So You Don’t Have to Wait Until Next Year’s Train Show

This weekend that we’re just ending would’ve been the 2020 Lincoln Square Village Train Show, regrettably cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the historical societies and vendors of model trains, one of the show’s most popular features are the operating layouts.

Some are crowd favorites, returning year after year. It’s always good to see new layouts and last year this included Thomas Northway’s Tuscola Belt Way, a 4×8 based on the railroads of Tuscola. It was going to be a part of this year’s show, with several improvements made since last year’s show, where it’s pictured at here.

Thomas operating the TBW at 2019 LSV Show

This year’s show also would’ve seen the debut of something old and something new in narrowgauge layouts. Over the last month or so, I’ve been restoring the late Bob Miller’s HOn3 Loon Lake module. It’s notable for its exquisite hand-laid track that gently curves from one turnout to the next. I matched its numbered legs up to the correct inserts, figured out how to tap into its wiring, repaired several of the attached structures, then added a NCE UTP panel so it could be networked and a shelf to make things handier when on display at shows.

Loon Lake connects to a new 4×8 HOn3 portable layout that I constructed via the bridge you can see in the upper right corner of the pic above. While Loon Lake provides lots of switching actio, my 4×8 provides a chance to to run, which the crowds like to see. It may be roundy round, but for many that’s entrancing enough to watch . The combination of the two modules is a line I like to call the Millertown & Loon Lake

There’s not much scenery yet, but I have plans. The mountainous viewblock looks better from other angles and is a work in progress as I intend to add at least one more layer of foam board on each side. Thinking about some movable mountainsides that could also be plopped down. But the real goal here isn’t so much a perfect layout but a good display layout. It will be available for division members to display their own structures, like the Millertown depot of an AHM kit I did a very light kit-bash of when I constructed it. Mostly, for now it will be displaying and operating the Miller collection, some which is seen in the next pic.

The connection to Loon Lake is in the corner of the 4×8 that is cut-off on the right side of the pic above. It’s just a very plain bridge section to fill the gap, but may be replaced later by an actual bridge helping to fill the gap.

The whole thing connected together is right about 16′ so takes up about 2 standard table spaces. It was kind of crowded in out dining and living rooms while it went together. Here’s a pic of how the panels of Genesis PVC ceiling tiles serve as building blocks for this layout and allow for it to be broken down to more conveniently travel.

Framework holds Genesis ceiling panels, but breaks down for travel.

The other secret is using the Kato Unitrak-style system in the form of Blackstone Protraxx to act as connectors between section and to pass power between the panels. Combined with the power routing and gaps built into Micro Engineering HOn3 turnouts, this makes it easy to wire.

Having missed this year’s cancelled train show in Urbana, the next opportunity on a very disrupted show schedule to see the Millertown & Loon Lake should be at the Tolono Public Library in early December if things hold together. Of course, if next year’s LSV Train Show comes together as we hope, it will be there. Now that we do have some portable display layouts available in the division, it gives us new flexibility and opportunity for public outreach. If your train show would like a little narrowgauge included, drop us a line at and we’ll see if we can make that happen.

More Memories of Bob Miller’s Skills

Pic of 6 jigs used to solder turnout components. They are made of wooden blocks with channels that holds the rails in specific positions.
Jigs used by Bob Miller to solder up turnout points and frogs

I ran out of the allotted space in the lead article remembering Bob Miller by means of the items of material culture he left behind. I will finish up here by moving on to right side of the memorial. The pic above fulfills the promise at the end of the first article to show how Bob did some of his work.

Bob Miller Memorial Detail #3

The green card file box contained a record of railroad passes Bob sent and received in exchange with others in the hobby. This mimicked a prototype form of professional courtesy, where officials of a railroad gave free rides on their lines to their colleagues from other railroads, an exchange facilitated by the issuance of cards bestowing this privilege on the named card holder. The file card that is lifted up happens to be of a correspondent in Switzerland. The pass that is inserted is a card printer’s example one of the form the card took, basically a means to publicize one’s model layout’s fictional or actual details, often plus any elaboration on the issuer’s views on the hobby or life more generally.

Near the front of the case, on the same track as the TT scale rolling stock is a single truck pulled from a pair that were in the small plastic box. They are also gauged to run on the same 12 mm track as the TT cars. After some research I found they were something even more exotic than TT already was. The trucks were in 5.5 mm scale, in which case the track beneath represented a 2′ gauge track. In the US, the use of 2′ gauge track (except for a few scattered, mostly industrial lines) was confined to a few short common carrier lines in Maine. Based on what I found, it appears this was all the farther Bob went with this scale/gauge combination, although I’d be happy to be proven wrong. He did have a interest in the prototype in Maine, based on other evidence, but assembling one pair of the two sets of trucks I found was what he did in this niche area of the model railroading universe.

Finally, another nice pic taken by his friend Jim of Bob as he adjusted something on the layout below finishes out this quick tour of some of the highlights of Bob’s life. Insight’s offered by Jim Phillips and others who knew Bob helped me piece together greater meaning from the physical remnants of Bob’s passage on Earth. It was an honor to be given the opportunity to preserve this material. Bob was a longtime subscriber to Model Railroader magazine, contributing to the nearly complete collection of MR passed on to us that started in February 1939, but which also included a bound volume of the first year of the magazine in 1934. It and other periodicals and books in his collection that we received from his estate led us to rename the divisional library the Robert Miller Memorial Library in his honor. I hope this pair of articles is able to stir more memories among those who knew Bob. It’s intriguing to think about what might be learned if it turns out he had attended any of the National Narrow Gauge Conventions or participated in one of the Illini Railroad Clubs several trips by rail to Colorado to see the Rio Grande still operating its narrowgauge lines with steam into the late 1960s. If you have a memory of Bob, please post it as a comment below or in the comments of the first article or send it to me so I can record it for posterity. Thanks again to Jim Phillips and others who have generously given me insights and pictures used here.

All aboard for Loon Lake…and points beyond!

Professor, Model Railroader: Remembering Bob Miller’s Life of Skill

Some Memories of Admirable Effort

Episodes of a Skillful Life: Memories of Robert “Bob” Miller

Longtime Urbana citizen Professor Robert “Bob” Miller passed away in the summer of 2019, the end of a life that this modest man went through skillfully, aiding the journey through life of many as an exceptionally well-regarded teacher by his students in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics while also practicing the arts and crafts he learned in his youth. Trained as an aerospace engineer, Bob became know as “Rapid Robert” for his quick mastery of the mathematics of complex structural systems. He taught at the University of Illinois for more than four decades until retirement in 1994.

I got to know Bob, all too briefly, when he came to operate on my Denver & Rio Grande Western Four Corners Division at the monthly meetings of the Illinois Terminal Division. The ITD is part of the Midwest Region of the National Model Railroad Association, of which Bob was a member for decades, starting in 1961. My layout operates on DCC, so he inquired if he brought one of his Shays over whether it would be able to run here. Since I use NCE, unlike the Digitrax that most people around the area use which does support DC operation, I could not immediately manage that since it does not support operating DC locos.

However, I’ve always been fascinated by Shays and my recently completed Cascade Extension could accommodate Bob’s request if I converted it to put a dead section between the rest of the layout so that we could then apply DC power. This let him operate through to the end of the branch, letting his Shay run on DC from Crater Lake Junction through Crater Lake and on to Snowden. The next time we met at my place (we meet round-robin style at member’s homes) Bob brought his Loon Lake Line #2 Shay.

Bob Miller’s Loon Lake Line #2 switching the Merry Widow Mine

Bob enjoyed switching with #2, running up to the Merry Widow Mine, as well as serving several other industries. It was one of the last times I saw Bob, then I learned he’d passed away. I was sad, because there aren’t too many narrowgauge enthusiasts around.

Only after being offered a chance to acquire some of Bob’s estate, only part of which I could afford (he had a number of nice Shays, mostly NIB beyond my means) and then receiving a enormous donation to ITD of numerous modules with most exquisitely handlaid track in a variety of scales and gauges, plus track and other materials, along with a fleet of wonderful scratchbuilt HO and HOn3 rolling stock plus some TT cars! I was astounded by the depth of Bob’s narrowgauge roots as well as the generosity of his family in trusting us to find the value in his life’s work in the hobby. This made me even sadder to have known Bob for such a short time, but his legacy is one the ITD will preserve, a happy result that will likely inspire, we hope, other young model railroaders by the examples he set in the hobby and more generally in life itself.

Thus the explanation for the display that is the first pic in this article. I made a memorial display to hold various items that let me know Bob a little better that stood out among the many items that came into our hands at ITD from the estate. They’re also things that may give insight and inspiration through Bob’s good works. It’s worth noting that Bob’s life, personal and professional, is something I learned much more about through the graces of his friend and colleague, James W. Phillips, who shared an inspring biography of Bob with me that Jim wrote.

Let’s look inside the box, which is in a preliminary state of organization, as I’ve already received several more insights from among his friends .

Bob Miller Memorial Detail 1

Observing from left to right, Bob’s professional life is remembered, including his earning the prestigious Everitt Award in 1976, given for teaching excellence of undergraduates in the University of Illinois College of Engineering, but also one that depends on being nominated by students. The large pieces of balsa are models of propeller cross sections that are mathematically described as the relationship between two axis lines defined on the models by steel rods that can be seen embedded in the balsa. From that esoteric point, the exhibit moves on clockwise to one of the hand-built throttles that Bob made and used that utilized transistors, an invention made with the help of another faculty member, two-time Nobel Prize winner John Bardeen. These utilized the ever-classy and nearly bulletproof Cinch-Jones plugs, plus some rather more common parts from Radio Shack and other local sources. Then there is a HO scale street lamp made by Bob from such simple things as button covers. Finally, there are some receipts and a business card documenting Bob’s vendors of model railroad supplies, only one of which I am aware is still with us.

Bob Miller Memorial Detail 2

In the center section, there’s a nice brightly colored pic of Bob among his dozens of hand-made gliders, where he applied some of the principles of his training in the aeronautical sciences here at the University of Illinois. Specifically, they are canard design gliders, which makes them appear like they are flying backwards since some of the tail surfaces usually seen in the rear of most aircraft are instead at the front of these model aircraft, Bob was a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a national organizations for those who build and fly model aircraft.

To the right is a sets of notes tracking the incredible mileages Bob put on his bicycle so he could predict when he needed new tires. A pic of Bob near Lake of the Woods showed how Bob ranged far and wide, but I’m told he always wore his helmet. Beneath the biking pic is a wiring plan for an N scale module, showing the complicated system of feeders and gaps as applied to the design of trackwork required to operate without shorting the power, Model railroading at it’s purest, doubly so because Bob hand laid his track with impeccably beautiful curves.

Bob’s HOn3 Loon Lake module, under restoration for public display

The freight cars near the front of the display case are not HOn3, like those that he ran on the module pictured above. They are TT (1:120) standard gauge (12 mm), a rather obscure scale in the US, although it was more popular in Europe, before N scale. The cars, as well as the TT scale structures in the mid-front of the case are most likely ones he built in the 1960s, perhaps earlier. Given the small envelope-sized collection of catalogs offering supplies and rolling stock kits found among his papers, Bob retained an interest in TT even as it virtually faded away in the Western Hemisphere.

Hard to see laying atop the sketch diagram for a N scale layout is a soldered-up set of points and the frog for a turnout. It is easier to imagine how this looks by using a pic of some of the many jigs he left for us designed to build turnout components to a defined geometry. The results can be seen in the gently flowing trackwork on the Loon Lake module above. Next Up: What these rather prosaic jigs looked like.

Train Show Cancelled :(

In light of precautions ordered by state government in Illinois in response to the global coronavirus pandemic, the Illinois Terminal Division met today and formally cancelled this year’s edition of the Lincoln Square Village Train Show, scheduled for March 28 & 29 prior to the virus taking it out. We regret the need to do this, given the hard work put into the Show by division members, community members, and vendors working with us, as well as our gracious host, Lincoln Square Village Mall.

While we did consider postponing the show until later in the year, circumstances remain too uncertain at this point to reschedule the full show, which requires a lengthy lead time for publicity, vendor scheduling and other reasons. We are exploring options to display and operate some local layouts at Lincoln Square Village or at another location, perhaps in the fall. Otherwise, we look forward to seeing everyone again on a 2021 weekend in late March or the first weekend of April. Dates and time for any of these will be announced here in this space if and when they are confirmed.

Registrations remained strong up until the last week or so, so it’s clear the show would have been a good one with the aid of the training and advice from our mentors, the previous show host group, Midwest Central Railroad Club. Those who sent funds to reserve table space at the Show should expect a refund of those funds in the mail soon.s

Remember that the NMRA is here to serve model railroaders year round, show or no show. For information on NMRA membership and benefits, see:

If you’d like to be on our low volume Show mailing list or have questions about this or next years’ show, send an email to

We look forward to seeing and serving you next year, if not sooner.

Preparing for the Lincoln Square Train Show

Just four weekends away, the annual model railroad event of the year in Champaign County is rolling toward us as the Illinois Terminal Division prepares to host the long-running Lincoln Square Train Show in Urbana on its own for the first time on March 28 and 29, 2020. Applications for tables at the show are due March 9, although there will be a limited number of tables that might be available for those submitting applications after the 9th. If you need space, be sure and check out the Show link on the divisional website:

The high court packed with trains during the 2019 Show

As always, this show has FREE admission for the public and parking at Lincoln Square Village Mall is also FREE. Tables for commercial vendors are $30 for both days ($25 for Saturday only). Individuals with model railroad items they’d like to sell or trade may also be interested in obtaining a table. Historical societies and other non-profit groups get the first table free. A number of operating layouts will also be on display in a variety of scales and gauges. Those layouts attending from out of town receive a very modest stipend, so please inquire if you’d like to participate by filling out the Show application that is linked above.

NEW Activity! Youth Make-and-Take

Kids have always enjoyed model trains even before Thomas and his friends made them vastly more popular. This year’s show will see the debut of our youth program, which we hope to expand further in the future along with offering more educational programming for adults about both model trains and local prototype railroads. This year, kids accompanied by an adult will be able to build their own railroad car and then see it run. Drop by the Illinois Terminal Division’s table at the Show to sign up to participate. Tools and kits will be provided, but space is limited. For more info see:

Volunteer! Questions? Drop Us a Note!

While the Illinois Terminal Division’s membership is modest-sized, it’s committed to carrying on organizing the Show, which has been sponsored in the past by the Midwest Central Model Railroad Club for some four decades. The MCMRRC has worked hard to assist ITD in learning the ropes, culminating in the jointly sponsored 2019 Show. ITD plans to build on the previous organizing club’s solid work, while hoping to add more activities and features in the future. Several of their members will be volunteering, as well as other community members who want to help ITD carry on this successful tradition. If you’re interested in volunteering, or have a inquiry about any aspect of the Show, drop us a note by email and we’ll get back to you quickly via this email address:

All proceeds from the Show go to support next year’s show and similar public educational outreach efforts by the Illinois Terminal Division, National Model Railroad Association. If you’d like to get further involved in model railroading while gaining the extensive benefits of NMRA membership, we gladly welcome new members! You may inquire via the above email address about the ITD or go to the following link for more info on joining the largest, oldest national model railroad organization in the Western Hemisphere, which the ITD is a part of at:

´╗┐National Model Railroad Association, Founded 1937