TV24 at CP 277

TV24 at CP 277
Conrail TV-24 rolls east through rural Central New York in Onondaga County, September 1994.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

"Yep, it really was this cool..."

One of the tricky parts of the illusion of modeling railroading is the need to model mostly plain, common equipment.  Exceptions should be just that: not all the time.  Many modelers will tell you that you need more plain freight cars than brightly colored ones, and that most of your locomotives should be run-of-the-mill daily workhorses.


Well, right - except in some cases, the prototype had an incredible variety, and there really was an amazing diversity you could see in the operations.  The case in point here is the Chicago Line, the prototype for the Onondaga Cutoff.  In the Conrail era and especially into the 1990's, it was a busy railroad with much of the traffic coming from interchange in the Chicago or St. Louis areas and headed to Selkirk for forwarding to the New York metro area, or to New England.  A quick internet search at gives us a number of examples that appear rather incredible.

In this Tom Beckett photo, Conrail train TV200X rolls east through New York State behind three Santa Fe locomotives: two C30-7's bracketing an SD45.  Solid lashups from foreign railroads were rare in most places in North America, but on the Chicago Line, you could see anything.

Rich Carl captured this power from train CNSE at Selkirk, NY, with a Grand Trunk Western SD40 leading a Conrail, former Erie Lackawanna SD45-2.

On a different day Rich saw this coal train on Conrail at Selkirk with a Santa Fe GP39-2 and a Union Pacific SD40-2.

In February of 1998, former Denver & Rio Grande Western SD40T-2 leads a 'ballast express' C32-8 into the engine servicing at Selkirk, coming off inbound train COSE in this photo by Ed Lewis.  Rio Grande, leading across central New York!   They're passing a brand-new CSX General Electric AC6000CW locomotive, likely being delivered to CSX via train SECS later this evening.  

Collinwood Yard in Cleveland, OH hosted an amazing variety of power in this 1993 photo by Alan Gaines.  The Santa Fe C30-7's and P&LE GP38 are awesome, but so is the shop switcher in the background - a Conrail GP30, moving a brand new SD60M around the shops.  Wow!

And we have two more Tom Beckett images to finish it off, both from 'Bens Bridge' in Selkirk in January 1994, showing locomotives from no less than 6 railroads in one view above and a closer zoom below.  The variety is almost absurd and would be criticized on a model railroad as a fantasy.  

Well, nope.  Not a fantasy.  Just another day at Selkirk, actually.  

This was railroading in the 1990's on the Chicago Line.  Leaders from nearly any big railroad in North America were possible, and some even near-daily common.  They mixed freely with locomotives from Conrail, who owned the route and ran the trains, but the variety really was special.  This is part of the magic of the Chicago Line, and what we work to capture on the Onondaga Cutoff.

Yep, it really was that cool!

Friday, May 27, 2022

Life in the 'Front Pew'

Something on which I have been reflecting lately is the incredible variety of activities that fill the vast majority of time in my life.  I am fortunate for health and for the ability to contribute in so many ways.  Memorial Day fills me with the deepest of gratitude for our way of life, and the spiritual debt that we all owe to members of the services that have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  In my own small way, I hope to honor what they and their families have given.

Longtime readers will remember what a wild and trying few years I had as I entered my 40th year of life, between the passing of family elders and my father, new birth and my own surgery (at nearly the same time), regular and growing articles and authoring a book, navigating major changes at work, leading a department through crises at work, all while being a husband and father and friend and creator.   

And while railroading, professionally and as a hobby, in both full-size trains and models, has always been a central calling in my heart, the debt of gratitude for my family is unparalleled.  

Sharing the passion for railroading is one of the best things about it, and Teddy (and Pete!) have caught the spirit of it in their own lives.  They offer help, their insatiable wonder, their smiles, and enthusiastic companionship - what more could a dad ask?

Susie is developing a love for live music, and having the ability to share that passion of mine with her is a true pleasure, too.  Music is a soundtrack for life and Susie is right there to embrace it!

Pete, our youngest and most rambunctious, is a big personality who loves with a big heart, and is developing an incredible ability to remember things.  We explore new things together and he's always up for adventure.  Here we found a nice, new Norfolk Southern RR 'Gradall' machine at a local favorite spot.  Pete was thrilled!

 Learning more and more about life and about railroading with dad is a pastime for each of the kids and I think helps them see more of the world around them.  

Central to all three children is Kristen, whom also entered her 40's this spring and who is the most important person in my world.  She's the one that keeps the learning on track, both at school and at home - she's a well of nearly endless patience and compassion.  Here's mama with her cubs on a woods walk near our home on Mother's Day 2022, with spring in bloom, cool wet air allowing the detail of the woods to come to life.  

These are all the sorts of family things we do, and in my 40s I have found myself squarely in the front pew of life.  My parents and many elders have passed away, mentors have moved on.  Others remain but the direct line to the top now is my responsibility on which to deliver.  When a hobby can be woven through all the fabric of life like railroading and music are for me, all of those things ebb and flow, and each of them works to balance out others.  

As we enjoy a holiday weekend, let's be grateful for all that is good in our lives, and thankful for those that have paid the ultimate price in defending it.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Some Time in Chicagoland

 Traveling to see new model railroads is always a fun experience, especially when in the company of other modelers.  When you add operating on those model railroads to the experience, the time becomes something to look forward to - as it was this year for a weekend around the greater Chicago area.

There are a number of great operating layouts around Chicago, and it was the home for one of the first organized operating groups for model railroading.  Some of that stemmed from the early clubs in the midwest including the Purdue University club and the Batavia club, home for the Midwest Model Railroaders layout.  That tradition continues today with the Chicago 'Rail Group' sessions, which this year is celebrating 50 years of operations and hosted ProRail 2022 to commemorate that anniversary.

As is typical of the bigger operating weekends, invitees choose layouts based on their desires and hosts then assign layouts across the group - you get some of the choices you wanted, and a few others that you didn't ask for but which are in their own rights amazing creations.  My first choice on this trip was Lou Steenwyk's railroad that models a group of fictional but prototypical ore railroads around Superior WI and Duluth MN.  It really captures the flavor of the branchline-to-port feel of that region, and was a pleasure to operate with the group.  

Another top choice for me, conveniently placed nearby, was John Bauer's Rio Grande Southern, which is modeled in Sn3 and is an early work of art with all handlaid track, scratchbuilt bridges, and beautiful brass locomotives.  The scenery is just starting but the operation is wonderful - time table train order, but on a well-built, slow-speed main line.  It again captures the feel and is a real pleasure to run.  

At John's I found a new product on the shelf - a new, conductive waxy oil that cleans and leaves a conductive (but not slippery) finish on the rails.  I will be ordering this and trying it myself on the OC, a railroad whose heavy traffic and signal-equipped main line requires a lot of track cleaning!  Learning new techniques by spending time with the masters of the art is a great reason to travel to see other's railroads.  

You never know who you'll see out and about!  Eric White, Kalmbach Senior Editor and a friend of mine, was there - wearing an Onondaga Cutoff shirt!  What a thrill!  

Other railroads on which I operated included John Goodhart's Lake Erie, Cincinnati and Southern, as well as Bob Hanmer's DM&IR/GN, both great fun railroads.  I especially enjoyed seeing another adaptation of Centralized Traffic Control on John's railroad, and of all the sessions the whole weekend Bob Hanmer's really was a great and smooth experience.  His railroad is another that captures TT&TO very well, and I do have a soft spot for the ore roads, which he models in earnest.  

It was a great weekend!  It's always refreshing to see a different region, and while I always miss my family when traveling with friends I came back refreshed and excited to be home - while carrying all the memories of a great weekend with a growing group of friends.   It's the best of both worlds, and I am just happy to be able to participate!

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Locomotive Maintenance - Really!

Preventive maintenance improves performance and increases useful life.  This is a fact of life, and is true at your home or with your car, just as it is for any business facility or piece of equipment.  In an effort to stay ahead of broken-down equipment or other issues such as dirty track that detract from the operating experience, a small crew gathers on the Onondaga Cutoff ahead of operating sessions to work on running maintenance.  We clean track, arrange paperwork, consist locomotives, and clean their wheels.  

A recent session saw more than 40 locomotives all together on the Island ahead of cleaning and reconsisting, something we do to provide different locomotive lashups each month.  It reminds me of 'Ben's Bridge' in Selkirk, NY, in the early 1990's.

However, despite regular maintenance, issues happen.  It is always a little ironic when modeling railroading requires 'actual' maintenance work!  While many operations-based layouts use 'situation cards' with fictional issues for crews to resolve or report along their run, the Onondaga Cutoff is intense and robust enough that actual issues occasionally arrive for us to handle.  Occasional broken couplers or mechanical issues are handled in operating sessions in the same manner the prototype would, as far as we can take it while still having fun.  

C40-8W locomotive 6213, one of the Atlas Model Railroad Company's HO scale model of the massive GE diesels, is a case in point.  As I was positioning trains ahead of the session, suddenly a manifest freight stalled on the hill despite three big units, 6213 being third of the three.  I stopped the train and examined it to find that two of the three axles on the rear truck were not turning.  One was, though, which made it even more strange.  

I set the locomotive aside and made time to disassemble the truck this week, and was surprised by what I found.

See it?  I circled it in red for clarity.  The metal gear axle, a pin around which the gear rotates, had slid out of the plastic frame, allowing one of the idler gears to fall off and float around in the gearbox.  It jammed the other two axles, while one axle was still connected to the worm gear.  After some work I got it back together and reset the axle, but this one was a strange (and real) problem.  Thankfully we are back in service after the repair.

So, who needs situation cards?   Just run that railroad like a railroad, and the challenging situations will find you soon enough, allowing crews and managers to work through problems to a solution to keep the trains running.  We can't ask for more from a hobby than that!

Friday, April 1, 2022

A New Creation, on Conrail's Birthday

 Today we have an exciting announcement:  the Onondaga Cutoff is now going to have its own dedicated video channel!   Starting today, take a look at  You can sign up for different levels of experience and each starts with being a member of the community on the Onondaga Cutoff.  

April 1, 2022 is Conrail's birthday, as the long-planned merger had its first day of operations 46 years before in 1976.  It was a scary time for railroaders, for shippers, communities, and the situation was bad enough that it took years to overcome.  

Fast forward to 1994, and we have a top-shelf, customer-driven organization that is growing and investing in itself.  That dynamic change and the camaraderie that was woven into the fabric is exactly what we work to capture on the Onondaga Cutoff.  With the success of the ongoing and continuing Facebook Live sessions, it was time to create a dedicated channel showing the 'how to' and back scene development that makes the OC what it is.  

An introductory video is available for you on the Patreon link above as well as directly here:

Indeed, some fun new beginnings are a cause for hope and for optimism.  May the best be yet to come!

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Fillin' in the Gaps

 Modeling railroading at times is like going to a well-stocked supermarket.  You look around at the store, and there is some of just about everything you'd need to make a series of meals.  You can choose to go any direction you'd like, and as complicated a cooking project as you'd like.   The more time and energy you have, the larger project you can delve into.  And if time is at a premium you can do something small, that still serves to feed you.

Building, operating, maintaining, and sharing a large layout is a lot like that.  Amidst large projects like writing articles, preparing for and hosting operating sessions, and creating video content, it is refreshing sometimes to pick a few of those smaller projects to keep the ball rolling.  Any big project starts with a small step and I've had several in progress for months.  In that light, here's some recently completed projects!

For years I'd admired how people who were good at weathering could 'fade' the paint on models.  Sunlight naturally degrades paint on the prototype, and Conrail's blue tended to fade over time to a lighter shade.  On the new Tangent caboose from last month, I decided to give fading a try.  After the windows were masked I mixed up a diluted white overspray, and with the airbrush I sprayed the thinned white over the whole car.  The results for my first time were amazing!  I followed that up with my usual 'Burnt Sienna' brown overspray for the trucks and frame.

It dried overnight, and the following day I applied oils to simulate rust as well as Tamiya black and brown panel liner washes to bring out the detail.   That too cured and I dull coated the model before finishing with final oils and weathering chalks.  Upon removal of the window masks, I was thrilled - finally, I feel as though I am beginning to understand the fade technique, and the results really do make a difference!  

The other recent small project involves a pair of gondolas that have a story.  These are old 'Roller Bearing Models' resin kits donated by Tim Moses, assembled painted and decaled by Jerry D., and weathered by Lenny Harlos.  True teamwork cars!   The final piece missing was a good load, and thanks to this year's show at Springfield, UncaRalph H found a load manufacturer selling some wares.  

These are truly unique cars for the OC, and I am really excited to see them finally in revenue service.  The detail shots really blow my mind:

So, there's always something for everyone, and you can take what you want to make what you want.  Start something today, and finish it when you have the time and energy to do it.  Little by little, these things add up!

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Long-Awaited Return to 'Regular' Operations

Everyone knows the slogan: 'You don't know what you've got til you loose it.'

That old cliche was never more true than as the Pandemic of 2020 set in for many people.  So much that we took for granted was suddenly threatened.  

Well, we will take good news as it comes, and as the pandemic has subsided early in 2022 the doors have opened on area layouts for a return to some regularly-scheduled, 'normal' operations.  Sixteen guests came to help bring the Onondaga Cutoff to life in March, and while the layout had a few 'rusty rails' and situations arise, we were able to work through them for a successful session.  I am especially grateful for the opportunity!

Operators arrived and the fast clock began after our usual pizza supper.  The railroad today was representing a September afternoon in 1994, and we began running at 3 p.m. fast time.  

Teddy and Pete have taken a real interest in the layout and especially in operating sessions, when they love joining in the running of trains.  Rich and the rest of the managers have been very patient with their excitement which I appreciate!   

Using the 3:1 fast clock it was only an hour or so until nightfall.

As the darkness deepens, operations continue unabated.  Chris, sitting as Dispatcher, and Rich as Trainmaster work together to coordinate power moves, crew availability, and train sequence across the main line while power is serviced at Island Engine Terminal.  

It is hard to overstate the dramatic change in the feel of railroading once the sun goes down.  Capturing that on the Onondaga Cutoff was an early goal, and as I became more familiar with operations I was surprised how few model nighttime.  Here we are at the westward home signals at CP 280, lined with a medium clear aspect for a westbound move from Track 1 to Track 2 while local power is serviced at Onondaga Engine Terminal.  

Engine Yards are fascinating all the time but especially at night as massive machines idle, awaiting a call to duty.  During the regular cadence of the session, four power sets ended up lined up across the Island, each with lit marker lights.  A fitting end to a session that was 'just another regular session' - except now we know how fortunate we are to be able to continue.  

Monday, February 28, 2022

Progress on Different Fronts

 As seems to usually be the case the winter months are a time for progress on the layout.  The Onondaga Cutoff is seeing progress on mechanical projects as well as scenery and with longer-term planning.  Each of them provides a lot of satisfaction in a time of considerable uncertainty in the larger world.

I've finally made time to unpack, program and weather a new addition to the fleet, CN C44-9W(L) #2500 from the recent Athearn 'Genesis 2' series.  It's an incredible model!  One of my favorite features of the newer models is the lighting that is included, not only headlights and ditch lights but also markers and even step and ground lighting which make a huge difference for our night operating sessions.  Watch for 2500 to lead a train coming up!

Another beautiful release recently was the Tangent Scale Models N7 caboose series.  Built for the New York Central  in the 1960's these cars were transferred to Penn Central and then on to Conrail where they served well into the 1990's.  Given the 1979 paint job on my version, it will receive some heavy weathering, and I am excited about the project.  Here is the new caboose with windows masked awaiting weathering.

I plan to experiment finally using white paint as a first overspray to help fade the blue to help convey the age of the paint.  Stains and rust will also be a big part of this - it will be quite a project. Layers help tell the story with weathering, so it is worth taking time to do it right.

In the scenery area, I am finally deciding about the location of the last of the empty scenes on the OC, the area right about CP 294.  This is a tight area on the lower deck, and was long a question for me.  How can I make this a neat scene with the significant limitations?  Thanks to Perry Squier's work on the beautiful tower, I have a key feature to work around, and by moving it behind the main line and over to the area between the two ramps climbing out of staging, suddenly the scene looked much better.

 There's a long way to go with the scene but I am confident this is the way forward.  This one only took about 8 years to come together in my mind - but the results will be worth the wait!

With all the turmoil in the world these days, from Ukraine under attack to the end of the pandemic to ongoing economic challenges, it is hard to find a sense of peace.  I am fortunate to have a rock-solid person as a wife, and three healthy kids, and also a great hobby like this that allows for so much satisfaction.  In that light I am starting a series of videos based on the Onondaga Cutoff and the experience of moving it forward, and I plan to release them on some sort of online platform like Patreon or similar soon.  It will be fun to create an online community for videos as we move forward to help continue the good energy that is already coming from the Onondaga Cutoff!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Another Rapido Visit - This Time, the RTL 'Turboliner'

 A long awaited visit is underway, this time for the only preproduction model of Rapido's new RTL 'Turboliner' in HO scale!   

A model long pondered by the guys at Rapido, this one will finally make it to production in 2022.  Given the fact that they ran over this very territory on the prototype, I offered to Rapido that they film a product video on the Onondaga Cutoff in the same vein as the layout visit they made.  However, COVID came in the interim, which delayed things.

In the end Jason and Jordan at Rapido sent me the model in the mail.  The only commercial model of these in the world is now on the Onondaga Cutoff!  Of course that will change with the production run but it's a fun tidbit of information for now.

The video, starring Pete and Teddy and myself, can be seen here:  Enjoy!

It's fun to provide a stage for such a standout model, and it was a hoot to be able to make the video.  Many thanks to Jeremy at Rapido for the editing expertise!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Minoa & Euclid - On the Cover of Railroad Model Craftsman!

The Onondaga Cutoff is known for is Conrail operations, and now it will also be known for one of the roads that interchange with Conrail - the Minoa & Euclid, a Morristown & Erie-owned shortline on former DL&W track.  And, it's now featured on the cover of Railroad Model Craftsman!

This is a thrill, and a surreal honor to see M&E Alcos at CP 282, crossing the Conrail main line enroute to interchange at Onondaga Yard on the cover of an international model railroad magazine!  I am grateful to RMC editor Otto Vondrak for his vision to feature this part of the Onondaga Cutoff in Railroad Model Craftsman.  The story behind the cover photo is a first-hand account of fans chasing the M&E's day job, ME-1, while they work at Euclid Yard to switch the Peter Doelger Brewery and then make their interchange run to Conrail and return.  You'll meet the crew and follow the train over the route all the way to Onondaga Yard and back.  

Also interesting Central New York State content in this month's RMC is the article on kitbashing an interlocking tower - this one labeled for East Syracuse, SY Tower, which is up at Dewitt Yard on the prototype not far at all from the Onondaga Cutoff main line.  

It is an exciting time for the Onondaga Cutoff - thanks for all the support!

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Modeling Season is Back!

 Modelers of various subjects joke about the months of the dead of winter as being 'modeling season' - a part of the calendar when it's cold outside, there are less commitments, and longer nights.  All of that combines to allow more time to focus on the hobby.  Even with a family and full-time work, it holds true that the Onondaga Cutoff makes some major progress in most winters!  

I finally was able to make time to open and explore the latest release of Rapido Trains B36-7's.  Given the two new paint jobs available, I added a final two of the model to the fleet, which will really help set the era.  Gorgeous models!  Also in the background is a gift from Joe Binish, who supplied the Onondaga Cutoff roster with one of his 'Central of Minnesota' all-door boxcars - a good fit for the layout.  All of these will be in service soon!

Extra time on nights and weekends after the holidays is also a great opportunity to pitch in on other's projects.  I was able to spend time with Tom Schmieder on his growing DL&W layout, where he is pictured hard at work installing feeders in the massive staging yards.  Once we finish the feeders here and wire everything up, it will be buried beneath a near-scale model of the Lackawanna's Port Morris Yard - lots to be excited about here!

Finally, it's always nice to have time for state-of-good-repair projects on the Onondaga Cutoff, like this scene.  The lights had not been working, and needed some troubleshooting.  Turns out after investigation that a cold solder joint was to blame.  I repaired the joint and once again, we have a scene that adds some depth to our operations and that at night really becomes a striking visual:

Little here, little there.  And plenty to come.  This hobby makes even the longest nights of the year feel short!