Eric Siegel’s Interview with Legacy Station

Eric Siegel’s Appalachian & Western Railroad

As a Systems Administrator in his “real life”, Eric enjoys the hobby of model railroading on many levels. We asked him how he got started with Trains and WHY Model Railroad?

First, like many people I find that this hobby lets me connect to my childhood. I think that some of things that make children so great is their imagination, their enthusiasm and their ability to always live in the moment. This hobby let’s me do all of that, which I think is so important is this hectic world. No matter how busy or stressful my day has been I know that I can go down into my layout room and unwind for a couple hours each night…which can be very therapeutic. Secondly, I enjoy the hobby because it keeps me busy. I really do not like to sit around (after work or on a weekend) and do mindless activities such as drinking or watching TV. I like to be engaged…to be doing something. This hobby lets me do that, any time I want. Don’t’ get me wrong, I love Movies and TV…but I typically like to have those things on in the background while I do something a little more engaging in the foreground…like work on the trains!

My first train set was an HO set that my parents bought me when I was 6 or 7. I have no idea what ever happened to it…my mother probably threw it away at some point. Oddly enough, it actually took a death in the family to really get me into the hobby. My dad had told me stories about his childhood Lionel train set for years and he had told me it was in storage at his parents’ house but we had never gotten around to finding it. When my grandparents died in 1990 (I was 13) we had to clean out their house, so I headed into their basement to dig out my dad’s old set. In a dark, damp corner of the basement I found his Lionel set. It had been carelessly thrown into a few cardboard boxes as only a mother could have done. It was like finding gold. I brought them home, cleaned them up, got them running and the rest is history. Like most people, I put the trains away once I went to college and they didn’t come out again until I had a son of my own. I got back into the hobby around 2005 and have been enjoying it ever since. Unlike the toy-like 0-27 trains I inherited from my father, however, when I got back into the hobby I decided to go in a more realistic o-scale direction.

Can you tell us about your layout?
My layout is modeled to be a contemporary layout, spanning anywhere from the 1970’s up to today. For this reason, when I’m running with the theme I will only run diesels and modern rolling stock. I also try to have modern structures, people and automobiles on the layout. Having a contemporary layout sometimes makes it a challenge to find structures and other accessories that fit in the theme…most ready made structures for sale are steam era. This means I am having to scratch-build many of my structures.
I started planning the layout in late 2006. I used Atlas’ track planning software to come up with the general track plan. Construction began on January. In general I’ve stuck with the plan, but I have made several changes on-site over the years. I like to think of pre-planning as a guide and not a rule book. The layout is located in my basement. It goes through 4 different rooms in the basement. If it were all put together it would be around 400 square feet in size. Although the layout is only 60% complete, I was able to run the first train on the layout after 2 or 3 months of construction…although in a much more limited fashion than now.
People tend to think my layout is gigantic, but it really isn’t. If you were to put every part of the layout into one room, it would only be about 20ft x 20ft in size (which is large but not monstrous). However, because the layout is spread out between 4 different rooms, it appears to be much larger than it really is. It’s a bit of optical trickery, much like the use of forced perspective.
Much of the yard area of the layout is loosely (and I stress loosely) based on the Norfolk Southern and CSX yards in downtown Atlanta. Before we moved out to the burbs, we used to live in a big loft downtown that was in an old factory right next to the tracks leading into the CSX Hulsey Yard. I drew a lot of inspiration from Hulsey as well as some frequent trips over the Inman and Tilford yards…which were only a mile or two away. Lots of fun times there.
What does your family think?
My family thinks I am crazy. My wife does, however, like to cook food for the guests when there’s a layout open house, which is usually once a year around November for the Piedmont Pilgrimage tour of layouts (www.piedmontpilgrimage.com for more info)

What feature are you most proud of?

Right now, the feature I’m most proud of is the large green stainless steel trestle in the main room of the layout. Like I said before, I love the feeling I get when I build something that I never thought I could do. I’ve been planning this large trestle for years and it’s finally coming together….better than I ever imagined it would. I had the trestle sections themselves custom built for me by a gentleman in Missouri named Jim Ballmann (Stainless Unlimited) and once I got the trestle sections from him I painted/weathered them and added the track and deck up top. I tried salt weathering for the first time on this trestle and it’s also my first time building a deck on a bridge so it’s been a great learning experience. When I look at it now, I’m genuinely astonished that I was able to be a part of creating something that looks so awesome.

What was your biggest challenge in building your layout?
By far the biggest challenge was handing the photographic backdrops that I bought from Backdrop Warehouse. Mounting those backdrop panels is like hanging wallpaper, except that your hanging it horizontally instead of vertically. It’s a nightmarishly long process. The end result, however, is absolutely breathtaking and it was well worth all the hard work to get them installed.

What was your Inspiration to get started?
When I got back into the hobby in 2005, after a 16 year hiatus, I really had no idea what sort of stuff was still being made. I didn’t know of the existence of companies like MTH or Atlas…heck, I wasn’t even sure Lionel was still around. That was when I found Legacy Station and I couldn’t believe all the cool o-gauge stuff they had. On one particular visit to Legacy Station, and I remember this vividly, Brian showed me a new MTH Norfolk Southern Dash-9 with Proto-Sound 2.0. I was completely blown away. Up until then I had assumed that the old fashioned O-27 trains were the only thing available. I had no idea that anyone was producing highly detailed o-scale trains. The moment he powered the engine up, I was sold. I put the O-27 train aside and knew it was o-scale from then on. That MTH Norfolk Southern Dash-9 has become very special to me over the years, as it’s THE piece that put me on the path I’m on now. Over the years, as technology and features have been upgraded, I’ve sold off some of my older o-scale trains in order to make room for newer models. I will NEVER sell that NS Dash-9, however. It has way to much sentimental value to me.

What advice do you have for beginners?
For children, my advice is always for them to do well in school and work hard to so that they can grow up to have a career which will allow them the resources to get into the hobby…because as well all know it’s not a cheap hobby. For anyone who is thinking about building a layout, I think my best advice is that they should not be afraid of failure. Typically you end up learning more from a failure than from a success. When people see my layout, they may be prone to think that I’m an “expert” and that building a layout like I’ve got is out of their reach. That’s not the case at all. The vast majority of the techniques I’ve used on my layout are techniques that I had NEVER used before. The reason that things look as good as they do is because I tried, failed, tried again, failed and tried again and again until I got something that I was happy with. When I started this layout 6 years ago I knew NOTHING about building mountains, tunnels, trestles, track ballasting and so forth. To be honest, some of these things intimidated me and I myself thought on many occasions, “wow, there’s no way I’ll get this right”…but eventually I did…at last to my satisfaction. So my best advice is to not be afraid of failure. Just give it a try and don’t ever be afraid of having to tear something down and start over. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
What do you dislike about the hobby?
By far, my least favorite thing about this hobby (and I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way) are people who have a negative attitude. Most of these people like to hang out on the online forums as well as youtube and facebook. Everyone knows who I’m talking about. It’s those people who can never be pleased. They find fault in EVERYTHING. Anytime a new catalog comes out, all they can do is whine and complain. The worst part is that they also do a lot whining and complaining to the train manufacturers…which can give the train manufacturers a false impression of how most people in the hobby feel. These people whine and complain so much that sometimes I wonder why they don’t just find a new hobby…because they clearly are very unhappy with model railroading. This hobby is about fun and I don’t like to be around anyone who takes this hobby so seriously that it stops being fun.

Why Trains?
Trains are just a great hobby to pick up. It’s challenging and fun at the same time. I think it’s especially a great hobby for kids to pick up because, unlike Television and Video Games, it requires the development of patience as well as planning skills and problem solving.
One of my favorite aspects of this hobby is the rewarding feeling I get when I accomplish something that I never thought I could do. The wooden trestle in the Colorado Room is a perfect example. Prior to building that trestle, I had NEVER attempted to build any sort of bridge at all. To be honest, I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of having to build a large curved wooden trestle. Once I got started, however, I found it was nowhere near as daunting a task as I had expected and I ended up thoroughly enjoying the process. I found it very relaxing to come down into the layout room every evening after the day’s work was done and unwind by working on the trestle. When it was finished (it took me about 2 weeks) I stepped back and couldn’t believe what I had built! It looked great and I was taken aback by the fact that I had actually done something so great. It’s the same feeling that people get when they climb a tall mountain or finish a big race. It’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and the layout rewards me with that feeling on a regular basis.

Eric is video blog detailing the steps in building his railroad. He also does wonderful reviews of trains.
Stop by and visit him on his blog http://ericstrains.com/journal/

For original story please click here: http://www.legacystation.com/Eric-Siegel-Train.htm
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