 run well, but they derail on LifeLike switches. In a race, the E8 was faster than anybody. Car tests pitted LifeLike freight cars against Bachman, Atlas and Model Power. Aside from the fact that these manufacturers screwed up by having a dearth of DL&W / Lackawanna cars, the rolling stock functioned pretty well. Bachman s crane and boom tender can produce clearance problems - remember to hook the crane into the boom car to prevent crack-ups. The crane and boom are a good item: they have more detail than the old O gauge set by Lionel (remember them?). Bachman should include a set of instructions with the boom and crane set. We were particularly happy with the Atlas cupola caboose - good detail, good running. The rolling stock did quite well. Surprise of surprises: Model Power s freight cars handled well and had decent detail. Our recommendations? Atlas switches are your best bet, and well worth the extra few dollars. The LifeLike E8 is perhaps the most impressive locomotive of the bunch, both in appearance and performance. The others by Atlas and LifeLike were very good - well worth the bucks. LifeLike s trees and lichen are recommended, and the Woodland Scenics kit is a real bargain and a really great tool. One complaint: we used Woodland Scenics EZ Water. It was not fun, and had the bad effect of eroding our styrofoam. Next time, we ll find something that doesn t require intense heat. And to all the manufacturers, especially Atlas, LifeLike, Bachman and Model Power: we want Lackawanna, CNJ, L&NE and L&HR. Erie is okay, but stop wasting time on those western railroads and start concentrating on real railroads for a change.

Book of the Month

Susquehanna ( Carsten s)- $15.95 The New York, Susquehanna and Western railroad is still running strong, despite some lean years and difficult times. Linking the Hudson River with upstate New York and Pennsylvania, this interesting road has a flavor all its own. Susquehanna covers the small class-1 railroad from the turn of the century to the 1970s. Excellent black-and-white photography provides detailed images of rolling stock, locomotives and unique passenger trains. Good text tells the tale between the pictures. There are some fine shots of Susquehanna s unusual streamlined passenger cars - definitely a project for the experienced modeler. And you will find many examples of Russian Decapods, Geeps, RS1s, stations and lineside activities. Susquehanna is a treasure trove of images for the model railroader.

Collectible Mania

One of the weird twists of modern business is a new market called collectibles. Now, there was a time when collectibles meant things that people liked to collect. They ranged from salt & pepper shakers to porcelain thimbles to pocketknives. People collected them because they liked them. The prices of these thing weren t cause for alarm. Most were inexpensive. Of course, a few companies produced special items in limited numbers for aficionados. They cost a little more, and were likely to gain in value with time, but their appeal was to a few. Today, many are making limited run items with higher prices. These items aren t special, of themselves. They use the same materials as their mass-produced counterparts and are of average quality. By producing a limited number, however, marketers feel they can artificially raise the price. The new kind of collectible is aimed at people whose main interest is future profits. Rather than collecting to enjoy, they buy items which they believe will grow in monetary value. To profit from them, manufacturers made a contrived market of overpriced, limited-run products. It s easy to lose out by speculating on a contrived market. After the `70s, a few collectors began hoarding Star Wars figures in hopes that they would become more valuable. When the Star Wars trilogy was re-released in 1996, the original makers of the toys began making them all over again. Those who bought in hopes of profit saw their gains diminish with the first shipment of re-released toys. Many model railroaders are collectors. In my own case, I collect freight cars in roads and motifs that I used to see in the region. One example is the FMC Chessie boxcar. It s the kind of thing you don t forget. So far, I have my favorites: Erie Lackawanna gray boxcar w/ maroon markings, Lackawanna The Route of Phoebe Snow, State of Maine Potatoes, New Haven State of Maine, Erie Lackawanna and New York Central cabooses...well, you get the idea. Some manufacturers of trains are feeding into the collectible market by making overpriced special editions. Their idea of collectible isn t my idea of collectible. Audrey and I looked for things that would be collectible on their own merits. While on the lookout for our own favorites, we came across some others that are a good deal. They re not priced out of range, they re fun to collect and they re worth having for those who like them. Now that s a real collectible. Fortunately, we ve come across a few enjoyable collectibles for model railroading fans. They re very affordable, they re limited editions and they re fun to own. MDC kits are limited-edition models of various cars and roads. Again, they re priced affordably while being a unique item. We are on the lookout for these and other collectibles which are fun to own. If you want a unique, original items, try our collectibles. You ll get a good, well-made, detailed freight car that s made in limited numbers just for individuals like yourself. And you won t pay any more than what you d spend on a comparable non- collectible. I think that s the best way to collect!


Once you get outside the City - that ponderous megasaur that includes Manhattan, Jersey City, Bayonne and Newark - you find nests of towns and smaller regions, each with its own distinct flavor. The area which hosts these little locales stretches from Tom s River north to Kingston, and all the way west past Pennsylvania s Lackawanna Valley. Only a generation ago, the region was served by a handful of railroads: the Lackawanna, the Erie, the Central Jersey Lines, the Lehigh Valley and the Pennsylvania. Today, it s Conrail, New Jersey Transit, Metro North and Amtrak. By some strange process, these new monoliths conceal the character of the places they serve. As late as the 70s, it was fun to hop a train to these special regions within one greater region. You could take the Erie-Lackawanna to Middletown and Port Jervis, the CNJ to the Delaware Water Gap or the Jersey Shore, and the Pennsylvania to points south and west. The ride was a brief but colorful excursion, whichever direction you chose, that took you past the homes and small industries, the backyards and forgotten hollows of towns and hamlets strung out like pearls along the rail line. You could end up in any of a number of unique, one-of-a-kind places that had its own distinct quality setting it apart from any other. Each had its lore, its customs, its peculiar ways and its history. There was something worth exploring in each town, be it a Revolutionary War site or an abandoned mill or a museum or even a quaint shop. Today, they re all still there. Most have resisted the pull of becoming parasitic bedroom communities of Mighty Gotham. They have kept their best qualities, and even though changes come, each remains itself. In these days when the masses prefer to be entertained by computer games and Internet notes and cable television, a few of us still explore the distant and nearby regions. No other place in the world is as unique or colorful. For those who find it all thrilling, there are still a load of day trips and weekend excursions to be enjoyed. You won t find them as pre-packaged tours from some travel agent. You won t even find a tour guide. It s up to you to plan your trip, use a road map or a railroad schedule, and make the journey. When you arrive, just let the place guide you to its highlights, low points, and wonders to be discovered. Your itinerary is only limited by when you choose return home. So leave the glass-tube people to spend their hours fixated on pixels and screens. Take up your map, seek what you might find, and head for the station. Because this station is open, and the next train has a seat reserved for you!

A brief look at some old station towns

Hoboken, NJ: in the shadow of Gotham's two dark realms, Jersey City and Manhattan, Hoboken has managed to retain its small-town identity. And what an identity it has. In the old days, Hoboken was the host of numerous shipping lines, railroads and ferries. The Lackawanna dominated its South end; the Pennsylvania held the North, and between them shuttled the small two-engine Hoboken Shore Railroad. Both Lackawanna and Pennsylvania offered ferries to Manhattan. The Holland America lines made Hoboken their home port. Ships from Holland dotted the piers of the small city, alongside the busy Hoboken Shipyard. The 1960s saw the decline of railroads and the steam lines. By 1975, Holland America, the Hoboken Shore Railroad and the ferries were long gone. The Lackawanna had merged with the Erie; the Pennsylvania merged with the New York Central. Both were teetering on bankruptcy. Hoboken itself felt the plunge economically. The town was run-down, and served as home for the poor in tenements and the gutter wizards living in cheap $2.00 hotels. A few of the good old things remains, such as the Clam Broth house. No matter what changed, a part of Hoboken was always carved out as a place where a regular guy could get a beer, a hot dog, or a pot of steamers. The influx of New Yorkers seeking lower rents caused a boom in Hoboken. Old tenements were renovated into condominiums, mainly by Irish restoration specialists. There were some hassles, as greedy landlords attempted to force out poor tenants. A six-room apartment that cost $180 in 1984 was $600 in 1985, and $880 a month by 1986. Old residents railed against displacement, and the character of Hoboken slowly emerged in a new form. Finally, the balance was struck, with trendy bistros sharing the street alongside old-time beer bars. Hoboken was renewed. Though the shipyard closed, other things brought life. The history wasn t lost. And in Hoboken, if a guy looks in the right place, he can still get a cold beer, a hot dog and even a of steamed clams. Gentrification hasn t displaced that!

Montclair, NJ On the old Montclair branch of NJ Transit, formerly served by the Lackawanna Railroad. Montclair is on the side of a hill. It is a pretty town with elegant shops, a busy shopping district and a few holdovers from earlier times. The old railroad station is now used for stores. Montclair is a very distinct town. It developed like many of the railroad towns of central Jersey, and shows a variety of building styles from several eras. A nice jaunt. Montclair is a multiracial town that s definitely upscale, upbeat and full of surprises. There are interesting shops on the side streets - you might find anything from a peddler of pewter elves to a cartographer.

Port Jervis, NY Formerly a major stop for rafters and shipping on the Delaware River, and a central point for the old D&H Canal, Port Jervis was also integral to the Erie Railroad. It was the link between Pennsy coal and New York, and also served as the major shipping facility for the immediate region. The city moved to the beat of the train schedule as late as the 1950s. In the 1960s, it was a busy place that attracted droves of shoppers from as far away as Wurtsburo, NY and Sussex, NJ. With the decline of the railroad and the opening of Interstate 84, people started flocking to Middletown s malls. By 1975, Port Jervis was suffering. The loss of revenue turned this once-thriving city to a ghost town. In 1994, Port Jervis was still on the ropes. It had four thriving supermarkets in 1974; only one remained twenty years later. However, the influx of boutiques and curiosity shops seems to be giving new life to a grand old station. The old Erie Station is done in all its glory, housing a boutique as well as historic memorabilia. New shops are taking over the empty storefronts of Main Street. There s going to be more to come. Port Jervis is right across the bridge from Matamoras, Pennsylvania, a tiny hoke town. Walk over the bridge and look East when you get to the middle - an awesome view of the Delaware Valley in all its glory. Port Jervis gives access to the river, and can be a great day trip. Things are picking up, so expect to do a little shopping along the way.

The Railroad that Sported Yarmulkes

One of the most enigmatic railroads of all time was the New York, Ontario & Western, a Class 1 railroad headquartered in Middletown, New York. It was a railroad whose start was marked by greedy investors plundering the treasury, financial difficulties and a fight for survival. Throughout its life, the NYO&W, affectionately knows as either The Old Woman or the Old & Weary, had to fend off bankruptcy and poor leadership. It would have folded in 1937, except that somehow it managed to keep running until 1957. The cash crops for the NYO&W were coal and milk. It was one of seven carriers who had station in Scranton and operated mines in the Lackawanna Valley. Milk runs were part and parcel of railroads prior to 1960, but the NYO&W specialized in it. Having routes through New York State s prime dairy land, this determined railroad brought its dairy cargo from as far as Lake Ontario to Scranton and Gotham twice daily. The NYO&W had a main route that linked Weehawken, NJ with Oswego, NY, by way of Middletown. Its secondary routes included one to the river north of Newburgh, and another that reached from Port Jervis to Monticello and Middletown. Though mainly used for milk runs, all of these routes also carried passenger service. And that s where the Old Woman had a distinct niche in specialty passenger service. Beginning in the 1920s, Jewish entrepreneurs had opened resorts in the Catskills around Monticello and Liberty. They catered mainly to upscale Jewish families from New York, and offered the usual fare of Northeaster resorts along with some Jewish specialties. These resorts offered such rare amenities as kosher food, complete with a rabbi on premises, and special packages for key Jewish holidays. The Catskill resorts normally started their season in late March, when seasonal workers came in to begin preparations for Summer. By late April, the resorts were fully staffed and ready for action. They remained open until Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: holidays for which they offered specialty services for devout Jews. Afterward, there was a brief period of shutting down. The NYO&W served the resorts and their customers. Extra summer camp trains were run during the peak season. Even after passenger service had been suspended on the Port Jervis line, the railroad still sent out on special trains for the holidays, summer rush and fall return. It was common to see coaches filled with men wearing yarmulkes on their way to spend holy days at the resorts. Right up to the end, after all other passenger service had been discontinued throughout the system, the Old & Weary ran its Monticello-bound resort specials. In 1957, the bankrupt railroad ran out of steam. It was broken up, its rolling stock and trackage sold off to other railroads. The main station is now used as a municipal building. 40 years after its demise, vestiges of the Old Woman still remain throughout Orange and Sullivan counties. Abandoned milk stops, old crossings and trackbed can be found just east of Route 209 on the Port Orange road, between the D&H canal and the Basher Kill bridge. They are a mute testimony to the glory days of the railroad that sported yarmulkes.


The movie Dirty Dancing was a story that was supposed to take place in a Catskill resort in the 1960s. Resorts regularly hired help and entertainment for the Summer. I had met a few fellows in New York who worked the Catskills every year. They started drifted North in late March, each returning to his particular resort. The men worked until closing, after which they spent a couple of weeks helping shut down. Back in the city, their winter activities varied. A few took seasonal Winter jobs, and some who had saved their money lived off their Summer earnings. The unwise ones spent winter on the bum, living on soup kitchens and shelters until the return of Spring. Yes, some had been doing this for more than 20 years! It s a little-known fact of local life that s been going on a long time.


26 Miles to Jersey City is an excursion into the past and a search for the majestic stations of old. Photos of the old main line to Pennsylvania include shots of stations in their current condition. Some are compared with photos from their heyday. It s a journey to a time when CNJ rail was king in the region, and a look at what has occurred since then. Folks interested in New Jersey will find both books a treasure of bygone glory and change. $9.95

NYO&W The Final Years A black-and-white pictorial book about the little railroad which lived on 20 years after it should have collapsed. The NYO&W was a persistent entity that refused to fall over and die. Its final years included full dieselization and a refining of its operation. Despite setbacks in the coal industry and a drying up of milk and mail runs, the NYO&W stayed on track until 1957. Read about those busy years, when a small railroad refused to cave in. Great anecdotes about the region, especially the milk runs from Middletown to Lake Ontario. $15.95

More PC WhistleStop Tricks

Imagine using Town & City s Lackawanna Station as a post office. Make a small four-slot parking lot next to it, and put a couple of IHC mail vans there. Have a third pulling out of the lot. Make sure to have a pair of mailboxes right outside the front door! (N scalers: we have IHC Truck sets - you need two to do this)

Stations & Depots large passenger station can be part of a larger transportation center. One enterprising idea is to remove the top level from a clock tower. On the lower level, place windows on the sides and a wide doorway in the rear. This is the bus depot s ticket office. Place it near the passenger station, but not too close. There should be a Bus Depot sign on front, and a Schedule sign on the side. Place benches against the building; a telephone booth is a good idea, as are trash cans and perhaps even a mail box. Beside the office is a parking lot, with slots marked for the buses. Naturally, there will be a sign at the front of each slot giving the destination. It should be the size of the average road sign. For a covered depot, use scrap plastic or plastic construction parts to make girder-style stanchions and roof supports. This is an open structure. The roof of the covered lot and depot office ought to be the same as that of the passenger station. Put a couple IHC buses in the slots, and have a line of passengers embarking and/or debarking. On the street nearby, have a taxi stand with waiting taxis. Don t forget a bus stop for city buses, too. Train station, over-the-road bus depot, taxi stand and bus stop? Voila! A transportation center for a small city! Ethnic enclave: give you small city an ethnic enclave or two. It will have two or three shops named for towns in the old country, plus others owned by folks with ethnic surnames. There will be signs in that group s national colors, plus a small flag or banner. An ethnic neighborhood will always have a grocery, butcher, and tavern or two that is totally ethnic. Naturally, there s always an industry or business that s the specialty of the group you are depicting. You can find flags of all nations in several vector clip-art collections.

Our covered bridge can be cut down and used as a mine entrance, trolley garage, car or truck garage, long shed, boat house, or if you re really creative, the beginnings of a Viking longhouse. Can you add more?

The Army buildings in our Wild West set can easily become a very rustic mountain town. All you do is change the signs and add some miniature hillbillies.

Don t be afraid to crop a building s sides if you need a shorter building. Just make sure the windows are appropriately spaced after the crop job. We cropped our green passenger station for a layout, and it looked great as a rural freight & passenger depot. Try it yourself!

Wargamers - I have to say it again. Just pop the roofs off buildings, fold the buildings flat, and drop them in a flat box to store for your next wargame. Why print up new ones every time, when you can re-use the ones you have?

Yes, several wood passenger depots in Depots and Stations can easily become standard wooden Army buildings, circa 1910 to 1975. Most Army wooden buildings are white with green window sashes and doors. They don t use cupola doors. Many have wood walkways alongside.

The Exxon sign in the Model Power lighted accessories set can be used for other things. Just peel off the Exxon sticker, and glue on your own sign. These can be printed on white paper off an inkjet. (If you buy the set and want your own signs, tell us. We can make a nice station or hotel sign.) Paint the entire rim black, especially for period pieces. Ours reads Westbrook Railroad Station. They can be used for hotel signs, mall signs - the sky is the limit. Looks great on an open platform!

The wood sides of the Covered bridge, or the wood panels of Wild West, can be used as the decking on a small footbridge. Use scrap plastic, scrap pieces of rail or wood for the supports underneath. A handrail can be made of wood or plastic. One trick - have a pole on each side, every inch or so. Make the pole slightly higher than waist height for your scale. Now, glue thread to the top of the poles, making a rope or cable handrail. It s cute, it s rustic, and it s fun.

Cheap quarry: some brands of cat litter can be used as gravel, talus, ballast, etc. It s cheap, there s a lot of it, and if you have the kind that works, it looks okay!

Merger Mathematics


-EL + -CNJ + -RDG + -LH&R + -LV + -PC = CR

CR divided by CSX + NS = NS + CSX SuX C!


Oddvar has been very naughty lately, and was caught standing on the layout twice this season. We suspect that it was he who toppled an express train and our construction site. Oddvar s antics cause their share of problems. He has the potential to do to an N scale layout what Hurricane Diane did for the DL&W. Recently, our grey terror has inflicted himself on the other cats as much as upon our railroad. Freja , the Calico, is in high dudgeon over his antics. Both Sadie and Smudge have come to blows with our Master Derailer. At 18 years and a diabetic, Sadie is still a feisty kitty! Experiments (?) show that Oddvar is particularly agitated by steam locomotives, yet we re still unsure if it is the sound or the motion which excites him. He is particularly fond of derailing steam locos, and seems to get satisfaction from having temporarily silenced them. That s our gray, one-eyed cat!

Dash 8 Dip

How many readers saw that CSX loco take the plunge when Hurricane Danny swept through Nawth Kakka-lakkie ? The rains eroded the earth from under the track, and from overhead it looked like a model train on a trestle with the piers spaced too far apart. Fortunately, the crew got off in time. The loco took a dip, cab first, into a trench that looked eighty feet deep. It wrecked a few coal cars and did a number on the loco MU - ed to it. If anyone has doubts of where the real power is on this planet, the Dash 8 Dip ought to settle things.