What’s Important?

Limited resources will really force you to be introspective and evaluate what matters in the hobby. You can either get bogged down by those resource constraints, or use them to focus in on greatness.

In my case, time and space are the biggest limitations. Our home is small and my model railroad(s) must share the family living space. My military career keeps me busy, and I have a 1 yr. old daughter, so time for modeling has become scarce.

How we choose to negotiate those limitations will determine our success and whether we achieve our end goals. They’ll also help us discover a great deal about our real motivations along the way.

A GP10 shuffles covered hoppers at one of the elevators. These sort of operations are slow paced and enjoyable. I also get a kick out of taking “railfan” photos as I operate.

It may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t actually enjoy building plastic models. Scenery is fun, and weathering cars is therapeutic, but kitbashing structures and detailing locomotives is not a part of the hobby I enjoy. I prefer the actual model building to come in spurts and have every-now-and-then projects. Other than freight car weathering, I don’t want a project on my work bench all the time. It took time to admit how little the model construction aspect of the hobby is actually a priority for me. Some hardcore model builders and scratch builders may view me as a little bit less of a model railroader, but that’s ok.

So, what is important to me? Having a layout that transports me to a place and time, and something that I enjoy looking at even if I’m not actively running it. A layout that is a part of the study, not buried in a basement. It’s important to have casual operating sessions that I can run solo and enjoy the trains without any preparation work. A place where I can enjoy the custom weathered models that I’ve invested my hard earned money into. A layout where I can “railfan” the trains as well.

Both the locomotive and the hopper car in this photo were custom weathered, and that added to my enjoyment of my layout and model train collection. But there’s something of my own work I am immensely proud of in this picture: the track I painstakingly painted, detailed, and weathered.

Priorities change and skills change over time. I want to get better at the building and painting aspect of the hobby and I continue to try and challenge myself. But I had the realization that if I could commission a new layout from Lance Mindheim’s Shelf Layouts Company and send all my engines up to Rob Arsenault at Weather My Trains for weathering, I’d enjoy the hobby just as much. Weathering rolling stock, small detail projects, casual switching, and letting trains run while I enjoy a book and a beer in the study sounds like my ideal. Of course, that’s not the reality right now, but it was a heck of a revelation.

So what does that mean for future modeling plans? Here’s what I think:

  • Future layouts should have a more proto-freelance approach, where I’m not frustrated trying to build a specific structure needed for a specific prototype. If I could go back, I’d model a composite of favorite scenes on Farmrail, rather than trying to faithfully recreate Frederick, OK.
  • I must be unwavering in my philosophy that the layout must coexist with the home and family. Several well meaning, wonderful friends have suggested extending the layout around the room over the closet, adding lift-out bridges, etc. I’m sure it could work, but the thought of trying to find a rain coat in the closet when we’re late for church, chase a mobile toddler through the room, or wrangle a stubborn bulldog who doesn’t want his medicine doesn’t mesh well with that sort of thing. Any sort of set-up work beyond flipping the power switch and firing up the ProtoThrottle would mean I’d run the layout even less.
  • I never realized how much I like to “railfan” my layouts. More attention needs to be given to how it will photograph during the planning stages.
  • Less is more. A 30 min operating session is usually plenty for me.
  • If and when I move on from Farmrail, I need to ensure I select a prototype that gives me flexibility to enjoy things I like. Scenery. Big EMDs. Casual operations. Maybe a short passenger train here and there. And be something that I won’t spend a lifetime custom building and painting things, because it would never get done.
  • On that note, I’ve realized just how much time, money, and space is required to do a model railroad right. I’ve begun to sell off some large parts of my collection that I’ll likely never use and don’t fulfill my priority short term or long term goals.
Honestly, I really enjoyed assembling, painting, and weathering the switch stand in this photo. Its the kind of small project I most enjoy having on the work bench.

Sometimes some self reflection on what you’ve learned so far is good for you. And can help frame out how you should plan for the future!

Running Trains and Enjoying Life

Hi y’all!

I haven’t had much time for a blog update lately. Since my last post, I’ve completed another successful overseas tour and have been enjoying lots of quality time with my family. Its been good to be home, and it looks like it will continue to be home for another 2-3 years!

I haven’t done too much to the layout, but I did acquire a Proto Throttle, and that has really enhanced and improved operations. I can’t say anything about it that hasn’t already been said by others in the model railroading space, but I will say I’m a big fan and happy customer, and I highly recommend it.

I also recently had fun turning the clock forward on the layout for a couple of operating sessions. I model around anywhere between 1995-2005 on the layout, when there was more traffic on the Frederick, OK line and GP10s still dominated Farmrail’s roster. But when Athearn released a GMTX GP15 in the exact road number for one that is currently leased to Farmrail in the present day, I had to grab it.

These days, Farmrail’s main customer in Frederick is a cattle feed operation that unloads on the “main” line south of the diamond, near the end of the track. They get several cars at a time, some from as far as Canada and some Farmrail shuttle cars from other parts of the system. I don’t model this industry, but it was easy to set cars out on the main and “simulate” them being pulled down to the industry with a front-end loader.

Cars for Stockmans at Frederick, OK. Photo credit: John Strenski

Some of the other elevator tracks and sidings in Frederick are now used for car storage, so I filled a couple tracks with crude oil tank cars and plastic pellet hoppers (commonly stored cars on the railroad). I also simulated running with a conductor in a pickup truck, which changed somewhat where I chose to make cuts, tie down cars, etc.

The resulting operating sessions were fun and casual, and resulted in about 20-30 min. of running. Plenty! Sometimes I would tie down the locomotive in town, sometimes it would return to Snyder. Sometimes cars were switched a short distance to and from the WT&J interchange, which is prototypical as well.

Although the layout has already returned to the late 90’s, I may have to break out the GP15 and do it again sometime soon!

Until next time, y’all!

Telephone Poles and the Horizon

One of the last details I wanted to add to the layout were some telephone poles along two of the roads. I think they turned out pretty decent:

I would like to blend that horizon better with a photo backdrop, but that will have to wait until after my upcoming “work trip.” In the meantime, I’m enjoying running the layout and taking some photos and playing with editing. I’d like to write an article on the Frederick layout for publication.

Speaking of the horizon…

I’ve become really interested in the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern (better known as the Reading & Northern) and Appalachian mountain scenery. While I don’t think I’m giving up Farmrail any time soon, I want to pursue a “side project.” Priorities include expansive scenery and continuous running, and less of a focus on switching. To that end, N scale seemed to be the logical choice, especially given the fact that Atlas has produced a good number of models in N for the RBMN and they are all easily had online.

Photo credit: Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern

I intend to start this project sometime next year, and am keeping an open mind as to the exact nature of what I’ll build. I envision something free-standing, rather than a shelf layout. My friends have suggested this track plan as a good candidate:

Still in the planning stages, but it should be neat to see how this all develops…

Also, I’ve added some new locomotives to the collection. Here’s my lovely wife (Genesis) running an Athearn Genesis model of an Amtrak Genesis locomotive.

Until next time, y’all. I’ve got some switching to do.

2003 – What a Time to be Alive!

2003. I was eleven years old. I’m not sure if the subscription to Model Railroader was a gift from my parents or a relative, but I was ecstatic when that January issue came in.

I was organizing my old magazines when I realized how great a year 2003 was for Model Railroader and how those issues began to form my identity as a modeler. I thought I’d share some thoughts on some of my favorite issues and articles from that year, and how they still shape my place in the hobby today.

January and the Turtle Creek Central. Right off the bat, what a cool 4×8 layout! I desperately wanted to build it when I was a kid. The issue is barely holding together now, I spent hours pouring over it. I loved how the layout had an operational purpose despite the more traditional design.

I’ve always wanted to build a 4×8 project layout from the magazine and put my own spin on it. Perhaps one day I’ll even bring life to my childhood dreams and build this one! The branding on that cover issue also tugs at the heart strings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wanted to be one of those kids. My own father mostly treated my love of trains with indifference. Maybe someday my daughter and I will build a project like this together. Even if she doesn’t share my interests, I want to make sure I support and encourage her passions and dreams.

Another note on the January issue – that article on 1942 is great! The World War II era often gets overlooked in favor the early 1950’s transition era. From a prototype modeler standpoint, I feel that many transition era layouts miss their mark by trying to include too big a variety of things. I sympathize with the difficulty of finding the correct steam locomotive models, but I think the beauty of the WWII era is often overlooked. Diesels were around, especially Baldwin and Alco switchers, but steam still ruled the road.

On to February… wow! One of the few layouts I’ve seen in Model Railroader that includes a layout based in Oklahoma. While Bill Van der Meer’s Sweetwater & Orient mostly depicts west Texas, he included a scene from Lugert, OK on his shelf layout. The scene is a tad too arid, but still, its Oklahoma! This article was one of my first introductions to a point-to-point shelf layout that depicted a prototype I could relate to. I often envisioned building something similar depicting the Rock Island.

On to April. Gil Freitag’s incredible Stony Creek & Western graced the cover and a large fold-out section. I was enthralled by the sweeping mountain scenery. The article focused on how the layout had attracted a community of operators around it. The concept of fellowship around operating sessions on a large, private model railroad intrigued me, and it still does. I still haven’t had the chance to be a guest at a big operating session on a basement layout, but I’d sure love to one of these days.

I’ll have some more musings about other issues of Model Railroader in 2003 in future posts. I hope y’all don’t mind this little trip down memory lane. Like a journal, this blog has helped me to organize my modeling thoughts, chronicle my successes and failures, and consider what lies ahead. As I ponder where I’m going in the world of model railroading, its good to consider where I’ve been.

Is it Done?

No model railroad is every truly finished. But to me, there’s a difference between adding small details and refinements and building entire sections of scenery and major structures. I think Frederick, OK is done, for all intents and purposes.

There are several important details I’d like to add: A car puller at one of the elevators, stop signs at the WT&J crossing, and discarded ties along the ROW. But when I step into the hobby room and look at the layout, there’s a sense of completeness about the layout, and that’s rewarding.

I’ve learned a lot from this layout, probably more than any past layout. I plan on writing a “lessons learned” blog post explaining the mistakes I made and what I’d do differently. I’m headed out abroad for work again, but there’s a chance we could be living in North Carolina a couple more years when I get back – if that’s the case, I might have time to improve on some of those deficiencies. In the meantime, they’re mostly easily overlooked, and I enjoy running trains on the layout immensely.

While I was reorganizing the hobby room, I found myself flipping through old issues of Model Railroader from 2003. Man, that was a great year for that publication! I also plan on sharing a blog post about how that year of that magazine influenced 11 year old me, and how it has impacted my modeling goals today. More on that to follow.

Also, my friends have been hearing the rumblings of me, a serial layout builder. What is next? I’m already plotting a few ideas for the future… I’ll write more on that as the ideas start to come together.

In the meantime? I think this is the best layout I’ve built yet, and I’m gonna enjoy it!

Additions to the Crew

We’ve got a couple of new hires out here on Farmrail in Frederick, OK!

On Valentines Day, my wife joined me for a quick informal operating session on the layout. We had fun filming it and running some trains. She makes a great engineer, I think my friend Tom H. (a veteran engineer and GP10 aficionado) would be mighty proud of her.

A few days later, our lives changed forever when we welcomed our baby girl into the world! Aleksandra Lee Bogaski, or “Sasha” as we call her (Sasha is Russian for Alex), is gorgeous and we love her so much. Mom and baby are both doing great! We’ll have the little one marked up as a brakeman in no time.

I did finish a few projects on the layout before the whirlwind of baby girl’s arrival. I have been having fun weathering rolling stock, and I more or less finished the last major structure, the Farmers Co-op elevator.

Also, check out this slide I recently acquired on eBay! This is some vintage Farmrail right here. Two GP9s resting in Weatherford, OK in 1986 in front of the old Rock Island depot. I think the GP9s were pretty new to the property at this point, having just replaced the ex-FEC GP7s that the railroad started with.

Photograph by James Claflin, slide in my collection.

Until next time, y’all!

A Break From Our Regularly Scheduled Programming…

I’ve lived in Aberdeen, NC for nearly two years. I enjoy railfanning around town; its usually as easy as jumping in my truck when I hear a horn (especially when it comes to the two short lines). We live near downtown, and the community is small enough to easily get around.

I have been meaning to put together a video collection of some of my railfanning catches around town for my YouTube channel, and I finally finished the project today.

There are some fascinating trains that run through town, although the scenery isn’t my cup of tea. I actually gave some serious thought to modeling the Aberdeen & Rockfish on the north side of downtown. The two transload tracks and the CSX interchange essentially make for a real-like Inglenook right out in front of their shops. Maybe I should draw up that track plan one of these days… I have it all in my head for now…

One of the Amtrak engineers regularly gives me a nice horn show when I’m track side, and I’ve gotten to know some of the ACWR crew members. Nice folks. It may be a temporary home for us, but Aberdeen, NC has always made us feel welcome.

Quiet Day

Its a hot, windy day in southwest Oklahoma. Farmrail isn’t running into town today. The folks at Cassidy grain loaded the UP hopper this morning, and are probably sitting in the shade somewhere enjoying a sandwich and a Dr. Pepper.

I don’t think I’ll win any awards for this scene, and sure, it could be more detailed. I’m kicking myself for not planning for a photo backdrop in advance. But when I look at this scene, I like what I see. The grain trailer is really a nice detail.

Work is progressing on the Farmers Co-op elevator, more on that later.

Hollis & Eastern

I’m a dreamer. I enjoy designing model railroads, exploring new potential prototypes, and even creating freelance or proto-freelance model railroad concepts. I’d like to start slowly sharing some of those ideas here, over time. It would take multiple lifetimes to build all the model railroads that I’d like to build, but perhaps someone else can find some inspiration in these ideas even if I never get around to building them all!

There are some neat short lines in western Oklahoma. One such railroad is the Hollis & Eastern. When the Katy proposed abandoning their branch line from Altus, OK to Wellington, TX in the 1950’s, local businessmen stepped in, buying the line from Hollis to Altus, and naming it the Hollis & Eastern. Into the 70’s it was difficult to tell much difference between the H&E and the Katy days, because the little railroad used a leased MKT GP7. In the 70’s a large gypsum wallboard plant was built in Duke, OK, and the railroad was bought by its new major customer, Republic Gypsum. At some point the tracks between Hollis and Duke were torn up.

The H&E running from Duke to Altus on August 11th, 2000. Photograph by Wes Carr.

I think the first decade of the 2000’s would be the most interesting period on the railroad to model. The line used a single GP10 to make their runs between the wallboard plant and Altus, and used a combination of bulkhead and center-beam flat cars to haul the product. The wallboard cars are interchanged with the BNSF in Altus, and the interchange is accessed via a short portion of the Wichita, Tillman & Jackson RR (the short line successor to what is left of the Katy’s famed Northwest District). The plant also gets single tank cars of some sort of chemical. An SW1 handled the switching of cars inside the plant (as it does to this day). The blue paint scheme really stands out on both locomotives.

H&E #8170 westbound at the tiny hamlet of Victory, OK on July 6th, 2006. The elevator has not shipped by rail for many years. Photograph by Chris Paulhamus.

The grain elevator in Duke is also an occasional shipper, and these cars were usually UP hoppers interchanged with the WT&J.

H&E train tied down at the gypsum plant in Duke, OK on January 8th, 2005. That industry sure does look like a Pikestuff kitbash, don’t it? Photograph by Chris Paulhamus.

Now, to the model railroad. This railroad, despite its small size, needs space to breathe. Rather than try to cram it into a small layout, I designed it with a bit different philosophy. Lets say one had a large bonus room, say 12×18 ft, and wanted to build a large but uncomplicated layout. Lets say they’re like me and enjoy building scenery, weathering rolling stock, and casual operations. Building lots of structures isn’t their thing. This plan has it all for that sort of individual.

I was able to completely replicate the track arrangement in Duke, despite having to wrap it around a curve. The plant could be kit-bashed with Pikestuff components for the most part, and the large steel silos for the elevator could be custom ordered from Iowa Scaled Engineering’s Grainbelt Models division.

The out-of-service elevator at Victory and the long trestle over the meandering, sandy channel of the Salt Fork of the Red River would both be extremely satisfying scenes to model. I decided to represent Altus with staging to save space, so as not to crowd the layout and take from its open feel.

The operations are quite simple. The train takes loads from Duke to Altus, interchanges, and brings back the empties. From there, it does its switching work and ties down. The plant employees use the switcher to shuffle center-beam flats in and out of the plant for loading.

H&E’ #39, the plant switcher, in 2010. Photograph by John Strenski.

I don’t think this would get boring, other than the limited roster. A back-date to the 90’s, when the primary power was a CF7 would be easy. A back-date to the 70’s when GE center cab switchers were used would also be possible. A back-date to the 60’s with the leased Katy geep is not impossible, but you would need to have the grain elevator scene removable (for older elevators). Also remember that in those days, Duke wasn’t the end of the line.

These days, the H&E still exists but is much quieter. The wallboard company contracted the operation out to Watco’s Stillwater Central RR, and that nifty GP10 is gone. The SW1 is still in the plant. Rail shipments are down, and the Watco crew only drives out once a week or so to work the line. A friend reports that its been several years since the grain elevator has shipped by rail.

Modeling the present day on the line would certainly be interesting, though, as Watco often had a wide-cab ex-CN geep out there as power. They’ve also borrowed a Farmrail locomotive at least once when their locomotive was having trouble.

Hope y’all enjoyed!

There’s No Place Like Home

I’m a Soldier. But unlike many who join the Army to get away, I never really wanted to leave my hometown. Sure, I wanted to see the world, and see it I have, from South Korea to Germany, but I have never really had much desire to live permanently anywhere other than Oklahoma. I knew that deep down within even as a 23 year old second lieutenant, a recent college graduate, packing up my little pickup truck and driving to Fort Benning, GA to report for duty.

That was nearly eight years ago.

Now, I find myself missing home more than ever. My wife is a Texan and echoes my feelings. We’re reluctant inhabitants of the East Coast these days. But we long for those wide open spaces, a land of kind people, strong winds, and good barbecue. A place where everyone says “y’all” and you don’t stand out for wearing cowboy boots to church. That sentimentality drives my modeling in many ways.

I got the chance to go home for Christmas, and other than a short 36 hr. dash home a while back for a good friend’s wedding, this was my first time home in 3 years. I feel especially blessed that we could make the trip during this pandemic. Amtrak roomettes are great for social distancing!

Don’t worry, stick with me, I’m getting to the musings about modeling.

Me in front of the Texas Eagle (our ride from Austin, TX to Fort Worth, TX. We had a short lay-over in FTW and then hopped on the Heartland Flyer (best darn little train on the Amtrak system) to Oklahoma City, OK.

I was reminded why I love home (and I sorta lump my wife’s beloved Texas into that “home” category now… shocking, for an Okie, I know…) and why I choose to model the Oklahoma prairies. The way I felt driving around or gazing out the window of an Amtrak train. The laughs with friends and family. The cup of coffee I shared with some railroad friends. Modeling, as an art, helps us connect with that part of our brain and that part of our soul.

I poked around windy, lonely farm towns and grain elevators, watched in awe as BNSF stack trains roared by, and quietly sipped a beer and watched the dark countryside fly by at 79 mph aboard Amtrak. Home.

A southbound BNSF intermodal at Perry, OK on Christmas Eve, 2020. I never thought I’d miss BNSF orange, but after a never-ending stream of CSX blue and yellow near my house, this was a sight for sore eyes.

I felt affirmed in my modeling endeavors with Farmrail, for sure. But coming home after a long absence allowed for some fresh perspective too. Here’s some things I started thinking about:

  1. I love modeling Oklahoma. But Kansas and Texas have factored importantly in my life too. My family largely lives in Kansas and some of my happiest memories are of “chasing trains” in Hutchinson, KS with my grandpa. Texas was my first home with my wife, and where I started my Army career. The visual components are very similar; have I limited myself by refusing to look at a prototype not far across the border? I’m particularly interested in the Wichita Terminal Association… grain elevators in an urban setting, and a terminal railroad that uses UP and BNSF power… what’s not to love?
  2. Speaking of trains that evoke emotion. Amtrak has often been important to me. Nearly all our vacations since my wife and I have been married have been on the rails. More importantly, when we were newlyweds, the train connected us when we were apart. I was stationed in Texas, my wife was finishing her law degree in Oklahoma. We took the Heartland Flyer to see each other on the weekends. Its a great little train, and I’d love to model it, especially in the picturesque scenery of Big Canyon. Of course, that means modeling the 20+ daily BNSF trains that accompany it… perhaps it would be more manageable in N scale?
  3. Is less more? I poked around the Blackwell Northern Gateway RR on Christmas Eve. The railroad has one or two on-line customers, but mostly makes its money on car storage these days. They run “as needed”, usually about once a week. I operate my layouts maybe once a week. Given the space, would peak realism be to model an even sleepier short line (Farmrail stays pretty busy for a small railroad)? Maybe stretch is out over a large space? Maybe go up to O scale, where my two strong points in the hobby, scenery and weathering, can really shine?
Industries on the Wichita Terminal
The Heartland Flyer… believe it or not, that’s Oklahoma.
EWLX power on the Blackwell Northern Gateway RR in South Haven, KS on a very blustery, chilly Christmas Eve.

I’m not giving up modeling Farmrail anytime soon. I may not ever. But I’ve got one eye on the future, and I’m excited to see where it takes me. I might just have to take Jeremy Dummler’s advice and purchase an O scale freight car, weather it up, and see how I feel about it.

In the meantime, we’re in a full court press to get the Frederick layout mostly finished, because I’m about to have a whole lot less time for modeling. We are weeks away from meeting our baby girl! Lets see if I can get this last grain elevator finished before then. More on that later.