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Wednesday, February 7, 2024

A model railroading weekend

I’m reporting today on something that I haven’t often reported before, but it occurs to me that it may be informative for some readers to revisit the topic (there is an earlier report at: ). It’s a meeting that’s been held in the San Francisco Bay Area for about 25 years, chaired during practically the whole time by our own Seth Neumann. The weekend chosen has always been the ”football-free” weekend before the Super Bowl, for what I assume are obvious reasons. To see the current announcement, you can visit: .

This meeting began, all those years ago, with 8 or so people meeting in a living room, and had grown past 100 attendees before the pandemic. We had about 80 this last weekend (a mix of in-person and virtual attendees). It encompasses both layout design and operation through the respective NMRA Special Interest Groups or SIGs, the Layout Design SIG and the Operations SIG. In recent years, the site has been rotated among the South Bay, East Bay, and North Bay in the immediate Bay Area, and Sacramento.

This is something that could be done almost anywhere, as a means of getting people together with common interests (such as, but not limited to, the two SIGs mentioned above). I can recommend discussions of layout design issues, and even a “design challenge” — ours was to design a small layout to model the Northwestern Pacific terminal and ferry dock at Tiburon — something the Bay Area meeting has long included. This is invariably an intriguing component of the day, as various respondents show their layout ideas, and I’d recommend it. 

Anyone planning such a meeting might also consider including discussions of operation procedures, whether in the form of talks, panel discussions, or audience participation. Also, attendees always enjoy evening or next-day layout open houses and open operating sessions. We have long had these, and they seem like obvious possibilities for other meets.

This year, our meeting schedule began with Friday layout open houses and a dinner, then quite a nice Saturday meeting of our usual kind, a bunch of talks (I gave one of them), the Tiburon design challenge, which brought forth some quite interesting responses, and a switching puzzle. 

We also had our usual “layout design consulting,” where experienced layout designers privately evaluate your layout ideas or design, one on one, and give feedback. This was followed on Sunday by operating sessions for the Saturday attendees.

I was at Paul Weiss’s outstanding Central Vermont layout on Sunday, to act as yardmaster at the principal yard, East New London. It was a really rainy day, somewhat unevenly with heavy showers alternating with light ones, but still a very gray and wet day. Here’s a view from the layout door with rain pelting down (and yes, that’s a crossing gate in the distance: the former NWP line, now SMART commute trains):

But inside, of course, we were dry and happy (doubtless aided by the availability of copious coffee and donuts). My crew at East New London was Jim Radkey and David Gibbons, both experienced people who got all the yard switching done in a quite timely manner. Adjoining our yard was one of the windows to an operator’s desk at the lower level, sometimes resulting in amusing scenes like this: Robert Bowdidge, conductor on the Montville job, kneeling down to communicate with the operator; at left is Phil Edholm, Superintendent of our local NMRA division, and behind him, Jim Radkey.

The layout is being built and developed by an impressive and talented crew. I always enjoy each visit because progress is always evident. The crown jewel of the new work is the superb model, built by Doug Nelson, of the Union Station at Palmer, Massachusetts (the prototype still stands), an H.H. Richardson stone structure. In the view below, the double track in front of the depot is the Boston & Albany main line, with the CV crossing at right.

Another very impressive new structure on the layout is the Yantic Grain & Produce mill and elevator, shown below. This faithfully reproduces the remarkably complex prototype structure’s roofline, and the addition at left, with a quite good representation of New England’s ubiquitous “insulbrick” sheathing, the work of Jim Providenza. A great model, and now an interesting industry to switch!

It was, as always, a fun weekend, with lots of friends and acquaintances to meet and reconnect with, nice information in the Saturday session, and (for me anyway) a terrific operating session on Sunday; I’m sure others enjoyed their Sunday layout sessions too. 

But as I stated at the outset of this post, my point in describing all this is that I think this kind of get-together could be reproduced in many places, and local modelers would have the chance to enjoy them as much as I do ours. If you see an announcement for such a meeting in your area, I’d recommend you give it a try. And if there is no such meeting locally, why not organize one? I always enjoy them, and I’ll bet you would too.

Tony Thompson


  1. thanks Tony and Thanks for your support of the "SIG Meet" over all these years. Full Disclosure: the meet had been going on intermittently for at least 10 years before that meet in the living room!

    1. Wow, amazing for 10 prior years! And I' m happy to support the SIG meet, as I always enjoy it, and I know it reaches a lot of interested people.
      Tony Thompson