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.

New Additions to the Roster

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.

#628 at Snyder, OK in 2009 by John Strenski

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.

Stay tuned for more updates, y’all!

Chickasha Compress

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

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

There is a new YouTube video in the works! Until next time, y’all.

Cassidy Grain

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.

Until next time, y’all!

The Varnish

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!

Here’s the train dead-heading back to Altus after a Quartz Mountain Flyer excursion in August, 2016.

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!

And We’re Back!

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!

Its Starting to Feel a Bit Like Home…

I’m not from Frederick, OK. I’m from the west side of Oklahoma City. But the rural, western part of my home state is my favorite part of the state, and holds a lot of happy memories for me. So its really nice to see the layout scenery come together and remind me of home.

I still have some work to do on color composition with regards to the dirt and grass, and the spur in the foreground needs a concrete loading dock. But overall, I’m quite pleased with how this part of the layout is turning out.

I used a different color of ballast to help the WT&J “dummy track” stand out. The tall switch stands are from Rapido, and I’m very happy how they look after some painting and weathering.

I made sure to add plenty of real Oklahoma red dirt (that I packed into Mason jars before we moved to the Carolinas) to help accent the dirt and parking areas in this scene.

The water tower is from Tichy Train Group. It was an absolute nightmare to assemble. To be fair, I’m a mediocre model builder at best. I weathered it with a wash of Burnt Umber artist oils and mineral spirits. The Dunavant Cotton warehouse is a simple Pikestuff kit-bash.

Most of the green static grass came from blending different colors and lengths from Silflor, while the wheat field was a combination of Noch and Heki products.

I hope to make a video of other progress soon! On the other side of the layout, ballast and ground cover is near completion, and several roads and grade crossings have been built. I’m working on a fertilizer plant, and am about to start construction on a gas station.

In the meantime, I’m still getting my operating and switching fix a couple times a week on the East Penn layout!

For Amber Waves of Grain…

Hi, all! Sorry for the lack of updates! I’ve been so busy working on the layout, I haven’t taken much time to document my progress. However, here’s a sneak peek at what’s happening on the South End of the Grainbelt:

Two Farmrail locomotives slumber in the hot, early summer sun during the wheat harvest of 1999 in Frederick, OK.

I’ve always wanted a wheat field scene in a layout. Nothing says Oklahoma quite like a golden field of Hard Red Winter Wheat, ripe for harvest. I dedicated a small corner of the layout to a wheat field, and overall, I’m pleased with the results.

I used two different blends of long, golden static grass from Noch and Heiki to achieve the field, and it turned out great. I’m still blending the soils along the edge of the field.

The water tower is a Tichy Train Group kit (most obnoxious model I’ve built to date) that I weathered heavily with artist oils.

I’ll have more updates here soon on other progress on the railroad. In the meantime, thanks for reading!

New Video is Live!

Howdy, all! I finished filming a layout tour of and the first operating session on the “South End of the Grainbelt” and you can see it here:

I’d like to thank Tom Klimoski for his recent blog post about my work, too! He was all too kind.

Tom is a great guy, and his Georgia Northeastern model railroad has been a big source of inspiration, so I’d urge you to spend some time looking through his website if you haven’t already! Tom has really captured the look and feel of his chosen prototype (which is almost the Georgia version of Farmrail! Haha.) and he’s also been very kind in offering modeling tips and advice.

Until next time, y’all!