Friday, August 3, 2018

Closer to Home

It has been some time since I've last posted on this blog, as life has a way of intervening in the execution of our best-laid plans. Since my last post I've experienced my first-ever layoff from a job (in twenty-eight years of my career), and eight-month bout of unemployment (including a number of still-born opportunities and dead-ends) and finally a new job, where I now find myself pressing hard again to build my personal and professional brand. Again, the common theme throughout many of these posts is the hobby giving way yet again to the demands of job and career, let alone family and home.

The silver lining in all this - especially the trials and tribulations of job loss, the hunt and finally reentering the race - is the sharpening of the mind to what is truly important in life. Despite all the stress and worry over what comes next some small blessings have come from these experiences. For one, I have become more humble and grateful for what I have today, and am living more in the moment rather than looking too far "down the road" for eventual gratification. I now have a greater appreciation for the simple things in life. Yes, even that cramped coach seat in the back of the plane beats waiting in a plastic chair at the state unemployment office or for that phone to ring following an interview two-days prior.

The other benefit of finding myself "grounded" over those eight months of forced-vacation was more time at home with family and friends. Having been a road-warrior for almost two decades takes its toll on relationships as well as one's relationship with community. The irony is while growing up in Michigan as a child and into young adulthood I often dreamed of escaping the Detroit suburbs and moving west, closer to my parental roots. Now, however, I have a new appreciation for my home state and those places closer to home that I had time to revisit between all the periods of non-stop business travel.

So, if now you're asking yourself when does all this philosophizing circle back to model railroading I must assure you it does, even in a round-about way. When times were flush I spent a lot of extended weekends traveling to the upper Midwestern heartland chasing the likes of the Milwaukee Road #261 or riding the Friends of the #261's passenger car fleet behind Amtrak's Empire Builder, all expensive bucket-list jaunts in line with my personal connection to the Road. The question is as it was then: Is this sustainable? How do you model a prototype when field research requires a multi-day trip, and all the logistics and expense that comes with that sort of commitment?

The answer in my case it it really wasn't, neither from a time nor expense viewpoint. While fun and enjoyable to head westward on these railfanning jaunts it wasn't getting me any closer to getting the layout going. Once I looked at my wallet after returning from one of these "field research" trips it certainly wasn't helping from a budget perspective either. However, while unemployed I had the time to make a number of short trips to local CN spots like Lapeer and Durand, or chase the Huron and Eastern Railroad in Michigan's Thumb region. Not much more expended than some gas and a few bucks at the drive-thru window.

It was at this time a parallel opportunity arose to take advantage of a pro-bono offer by a skilled, professional track plan designer that really lit a match in getting the home layout fire burning. In my next post I will introduce how the Detroit, Mackinac and Marquette RR's Saginaw Division came into being, and how this proto-freelance approach allows me to scratch the itch for modeling a prototype - contemporary Canadian Pacific Railway in this case - as well as use my "modeler's license" to freelance a "fact-ional" scenario bringing the CP into mid-Michigan.

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.