Thursday, August 31, 2023

Another Quiet Night

It's another quiet summer night for us here in New Jersey.  This has been a summer full of a tremendous amount of bustle, family trips and friendly gatherings, reunions and long weekends, time at the beach, lots of time working - some great and wonderful experiences, some really difficult ones.  Life is about trying to balance it all. 

There has not been sufficient time for quiet, but that is how things go when we are in our 40's, right?  Mid career, families, learning to be proficient or even beginning to master tasks in our hobbies or in our lives: finding ways to rise to the tasks at hand.  We can't choose the timing.  We can only do what we must to respond when opportunities arise.

I repaired - and replaced - some lighting tonight over on the M&E.  I saw this shot and figured I'd grab it, and then remembered a phone call from last night from a close friend about a distant but important friend who is fighting hard tonight.  Mike DelVecchio is a longtime titan in our hobby, a railroader and railfan, modeler and historian, and a good person.  He's a musician too, and an unassuming guy that has touched a lot of things that 40-something railfans would recognize.  A longtime employee of and then follower and fan of the Morristown & Erie, parent company of my modeled 'Minoa & Euclid', Mike was friendly to me from day one.  

Many wonderful tributes to Mike are out there, and I wish I could have joined the excursion in his honor last month where he was his old self:  smiling, friendly, garrulous, focused.  Family travels had me out of state while thankfully many closer friends of his attended.

Tonight, he and his family could use our thoughts and a prayer.  I made this image and immediately thought of Mike: how many nights did he push, forgoing a quiet evening for a safer move, or for one more tune at one of his gigs playing guitar?  He worked on the M&E 19, and now here it is resting quietly at Euclid, in 1:87.1 scale on the OC.  

May tonight be quiet and restful for Mike, and for all those who are fighting similar battles.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Scenes from an Railroad that Operates - ''Round the Clock'

Night operations are a longtime part of the experience on the Onondaga Cutoff, and the August 2023 session was one that modeled September 30, 1994 from 6p overnight to 6a.  The railroad ran nicely and crews acted the roles really well, so I had time to make some images that came out good enough to share.  

Midnight at Onondaga Engine Terminal.  The light power from TV 550, the NYS&W interchange stack train, is tied down on the fuel rack behind a few sets of local power and the Mohawk Dispatcher has also pulled a route up on the mainline for a westbound on Track 2.

C39-8 6001 has a new crew onboard and the engineer is getting set up as the power idles at Island Yard around 0100 hours.  Auxiliary lighting and weathering are the only two things that can be done to visually improve a ScaleTrains engine!

Its work at Onondaga Yard complete, train SEEL (Selkirk, NY to Elkhart, IN manifest) builds his air at CP 280.  Lead locomotive SD40-2 6462 is on the point at 0230, the dead of night, and the crew is eager to get moving for their next crew change out in Buffalo, NY - by which time the new day will have dawned.  Once they're ready to pull they will call the Mohawk Dispatcher for permission west, and the train will get a signal to proceed. 

Speaking of the Mohawk Dispatcher, here he is!  Jack watches the display and listens to the radio as needed while Rich, who is sitting in the Trainmaster position, checks crew status ahead of upcoming departures.  

No matter how you cut it, though, it's the people that make a railroad work.  The best part of operations is the camaraderie of a group of people that make it run.  It takes a team, and that is exactly what we had.  This session included a cookout and picnic for the crew and friends, spouses, and families and we remembered to get a full group shot on the freshly finished patio area.  It was a great day. Awesome!


Friday, July 7, 2023

Organization in the Chaos

There's a lot to be said for the occasional cleanup.

Our hobby of railroading, including model railroading and rail photography, is one where we seek a break from the rest of our worlds.  When life is good, a break is a nice and relaxing thing.  When life is hard or chaotic sometimes the break is the only thing keeping us sane.  How much better are those breaks when you can jump in and get right to work?

If the workbench is a mess it is much harder to get right to work.  Recently I was searching and searching for detail parts I was sure I had in my inventory.  After a half hour of rooting around, I realized it was well past time to get organized.  The first step?  Laying everything out to get started.  

There's no one way to organize things like this; I organized first by manufacturer and then by category.  I decided to take the piles in the image and put like items together:  antenna, snowplows, MU hoses/MU receptacles, eye bolts/grab irons/lift bars, doors/grates/hatches, etc etc.  Not perfect, of course, but finally categorized in a way that should held avoid searching blindly.

In these humid days of summer, do yourself a favor and organize the workbench.  Your hobby breaks will benefit!

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Always Room for Improvement

The nature of things is to change.   

For me, this is in contrast to my assumptions; life while full of change is more comfortable to me when it is at least to some degree predictable.  Having lived through permanent illness in my family several times over, change isn't associated with progress in my subconscious.  

Still, taking a step back reveals that indeed most of the change in my time has been very good for me and for many others.  The haunted parts of the past tend to be more heavily weighted in my mind than the positivity that is more common.  I think this may be true for many of us. 

Given the dualism that is represented in our time, I feel it is ever more important to consciously choose things that tend towards the positive.  Negative stuff will find us, of course.  The universal balance of things demands that, and we cannot control what finds us.  However, we can indeed control our choices.  Proactive choices are important. Model railroading is not a life-or-death choice, of course, and so it is a great spot to choose to be proactively optimistic.  

This central theme above is why in a busy stretch of life I am working with others to help.  6577, pictured here, is an important locomotive on the Onondaga Cutoff.  

Ever since it was featured on the cover of Model Railroader magazine, it's been a flagship for the railroad.  Garden State Modelworks subsequently was able to install working auxiliary lighting in it, and their work made a good model great.  

Still, it was missing a detail - the handbrake chain mounted below the engineer's cab window and extending down to the front truck.   With the auxiliary lighting complete, and the engine tuned up and ready to go, it was finally time to add one more detail.  

It's just a bit of chain, secured with eye bolts and some CA glue.  But it's a visible one and adds a little fine-detail finesse to notice.  It's a detail which shows improvement, right?  And that is an important point.  Admitting that makes us able to stay grounded, to keep growing, to keep accepting change in our world - and opening the door to things getting better.

There is always room for improvement.  

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Photos that Stir Memories

One of the fun things about viewing photos in an album is how they can trigger your memory.  Old prints in albums are always good for that, and so are images in a slideshow.  

Today, with digital photography being so common, it's even easier to see a group of photos from time past that take us for a moment to another place and time.  Especially with file sharing and 'the cloud' out there to store and backup files:  you can suddenly be submerged into a different mindset.

Here we have the daily southbound Bessemer & Lake Erie ore train enroute from Conneaut, OH to Pittsburgh where it will be unloaded at the massive J. Edgar Thompson works of US Steel.  This is spring of 2021, a few weeks before Easter and the mountains of western PA still look like winter.  CN by this date has absorbed not just B&LE but also Illinois Central, and some power desk manager decided to have a bunch of CN SD70's assigned to the former B&LE.  I miss the B&LE orange, but I have always enjoyed the look of the older EMD cab and nose design like we see here.  

This was a cold day, but one with little breeze so that the dark soil and roadbed warmed over the course of the day in the bright sun.  I love the old searchlights in this image, the train is imposing and in a hurry, and the big signal bridge and heavy roadbed belies the fact that this line sees just a few trains every 24 hours, almost entirely steel traffic.  The image is bright and dark, color yet black and white, new and old.  

This adventure was part of an 'Old Timers Weekend' trip to Cresson, PA, and it was cherished time with friends that I don't see often enough.  Life is full of opportunities and many conflict - there is rarely time to do everything we would like to do.  Balance is central in those situations, much like it is in the hobby.  

Balance - it determines how long we can stay centered.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Grab Shot

 Sometimes, there's just a shot that catches the eye, and it's one that can really draw a viewer in.  

One of the amazing strengths today of scenic materials and the availability of photo backdrops is the ability to create a scene that truly can 'take you there.'  Here we have a westbound manifest train climbing towards the summit of Clark Hill on the Onondaga Cutoff, in a scene about 12" deep.  

It's similar to thousands and thousands of railfan grab shots - shots of interesting cars or loads, one that the photographer didn't necessarily plan but are worthy in the photographer's collection for the content alone.  This car is indeed worthy of note for the cooperation involved in its creation ( ) and also as it was selected by Tony Koester for a recent 'Trains of Thought' column in Model Railroader magazine.

Each of those facts is itself a dream come true, and moments like these live on in memory.  The hobby these days is full of opportunity, perhaps more so than ever.  Just like a grab shot of a passing train, any moment can be worth remembering.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Spring, and Action

 The month of April is always busy, and this year it has been that and more.  During April I have managed to visit and take photographs in 13 states on three separate trips.  Somehow since April 1 I have traveled from New Jersey and visited Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Missouri!  The New England states were pat of a trip including family to Massachusetts to visit a cousin and his family and watch my brother run the Boston Marathon.  It's been a month filled with wonder and with new experiences, as well as some grounding experiences with fear and with frustration - all in all, an intense and balanced experience.  

A trip with wonderful friend Jon Kayes to Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas early in the month yielded some great photo opportunities.  One of them was the Canton, NC paper mill job on a picture-perfect morning.

The South is loaded with great railroad opportunities if you know where to look, and Jon does.  I am glad to travel and be part of the trip, and excited to be able to record images like this.   One of the really neat opportunities in the coal fields is that NS still uses cabooses in some operations, thanks to long shoving moves on many of the mine runs.  Here's one of the rebuilt NS cabooses with a heritage N&W decal at Frisco, VA.

At a glance both of these photos show that even in 2023 there is a lot of interesting railroading left out there - you just need to take the trip!

The month ended with lots of model railroad activity, where auxiliary light installations continued as well as operations on a variety of railroads.  Lighting installations are adding more than I expected to the atmosphere of the Onondaga Cutoff.

And thanks to good graces with my family I have also been able to attend a few operating sessions locally, including one at Tony Koester's home on his incredible Nickel Plate Road.  Jim Leighty offered to snap a photo, and got me and Tony together with Tom Schmieder and Ed Bush in the background.  Operating sessions are a time to come together and help make the owner's railroad come to life.

As time goes on, change rolls along, and it is important to document moments in photographs and in words to ensure the long journey of life is remembered and enjoyed.  We are fortunate to be able to live in a time when so much is possible.  As April comes to a close, I wish you health and the best fortunes for May and the warmer weather coming soon!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

An Opportunity to Improve

The model railroading hobby is full of twists and turns, and as the hobby improves so too do we have the opportunity to improve our modeling.  The recent push to get locomotives wired for auxiliary lighting allowed me time to consider a closer look at those that went out for upgrades, and I decided it was a good opportunity to improve the details where needed.  

A spotting feature of modern GE diesels is the handbrake chains, which are exposed and visible hanging from the frame down towards one of the trucks on the locomotive.  They are quite fragile in HO scale, and while nicely modeled by Atlas from the factory they are routinely broken - especially over decades of moves and operations.  I took the time as the paint cured on the step lights to reinstall the chains, thanks in part to chain from Tom Schmieder.  

Here's a pair of GE B40-8 locomotives that have operated for years (more than a decade!) on the Onondaga Cutoff.  Now they have proper lighting - and repaired details!

Now these locomotives will not only look sharper during the night with their step lights but also all the time, with the correct handbrake chains re-hung.  I used phosphor-brass wire eyelets to make hooks that will ensure this installation is more durable than the factory installation.  

Other details got a hard look, too, including the air horn o n C40-8W 6155.

The stock horns on these older Atlas models are sub-park, too small and poorly detailed.  Thankfully detail parts are available and Details West has a variety of cast-brass horns like this beautiful Leslie Inc. RS-3L - an exact scale replica of the horns favored by Conrail.  

Details matter in this hobby, and it's fun to have the ability to make improvements like this!

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Running with Teddy

 Teddy is beginning to stretch his legs with operating sessions!  In addition to running trains on the Onondaga Cutoff and also last year on Jerry Dziedzic's NYS&W, in early April we had an opportunity to run at Ted Pamprin's beautiful C&O Allegheny Division railroad in northern NJ.  Ted is always a gracious host and both Teddy and I appreciated the invitation to run trains together.

Teddy's first train on the C&O was appropriately train no. 1, running westbound across the railroad.  Teddy ran while I acted as a conductor, guiding him across the route.  He had a steady hand and a quick eye, learning the layout quickly.  We arrived at Hinton where the yard would add cars to our train, and since it's a division point we also got new orders and a new clearance card there.  

Teddy was all smiles, and eager to continue.  Rich Wisneski also helped Teddy as needed and at one point, their trains passed along the New River Gorge scene.

Sharing the hobby with Teddy, Pete and Susie is a pleasure.  Whether they enjoy trains or choose another hobby going forward, showing them that we can do these things in groups and at a high level I think will be a good memory for them - and maybe, just maybe, help bring the model railroading hobby a few new lifetime members!  

Friday, March 31, 2023

'Next Gen'

 In busy times, perspective is important.  It only takes a few seconds to step back, take a breath, and consider an idea that comes to mind.  

The Onondaga Cutoff is a dynamic and growing collection of people interested in the camaraderie of railroading, experienced by building and operating a scale model of how Conrail did things in 1994.  In that light, bringing new people in is a critical part of its long term mission, and young people add even more to the richness at hand.

From left to right, we have Pete, Christopher and Teddy, all of whom are regulars at our operations.  Each time they get better, and are more able to participate as a full member of the team.  It takes time to learn, but they're well on their way.  

The best is still yet to come!

Monday, March 20, 2023

Finding Wonder, Again

As days and years pass so does time, and our perspective on all these things changes too, as a matter of course.  We can see things differently, or sense that we are seeing things differently, and no matter what the days pass.  

This incredible hobby of ours pushes the envelope in whatever ways we allow, and one of those ways is the simple sense of wonder of it all.  A recent opportunity led me to a small company that installs custom ESU LokSound DCC decoders in locomotives, but also goes beyond that and offers all sorts of services for auxiliary lighting as well.  I took a chance and sent a few locomotives over to Garden State Modelworks LLC - and the results caught me by surprise.  I knew it would be cool, but didn't expect to be stunned!

The most recent operating session came and went, and after dark - always an enjoyable part of a session - there was a new level of magic, a new level of life to what we were seeing.  Before these new lights, there would be a lot of dark along the bottom of all these engines.   

Step lights now bring a whole new dimension not just to the locomotives so equipped but to the entire scene.  Extra marker lights, a Conrail staple through the 1990's, are now scattered through the roster instead of just on the Rapido or ScaleTrains units that came factory equipped.  Older Atlas and Athearn locomotives now jump out of the dusk or the darkness, looking the part of their prototype at night, all thanks to a beacon of attention in a tiny pair of step lights.  

March 20th would have been my dad's 84th birthday, and one of the treasures he gave freely to others was his lasting sense of wonder.  He loved a day at the beach, loved watching sports, loved a good upset, a quick basketball 'back door' play, a perfect football block or seamless pass, and above all, the integrity of the game.  I miss him, daily.  

For me, who remembers lonely nights trackside around Dewitt, NY in the 1990s, a few tiny light details have renewed a sense of wonder into the operations on the Onondaga Cutoff.  Much more to come on this!

Monday, February 27, 2023

A few new ideas...

Recently, with the rise of digital artwork and online ordering we have seen options for custom-run freight cars on the market.  Operations like Home Shops LLC in cooperation with Tangent Scale Models and ExactRail have made some beautiful and plausible freelanced road name releases.  

I am considering trying something similar with the Onondaga Cutoff, allowing our licensed use of the Conrail logo to be employed which in turn would allow that modelers could 'own' a piece of official Onondaga Cutoff rolling stock.  Here's a first stab at the logo, based on a logo the company used in the 1990's for safety awards:

 I think it would be fun to have a Conrail boxcar for its usual service but to have this logo in a large format in addition to the usual Conrail name and logo.  What do you think?

Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Value of Snapshots

 Browsing through one of the old photo albums of my early photography, back when I used my mom's point & shoot camera to shoot some print film of trains we came across, I was inspired to share one here.  This is August 1990, Dewitt, NY, an image taken by my mother as we made a quick stop at the Dewitt engine yard.

From left to right you have me, my cousin Matt, Jack in the backround and my brother Ben on the right.  Behind us is weeks-old C40-8W 6098, 13-year-old B23-7 1975, U23B 2795, and a bunch of other locomotives out of the frame.   

August 1990 would have been one of the trips to Skaneateles and Marcellus, NY, likely to see The Dean Brothers play - my uncles' rock n' roll harmony band.  These were some of the legendary trips in my mind that clearly played a foundational role in the idea of the Onondaga Cutoff.  

Jack is there with us, traveling up with us in the minivan like he did most summers in that era for long weekends.  Ben and I did nearly everything together in that era, a time I remember fondly despite the contrast of my mom's fight with cancer which had just started again, and my sister whose illness would haunt her for the rest of her time.  

I'm 13 in this photo, headed into 8th grade.  Well before thinking of college, I am already wearing a Syracuse University shirt, where I'd actually end up a student just 5 years after this photo.  The Rio Grande hat fits the mood, it's always been my favorite railroad - but Conrail is tangible, exciting, and bright, just like is seen here.  

The memories fade on their own to some degree, but the sentiment does not, and photos like this one bring it all back in full color.  So, take some snapshots!   And even if digital, get some prints made now and again of your recent favorites.  You'll come across them decades from now and they'll do their thing - take you back, in your mind, for a few moments.  The best way to appreciate the present is to be aware of the past and full of wonder about the future.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Trusting Experts

 I arrived home from Springfield from the big Amherst Society meet to a surprise - longtime friend and companion J. Alex Lang had provided me with artwork for an updated banner photo for the blog!   Alex was an early inspiration for me with photography and Conrail knowledge in general, along with his sincerity and ambition.  He mentioned the last photo was getting dated, and asked that I provide a few more recent photos to which he could add some text and the Conrail logo.  

He's got a great eye for aesthetics - an expert eye - and he used one of my favorite recent images and created a new banner better than I could have on this one.  

Next time you open the blog, you'll be in for a treat.  Thanks, Alex!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Weekend of Operations

Operating trains on the Onondaga Cutoff is one of the highlights of the railroad.  The weekend of January 21 and 22 2023 was one where we not only hosted a session, but I was able to attend another one, too.

The OC session modeled a period from about 3pm to about 3 am on a typical Saturday - September 17 1994.  Thanks to Mark Sullivan and Rich Wisneski, we have photos of the prep as well as some from the session.

Here we are enjoying pizza for supper and doing the safety briefing ahead of running trains.  While the safety briefing may sound heavy-handed, it's important to note emergency exits and fire extinguisher locations for people unfamiliar with the house.  It's also a time to build some of the atmosphere ahead of the session:  what was the temperature on September 17, 1994?  What current events get us in a mindset of the 90's?  What was the price of gasoline?  For our operations to work, our minds need to travel in time a bit as well.  

Rich always likes to have a photo of the participants, and this time the group included the kids as well as a number of guests.  It takes people to make a railroad work, and we are fortunate to have a number of good ones!  This session ran into the darkness with a simulated sunset, and the fun continued.  Amtrak train #276 after its run was tied down at Island Yard.

And, later, SEEL from Selkirk, NY to Elkhart, IN was working up at Onondaga Yard, highlighted by the dwarf signal at CP280.

Nighttime brings a magic to the OC, and one of the best spots is the fuel pad where locomotives are serviced through the night.  Two B23-7's idle while being fueled.

Then, Sunday, I was fortunate to be able to attend the operating session at Tony Koester's famous Nickel Plate Road layout, set in Illinois in 1954.  Tony gives his briefing before the session, with regular operator Bill Jamboor sitting behind him.  

While operations isn't the way most modelers choose to participate in the hobby, it is one of the niches that helps set our hobby apart from other modeling hobbies.  Instead of our models sitting on a shelf, in many cases our hard work can be displayed in motion, as intended.  Operations models not just equipment or structures, but the dynamic environments where the prototypes run and - most critically - the coordination with others to accomplish a task.  Operations takes us from train models to modeling railroading.  

On another positive note, see you in Springfield on Saturday and Sunday - if you're at the big Amherst Society show this year, January 28 & 29, stop over at introduce yourself at the Onondaga Cutoff table:  Better Living Center Section 4, Table L!  

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A Table at Springfield!

Welcome to 2023, a new year full of opportunities and more than that, hope.  There is a lot swirling around in the air these days, including an increasing awareness that the most limited commodity these days really is time.  Hard work and persistence allows the ability to earn more money, but time marches on, and it is irreplaceable.  It is important to make moments count.

Last year something I wished we had done with the Onondaga Cutoff was to attend the big Amherst Model Railroad Society train show at Springfield, Massachusetts, always the last weekend of January each year.  This year, thanks to the A Modelerslife Podcast, the OC will have its OWN TABLE at the massive show - one of the former City Classics Inc tables.  

Come see us at the Better Living Center, Section 4, Table L!  Look for our flag on the wall behind the table:

It's a great show, with a full floor layout available online here:   My plan is to have the table as a home base and be there to meet and greet fans of the OC, old friends and new from 12-3p on Saturday, and from 12-2p on Sunday.  

More to come soon, but prep is underway and we are excited to see you there!