My presentation on “So You Want to Build a Dream Model Railroad? --One Man’s Journey” will be part of the NMRA National Convention to be conducted virtually, July 6-10. “NMRA 2021 Rails By the Bay is hosted by my many good friends from my days working in that South SF Bay Area—for me at Moffett Field in Mountain View and Sunnyvale. They have a great program of clinics and other material, all aimed at the on-line format we have all become accustomed to over the past two years. One can partake of this convention from the comfort of home for a modest registration fee. Check it out at the official convention website:
During the buildup to this convention, all presentations were pre-recorded. This should minimize technical difficulties at the time of presentation, something most of us have experienced sometime over the past couple of years. My recording session placed me in contact with Heath Hurwitz, who also runs a model railroad modeling podcast. Talking with Heath and introducing myself, I realized I had a wealth of experience with prototype modeling not directly covered in my presentation. Indeed, readers of this blog will likely get the impression I am a layout builder, but not necessarily catch that I spent decades before this layout tightly focused on building ever more accurate and detailed railroad models, notably locomotives and rolling stock.
Many of my Bay Area friends know this. They saw it develop over the years, but more recent acquaintances likely will only know me as that guy building a large operating layout focused on the SP in Oregon. With that in mind, Heath encouraged me to dust off some of my older models as a springboard for talking about how one develops as a modeler and makes choices along the way.
Three generations of SP SD45 modeling.
The photo above shows three generations of my SD45 modeling. 8895 in the rear is an Athearn “blue box” model, ca, 1973, detailed and painted before diesel detail firms like Detail Associates or Details West came on the market. 8924 in the middle is a Kato model detailed in the 1990s. Scale hood width and “modern” details contribute to a decent layout model. 7474 in front is a relatively current Athearn RTR loco of the past few years. Athearn has done all the work I formerly spent hours on, allowing me to simply change the coupler, add a decoder coded with the unit number, and place in service. This allows me to concentrate on building and enhancing the layout. That has become my reality over the past decade of layout construction, although I still hope to get back to my modeling roots as the layout matures.
As I dug around in my storage containers searching for these illustrations of modeling efforts, I ran across several project bins with the base models, detail parts, and photos that I hope to use to create models in the Twenty-First Century. My models today start from a photo. The freight house in the background of the photo began from pieces of only two or three photos, but I could fill in the rest of what I needed using my library full of reference materials, acquired over the past half century.
The bin of SD45 parts and photos represents a different tact. I have a stack of my own photos, augmented by photos (often shot by fellow railfan friends) captured off the internet. Add to that the detail parts. I had the good fortune to meet and know Gordon Cannon who made exquisite detail parts for EMD locomotive models. After Gordon passed, his part line was purchased by Dave Hussey and is still available: http://www.cannonandco.net/. At the very least a good Cannon cab and nose sets a model apart.
I am grateful for the efforts of model manufacturers and detail parts makers that permit ever more detailed models. Equally important today as I juggle where to focus my time and effort, are the many fine highly detailed prototype-specific models now available straight from the box. Such “check-book modeling” has allowed me to build and operate a large model railroad while still enjoying finely detailed equipment rolling by. Still, the urge to go to the modeling bench to sit down with a model, parts, and tools to create something unique flows through my veins.