Beginnings

 1978 layout.

I was reorganizing boxes of hobby materials and other ephemera the other day and I came across a box of old photographs. A few loose pictures caught my eye and I thumbed through a small stack. Among those were several images of my first HO scale layout. The image above shows the overall scope of the project. Click on it to see a larger version. My father had a 4×8 table built at a local lumber yard and we built a plan from an Atlas plan book of John Armstrong designs.

Actually, this was my second HO scale layout. The first was built to the same plan but used cork roadbed and sectional brass track. This worked well for a bit, but I learned of the benefits of nickel silver rail at a young age and stripped the table to add a sheet of homasote and rebuild the layout with Atlas nickel silver flex track with fiber ties. I recall I spiked and glued the track down and added ballast at the same time. I also added a small yard to one end that increased capacity for the growing Athearn freight car fleet that was displacing the original AHM and Tyco cars that were often problematic.

1978 trackplan.

Here’s the overall plan I built and operated during my junior and senior high school years. A loop with two passing sidings and a few industry spurs kept my young mind busy. The small yard was added in version 2.0, after the homasote top was installed. This layout was wired for two train operation and I recall running my AHM Pennsylvania Railroad Fairbanks-Morse units and meeting a small train pulled by an AHM USRA 0-6-0 steam loco. These locos were retired as I converted freight cars to Kadee couplers and added an Athearn GP-9 diesel one Christmas.

Indiana County Short Line hopper

My apologies for the rough images. These are amateur efforts of a 17 year old with a 35mm Minolta rangefinder and no extra lighting. Looking over these images a couple of things stand out. I had an airbrush at that time and boldly painted several hopper cars and a caboose in dark green with a yellow stripe for my railroad, the Indiana County Short Line. A few other freight cars and the GP-9 were painted up in red with a white stripe for the parent road, the Pennsylvania & Ohio. At that time, Champ Decals offered individual words as separate decals, so I bought a bunch to create and identify my own empire.

Kitbashed industry, circa 1978.

I was also interested in structures and made a simple kitbash using two AHM kits that were popular in that day. I was reading Railroad Model Craftsman and Model Railroader each month and absorbing ideas and trying out some of them on this railroad. Over time, I rewired this layout as I moved away from the Atlas electrical components and went with DPDT toggle switches for power routing and remote turnout push buttons once offered by GW Industies. I had a few of the cast metal ground throws that Alexander Models once offered. These controlled turnouts that were close to the stationary, two-throttle power pack. My large collection of Matchbox cars and trucks was employed to make the scene look busy. Other than the ballast, I never did any other scenery on this layout. 

The prints of these images are marked August of 1978, which was just a few weeks before I started my senior year of high school. I had also made a plan for a larger layout to consume most of the basement, but this did not meet parental zoning conditions of that era. It’s fun to look over these images and recall my early efforts. I was fortunate to have some older model railroaders and a local club nearby, otherwise I may never have progressed beyond the problematic AHM and Tyco train set components. I was encouraged to try more after showing my newly painted hopper cars at the local club and I am ever grateful for that positive reinforcement offered to an upstart kid.

And somewhere in one of the many boxes here, I still have that red and white Pennsylvania & Ohio GP-9.

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