Monday, April 5, 2021


Tom Dill, retired Southern Pacific engineer, SP historian (ten books on the SP), outstanding modeler, friend, passed away Easter Sunday.  His loss hits hard and will be felt until our own demises.  


When one has been in a hobby for a while, one recognizes a few individuals who have been major inspirations for their hobby participation.  Tom Dill was such a person for me.  I first knew of Tom through his co-authorship with Ed Austin of the two foundational books on the history of the Southern Pacific in Oregon.  Tom went on to author or co-author ten books on the SP.  He wrote articles on both SP history and modeling the SP.  


Tom and Ed's books on the SP in Oregon form the foundation for my tribute to the Cascade Line in HO-scale.  Tom was always ready with his experience on the railroad and advice for modeling of it.  His photo collection continues to provide further inspiration and guidance.


I first met Tom at an SPH&TS Meet in Tucson, AZ, and immediately formed a friendship that only strengthened through the years.  Tom was one of the first railroaders and model railroaders who gathered me in and introduced me around the area when I returned to my native Oregon upon retirement.  His introductions led to many great friendships.


Tom brought his railroad in his new home into operation a bit ahead of me.  Tom focused his railroad on operations around Ashland, Oregon, a junction between the historic Shasta and Portland Divisions of the SP.  His modeling expertise was on full display in his Ashland scene and the rest of the layout as it developed.  Tom focused on operations during the transition from steam to diesel, with some operations run strictly with steam, ca, 1949, and others with mostly diesel.  The climb to Siskiyou Summit and on to connection with the later-day mainline at Black Butte, California was a territory that received early dieselization due to the steep grade and tight curves.  Still, steam lingered for service off of that steep climb over the Siskiyous, so Tom's roundhouse was always active with steam.  


Tom brought a railroader's sense of operation to his miniature empire.  We used switchlists--but had no yard clerks to keep up with the movement of cars within the very tight confines of Ashland.  Another SP "Old Head" introduced paper tabs to help with switching cars, explaining it was "car chalk."  It was unsightly--a shame with his exquisite freight car models--but it got the job done.  I felt privileged to operate with crews that were otherwise composed of SP "old heads."  


Tom was an immediate crew member when the time came to begin operations on my railroad.  He was very helpful during the first full mainline operating session in June, 2015.  His and fellow SP "old head" Rick Kang's comments that day led to my current track project at East Eugene.  As Tom put it, "Bill, you need to extend the WP Siding."  In that comment, I immediately understood something I had missed in decades of study of Ed Austin's track diagram for Eugene in their SP Oregon book.  SP had effectively created two main tracks from the RR-West switch at the depot out to Irving on the north end of the yard complex.  My original track plan necked this down to single track between the Eugene depot and the Arrival-Departure Yard.  As I have described in recent blog posts, it has taken this long for me to install and wire the track arrangement that resulted from that very insightful comment.  Sadly, Tom will never see the fruits of his inspiration. 


Tom was a regular crewmember for operations on my railroad, taking whatever assignment most needed doing.  He joked about wanting to be a helper engineer--a seemingly easy job on the full-sized railroad that becomes a high skill and attentiveness job on a model railroad.  I awarded him "Seniority Number One," but he never exercised that right.  Tom often took less experienced model railroaders under his wing, guiding them into the joys of the hobby.  He was a great mentor.  All of us benefited.



Tom Dill serves as engineer with Steve K. working the first Springfield Turn job in December, 2019.  Tom was happy with a throttle in his hand.



Tom Dill works the Oakridge Turn with John B. in October 2019.


Tom Dill takes a turn as a conductor with Doug C. as Tom introduced Doug to my RR.


Tom joined me and supported me in my quest for determining the color of the metal shed that covered the sand unloading pit and conveyor for the 1958-built ("modern") sand facilities for diesel servicing at Eugene.  That shed remain a future project, but I appreciated Tom's help in trying to find what has proven an elusive goal.  I have enough good black and white photos to model the shed, but several color schemes could apply.  It has been fun to work this problem with Tom and other SP historians.  


I hope the model railroad world understands the deep loss we sustained this weekend as Tom passed off this mortal coil.  Railroader, historian, modeler, FRIEND.


Rest In Peace, Tom.


  1. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend

  2. Very nicely written.
    Tom was a generous mentor via his publications or in person, we all study his photos and comments when "working" on our layouts.
    He was lucky to have you as a friend too.