The Philosophy Behind the Great Lakes and Northern Railroad

When I started to modeling in earnest I had no idea what to do, I just knew that I liked the hobby and wanted to do well at it. As many of us do, I go back to before the Internet and resources were limited to the print media, so I started to read and read and read.

One of the people that I read about was Frank Ellison and his O Scale Delta Lines model railroad. Frank had a background in theater and this influenced his model railroad. Frank “claimed that the layout was a stage on which the trains were the actors. The work of transporting people and hauling freight was the drama that the model railroader reenacted whenever he ran his trains. Buildings, bridges, roads, hills and rivers, townscapes and factories were for him no more than a stage set for the trains, which he generally modeled to a much higher standard than these ancillary items.” [1]

“Ellison wrote that "the art of model railroading consists of condensing everything to within reasonable proportion", with no elements dominating over the others. He also held that all elements of a layout should contribute to its fundamental purpose, which is good train operation.” [2]

When I was a senior in high school I had the opportunity to be the student director of our senior play. I did not do very well at it but, I did learn a lot about the theater and I loved the way everything worked. Whenever, where ever I would see a model railroad, I felt that they should be lit with theater lighting. After reading Frank Ellison’s works and knew I had a plan. Stage layout, Stage lighting and operation, how cool is that?

I continued to read and I soon found another book on operations, “How to operate your Model Railroad” by Bruce Chubbs. Bruce not only talked about operations, but he also brought computers into the mix. WOW!! (It would take me more than thirty five years to meet Bruce and visit the Sunset Valley, for me this was a great experience.) Bruce is an Electrical Engineer and he carried this talent to model railroading, which just amazed me.  He had taken a new approach to signaling, turnout control and train control (DCC was not out when I first read his book). This was as aspiring to me as Frank Ellison’s concepts were. Soon the Sunset Valley and the Delta Lines were my goal, a dream; something that mixed the two ideas.

As I continued to read I found an article in Model Railroader Magazine about Nick Muff’s approach to the hobby. The August 2011 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine has an updated articled on the Kansas City Southern and it’s a great read. Nick has a layout with lighting and it is operations oriented, but he also decided to make the surrounding area a comfortable train theme for visitors. As Nick built his house, he had the foresight to put the front end of a real F7 in the basement before he built the rest of the house. Nick also built a mockup of a passenger car that you walk through to get to his layout. (See Video)  Now Nick’s approach maybe just a little extreme for some (Not Me!!), but there is a great idea in there for others. I now had another idea to add to my ideas from the Sunset Valley and the Delta Lines. These three people have been a major influence as to what my railroad should be. As you look through this Blog I think you will see the influence of these three.

Therefore my philosophy has been to use the great ideas (or at least modify them) of the modelers who are famous and the not so famous. My friends have also given me some great council and ideas. I think of my friends as a large advisory council to the Great Lakes and Northern. My friends also bring me the great camaraderie that this hobby offers.

So I continue to read and each time I go to visit a friend’s layout, visit a blog, go to a show or convention I try to come back with some kind of idea as to how to improve my layout and I usually do.


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