Joe’s model railroad story

“Hi Alistair,

I have been getting your excellent newsletter for a couple of years and really enjoyed it for the information and joy of seeing other model railroader’s ideas and layouts. So here goes my story.

I started in model railroading when I was around 13 years old. (That was 60 years ago)

My dad bought the traditional Lionel set that we set up in our basement. We had an engine with smoke from little pellets, a milk car that automatically spit out cans and a cattle car with moving cattle in and out of the car. How could it be any better than this?

After couple years, my dad’s good friend asked him if he would like to trade our Lionel trains for HO gauge trains and accessories. We did and my connection to real model railroading began. No offense to Lionel train collectors, but I never understood how the third rail was realistic.

This trade included a set of Marklin, engines and freight and passenger cars. (I sold those years ago).
An A C Gilbert HO engine (still own) and cars, track, power pack and buildings.

HO Gilbert engine

I then put together my first layout around 14 years old in our basement. I had no idea what I was doing but I started to read Model Railroader magazine to get some ideas. After some time, I think girls got in the way and I put the model trains away in storage.

So over the years, living in apartments and moving a lot, still having an ongoing interest, I began to purchase HO model train engines, cars and accessories when they went on sale for anticipated use in the future. I knew someday I would begin the hobby again and I did have plans and a vision in mind.

In the late 80s, I moved to London with The Franklin Mint and my wife said “you need a hobby”.

So I decided to start again my long inactive hobby with all British 00 gauge since all my American HO trains were still in storage in United States.

Again, I started another layout with all Peco track, Hornby, Wrenn, Lima wagons and engines. I constructed buildings, hand painted figures, including a whole cricket team. Ironically, all of the structures were fabricated 30 years ago while living in England and carried them to all locations.

My London OO gauge layout after many years of dreaming of this day.

oo scale bus

Plus, a traditional British double-decker bus which I assembled and painted with over 40 pieces of cast metal. An Anbrico kit 19AEC Mk III Weymann.

After couple years in England, we moved to Toronto, Canada as President of The Franklin Mint, and started another layout. After three years I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and started from scratch again.

I completed the layout with mountains, multi-levels and never really finished it because I then sold it to a friend, before I moved to Tampa, Florida, in 2000.

In 2005, I started again. As you could see I put together substructure in my garage in pieces moved to the second floor and put it together.

I took them out of the boxes from storage. All of the assembled structures, trees, engines, wagons and track and points were bought over 30 years ago in England.

On the layout, I began to build mountains, with high detail and try to characterize the chalk mountains that I had experienced in England. Even now, I have many boxes of American trains which I am now selling on eBay.

I continued with my 00 gauge with everything British and a small town, of course with a cricket pitch with all players are hand painted. My plan in the future is to have a High Street area.

After many years, I finally got my act together to making trees, constructing a new layout, new houses, stations, etc. streets, and lighting.

Speaking of lighting…I became so frustrated with the process of lighting structures and street lamps that did not work consistently, sometimes there was a connection then they would go out, very unreliable.

I started using terminal blocks for connectors, then Quick Splice Wire Terminals &Male Spade Wire Connectors and then finally Wire splice connectors Quick Solder less T Tap Connectors that work flawlessly. Success at last, after many tries and many years. (See below)

I created a bead board overpass consisting of 3 parts and put it together simulating stone with my hot wire cutter. This stone over pass was needed to have an access to my future High Street area.

I am now in the process of rewiring the entire layout from 5 blocks with excessive wiring to DCC. I have sold my 5 DC engines and acquired a Hornby A4 Class 4468 “Mallard” with TTS sound.DCC engines and a Prodigy Express DCC controller.

Building Phase 2 with a new mountain, yard and a High Street.

My Best,

Joe

Tampa, FL”

A huge thanks to Joe – really enjoyed his narrative.

It’s funny how this hobby never really leaves you. You may take a break for 40 years or so, but it always comes back. And I’m thankful for that because I do love reading your tips, stories and adventures.

Please do keep ’em coming folks.

That’s all for today.

Don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide is here if today is the day you pick it back up.

Best

Al

PS Latest ebay cheat sheet here

23 Responses to Joe’s model railroad story

  1. Don Poitras says:

    Very nice work.

  2. Larry Litke says:

    Very informative article. Nice pictures. You are absolutely right in that once the bug bites you no matter what age you still keep coming back.

  3. george zaky says:

    Dear Joe from Tampa
    Your story and pics are Mint!- ( pun)
    Seriously you’ve piqued our interest and must continue with videos of running trains please. let us know more about the lighting and DCC.
    Love the cricket team.
    George from NY

  4. RJ Sappelli says:

    I loved reading the story of your model railroading history. all those years in storage bus have resulted in some really neat vintage items. After many moves yo are now working to complete the story. Good luck with your latest project. you should write an article for MR about some of he things you learned over the year. Happy Rails to you as Roy Rogers used to say.

  5. Dave, at Whitby, Ontario says:

    I love and appreciate all the detail. Many hours of work have gone into your layout. You have been very creative with your scenery, providing a wide variety of various things going on in your rail village. Keep up the good work!

  6. Hello Joe from York, PA. It is not all that difficult to convert most older locomotives from DC over to DCC capable once you learn how. or get a hobby shop to do it for you. I already have done several myself on some of my own favorite pieces. There are some locomotives a bit more challenging to convert, like my brass U-50 aka “U-boat” which weighs in at a hefty 3lbs! Trying to fit the decoder and speaker for sound into a brass engine that was never originally made for DCC took the better part of six hours of carefully removing the motor, isolating it from the frame, putting it back in after fishing the tiny wires thru the body to where everything was going, and then the final reassembly with everything else. It was DEFINITELY worth it because it is one of the best running engines I now have and the members of the club are a bit envious when it run it during open house shows.
    Norm Lawrence in York,PA

  7. Jim says:

    Nice. Your layout features some unique and realistic scenes. Some great modeling going on here. Thanks for sharing.

    Jim AZ

  8. Brian Messenger says:

    Hi Joe, you have created some very believable scenes on your layout. The best scene that I have not seen on any layouts, are the cricketers playing cricket. A very nice story. Well done and keep up the good work. Brian RSA🇿🇦

  9. Eric says:

    Nice work Joe, the various scenes are very good, especially the potholed roads.
    Eric (Leeds) UK

  10. James says:

    Hello Joe,
    Yes when that to train bug bites, you become a model railroader.
    You have done an excellent job on your layouts. I can see the love and careful attention to detail in your modeling.
    The old saying. Practice makes perfect. I do believe you are soon reaching your own let c el of true perfection in this hobby, and life long passion.
    Please from time to time keep us updated on your progress.
    Keep up the good work. Every day is a Great day to run by a train.

  11. I agree with you completely on your feelings toward Lionel “O” gauge track. The older I got the more it irked me. Then it was that all the cheap track sections were all silver. I worked at a Lionel train store for awhile. I never saw anybody getting any of the up graded track sections with the molded track bed. Everybody that came in wanted the cheap 027 track. As I got older the motion movement accessories began to bother me the most as being for younger children likes. I think it was the crossing guard accessory that pushed me into HO gauge. The accessory worked great, but was half the size of my train. This was an enjoyable article to read and made me wonder how model trains and made me remember how I thought train scales get could get any smaller ? than HO gauge back then.

  12. Mark StJohn says:

    Great layouts and story Joe
    Detail is priceless. …
    Yeh I always hadda issue with the middle rail on my Marx OO w hen I was a kiddo too ..which is why I got into HO gauge….
    Keep dm runnin fellas…

  13. Mike Schulze says:

    Absolutely love it. I spent a number of years in Europe and now also live in South Florida. I appreciate what you have done and how your RR evolved. You have captured the old culture and landscape.
    Mike

  14. Dave Mcclelland says:

    Hi Joe. Great job on the layout! Your trees look fantastic. How do you make them? What material do you use? Could you send another email explaining your process about how to make them? Thanks, Conductor Dave.

  15. Robert E. yablonski says:

    Joe,

    Nice work. You would not believe how mant Franklin Mint models i own.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Bob

  16. Richard from Oregon, Hi Joe, I really like what you have done, great looking layout, keep up the inspiring detail, I am currently an armchair railroader, reading articles and dreaming of building an O scale pike with Gar graves track.

  17. Rich Sheola says:

    Great article and photos. Terrific detail that I won’t have patience to do myself. Really like the cricket match !!!

    When you’re ready to sell the American HO”s see if Al will let you post them on this site. Depending on what you have I might be interested in some .

  18. John T. Meyer, Sr. says:

    What impressed me most was how the realism in your layouts improved over the years. What a great story! Thanks …

  19. Stephen D Gispanski says:

    Nice job Joe, Doing a great job there on your R&R. I to am getting geared up to getting my man cave up and looking like a mancave. I’m a little kid but I’m in an old mans body. Look what marriage did to my looks, Lola just kidding. 33 years with my beautiful wife and I hope to be around for another 33yers. That would put me around 83,wow,. I live here in the St.Petersburg area, you might have seen me if the news about the 40th street closer on the bridge. But any way I have O gauge and HO gauge in a 10×10 room.
    SDG

  20. Cord Reynolds says:

    Joe, your story is VERY familiar! At 57, I am just now preparing to begin building my ‘dream layout’. The last attempt was in 1976, at 14, a complete disaster, but I’ll never forget the lessons I learned. I can only hope the result this time is more like yours than my last one!

  21. Andrew Aves says:

    Wonderful layout and a great model. No criticism, just one tiny little detail. Unlike baseball, the cricket umpire stands at right angles to the batsman and wicket keeper, it is the other umpire who stands immediately behind the wicket with the bowler. Andrew

  22. Dennis Davidson says:

    Great details and scenes Joe!
    Speaking of train choices… in the late forties and fifties there were only two major model railroad trains to choose from in the US. One was Lionel O gage with three tracks, and the other was American Flyer S gage with two tracks. So, if you were going for realism, there was really only one choice. I’m currently building an American Flyer layout and intend to look very closely at what you have here to continue on with the realism that I wanted as a boy and continue to desire as a train-crazy grandpa in my 70’s.
    Cheers to all. I love the posts Alistair! Dennis, Vashon Is, Washington State.

  23. Steve Anderson says:

    That was a well written and documented story and one that sounds familiar I think to many of us in the hobby. Start our young, have a life with no space then finally get the space. It is great what you did. I live near Seattle so get to go to some trains shows in Canada and I must say looking at the “English “ layout are great and sometimes more “Fun” then the “American” layouts. Thank you for sharing

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