Sunday, November 29, 2015

Admiration as Motivation: Jim Dufour's Cheshire Branch

Thou shalt not covet.
Exodus 20:17

During this time of Thanksgiving, we take time to be grateful for all we have and to appreciate all the little and big ways we've been blessed. Long-time readers of this blog have seen me go on (and on) about how wonderful it is to live where I do, how nice a space I have, how loving and supportive my wife is. And all of that is - and continues to be - true. But they say confession is good for the soul. So here goes:

I want Jim DuFour's model railroad.

Jim's layout depicts the Cheshire Branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad c. 1947-1951 and is one of the best examples of how a model railroad can be used to transport us to a different time and place. It has everything I want in a model railroad: great scenery - true to the geography of the places modeled, flawless operation - even of finicky brass steam engines, and the highest fidelity to all aspects of this particular section of the B&M, from the signal types used to the particular type of guardrail used along Route 12 in southern New Hampshire. And he's done it all by modeling 5 consecutive towns in a fraction of the space I have available. His exhaustive research and obvious skill have created a world where it doesn't take much imagination at all to believe you've taken a time machine and landed right in the middle of a Philip Hastings photograph. Except better - you can interact with the world Jim's created. And it's in color.

Jim and I met at the NE ProtoMeet a couple years ago and discovered right away that we were on almost-identical paths modeling wise - the only difference  being that he's modeling a B&M branchline and I'm modeling a New Haven RR branchline. Well, that and he's obviously much more talented and further along than I am. But it's been really cool to discover how similar our mindsets are and what we want to accomplish with our modeling.

Since I'd been a distant admirer of his layout for a while, I took a chance when I heard that he was having an open house and all-but-invited myself over, dropping Bill's name (hoping that would help rather than hurt :). I needn't have worried though, he graciously extended an invitation to visit and see the layout in person.

I took almost 10 rolls of film 240 pictures while I was there - everything from the vintage 1948 calendar, to the fastclock control panel, to - of course - the layout itself. Most of my shots were for my reference (his State Line area looks almost the spittin' image of much of the Valley Line, especially the southern end), but I got a few that are worth sharing here. I'm sure others got much better shots than I did, and I hope they'll mention so and give us a link in the comments. That way we can all appreciate Jim's accomplishment.

There's a fine line between inspiration and discouragement. All too often, my reach exceeds my grasp and I've sometimes wondered if I've taken on too much. But seeing the Cheshire Branch in person reminds me of what can be accomplished and that motivates me to keep going with my own effort.

In the meantime though, please pardon my occasional covetousness.

And enjoy this little taste of southern New Hampshire in the summer of 1948...

You come onto the layout from staging at State Line. I've never been to State Line, but if the accuracy of the rest of his layout is any indication, this scene is a spot-on model of the real location. But - to me - it looks the epitome of so much of the New Haven's Valley Line that I took probably 2 dozen photos here alone.

Symbol freight headed out of State Line westbound (compass northwest toward Bellows Falls, VT).

The next town on the line is Fitzwilliam, NH

Westbound freight rounding the bend, approaching Troy.

Local freight stopped at the Troy station for orders.

Later, near dusk, symbol freight BX-1 westbound through Troy, NH

Westbound with Mt. Monadnock in the background


The cuts at Troy Ledges

After Troy Ledges, the next station is Webb. The eastbound local is waiting on the siding.

Just west of Webb 

I hope you've enjoyed this tiny taste of the Cheshire Branch. Be sure to click the links in the text above for additional photos and videos.


  1. Chris,

    Thanks for sharing this - what an absolutely spectacular layout!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Chris! Hope you're enjoying the blog!

  2. OK, maybe a bit of covet can be a good thing . . .

    This layout depicts the area close to my home in Dublin, NH, and each day I pass the old Cheshire branch stone arch bridge in Keene on my way to work. He's done a tremendous job capturing the feel of the area!

    1. Capturing a locale takes such a great amount of talent, IMO. Too bad the prototype Cheshire branch is gone, but it certainly lives on on Jim's layout. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  3. Chris - Very nicely written... I think most all of us who have visited come away feeling the same way about Jim's dedication to the prototype and his skills depicting time and place... my feature on the B&M @ continues to be the most popular post ever... but hands off of the layout... I called it first! - JF

    1. I "see" that now that I've gone back to check out your post (which, unfortunately, I'd missed the first time around).

  4. Hi Jim:
    "Hands off of the layout ... I called it first". Well, actually, I called it before you by about two months. In March I posted about the TrainMasters TV visit to Jim's layout:
    Chris - thanks for the post on Jim's layout. It's always enjoyable to see, and I'm sure Jim is pleased that so many people have been influenced by his work.
    - Trevor (Port Rowan in 1:64)

    1. Heh - am I going to have to separate you two? :^) Thanks for the comment Trevor and thanks for posting the link. It's nice to have all these Cheshire Branch resources together for quick and easy reference (and repeated review!)

  5. No worries here, Chris... I think our friend from north of the border simply misinterpreted what a NYC "I called it first" means... while Mr. Marshall did indeed COVER the Cheshire earlier, you and I COVET it!... but being the good sport that I am, I'll take two minutes for instigating! - JF

    1. I'll still take the (dis)credit - I've been coveting that layout since seeing David Haney's first photos of it, years ago. :-)

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  7. I am wondering what is the size of this very well done Boston and Maine layout and if their is a track plan published somewhere on the web or in Magazine.