J. Alex Lang

More Model Trains

I often get the question “Do you have model trains, too?”  Well, sorta. I did as a kid, and I’ll focus on that for today.

When I was in fourth grade, we bought a house in Allentown, Pa.  After about a year, my Dad showed up with a 4×8 of plywood, which was the beginning of a model railroad kingdom that lasted until I was in high school.  It wasn’t much longer that the 4×8 got moved to the basement, where the layout eventually filled a 16×12 room.  During this time, my dad was the Chief Engineer and I learned how to solder and do basic wiring, switches, and circuits.  Thanks to that, I was able to get my first real job at Lucent years later.  The railroad was fictional, and called the “Springfield Southern”, so named for the Bachmann train station that came pre-labeled “Springfield”. How original.

In about 1989 I met Lou Capwell on a chance encounter. At that preadolescent time, each of our moms had to drive us around. On this particular day, our moms had each taken us to the “overlook bench” at Allentown Yard. Here’s a slide from the early 90’s showing that view:

Allentown Yard, 1996

Well, anyway, Lou and I became fast friends. I soon learned that he had an HO layout, the “Lou Line”. Good pun.  Our entrepreneurial ways got the better of us and we eventually merged the two railroads into the “Allentown Springfield & Northern Rwy Co.”.  By this “late” stage, we were painting locomotives and had developed a paint scheme.  We also wrote a merger agreement! Lou has those documents somewhere.  These next few prints are from our special inspection train that celebrated the inauguration. As I remember it, my mom even bought us sparkling grape juice for our celebration event.  I’d have to say that was around 1990 or so.

You’ll note the military installation in that last photo.  Since my brother Ben didn’t really give a flying, uh, “concern” for trains, my Dad saw fit to set Ben up with an army base so that he had something to do.  After Dad discovered an HO scale military train, with tanks and a missile launcher, Ben was all set.  The HO scale town of Springfield, Pa was a hazardous place to live, you see – plastic HO scale missile did often land in the center of town, and if that wasn’t enough, one of the cats used to take a nap on top of the scenery.  He’d walk upstairs with lichen and ground foam (scenery materials) all over his cat side.

The last expansion of this era was O’Connell Yard, named for an old neighbor friend who ran trains for the New Jersey Central. Tommy O’Connell used to tell me lots of stories about railroading between Jersey City and Scranton.  The yard featured quite a few tracks and held almost 100 cars.  My dad had set up a control panel on a long “snake” cable so that the yard could be controlled centrally or by a 2nd operator.

O'Connell Yard

As I got into my teens, I wanted to be more realistic with my model trains. Between that and the various garage bands Ben and I were starting, it was time to scale back.  For a few years, I had a much smaller layout, modelling the Central of New Jersey with a lot of good looking model trains and buildings, all of which I later sold.  Lou, inspired by Jay Potter’s Mingo Junction photos, set out to model the Penn Central in the early 1970’s.  Given that neither of us visted Mingo until much later, I’m pretty impressed with the overall “feel” we were able to capture.

High school turned into college, and for both Lou and I our interest turned to women, music, travel.  During a particularly depressing period in 2000-2001 (the post-college “who the hell am I” phase) I briefly got back into HO trains.  I had done some Conrail locomotives and built part of a steel mill, before moving to Pittsburgh to work at CMU.

My models at Peter McGilligan's place
My kitbashed HO scale Conrail SD80MAC

In 2004 I sold all of my HO scale trains to pay for a Canon 10D, which I still don’t regret. (I do miss those trains, though.) I bought and then sold some N scale in 2005-2006. And then in the last year, I just had to buy an HO scale train for around the Christmas tree, for the kids.  (Just like the HO slot car track I bought this year, “for the kids”.) So we do now have a 4×8 in our very own basement, with the trains and slot cars competing for attention.

This past summer, we bought a house that we’re renovating, and hope to move soon… There’s plenty of room in the basement – though the exact amount available for trains is still under negotiation!