January 2024

Published by Thomas Austin on


Here we are at the end of another calendar year. Where did the time go? A lot has happened here in the past 12 months; and we are getting ready to finally close the chapter on a tumultuous 2023 here at the house. As I stated last month; my layout was featured in the January 2024 Model Railroader in an article by its’ designer; Robert Sprague of https://www.bobstrackplans.com ; The layout was a culmination of my years-long battle with a space that I had for so long…yet could not seem to get the thing the way I wanted it. It took another set of eyes and some expertise to conquer that room. If you are stuck in a rut on what to design; this type of expertise might be what you need. All I can say is I stopped trying to put everything but the kitchen sink in my layout plans.

I had other things in mind when I summoned Bob (at the suggestion of fellow MoPac modeler and friend Nathan Obermeyer); and I was certainly not disappointed. The plan also allowed me to get my druthers in on what it was that I really wanted; once I peeled back all the layers of stuff that usually accompanies these things…and the HUGE layout with multiple towns and operators wasn’t it. In fact, I had been reading along with Jim Six’s articles about the 1-town layout; a realization that he came to after so many years building tons of locomotives and such; only to realize that he really appreciated the limited approach. It was tonic for the soul here, let me tell you. Because even though the layout here could be considered boring to some; there is ( or was ) some serious train action in the Southern Illinois region at one time. Class 1 Railroads MoPac; BN; ICG; CONRAIL; Southern; & L&N all ran through the region and interchanged at several points in the area as well.

So, the “kid in the candy store” mentality could have easily overtaken me with this design; fortunately, I had also been reading the Lance Mindheim approach; with so-called negative space and what-not; and taking a more reserved look at what I really wanted; The idea of a massive fleet of engines with sound wasn’t in my price range after job losses in 2015-2016 in my immediate family forced inevitable change. It was almost like a kick in the gut. Here I was with GP15-1’s and GP38-2’s from Athearn Genesis; ExactRails’ BEAUTIFUL 3737 quad hoppers; and Bluford Shops’ excellent MoPac short bay window cabooses at my disposal with no extra cash at hand. We have all been through those things in life; and some have multiple times over.

I settled on the West Frankfort IL based-layout of MoPac’s Joppa Subdivision; kept the GP15-1’s and GP38-2’s; the coal hoppers; and sold a bunch of stuff off that wasn’t needed for the final plan. Life stepped in again on this path and delayed things for a bit between May 2022 and the present. I eventually sold the house in Centralia; and started a new path in my hometown of West Frankfort. I have been replacing my Micro Engineering track with Walthers new Code 70 branch-line flex track and switches; for ease of use and their appearance. I know Micro Engineering is a staple…but the Walthers stuff is really nice; as they have upped their game considerably in the last few years, IMO. And, I can power the frogs easily on the Walthers switches with frog juicers from TAM Valley…in lieu of trying to solder to the phosphorous-bronze frogs on the Micro Engineering turnouts.

On another note; two new publications are out and I would like to direct your attention to them for information on the Joppa Sub: Missouri Pacific Historical Society has the new Winter 2023 EAGLE magazine with a long feature article on the Joppa Subdivision with photos by the late Camille Chappius. Camille chased the train (probably the 408) to Joppa as it carried its’ coal to the now-closed Power Plant there. The Eagle is available on MPHS website for $12.50 + shipping. It’s a great read. The other book is the new Tony Koester book from Kalmbach titled “A Guide to Prairie Railroading”. This book includes many photos and tips on how to model the “plain and simple” Midwest in miniature. Check it out as it is due to be release on Jan 1, 2024.

I want to wish you all a Happy New Year filled with health; prosperity; joy; and happiness! Until next month.

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Thomas Austin

I am a Southern Illinois Native. I am a fan of nostalgia, and the history of Southern Illinois. Model Railroading has been a large part of my life; and it helps serve that interest. Through this interest I have learned much about the region; the people; and the industries that gave us all hope of building a life beyond our formal education. Small Towns in the Midwest built this nation...and this site aims to share that fact with the world.