Christopher Brimley updated May 11, 2011

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  • Modeling the Penn Central

    by Ron Bareham

    Photos by the author

    The double-track mainline of the former New York Central passes over a former Pennsylvania branchline. A westbound freight led by a GP40 and GP38 is headed for the CB&Q in Chicago. A rebuilt former New Haven caboose of the N8 class (Overland model) completes an eastbound train of empty newsprint cars.
    Model Railroading - February 2003 - Page 36

    Chris Martin of London, Ontario, became interested in modeling the Penn Central in the late 60s when he spent many vacations in Windsor, Ontario. At Windsor, the tracks of the Penn Central ducked under the Detroit River, joining the USA with Canada. Railfanning was great! As Chris describes it, "A typical morning would include NYC/PC passenger trains, the NY4 meat train to New York, DT&I and C&O transfers to CP, Essex Terminal trains and CPs shortlived run through with three GP30s guaranteed. The variety of power and cars in this rail activity was huge, and the vantage points between College Street, at the tunnel mouth, and the CASO station, were clear of brush in those days. Wood-side cars, 40' reefers and state-of-the-art freight cars were common in every freight...truly the transition period. The ex-PRR and NYC combinations were endless, and Im sure glad the Kodak 620 camera managed to hang in."

    Chris was also able to travel by bicycle on weekends to the PC Division Point at nearby St. Thomas, where more photo opportunities were available. The former NYC double-tracked lines through Ontario were without stiff grades and tight curves, and thus became a well-maintained racetrack for New York-to-Chicago traffic, both freight and passenger. They also provided a shorter run than the line south of Lake Erie. Despite being influenced first by the southern Ontario operations, Chris decided to set his Penn Central layout in Ohio. Much of the Ontario setting was flat and uninteresting, but Ohio had gently rolling countryside, which was much better for scenery on a model railroad.

    A downtown street scene. Note the mirror. An S2 switcher is working out of the upper end of River Yard.
    Model Railroading - February 2003 - Page 37

    Chris was a CN employee for some years and much of his modeling was done at the other end of the line while bunking overnight. Chris describes his selection of equipment: "The variety of PC predecessor road equipment is the heart of the model layout. Trains of 20 or more cars are not uncommon, and many types of cars are kitbashed. Most cars of the coil-steel car fleet, for example, have scratchbuilt hoods, and most equipment is custom painted at the PC Shops. As with most layouts, the addition of period vehicles, buildings, signs and track repair equipment aids the sense of the early '70s. Many trees simply disappear into the backdrop as added."

    The 12' x 16' HO layout was constructed using 1x4 pine in open grid benchwork at a height of about 42" to 44" above the floor. The tracks are code 100 and code 83 from Peco and are laid on the usual plywood/Homasote sandwich. Peco large-radius turnouts are used on the mainline and medium radius in the yards and spurs. The radii vary from 21" to 40". The scenery is plaster over screen wire, with the backdrop painted with oils. The maximum grade is about 1.5%. Control is by conventional walk-around throttles without memory.

    The layout is basically a double-tracked oval for the mainline, with a single-track oval branchline with industrial spurs. The central peninsula features the multi-track River Yard. There is also a staging yard in an adjacent room. This configuration allows as many as three trains to be running without intensive operator involvement, which is great for layout tours. Chris planned the layout to be a balance between running trains and switching, either in the yard or the industrial spurs. Passenger traffic consists of passengers in transit between larger centers off the layout. Although the layout can be used for operating, Chris uses it mainly for running trains rather than way-freight operations. His main interest in the hobby is train watching and building period equipment to view in the long, multi-powered trains that he loves to run.

    At Control Point 285 (CP 285) GP38 7754 and two U33Cs slow for a crew change while the afternoon transfer returns to River Yard on the rear track.
    Model Railroading - February 2003 - Page 38 Model Railroading - February 2003 - Page 39

    Besides the railroad equipment, much of which has been kitbashed, Chris has also kitbashed tractor units from Athearn, Cox and Lindberg kits, emulating the prototype Peterbilt units. The trailers were kitbashed from Athearn, Walthers and Lone Star kits. Many of the structures were either scratchbuilt or kitbashed.

    For his future plans, Chris says, We are still constructing the daily mail train and many kitbashing projects abound. There is no end to the additional projects, and time remains the greatest constraint in completing MoW and equipment kitbash ideas. Chriss Penn Central layout will be on the London West tour (#LW24) of the Maple Leaf 2003 NMRA convention. Make your plans now to see it in person.

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