When the ITD decided to conduct the 6″x8″ Challenge, I had just the thing to build. I’d recently acquired Downtown Deco’s The Atomic Cafe kit after waiting a while for it to be produced again. I’m not sure there’s a prototype for this structure or if it’s just a riff off the 1982 documentary movie of the same name (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083590/). It fits in with one of the themes of my layout, reflecting my dissertation research, as a sometimes humorous look at the perils of nuclear weapons. It’s got a prime location just outside the gates of the semi-fictitious Dove Creek Atomic Energy Commission Plant. Those hungry workers have to eat somewhere, even at 2 am.
The kit largely consists of excellent plaster castings that come well-protected by bubble wrap, supplemented by printed signage and some plastic stock. I supplied some additional details, like the electric service, interior details, and lighting. The kit instructions are thoroughly detailed, including finishing, paint, and light weathering, and are well-illustrated. While I have a bit of experience, the comprehensive guidance provided should allow a careful beginner to get good results.
The iconic signage consists of a casting that is painted and then covered by a printed paper applique. It just begged for lighting, so I did. I built a lamp bucket for an LED on each side, nothing fancy to give them a home-built look.
Being on a budget, the interior is built of small bits from the scrap bin, mostly, with a few seated prospectors and their families being the theme. There is a bar with a mirror and some swinging doors to the kitchen, It houses the battery pack and wiring harness, along with a push button to control things. It needs a bartender, a waitress, and a small folk combo playing in the corner with the green-striped stage backdrop, along with some bottles of boozeahol to stock the bar.
Somehow, the whole thing comes together in a style a lot like Edward Hopper’s iconic 1942 Nighthawks painting in this night time pic.
Looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with on Dec. 12.
I was reading the latest issue of The Cowcatcher and came across an ad for a new, local train store. Rob Brown has opened a shop recently in Farmer City, on I-74 halfway between Bloomington and Champaign-Urbana. Blue Rail Hobbies serves model railroaders working in scales from G to Z.
Or should I say, Blue Rail Hobbies is ready to take your mail- or curbside delivery order. With the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be a little while longer before walk-in customers can visit.
Rob works the show circuit and has been at recent Lincoln Square Village Train Shows here in Urbana. He the fellow who has brought along the big NMRA banner we’ve had at our divisional booth the last couple of years.
You can find contact info for Blue Rail Hobbies, along with an online catalog, by pointing your browser to:
This is the third in the series about managing our donated assets. This follows up on Part 1, expanding the focus on the Miller donation to cover things other than modules. There’s lots of rail-laying jigs and materials, plus other useful things.
Styrofoam Cases for Modules
There’s four of these neatly constructed cases for various modules. They protect the track and allow the modules to be stacked. They take up a lot of space and I’m not sure how useful they could be for us.
Jigs and Test Patterns
Most of these are HOn3, but also some HO standard gauge and others. They could be useful when demonstrating laying track or to build custom-fitted turnouts.
HO/HOn3 Test or Display Track
A handlaid test or display track that is dual gauge, HO/HOn3.
Some WS Dark Cinder Ballast
About half a dozen bags of Woodland Scenics dark Cinder Ballast. I think this matches what covers Module #1.
A whole bunch of VinylBed roadbed. Includes a few sheets in large format for yards and to cut turnout shapes from. There’s more of different types roadbed that I still need to take pics of. There is enough here to do the basics if we choose tio build out the modules #2 to #8.
Soldered Points/Frogs plus N-Scale Track
I’m not sure what gauge the point/frog assemblys are and there is more N scale track plus turnouts I still need to get pics of. I’m guessing there’s plenty of N scale track to finish the N Timesaver module.
Bob didn’t make much scenery, but he was prepared to make trees the old fashioned way. These are rather dry, but the stems could still make good armatures to build trees on.
Roanoke Electronics Super Horn
Unfortunately, the Super Horn is less than super on this relic from the pre-DCC era, as I can get that to sound only once at a time by shorting it internally. The SH was apparently hacked on a bit before I got my hands on it, so still trying to figure what’s wrong. The bell works great. Appears to be Steam only (no diesel) as there is nothing hooked up to the Diesel side of the selection switch. If I can get the horn working, it would be great for shows as kids would love making the horn and bell sounds.
Buildings and Platforms
This is only a partial documentation of the many structures Bob built and passed on to us. These are all HO scale, but there are a few TT ones, too.
There is more that I still need to document, which I will do here soon in future posts.
These also sum up the task for the disposition committee to sort out. The Module #1 and associated modules should get a representative group to preserve and illustrate Bob’s skills. After that, some form of disposition tio the membership and even sale to the public should be considered. For instance, we probably have enough buildings, etc that once the preservation collection is selected, we could give every member of the division an example to be used to both memorialize Bob and to serve as a example to be emulated as best we can in our own modeling. Thus, I would sum up the three goals for them to determine as preservation, disposition, and income.
During the 2019 Lincoln Square Village Train Show, someone stopped by our display and made an anonymous donation of some circa 1950s HO scale equipment. Most of the cars were equipped with the archaic hook and loop couplings. Here’s a look at what we have.
Mantua General, Plus Misc Parts
This loco was built from a Mantua General kit. There are some extra optional parts included along with an iffy looking sheet of decals and misc stuff. It is tender drive, but no idea if it runs.
Unpowered HO F-unit
This dummy F-unit was part of a 1950s product promotion along with the next few cars enclosed in cardboard shipping packs. Whatever is done with these should happen as a unit because of their common source.
HO Lightweight Passenger Car
It’s just a kit for a streamline passenger car.
HO Michigan Central Gondola
Great for open loads.
HO Virginian Hopper Car
For coal, etc.
HO Metal 8-wheel Caboose
Caboose is painted but unlettered. Equipped with loop and hook couplers.
HO Texaco Tank Car
A very nice HO scale Texaco tank car. Equipped with loop and hook couplers.
HO Santa Fe Reefer
A classic car. Equipped with loop and hook couplers.
HO Pennsylvania Boxcar
A Pennsy 40′ box equipped with loop and hook couplers.
HO Central of Georgia Gon
A rather rare road name equipped with loop and hook couplers.
HO Central RR of NJ Old Time Boxcar
An old time kit of an old time boxcar. It is partially built.
HO (or a larger scale) 2 pairs of Link and Pin Couplers
A lot of 2 pairs of Link and Pin Couplers. They work in HO, but might be more suitable for a larger scale – and very steady hands.
Some Odd Lots
The rest of things. The track is brass curves (22″?)
This is the first in a series of posts that document many of the assets currently in the ITD’s hands. The generosity of donors over the last year has been almost breathtaking. It does create the need to decide which the ITD should retain to support our programs and which might be surplus to those needs and might better be disposed of to benefit the division’s finances , where possible. Some of these items would make good donations to other NMRA groups. We need to organize a committee to make some determination of what we plan to do in order gain the maximum benefit to our efforts to promote the hobby. This and future posts are intended to give members access to info on these assets to aid in decision making about them as we move forward with a process we need to devise to get us through these virus-stricken times.
In general, we should plan to prioritize retention of those assets with direct application in support of the division’s efforts to promote the NMRA and the hobby. If there is property in excess of those needs, it could be sold to members with an interest in it. Finally, assets can be disposed of to the general public if it it doesn’t qualify for either of the first options, with any revenue from these sales going to support the ITD’s general fund.
The first group of assets will be the many modules the estate of Bob Miller brought to us. I’ll list them and comment on each as much as possible.
This is the most scenic of all Bob’s modules. Track and wiring is complete, with a few attached structures. With a bridge adapter, it connects with a new HOn3 4×8 I built that together can serve to display the many unique structures built by Bob that we received, as well as a way to display projects by other members from time to time. The switch machines are all remote-operated snappers with switch stands to display position. I added the shelf underneath to help keep things organized and hold power supplies, etc.
Module’s #2 to #8
Modules #2 through #8 are the rest of a larger layout Bob apparently planned to build that would’ve been an “O”-shaped one about 10′ square. There are 3 more straight sections and 4 corner sections, plus legs and hardware. Module #1 above was the only section Bob brought to the substantially complete state seen above. Since I am currently the only narrowgauger in the division, it doesn’t make much sense to pursue this as an HOn3 project. Instead, it would make a good layout for shows that would be within our organizational capacity to build and operate in HO standard gaige or N scale.On the other hand, it might be something another division or NMRA project could use. The missing 4th section that is our Module #1 would be easy to duplicate to complate it as a roundy round or it could be adapted to be a Free-mo or other module set.
This module is HO gauge, but the tie spacing, etc all scream On30. It seems complete, but I haven’t hooked up the electricity yet. Turnout controls on this one are manual. This would be a good one for kids to test the cars they might build in the make -n-take.
This module is HOn3 and is complete, with hand throws on the turnouts. An excellent example of Bob’s handiwork with track, code 55 in this case. The question with this and the next one is does the ITD need more than one HOn3 module besides Module #1?
This HOn3 module is quite similar in appearance and construction to Module #10, but has a portion of the track yet to be completed on the right side in the pic above. There is more than enough rail available to complete it in our stock, so would make a good project to demonstrate hand-laying track for one of our future shows..
Module #12, #13, & #14
These three modules are similar in construction to #10 and #11 from what I remember when we put them up there carefully, but I couldn’t get them down without help to see what’s there. Will advise when I get help to check them out and take pics.
This module is blank, but similar to others in this series in basically being a hollow door that is 80″ long and 16″ or less in width.
Another blank without any track.
This one has some commercial N gauge track present, plus a lot of additional rubbery roadbed. We have a bunch of N gauge turnouts and some sectional track in our stock.
Similar to a Timesaver, but different, this module is laid out in the rubbery roadbed material on a shorter piece of extruded foam, about 4′ to 5′ long. No track is present, but we have some. This one is the most portable of all those we have available.
While not part of the many modules sections themselves, we received a number of brackets that can be used to hang the various modules on the wall.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has a lot of downsides, these circumstances are bringing about some positive changes that we have long contemplated. In the Illinois Terminal Division, we’ve just begun meeting using Zoom, an applications for videoconferencing that is free and easy to use for your computer, smartphone or tablet device. To get it, search your app store or go to https://zoom.us/download
Besides meetings, I’ve started using it to help members solve problems, consult and plan, and generally work through issues they may encounter, but can’t get immediate help with due to time, distance, or the restrictions they may face due to the pandemic. Zoom is pretty straightforward to use, so don’t be intimidated if it’s new to you.
While there has been some discussion in the media about privacy and other issues, mostly this happens when you allow it to access your contacts list and other file areas on your device. That does make it a little easier to set-up a meeting, but aren’t needed for the app to function. If Zoom requests those, just “Don’t Allow” it and it will keep working without that info
How do you connect with the ITD via Zoom? Right now, I’m the only one working this, but others may join in as they are comfortable to help. Once you have the Zoom app installed on whatever device you’re using, send a message or call me to set up a Zoom session if you have my personal contact info or send a message via Superintendent@IllinoisTerminalDivision.org
Since the ITD’s Robert Miller Memorial Library is housed here, with Zoom available I can also assist you with looking up old articles and other materials found in our collection. We have almost complete collections of Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, and Narrow Gauge & Short Line Gazette available among other materials. I can also use my personal library to help you, with its extensive collection of narrowgauge books, including some rare and hard to find ones.
I am generally available after 10am until late evening, although the scope of your problem may need more time to research in a few cases. One of the great features of Zoom is how you can add in additional feeds and share your screen in order to facilitate the meeting. Zoom is more than just making talking heads available for this reason.
Using Zoom, I hope that the ITD becomes more usefully available to all members in between our monthly meetings (now temporarily suspended except via Zoom), but I especially hope those who are too distant to attend can enjoy greater participation with those of us concentrated in the north part of the ITD. The upcoming May 9 at 1pm annual business meeting will be the first ITD membership meeting to be televised via Zoom. We hope to see you there, but contact us sooner if you need assistance with any prototype or model railroad-related subject or any NMRA-related topic.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see if we can make that happen.
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.
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.
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 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 .
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.
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.
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.
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: