Tuesday, December 10, 2019


Well, a lot change change over a year-plus but I felt I owed myself to update this dormant blog. The new job and project has me pretty occupied, but life can let you know at the most-inopportune times that God or fate has other plans - and at His own timing. I ended up in the hospital emergency room twice this past October for acute abdominal pain - an ailing Gallbladder failing me as my mother predicted over the years (issue here runs in both sides of my family) warning me I'd never make it 'whole' past age 40. The good news is I almost made it to the Big 5-0 before that particular part "wore out" but the bad news had this particular organ 3x normal size, infected and borderline gangrenous. It ended up coming out on Halloween (how appropriate, eh?) lest I ended up dead or something from sepsis. At least that was where I was headed in another day or two's time per the surgeon. Well, obviously I'm still here typing this out so all ended up well - if anyone near Rochester, Michigan needs a good general surgeon I can highly recommend Dr. Peter Korda... very competent, experienced and an awesome bedside manner.

My (so-called) brush with Death had the silver lining of focusing me on my goals in life as I approach the mid-century mark this coming winter. Besides all the big-picture stuff I've been also reassessing where my hobby is going, or lately - not going. Not much has happened in the layout room downstairs for several years, and even prior to my hospitalization trying to figure out the engineering of the overhead LED strip lighting, multiple backdrops, valiences and fascias had me stumped and locked into neutral when considering the DM&M RR concept and plan. All that pre-work - what needs doing before track starts going down - had progress stalled, and following the "event" as well as my upcoming birthday I realized I'm not getting any younger either. What I needed was either inspiration, an epiphany or both to break out of this logjam headed to nowhere.

Well, if it wasn't the original inspiration towards my current benchwork footprint to fire up another lightbulb in my head than none other than Lance Mindheim in this blog post here: Shelflayouts.com Blog In his October 2019 entry Lance suggests that first-time layout builders - well, it's been about 36 years since my last layout so I'm certainly rusty - consider a less-complex design, even those like myself with a healthy amount of space available for the railroad. Ironically, his example design is about the same footprint as my current benchwork, albeit with the lift out in a different position. Regardless, getting something running sooner rather than later is certainly appealing to me considering all the grains of sand that are continually slipping through the hourglass as days and weeks go by without a usable layout. Lance also points out one can always recycle the benchwork and track materials should the (to borrow a term from my friends at Model-Railroad-Hobbyist.com) temporary "chainsaw" layout later be grown out of. Worst case, temporary becomes permanent with no harm done to the hobby - actually, quite the opposite.

All for now, but food for thought should you find yourself stuck in "analysis paralysis" in your own layout planning and execution. Now, to see if I can plan a nice, one or two town layout (plus staging) on the current baseboard footprint, and shrink a little piece of the former SOO-MILW mainline into my 12'x20' space. Sounds like fun.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Westward Ho!

I just returned from a short week-long trip to the northern plains to burn off a little steam (err..., stress) after a long year and a half on the road. I had some work to wrap up prior, but still scheduled some time to visit family on my Dad's side in northeast South Dakota after flying into Fargo earlier in the week. After the day's obligations thoughts drifted towards railroads - as they usually do - and some serious railfanning was in order, especially being in Dakota territory.

You see, I've fallen hard for the Milwaukee Road #261 S-3 Northern as a tie to my family roots in CMStP&P prairie country, and my early interest in the Milwaukee. This early June the 261 team was running their annual Spring fan trips on the Red River Valley & Western Railroad around the Fargo, ND and Breckenridge, MN areas - all former NP and GN secondary routes shed by Burlington Northern some years ago. Of course, this wasn't my first rodeo with the 261 but certainly one of the best trips thus far.

The 261 is the largest coal-burning steam locomotive in operating condition, and as a late wartime example of modern steam power has all the latest appliances such as roller-bearings, a streamlined pilot, Mars light and even a single-chime air horn to accompany it's traditional whistle. Couple that with the 261.com team's beautiful consist of Milwaukee Road passenger equipment in traditional harvest orange and maroon and it's the train to beat on the excursion circuit. So much so that after riding both days fall color tours in 2015 I joined the Friends of the 261 group as a life-member (read: groupie) - and have been riding ever since.

Thursday and Friday's excursions were from Davenport, ND to Lisbon, ND along a former Northern Pacific branchline, and Saturday ran from the depot in Breckenridge, MN to just shy of Davenport - turning back at Kindred, ND. The final day's run was along the GN's former freight cutoff and connection to the famous Surrey cutoff to Minot. The heavy rail and multiple-arm pole line gave away the importance of this subdivision to the Great Northern Railway, and the 261 seemed most at home on the sturdy mainline roadbed courtesy of James J. Hill.

Yes, I finally got bitten by the steam bug but that doesn't mean I'm abandoning diesels by any means. An excellent model of the 261 by Broadway-Limited has joined the stable of contemporary heavy-haul locomotives in Canadian Pacific, Union Pacific and CEFX lease paint plus my Amtrak P42 units on my western Superliner consist. It is just now an option to run a steam fan trip on occasion, and imagine myself catching the breeze in an open baggage car or sitting comfortably with a drink in the Super Dome, my favorite car in the fleet to ride by far.

Besides the steam bug the quality time on the Dakota prairie has my modeling interest driving further west towards Granger country - my chosen place on the plains to decompress amongst God's people that work the land and feed the world with little fanfare. Yes, those strong German-Russian roots are calling me home, and if I can't always be there in person I certainly can in spirit (and, perhaps, in scale miniature as well).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

North to Milwaukee

From Burlington, Wisconsin that is. Some more late-night surfing for online tidbits of info on the old Fox River Valley RR led me across this gem of a discovery. Sweet... loads of details on the TM interurban line that ran between both cities - the grade I plan on using for my fictional UP (C&NW) Burlington subdivision.

A couple of pages stand out - here photos of the through girder bridge that carried the line over the White River in Burlington, as well as the diamond crossing with the Soo Line tracks (later WC-CN). Also a couple of pages later shows the orientation of the curve from the bridge onto Congress Street, which then curves towards the northeast to begin the private right-of-way alignment towards Rochester.

Looking over Google Maps the retaining wall in the second photo is still there, now edging the back of a used-car dealership's parking lot and along the Fox River. As is common with many former interurban ROW's a utility line marks the location of the old track alignment in this section. Scrolling to the right shows where the private ROW begins, now a rails-to-trails path.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Old, yellowed maps

They may be old, but they can contain a wealth of information - or, in this case, confirmation. I had posted before that my HO scale rendition of Union Pacific's Burlington Sub - the erstwhile Chicago and North Western Railway's primary freight entrance to the Beer City - was based upon an alternate history. Well, thanks to the efforts of a fellow aficionado Nick Trimberger one can see the old (proposed) routing of the Fox River Valley RR north-northwest from Turner Junction - now West Chicago, IL - through Crystal Lake and Richmond, IL into Burlington, WI and ultimately Milwaukee. Nick found these gems in the National Archives, and has shared them - along with many other "paper" railroads on his fine blog.

Eureka! (and many thanks, Nick)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Back to the Future

Many miles have gone by since my last post, yet my absence has been fruitful in a way. I was able to “shake the demons” (distractions) that pulled focus away from the Burlington Sub layout – gone are the 1:87 scale MILW and 1:160 scale BNSF tangents I entertained over the past year or so. I have since doubled-down on the UP-CNW Fox Valley line theme that comprises my under-construction basement empire. Travel is still weekly so basement time has been limited, but that hasn’t prevented me from doing a bit of “paper modeling.” See this link for a Google Map rendering of the Burlington Sub route from Ringwood, IL – current UP end-of-track – and Belton Jct. outside Milwaukee.

UP Burlington Sub map

I was able to “track” (pun intended) the old FVRR grade north from Richmond, Illinois to Burlington, Wisconsin and beyond. I was amazed that the old grade was still clearly visible from the air, considering the right-of-way never had track laid after its initial grading in the 1850’s. No matter, it was rather easy to follow the surveyed line from Richmond to Burlington, after which the grade was actually used by an Interurban electric line for a number of decades – since preserved as a rails-to-trail path or utility corridor along the way towards the Beer City.

As I traced the grade I could imagine if the C&NW had used this routing as its primary freight route between Proviso and Milwaukee’s Butler yard, versus constructing the New Line – the latter staked out only a few miles west of the existing Kenosha Sub. What the Panic of 1857 rendered abandoned could have been resuscitated, with westward Wisconsin Division freights swinging northwest at Turner Junction, now better known as West Chicago. Well, it will... at least in my basement train room. For now enjoy following the erstwhile grade as I did, and imagine long freights working towards Milwaukee and points north and west.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

On a Slow Train to Georgia

...or South Carolina, New York, Wisconsin, Austria, Hungary, India... you get the picture.

It's been some time since I've last posted, but a new job has the tendency to do that to pastimes - whether hobbies or journals. I ended up leaving my logistics gig after almost five years of service back in mid-December. There was the usual reasons... a bunch of reshuffling towards the top, lots of folks I respected left the company (including my boss), the offer I couldn't refuse (respected former co-worker a couple jobs ago needing assistance, showing me the money), etc. Of course, there's the saying that one can go "from the frying pan to the fire" and here I am with another troubled project I'm working to get back on the rails.

Long and short is I haven't had the time nor the energy to touch the layouts in the basement. Being on the road Monday-Friday and the irregular weekend certainly puts the damper on things - the little time I have on the weekends not dedicated towards laundry and repacking the luggage goes towards family and the occasional "honey-do's." However, I have been poking around with the layout plans a bit - having downloaded a new layout design CAD program for my MacBook Pro to "fiddle" (pun intended) with the Milwaukee concept a bit while traveling. One has to do something to unplug from the job stress - even if it's just some doodling.

We'll have to see what the future brings as far as job schedule and the like. We just had a bombshell dropped on us with my spouse's diagnosis of MS this past week by her neurologist after comparing three MRI's over the course of the past couple years. She'd been experience absence episodes (possibly seizure-like) over several years, where she drifts off for a spell. They've been coming more often lately, which we had attributed to pre-menopause changes. However, with the definitive MS diagnosis our lives could be changing soon - we'll have to see.

Life can often be like riding that branchlike mixed train - with stops both planned and unplanned - where we have to reassess the timetable we planned our lives to. We don't know where this train is going but we have to trust in the Lord that His steady hand on the throttle will guide us to where we need to be. Knowing that we just need to settle back into our seat and take in the view from our window seat - the rain and the sun - and accept the path those rails (i.e. fate) will take us.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Pocket Yard

I've noted in the past on this Blog the advantages of having something to run while building the larger basement empire. After reading this thread in the modeler forum of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine (a fine - and free - online publication, I might add) I finally decided to get off my duff and start a small Inglenook Sidings-based switching yard. I've always wanted a portable switching layout to take to shows and exhibitions, and have a hardwood baseboard at 12"x52" that has been lying around for a few years unused. With the larger UP-C&NW pike a number of years away (well... at my pace it is) from being operable I am making the move towards becoming an active operator versus being perpetually stuck in the civil engineering stage.

An added bonus is the ability to do some modeling and operating in a different era and with a new prototype than the basement-anchored layout. Well, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad - aka The Milwaukee Road - isn't really a "new" prototype for me. I grew up in the '70s watching the Milwaukee pass through and switch my family's hometown in north-central South Dakota before the Embargo of Lines West at the turn of the decade. Now armed with a pair of EMD switchers, some MILW rib-sided rolling stock and a smattering of SOO, CNW and other connecting foreign-road equipment I can somewhat relive those idle days of youth with my micro-sized "time-machine." A few Peco code 75 Electrofrog turnouts, a small number of "sticks" of Atlas code 83 flextrack and my NCE PowerCab and we're soon in business.

More to come on the Milwaukee's early-'70s era vest pocket yard switcher once it's a bit along. For now just consider the advantages of building something small and portable - whether to hone skills before committing to the larger pike, embrace a smaller budget or to get something operating now when space or available time is at a premium. You can still crack a throttle and move cars around - and quite realistically - within not much more than four-square feet.