Thursday, July 13, 2023

Throwback Thursday: Wood Ops Session & Jason Fontaine's Layout

Hopefully you've noticed the progress on the layout lately . . . As I mentioned in my last post, I've been exchanging before-work workouts for before-work layout work and I've been making steady progress. But it's time to swing the mental health pendulum back a bit since 1) while mental fitness is important, so is physical fitness - and I haven't been on the bike or treadmill in over a week; and 2) (and, I'll confess, more due to this>) I really should wait until all the Sculptamold, plaster, and ground goop fully cures before proceeding.  So while I wait for that, I'll get back in the saddle at the sunrise. . .

But hearing about my workout schedule is likely the LAST reason you'd be here . . . so let me turn back the clock a few weeks for this edition of Throwback Thursday and tell you about a day in late June when I got to operate on a cool switching layout and got to visit an amazing basement-filling empire that's soon to be retired . . .

I first met Alexander Wood at the NER Convention back in '21, and he was instrumental in helping me sort out some shorts and even got to operate on the Valley Line for the first time that October. So we were long overdue to get together for an ops session on his layout. He needed to wait until getting settled into his new place, but you can see in the pic above that he's well on his way with an engaging switching layout. No structures or scenery yet, but he's been focusing on getting his ProtoThrottle dialed in and it's a testament to his configuration, as well as his track arrangement, that even "just" switching cars became very immersive. Thanks for the invite Alex - very much looking forward to seeing your layout evolve even further!

Moving from a layout-just-beginning to the other end of a layout's life to a layout-about-to-be retired, my buddy Pete and I headed up to Massachusetts to visit Jason Fontaine and his beautiful Southern New England Rwy. layout before he started dismantling it due to an upcoming move down south. . .

The SNE Rwy. is based on an actual railroad that was proposed to be built by the Grand Trunk from Palmer, MA to Providence, RI. It started out as the last major railroad building project in the region, but its president went down with the Titanic and the project stalled and eventually died.

But in Jason's world, and with a little help from alternative history, the SNE was built and thrived, eventually making it into the 1950s era he models.

And what models they are! As you can see from the pics, everything is superdetailed and fully built-out. They say a layout is never finished, but this one has to be pretty close!

And it runs as well as it looks. While I'm so grateful I got to see this layout (on the strong recommendation of none other than Marty McGuirk!) before it followed its prototype into history, I'm sorry I never got to operate on it. I had Jason describe a train going from one end to the other and was really impressed with the way he had it all designed.

He'll be the first to admit to getting a lot of help along the way and his good friend, the sadly recently departed Dick Elwell, was a big part of that and a great inspiration. In fact, anyone familiar with Dick's Hoosac Valley layout will recognize the heavy Elwell influence in the SNE Rwy.

But enough talk - since "a picture is worth a thousand words" I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story (with additional info in the captions) . . .

Speaking of Elwell influence, folks that saw the Hoosac Valley will find this scene especially familiar.

While the rugged mountain scenery around the helix is more "northern" rather than "southern" New England, there's no mistaking the season . . .

Seldom attempted, and never - to my knowledge - actually accomplished . . . a full HO scale race track, complete with spectators!

Fully strung power lines are an Elwell - and now apparently also a Fontaine - trademark.

I found the elevation changes all around the layout particularly compelling - no flat-top tables here...

This diner has a full interior and lighting so you can see it.

A huge thanks and shoutout to Jason for being so generous with his time and allowing Pete and I to visit his gorgeous layout on relatively short notice. Jason was a welcoming host and is a great example of the wonderful folks we meet in this hobby. While we'd just met a few hours earlier, by the time we left and I got this selfie, I felt like we'd already become great friends. I hope, despite his up-coming move, that we'll be able to stay in touch - and I'm really looking forward to hearing what he has planned for his next model railroad!

As you might imagine, I took a TON more photos and only shared a representative number here. But if a picture... well, you get the idea.... then what about a video? That'd be worth "millions" of words, I'd wager. So hereya go - and enjoy!


  1. Chris, Thanks for sharing the photos and video.

    1. Glad you enjoyed them Frank - and thanks for taking the time to let me know!