Newsletter February, 2012

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Model Railroad Newsletter


February, 2012

Welcome to the February issue of the SMARTT Newsletter.

Wow, only eleven more months to Christmas! If you've been toying with the idea of a layout for your home or business that's ready to enjoy for this year's holiday season, NOW is the time to act. Complex, high-end layouts like we manufacture do not happen in a day or even a month. Planning now for a layout to be received at Christmas time is your best bet for holiday excitement and satisfaction.


Raymond Potter
Scale Models, Arts, & Technologies, Inc



SMARTT's Picture of the Month
Featured News
Things to Ponder . . .
Workbench Talk
Did You Know . . . ?


SMARTT Is Running On All Cylinders Into February

On the shop floor, SMARTT’s expanded version of the Atlas Central Midland Layout is proceeding on schedule. There's not much more to look at as much of the effort this past month has been completing all the electrical work "under the hood."

On the O-scale masterpiece layout, the bridges, tunnels, and complex tunnel liners are complete and being installed in conjunction with adjacent scenery. The three complex control carts that run different sectors of the layout have been integrated together and were fired up for the first time. Wow, almost as complex as the space shuttle and working just as advertised!

SMARTT's Picture of the Month

A hard day's work at this roundhouse. It must be someplace in Chicago as the distinctive EL train can be seen in the distance

A hard day's work at this roundhouse. It must be someplace in Chicago as the distinctive
EL train can be seen in the distance.
Learn more about this combination HO/O scale layout!

Featured News

The Woodland Scenics Fire

by Ray Del Papa

The Woodland Scenics fire, photo from the Lake Today News

In case you haven’t heard, the Woodland Scenics plant at Linn Creek, Missouri caught fire on January 4. There were no injuries. Woodland Scenics is considered to be one of the largest manufacturers of model railroad scenic supplies in the world. The company employs over 150 people at the Linn Creek facilities. The fire was contained to only two buildings. Fortunately, the company production facilities are dispersed across several buildings located throughout the town. Woodland Scenics does not expect the fire will have as great an effect on production as first thought. According to Gale Cousins, “our shipping department, warehouse, and corporate offices, as well as most of our manufacturing buildings were spared from damage.” They also feel that business should be back to normal soon. We are all relieved to hear that.

Thankfully, as previously stated, no one was hurt, including the firefighters; however, it might be time for them to release a vehicle scene with a fire truck and firefighters.  They could even add one of their structures with a smoke generator built in.

Good Reefer(s) On the Way

There seems to be numerous shipments of new reefer(s) heading our way this spring, but don’t report this to the DEA. Several companies are reporting new releases of 37’ and 40’reefers, (refrigerated) cars both steel and wood construction, as well as some milk cars. Rapido is releasing 37’wood reefers, based on a design built by GARX, General America between 1937 and 1941. Intermountain Railway company are re-releasing their PFE R40-10 reefers and steel milk cars. The latter are complete with steam and signal lines for passenger services. They will also rerelease their Red Caboose Line’s 40’ wood reefer in seven different paint schemes.

Milk Car

Intermountain Railways 40’ steel milk car, Photo Intermountain Railways

MTH is releasing their R40-2 40’ wood reefers in six-packs and singles; several different paint schemes will be available. All these releases have added on grab irons, ladders, and other detailed parts not cast into the molds. When will someone release a Colombian Gold Reefer Company 40’ reefer? Or how about a Texas & Mexico RR, “The Joint Line”, 50’ reefer?

Amtrak and NJ Transit Going Big

As Americans are getting bigger and fatter, so is the need for larger seats on trains. Both Amtrak and NJ Transit realize this problem and are taking steps to deal with this big issue.  Amtrak will provide new wider seats on 25 new dining cars starting in 2013. NJ transit announced that 100 new double-decker train cars will have 2.2 inch wider seats. However, that does mean there will be less seating capacity per car, so more people will have to stand. And who should be the ones standing more? Certainly not the person weighing 150 lbs! Both Metro North and the Long Island Railroad are looking into how they will deal with this problem on their new passenger car orders. However the US is not the first country to deal with this problem, Sao Paulo in Brazil was to first to install larger seats on their subways back in 2009.

There have been some politicians out there demanding that Amtrak and commuter trains need to carry heavier loads; that day is coming.  Speaking of heavy loads and this being that time of year for the Super Bowl; I often wonder if the chartered aircraft the professional football teams use has  any kind of special seating? 

However the real news here is that Amtrak is getting 25 new dining cars starting in 2013. I know the dining cars on the Florida trains date to the 1950’s and are the oldest cars in service today accommodating passengers. I hope to take the train north to Washington DC from Miami this April. If I do, I will report on that trip.

Con Cor MP-54

Rarely if ever has commuter equipment been the focus of such an ambitious model railroad project. Con Cor announced over a year ago it would do the PRR MP-54 commuter cars in HO scale. Previously these cars have only been done in brass or in resin, the resin version being only the body shells.

Very soon, Co Cor will release the entire fleet of not only PRR cars but the Long Island version as well, and in several different paint and lettering schemes. There will be baggage, baggage-mail, combine-coach, coach, and trailer (no pantograph), in all the different PRR letting variations. On the Long Island side, Baggage-mail, combine-coach, and a coach all with third rail pickup shoes. All will be available as ether powered or unpowered, except for the trailers. The only thing that does not appear to be offered at this time is a Penn Central version.

Pennsy Coach with Keystone Paint SchemePennsy Coach with Postwar Paint Scheme
0001-94515 Pennsy Coach with Keystone Paint Scheme0001-94513 Pennsy Coach with Postwar Paint Scheme
Pennsy Baggage/mail with Pre-war Paint SchemePennsy Combine with Keystone Paint Scheme
0001-94522 Pennsy Baggage/mail
with Pre-war Paint Scheme
0001-94547 Pennsy Combine with Keystone Paint Scheme
Long Island Coach with Tuscan Paint Scheme

0001-94517 Long Island Coach with Tuscan Paint Scheme
All photos from ConCor

Things to Ponder When You're Planning Your Model Railroad Layout . . .


by Raymond G. Potter
colorado layout

SMARTT layout based around Colorado with lots of pines
Photo by SMARTT

Despite the number of loving hours you put into your layout, making it a masterpiece of art and engineering, the layout will probably not come to life until you start adding the trees.  It is somewhat akin to painting in the eyes on a portrait, the trees on a layout give it that certain spark of life that can often be missing. Unless your layout’s theme is “whatever I feel like throwing there” you will probably want your choice of trees to support your overall theme and locale. Indeed, trees will often set the location and tone for a layout, far more so than even land forms, especially if your layout is themed around an area with lots of level ground. It’s very easy to get carried away adding trees as the case is almost always for “more looks better.”

For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll focus on trees of the mainland United States, a popular area for modelers, since the majority of motive stock released in many scales is US themed with Europe following a close second. We’ll talk about the types of trees that are found and which areas would be the most appropriate, then we’ll discuss what you can get in the hobby market.

Deciduous Trees in winterDeciduous trees in spring

Deciduous Trees in Winter (left) and Spring (right) Photos from Wikimedia Commons

Trees generally fall into two types depending on the region and climate. Deciduous trees are those that lose their leaves and go into a dormant cycle for part of the year, especially in colder climes where there is an additional advantage of less resistance to the weight of heavy snowfalls. Evergreens are trees that are continually renewing their leaf structures throughout the year, even during cold seasons. This generally includes tropical trees that remain green year-round and take advantage of extra sunlight even in areas where the soil is not heavily nutrient rich.

Because deciduous trees change throughout the year, they are very good for denoting a specific seasonal theme. If your layout is set in the dead of winter, you’ll want bare branches with no foliage. Spring trees will have a fresh growth of green showing. Summer trees may be covered with eye-catching blossoms in those species that flower. Finally, most pleasant of all is the autumn trees that are starting to turn colors as their leaves die off and drop. Fall coloration can range from red to orange to yellow in some trees. Train-spotting areas of the eastern US like Horseshoe Curve come alive with brilliant color in this season.

A SMARTT layout featuring PA’s Horseshoe Curve in Autumn

A SMARTT layout featuring PA’s Horseshoe Curve in Autumn. Notice the colors of the deciduous trees.

In the regions that experience significant cold spells, the evergreen population tends more to the conifer type of tree. These cone-shaped trees like Pines, Firs, and Spruces can more evenly distribute snow so that their branches don’t collapse under the weight in any one area.  Conifers are heavily distributed across the American northern regions where snow is a fact of life. As also noted, evergreens do well in nutrient poor soil which is probably why you’ll find lots growing in the arid soil in areas of Colorado, along with Aspen trees.

Conifer forest in Northern California

Conifer forest in Northern California
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

If you are modeling actual desert like in the American southwest, there are models available of various cactus species including the saguaro cactus, and someone even makes Joshua trees. A Model Railroader article a few years ago featured one creative individual who found a way to plant tiny live cacti on his desert layout; nothing is more authentic than the real thing! If the California or Florida coast is your scenery of choice, a number of manufacturers sell palm trees in various sizes for your scenicing pleasure.

There are many manufacturers who produce scale model trees, from the obvious ones like Woodland Scenics and Scenic Express, to the less obvious choices of Bachmann and MRC (with their new JTT line-up). Their websites have pictures of their current offerings. Most of these big train manufacturer corporations’ selections are trees that work best for smaller scales like HO and N although there are some that will work in O scale as well. Because trees are constantly growing, there is no set scale so the best judge of what fits where will be your own eyes. Specialty model railroad scenery companies like Grand Central Gems and Timberline focus primarily on trees and have offerings that are larger and more appealing in big scales like G. The specialty companies are also more likely to have package pricing for a bigger number of trees than just the sets of 2 as the smaller scale trees come packaged.

Woodland Scenics Premium Oak TreeMRC Willow Tree

Woodland Scenics Premium Oak Tree
photo from their website

MRC Willow Tree
photo from their website

The trees in the smaller scales come in a wide array of species, although many look pretty similar when you pull them further away from your face than a few feet. Most noticeable are trees with blossoms or fruit which stand out better against the green leaf canopy. The methods of manufacture differ as well, with some having trunks made of twisted wire, others of cast plastic; a few have wood trunks with wire branches inserted into them. The all-around nicest deciduous trees that I have ever seen used dried tumbleweed as trunks. That was a while ago so I’m not sure who makes that type nowadays.  Higher cost does not automatically equal a better tree so you may need to hop down to the hobby shop yourself and look at actual stock to determine which is most aesthetically pleasing to you.

Timberlines’ Pines with wooden trunks

Timberlines’ Pines with real wooden trunks.
Photo from their website

Installing trees on your layout is a project in itself and calls for plenty of patience (what in the hobby of Model Railroading doesn’t?). Our methodology calls for punching a small hole in the hard shell of the scenic surface and gluing the tree trunk into it using high viscosity super glue and accelerator. Be careful of hidden tracks below the scenery; cover them so no glue endangers them. Since some trees come with a molded root base, you may need to snip this off or even insert a wire up the bottom of the trunk if it isn’t long enough. Trees should occur in twos or threes of a species in a given area. There can be an occasional stand alone, but small groupings look more realistic. After installation, a little scenery may be needed at the bases to cover glue marks or scenic chips.

Sometimes, a large number of trees will be so close together that you really only need detailed trees at the front edge, where the trunks will be visible. Densely packed areas can be filled with tree-like balls of foliage that do not have trunks as the trunks can never be seen, just the canopy of the tree. This can be seen in many layouts in the train mags where a tree covered hillside is completely and realistically depicted using this method. The back part of the Horseshoe Curve above was created using such a technique.

Trees will bring your layout to life, but unless you are modeling a desert you will also be surprised by how many you really need to cover even a moderately forested area. This is one more reason that planning ahead and knowing what you want will make your project that much more enjoyable and stress free.

Workbench Talk

Nondescript Apparatus

by Ray Del Papa
The Anheuser Busch Brewery in St. Louis, inspiration for the model brewery detailed below. Photo from forums at

The Anheuser Busch Brewery in St. Louis, inspiration for the model brewery detailed below. Photo from forums at

I am not sure if I first heard the term “nondescript apparatus” from Art Curren or Dean Freytag. However I do remember what they were referring to --- any apparatus that gives the appearance that it belongs in a specific place on a specific structure is, in that case, right. Here is what I do remember Dean Freytag saying “If it looks right, put it there.” My definition of a nondescript apparatus as it refers to industrial structures is any appliance that fits in to the function of that industry is therefore right. Examples: pipes, cooling towers, vents, blowers, turbines, cyclones, condensing units, tanks, and the combination of any of these.

I love to make industrial buildings, and I love to detail them with as many appliances as possible, without over doing it. So I first study the type of industry I am doing; online photos and books are a good start.  Once I find a good reference I try to figure out how I can duplicate those really cool gizmos that are on the sides and roofs of that building. Also, since most of my work is freelance, using non-descript apparatus works very well, all it has to be is close to something in real life that you have a photo of.

I am currently building a very large brewery complex, complete with grain silos, malt house, brewery, and plenty of industrial appliances. As you can see by the photo below, a brewery has a lot of detail, so much that it would be almost imposable to recreate totally. The other problem is that this photo is the only good photo I’ve found of the brewery, so I will have to wing it on the details. However, we do see a lot of pipes, conveyers, small silos, condensing towers & units, vents, and smoke stacks.  Below this photo is a photo of my uncompleted brewery. It is far enough along, however, to see that it too has many of the same features, the big difference being that two thirds of my brewery is made of concrete and not brick.

two cooling condensers (center top) started as Chooch Enterprises flat car loadsAlso note the tank (Walthers) with the walk way and the two blower vents (also Walthers) on the bottom right
Here are some of my favorites: the two cooling condensers (center top) started as Chooch Enterprises flat car loads. On the bottom left are the cyclone vents from the Revell bakery. Also note the tank (Walthers) with the walk way and the two blower vents (also Walthers) on the bottom right.

Some of the parts I used as a base for these appliances include the cooling/ condensing towers from the Walthers Champion Meat Packing Plant and the A. J. Frost Cold Storage Building. There are resin cast duplicates of the large side vent from the Superior Bakery kit, and all the top detail parts are from the Medusa Cement Plant kit. Some of the detail parts that were bought separately include O scale cyclone vents from Model Tech Studios, refrigeration units by Chooch Enterprises, Walthers roof detail kit (out of stock), various vertical and horizontal tanks, and the wall mounted cyclone vents that are included in the Walthers Red Wing Mill kit and also sold as a separate detail part kit. Some of these I built as directed, most however were highly modified or kit-bashed.

Here is the cooling tower from the Jack Frost kit
Here is the cooling tower from the Jack Frost kit (center), plus another blower vent and one of the roof top storage bins from the Walthers’ Medusa Cement Plant.


Here are two other types of cyclone vents, the ones on the left are from Model Tech studios the ones on the right are modified from the Walthers’ kit.

Here are two other types of cyclone vents, the ones on the left are from Model Tech studios and the ones on the right are modified from the Walthers’ kit.


on Model Trains and TV characters - 2011

by Raymond G. Potter


Big Bang Theory’s Dr. Sheldon Cooper shares the joy of HO model railroading.

Big Bang Theory’s Dr. Sheldon Cooper shares the joy of HO model railroading. BBT Photo from



Television is often the vehicle for reflecting society and acceptable social habits (or the reverse) so it’s nice to see that several recent TV shows have showed their characters enjoying model trains. Actually, the two shows in question are consistently the top scripted comedy and drama in the national ratings. I refer specifically to CBS’s The Big Bang Theory and NCIS.

In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, Theoretical Physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper, played by Emmy winner Jim Parsons, is going to the new train shop to see a discussion of which is the superior scale, but his “open” mind is made up, “It’s O gauge or no gauge.” Despite his rigid stance, he is nevertheless populating his coffee table with a Bachmann Rail-King HO train set later in the same episode as it turned out that the discussion was actually a shameless sales pitch for HO starter sets. By the end of the story Sheldon has proclaimed “It’s official. I’m an HO Trainiac!”

Watch the Train clips from this episode of The Big Bang Theory
all threaded together by Robinvti on YouTube . . . 02:50

is a procedural drama about investigators who specialize in military related cases as part of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service under the department of the Navy. In a recent NCIS episode, the team’s medical examiner, Dr. Donald (Ducky) Mallard, played by veteran character actor David McCallum, is cleaning his HO Hornby locomotive at his desk. A model train (apparently O-gauge) has appeared in the background of numerous episodes, and now another gets a “walk-on” as it were. And the train in question?. . . it’s a Mallard. Someone on the show must be a train fan as an earlier episode had a criminal holding Ducky hostage discussing the Mallard's record with him.

From Wikipedia, “Number 4468 Mallard is a London and North Eastern Railway Class A4 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive built at Doncaster, England in 1938. While in other respects a relatively typical member of its class, it is historically significant for being the holder of the official World Speed Record for steam locomotives.”

Dr. Donald Mallard cleans his Hornby Mallard on NCISDucky's O scale Mallard on a shelf in his lab
Photo screengrab of NCIS's Dr. Mallard from OGR forums where the news of Ducky’s pastime started a lively discussionPhoto from supplied by Doug Reilly, Graphic Artist for NCIS

While many of us remember Arnold’s train obsession on Diff’rent Strokes and the ride-on loco that was a regular set piece on Silver Spoons, model trains have not been a big part of pop-culture media recently so it’s nice to see them being shown again in a positive light, especially considering that both hobbyists depicted are adults (arguably, in Sheldon’s case) and both are doctors. The positive message seems to be that model trains are not just a hobby for kids. Grown-ups can enjoy them too.

Did You Know . . .

That Many Railroads Had Vast Fleets of Water Vessels?
by Ray Del Papa

Floating grain elevators

Floating grain elevators Photo, Rail-Marine information group

It’s true! Especially among railroads that served large harbors, the need to have and maintain a fleet of water vessels was great. Carfloats, flat topped barges with up to three sets of tracks, were very common in New York, Baltimore, Detroit, and the San Francisco Bay area. These barges were designed to carry up to 25 freight cars over short stretches of open water where there is no direct railroad connection.  An example of this was the New York harbor area including the New Jersey side.  Here there was no bridge or tunnel for freight traffic to connect the New York side with New Jersey. Therefore, those railroads that served the harbor needed a vast Carfloat operation.

Other vessels that were common include tug boats, covered barges, refrigerated barges, lighters (both with and without booms), ferryboats, livestock barges, and floating grain elevators. For more information on rail-marine operation Walthers and Morning Sun Books have publications on the subject.

Another interesting aspect of rail marine operation was the land facilities that were built to support the railroads' marine operation. The two largest ones were the ferry terminals; several railroads in the New York area had commuter lines in New Jersey that connected directly to ferry boats that crossed the Hudson River to terminals in Manhattan. The Erie, Lackawanna, New York Central, Pennsylvania, and the Central of New Jersey all had this service. But the most important facilities were the carfloat bridges and the railroad yards that supported them. There were no fewer than 10 different railroads that had carfloat operation in New York harbor. They filled the waters around New York with hundreds of boats. It would have been a lot more difficult for Capt Chesley Sullenberger to ditch his US Airways airbus 40 years ago in the Hudson River. Too many trains.

carfloatUS air flight 1549
Hudson River carfloats, photo NY State ArchivesUS Air flight 1549 Photo by Chris McGrath

Thanks for reading the SMARTT Newsletter. If you received this email from a fellow train enthusiast, you can sign up for your very own copy on the link at left.

For more train related content, check out our blog, SMARTTrax. And, if you're not a Facebook fan yet, you're missing out on exclusive content available nowhere else.


Raymond G. Potter
Director of Creative Services

Scale Models, Arts, & Technologies, Inc.
(P) 305-949-1706

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