Six Decades of Modeling: The 1970s

Getting a car was one of two major events that helped put my modeling in high gear: I was free to roam and gather experiences. The other was graduating from high school, a hellish environment that very nearly killed me; I was free to grow and learn and really enjoy myself for the first time in my life.


I was a junior in high school, and also working at a nearby hobby shop (The Switching Point). One day after class, a science teacher I had named Linda Spano overheard me talking to someone else about model railroading, and she politely interrupted to tell me that her husband was also a model railroader. Soon afterward, at the hobby shop, I met Rick Spano, builder of the Sceniced and Undecided (below), and we hit it off instantly.

Thus 1972 became a seminal year in my life: I'd made fast friends with a "real" modeler, one who influenced me in many, many ways. Were it not for the seemingly insignificant chance event of Linda overhearing me, I'd never have met Rick, and I'd very likely had gone on to become a completely different modeler. It makes me a firm believer in the "Butterfly Effect."


I cannot overstate what a liberating thing it was to get out of high school. I quickly became a member of the Spano family, spending up to four or five evenings a week at their house—those were heady days, to be sure. Working so closely with Rick inspired me to take my own modeling more seriously, and I realized I was ready to move on from the Newport & Rock Falls, which had by then tripled in size. And so I began the White River & Northern, a three-foot-round, 90% scratchbuilt layout. This dark, fuzzy, beat-up black & white Polaroid is the only image I'd ever taken of the layout in its entirety:

The year did bring some sadness: John Allen (right), who had been an enormous influence on both Rick and myself, passed away. When we talked about it, I remarked that I'd wanted to fly out to California to see his Gorre & Daphetid. To my surprise, Rick replied that he'd planned to do exactly the same thing. What a trip that might have been had we gone together...


Working in a hobby shop provided me with some advantages (which could be considered disadvantages, depending on one's perspective). One of these was ready access to the coolest new stuff. In 1975, the coolest new stuff was Z Scale, and I wasted no time putting this coolest new stuff to use. What emerged was a nameless little layout that also spawned my first published article, "A world in my lap," in the October 1975 issue of Model Railroader magazine.

I knew it wouldn't get me to switch scales, but it did help keep my interest and skills fresh. Meanwhile, I published my second article in MR, "How to build a waterfall," December 1975. I'd built the waterfall for Rick's S&U.


Rick's enthusiasm for N Scale model railroading drew me into membership in the NMRA as well as N-Trak. 1976 marked a year when the NMRA National Convention was close enough to home for us to attend without having to fly (Chicago), and so we decided to collaborate on an N-Trak module. The eight-footer was split in half, and we each built one of the halves. Owing to college and two jobs, my available time was more limited, so my half wasn't nearly as elaborate and exciting as Rick's, but it didn't matter; the experience is what counted. Regrettably, I never took any photos of my half—there was simply a surfeit of things to do, and a dearth of time in which to do it.

Anyway, there I was in Chicago rubbing elbows with Jim Fitzgerald and the other founding fathers of N-Trak. The excitement of the experience even spilled over into one of my college classes, where I designed, typeset, and printed the November/December 1976 issue of the N-Trak Newsletter... in full color, no less.


As my association with N-Trak continued, they commissioned me to execute the artwork for their 1978 convention car. It was originally supposed to be printed in one color, but Micro-Trains surprised us by doing it in two.

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