Monday, October 21, 2013

Little Trains - Big Event! (part one)

I like trains. A lot of other people do, too. Why?  We just do.  Ask us and you'll usually get a rather unsatisfying answer.  The real answer is often a bit of an enigma, even to ourselves.

Trains are big, and fast and loud and colorful and do useful, varied work and railroads are complex organizations with complex processes and game-like operations.  Lots of things have these attributes, but they are not trains!

The "how did it happen" seems easier to explain.  I was exposed at a young age.  Most Saturday errands with my dad included a quick stop at the local Long Island Railroad station to watch a passenger train or two go by.  At age two, I had decided my life's ambition was to "build a locomovis." I pretty much stuck with that plan through to adulthood!  However, I tried this method of indoctrination with my kids and it didn't stick.  So, maybe not.

Apparently, it can occur spontaneously.  According to Wick Moorman, CEO of Norfolk Southern, "The story I tell, which obviously is probably not true, is that my mother apparently dropped me when I was very young. I landed on my head, and then she picked me up, the only difference was that my brain had been slightly addled and I loved trains. I was always interested in the railroad business and always kind of a railfan, if you will." (Railway Age interview, January 2011)

A typical "railfan" will display much of the following behavior:

1. Find places to watch trains go by.
2. Visit railroad museums
3. Ride tourist trains
4. Take pictures of trains and/or locomotives
5. Ride Amtrak when practical (or even not-so-practical!)
6. Take trips to see trains in other areas
7. Incorporate some "train activity" in family vacations
8. Considers a getting a job with a railroad or volunteering at a railroad museum.
9. Collect railroad related "stuff"/decorate with railroad related themes
10. Have model trains/model railroad

Not everyone does all of these things.  Some guys get into the details of the various locomotive models - which manufacture built what locomotive and how can you tell them all apart. They can tell you difference between and EMD SD60M and and SD60I at a glance.  Some guys just like to take train pictures, focusing as much on creative photography as the trains.  Some guys like model trains better than real ones.  Some the other way around.

I like both.

So, when the National Model Railroad Association had their annual convention in Atlanta, I had to go! There's lots going on at the convention.  They have clinics on "how to do things" and on railroad history and operations.  They also have special interest groups that cover designing and operating model railroad layouts.  Additionally, they have tours to local railroad facilities and museums.  But, the thing I was most interested in was going on some tours of the best model railroads in the area.

I took a couple days vacation to do this.  There were big ones, small ones and ones focused on operating like a functioning, real realroad.  Some were focused on capturing a historical era accurately.  Some were focused on creating the "railfan experience" in minature, that is providing a setting for watching interesting trains go by.  The ranged from "good" to "superb".

Here's the synopsis of what I saw, with pictures.

Pennsy Southern Division
Host Name: John Kelley

What made this one special was the catenary.  

Nice cat poles and signal bridge
Whitford? Yup.
Looks like Grif Teller's 1949 PRR calendar painting, to me!

Host Name: Ra & Barbara Barr

A nicely done garden railroad.  FTB stands for "For The Birds".  Houses are birdhouses...

The faithful gather to watch the action

Freight rolls by town of bird houses

View from the deck

Live Oak, Perry & Gulf
Host Name: Revis Butler

A supremely detailed and documented layout depicting the first half of the 20th Century in the Florida Panhandle.

Turpentine production

Typical panhandle rural town

Nice station model!


Beautiful freight house model

...and tower

Early 20th Century...

terrific details in this scene

Brandywine & Benedictine RR
Host Name: Norm Stenzel

Really phenomenal layout.  Fictitious road, but realistic operations and scenery.  Lots of visual puns and inside jokes, too.

"Moby Dick" experimental steam turbine

Future GE locomotive on display - why not?

Nice engine terminal

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