Modeling Biography

How did I get started in model railroading? I'd have to say it was probably the Marx tinplate set that belonged to my (much) older brothers. I recall finding it buried in a closet—I was perhaps five at the time.

I would place bets that I put more mileage on this set than both of my brothers combined. And my attention to it likely inspired a Christmas gift when I was seven: a Tyco HO train set. (That kid on the cover of the catalog could easily have been me—although my father did not share my passion.) It wasn't long before I commandeered an old ping-pong table I found in the basement and started a layout.

Shortly after that, I had my first ride on a 1:1 train, the Black River and Western, which set the hook even deeper. To this day I recall that thrilling ride—standing in an open gondola, cinders raining down on me... Plus, a visit to Roadside America in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania, was also influential. As an aside here, I purchased a postcard at the Roadside America gift shop that I'd kept right through adulthood: the image of the elevated line in Jersey City likely influenced my current predilection for urban industrial modeling.

In the summer of 1965, I discovered Model Railroader magazine at a hobby shop in New Hampshire (Franklin's in Meredith). This was a significant event, as virtually overnight my blossoming interest in toy trains was transformed into a passion for model railroading that has lasted my entire life. Another milestone was moving to Hopewell, New Jersey, just a couple of blocks from the Reading Railroad, which at the time was still quite busy—I could see the line from my bedroom window. If I wasn't at school or in my room modeling, it was a good bet I was down at the station watching trains.

When 1967 arrived, so too did Postage Stamp Trains. I was instantly smitten, and proceeded to pester my parents for an entire year before they finally caved in and allowed me to switch scales. And the moment I began working in N Scale, I had a strong sense that this was what I'd be doing for the rest of my life. That proved to be the case, starting with my very first N Scale layout in 1969, the Newport & Rock Falls.

When I was 15, I had a science teacher named Linda Spano. One day after class, she overheard me talking about model railroading, and arranged for me to meet her husband Rick Spano at a local hobby shop where I happened to work (The Switching Point in Pennington). Very soon all three of us became fast friends, and remain so to this day. Among many other things, Rick inspired me to take modeling more seriously, and so I began the White River & Northern, the first of a series of layouts bearing the same name—one of which appeared in Great Model Railroads 2000—as well as many other layouts.

Although I've dabbled in Z Scale along the way, and pioneered efforts in little-known T Gauge, N Scale has remained my primary focus. My modeling CV includes these highlights:

  • Published "A world in my lap," Model Railroader magazine, October 1975, p. 42
  • Published "How to build a waterfall," Model Railroader magazine, December 1975, p. 81
  • Printed the premiere issue of the N-Track Newsletter in 1976
  • Assisted writing the narration for Rick Spano's Sceniced and Undecided, Kalmbach Layout Video Tour #4, 1985
  • Published "Double-sided foam tape makes tracklaying quick and easy," Model Railroader magazine, March 1992, p. 110
  • Published "For improved realism: wipe out freight car wobble," Model Railroader magazine November 1999, p. 108
  • Published "Enhancing an N scale tower," Model Railroader magazine, December 1999, p. 106
  • Acknowledged for building the automated staging yard for Rick Spano's Sceniced and Undecided in Great Model Railroads 1999
  • Published "Let's try this again!" Great Model Railroads 2000, p. 66
  • Published "Route control for slow-motion turnout motors," Model Railroader magazine, November 2000, p. 106
  • Published "Stronger uncoupling magnets," Model Railroader magazine, June 2004, p. 72
  • Photographed Rick Spano's Sceniced and Undecided for the Nov/Dec 2006 issue of N Scale Railroading
  • Edited the book Weathering by Tom Mann, published 2009
  • Photographed the cover shot for the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of N Scale magazine, and rendered the track plan for Lee Weldon's "Finding the Sweet Spot"
  • My James River Branch layout won best of show at the National Z Scale Convention, May 2012
  • Rendered the track plan for Rick Balassaitis' article, "The 'Perfect' 4' x 8' Track Plan" in the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of N Scale magazine
  • Published "The James River Branch: Pushing the Envelope," Ztrack magazine, Jan/Feb 2013
  • Published an award-winning photo of my prize-winning "Somewhere in New Jersey" diorama in the "Great Scenes" section in N Scale Railroading, May/June 2013
  • Acknowledged for a kitbashed station I built for Dave Vollmer's Juniata Division in Great Model Railroads 2014, p. 42
  • All About Postage Stamp Trains is referenced in "From the Archive" in the April 2018 issue of Model Railroad News, p. 90, and I served as consultant, editor and photo contributor for the author, Tony Cook

For a brief time I was a manufacturer of tools, detail items and structure kits; I'd even secured a patent for a coupler design, which (at this writing, 27 June 2021) is in development.

Photo by Tom Mann

While my skills have diminished considerably owing to illness and old age, I'm still doing what I can, which includes publishing many online resources for N Scale modelers:

I will be an N Scale Modeler until the day I die, that I can guarantee.


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