Thursday, February 29, 2024

Pushing the Issue

 We have discussed it before here on the OC blog:  time is our most valuable resource.  And time in your 40's is a fleeting thing.  There never seems to be enough of it to handle all that comes our way.  Family.  Work.  Hobby.  Staying healthy.  Some traveling.  

In that light there are a lot of instances when it would feel more comfortable to stay at home and relax.  However, people are important, and some of our precious time simply must be dedicated to others: spending time with old friends, with distant family, with people who are part of your team even if far away.  And so I decided against odds at work and in lieu of sleep to depart at 0500 on a Thursday morning earlier this month from my friend Jon's home to attend 'Old Timers Weekend' at The Station Inn in Cresson, PA.  OTW as we call it was created by the original innkeeper to bring his friends together, and now has been around for nearly 25 years. I am glad to have attended many of them.  

Jon's idea this year was to railfan our way towards Cresson via Maryland, where we could photograph the Maryland Midland's operations.  We found their rock train, with three big SD's in corporate parent Genesee & Wyoming paint: two former UP nee MP SD50s and a former SP SD45, rebuilt to an SD40-2 internally. Great lashup, and they wasted no time coming up the hill from the quarry south of Union Bridge, MD.  

We chased the train to Union Bridge, a town built to be modeled!  Jon's amazing ability to decipher radio lingo identified MMID train 'UBTT', the local from Union Bridge to Taneytown, MD - and low and behold he had the last remaining Maryland Midland GP38 leading!    What a great start to this little trip.

After that we ended up heading west via county roads and U.S. Highways over the mountains towards Cresson.  We hooked up with longtime friend Mike at Cassandra, PA, as the clouds moved in.  Seeing great friends trackside at old haunts warms the soul.  

A fun shot late at night was four of us trackside in Cresson as train 22X passed us headed east towards New Jersey.  Bright lights from the inn made a neat silhouette of old buddies watching trains together again.  

The next day brought the opportunity to meet some fellow railroaders, where Lou and I posed for a quick group shot in the tiny town.  There are a lot of good people still working in railroading, and we have to take time to appreciate all of that when we can.

As we finished the trip, Jon and I stopped along our route home to visit Todd Treaster, a longtime Conrail and NS locomotive engineer at his home.  He has a truly spectacular collection of N scale trains and his model railroad depicting his version of Enola Yard and the mainline west to Pittsburgh - his home territory.  Jon and Todd traded stories and I was just happy to be there.  

Sure, it was a quick and tiring trip, but in the end sleep we can get when we must and experiences like this come only once in a while - sometimes, only once, ever.  I feel it is important to sometimes insist on going - to push the issue, so to speak.   Thankfully my wife not only agrees but insists: prioritize experiences when we can.  And I am grateful for such a wonderful community of friends that I can join on those adventures!  

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Canyon of Darkness

 Sometimes a grab shot image of the railroad jumps out at us.  Here's one from a recent operation session with SEEL making his daily pickup at Onondaga Yard.  With congestion this night, he ended up working on one of the few open tracks after dark.  

Our train is working in a shadowy canyon of darkness, long after dark on an early autumn evening.  The engineer is running the locomotives while the conductor, hanging on the rear of the cars to be coupled to the pick up, is using his radio to keep the engineer informed about what moves to make.  

This is a lot like the real thing!  

It's just a quick cell phone image, but it's amazing what we can do these days with digital photography.  The color temperature is spot on.  The reflections are perfectly captured.  The details stand out and the whole aura of the image is just what we shoot for during operations on the OC.  

It's just a quick image, of course, but it is hard not to have fun with this hobby!

Friday, February 23, 2024

Springfield 2024 - the Amherst Railroad Hobby Show

Every year in January, much of the model railroad hobby gathers for a few days in West Springfield, MA, home of the long-running Amherst Model Railroad Society's massive 'Railroad Hobby Show'.  It's a big deal in the hobby:  this year, attendance over two days included more than 26,000 tickets, many people attending both days.   Here's a link:

And, here's the map they publish - this year with the Onondaga Cutoff mentioned in name!

For the first time, thanks to a suggestion by Lionel Strang from A ModelersLife podcast, I decided to get a table for the Onondaga Cutoff.  After attending the show it was a really neat experience to be part of it officially!

I made the trip north with Ralph Heiss, a historian and modeler and close friend from NJ.  We set up our booth and got ready for the show.  

Visitors from around the world come for this one.  Here we have NMRA member Martyn Jenkins from Brisbane, Australia at the booth, with Ralph and I.  And more local visitors, too - hundreds and hundreds of people stopped by to say hello.

Matt Paquette and Rodney Kantorsky, both fellow hobbyists who share my fascination with signaling, stopped at the booth as Saturday continued.  

A wonderful gift came from good friend Dave Magill, who arrived at the booth with a relic from the days we model on the Onondaga Cutoff - an Albany Division T-shirt from his collection when he worked the division back in the 1990's.  Talk about a treat!  Complete with classic 90's pastel coloring, this one is a keeper for sure!  

While the show takes a lot of time and energy to pull off, it is very rewarding and a way to help grow the aura of the OC while meeting many fans that have enjoyed the railroad for decades.  It happened a few weeks back and I finally made some time to make a post.   We will be doing this show again, and if you haven't been able to be present at the weekend, give it a try.  It is a fantastic intersection of the people that make the hobby work!  

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Good Times

Growing is hard.  And more difficult than the growth is knowing where to draw the line between comfort and growing.  Usually, comfort does not breed real growth!

Like a plant sprouting against the weight of soil, or a bird taking flight, and just as an athlete trains for a marathon, progress and growth normally requires fighting against the good enough, resisting the urge to stagnate.  Comfort will not encourage growth in itself.  

Take operations.  At the most recent operating session on Tony Koester's NKP, there was a dearth of qualified operators.  I was 'voluntold' - volunteered by others - for the role.  Thankfully, Jim Schweitzer is a good friend and a great mentor, and took me under his wing to show me the ropes.  Suddenly here I was copying train orders and 'on-sheeting' trains past my locations for the dispatcher.  

At such an important layout, with some amazing and long-qualified operators, it is a stressful situation being cast into a role that is a leadership role like this.  It is uncomfortable and creates anxiety.  Why would we do this as part of a hobby?

I will argue that we do it as a service to the layout owner, who is looking to create memories.  And we do it as a service to all the other operating modelers that have driven far to come to a good session.  We are stepping up, as they say:  trying to help by doing what others won't or can't do, for the good of those others.  It is not always fun, but it does always feel good to get some of it right.

Doug Watts, a great friend in the hobby and a brother on the road of life, was there - and his quick smile and easy demeanor always helps.  Here we are side Tony's model of Frankfort, IN and the big yard there.  The smiles say it all!

Good times are good, sometimes as much for the effort we apply as for the experience itself.  

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Making Spaces

We don't mean to run out of space.  Most of us modelers don't have a goal of having too little room.  It is just that the hobby is getting so good, so satisfying, and so exciting that the equipment just tends to accumulate.  

But, in the end, that means we run out of space. For years I was avoiding this little project, and finally made it happen over the Christmas break this year.  The old dresser, which had been my brother's when we were growing up in Long Valley, NJ, was pressed into a second life as locomotive storage years ago.  It was good til it filled up.  Now, by adding a slideable shelf as a second level, I have added capacity for another 16 locomotives.

 Railings front and rear were installed and a piece of plywood then cut to fit neatly over the rails. It was about two hours work, but solved a problem for some time to come!

That is, until I dig into a few more new locomotives and get them in service.  When that happens.....I will be out of space, again.   

Monday, December 18, 2023


It's an integral part of train-watching: the waiting that comes before the next train approaches.  Like any hobby 'in the wild' that depends on animals or the activities of others, waiting is part of the game.  Railroading itself is like this-there isn't a railroader alive that doesn't know how to wait.  

Us modelers also deal with 'the wait' that goes into projects.  Glue needs time to cure.  Paint must dry.  A long-awaited model comes to market.  The goal is a working scale railroad.

The 'destination' however is only worth it because the effort put into the journey. Perhaps the crown moment is just as the anticipation peaks.  We are in the holiday season now, a good part of that is preparation, and waiting.  Hobbies and life are tied together.  

 Here's an image of an approaching train, a westbound coming towards Onondaga Yard.  The first trace of dawn is in the sky beyond, and the bright headlights are reflecting off everything they can.  What is coming?

We will have to wait and see.  And that is sometimes the best part.  Join us on Facebook Live the day after Christmas - 12/26 at 8pm eastern!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

A Second Look

Time has a way of changing one's perspectives.  It's not usually a sudden change but instead one that happens on its own schedule.  

As I have practiced Photoshop and other photo processing software, I have become more adept at creating images that more effectively communicate the feeling I had when I made the image.  That is a goal of my prototype photography, and also my modeling - to take the viewer along for  the experience.  

Here's an image from a 2014 trip to Syracuse, NY, expressly to photograph the last stand of the classic searchlight signals on the former NYC main line.  These signals worked into the Conrail era and beyond into the CSX era, and were finally replaced about a year after I made these images with modern color-light signals.  This experience was awesome - this train surprised us, following another westbound, and the sky was in the last stage of dusk.  The image was a tough one.  Last daylight with a camera of that era had a photograph with reds all washed out, muddy shadows and a bland sky.

Back in 2014, my skills weren't enough to even show this image to anyone!  Today, while I am still a long way from being an expert with this, I was able to bring the image to a spot in my mind's eye that reminded me of standing there in the cold, shivering, waiting for one more shot.  Reds were restored, the sky layered up, and color temperature adjusted.  And so here we have Q367, if I recall, the daily Selkirk-to-Chicago manifest train.  Today it is complete with Union Pacific power enroute to home rails.  

And we have an image that is worthy of the memory:  for a moment, it's like being there.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and best wishes into the holiday season!