How does one go about modeling a particular railroad?

PapaG Jun 5, 2020

  1. PapaG

    PapaG TrainBoard Member

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    I'm considering modeling the D&RGW, because Denver to SLC has some geographical significance to where I live.

    But I'm curious, what features or characteristics is it about a particular road that one should be considering when trying to model one? What kind of research is done, or should be done, to capture that recognizable essence of a particular railroad? And, what questions should I be asking myself in order to focus that research? Is it era? A specific locale along the route, or section of the route?

    And I guess, to some degree... if someone was modeling a particular RR, would a well versed modeler recognize it as such if there were no obvious references to it? And if so, what are some of the consituent parts of that identity?

    Thanks for any thoughts you may have!
    G.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2020
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  2. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member

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    I think it's all about personal preference. Some folks are more than happy to have UP painted GG-1s pulling a Southern Belle and double stacked containers behind steam engines while sharing the roundhouse with Lionel-esque Northern Pacific ES44AC units. Others would faint upon seeing a boxcar from the wrong era on a given layout.

    I feel people select a prototype to model based on childhood memories, or something that caught their eyes. I modeled BN on the 'Funnel' in Idaho for several years, before a trip to railfan the D&RGW Moffat Route caused me to totally change everything up. I now model a slice of the Tunnel District up to 1983 now. It allows me to model a variety of early coal unit trains, the Rio Grande Zephyr, and other stuff.

    Research:
    Books are your friend. Not the generic ones at barnes and noble, but specific railroad books. Find people who model similar things to your interests and get their recommendations for useful books. Some of these you can find at train shows, hobby shops or railroad museums. Amazon is a good source as well. Most railroad historical societies have periodicals and are a wealth of information.
    Go on location! Nothing is better than seeing the place you want to model first-hand. Take photos of angles you expect to model, and detailed shots of specific objects like tunnel portals, depots, signals, sidings, facilities, shippers, bridges, terrain, and the like.
    Seek out photos from your chosen area online. Flickr is one example of a photo resource. In some cases, you'll find photos of your chosen era that shows differences with modern day.
    Join groups of like minded people who are into the same railroad. Groups.io is one place to find groups for research purposes. They are a goldmine of information.
    Selecting a locale, era and such are all personal preference.

    Modeling:
    This is where talent and ingenuity come into play. Capturing the flavor of a place isn't difficult. Sometimes just having a key modeling element is enough for a knowledgeable person to recognize a place. A PRR modeler would instantly recognize Horseshoe Curve, as it is shaped like its namesake and had 4 parallel tracks. A Santa Fe or SP modeler would instantly recognize Tehachapi Loop. Faithfully modeling a signature scene is what helps give the flavor of a locale. Photos, planning and research pay off to do a signature scene well.
    Lastly, nearly nobody is an expert modeler on their first layout. Enlist modeler friends to help do scenery, electronics, tracklaying, structures and details if such is not your strength. This where local clubs help. You don't need to be modeling the same thing to help each other. I can build scenery on a Wyoming UP layout just as well as I can at home. A friend can build Denver and Salt Lake-era searchlight signals in my layout as well as he can build B&O color-position signals on his home layout. At the end of the day, it's a hobby and it's supposed to be fun.
    It's also fun to poke a bit of fun with modeler friends that do other stuff. I regularly gave my friends in Cheyenne a hard time for modeling UP when I was doing BN. We all had a good time and helped each other out.

    If you want specific information on D&RGW, message me!
     
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  3. PapaG

    PapaG TrainBoard Member

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    Thank you HA! Great stuff!
    I'm currenlty building a small n scale layout on a HCD with my grandson, and we are using this opportunity to cut our teeth on some of those skill sets; track laying and geomotry, elevations, reversing features, mountains/tunnels, model building, aging and weathering, scenery, etc. But, other than the actual doing, I have a pretty good idea where this is going to go, so I thought it might a good use of time to start planning and plotting the next project, and collecting those pieces of information that will inform it.

    So, you've given me a good place to start... books, historical societies, and some of the modeling clubs in my area I think will be my first stops.

    Thank you for your thoughful response!
     
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  4. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member

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    No problem!
    We do have similar interests...
    Any specific are you wish to model?
    A line that naturally lends itself to modeling the Rio Grande on HCD is La Veta Pass. Tight curves, horseshoes, 2 tunnels, 9000 feet elevation. Google map tour it from La Veta to Fort Garland, CO. Rare railfan mileage too. Pics are hard to come by.


    [​IMG]
     
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  5. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    A great post Hemi - excellent advice throughout. (y)
     
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  6. PapaG

    PapaG TrainBoard Member

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    I don't think my D&RGW project will be on HCD. I'm thinking I might expand the scope (and the headaches) to something larger - 4X8 most likely. So that should open up some possibilities to cover elements from urban to remote. Maybe even a point to point that includes the Speer Blvd. Bridge on one end (though, that would change the era from one where the California Zephyr would have been in use) or the Platte River, and the This is the Place/Heritage Park monument at the other. I'm not LDS so I think referencing the Temple would be a bit much, but it might be fun to have small, subtle ways of identifying the extremis of each end of the line without devoting too much space to city scapes. And the Denver skyline isn't like NY's or SF's, or even SLC's with the Temple, where it's immediately recognizable by a single building or element.

    You've given me much to ponder Jeremy!

    I like the ideas you used in that layout to capture the idea of the higher elevation without actually doing any grades or elevations... very clever!
     
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  7. ppuinn

    ppuinn Staff Member

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    I'll second Hemi's suggestion to take a Google Maps Tour of the line to discover signature features or views you want to include on your layout. In the 1990s, before the luxury of Google Maps but after decent digital satellite views of cities/RRs/terrain were available in some libraries and universities, I went to the library and printed out pics of all 20 miles of the Peoria and Pekin Union Railway. I mounted these on cardstock so they would last longer, and constantly referred to them for track planning, scenery ideas, and determining what structures I wanted to model. Google Maps lets you do the same thing from your own home...and in color, instead of black and white.

    As you decide which features you want to model, you can also use print outs of Google Maps Street Views of signature buildings or terrain and add them to your backdrop. For example, you can see the Salt Lake City downtown skyline looking south from the West 6th St bridge at the south end of the rail yard. Depending on which sides of that rail yard you put your aisle and backdrop, you might be able to put a print out of the downtown skyline on your backdrop. Or, depending on how far to the south you model tracks running from the yard, the angle from tracks to downtown might be more east than south or southeast, but you could adjust the Google Maps Street View to show the downtown skyline from whatever angle you want.

    These are old pics of my East Peoria Yard showing buildings of the Peoria skyline...which in reality was indeed visible from the East Peoria Yard on the opposite side of the Illinois River, but not anywhere near as large as I depicted on my backdrop.
    [​IMG]
    Another view from the East Peoria Yard showing the back portion of the 3D Cedar Street bridge over the rail yard and the 2D pic of the Cedar Street Bridge over the Illinois River on the backdrop. The brick smoke stacks and buildings are printed pics of Hiram Walker Distillery mounted on cardboard and glued to the backdrop

    This is the Pekin Illinois Senior Apartment Building which dominated the skyline 2 blocks from the ATSF and P&E Yards in the 1970s.

    Rock Island bridge over Route 150 in Peoria. The shelf is about 6 inches deep where this pic was taken. The Google Maps Street View on the backdrop is about 2 inches behind the bridge, and the fascia is just out of frame at the bottom.

    This is the Darst St crossing in Peoria. The 3D red van is casting its shadow on a 3D road, but the road behind there is a 2D Google Maps Street View. To add some texture to the printed picture, I put Woodland Scenics Blended Turf on some of the 2D trees.
    [​IMG]

    This is a Google Maps Street View of the Illinois River in Havana IL. This would have been the view of the river from where the tracks ran through the downtown district during the 1970s (the era I'm modeling).
    [​IMG]

    You may be able to access D&RG info, maps, and pics from Historical Societies and/or photo storage sites online. But, I found that actual visits to the Vertical Files, Newspaper Archives, and Special Collections of the Peoria Public Library, Pekin Public Library, and Bradley University Library (in Peoria) all had much more information on the 1970s era Peoria and Pekin Union Railway in hard copy form than was available to me online. A call or email to the Salt Lake City Public Library might yield information about whether or not an on-site visit is warranted.

    For major cities along the line, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps can show you the structures near the tracks. Sanborn maps cover the first half of the 1900s, and some are available online. For others, you may need to go to the city's library in person to find any actual Bound copies of the maps and take pics of them with your phone camera.
     
  8. Dave1905

    Dave1905 TrainBoard Member

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    Another resource for railroads past is "Historic Aerials". They have old topographical maps and aerial photos, if available, for many parts of the country. The on line ones are low resolution, larger scale, but you can still see a lot of things, general track layouts, etc.
     
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  9. RailMix

    RailMix TrainBoard Member

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    Great post, Hemi. Could pretty much serve as chapter 1 of a book on model railroading for beginners.

    One other thing I would add is, if you know which road you want to model, but are unsure of the exact locale:
    Determine what kind of equipment you like. Every railroad of any size has operated a variety of motive power and rolling stock, and often consisted of a collection of predecessor roads. What was used where depended on local customers and operating conditions, so once you have determined which road you want to model, some research into equipment may be a good way to determine exactly where you want to model.
     
  10. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

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    I *try* to be as prototypical as possible, not to be a rude Rivet Counter, but as a way to learn about real railroads. I know I'll never be 100% there, but the more I try, the more I learn, that's how I approach it!


    If you model modern era, just keep railfanning. Watching trains is inspiring in an of itself (especially on what locos/rolling stock you'd want to buy :)). Learning train codes and having at least a general understanding of train schedules will give you a better idea on what the trains are carrying, what kind of rolling stock is represented, how far they're going, their usual speeds, etc.

    If you model an earlier era, historical research is a must (and part of the fun). Historical books, photos, films/videos, magazines will aid you. Knowing when certain railroads merged, went out of business or changed their paint schemes/branding will give you a better clue on what your trains should look like.

    Regardless of era, learning about the specific geography (and even basic geology) of the area(s) your layout is representing will help tons, especially in terms of scenery.
     
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  11. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member

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    This is where historical research also comes into its own. Some examples:

    For example with the Rio Grande, if I wanted to model hot autorack and autoparts trains, I want to do train #179. That limits me to pre-1983 (ish), Tennessee Pass route and points west. It allows me to run the colorful 86' autoparts boxcars and big lashups of 4-axle hotrods (GP40s). It omits the Moffat as the train was received from Mopac at Pueblo, maintained the hottest schedule of any train on the system, run over Tennessee Pass to SLC and turned over to WP for the trip to Milpitas, CA and the Ford plant there--hence the train's name, the Ford FAST (Ford Auto Service Train).

    Coal trains operated almost everywhere on the D&RGW. There's an unbelievable variety of coal hoppers, bathtub and high-side gons that operated on the Rio Grande. Some of them operated solely on the west end of the system, such as the Thrall high-side gone lettered for CoalLiner and the Kaiser Steel coal trains from UT to Fontana, CA. Before the Thrall cars were delivered, the train operated with a set of MKT coal hoppers all in red paint. This is an example of a train that uses a specific piece of equipment (at least in lettering) that would narrow down a locale. https://utahrails.net/utahcoal/kaiser-trains.php

    In the steam era, the steam engines you prefer might be used on a very specific part of the system, and era can further limit motive power. If you like D&RGW F-81 2-10-2s, that mostly limits you to SLC over Soldier Summit to Helper, as their rigid wheelbase was harsh on the sharp curves of the Moffat. If you like the classy Baldwin L-105 Challengers, you also want SLC to Grand Junction thru the desert, but due to SLC municipal rules, they also needed to be equipped with "overfire jets" to help with smoke abatement. If you want the high-stepping M-68 4-8-4s, you are limited to Pueblo-SLC over Tennessee Pass, unless after 1939 when the Moffat was rebuilt to handle the heavier power. If you wanted the monstrous L-132 2-8-8-2s, you could do any ruling mountain grade. Joint Line to Palmer Lake, Minturn to Tennessee Pass, Moffat, Soldier Summit, etc as they performed in heavy helper service everywhere.

     
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  12. PapaG

    PapaG TrainBoard Member

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    I indicated to Jeremy in an email that I'm interested in utilizing the the Californina Zephyr or the Rio Grande Zephyr on the equipment side. So that's certainly going to inform the era, and I'm sure the route that I should be focusing on for those quintesential features that will inform the scenic aspects of the layout. In addition to whatever other equipment may have been running at that time, on those lines. But, for the moment, that's really all I have as a jumping off point... and that may certainly change as the research matures. I'm not above scrapping those ideas and embracing something else if something captivates me.

    I really like the idea of Jeremy's layout with the green mountains on one side and the snowy mountain pass on the other. I have an image in my head of dividing a layout in half, east and west, with the Moffat portals signifying which side of the layout you're on. But, it's just an image and I have no idea of the practicaliy of dividing a layout scenically in that way. But I'm sure that these things will come more into focus as I delve into the research.

    All in all, the help, advice, and input I get on these boards is pretty amazing!
     
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  13. RailMix

    RailMix TrainBoard Member

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    Several disjointed ideas are running through my chaotic mind right now. First this just occurred to me:

    I get the idea for sure, but not so fast there:D. Given things that the UP has done with their steam power in the recent past it wouldn't surprise me if this might actually have happened at least once. (Or maybe it will. Picture 4014 dragging a string of double stacks up Sherman hill. Glorious and possible if admittedly not usual.)

    Second, (and in a more serious tone) dividing a layout scenically is not all that unusual. It's an excellent way to make your layout seem larger and model different kinds of scenery in a reasonable space. Usually, however, a 2 sided backdrop runs lengthwise more or less down the center of the layout like this one:

    https://www.trainboard.com/highball/index.php?threads/jpt-sub-my-new-layout-project.123955/

    Dividing the layout across as Hemi has done is not as common, but it looks ideal in this case and definitely does what he set out to do. The mountain scenery lends itself well to this. It's a very nice effect.

    Third, as an example of equipment selection/locale/era I thought about my own favorite railroad, the Pere Marquette. If I wanted a constant parade of Berkshires pulling long fast freights and Pacifics pulling heavyweight passenger trains, then I would model Plymouth, MI just west of Detroit in the immediate postwar era or even during WWII. This is where two of the three major Michigan railroads that made up the PM crossed each other. All PM's Detroit-Chicago traffic as well as all traffic between Saginaw and Toledo flowed through Plymouth.
    Bump the time frame up a couple of years and now you get to run the streamlined Pere Marquettes pulled by a fleet of attractive E7's. Fast forward a few more years into the early 50's and steam is gone, replaced by a sea of enchantment blue C&O GP7's.
    Heavy traffic on the high iron not your interest? Maybe you want a little slower pace? The former Saginaw, Tuscola and Huron line across the thumb from Bad Axe to Saginaw might offer what you're looking for. Forty year old C2 consolidations wandered through farms and woods hauling fish out of Bay Port, stone from the quarry near Pigeon, and corn, wheat and beans from the whole area. These duties were apparently sometimes shared with PM's first two diesels, SW1's 10 and 11. A few years later, the thumb area became one of the haunts of the C&O BL2's until they were traded in on GP30's in the early 60's.
    For what it's worth, if you made it this far without succumbing to boredom, there's a look at the effects of both time and locale on just part of one railroad (not even including the west side of Michigan- that's another story entirely)
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2020
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  14. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

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    There's a prototype for everything :)

     
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  15. RailMix

    RailMix TrainBoard Member

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    Yep. Thought so. No surprise so many people love the UP steam program.(y)(y) Great video. Thanks for posting.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2020
  16. BigJake

    BigJake TrainBoard Member

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    Now that we have prototype use of steam engines with modern freight cars, what kind of service equipment do they provide for the steam engines during stops? I assume they take everything with them, since most stops removed all of their steam service (e.g water towers) long ago. I noticed they carry two tenders instead of one.

    My grandfather once told me that distances between towns were originally based on, if nothing else, means of transportation, and how far you could transport freight in a day, or between stops for rest/food/fuel (or fresh horses). Horse and wagon freight travel was limited to 10-20 miles a day (depending on terrain), whereas early steam locomotives usually needed water every 20-30 miles. Diesels have eliminated a lot of intermediate stops that had no other reasons to exist. I have seen abandoned track-side steam era water towers in all-but-abandoned towns/stations along the highways in rural west Texas.

    So it is understandable that they added extra tenders on the new steam trains, since those intermediate stops disappeared a long time ago.
     

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