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inspiration.....what drove you into model trains?

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inspiration.....what drove you into model trains?
Posted by Howard Zane on Sunday, November 12, 2017 12:19 PM

This topic has most likely been aired before, but then again there are probably many new members on this group who have never read or participated in this discusion.

A new video is being produced about model railroading and the Piermont Division...(sorry no links as not to offend moderator), and this is part of the interview...what drew me into the hobby as well as others. Are these forces still prevelant today and what now is bringing newbies into model trains?

For me, it was my dad's hobby and having two uncles who ran steam locos with me riding with them on many occasions during the 40' and early 50's. Then after college and in the military, I discovered the John Allen articles in several magazines and I was hooked...big time!! But for me it was the artistic possibilities. Had these articles been about the then state of the art electronics, I never would have purchased the magazines and would still be building and flying RC airplanes. Young folks today seem to have forsaken the hobby for smart phones, social media, and game systems....yet still these high tech electronic goodies are available and certainly part of model railroading today and then some. Should and could this be a driving force for model trains. During the 31 years I co-ran the Timonium show, I witnessed a decline in young folks, and major loss of dinosaurs such as myself.

Your thoughts would be apprecated............thanks.


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Posted by The Jet Clipper on Sunday, November 12, 2017 12:41 PM

Model railroading is kind of my escape from today and travel back to the glory days of the railroads. I've also had a love for detailed scale models. Model trains aren't the only things I collect either. Scale airplanes are the other loves of my life. 

It also gives me a way to plan the future for me (in a small way). And, with a wild mind, coming up with alternate trains (like the George Sponhaltz, or all of the C&P trains so far) tends to distract me if I don't have anything to do. Seeing as my grandma's cousin worked as a cook on the Daylight, and the Espee had a branch in my hometown (Union Pacific still has a line out here), I initially wanted to model it, and I still kinda do. But, my heart belongs to the California and Pacific. As the only railroad I'll seriously model, it'll be pretty important down the road, especially when I eventually join a railroad club. Santa Fe is also a railroad that want to model, but C&P comes first.

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Posted by ruderunner on Sunday, November 12, 2017 12:44 PM

For me it was the Shaker Rapid Transit. I grew up a block away and my grandfather worked at the Terminal Tower.  Occasionally Grandma and I would go shopping downtown or ride out to the West Side Market, rails all the way. But the cavernous space under the tower, which I eventually discovered was Cleveland Union Terminal, always amazed me. 

Matter of fact a good portion of the downtown area is actually a bridge over the yard.

If that was all, I'd certainly be a trolley modeler, PCC flavor. But there was also the Goodtime cruise ship, viewing the heavy industry along the lakefront and especially the Cuyahoga River really cemented things for me.  Whiskey Island being a favorite, the Huellet loaders were amazing machines.

As time went by I dabbled in plywood centrals, but after moving into my own home and doing some traveling I found a few other places I wanted to model, towns like Wellsville and Stubenville.  As I researched the rails in those areas, I discovered that all my favorites were actually on the same railroad! The old Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  

So now that I have a predrawn track plan I'm in process of building it, under Penn Central ownership. Specifically the CP mainline from Cleveland to Yellow Creek (Wellsville) and the Powhatan secondary from Yellow Creek to Omal, better known as Hannibal.

Fwiw I'm 43 years old but this started when I was quite young.

Modeling the Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the PennCentral era starting on the Cleveland lakefront and ending in Mingo junction

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Posted by RR_Mel on Sunday, November 12, 2017 1:23 PM

I was born a tinkerer!  When I was 8 years old my Dad bought me a Lionel 027 2-6-2 for Christmas 1948.  I think it was to give me something to do so I wouldn’t screw up his stuff.
I had an older cousin that helped us to build a around the wall layout in our basement.  My Dad worked with us to build a 4’ x 8’ on one end and a 4’ x 4’ on the other end for return loop.
Because WWII was in full force track was impossible to get.  My Dad had a friend at work make a die/stamp to make O gauge rails from tin cans.  He soldered the rails together for us and used carpet tacks to anchor the rails to the wood.  We spent many hours cutting the tin cans into strips to put in the die and give them a couple of good whacks with a hammer.
I ended up with a pretty good sized layout that served me for five years until we moved from Utah to Texas.  In 1951 I found an article on John Allen’s Gore & Daphetid and I was hooked on HO model railroading, been there ever since.  John Allen was my inspiration into real model railroading!  My Lionel Train was a great start but two rail did it for me.
Modeling the early to mid 1950s SP in HO scale since 1951
My Model Railroad   
Bakersfield, California
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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, November 12, 2017 1:28 PM

I have told my story before, but here goes.

As a child, in the 1960's, my father was a "holiday modeler". That is he set up a Christmas Garden that was more of a scale model railroad than a train set. It was HO scale, it consisted of the typical "modeler" products of the day, including many "craftsman" type kits.

This layout was pretty large for a Christmas Garden, two 5x9 platforms, which filled half our living room every holiday season from Thanksgiving until well after the new year.

Two loops of TruScale wood roadbed track, Aristo Trolley Bus, cars, locos and structures from kits - not your typical RTR train set stuff.

When I turned 10, we moved into a house with a basement, and that Christmas the layout was set up in the basement - with multi level trackage, plaster mountains, hidden stagging tracks and more - truely a model railroad.

I was very interested and learned even more very quickly. I guess my father could tell I was ready, and in short order the new permanent layout in the basement was mine.

With some guidance from him, I begain adding new features, building kits, first Athearn blue box, later wood kits like Silver Streak, and before long even Mantua locomotives.

We had a local hobby shop, and by age 14 I was working there, repairing trains, selling trains, and learning even more from the owner.

Shortly after that, I became one of the few junior members accepted into the Severna Park Model Railroad Club (featured in MR many times) were I learned scenery and structures from Logan Holtgrewe, hand laid track and wiring from Sam Shepherd, and much more from all the great modelers there.

Later as an older teen and young adult I worked in another hobby shop, eventually managing the train department for several years.

I stayed an active member of the Severna Park group until I moved a little farther away, I have build several layouts and been active in several other groups in the 50 years since my father build me that first layout.

So my whole modeling experiance personally is with HO scale, unlike many, I never had a LIONEL train as a child.

I also built my share of plastic models and dabbled in gas powered R/C cars in the 80's.

Quite a while back I carefully narrowed my interest in model trains and have a very carefully defined set of goals for my current layout project.

I have never really been a random "collector". Mybe that is not in my nature, or maybe my early exposure/access to so much model railroad product relieved me of some need to "own" it all.

But, I only buy stuff that applies to the layout. In 50 years I have only sold off a few pieces here and there, and I still have a reasonable percentage of the items from that very first layout........

My modeling interest can be called "Protolance" with my ATLANTIC CENTRAL which interchanges with the C&O, B&O and WESTERN MARYLAND. It is set in 1953.

I still use DC, I have radio throttles, I have signaling and CTC. The layout theme is a small city with a division point yard, industries, and lots of stagging for prototype operations and good display operations.

I buy todays RTR, but I still kit build and kit bash, scratch build a few things.

Layout progress on the latest version has been slow recently do to lots of family stuff, but I hope to speed things up soon.


Like others in this hobby, I'm a builder/tinkerer. My other hobbies/skills include restoring/hot rodding cars, restoring old houses, carpentry/cabinet making, electronics design, building HiFi speakers.



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Posted by Jumijo on Sunday, November 12, 2017 1:59 PM

The devil made me do it.

Modeling the Baltimore waterfront in HO scale

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Posted by marksrailroad on Sunday, November 12, 2017 2:08 PM

I've been crazy about trains since I got my first O gauge set for Christmas back in 1968 when I was five years old. Then in the mid 70s I got an HO Tyco set for Christmas which really boosted my interest. Shortly after that I discovered N scale which I'm still into today... 

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Sunday, November 12, 2017 2:21 PM

Well, I had some HO trains as a child - Fleischmann.  I also built some models.  But it wasn't until I was an adult that I got into model trains. 

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I told her that when he (or she) was 1 year old there would be a train around the Christmas tree.  Well she jumped the gun and bought me some Tyco trains the Christmas she was pregnant.  The next day I noticed the Nov 71 Model Railroader on the PX newstand - magazines were a little late getting overseas.  The next day they had the Dec 71 issue and the color layout drawing for the EBT hooked me.

From there it just grew.  Eventually, I changed scales to O and then to S.  Along the way I realized that what I liked about the EBT was that it was shortline, but not the narrow gauge part.  After reading George Hilton's book The Ma & Pa   changed to the Maryland & Pennsylvania RR as a prototype to follow.


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Posted by Howard Zane on Sunday, November 12, 2017 2:44 PM

Anyone with countering forces? My first two wives became rather upset with my hobby as they thought model trains were competing for their time with me. Then my two kids.....although now quite supportive thought I was a nut. With my help and two PFM Crown collectons...... between the two kids came around 17 years of college...both now with several graduate degrees. My son now an architect thinks I should have mag-lev trains and glass skyscapers, and my daughter the shrink thinks I should put up the toy trains after Christmas. All six grand kids cannot understand why I'm not texting on a smart phone (note: I'm still trying to figure out my flip phone and I'm finally learning how to use my cassette player). My current wife, Sandy is quite supportive and my final artistic bit will be to carve/build a statue of her planting it on our front lawn. The inscription on the base will read..........."she let her husband be himself."



Howard Zane
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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Sunday, November 12, 2017 3:13 PM

I collect pocket watches. That got me interested in model trains.



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Posted by angelob6660 on Sunday, November 12, 2017 4:09 PM

I was born with it!

I had other hobby interests but they don't last long, just a few minutes at a time.

Modeling the G.N.O. Railway, The Diamond Route.

Amtrak America, 1971-Present.

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Posted by Track fiddler on Sunday, November 12, 2017 4:18 PM

For me, and I hope I don't step over a line here, it was kind of the Tom Sawyer area as I would describe it.  This is where we all used to go hang out and do fun things when we were young.

Well where would you go if you were in my shoes back then?  Besides the cubicles of streets, five blocks to the north of my house there was this wide open vast area.  

This area consisted of two large woods, three large swamps, Pillow Land, and the Honda Trails where we rode our mini bikes or BMX bikes. Mini bikes were a little less fluent as the powers-that-be would usually stop our fun.

Throughout all of this area was all the railroad tracks. The three main freight express lines, the passenger line (it was crooked),  the wooden trestle line, the big triangle cut off grade, and the siddings by the Chocolate Factory.  Yes we had a chocolate factory.

All my friends were train nuts too because no matter what we were doing when a train came everything stopped and we all watched the train.  I remember Timmy always yelling "Green Machine Green machine" and if we were in the woods or the high reeds in Pilliw Land we would run to the edge to get a view.

My family heard the stories of all this and our daily experiences.  My Dad bought me a subscription to Model Railroader.  My Grandfather bought me a Bachmann N scale Seaboard Coast bicentennial set and my hobby started and stemmed from there.

Thanks for listening

                   Track Fiddler

PS  This was roughly 47 years ago.

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Posted by BRAKIE on Sunday, November 12, 2017 4:37 PM

I hail from a railroading family-both grandfathers,all my uncles,2 two mother and my dad..My dad was also a model rail so I followed in his steps and in the family tradition I hired out on the PRR as a brakeman in '66.

One could say I was born into railroading since my family railroading dates back to my two great grandfathers..




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Posted by riogrande5761 on Sunday, November 12, 2017 5:10 PM

All the other factors may be present but the bug does not stick.  Seems pretty cut and dried to me.  Conclusions, it's genetic.

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by Carolina Northern on Sunday, November 12, 2017 5:14 PM

I got into it for the groupies, but stayed for the large financial returns.

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Sunday, November 12, 2017 5:39 PM

Carolina Northern

I got into it for the groupies, but stayed for the large financial returns.


I must be in the wrong branch of the hobby.

Laugh Laugh Laugh Laugh


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Posted by jk10 on Sunday, November 12, 2017 6:25 PM

Not sure what exactly it was that sparked my interest in the hobby. As a kid, I would enjoy watching the trains go through town or visiting railroad attractions while on family vacation. I think what got me into the modeling aspect was a family friend who invited my mom and I over to his layout when I was in high school. I started going to shows with him and have been hooked since. This started pin 2002 or so.

I took a break from the hobby while in college, picking up a few things here and there. After college, I still had an interest, but collecting sports memorabilia was now my main hobby (have always collected sports stuff). I'd still follow the forums here and there as well as look at a few other sites. Now, with a house of my own, the hobby has become all consuming. 

With grad school finishing in December, I'll have more time to dedicate to the 2'x8' switching layout I'll have. My wife is supportive in that it's better than some hobbies, but wants to see some results of all the purchases lately. What I really enjoy at the moment is researching the area I plan to use as a basis for my layout as well as purchase items or the future.

My proto freelanced Minnesota & Southeastern will represent shortline from Mankato, MN to Winona, MN. The main area modeled will be Elysian, MN to Northfield, MN following the old Chicago Great Western as if the line was never abandoned by the CNW. The research aspect of the hobby is what has my attention right now. I enjoy looking at photos of the area I plan to model as well as plan for both the switching layout I'll start this winter and  future layout that'll allow for more areas to be modeled. I also enjoy developing the historical backstory for my Minnesota & Southeastern Railroad story. 

Ive learned a lot from these and other forums, following layout websites, and starting to participate in a regular operating session group that meets monthly. I'm 31 years old, and feel like a child compared to many of the fiends I have made. Few of my own friends know about my hobby or interest in railroad history and memorabilia. ive always thought it was an "uncool" hobby, so I kept it to myself. It is definitely an enjoyable and rewarding hobby to be part of, and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow my modeling skills as I start my small layout in a few months. 

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Posted by rrinker on Sunday, November 12, 2017 7:21 PM

 My parents had a bedroom size layout before I came along. After that the room was needed, so for the entirety of my childhoood, we always had a holiday time temporary layout that started as a simple look under the tree which there is a movie of 2 year old me operating. We moved when I was 3, and each year after, it grew each year until it filled all available space. I kept it going the first year after my Dad died, and after that I had a permanent 4x8 layout in my bedroom which was the biggest room in the house.



Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's


Visit my web site at for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by BRAKIE on Sunday, November 12, 2017 7:40 PM


All the other factors may be present but the bug does not stick.  Seems pretty cut and dried to me.  Conclusions, it's genetic.


Jim,Back in the day railroading was  good money and above average  living thus many families "went railroadin' " for generations. In my generation only three of us went railroading while my other cousins went to various industrial or office jobs.

I believe generics may be a hit and miss because my son and youngest grandson has no interest in the hobby while my oldest grandson enjoys the hobby.




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Posted by msrrkevin on Sunday, November 12, 2017 9:14 PM

I drove myself into model trains with my own birth.  When I was born, my brother stayed with our uncles, who had Lionel.  That got my brother hooked, who then got me hooked when I got older. 

- Kevin

Check out my shapeways creations! HOn3 and railroad items for 3D printing:

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Posted by Dave Vollmer on Sunday, November 12, 2017 9:21 PM

My father is a model railroader.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Modeling the "Scenic Route to Leadville, Aspen, Glenwood, Salt Lake, and Pacific Coast."

Modeling the Rio Grande Southern First District circa 1938-1946 in HOn3.

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Posted by kasskaboose on Sunday, November 12, 2017 9:37 PM


Like you (and others) my dad drives (literally and figuratively) the inspiration for model trains.  He never had them having lost his parents early.  We got the 4x8 plywood but that never materalized.  I bought a home and loved the small train room.  With us soon moving to a larger home, my wife teased me in supporting her with a larger room.

Now my kids are my inspiration and my dad is there to support.  Rest assured, that this 41 year-old "kid" represents the new generation of MR.  I might know much about how things were in MR, but know a bit more about where they're going.  All aboard!

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Posted by HO-Velo on Sunday, November 12, 2017 9:45 PM

Would like to think that my son as a boy getting a train set for Christmas in the early 80s is what sparked my entry into the hobby, but I suspect it goes further back than that in keeping with riogrande5761's conclusion.  

Here's me circa 1953, early attempt at benchwork, or maybe setting up some street lights?

Regards, Peter


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Posted by tloc52 on Sunday, November 12, 2017 9:54 PM

My dad was a RR prior to service in WWII, a fireman on the Pennsy in the Chicago area. He had a love of trains and got me into it in 59/60 Xmas. It grew from there until High School introduced the women in my life. My senior year in college my g/f and now my wife of 41 years now got me a small tyco set up for Xmas. I think she is amazed at what she re-started but is very supportive of my hobby. As for brass trains, in 1976, a friend owned a hobby shop in Oak Forest, Il. Going through a divorce, I got 50 brass engines for next to nothing from him before he shut the store down, also a few FSM kits. When my kids were heading to college, many of those engines were sold to pay for the schooling from 2000 to 2005 for the daughter and of my son’s MBA in 2010. My children while never into the hobby are very supportive and my g/s of 4 years likes the trains as much as he likes the slot cars.


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Posted by riogrande5761 on Sunday, November 12, 2017 9:55 PM

the apple does fall far from the tree

Like I said, genes.  Genetic, not generic. Wink

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by wjstix on Sunday, November 12, 2017 10:17 PM

I think it was Robert Benchley who said 'there are only two kinds of people in the world: people who believe there are only two kinds of people in the world, and people who don't.'

In that vein - and I think some of the responses here bear it out - I've long maintained there are two ways people get into model railroading. One are the people who got a toy train set as a kid, and became interested in model trains primarily, and real trains as a secondary interest; and people who grew up by a train line, had a relative who worked for a railroad, etc, and became interested in real trains first, and then wanted to recreate the real trains in miniature.

It would be a fascinating study to take say 50 people from each group and find out how their starting point affected their feelings about model railroading, how their layouts differed, etc. I bet there would be definite differences in the two groups as far as "operations", super-detailing, type of layout (point-to-point vs. continous run) etc.

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Posted by BigDaddy on Monday, November 13, 2017 4:12 AM

While I had American Flyer, then HO as a kid, what really did it was a neighbor. He hand grandkids my age and we play and bike ride all over.  He had a basement, while most of the homes in the neighborhood did not.

He had a L shaped layout with a big yard full of colorful heavyweight passenger cars.  He had at least one brass loco that was unpainted.  We NEVER touched his trains.  I don't remember seeing him run trains very much and when he did it was only around and round, no switching action.  Whenever we played in the basement, I spent hours just staring at all the individual scenes on his railroad.



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Posted by Lone Wolf and Santa Fe on Monday, November 13, 2017 5:26 AM

To me it was the model trains themselves. I loved the models and how I could create a miniature world with them and all of the other HO scale models of structures, vehicles and figures. I used to build model cars, trucks and planes of all scales then one day decided that all of my models should be the same scale so they can all be displayed together. Before I ever had a model railroad I had model airplanes and spaceships hanging from the ceiling of my bedroom and I had built a diorama on a shelf featuring some AMT 1/43 scale TNT series trucks which were some of my favorite toys to play with. I also built some 1/25 scale trucks and cars.

Modeling a fictional version of California set in the 1990s Lone Wolf and Santa Fe Railroad
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Posted by Anonymous on Monday, November 13, 2017 5:37 AM

Well, like in many other cases, it was my dad, who had been a train nut all of his life. He used to spend his time helping a gate keeper tend to the gates at a grade crossing on the mainline from Breslau to Berlin rather than wasting his time at school, which earned him a sore backside from my grandfather. He started a Marklin HO layout in 1936, but was never able to finish it as Marklin ceased to manufacture trains (and toys in general) with the outbreak of WW II. In 1945, the family had to flee from their home, and the train set was not a thing to take along.

My dad used to take me to the train station when I was a toddler. Steam was still king in those days and these trips spawned a life-long interest in me. At the age of 5, Santa brought a clock work train set for me, just a circle of track, a fantasy loco and a coach. It didn´t last long, but it was all my parents could afford those days. Most German people were still quite poor 15 years after the war had ended. At the age of 7, I graduated to my first "real" train set", a starter set made by Marklin, consisting of a 0-6-0, two tinplate coaches and an oval of track. Over the years, it grew into a humble and simple empire on a ping-pong table. I sold all of it in a frenzy, when my interest waned at the age of 16, but the bug was still in me, waiting to break out again - which it did nearly 30 years later, when after a long period of armchairing, I started to build a layout again.

My current layout, a tiny 3 by 5 ft. affair based on a railroad in the Swiss Alps, will be my last layout. Due to ill health, I am no longer able to handle small things and having to give up a hobby, which has been a life-long companion, is tearing my heart out.

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Posted by mobilman44 on Monday, November 13, 2017 5:42 AM

Ahhh, old stories - but I never tire of them......

Growing up in Chicago, trains were everywhere.  I spent many days by the CNW racetrack and the Illinois Central tracks at Grandmom's in Anna Illinois.

And like most boys then, I got a "trainset" for Christmas in the mid '50s - a Marx steamer.  Having free run of the basement under our grocery store, I nailed down some track and added my prized toy soldiers. 

But I lusted for the Lionel that my friends had, and with a paper route managed to buy Lionel stuff, and eventually built an 6x20 piecework layout in 1957. 

We moved in 1958, and a new friend had HO, and I was hooked even more.  Those Athearn rubber band locos and the many different cars, combined with Atlas track, and MRC powerpack really got to me.

Its been a few layouts since then, and I still am a "train nut".  That said, my interests remain with the trains of my youth, and my layouts since then were all modeled in the 1950s time frame.

So I guess its pretty obvious, the trains bring me back to the better times of my youth, which were certainly simpler and definitely more enjoyable.





Living in southeast Texas, modeling the "postwar" Santa Fe and Illinois Central 

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