Maps with Inkscape

I fell down another rabbit hole recently and finally figured out how to make nice maps. I’ve always loved studying and drawing maps. In the railroad business it is “no map, no meeting” according to the famed railroader Jim McClelland. I had, for years, done lousy work using Paint to illustrate concepts, while it gets the point across, the results are really unprofessional.

In my post on anthracite coal, I really wanted to include a map to illustrate the various tariff routes between the coal region and the B&A. I attempted a version in Paint and junked it because it was going to be too much work for a lousy result. A week later I needed to create some maps for work. Although the results would have been good enough, I was really sick of working with Paint. With that I went out looking for something better to use. George Sebastian-Coleman of Trains says they use Adobe Illustrator, which I’m sure is great but you need to pay a monthly subscription to use. I went looking for a freeware replacement for Adobe Illustrator and found Inkscape.

To quote Wikipedia,

Inkscape is a free and open source vector graphics editor used to create vector images, primarily in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format. Other formats can be imported and exported.

Inkscape can render primitive vector shapes (e.g. rectangles, ellipses, polygons, arcs, spirals, stars and 3D boxes) and text. These objects may be filled with solid colors, patterns, radial or linear color gradients and their borders may be stroked, both with adjustable transparency. Embedding and optional tracing of raster graphics is also supported, enabling the editor to create vector graphics from photos and other raster sources. Created shapes can be further manipulated with transformations, such as moving, rotating, scaling and skewing.

I read a little about the basics of Inkscape and then found a tutorial for hobby map making online at Deviant Art. I followed along and created a map of the Akron Canton & Ohio’s line across the Buckeye State. AC&Y is about as simple a railroad to map as can be imagined a good choice. Every step took some effort to work through, but I got it done. With that done, I had a much better idea on how to attack a more serious project.

First Real Result

With the basics under my belt I then put together a map for my blog post. On this one, I watched some YouTube tutorials as I went along and learned some short cuts. For base maps, I used a snip of Norfolk Southern’s 2016 system map as the primary map and also fitted an old map of the anthracite fields over it so I could outline those areas. Below you can see what I was able to come up with. I hit pretty close to the mark I was aiming for. That I was able to do something like this almost from jump street speaks to how easy the software was to learn to use (or at least learn to use when you really want to learn).

Looking at it in the light of day, I see a bunch of stuff I’d do differently now that I know more about the tools and how it looks when posted through WordPress. First off, saving the SVG as a PNG file reduces the size and pixilates the image, then posting to WordPress further reduces the size.

Opening these in a new window, by right clicking on it it and selecting the first option in the drop down menu, produces an image only abut 5% larger, but with much better appearance. If I were to redo this one I would use slightly larger and more readable fonts, improve the contrast for the state labels and turn the basemap onto the north-south access. I will also be able to do a better job with the coast line next time too.

Another One

With that under my belt, I went out and tried to duplicate the style that Trains used in the early 1990s. I charted out the surviving routes of Erie Lackawanna, just to have something to do (also in honor of Conrail Day 4/1/76!). I quit before I was finished, mainly because I proved to myself that this was a workable program and I wasn’t all that interested in the final result….you can check out how far I got below (again, this wasn’t designed to have the file compressed to post on WordPress – the printed version on 11 x 17″ paper looks perfect).

Open in a new tab for a better view. This map needed a legend, revisions to show New Jersey Transit ownership with freight trackage rights around New Jersey and a listing of abbreviations, but continued to prove the concept.

All that said, for a first try, I am really happy with the way this came out and will be able to do the next ones much faster. I might try and duplicate the style Trains used in the 1960’s to illustrate topics on this site (lots of Futura and bold Century Gothic) or try to match their current style which usually features a highly transparent satellite image below. Another skill added to the toolbox.



Freight Car Additions

After making some progress on benchwork, I took a bit of a break. To get back into the swing of things I finished a bunch of freight cars that had been on my workbench. Here are the first three to be completed:

The finished P&LE Lot 801-G car, ready for a load of steel products.

P&LE Greenville Gondola

The NYC and P&LE combined to own 12,600 52′ 6″ long gondolas built to the so-called “Greenville Design” (counting the last 1000 P&LE cars which are all welded and excluded from other rosters). I believe this is the second largest group of mill gons operating in the US during the 1950s and 60s (the largest being the PRR G31/G35 cars). Proto 2000 and now Walthers has had a well-detailed model of this car available for quite some time now. The early kits can still be found a train shows for bargain prices.

NYC switched from reddish brown red to black for the body color of gondolas during June of 1956. For whatever reason the black paint scheme has never been run by Life-Like or Walthers. While NYC and P&LE had a huge fleet of these cars, only about 2000 of them are an exact match for the Proto 2000 model (wood floors and interior folding stake pocket/lading band anchors). As such only these numbers have been run in factory paint. Since I needed to custom paint a car to get this scheme, I opted to also make some additional changes to differentiate this car from others on the roster.

I found plans of a steel floor car on George Elwood’s Fallen Flags web site (link). I used Micro Mark rivets laid out on .020″ styrene sheet cut to match the original floor dimensions. Additional relief for the splice plates and bolster covers were cut from 005″ styrene. Additional plate and rivet detail was added to the car sides. NYC’s Greenville gons all had ladders on the sides instead of grab irons. I used spare parts already on hand for those. I also added continuous lading band anchors from Tangent. Not many NYCS cars had these, but they are much easier to do than the exterior tie down loops that most cars had. Since I was modeling a car with lading band anchors I carved off the cast on interior tie downs/folding stake pockets.

The rest of the car was built per kit instructions with the exception of A-Line sill steps, Hi-Tech Air hoses and Tangent uncoupling levers. I painted the car Model Master black and lettered it using at least five different decal sets. Mask Island sells a P&LE gondola set now that would work for this car, but I had enough marks on hand to do this without a dedicated set. Weathering was done with a wash of raw umber oil paint, followed by Dullcote and a dusting of pan pastels. I used Raw Umber for the exterior and trucks, Burnt Sienna for the interior and Burnt Sienna Shade for the couplers.

The car prior to weathering. Decals from Highball, Rail Yard Models (logo, paint triangles), Mark Vaughn (data), Microscale (data, “McKR”, end lettering) and Champ (repack, reweigh) were used to decal the car.

NYC 40′ PS-1

The finished car – a wreck rebuilt into a solid model of one of railroading’s most typical cars.

NYC owned the fifth largest fleet of 40′ PS-1 boxcars at 5000 standard copies (plus 25 Pacemaker cars with an experimental cushion underframe), so this is another must-have car for really anyone modeling the ’50s or ’60s regardless of their prototype. This car has been on my roster for a long time and was beat up from traveling to train shows. To fix it, I pretty much had to strip all the details off and replace them. I didn’t go to great lengths on this car, NYC’s PS-1s had poling pockets (resulting in tabs where the sill steps attach) and towing staples, since this car had been assembled already I opted to ignore those details and stick to the basics. I replaced the following:

  • Running board – Kadee
  • Broken Stirrups – Kadee
  • Broken Ladders – from another Intermountain kit on hand
  • Trucks – Kato ASF A-3
  • Uncoupling Levers – Tangent
  • Air Hoses – Hi Tech
  • Brake Wheel – Kadee Miner
NYC PS-1 from Lot 798-B (built, Michigan City, IN 1950). Jim Sands photo, George Elwood collection, used with permission.

I weathered the car with a wash of oil pants. I then added the repack/reweigh paint patches and decals based on the Jim Sands photo above. After airbrushing on Dullcote I gave it a light dusting of Pan Pastels. Chalk marks were drawn on with a white colored pencil using period prototype photos as a guide.

The roof got major attention, my current “weathered galvanized roof” technique is a multi-layer one. I brush on a coat of Polly Scale BAR Gray to start. When that dries after a few minutes I dab on SP Lettering Gray with a stiff bristle brush followed by a dusting of Neutral Gray Pan Pastels to blend it all together. Lastly I go back and hand paint the ribs between the panels the appropriate color.

Another car halfway through the roof treatment. Make sure to mask the car, I didn’t on the next car and wound up with gray spots all over it that I had to remove or cover up!

NYC AAR Postwar Boxcar

Completed Lot 773-B boxcar, still advertising NYCs discontinued LCL service. This was an inexpensive train show purchase.

Another common boxcar on the NYCS roster was the postwar AAR boxcar with typical 1949-54 combination of early R-3-4 improved dreadnaught ends and diagonal panel roof (I just use “1949 AAR” in my notes, even if that isn’t the most accurate description). The 1949 AAR design numbered 3000 on the NYC and 4000 on the P&LE. Branchline had produced kits with several correct schemes. This one came lettered with the Pacemaker slogan, correct for lot 773-B (these cars weren’t intended for Pacemaker service, they just advertised it). The 1960s boxcar fleet was relatively young, so there aren’t many chances to model a rustbucket but a photo in the NYC Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment Volume 2 gave me the inspiration to do just that with this car.

Closeup of photo from NYC Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment Volume 2 by Morning Sun Books. This car was not the subject of the photo, only the left side of the car is in the frame. I had to use this to imagine the other half of the car.

For this car I did the heavily rusted sections after the initial oil wash dried. I masked off along the straight lines along the panel seams and dabbed on burnt umber oil paint with a deerfoot brush. I then added the paint patches and used Microscale roman stencil alphabets to try and match the prototype lettering (not great but close enough). The roof and details were more or less the same as the Intermountain PS-1 above.


With detailed freight cars selling in the $50 range it is nice to bang out a handful of projects in the $20 range (including details). Weathering cars is also a great way to get back in the groove of things after taking a break from modeling for a bit. It also feels good to get these done as they’ve been on my workbench for some time now. I’ve got a pair more cars that should be finished shortly. I’ll post photos when they are done.


Finding Photos

Rare photos of your subject, like this picture showing the back side of the former freight house with a glimpse of the coal sheds and wire factory in the background are a key to good historical modeling. Jack Leonard photo, Barb Hudson collection, used with permission.

Historical modeling hinges very much having and being able to find good photos of your subject. As such, I’ve been trying to be a little more aggressive in expanding my photo resources. When I started I could only document what the industrial landscape looked like along the line in the late 1990s, since then I’ve found some great period pictures and photographers have been very cooperative in allowing me to share their work here. I’ll describe some recent developments on this front below.

Jack Leonard Collection

Barb Hudson has posted about 150 photos from the collection of her father, Jack Leonard, on the Boston and Albany Railroad and New York Central Railroad Fangroup Facebook pages. I was finally able to catch up with Barb and get the permission to use those on this site from time-to-time. I didn’t realize I was already using one, the photo of the New England States at Jamesville, when I first became aware of this collection. It mainly the B&A east of Springfield covers the 1948-56 timeframe. Jack worked for the B&A and this is an insiders look at the property.

Something about this undated shot of East Brookfield from the 1950s really appeals to me, there is no action, but you can sense the next train arriving any second. Brookfield had a similar configuration to Jamesville. Jack Leonard photo, Barb Hudson collection, used with permission.

1955 Hurricane Diane

One of the first “eureka” moments I had in researching the Worcester area was finding a special edition of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette at my grandparents’ house that covered the damage caused by Hurricane Diane in 1955. This edition included several aerial photos of the Webster Square area. I recently reminded myself of this yesterday. I searched to see if I could find more pictures online and came up with a nice sequence of a washout repair in the vicinity of Heard Street and Thompson Wire.

I had thought the riprap embankment east of Heard Street was a remnant of this great flood and I turned out to be right. What was extra nice was all the photos of the Heard Street bridge. Since all the photos I had from this site were FROM the bridge, it never showed up in any pictures. I had figured out after years of research that this was a truss bridge of unknown design from shadows in aerial photos, but I didn’t know there was a parallel pedestrian bridge as well. Besides the bridge, a couple of exposures with Lombard Machine in the background will be of use. You can view the whole series here: T&G 1955 Flood Photos. Many of the photos are of factories and city-scapes and should be of interest to anyone modeling the industrial Northeast.

Workers survey the scene as they prepare to repair the westbound main underneath the Heard Street Bridge. This single-connected truss is one of many on the B&A. Worcester Telegram & Gazette photo, used under creative commons license.

Bob’s Photos

It appears that Bob’s Photos is thinning down their vast library of black & white negatives. These have been popping up on Ebay on a regular basis since October. Included appears to their collection of 400 B&A negatives taken by Carlton Parker during the 1930s and 40s. I don’t know if Robert Liljestrand is retaining the ability to reproduce these photos by digital means, but for those interested in the B&A please be aware this is happening. They are being listed under this account



Freight Flows: Grafton & Upton Traffic May, 1965

Recently there was a short discussion on the Proto Layouts Group on IO about freight car fleet research and if would you change prototype if you had perfect information for a particular time and place of another line. I had an opportunity to do that with the carrier I grew up next to, the Grafton & Upton RR. While I eventually stuck with the NYC, I used this information to improve my modeling the the NYC.

The Grafton & Upton is a 15-mile carrier running between the Boston & Albany at North Grafton and the New Haven at Milford, Mass. It was incorporated in 1873 as the 3′ gauge Grafton Centre Railroad to connect the B&A with Grafton Center. It 1887 they were reorganized as the G&U, converted to standard gauge and extended to Upton, Hopedale and Milford. The line electrified passenger operations in 1901 and freight motors replaced steam in 1918. Trolley service stopped in 1928 and electric freight operations converted to diesel in 1946.

Two-thirds of G&U’s 1960s locomotive roster, 44 Tonners 9 and 10, pull the daily freight from North Grafton back to Hopedale at Snow Road in North Grafton in December 1966. Al Arnold photo, collection of Bob Arnold, used with permission.

During this early years of the 20th Century the G&U was acquired by it’s largest shipper, the Draper Corp. of Hopedale, one of the largest textile machinery manufactures in the world. After Draper closed in 1980 the G&U spent about 30 years in a state of near suspended animation before being brought back to prosperity recently by a local business mogul.

When I had a chance to acquire a book of freight bills and waybills from their prosperous postwar years, I jumped on it. Freight bills include almost all the same info as waybills but are for calculating freight charges to be paid by the shipper and divisions of revenue to be paid out to each carrier.

Aerial view of the Draper Corp. plant in Hopedale, MA circa 1930. The G&U ran along the south side, the “hot” side of the plant, with outdoor pig iron storage is in the lower left corner. Finished looms were shipped from the multi-story buildings on the north side of the plant. Courtesy of Digital Commonwealth.

I transcribed the information from this book into a spreadsheet in order to analyze it. You can download this spreadsheet along with my planned model roster here:

Forwarded loads consisted of 181 shipments of looms destined for the Southeast and Mexico. Loom shipments to the south were obvious, but what I was not expecting was that inbound shipments were made of 21 commodities to support Draper’s foundry and manufacturing as well as some local firms using the team track. The variety of commodities and car types illustrates what a great prototype an integrated machinery plant, or at least a foundry can make for a model. A summary of the received cars is as follows:

CommodityActual CarsCar TypeOrigin
Bentonite1RBLBelle Fource, SD
Box & Crate Material2XMWinchendon, MA
Limestone3GBFarnums, MA
Canoes5XMLMinneapolis, MN
Motor Boats6XMLManitowoc, WI
Coke27GB/GSNew Haven, CT
Foundry Compound1XMPittwonin, PA
Ground Clay1XMSmithville, MS
Ground Coal1XMW Elizabeth, PA
LPG4TPIReybold, DE and Kankakee, IL
Overhead Travelling Crane4FMWhiting, IL
Pig Iron28GBKY, NY
Road Salt1LORetsof, NY
Roofing Material3XMEdgewater, NJ and Philadelphia, PA
Sand19XM, LONJ, MA, IL, NY
Silica Sand4XMLeesburg, NJ
Steel Angles2GBBethlehem, PA
Steel Bars16GB, GBSRCT, NH, OH, PA
Steel Tube4GBRMorado, PA
Wallboard3XMSunbury, PA
Wrot Pipe2GB
Summary of received carloads at Hopedale, MA for the month of May, 1965.

Planning a Roster

The G&U averaged 14.5 loads to or from Hopedale per business day during the month. That seemed small enough to model trains on a 1:1 basis. Using a 4 cycle waybill, I would need a minimum of 60 cars to fill the cycle. With 318 total shipments in the month, I would be modeling 1 out of every 5.5 shipments.


Originating at Draper, there were 181 shipments of looms. Most of these cars were ordered by Draper or G&U and arrived empty, but there were some cars that arrived with loads that were reloaded. All cars delivered empty were 50’ers. The 181 cars belonged to a total of 34 different railroads. Designs ranged from a pair of wood cars nearing their expiration date to the latest exterior post boxcars.

G&U S4 1001 approaching the NYC interchange at the corner of East and Waterville Streets in North Grafton in 1967; a pair of NYC 50′ boxcars are in the train. Tad Arnold photo, Bob Arnold collection, used with permission.

It was interesting that the NYC and NH filled their car orders differently. New York Central handled 65 of the shipments, 42 of these were loaded in NYC marked boxcars and none in XML equipment. The New Haven handled 116 cars, that they had a larger share was logical since they had the better route to the Southeast. Of these shipments, none were in home road equipment and 34 were cushioned XML cars heading back home. ACL provided most of these, with some SAL and SOU cars as well. Their use was apparently predicated on these roads getting a share of the linehaul, as all the routings included the car owner. Again NH’s superior route to the south resulted in them having ample supply of empty ACL equipment that possibly came north with furniture or paper. The balance of New Haven’s cars were in random XM equipment, this included nine NYC boxcars that were routed adverse to their owner.

The model fleet would consist of 33 boxcars from 16 different railroads: 10 NYC, 5 ACL, 2 PRR, 2 IC and single car from SP, SOU, SSW, UP, GMO, MP, NP, SAL, B&O, CB&Q, NW (WAB), AC&Y and C&O. Some of these would cover double duty with inbound shipments.

At the other end of the line the 1001 arrives at Hopedale from the New Haven connection at Milford in 1967 with a pair of ACL 50′ cars. These are plain XM cars, not the cushioned O-34/35 classes that dominated the May 1965 shipments. Tad Arnold photo, used with permission.

Inbound – Assigned Equipment

Modeling assigned cars is much more straightforward. I wanted to model at least one car of every commodity, so I would wind up with more model cars than the 5.5:1 ratio would have given. The model fleet would consist of the following:

  • Bentonite Clay – 1 insulated boxcar. North American (NIRX) was the car owner, hard to say whether this would have been painted in a special scheme for International Minerals & Chemicals or a plain lease fleet car.
  • Canoes – 1 DF boxcar. Alumacraft in Minneapolis on the NP shipped 5 loads to Jessie White in Mendon, MA via the team track. Alumacraft was open to reciprocal switching and sent loads out on multiple routes, possibly based on who could get them empties. SOO handled the most cars and would get the nod here…none moved in NP cars.
  • Propane – 1 insulated pressure tank car. Phillips Petroleum shipped 4 cars to Draper from Kankakee, IL and Reybold, DE. A single 11,000 gallon TPI from Atlas would represent these moves.
  • Motor Boats – 1 DF boxcar. Mirro Aluminum in Manitowoc, WI shipped 5 cars to Jessie White. All were in C&O DF equipped boxcars. These were ex-PM cars with 14′ double doors and 4-4 Improved Dreadnaught ends and will take some work to model. Ironically the first trip these boats made on the water was on one of C&O’s ferries from Manitowoc to Ludington, MI across Lake Michigan.
  • Road Salt – 1 covered hopper. Road salt shipments are boom or bust, in May they are usually pretty slow, so only one car was needed to replenish the shed in West Upton. LV supplied the empty and handled this move, International Salt could route cars multiple ways so the B&O, EL, NYC, PRR or GNWR could supply equipment as well.
  • Sand – 3 covered hoppers. Sand for the foundry came from many sources. 1 car from each of the NH (Tremont, MA), PRR (Weldron, IL or Milville, NJ) and CNJ/L&NE (Dividing Creek, NJ).
  • Steel Bars – 1 covered gondola. New Haven had a 15 car order of covered gondolas acquired to handle brass from the Waterbury, CT area. Not long after receiving them, the brass industry collapsed. At least a portion of their fleet was relegated to hauling steel from service centers in CT to end customers like Draper. These are 14-panel cars, that would need to be scratchbuilt (or live with the Athearn covered gon which is based on a similar prototype but scaled down 10% to fit their flatcar underframe – thanks Irv).
  • Steel Tube – 1 covered gondola. All four shipments from Morado, PA came in PRR G36C covered gondolas. Modeling the gondola itself isn’t a bad scratch building project – these are all welded cars – but the cover doesn’t look like fun. It looked like Modeler’s Choice was going to offer this as a laser cut styrene kit several years back, but it never made it out of pre-production….maybe Cannon & Co can add it to their catalog?

Inbound – General Service Boxcars

Of the inbound shipments, 19 were made in general service boxcars (XM). These were made up of 11 50′ and 8 40′ cars and covered nine different commodities. Four of the 50’ers were reloaded with looms while the rest were apparently returned empty to their respective connections. This is odd, as some other cars of the same classes were simultaneously being supplied as empties for loom loads. Regardless, I sought to gain efficiencies of modeling fewer cars by having the 50’ers perform two way duty, choosing to use only the loom cars to represent these cars.

The 40′ fleet would only need two cars, B&M and CB&Q being the most numerous names. I reality I already had more than enough cars on my roster to cover these moves.

G&U 1001 en route to Hopedale from the NYC interchange January, 1965. There are two 40’ers in the consist today. Ken Patton photo, used with permission

Inbound – General Service Gondolas

There were 72 shipments made in mill (GB) and drop bottom (GS) gons. These cars were lettered for 27 different railroads, about 70% of the moves violated all of the car service rules. This is in stark contrast to the boxcars which mostly followed the rules. As I mentioned in a previous post, the mix of lengths was an eye opener: 34 were 39′-42′ 19 45′-50′; 18 52′-53′ and 1 65′ (the crane) – this is roughly a 2:1:1 ratio.

G&U S4 1001 switches a couple cars of coke at Hopedale in 1972. Ron DeFilippo photo, used with permission.

The model fleet would be made up of 13 cars from 11 roads (2 NYC and C&O and a single car from B&M, B&O, C&NW, IC, LT, L&N, URR, N&W/NKP/WAB, P&LE, PRR and URR. Loads would be broken down as follows:

  • Bulk Limestone – 1 NYC 41′ gondola from US Gypsum at Farnham’s, Mass. on the North Adams Branch. This car would have a removable load so it could do double duty with a pig iron load.
  • Coke – 5 various cars. Coke was supplied by Connecticut Coke of New Haven primarily using 40-46′ gondolas. While the NH itself had a fleet of these cars, none was used during this month, instead they had a motley collection of foreign road cars, some of which showed up more than one time during the month indicating they were stuck in captive service away from home.
  • Pig Iron – 5 various cars. There were multiple suppliers of pig iron from New York State. Iron pigs came in different shapes, but these appear to be the longer skinny kind, kind of like a stretched out Chunky bar (see piles in photo below). This would make for an interesting model, from what I’ve been able to find out piles of pig iron were loaded over each bolster. John Nehrich has suggested using triangular styrene from Plastruct with one side sanded down as a basis for these shapes.
  • Steel Bars, Steel Angles, Wrot Pipe – 1 of each. Again, all random cars.
The 1001 switching a carload of coke at Draper Corp. in 1972, note the piles of pig iron and pipe that also arrived in gondolas. Bruce S. Nelson photo, used with permission.

Other Freight

While the book provided the bulk of the railroad’s movements for the month, it did exclude some freight to other stations. Interchange reports from 1960 at North Grafton show abrasives to Washington Mills in North Grafton, feed to various concerns in Grafton and Upton, anthracite coal to West Upton would also have moved, although the anthracite, like the road salt, would be slow at this time of year. The interchange reports do show that these moves would have been less than 10% of the total.


When we moved into our current house I looked at the space in the unfinished side of our basement as more than adequate to model a portion of the B&A mainline and never gave serious consideration to modeling the G&U. I did build quite a few of the cars necessary to fill the roster. It formed the backbone of my 50′ boxcar fleet and provided a great guide in developing my gondola roster as well as provide some needed insight into how empty cars were distributed. Years later, I did draw up a rough plan for a modular G&U layout for my space using Freemo branchline and mini-mo specs.

G&U track plan, this was a rough draft, so it needs some work, but includes almost every siding on the railroad. Hopedale requires a surprisingly large space.

You could argue that a short line or branchline prototype like this would have been a better fit for my space and time. You might be right, but I like mainline railroading too much. Still, I continue to check cars off my planned G&U roster, as long as they are plausible on the B&A…maybe I’ll go in this direction on my next layout.

NYC RS3 8324 on the Worcester-Framingham local in the North Grafton interchange yard with the G&U 1001 in June 1965. NYC or G&U? – I stuck with the mainline…for now. Al Arnold photo, Bob Arnold collection, used with permission.


The Third Level

While I was searching the web for an update on the new passenger station being built below Grand Central Terminal for trains from Long Island, I was reminded of a short science fiction story by Jack Finney titled The Third Level”. My father, an English teacher, introduced me to the story growing up.

The plot revolves around an everyman named Charlie who is nostalgic for the past. His life changes when he gets lost in the maze of tunnels in Grand Central Terminal. Since the part of the Venn diagram where science fiction and the New York Central overlap is pretty small, I thought I’d share it in the spirit of the season, read it here.

Those of us with model railroads set in the past all can relate to Charlie in some way I guess. Happy Halloween New York Central style.



Setting Goals for this Season

Since mid-June I’ve hardly even thought about model railroads, let alone do anything worth writing about. I noticed a couple weeks ago that I hadn’t even checked my railroad RSS feed for an entire month. I’ve been enjoying the summer, surviving the heat and getting deep into prototype railroad research. This has taken me on many tangents including the economics of short-haul intermodal, regional railroads of the Midwest and railway engineering. In the interest of having something to post I might try tying some of what I’ve been working on in with the B&A.

For now though, I’m going to get back on track and set my goals for the 2020-21 season. I’m listing four achievable goals:

  1. Finish the benchwork
  2. Rebuild my Thompson Wire module
  3. Finish the rural scenery from staging to the edge of Jamesville.
  4. Complete 10 resin kits/kitbashes


I’ve not been doing things in order. I got the yard up and running to start basic operations and after that I’ve done whatever I was in the mood for at that time. At this point it is time to finish up the basics starting with the other half of the benchwork. I bought the balance of the lumber yesterday, it would be nice to get the open grid framing done over the next couple of weeks.

Thompson Wire

When I built my Thompson Wire module close to 20 years ago, all I had was a railroad valuation map and photos I made from a couple field surveys. The complex has since been torn down, replaced by a CVS. Since then, I’ve obtained Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, period aerial photos and trackside photographs from the 1960s and 1980s that will allow me to build a much more realistic rendition. I started by tearing out one of the structures and am ready to scratchbuild a replacement. I have a plan to renovate the module and then transfer the scene to the layout.

Thompson Wire as it stands today. Project #1 of the rebuild is to build a new structure to go where the white wall is standing in. I may replace the DPM module structure in the background with something scratchbuilt with Tichy industrial window castings that weren’t available when I first built this scene.

Rural Scenery

I was working my way through this into the spring when I started working on car projects and then stopped modeling altogether for the summer. I should be able to pick this right back up by finishing the abutment castings and then getting right into gloop, ground cover, static grass, trees etc…

Looking down the narrow hall, the track is down and wired, after the fascia is in I will continue with scenery.

Freight Cars

I always need a few car projects to work on. Finishing this list is a stretch, but many of these just need paint and decals and many can be painted together since there are only a few colors involved. This list may change over time.

  1. LV 52′ gondola – Sunshine kit, built
  2. P&LE 50′ boxcar – scratchbash, built
  3. B&M 40′ gondola – F&C kit, built
  4. N&W 46′ gondola – Pocahontas Model Works, built
  5. P&LE 52′ gondola – Proto 2000 kitbash, needs final details
  6. NYC bay window caboose, WrightTrak, needs final details
  7. NYC 19000 plywood side caboose, American Model Builders, needs final details
  8. WAB 40′ AC&F Boxcar w/9′ Door – Branchline kitbash, just started, all parts in box
  9. T&P 50′ AC&F cushioned boxcar with double door – all parts in box
  10. CNJ 40′ AC&F welded boxcar with 7′ door – all parts in box
I’m a master at bringing freight car projects right up to the point they need paint and decals and then forgetting about them. I’m starting to gain some momentum in finishing projects, I need to build on that this year.
Three of the selected projects – WAB and MEC boxcars and P&LE gondola, I scratchbuilt the steel floor with styrene and Micro Mark rivets using plans on RR Fallen Flags website.

That should be plenty of work to keep my busy this year. Rapido’s Flexi-Flo hoppers are due soon and that is another basic weathering project to add to the list. Let Model Railroad Season begin…happy modeling!


Springfield Show

I made my annual pilgrimage to West Springfield for the Amherst Railway Society’s Railroad Hobby Show at the Big E on Saturday. You have to love a train show where they bring an actual operating steam engine (Monson RR #3 this year).

Four buildings, five acres, six hours and 12,000 steps later I went home happy and tired. I picked up the essentials needed to complete the area I am working on (track, Super Trees, New England Brownstone wall castings) plus a few other goodies. Most of the day I spent me time talking to friends and checking out the manufacturers’ displays. Here are a couple of tidbits that were of the most interest to me…


Flexi-Flo preproduction models were on display and looked great. Molding problems have pushed back delivery of the full production to early fall. Also on display were FA2s in cigar band and the undecorated M420 detailed for CN. Hopefully a version of the M420R will be done for you Providence & Worcester and Iowa Interstate modelers.


A Genesis version of the SD80MAC was on display. This is the one locomotive that would make me consider moving my era up to 1997. I spent quite a bit of time on Washington Hill when these units ruled the B&A, I miss the sound of those 20 cylinder EMD 710s thundering through the Berkshires.



The B&O cabooses were on display and were gorgeous. The $90 MSRP seemed a fair price. I put my vote in for a NYC bay window caboose as a future project with Dave Lehlbach. He gave me a little smirk and advised that they have a list of other cabooses to work on if this project is a success. My fingers are crossed.


Prototype Junction

These folks were there promoting their new business. They are attempting to crowdsource their funding to produce injection molded models. The first project includes about 10 different boxcar prototypes that can be made as variations of the Santa Fe Bx-11, 12 and 13. These are mostly steam era prototypes, but hopefully this enterprise will get off the ground and be a supplier of high quality niche models. Check them out here.


Introducing Central Artery

Welcome to Central Artery – a blog that will document my construction of an HO scale layout based on the New York Central’s Boston & Albany route during the 1960s. With this first post, I want to provide an overview to the site and an update as to where I am on my project.

  • About – Here you will find the background on what I’m doing and why. Rather than repeat myself in this first post, I’ll simply direct readers here.
  • Prototype – This section goes into more detail on the areas and elements selected to model.
  • Resources – Contains links and directions to some of the sources of information I’m using to conduct my research. The NYC links are for sites with either broad information on the NYC or a focus on the 1960s. B&A sites cover the entire lifespan of the B&A. Also included are general prototype research sources for maps and traffic data.
  • Layout – a quick “tale-of-the-tape” on the specifications of the railroad, including a track plan.

Layout construction has been scattershot as different areas have required different construction techniques and prep work. Current status of layout construction is as follows:

  • The Jamesville Yard and my workbench underneath is functional. This area is built on hollow core doors mounted on shelf brackets. My workbench is the same construction below. Operation is a bit constrained by not having all the track in, but it allows switching of cars to most of the customer sidings.


Mocked up structures and track in Jamesville Yard. The track is temporary Atlas code 83 and will be replaced by Micro Engineering code 70 and 83 flextrack. The Atlas material will be relaid in the staging yard. This approach worked out well, as got me to lay track and get running faster and some low spots developed in the ceiling tile/foam sandwich that need to be addressed before track is permanently laid.

  • Thompson Wire – this is currently built as a 2′ x 4′ NMRA module and I plan to make it a permanent part of the layout.. It has been on the train show circuit for many years now and at this point needs some major repair work. I have a punch list of tasks to be completed to spurce it back up and add detail to match prototype photos I’ve discovered since the original construction. Completing this work is one of my goals over the winter.

Thompson Wire Germany 2008
Thompson Wire module in better days (Intermodellbau Expo, Dortmund, Germany April, 2008)

  • The area in the narrow hallway is under construction. This section is all scenery, save for a pair of bridges. That, combined with the narrow benchwork, will make for relatively fast work that can be done on a budget.

North Grafton
Grafton State Hospital Scene, mocked up with cardboard valance and fascia to test lighting.

  • The staging yard area is ready for benchwork. Staging will be mounted on shelf brackts. The shelving went up early because we needed the storage space, but completion of the benchwork has been a lower priority here.
  • The gaps need to be filled in front of the doors and furnace.

That is where I am, with model railroad season is in full swing there should be plenty to write about.