Saturday, November 8, 2014

NEB&W Ops Session

The New England Berkshire & Western was the first model railroad I ever saw that actually replicated prototype scenes. I didn't know what a "prototype" was at the time, but I thought it incredibly cool that a model railroad could depict an actual scene from the past. Consequently, the NEB&W set me firmly on the path of prototype modeling.

Located in the basement of the student union building at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, the students/members do a lot of research on architecture, electrical engineering, building, etc. to bring the NEB&W to life. Although the railroad itself is fictional, almost all - if not all - of the scene are direct copies of the actual real-life scenes.

I first discovered the NEB&W in the pages of Model Railroader, and then got to visit it for the first time in the early '90s. What an amazing visit that was! To see it "in person" was a real treat. But the "open houses" that the railroad used to host are long gone, and now it's only operated twice a year by invitation only. And, fortunately, I got on the ops list a couple years ago.

The most recent session took place last Saturday (Nov. 1). Pieter and I got to run a total of 4 trains over the course of a 24 hour "day" (6 actual hrs on a 4:1 fast clock). Although my own layout is pretty laid back, having only a couple of local freights, the NEB&W is a true transportation system with name trains and symbol freights as well as locals. No matter what your operational proclivities, you owe it to yourself to operate on a large layout at least once.

Here are some photos from the day....

Pieter & I started with a local passenger job that originated in Saratoga Springs.

Here's our local arriving in Troy. The sheer scope of this model city is amazing, and very true to prototype. Since so much of the city has changed in the last 50yrs, the model has become the only way to "travel back in time" to experience the city in 3d.

This is our local leaving town. Yup, there was a lot of street running in Troy.

Although the NEB&W is a huge layout, there's still an abundance of detail. The only thing that consoles me about that is the fact that they've been working on this layout for over 40 years.

The detail in Downtown Troy is especially amazing. There's something new to see everywhere you look.

A great example of not only modeling historical accuracy, but a great example of a model telling a story. There was obviously another building attached to this at one time.

And another great example of (hi)story-telling: this is a fire escape design that is unique to Troy, NY.

While we were waiting for our next train in the crew lounge, I took a picture of the "wall of fame" - the NEB&W has been featured multiple times in the hobby press. And these are just the times it made the cover!

I'll need some cattle pens at Middletown Meat Packing, so I figured it'd be a good idea to take a reference photo.

Another reference photo - This area looks a bit like the Valley Line, so I wanted to capture how they did their scenery.

Ditto here - I can easily imagine the Wethersfield area of my layout looking something like this. Someday.

You can't "railfan" the Berkshire Lines without shooting a train across the causeway.

And here's the beach at the end. Really amazing work. We're on a local freight now.

While our train took the siding, a southbound ore train went by.

The other "must have" shot on the NEB&W is the Red Rocks section, modeled after the prototype located on the Delaware & Hudson along Lake Champlain.

Another nice shot - this could easily be the Valley Local heading north along the Connecticut River.

Except this looks decidedly more like Vermont than Connecticut.
Google any photo of "Bartonsville Covered Bridge" and you'll see this scene...
... which looks a lot like this.

As the freight enters into its terminal yard, we'll leave with one last reference photo - that bridge abutment there looks a bit like the "typical" Valley Line abutment, though not as long (or tall). But it sure gets me to thinking more about how I can duplicate it.
Ops sessions at the NEB&W are always a blast. We got there about noon, and didn't leave until after 8pm (with a dinner break in the middle). I don't know how many folks were there, but it had to be somewhere around 20. And between the number of trains, and the full dispatcher, phones, etc. I really got lost back in the 1950s, operating a "real" railroad during a New England Autumn.

I want to be able to do something like that in my own basement someday!

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