Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Model Railroad Influences

What model railroad articles or authors influenced you as an aspiring young/beginning model railroader?
Although I find inspiration nearly everywhere I look on the internet and in the magazines today, my earliest influences, like most modelers, were in the pages of the model railroad magazines. And despite the fact that I would later be on the staff of Model Railroader, the majority of my early influences were found in the pages of Railroad Model Craftsman. Some of my model railroad heroes shared their work with us through the pages of this magazine at that time - names like Dave Frary, Bob Hayden, and Art Curren. Little did I know I'd get to know the three of them as friends and co-workers when I joined the MR staff - at the time they were model railroad giants to me. 
For the generation of modelers that came before me, John Allen is often heralded as the greatest inspiration. And though I admired (and still admire) his creation, I never really considered him one of my direct inspirations. To this day if you ask my generation of model railroaders who their greatest inspiration was I think Allen McClelland would win hands down. His Virginian & Ohio series ran in RMC about the time I was in high school – and was a real shift in the way model railroaders considered everything from design to operation. In many ways, the V&O and its creator defined the “modern” model railroad layout. I devoured every word of that series. Allen’s fictional railroad was so well thought out that I remember searching (in vain) through a railroad atlas in the local library for the V&O.
Another modeler, who’s work we didn’t see anywhere near enough of at the time, was Dick Elwell. His Hoosac Valley Railroad remains a favorite – and unlike the V&O it still exists today (although in a different house than when I first encountered it in the pages of RMC). See this post for some photos of the current version of Dick's masterpiece. 

Two other modelers who were an influence on me are not as well remembered as Dick and Allen today – but they still provided me with a significant amount of inspiration. Interestingly, they both modeled 19th century railroads. I'm not sure what that means, if anything, except perhaps their work was unusual enough that it really made an impression on me. Or maybe because my first HO set was an AHM 4-4-0 "Reno" I thought their articles applied to me more directly. In any event, their modeling and articles made quite an impression since I remember it clearly more than 30 (yikes!) years later. 
I don’t think either is active in the hobby anymore. (I believe one may have passed away a number of years ago.) (NOTE - See the comment section below)
The first of these two was Lester Jordan. He modeled a little-known Pennsylvania narrow gauge shortline called the BB&K that interchanged with the Shawmut (RMC, February 1978). His article, Trees of Autumn (RMC, October 1979) showed me that modeling realistic autumn scenery was possible, and the key was to have the overall tone of the coloration reflect the way trees actually changed color. His article on “Painting Russia Iron” appeared in the March 1978 RMC –and remains the best treatment of that subject I’ve ever seen. I remember referencing it when I was answering a question for MR’s Paint Shop some 20 years later.
The last big influence I remember from my formative years was Russell Griffin. Perhaps it was because he modeled New England (like Elwell), which was home to me, at a time when it seemed like no one modeled standard gauge New England railroads, that I found his articles so appealing. I still recall them after all these years –
November 1978 – “The Stone Fence” – a how-to showing how to build a true New England signature item.
July 1980 – “A New England Enginehouse” – At a time when it seemed every kit on the market was either over weathered to the point of stretching plausibility or was some fanciful version of reality this was a well-worn structure with the simple, basic lines that are a hallmark of New England vernacular architecture.
June 1979 RMC – “An American from a Mogul” – this was my first attempt at kitbashing – and my model came out pretty well. A neat project converting a Roundhouse (now Model Die Casting) “Old Timer” 2-6-0 into a “beefy” 4-4-0. Lots of neat detailing tips (as a bonus he also built and detailed one 2-6-0 “stock.”
December 1977 – “Personalize Your People” – Russ started out as a military wargamer who learned how to convert figures. He applied those lessons to create model citizens who looked right in his 19th century world. I still use the tips in this article.
There were others of course, but these four gentlemen really inspired me “way back when” to try different materials and techniques. For that I’m thankful since they really opened up a lifetime of challenge and fun.  
So, who were/are your well-known, and perhaps not-so-well-known modeling inspirations?   


Philip H said...

Being slightly younger then you . . . I'd have to say my influences cross your somewhat. I got started in the era of Gordon Odegard, and his Clinchfield project in MR was seminal in setting the bar for my as to what a functional and well rounded N scale layout should be. Bruce Chubb taught me all I needed to know about operations, and the long ago Kalmbach published book on operating his old Sunset Valley lines is probably the most treasured tome in my railroad collection. I too have bean heavily influenced by the V & O, as well as Tony Koester's old AM. Any Sperando and Dave Barrow's various Cat Mountain and Santa Fe layouts will always inspire.

These days, I look to what Bernie K is doing on O scale ACW, David Popp is doing in N scale, and various contributors to N Scale Magazine (several of whom are close friends) to keep me up to date. M.C. Fujiwara out of California is probably tops of my list right now - and I think he may end being my generation's John Allen.

Tom Patterson said...


Those RMC cover shots bring back a lot of great memories, especially the shot of the V&O. I got into the hobby in a serious way in the winter of 1978, and I remember a lot of great articles from RMC in the late 1970's and early 1980's. In addition to Allen McClelland, Tony Koester and Eric Brooman, I remember some great freight car articles by Wayne Sittner. He was years ahead of everyone else with his weathering techniques. And just about everything that John Nerich and the guys at Rensselaer Polytech's NEB&W did was of great interest. I developed my own set of "Green Dot" standards for freight cars on my layout based upon some of their work.

Speaking of influences, I had the opportunity to run a V&O coal extra with the classic blue F units on the point and a Santa Fe style caboose carrying the markers on Gerry Alber's layout a few months back. And the best part was that Allen McClelland was there next to me. It was the first time I'd met him, and having the chance to chat with him was one of those opportunities of a lifetime.

Tom Patterson

Anonymous said...

Philip H. mentioned Gordon Odegard of Kalmbach's Clinchfield RR--which was a real achievement, given N scale's relative crudeness at that time--but when I was a teenager in the late 70s/early 80s, I drew a great deal of inspiration from another Kalmbach project railroad, the Yule Central. The YC demonstrated that with just a bit of artistry, a small, very traditional plywood sheet-based HO layout with inexpensive components (Atlas Snap-Track, Athearn and MDC rolling stock, and plastic structure kits) could be a showpiece model railroad. For me, it was the moment that an awesome model railroad became an attainable goal.

Another outstanding model railroad from the late 70s/early 80s that still continues to inspire me as my modeling focus has narrowed to heavy electric railroading is Bob Hegge's Crooked Mountain Lines. Hegge penned a number of traction-related construction and project articles for Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman in the 70s and 80s, where his CML layout was a backdrop for his O scale traction and heavy electric models. Many current traction modelers (sorry about that pun) , like Tom Piccirillo of Micromark, cite Hegge as an enduring inspiration.

As to modern day layouts that influence my modeling, I look to those that have something in common with my Northwest Indiana-based electric railroad focus. I enjoy looking at anything Bill Darnaby has done on his Maumee Railroad, because he has set the standard for 'flatland' model railroading. But the actual trains I find most compelling run under catenary, and thus I am in awe of two layouts that bravely tackle the electrified predecessors of our contemporary Northeast Corridor: Rick Abramson's New Haven layout, and Andy Rubbo's Pennsylvania RR New York Division.

Steve Lee

Morgan said...

Hi Marty--

I was so touched and delighted to read this post — I'm Russell Griffin's son (and I actually appeared as a 5-year-old in a photo in one of those RRMC articles, crouched with him under his set-up). My dad lived almost his whole life in New England (MA, CT, and NH), so he loved commemorating his love of the area in his modeling. He died young a long time ago now (1986) but he'd be so pleased to know that people were still enjoying his articles.

In addition to being an amazing hobbyist, he was also a science-fiction author, if you're into that sort of thing: http://www.amazon.com/Russell-M.-Griffin/e/B001KE7XEG

Thanks and take care.


Morgan (or more formally, Russell Morgan Griffin jr.)

CVSNE said...

Thank you so much for writing. Your mention of the photo of you with your Dad sent me to the stack of Railroad Model Craftsman back issues - it appeared in the "Editor's Notebook" of the December 1977 issue. Seems like a long time ago - I was a high school student back home in Connecticut when I first saw that issue in the hobby shop. As I said, I still use the tips in article to modify and paint figures.
I'm curious to know if you happen to have any of your Dad's models? Or know what happened to them?
In any event, thanks again for writing and I hope you only have happy memories of your Dad. He seemed like a wonderful person.

CVSNE said...