Re: What got you in to HOn3?

Russ Norris

This whole discussion has been a trip down memory lane.  Like many of you I started as a boy with Lionel trains under the Christmas tree.  But ham radio led me in a different direction, and the trains were boxed up and given away when I went to MIT.  (Many years later a cousin found some of them in his attic and returned them, but that is another story.)  After college and seminary and graduate studies in France, I ended up back in the States looking for a call to a church, and ended up as a Lutheran pastor in a small town in south central Pennsylvania called Mount Union, which happened to be the northern terminus of the East Broad Top narrow gauge railroad.  It also happened to be the town where my future wife grew up.  I discovered the EBT at a winter spectacular in the mid-1970s and immediately fell in love with both the railroad and my future wife.  I am still with both of them.

Just down the block from the parsonage, my good friend and colleague, the Presbyterian minister,was a fellow train buff, but he liked collecting Lionel trains which he ran on the floor of a spare bedroom in the manse.  I was bitten for a second time by the model train bug and promptly ran out and bought an HO Blue Comet pacific locomotive, followed by a heavy 0-8-0 switcher.  I didn't have a model railroad, I just liked the looks of them. I began tinkering with "improvements" to my little collection of HO locomotives, including adding a brass Elesco feedwater heater to the 0-8-0 along with a pilot truck to convert it into a massive consolidation.  Eventually I invested in a couple of 4x8 sheets of plywood and built a small layout on sawbucks in the parsonage basement. 

That primitive layout was the first incarnation of what I eventually named the Blacklog Valley Railroad, after a nearby mountain.  Eventually there were 4 more layouts as we moved from one ministry to another,, where I experimented with things like spline benchwork and staging yards.  In 2006, when I retired and we moved to Cape Cod, I started work on a new layout  I liked HO scale, as it allowed me to fit in a lot of railroad in a limited space.  But shortly before retirement, I acquired a brass HOn3 model of EBT #18, the last and largest of the road's 2-8-2s.  The idea occurred to me to build my latest (and possibly last) model railroad in HO and HOn3.  The HO section would continue a 40 year series of layouts based on my fictional Blacklog Valley, and the HOn3 would allow me to build a compressed version of the East Broad Top.  The new layout would include a dual gauge yard like the one in Mount Union, along with other iconic scenes from the narrow gauge of the East.  I loved HOn3 because it was (as a previous writer has said) CUTE!  And it allowed me to continue my historical interest in this little coal hauler in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

Over the last 15 years the railroad has grown to fill a bump out room in the attic that measures 20 x 20 feet.  I have now reproduced a small version of Mount Union, a complete model of the shops at Orbisonia/Rockhill, and the town of Robertsdale at the southern end of the EBT where the coal mines were located.  Now approaching 79 years of age, however, I find that HOn3 -- which I dearly love -- is becoming more difficult because of declining eyesight and fine scale motor skills, especially when it comes to installing Soundtraxx decoders in those tiny Hallmark brass engines.  I have thought about changing to a larger scale -- maybe On30 -- but I have so much time and effort invested in all those structures, engines and cars, that I just don't have the energy to start over again.  One of the advantages of HOn3 is that tiny defects in my modeling skills are hard for me to see, so everything looks perfect from my point of view.  😁

Russ Norris MMR

On Sun, Jan 17, 2021 at 7:54 PM Robert Bennett <ngbobme@...> wrote:
Good Evening All,

For me, this is an interesting question. While most of my recent modeling activities have been focused on the Maine Two Footers in On30, my first thirty or so years of "serious" model railroading was in HOn3. After starting with a Christmas gift Herkimer set (does anyone remember those?), I experimented in modeling for fifteen years or so, through college, with mostly HO. I scratched some E.L.Moore-based structures and had the typical ping pong table layout in the basement. I joined the Maine National Guard in 1971 and after BCT and OJT at Ft. Dix, I got home by the Spring of '72. A new hobby shop had just opened in Bar Mills, ME, and I went down one weekend. I was poking around when, BAM!, I saw this cute little red caboose sitting in an open box on a shelf. It was a built-up LaBelle D&RGW kit done by a fellow modeler in Brunswick, ME. I snapped it up and was hooked on narrow gauge. I have been in the hobby for sixty years more or less now and narrow gauge modeling is still mostly my thing. My 100 or so magazine articles over the years have focused on a lot of subjects, but the those based on two and three foot gauge models have been the most fun to research and write, and the resulting models have seen the most use on a couple of layouts. As I wrote in the latest HOn3 Annual, I am starting to build an operating Colorado-based module, using leftover HOn3 locos and rolling stock and structures from my previous full layout. Narrow gauge lines were, and are, special with interesting histories, unique histories and fascinating stories and scenery. I have a pretty extensive library and as several have mentioned, Beebe and Clegg's books were and are a great incentive too. I still have that first "buggy" and as my real first incentive to replicate the slim gauges, it will always have a home with me.

Stay well everyone and keep modeling.

Best,  Bob Bennett

Russ Norris, MMR
Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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