Take me back to Tulsa

I recently attended the 2022 Layout Design and Operations Weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I signed up to operate on three layouts and to present on Prototype Inspiration for Manageable Size Layouts. I had a blast!

The event started with Friday evening operating sessions. I was one of the crew on Ken Ehlers’ Pandora & San Miguel. The layout follows the Rio Grande Southern line from Ridgeway to Rico.

This was my first experience operating an S scale layout and narrow gauge. The Sn3 locos operated smoothly and I liked the size of the equipment. Ken’s level of detail is extraordinary. The above photo is a scene at Ophir while the lead photo is a trestle just before Ophir. D&RGW 375 led the train. It’s an outside-frame C-25 class 2-8-0.

My train had a loco leading and another at the end of the train. These were independently operated using a Digitrax DT602 throttle. These have two speed control knobs for independent operation of two locos. Ken’s locomotives were fine-tuned and programmed for slow operation. Let’s face it, the RGS is nothing like the TGV. Twelve miles an hour is a fast pace on this twisting Rocky Mountain line.

I enjoyed running the train up the grades and found it easy to keep the rear loco adjusted so it was pushing half the train. The rear loco was RGS 20, a 4-6-0 and one of my all-time favorite narrow gauge locos.

After switching a few towns and meeting a couple of trains, I arrived at Rico to tie up my locos and caboose at the end of the run. Four other operators kept busy with trains and duties on the layout during our memorable three hour visit.


Saturday morning started early. I kicked off the presentations at 8:15 with a review of several prototype locations that would make interesting manageable sized layouts. There were five presentations overall with some great info and ideas. A fine barbecue lunch was enjoyed in the middle of the day.

My next operating session was Saturday night on Tom Fausser’s South Brooklyn Terminal Railway.

Tom’s HO scale layout was nearly the complete opposite experience from my last session on the narrow gauge line. The South Brooklyn Terminal is an urban switching line with four work zones. A crew of four moved the freight from Atlantic Yard to our respective zones using General Electric 44- and 70-ton diesel locos. One of the zones worked to transfer freight cars to and from the car float. Small terminals around the New York harbor used car floats as connections with the main railroad operations on the New Jersey shore.

The urban scenery was impressive. Tracks moved around a wide variety of structures and a couple locations reflected an urban canyon feel as building heights towered above the tracks. Signage and roof details added to the feel of the layout.

This impressive power plant anchored the end of a peninsula. It’s a kit produced by Custom Model Railroads. They specialize in urban structures of many shapes and sizes.

This is where I spent most of my time pulling freight cars from loading areas and spotting new cars. It’s Zone 4 on Tom’s layout. The four warehouses are the primary customers. Three boxcars can fit on each track. A freight house and team track are just off the photo to the right. The locomotive facilities are at the near left while a food manufacturer and distributor were at the far left. I kept very busy in the three hour session switching the area and moving short strings of cars to and from Atlantic Yard.


Sunday morning, I was one of six crew members on Jon Pansius’ Tulsa Junction Railway. I’ve known Jon for a few years now and have been looking forward to operating on his layout. He models 1930, so we have common interests in freight cars, industries, and other railroad aspects of the Pre-Depression Era years.

Jon’s layout has three major areas. Our group split into three crews to work each part of the layout. One person was the engineer while another was the conductor on these two-person crews. I worked with Steve Parish to sort out the main yard and build trains for the other two crews. We also served the industries in the above photo.

While Jon doesn’t have much scenery in place, the layout operates smoothly and his mockup structures bring the setting to life.

This was one of the first layout scenes that caught my eye before we started operating. There can be lots of action here with cars destined for Magic City Produce and the team tracks. Jon also includes an inspection track in the foreground for late arriving cars and those that may need to be cleaned out after being unloaded at the produce track.

René LaVoise and David Doiron kept busy working industries on the Sand Springs line. David is controlling the loco while René is checking on switch alignment and car spot locations. They used hand signals to communicate during the session.

Jon supplied printed paper figures for crew members on the ground to throw switches or uncouple cars. Any time a switch is thrown, or a coupling is made, a crew member needs to be adjacent. Jon asks you wait five seconds for each car length a crew member will need to walk to their next location. These are ways to keep us in the mindset of real railroaders. It also slows down the operation and can make a small layout seem much larger.

Here’s another look at a couple of Jon’s building mockups. I like the clean lines and fit. There are many aspects of his layout that are similar to what I want for my next project. The diverse industries, slow speed operation, and all steam power fall right into my wheelhouse.

I was also very impressed with Jon’s weathered freight car fleet. He has taken care in specific period details and car designs for a 1930 appearance. These became the layout scenery for me.


Here’s one last photo from the Tulsa weekend. René snapped this during the South Brooklyn Terminal session. He obviously caught me in my happy place.

The throttle time on these layouts was wonderful. Many thanks to the event organizers and layout owners for a great weekend event. I hope to attend the 2024 Tulsa event and operate on a few more layouts.

The weekend operating experiences solidified my thoughts on the purpose and operation for my next model railroad. If you are planning a new layout, or are in the middle of building one, get involved operating on other layouts. You will find what you like most about operating model railroads. The experience will refine the efforts on your project.


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8 thoughts on “Take me back to Tulsa”

  1. I find it helpful Eric when (on these visits) you occasionally include in the photos, shots including the ceilings which provide some information regarding layout lighting. The photo showing the power plant on the South Brooklyn Terminal layout, and lights above is perhaps the best example. A very innovative way to light a layout. And deal with a sloping ceiling.

    1. Jim, I must admit I was more excited to be operating layouts after a two year break than in documenting design elements. Tom used a cable lighting (also marketed as cable track lighting) system similar to the K-Pivot Head lights. The light unit can be moved along the cable for position and the lamp head angle can be adjusted. – Eric H.

  2. Eric, It was a pleasure having you present in Tulsa and to host you on the South Brooklyn Terminal. You actually worked Zone-1 and much harder, as there are 5 warehouses. As you discovered there are many fine operating layouts in Tulsa with a wide variety of theme and scale. Thanks for your kind comments and come back to Tulsa anytime.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Tom! It was a blast to operate on your layout. I suspect I confused the zone with the Atlantic Yard track (AY-4) that had cars to move and work in Zone-1. Keep on modeling! – Eric H.

  3. Eric. I also enjoyed your clinic as well as some new sources for information on the history of long forgotten rail lines. I also spent Friday night at Tom Fausser South Brooklyn Terminal working zone 4.
    It was challenging and fun at the same time and both times I have operated on Tom’s layout it by far my favorite layout to operate in Tulsa.

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