Tasha Oates updated January 14, 2011


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  • Howard Zane's Piermont Division of the Western Maryland Railroad


    Code 83 gives a heavy mainline feel that is so common on a Class 1 hauler. Although most structures are scratchbuilt, both craftsmean and non-craftsman type kits work together to make every scene believable.
    Model Railroading - July 2001 - Page 40

    By Art Fahie
    Photos by the author

    Try to picture a whirlwind of activity, miles of trains, enough benchwork to construct a small home, individually crafted structures, overwhelming scenery, and even on-board video cameras...all used in conjunction with each other and combining to create one of the most spectacular layouts a single modeler has ever created. You'd have to be a marathon man to even try to understand the full-scope of Howard Zane's Piermont Division. There is so much activity, both visual and implied, that this layout falls well beyond the point of model railroading in the traditional sense. If there was ever a layout that seemed to take on a life of its own, this is it.

    I'm fortunate to have gotten to know Howard as much as a friend as a fellow modeler. The first time I visited the Piermont, the total ceiling-high effect of the lush scenery, detailed structures and tiny Shays left an indelible impression. To return years later and see the layout more than double in size, grow in new directions, and evolve into a seemingly complete model of an actual railroad was quite a thrill. Admittedly, I'm a structure guy, but the Piermont has something for everybody. If you are the kind of modeler that thrives on realistic details and serious focus, you've come to the right place...welcome to Maryland, come on in, but please be careful not to let the cat (Howard has nine of them!) into the layout room.

    In preparing this article I asked Howard if he'd like to write the actual text, but he declined, admitting he didn't want to be put into the position of possibly sounding as if he was show boating. If Howard's name seems familiar to you it may be due to the fact that in addition to his modeling skills, he has been a moving force behind the Great Scale Train Show that takes place in Timonium, Maryland, four times per year.



    LEFT: It was difficult to photograph the three bridges that lie just outside of Williamstown. The lower highway bridge is a commercial offering made by Rix. A lot of time went into building the two upper scratchbuilt railroad bridges. Even though I am 6'1" tall, I had to aim the camera up to get in the entire scene...breathtaking! RIGHT: Strong vertical elements, plenty of details, fire escapes and signage are trademarks of the Piermont division. BOTTOM: A string of flatcars plays host to a tourist run at the town of Dembeck. Howard is comfortable modeling complex roof designs like the one on his Dembeck Union Station. The string of NYC cars is by InterMountain; every caboose in this scene is made of brass.
    Model Railroading - July 2001 - Page 41

    Any regular show attendee will tell you that Howard's show is one of the best in the country, often boasting 600 or more tables, and a serious meeting place for modelers of all scales. You can reach the website for the shows at www. gsmts.com. Modelers attend from all over the country. I make the nine-hour trip from my home in Maine, and as a regular attendee I'd recommend you attend as well.

    A layout article can sometimes be a challenge to write; after all we do all tend to do things in a similar fashion. Whereas finding enough interesting information to fill an article can often be difficult, the hardest part of writing about the Piermont Division was knowing how much I had to leave out. Even the photos represent only a small portion of the layout, and with an upcoming addition to Howard's home the layout will again grow another giant leap!

    Some things I can report...the layout was originally Dynatrol, but had been converted to use Digitrax as well, all it takes is the flick of a switch! Shinohara Code 83 track and turnouts are used and controlled through the digital handheld units and powered by twin-coil machines. Because of the layouts rambling dimensions its difficult to report the actual physical size of the thing, but it occupies 2,400 square feet!



    TOP: Although Gerin is a small town, it has so much big-city detail that I couldn't help but photograph it from every angle possible. The laid-back feeling of the countryside is played against a busy foreground scene again and again. Mother Nature is well represented in almost every scene. BOTTOM: A pair of Life-Like SW7s lay dormant in the foreground. The gas station is by Crow River. Howard is careful to elevate all background scenery well above eye level so the viewer sees the railroad much as a Preiser figure might.
    Model Railroading - July 2001 - Page 42


    TOP: This riverfront scene at Williamstown plays host to the Tredwell Textile Mill by South River Model Works. The wooden bridge was constructed from an SS Ltd. kit. Company houses are prevalent in much of the layout and are all scratchbuilt. BOTTOM: One of Howar'ds favorite structures, the Black Nancy coal company, was scratchbuilt from styrene. In the foreground is a Del Barre Tap & Die Co. kit by South River Model Works. While friends sometimes help with scenery construction, every structure on the layout is the work of Howard himself.
    Model Railroading - July 2001 - Page 43


    TOP: A floodlight was suspended over the town of Mack to make this photo possible. There are some areas on the Piermont that are 6 or more deep, and all of them are detailed as well as this one. The Moxie plant in the background was built from a heavily re-worked old Magnuson Brewery kit with loading dock and porch detail added. BOTTOM: N&W 2011 is spotted in the Williamstown area. The loco is made by Life-Like. The Piermont is loaded with bridges...from the Central Valley truss bridge in the foreground to the scratchbuilt highway bridge above. One of NJ Internationals new switch stands adds both color and detail to the scene.
    Model Railroading - July 2001 - Page 44

    An operating session on the Piermont requires 6-8 operators. Surface-mounted uncouplers are used, and Howard is fond of the new NJ International switch stands. Although they look great, they are not actually functional on the Piermont. Spline subroadbed construction is used throughout the layout, and there are 15 scale miles of mainline track. At normal operating speeds it can take from 45-60 minutes for a train to make an entire loop!

    The layout is immersed in lighting of all kinds… and every one of the dozens of structures is lit as well. While many of us use Masonite as fascia boards, Howard has discovered a product called Duralux® that has similar properties, but bends to take the shape of a curve more readily. Duralux is also used for the layout's backdrop and is decorated with cloud stencils from New London Industries. Howard as taken an assortment of photos and uses them effectively to emulate distance back ground structures.

    With an active roster of 300 freight cars, 20 passenger cars, and literally thousands of engines (all beautifully detailed and painted), it can be too much for one modeler to absorb! Having been to Howard's home on several occasions, I can attest to the fact that there is so much going on that it would be almost impossible to appreciate Howard's efforts on a one-by-one basis.

    Now comes more news. putting everything else aside, imagine having enough of a layout to fill an 18' by 36' room… that will be the additional size of the layout in the coming years as Howard builds yet another extension onto his home. WE can only wonder where it will lead, but one thing is for sure, Howard is the guy to make it work.

    Sadly, this article features no trackplan…the Piermont just keeps growing… like mold on a slice of bread. The layout is built "as it happens" and no current track schematic exists.

    As for me… editor Randy Lee has me headed off in the direction of my buddy George Sellios's Franklin & South Manchester for next month's issue of Model Railroading. If there is a model railroad Heaven-on-Earth, I think I've just stepped right into the middle of it!



    TOP: An N&W Oriental Y-3 heads out of the town of Eisen. While the Piermont may have prototype inspiration, it is actually a freelanced effort. Towns are often named after friends. BOTTOM: While many of us have all we can do to maintain NMRA tunnel and bridge clearances, the highway bridge at Brachmann Heights has no such problem. Howard is a master in the use of vertical scenery, from bridges to retaining walls. The Piermont has them all.
    Model Railroading - July 2001 - Page 45


    TOP: The Livestock Hotel at Mack is yet another product of Howard's creative mind. A glance at the parking lot will tell you that there is no shortage of guests. Since their introduction, vehicles by Classic Metal Works have become an important part of the railroad. MIDDLE: The quiet village of Gerin is home to a small service facility. The overhead truss bridge above and the coaling station were scratchbuilt of styrene. Oriental made the B&O 2-8-2 pictured. BOTTOM: Fine scale Miniatures' Barongould Tannery sits on an isolated siding. A close look at the window details reveals the craftsman-like attention that goes into the structures that surround the whole mammoth effort!
    Model Railroading - July 2001 - Page 46


    TOP: Virginian 739 passes through the metropolitan city of North Oldbridge. Union Trust Bank is a structure by SLM (Supply Line Manufacturers). The fire escapes are made from Central Valley and Tichy components. Since the introduction of the open-grid architectural billboards by Bar Mills Scale Models, many of the layout's traditional paper signs have been replaced. BOTTOM: The abundance of detail is amazing. Howard is a fan of the City Classics line of iron-front structures. Printed window graphics by Signs Galore add detail and personality to the many businesses in the area.
    Model Railroading - July 2001 - Page 47

    Article Details

    • Original Author Art Fahie
    • Source Model Railroading
    • Publication Date 2001

    Article Album (1 photo)

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  • Mike 6206
    Mike 6206 Oh, I live in Salisbury, PA, which is 2 miles from the PA-MD line in Southern Somerset County in PA
    January 16, 2011
  • Adam (adaribros)
    Adam (adaribros) Cool! Thanks! Are you going to be at The Great Scale model train show at timonium on February 4 and or 5?
    January 16, 2011
  • Mike 6206
    Mike 6206 That's going to depend on cash and of course, weather! Last year, we were all digging out from 3 feet of snow!
    January 17, 2011
  • Adam (adaribros)
    Adam (adaribros) I remember that well!
    January 17, 2011