We bought our two story townhouse in June 1980 and within a couple of months we had looked at several ideas about where we could build an HO scale layout.  One night when several model railroad friends were over for dinner, the conversation turned to layout construction and the thought of adding a third floor to the townhouse surfaced.  The idea made lots of sense so in the 4th quarter of 1982 we hired a contractor to build a 16 1/2’ X 24 1/2’ (approximately 400 square feet) railroad room on top of our townhouse. Construction began in November 1982.  The contractor completed his work in January 1983.  We had our first work session on Saturday, March 3, 1983.   Dick Roark, Bob Dannenbrink, Lynn Zimmerman, Kelton Glasscock and Landon Woodruff were all on hand for the first work session.

With lots of great help from model railroad friends, we made significant progress throughout 1983. We used L-girder construction throughout the railroad, with 1/2 inch plywood for the sub-roadbed and ½ inch Homasote for the roadbed.  We had the made the decision early on that all of the trackwork would be handlaid.  Individual ties were glued down with Elmers white glue and then sanded and stained.  All of the mainline track is code 83 rail.  Yards and spurs are code 70.  The first track laying session was in May 1983 with Lynn Zimmerman, Conrad Brown and me laying the main lines from Kedzie Avenue to West Eola.1983small

Track laying continued through the summer of 1983.  Lynn and I put in the island down the middle of the layout room in August 1983.  All of the rail was laid through Aurora by Christmas, 1983.  All of the track work on the island was done by June 1984.  The first train made a full loop on the railroad on June 17, 1984.  The first train across the railroad was Train #21, the Morning Zephyr.  We had trains running across the railroad 15 months after we hung the first L-girder.  We had our first Open House for National Model Railroad Month on November 24, 1984.

The bridge over the Rock River just east of Oregon was installed in May 1985. 

Early on we made the decision that we did not want to see uncoupling magnets between the rails and on top of the ties, nor did we want to use uncoupling tools or sticks to uncouple cars.  We made the decision at this point to use the Kadee #308 “Under the Track” uncoupling magnets in all of the yard and industrial tracks.  For mainline uncoupling ramps we made our own electric magnets so that we would not have any false uncoupling on the mains.  There are over 100 Kadee magnets on the layout and over 60 electric uncoupling ramps.1984 small 

In 1985 we made the decision to install Dynatrol for our operating system.  We started the process of putting receivers in the locomotives and began wiring the railroad for both conventional DC and Dynatrol operations.  Each block was controlled by the center off toggle switch. The system was simple:  throw the toggle switch down for Dynatrol and up for conventional DC.  The dual use of Dynatrol and convention DC worked well and we stayed with this scheme until we made the decision in the fall of 2002 to convert to DCC.

We kept looking for ways to expand the layout beyond the original room.  We started calling this Phase I.  In early 1986 we began design work for Phase II.  Phase II would allow us to model the area around Union Avenue Tower, the 14th Street coach yard, the Zephyr Pit and Chicago Union Station.  In May 1986 I brought back the same contractor who had built Phase I.  He completed the construction of Phase II in June 1986.  Phase II added roughly another 300 square feet of space to the railroad. We set our goal of having the Phase II expansion space operational by the November Open House. The Phase II space allowed us to dedicate one new room to what we called the “Loop Room.”  The Loop Room housed on the lowest level the new reversing loop tracks for Galesburg staging.  We were able to put seven reversing loop tracks into Galesburg.  Above the Galesburg staging tracks we were able to install the Chicago reversing staging tracks.  We were able to have five reversing loop tracks for Chicago along with two stub tracks.  By September 1st, Lynn Zimmerman had completed all of the survey work for the Galesburg tracks and all of the ties in Galesburg were laid over Labor Day weekend.  By early November the Galesburg tracks were operational.  The first train ran on the newly completed loop through Galesburg on November 3, 1986.  Our annual Open House was on November 23rd  and over 100 people came to see the progress we had made.

All of 1987 and 1988 were spent pulling wire and installing the control panels around the railroad.  We used the Circuitron AR-1s to control movements through the reversing loops at Galesburg and Chicago. With many of the control panels now operational, we turned our focus to developing and implementing our operating scheme.  We held our first Operating Session on July 18, 1988.  All through the remainder of 1988 and throughout 1989 we focused on getting more and more of the railroad operational. We began having regular monthly Operating Sessions in 1989. 

In 1989 we were one of the host layouts for the NMRA National Convention that was held in Houston.  We had four buses full of visitors come visit the layout.

For the next ten years (1990-2000) we had monthly Operating Sessions and at the same time worked on laying more rail at the 14th Street Coach Yard and completing the track work at Oregon.  Our Operating Sessions convinced us that we needed to install operating signals on the layout.  We decided to use the line from Aurora to Savanna as the “test bed” for the signal installation.  We looked at several commercially available signal systems, and in early 1992 elected to go with the system from Integrated Signal Systems (ISS).  We had a huge learning curve on the signal system.  By May 1992 we had signals in operation in the towns of Hinckley and Oregon on the C&I Subdivision (the island part of the railroad). 1992 small

In the fall of 1995 Lynn Zimmerman and I started laying roadbed west of Oregon towards Savanna.   The plan was to have Savanna be the third of the three reversing loops and be located on top of the reversing loops for Galesburg and Chicago.  Getting tracks laid west of Oregon also allowed us to expand operations and to get more activity on the C&I Subdivision.  The remainder of the 1990s was spent operating the layout on a monthly basis, starting scenery work and building structures.    

We were one of the host railroads for ProRail in Houston in April 1999.  We operated the layout 3 times over the three day ProRail event.    

For several years we had been looking at the possibility of expanding the layout one more time.  We came up with a plan that would allow us to add another 250 square feet to the railroad by adding a 18’ X 16 ½’ extension on the railroad on top of our son’s bedroom.  This would extend the aisleway on the back side of the railroad from 24’ to 40.’  We started calling this Phase III. 

Lynn Zimmerman came up with track plans for Phase III.  We determined we could add a new 10 track stub ended staging yard on the east end of the railroad for all of the freight traffic.  This new staging yard would be called Cicero and would allow us to greatly increase our freight train operations.  Phase III would give us the room to completely model the area around west of the depot in Aurora, an area that I had wanted to fully model for a number of years.  Phase III would also allow us to lengthen the run across the C&I Subdivision.  Where we originally had the town of Hinckley, we would now be able to model the much more active town of Rochelle and add the little village of Flag Center.  Rochelle would feature a double track main line, would be over 30’ long and would have 14 prototypically correct industries.  We got the bug to built Phase III in earnest in early 2002.2002 small

Construction of Phase III began in July 2002.  This was a large project involving moving the HVAC system for the third floor, numerous plumbing and electrical relocations and tying the old roof into the new roof.  The Phase III expansion was completed on September 1, 2002.  Now we had to get to work in earnest.  We had numerous L-girders to install, more roadbed and Homasote to install and rail to lay.  Because of the Phase III expansion we were not open for Open House in 2002, the first year we had missed since we started participating in the Open Houses in 1984.  By May 2003 all of the ten tracks were operational in Cicero and the first westbound freight left Cicero on May 27, 2003 with 4-unit F-3s #135 leading Train #67 west to Galesburg.

With Phase III completed, the layout room on top of our townhouse was approximately 1,100 square feet.  The rail gang feverishly went to work to get the Phase III portion of the railroad operational.  We had talked about the shortcomings of Dynatrol for several years.  It seemed to be the time to look at our operating system to determine if it was time to convert from Dynatrol to DCC.  We came to the conclusion that if we were ever going to make the switch to DCC, this was the time.  We had made several trips around the country to look at and use various DCC systems.  After many discussions and operating sessions all over the country, we came to the decision that Easy DCC was the best system for our layout.  We took the plunge and purchased CVP Products Easy DCC system for the railroad.  This was probably one of the best decisions we had ever made in the 19 year history of the layout.  2005 small

We went to work and spent all of 2003 modifying the wiring on the layout for DCC, putting DCC decoders in the locomotive fleet and installing the detectors from Bruce Chubb to make the signal system work better.  Throughout the summer and fall of 2003 we installed over 120 of the Chubb detectors.  On November 9, 2003 the first eastbound train in the DCC era made a complete trip across the layout.  Extra #300 east with coal bound for Commonwealth Edison in Chicago crossed the railroad.  That same day three- unit F-7s #167 ABC led eastbound train “LC” east from Galesburg to Cicero.  The first westbound train was #67 with F-3s 135 ABCD.

We spent the next 30 days reconnecting the tracks in the Chicago loop so that we could get Chicago operational again.  On November 21, 2003, Chicago was operating again.  Train #17, the California Zephyr, made the westbound trip from Chicago to Aurora and on to Galesburg.

We had our Open House for National Model Railroad Month on December 4th and 5th.  We had a large crowd on both days, with over 150 visitors coming to see what the newly expanded railroad looked like.  Phase III was new as was the Easy DCC.  We still had lots of work ahead of us to get all of Phase III operational, but it was great to see the railroad running again.

The years 2004 through 2006 were spent spiking rail, wiring, installing signals and working on scenery.  Finally in July 2006 we were able to have a mini Operating Session.  There were several temporary panels and lots of temporary wiring, but the mini session went quite well.  We started having regular monthly Operating Session again in September 2006.Highlands 2006 

The years 2007 through 2009 saw more permanent panels being installed, more signals, more scenery and more structures.  We continued to have our monthly Operating Sessions.  The addition of Cicero on the east end of the layout has allowed us to add significantly to the freight car roster, with over 125 new freight cars entering service. 

ProRail came back to Houston in April, 2008.  We were again one of the host layouts.  Just like we had done in 1999, we had thee operating sessions over the three day ProRail event. 

After attending the ProRail event in Kansas City in April 2009, I came home bound and determined to install a prototypical telephone system on the layout.  With the assistance of Bill Hirt in Kansas City and Jay Miller in Dallas, we found the equipment and worked to have the phones installed as quickly as we could.  The radios we had been using for many years had outlived their usefulness, were hard to maintain and were constantly breaking.   The first use of the telephone system was the Operating Session held on October 17, 2009.

Over Christmas 2009 I went to work on the Dispatcher Desk and the C&I Subdivision panel.  While far from a prototypical UB&S or GRS Dispatcher Panel, it is very functional, inexpensive and operational.  In the next year we will complete work on the Galesburg Division Dispatcher panel.  The Dispatcher will then be able to control all movements on the C&I Subdivision and the main line from Aurora to Galesburg.

The plan for the coming years is to complete the Savanna staging loop and install the new permanent control panels at Aurora and Galesburg.  At the same time we will continue to work on scenery, structures and more signals.  We will have our monthly Operating Sessions and will continue our efforts to preserve a small portion of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in HO scale.



Back To Top



Home History Track Plan Locations Operations Links