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.
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.
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.
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.
The grain elevator in Duke is also an occasional shipper, and these cars were usually UP hoppers interchanged with the WT&J.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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?
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?
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.
I’ve been working on adding to my fleet for the layout, and thought I’d share some of that here.
First off… they’re finally here! I’ve been eagerly awaiting these Farmrail “shuttle hoppers” from Intermountain Ry. Co. for years. They finally shipped! The models are excellent, and I was able to get all 9 road numbers. Farmrail uses these hoppers to move grain from small elevators to large shuttle loaders to be transferred to BNSF unit trains.
I also purchased a new locomotive. Farmrail purchased several ex-Iowa Interstate GP38ACs and never repainted them. I found an Atlas model in one of the correct road numbers that will make for a relatively easy patch job.
I’ve also become more bold with regard to weathering my rolling stock. This is the first “expensive” car I’ve been brave enough to weather, an ExactRail model. I used some AK and Tamiya washes and I’m really happy with the results.
There were once a couple cotton compresses that shipped by rail on the south side of Frederick, OK. That rail traffic seems to have dried up for Farmrail in the early 2000’s, hence my chosen modeling era.
I constructed Dunavant Cotton out of a couple Pikestuff kits, but I for the Chickasha Compress, I only needed a loading dock. The rest of the warehouse is “in the aisle.” Enter Tom Klimoski’s excellent article in the November 2020 issue of Model Railroader magazine.
The loading dock was cast using Rockite cement from Lowes and a simple styrene mold. I have since added lots of weeds around the loading dock since this photo was taken.
The result is simplicity that gets the job done. The real cement works well to capture the look of the real loading dock. I may add a few cracks with a pencil, but that’s it. I highly recommend checking out Tom’s article!
The scenes around Frederick, OK on my layout keep getting better, as this above photo is evidence of. The locomotive is yet another GP10 on my roster to return from Canada after receiving the artistic touch of Ron Arsenault of weathermytrains.com
In other news, I spent the past Saturday volunteering at the North Carolina Railroad Museum’s New Hope Valley Railway as I continue to learn the ropes of the train crew. I’d like to give a shout out to the creator of my cool shirt in this photo, Notch 8 Gear. The owner is a locomotive engineer and Army veteran from Oklahoma. Check out his store at https://notch-8-gear.myshopify.com/
There is a new YouTube video in the works! Until next time, y’all.
I have finally finished one of the two grain elevator complexes in Frederick, OK. Cassidy Grain, a local grain and farm supply company, is a fixture in the town.
Although my model isn’t a perfect replica, I pushed myself to take on more challenging kit-bashing techniques and I’m pleased with the result. It reflects the “feel” of the real Cassidy elevators. The elevators started out as Walthers kits but were modified heavily, to include cutting out pieces and filling in windows and doors with putty. The connecting pipe between them was kit-bashed from multiple Walthers components and some fishing line. Weathering was done with powders. The warehouse to the left of the elevators was left over from a previous layout, but it fits nicely. The real warehouse it was based on actually sits a block or two south and is a sea-foam green color, but this works.
The large, modern silos on the left on the complex were built some time around 2006, right after my era, so I’ve chosen to leave them out of my model.
I’ve also added the unloading hose and wheel stops to the fertilizer track in the foreground and planted more weeds. The hoppers fouling the switch during loading would seem to be a necessity on the prototype if you look at the actual track arrangement in Frederick.
I’ll eventually add some more details around Cassidy Grain, like dumpsters, propane and fertilizer tanks, and semi trailers for the harvest. But for now, its on to the Farmers Co-op elevator!
I did some operating on the layout last weekend, and it was all kinds of fun! Its amazing how much operating potential a small layout can have. Its important to slow down, and try emulating prototype practices.
First the train arrived in town with “light engines” and picked up outbound cars from the Farmers Co-op. There was an empty hopper at the fertilizer spot and two loaded cars at the (imaginary, for now) at the elevator. Notice in the foreground, there’s an “off spot” loaded hopper that was left there the last time the train came to town; it will need to get spotted at the Co-op fertilizer building in a bit.
Once the conductor had tied onto the cars from the Co-op, the conductor rides the shove down the elevator tracks a bit further to Cassidy Grain to pick up three loaded cars. Cassidy Grain kit-bash is coming along slowly! The two tank cars on the liquid fertilizer spur are still being unloaded, and will remain where they are today.
Once the air hoses are tied on and a brake test is done, the train pulls forward to pull all 6 cars from the elevator tracks. This means crossing the WT&J diamond, which means the train stops and blows the horn and ensures the crossing is clear before moving across it. I love having a layout big enough to switch cuts of cars this long. Of course, it would be more like 12 to 18 cars in real life, if not more.
Then the crew backs the outbound cars onto the main track. The GP10 prime movers roar.
After spotting the off-spot hopper at the fertilizer plant (which I neglected to photograph because I was too busy having fun!), the crew heads back across the diamond to pick up the BN box car loaded with cotton at Chickasha Compress. This industry still needs a loading dock to simulate the rest of the warehouse “in the aisle.” I plan on following Tom Klimoski’ s excellent article for this in the most recent issue of Model Railroader.
The conductor rides the shoving move to attach this car to the cut of outbound hoppers that was left on the main. The conductor places a flag on the rear coupler of the box car. After that, the locomotives run around the train (which actually takes some time, running at realistic speeds), ties onto the outbound cars, conducts a brake test, and heads for Snyder, OK.
I’ve finally finished equipment acquisition to model Farmrail’s former excursion train!
Farmrail used to own two VIA coaches (they’ve since been sold to the Oklahoma Railway Museum) that they once used to provide excursion rides for the local community. The caboose was sometimes used on the train, and was usually powered by a GP10 on each end. The most well-known and scenic of these trips were the Quartz Mountain Flyer trains that once ran between Quartz Mountain and Lone Wolf, OK. My wife and I got to ride back in 2016 and it was a real treat!
My GP10s are of course Intermountain, and Walthers did a caboose in Farmrail colors that works well. The coaches are Rapido Continental Line, and will eventually lose their Milwaukee Road paint in favor of Farmrail brown and cream.
Although I’m not sure if Farmrail ever ran any excursions for the good people of Frederick, OK, I’m looking forward to being able to run a small passenger train on the layout. I enjoyed riding this train and its a shame that there are no longer any excursions on Farmrail.
Here’s some video I took from our trip 4 years ago!
I’ve neglected to write updates lately because I was having some technical difficulties with the WordPress site, but all seems well again! Here’s some of what has been going on on the layout:
The gas station from Summit Custom Cuts is mostly finished! Although this is definitely a proto-freelance scene, I was really excited to have this on the layout.
I was honored to be a guest on Model Railroading Live: Small Layouts, Big Opportunities this evening! If you missed out on the conversation, check it out here:
I was really honored to be a part of such a great conversation with such renown small layout builders like Tom, John, and Scott. I urge you to check out their inspiring modeling work when you get the chance!