This overall view looks at one far corner of the layout which is devoted primarily to scenery. The large mountain contains 300 pounds of plaster supported by hidden 2”x2” posts and cross beams. The scene includes N scale hiking figures on the top ridge, HO animals on the mountain side, HO swimmers in the lake and some S scale animals in the foreground. Of note is that animals and figures of any scale can be used almost anywhere as long as they are kept distant from any familiar man-made object. Without the ability to visually compare figures to an object of known size, the scale differences are never realized. Such is reality in our fantasy miniature world.

This track diagram illustrates the UTICA staging yard which can hold seven full-length trains of 25 cars each with the locomotive. This staging yard is located in an adjacent area to the layout room and is entered via a small hole through the wall affectionately called a “mousehole”. The other staging yard, ALBANY, is also in a separate room and is entered via a different “mousehole”. Running trains through mouseholes is a delicate task since visibility to the other side of the mousehole is impossible. Dependence on signals and a capable Stagemaster is needed for successful operation. Turnouts in both staging yards are controlled by wireless NCE cabs using macros.

This bulk milk train is rushing toward New York City with milk destined for distant bottling plants in the Big Apple. Bulk milk cars come in many different shapes, sizes and colors which are quite unique and interesting. Notice the track pans between the rails for filling tenders with water while the train is passing at 50 mph. Milk trains are considered passenger trains by the NYC and run on tight schedules. Speed is of the essence to prevent spoilage of valuable cargo.

This deep scene is about ten feet from the foreground to the distant mountain. Deep scenes are a bit unusual since most model railroad layouts hug a wall and follow the arm’s length rule which states that everything should be within 24” for easy maintenance purposes. To enhance the illusion of great distance, note the large girder bridge in the foreground and the smaller bridges in the background.

Demonstrator engines roamed all over NEW YORK CENTRAL tracks. Providing a test drive of their products enabled the Electro Motive Division of General Motors to strut their stuff and, hopefully, win an order. A wide variety of colorful paint schemes on demo engines makes a nice contrast to the grayish look of official NYC designs. Periodically giving cattle water, food and rest was required by law.

This industrialized corner illustrates the use of HO building kits on an S scale layout. Walther’s Cornerstone kits provided the material for the large red warehouse in the corner. The structure is mounted on a base of 3/4” plywood which provides the correct height for the loading dock to align with the floor of an S scale box car. Most any HO kit with large windows can easily be kit-bashed into a reasonable S scale structure by adding a foundation frequently made from strip wood or a plywood base. The mustard-colored grain elevator was scratchbuilt from plastic sewer pipe with Walther’s roof details added.

Heisler No. 3 is hauling empty logging “skeleton” cars up to the forest for another load of cut trees to be taken back down to the sawmill. The Westside Lumber Company (WSLCo.) has acquired running rights on NYC trackage (for a fee, of course) which enables it to roam the layout at will. In the alternate history of this area, the Westside Lumber Company got its early beginnings on the west side of the Catskill Mountains in New York State. It was many years later before the WSLCo. moved its operations to California. While logging operations have the look and appeal of a narrow gauge railroad, all rolling stock has standard gauged wheelsets. Thus, the friendly comment: “Ed’s layout is pseudo narrow gauge.” is heard from time to time. Only here can you see a Shay holding the siding while the 20th Century Limited passes by.

It is hard to believe this finely detailed locomotive was manufactured by Lionel/American Flyer for toy train operation. Thanks to Fred Rouse, a skilled machinist, every tinplate wheel was converted from a large-flange wide-tread profile to the NMRA RP-25 Wheel Contour specifications. Huge AF couplers were replaced with Kadee couplers and Fred also installed a DCC decoder to be compatible with modern technology. This was no small feat, but the end result is superb operation on S scale trackwork constructed to NASG/NMRA standards.

No, the water tower is not related to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It just looks that way due to distortion from a wide angle camera lens.

The Foggy Hollow Logging Camp got its name from the fog which drifts into the hollow every early morning before logging activity begins. Professional artist Mike Kotowski did a magnificent job of capturing foggy effects on this backdrop painting. All those fallen trees on the hillside need to be dragged down to the spar pole for loading onto railroad cars for transport down the hill to the sawmill. The foreground spar pole is an actual HO model of a spar pole. The other spar pole is painted on the wall by Mike to increase the apparent size of this logging operation. The beautiful pine trees were individually constructed by Don Ledger and shipped in a box filled with Pine Scent automotive freshener aroma packages.

The seedy part of town is shown here with a tattoo parlor, smoke shop and a used (stolen?) auto parts store. The black&white police car just arrived in response to complaints of strange odors emanating from the front door of the smoke shop. The track directly behind the orange traffic cones is the town’s team track which has seen virtually every conceivable type of railroad car parked on it at one time or another over the years. The highlight of the year is when the circus train’s advertising car is parked on this siding so that colorful posters can be conveniently plastered on every square inch of available space all over town.

Huge flywheels for industrial machinery require railroads for transportation since no other mode of land transportation is up to this task. The flat car with signage was modeled after a photograph in a GE employees magazine. Note the different colors of track ballast caused by sanding the rails on an uphill grade for increased traction.

This overall view shows almost the entire 20’x30’ 3-car garage in which the layout is located. In total, there is over 300’ of double-tracked mainline which is signaled for bi-directional travel on both tracks. Basic scenery is completed, but fine detailing has yet to be done. I adopted the philosophy of building the layout so that scenery is consistent throughout rather than having superdetailed scenery in one area and obviously lesser scenery in other locations. As a result, many people view the layout as a finished layout when, in reality, all of the scenery needs figures, signs, vehicles and other details. Lots of work yet to be done.

The large silver deck truss bridge was constructed by Don Ledger in cooperation with his friend who works for an engineering firm which designs real railroad bridges. As in the real world, piers are not to be placed in water, but can be located near the water’s edge. A deck truss design was chosen because the distance between the two piers was too great for a girder-based design. Through truss bridges are more expensive to construct than a deck truss (in the real world). The E 72 rating of this bridge was used when determining the dimensions and locations of all members. The high point of this project was when the famous John Armstrong came for a visit during an NMRA convention. He took one look at the bridge and announced, “That’s an E 72!” No one knew what he was talking about, but we all learned within the next five minutes. Don’s bridge has over 6,000 individual pieces of plastic and took about four years of evenings and weekends to complete.

Mike Kotowski gets the credit for the beautiful artwork on the wall. Each of the walls has a masterpiece of his which blends in with the track geometry and structures to provide a wonderful overall impression. This scene also shows a small portion of the sawmill complex, the coal mine area, a dairy farm and the crude oil extraction site – all of which need a railroad for survival. The railing on the large cut stone viaduct is a modified HO highway bridge railing sold by Chooch Enterprises. This is an excellent example of how products intended for other scales can be effectively used on an S scale layout.

Michael Starkey built the red engine house and all associated logging structures. His enthusiasm for logging was contagious and, as a result, I acquired several logging engines. While this scene may appear to be a narrow gauge operation, it is actually completely standard gauge. The real #3 Heisler was re-gauged during its lifetime and so it is authentically correct.

Demonstrator engines roamed all over NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM tracks. Providing a test drive of their products enabled the Canadian affiliate of General Motors to strut their stuff and, hopefully, win an order. A wide variety of colorful paint schemes on demo engines provides an interesting contrast to the dull black or gray of official NYC designs. When color monotony sets in, it is time for a change and the Op Session schedule is happy to oblige.

Patrons of the vintage open-air luxury observation car are enjoying a visual feast of spectacular scenery while on their chartered train experience. The local chapter of the Historical Railroads Association offered this rare opportunity on the CATSKILL VALLEY RAILROAD COMPANY and it was sold out within just a few days. This scene is a good example of how contributions by several friends can be merged into a stunning end result. Trees created by Don Ledger, mountain terrain & rock castings by Keith White, staining & painting by Mike Kotowski, train by Michael Starkey and track & ballasting by Ed Loizeaux. The trackside railing is a commercial HO product which looks right at home on an S scale layout.

The afternoon train, affectionately known as a Doodlebug, arrives at a rural station to pick up passengers and packages destined for the big city. The well-dressed folks are planning to attend a wedding and want to look their finest for the occasion. Railroad workers, as usual, appear a bit grungy in comparison.

It is hard to believe this finely-detailed locomotive was manufactured by Lionel/American Flyer for toy train enthusiasts. Skilled machinist Fred Rouse re-shaped every large-flanged wheel to NMRA RP-25 contours and installed a DCC decoder for compatible operation with modern-day electronic control systems. Fred did it all, but left the engine brand-spanking-new clean for this photo. After some rust, dust, grease, dirt, water stains, mineral deposits, etc. are added, this loco will be ready for some serious coal-hauling assignments from the local mine.

As the Mohawk-powered express train races toward the big city at 70 mph, it scoops water from a track pan so that stopping for replenishment will not be necessary. A fast trip was important to victoriously compete against other lesser railroads, such as the Pennslyvania RR, for the passenger dollar.

Track pans are rarely modeled since only a few railroads used them. The New York Central had 16 track pans along their mainline between New York City and Chicago. More information regarding these interesting devices can be found here:

Petroleum refining requires a lot of space and specialized equipment. Not to mention extensive piping to move crude oil from a ship to storage tanks to refining processes to more storage tanks to railroad cars for distribution. Notice the Hudson River in the background and the dark brown unloading dock where the land journey begins. Tank cars come in all kinds of sizes, dome arrangements and colors. Most of this refinery is constructed from Walther’s HO refinery pieces and parts. It is placed on a hillside to give the impression of largeness.

This illustration shows the entire layout including both staging yards. Sascha Tietz spent many hours customizing this diagram to include exact names of locations and the green linear diagram at the top. It is amazing what can be done with superb software and patient talent. Copies of this diagram are given to road crews to help them to figure out where their train will emerge after disappearing into a tunnel. So far we have not lost any train for more than a minute or two.

Here is a Fairbanks-Morse Trainmaster demonstrator engine spending some time near the NYC diesel shop. The large shop building was built by Jeff Springer based solely on photographs of the Collinwood Shops with considerable selective compression since the real thing is longer than a couple of football fields. The Trainmaster's usual assignment is pulling the colorful circus train.

The Catskill Valley Railroad Company (CVRR) existed long before the NYC entered the area. When the NYC’s Commodore Vanderbilt acquired the small local railroad, an agreement was reached whereby the CVRR’s owner could continue operating some choice equipment on now-NYC trackage until the owner’s demise. Since he has yet to rise up to the roundhouse in the sky, the former owner frequently chooses to run his favorite equipment on the same day as NYC-oriented Op Sessions. Thus, a bit of variety is presented at unexpected times. In case you were wondering, the CVRR is totally fictional and never existed in the real world.

The signal just turned green and the engineer is reaching for the throttle. Massive power will soon reach 80 mph. This is what railroading is all about.

At times, scenery is more impressive than trains. Although static, scenery can be truly beautiful and outstanding – a real piece of art. In this scene, the silver bridge and piers were constructed by Don Ledger using over 6,000 individual pieces of plastic. Some pieces were parts from commercial HO kits while others were scratchbuilt from next to nothing. Mike Kotowski created the waterfall by pouring multiple layers of liquid Gesso at the top and letting it freely run down the hillside seeking its own nooks and crannies. Some layers were whitish, some greenish and some bluish for an interesting overall effect. Notice the green moss only alongside the edges of the waterfall where the water spray dampens the soil. Rock castings by Keith White, pine trees by Don Ledger and a damn fine dam in the foreground by Mike Kotowski. The dam was a most creative project designed and built to prevent lake water from spilling onto the carpet below. A fine solution to a perplexing problem.

Although the NEW YORK CENTRAL Valley Division represents the 1948-1958 decade, there is also a desire to venture outside the rigid box of truly authentic modeling. The release of some spectacular modern diesels stimulated creation of the mythical MUSEUM OF RAILROAD FUTURE (MORF) which is focused on rolling stock envisioned to be common at some point in the future. From time to time, the MORF operates futuristic engines and rolling stock to provide inspiration of what is yet to come. It is purely coincidental that one MORF train runs around at the end of each op session. A grand finale if there ever was one.

This SD70 ACe diesel was manufactured by Lionel/American Flyer for toy train enthusiasts. It was available with either AF wheels or scale wheels made to the RP-25 contour. Included are coupler-mounting brackets to facilitate conversion to Kadee couplers from the humongous AF coupler shown in the photo. Built into this product is a DCC decoder complete with authentic sounds. Lionel can do amazing things when it sets its mind to do them.

This scene illustrates a typical upstate New York area with the Hudson River in the background on a misty morning. The classic NYC Pacemaker box car, small-cupola caboose (limited tunnel clearances), Burma Shave signs and red convertible are certainly reminiscent of the 1950s. The vehicle’s driver is obviously attending to his biological needs just out of sight behind the hill since the train prevents driving forward. Yes, there is a logical explanation for everything.

The NYC liked to run promotional trains to advertise new services such as the fast PACEMAKER trains. The astute observer will notice that one tender wheel is off the rail which accounts for the train being stopped and the headlight turned off. Eventually, the 250-ton crane known as “big hook” will arrive to hoist the tender back onto the track and the journey will then continue. In the meantime, the crew is snoozing under the tree.

Two weeks before the circus came, an Advertising car would arrive in town to apply circus posters to every square foot of vacant space. Store owners were given free tickets for permitting signs in store windows. Elected officials received free tickets to encourage word-of-mouth promotion. NYC 0-6-0 #232 spots the Ringling Brothers Advertising Car on the town's team track.

This circus train has over a dozen audio sounds controlled by DCC. The lions roar, monkeys chatter, calliope music fills the air, elephants trumpet and so forth. Amplifiers, solid state recordings, speakers, DCC decoders and keep-alive circuits all fit within the various wagons mounted on 70' flat cars. Each car and wagon was assembled using precision laser-cut parts based on actual drawings of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus equipment. Custom decals were made from digital photographs of actual cars in the Circus World Museum.