Christopher Brimley updated March 11, 2011


Christopher Brimley's Tags


Browse Articles » Layout Tours Text View Magazine View

  • Harvey Robinson's Essex & Lakeside Railroad

    Cedar Springs is home to a variety of industries; the real Anthony Lumber Yard makes its home in Harvey's home town. Here, an Atlas NYC RS3 gets "clear rail" for entering the main. Gary Robinson hand painted the backdrop.
    Model Railroading - November 1998 - Page 36 Model Railroading - November 1998 - Page 37


    by Art Fahie

    How many of us stay with a project through its completion? Not that many I'll bet. Yet, on a cold New England Christmas in 1958 Harvey Robinson assembled the track that would evolve into his Essex & Lakeside Railroad. Now, 40 years later, Harvey operates with the infamous " Broken & Mangled" operating group, busily dispatching trains and entertaining the ten or more operators that dutifully arrive to enjoy one of New England's true legacies.

    The E&L is a freelance railroad, and despite nearly 40 years of growth and development Harvey will be the first to tell you, "It's not finished yet!" The huge backdrop was painted by Harvey's son, Gary, a third-generation sign painter, while he was still attending art school!

    The railroad is loaded with structures, some from kits, others scratchbuilt, but all crafted to fit the New England style of modeling the E&L strives to represent. An attention to details, accentuated with a variety of colorful signs and graphics, help to give the railroad an identity of its own! It seems that after 50 years of being a sign painter, Harvey is still finding new clients for his craft, this time in HO of course!

    A sign painter by trade, Harvey knows how to use signs to define the era and location of his railroad. Here, at Essex Yard, a large paper sign, cut out of the Sunday paper, adds detail to an otherwise quiet scene.
    Model Railroading - November 1998 - Page 38

    The E&L is designed to be operated with between five and 12 modelers, and utilizes any one of three schedules, depending upon the number of operators present. All movement is dispatch controlled from a CTC board, which itself is a focal point of the railroad.

    As a fictional New England railroad, the E&L acts as an interchange between several short lines. Such station names as Swampscott, Fort Fungus & Cedar Springs line the route, accommodating as many as 20 trains on a full operating schedule.

    The benchwork is L-girder, using a plywood or pine base with cork roadbed. In larger yards Homasote replaces the cork, and hundreds of pounds of Hydrocal landforms are supported on a foundation of crumpled newspaper and paper towels.

    The railroad itself measures 25' x 28' and follows a point-to-point route. The mainline is code 100 rail, and the 22 mainline turnouts are dispatcher/CTC controlled. The average layout height ranges from 44" to 53", Harvey has taken the time to revise the trackplan to eliminate all duck-unders.

    Lit with incandescent lights, dimmers serve to lower the lighting as structures come a live with interior illumination, and the background becomes a glow with the twinkling of stars. Although Harvey reserves the theatrics for open-houses, it's an effect even non-raiIroaders won't soon forget.


    This ice house once existed on Flax Pond in Lynn, MA. Back in 1939, Harvey started working there, cutting the ice from the frozen pond and hauling it into waiting wagons. The structure is scratchbuilt of wood and styrene. The prototype was torn down in 1965.
    Model Railroading - November 1998 - Page 39 Model Railroading - November 1998 - Page 40

    Operation is at the heart of the E&L; with up to 12 operators working at a time, things can get mighty hectic, so a color coded card-order waybill system is used in conjunction with a 9:1 fast clock. "Broken & Mangled" operators are each responsible for bringing their own two-way FM transceiver radios to avert any communications problems.

    This point-to-point single-track railroad has its eastern terminus at Essex and its west end in the town of Lakeside. Multiple passing sidings allow two-way traffic. A wye around the station at Essex accommodates the several passenger trains and freights which turn there. A number of freights originate at the large yards across from Essex Tower. The Essex tower operator also has a complete view of the Swampscott Branch switch.

    Traveling west, the Glen Valley Railroad meets up with the E&L at Hillside. Freight and coal trains, plus one passenger train, originate on the Glen Valley Line.

    Continuing westward, the E&L arrives at Cedar Springs. The Cedar Springs Switcher resides there and is used to handle classification duties as well as to spot cars at the local industries. The westward journey takes us to the "Lalime Divide," where most road freights make trailing-point pick-ups and set-outs.

    With the E&L going strong at 40, Harvey still enjoys dispatching. The B&M boasts two real-life Amtrak dispatchers in its group...there's no room for mistakes when it comes to operating this railroad!
    Model Railroading - November 1998 - Page 41

    Traveling through the tunnel we emerge at Summit, a location just before the East Lakeside Yard . Activity increases at East Lakeside, an E&L hub that services several freights, both incoming and outgoing. A local switcher also works from this yard and handles the plentiful chores at the industrial area of nearby Lakeside. It's here, at Lake side, that the E&L interchanges with yet another carrier, the Fort Fungus & Feeble Flats Railroad.

    By agreement, all passenger trains originate, terminate, and are serviced at Fort Fungus. The "4-F" originates one freight train per day and keeps the local switcher busy with heavy local industry. Home-road locomotives are the norm, with regular appearances by Fort Fungus and Glen Valley power which has trackage rights on the E&L.

    The E&L operates with the help of Athearn, Atlas and Bachmann. All rolling stock is equipped with Kadee couplers, and numerous uncoupling magnets are buried in the track around the layout. Harvey uses pastel chalks to weather and age his rolling stock. You'll find no expensive brass here!

    It seems that after four decades, and thousands of man hours, Harvey would be ready to embark on a new adventure. Yet, the thrill of operation and the skill of modeling have only elevated the sights of a man who has done so much already. So, some where in the basement of a home in Lynn, Massachusetts, while many of us are busy watching TV, Harvey goes about a passion that seems to bring out the boy in us all... and many a New Englander wouldn't have it any other way.

    Article Album (1 photo)

    Share - Report