Barriers to Model Railroading

Like many people in today’s world, my hobby time varies from a little to none at all. Everyone can certainly add to the list of why this is the case for them. Recently though I listened to Mortise and Tenon podcast #10, “Barriers to Woodworking”. A great discussion going through the many different things that can be a barrier to doing more in your hobby. Space, tools, source of wood, techniques were some of the barriers discussed. Some of those barriers probably sound familiar to most model railroaders.

Today, I would like to share some of my barriers and what are some of my solutions to these barriers. So let’s look at COMPETING HOBBY(IES), TIME, SPACE, SKILLS, and a big one which will be saved for last

One of my barriers to model railroading is a COMPETING HOBBY, woodworking. Now to add to this is a decision to move to using hand tools in woodworking versus using power tools. A few weeks ago, I spent two days away at Joshua Farnsworth’s woodworking school taking a class on restoring wooden planes. A great class for me as I would like to use my wood bodied planes, both bench and mounding planes in my woodworking projects. All of my wooden planes I have purchased on eBay, flea markets, yard sales, or antique stores. All of them are in various states of repair. However, I did learn many skills in two days to fix my planes, sharpen my metal tools, and even use some tools that I currently do not own. It sounds like a hobby all until itself, but it is just part of a bigger one. Imagine having to fix a plane to flatten a piece of wood. Sounds like fixing a model locomotive to run a model train doesn’t it?

A few of my wooden planes. @H Mathews 2018

Finding TIME to do both hobbies is a barrier. What about time? Is time a barrier for you? At times it is for me. I currently work eight nights in a row and have six off. So my hobby time varies. To overcome this barrier my plan is to have several 30 minute modeling moments during the week. The little blocks would certainly focus my attention to the project at hand.

As the commentators on the Mortise and Tenon podcast pointed out, SPACE is an issue. Both woodworking and model trains can eat up some serious space. I have a decent sized basement, however it is full of stuff that does not allow a dedicated space for doing either hobby. So as I cut some plywood for my Chili Line modules this past weekend, I had to move other things around. Even a dedicated space to assemble my modules is a problem. As I stacked my 3/4 inch plywood for the modules and replaced other items I moved I thought this is ridiculous there is no room to do anything. My solution is to start now and create a dedicated space for my hobbies. I do have a very nice desk to do research and model building on. However, to do any model building, I have to move any research items such as book and papers out of the way. Behind my desk chair is several overcrowded bookshelves of trains and woodworking books. Since this area of my basement is more conducive to research and keeping my books, I am going to use it for this purpose. Someplace to build models will have to be created.

Even if my space was cleaned up, a workbench to do wood working and some sort of area to work on modules is lacking. My very tiny woodworking bench my parents gave me as a Christmas present about 30 years ago has been a good bench for power tools. However, it’s size now restricts me from planing wood of any size beyond say 6 inches by hand or even trying to assemble modules for model trains. It is good for assembling small sub parts of the modules but its lack of depth restricts the construction of 24 inch deep modules. It’s underneath storage cabinet though will make it an ideal place to store model train kits and module templates that I have made. Although too small to assemble modules, it is a good table to actually work on assembled modules as well as repair, sharpen and clean my toys.

SPACE or really layout SIZE always seems to be a barrier. Having a large layout sounds nice to many modelers. My choice is something smaller centered around my interests of switching and scenic realism which allows for a slow paced operation. Even modeling a standard gauge branch-line or short line allows for limiting layout space rather than completely filling an area. My rather cluttered basement is a large space, but the task of filling it with a model railroad seems to me to be a daunting and laborious feat. I’d rather place space restrictions on myself and build small layouts. One thing about limiting one’s layout space is being able to dedicate to building the layout, trackwork, scenery, and equipment. Having to build say four buildings vs forty allows you to both complete all of them and to also do a good job on each. Same goes with your equipment.

SKILLS is a tough barrier. As the gentlemen at Mortise and Tenon point out, one can struggle to learn certain tasks for years. However, if you can attend a woodworking class at a woodworking school you can gain valuable experience. My recent experience with my wooden plane class and a timber-framing class in the past both helped me gain valuable experience and a comfort level with the correct process to do the task whether cutting a mortise in a 12 inch by 12 inch timber, or flattening the sole of a wooden plane. Model railroading doesn’t have schools to attend. Certainly one can go to NMRA regional and national shows and attend workshops at those meetings. Some local train shows may have vendors demonstrating a task such as placing decoders into HO scale diesels. However, the opportunities to develop skills in model railroading are not quite the same as in woodworking.

What are other barriers to model railroading? Let’s call it PARALYSIS. I have started more model railroads than I have completed. My decision to do my Chili Line was based on the fact I had most of the equipment in working order, I just needed to build the modules. How many times have you said that to yourself?

One of the solutions to the barrier of never completing a model railroad is just get started and stop stockpiling for the ultimate layout. Yes, it can be easier said than done. From the boxes of stored equipment and kits that I own, I could say that about myself very easily. Prototype narrow gauge railroads fascinate me and I would like to model several of them from different parts of the world. This fascination though is probably my barrier to completing a working model of any one of those prototypes or freelance model railroads based on a prototype. I know I still want to build my Beckleysville project and build a Maine two footer but will I ever have the time to do more than those?

My first look at prototype narrow gauge railroads was checking out Silver San Juan from the public library way back in elementary school one summer. I poured over the book until it was time to go back and I asked my Mom if we could renew it the one time so I could really get a chance to look it over. The Rio Grande Southern has always been a favorite of mine and over the years I have acquired enough Sn3 equipment to model its post WWII era. Yet, I have never once modeled it. I made two small plans, one for Lizard Head and one for Pandora and continued to collect boxes.

Is it time to get rid of the engines, cars, kits, etc for all those projects I thought I may like to do but I don’t think I’ll ever realistically get to. So while building my hobby room and cleaning up I decided to take a hard look at all the trains I have and decide to keep or sell. I am doing a similar hard look at my woodworking tools. Someone else could very well use those boxes I’ll never get to use to build a nice layout. Perhaps that someone is new to the hobby and does not have access to the equipment of a favorite prototype. Give those boxes a chance to do what they were intended to do, become models of buildings, equipment, etc. Let them bring some enjoyment to another modeler if you are really never going to use them.

What are some of your barriers that keeps you from model railroading?

Barriers to Model Railroading @Nov 2018

By: H Mathews

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San Pedro’s Operations

One of the things I read about frequently in model railroading is that the project was too big or that the perceived operations were not desirable due to various issues. I will be the first to admit this has happened to me. As an operational model, San Pedro is rather simple in design, no complex time table operational or opposing train meets to worry over with this layout . The DRG&W ran a mixed train, 425 south, 426 north in my selected time period of late 1930s-1941. The motive power during this time period was always one of the K-28’s. Some days, the mixed was the RPO and Chili Line coach. Other days there were various types and numbers of freight cars along with the RPO and coach. Switching at San Pedro is limited to dropping off a car for the freight house/ team track or loading a stock car at the stockpen chute. Taking on water at the water tank and departing are the other activities. The recent change to the water tank end of the layout provides another siding (track #9-244′ on the photo below) for MOW set outs or water cars to be filled from the reservoir. Unique operations for that small siding and extra maneuvers as it will be a facing siding for Santa Fe bound 425.

Not much operation there you say. That may be true if your only interested in running trains. However, it gives me time to put into the other parts of the hobby I enjoy or want to try. I have several older PBL stock car kits I would like to build as double deck cars for sheep, the primary livestock shipped out of San Pedro. I would like to model the DRG&W’s automobile flats, both the loaded and tarped southbound flats as well as the northbound empties with just their hoop frames. The DRGW tank cars used for water transportation will also be something to learn more about with the recent design change. Another area of the hobby to learn more about is battery operation and San Pedro offers the perfect layout to learn this aspect of the hobby.

San Pedro’s Operation@Oct 2018

By: H. Mathews

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A Trip to Strasburg Railroad

This past Friday , I took Graham to Strasburg Railroad in Strasburg, Pennsylvania for an early birthday present. A hostler tour, train ride and visit to the Pennsylvania railroad museum. I cannot say enough about the two hour long hostler tour. What an educational experience on not only prepping a steam locomotive for a day’s work, but many other facts about steam engine operation and mechanics. Even better was the chance to climb into the cab of my favorite Strasburg locomotive, ex Norfolk and Western 475, a Mollie from 1906. Below are several photographs of many we took.

The highlight of the tour for Graham was climbing into the cab on three different occasions to peer into the firebox as the grates were cleaned, the banked overnight fire was broken and spread and what the fire looked like at various stages as it was prepped and built for the day’s work.

After the tour, we took the 11am train to Paradise , Pennsylvania and back in the lounge car. It’s the fist time we rode in that car and we enjoyed the experience. The chairs were so comfortable that Graham almost feel asleep! We had lunch at the Red Caboose motel’s “Casey Jones restaurant” and then spent several hours at the Pennsylvania railroad museum.

A Trip to Strasburg Railroad@Oct 2018

By: H. Mathews

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Chili Line: Connell Tank

A recent interesting post on the The Santa Fe Branch Chili Line group has caused me to make a change to San Pedro. Included in the post was a valuation map and numerous photographs of the area now. I am going to remove the water tank and cistern from left side of the layout in favor of the reservoir, pump house and water tank. The valuation map below provides the layout of the tank area. This will now become the left side of the San Pedro model. I will keep the small one panel trestle as well to complete the edge of the layout as before.

Chili Line: Connell Tank@Oct 2018

By: H Mathews

Posted in Chili Line, Misc Thoughts, Prototype, Sn3 | Leave a comment

Layout Design for San Pedro: The doodles

After several doodles, I have decided that the first version of San Pedro is the one I like best with some scenic modifications. I would like to add a second adobe dwelling, change the road and add a few more trees. See my two “Paint” doodles below.

Layout Design for San Pedro: the doodles@9/2018

By: H. Mathews

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San Pedro, a Chili Line Imagineering

My new project is going to be a simple layout using an imagineered village along the DRGW’s Chili Line. Why an imagineered location? While it’s true the Chili Line offers several interesting switching towns, I wanted to model several things that interest me such as stock pens (for sheep and double deck stock cars), a cistern and water tank, small freight station, and a passenger station. A simple passing siding  would suffice and perhaps a short spur for a team track. For the village, several small adobe homes and fields to represent one of the small towns served by the Chili Line in northern New Mexico.

There are several Chili Line stations that interest me, however the two small ones that I like are Tres Piedras and Chamita. One item missing from these two stations is a water tank. I calculated the length of the sidings in S scale to give me an idea of an area using a program I found here. As you can see, the sidings, if not compressed, would be very long. Since the Chili Line is only operating a mixed train in each direction daily accept Sunday’s in the time period I’m modeling there isn’t a need to have a long passing siding for opposing meets. Historically this took place at Embudo which will north of San Pedro. While looking for information on Tres Piedras and Chamita, my internet search dug up some excellent information on the Cumbres and Toltec site regarding the DRGW facilities at both stations.

Tres Piedras, New Mexico Milepost 315.05

Track #8 – 786′ siding ( about 12 1/4 feet in S scale)
Depot 36’x44’6″
Platform 8’x16′
Bunk House 7’6″x24′ carbody
Coal House unspecified
Tool House 6’x8′ leanto
Pump House 17’x23′ and a Cistern 3’x5′ 6″
Stock Pen 47’x47′ w/4’x13′ loading platform
Leanto 13’x18 (two are listed)

Chamita, New Mexico  Milepost 366.76

Chamita is the Station just north of the Rio Chama River crossing.

Track #22 – 1174′ siding ( about 18 feet in S scale)
Depot 8’6″x32′ car body (burned 9/18/1938)
Freight House 8’6″x32′ car body (burned 9/18/1938) Platform, cinder 7’6″x32′
Platform, cinder 8’6″x32′


Accessed on 8/28/18

Here is my first concept sketch of San Pedro using an app called “Paper”. With my fingers it’s hard to draw a finished product, but it’s great to use the program for quick ideas. I’m still debating the locations for the cistern and section house.


San Pedro, a Chili Line Imagineering©9-2018

By: H Mathews

Posted in Chili Line, Mixed Trains, Sn3 | Leave a comment

The Trainset

Like many model railroaders, I have items in boxes I do not use. Some I purchased for future use, some I purchased without any clear plan on their use. Some point in the past, P-B-L announced that they would be releasing passenger cars, including a Chili Line sets. Being a huge fan of mixed trains and knowing of the Chili Line, I took the plunge and ordered one. As a lifetime Rio Grande Southern fan, I really didn’t know much about the DRGW and its branch from Antonito, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico besides its name, the Chili Line.  I also knew that the motive power was primarily T-12s in the early days and K-28s in the later days of the branch.

Below are two files photos of the trainset when I first worked on C modules. More photographs to follow as the models get unpacked.

Shallow C-Chili Line Sn3

An Sn3 Chili Line train in the 12 inch “C”

Sn3 Chili Line-Shllow C from end

Sn3 in a shallow space

Posted in Chili Line, Mixed Trains, San Pedro de Chamita, Sn3 | 1 Comment

A New Direction, a New Start

As an armchair modeler over the past year plus I did on occasion read blogs and posts about the current state of model railroading affairs. The ready to run/ operate trend, the large home model railroads, and a few voices lamenting the lack of scratch building and building models from plans. I too would like to add to the few who would like to see a swing to smaller layouts with kitbuilt or scratchbuilt models. I’m certain though that time, or actually the lack of time influences many to buy RTO/RTR items.

After much thought I decided to go a new direction in my modeling that will lead me back to Beckleysville at some point in the future. An explanation is required, so let me wander for a brief moment. Besides model trains, there are other pursuits that I enjoy, one of which is woodworking. Now a days one can buy many tools that make it very easy to construct furniture and other woodworking projects. However, some time ago I decided to move to using hand tools ( planes, handsaws, chisels, etc) and learn how these tools were used by craftsman to make so many things from wood. So I purchased an interesting book, The New Tradition Woodworker: From Tool set to Skill set to Mind set. It is like an apprenticeship in a book. One starts by building tools (i.e. a wooden straightedge and square for starters) needed to make future projects. In the process skills are learned and built upon through a progression of projects, just as if you were an apprentice.

My new project starts with a train set. I could not go any simpler than the trainset. Now a word of warning, this is not a trainset one purchases at the local hobby store or online. It is one assembled from the boxes of RTR/RTO equipment that I have collected over time and have not used. I am sure everyone has some in their own home. I have not finished unpacking all the boxes at the moment but I will so as to take photos of my trainset. It is a complete Sn3 set which does not include sectional track or a “transformer”.

Why not continue Beckleysville? The simple reason is that I did not have any RTR/RTO equipment. In reality Beckleysville is, in an Sn3 version, a kit and scratchbuilders delight requiring more time than I have at the moment to spare. I also needed a project that allowed me to start model railroading as a novice and build on skills. So why not start with a trainset and go from there.

A New Direction, a New Start©

By Herbert Mathews, August 2018

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Return to Beckleysville II

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Posted in Beckleysville, Northern Maryland, On30 | 4 Comments

Back Home

Good Evening everyone,

just a brief note to update the blog. Unfortunately, we were unable to sell our house in Maryland. So after 15 months of my wife and kids in Maryland and me driving home every other weekend we decided to end our relocation plan….for now.

So after spending much time armchair modeling and doing some model building it is time to get back to active modeling and writing.

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