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What era do you model?

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 9:12 AM

I never know how to answer these kind of questions because I break almost every 'rule' regarding time and place. But since Sheldon asked, I'll chime in as best I can without fear of heresy.

The 'official' era for my layout is modern, and by modern I mean 1975 to present. I even printed that info right on my layout plan. I realize 45 years is a pretty broad span, but even so, I cannot seem to be constrained to those years. I chose 1975 because a few structures on the layout did not exist before then.

My roster of engines and rolling stock is mostly modern. No problems. But I also have quite a few GP-30s and SD-35s that barely squeak in. I also have two passenger trains from the heyday of the mid 50s and two passenger trains from the heavyweight era pulled by steam locos. And Amtrak, of course. One of my favorite trains to run is a string of about 35 boxcars and reefers from the colorful 'billboard' era pulled by an ABA brace of F3s in ATSF red-and-silver Warbonnet livery.

But it gets even worse . . . I also occasionally run a JR Shinkansen N700 Nozomi and an SNCF TGV Lyria. Buzzing right past the CB&Q Casper Station.



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Posted by tloc52 on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 9:15 AM

2015 on the Valley Sub in Central Wisconsin


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Posted by Howard Zane on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 11:18 AM

early 1950's....NY, NJ, and Pa.....all what I remember first hand growing up in NJ during the 40's and 50's.

Howard Zane
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Posted by up831 on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 12:14 PM

1955 to 1965 roughly, centering on 1962.  But, I'll run steam next to SD70s if I desire.

My idea is to model a small section of the UP Kansas Division, which were tracks I actually worked on fresh out of high school.

I also model SP, which did start running locomotives up to KC in the late 60s on the Rock Island line from KC to tucumcari, NM.  At the demise of Rock Island the SSW aquired the line, so that justifies SP equipment.  Convenient, huh?!  Not to mention that my interest in SP intensified while living in LA.

Long and short, I have a general idea of industries consistent to the area to model, but if I want a SoCal citrus distributor next to a grain elevato, I'll do it.

General theme, flexible specifics.

Less is more,...more or less!

Jim (with a nod to Mies Van Der Rohe)

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Posted by sschnabl on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 12:19 PM

C&NW in southern WI, 1950 - 1955 in N scale.



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Posted by kasskaboose on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 12:42 PM

Like Maxman (above), around 1984.

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Posted by GP025 on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 12:59 PM

Born in '63, 

Model 50-55 so I can run early F units, a few gp7's ( and some gp9's), alco rs-1's and 3's. But mostly late steam. Rolling stock is kept to 40' max due to space/ curve radius.

Local is in the northwest- alot of grain and fruit. 

I do love the sd40-2's with big porches, but just not enough room to do them justice.



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Posted by jjdamnit on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 3:25 PM

Hello All,

The era I model is dictated by the size of my pike.

When I first got into this hobby back in the early 1970s my parents bought me an HO Tyco starter kit for Christmas.

It was headed by a steam locomotive. I learned to hate the complexity of steam.

Fast forward to 2014. I decided to get back into the hobby. "She Who Must Be Obeyed" limited me to a 4'x8' pike that sits on top of the bed in the spare bed-/computer-/train-room.

Despite the limitations placed on the size of my pike I decided to continue to model in HO. 

My track plan consists of curves as tight as 15-inches and turnouts as small as #2 along with a 3% grade and a historic spiral trestle (helix).

For this space, I decided on a pike based on industries in my area- -The Colorado Rockies. The two that leap to mind were logging and mining.  

On a road-trip to the Grand Mesa; on the Western Slope of Colorado, we passed by a coal mining operation that was rail-served; Bowie Resource LLC.

Because of the tight curves planned on my pike 4-axle diesels were just the ticket.

EMD GP 30s & 40s could negotiate the tight curves while 70- & 44-ton switchers with other critters could handle the switching duties.

Because of the historic spiral trestle, an "Olde Tyme" steam excursion train runs on special days. This train is headed by a USRA 0-6-0 (converted to oil) along with a 0-4-0 Side Tank Porter as a helper up the 3% grade. 

This put the era of my pike between the early 1970s to the late 1980s.

I can run era-specific diesels with the occasional steam train.

Hope this helps.


"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by caldreamer on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 5:03 PM

I model the BNSF joint line in 2020, but have my favorite locomotives from fhe first generation F3's (ex BN), Alco and FM's  through the SD70 series.  SD9043MAC's upgraded to SD70ACu's.  My engines are painted in the ATSF, BN and BNSF paint sches just like the 12 inch to the foot railroad.

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Posted by CapnCrunch on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 7:00 PM

Suburban Los Angeles in the mid 50s through early 60s, all based on childhood memories.


          Late to the model railroad party but playing catch-up.....

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Posted by BigDaddy on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 7:22 PM

I am 6 years older than Sheldon, but I think I only once saw a pair of Pennsy steam engines pulling a train.  I did travel from Baltimore to NYC behind a GG1 and remember marveling at all the different road names I saw on passenger cars around NYC.  I only once saw the Ma & Pa, though I looked for it on the girder bridge, that crossed York Rd, until they tore the bridge down.

However I have never had any interest in modeling cantenary and long passenger trains.

I model a time that I do not remember, nor saw.  A freelanced branchline operating in western Maryland and Pennsylvania.  I don't have an exact month or year in mind and I support Howard Zane's philosophy of leasing motive power from other railroads.  A passenger car and a combine is a long passenger train to me.


COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by restorator on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 8:17 PM

1971 with a bit of artistic license. 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Tuesday, August 4, 2020 9:03 PM

Thanks guys, very intersting answers. And again, no one need be shy just because they are not "serious" or "fixed" about era. That is kind of the point, to get a sense of how many model what era, and how many are not guided by such things.

So there does seem to be some "modeling the trains of your youth" going on, but also a fair amount of modeling before you were born, or places you did not experiance.

When I was young, we lived in the rural suburbs, not far from Baltimore, but we did not go there much, and there was not much in the way of trains near us, just the about to be out of business Baltimore and Annapolis short line.

So, I did not see real trains on a daily, or even weekly basis. We did not travel by train or airplane, we did not spend time in the city.

My early train experiances included Strasburg, the B&O museum, some RDC rides on the B&A, and occasionally seeing B&A #90 and a hand full of box cars go thru Severna Park.

Not exactly any kind of serious exposure to the real thing.

I will comment more after we have some more responses.



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Posted by gmpullman on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 12:24 AM


The best I can do to nail-down a specific year for the "target-date" on my layout would be some time around 1948, roughly eight years before I was born.

There are SO many excellent models out there that I have a hard time resisting the temptation when something "shiny and new" comes along. There's a PRR streamlined K4 on its way to me as I write Whistling

I prefer to "stage" eras when the mood strikes so I may be running the 1938 Century along with lots of heavyweight cars and forty-footers in the freight roster and the occasional early Diesel.

After a few weeks of that I may decide to set the wayback machine to a later date, say early Penn-Central days of the late '60s and early '70s occasionally getting into the Amtrak "Rainbow" era.

Like Paul, I also enjoy having examples of certain equipment that I have personally ridden or saw in operation so I have quite a few GG1s, Metroliners and even a pair of U-A Turbotrains. Some of my favorite railroad memories were in the New Haven, NYC, Philly, Harrisburg and Washington "Electrified Zone" (I don't recall if it was called the Northeast Corridor back then?)

Spent some time in Chicago area, too, so I also have a C&NW bi-level commuter train and some Santa Fe and California Zephyr stuff, too. I rode a lot of early Amtrak so I can toss in some Superliner, AmFleet, AEM-7, P-42 and SDP-40F equipment in there, too.

As others have mentioned, I keep much of the "telltale" signs to a minimum and rearrange vehicles and other details to more closely suit the era but I don't get too picky about it.

 PH-D_Mather by Edmund, on Flickr

 P-C-754_F7a by Edmund, on Flickr

 Q_on_TT by Edmund, on Flickr

Sometimes I stumble across an article or perhaps a video somewhere and see something that triggers a distant memory or sparks an inspiration to model a particular scene. That's all the impetus I need to clear off all the cushioned underframes and turbocharged diesels off the layout and bring back the ten-wheelers and truss rods.

I can pinpoint the latest date on the layout as my most "modern" piece of equipment is the UP 4141 SD70-ace that was painted in US Presidential colors and was displayed on October 18, 2005. I bought it on a whim when it was a "closeout" several years ago. I simply liked the colors on it and wanted one Smile

 UP_4141_SD70sm by Edmund, on Flickr

Cheers, Ed

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Posted by "JaBear" on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 3:48 AM

going on, but also a fair amount of modeling before you were born, or places you did not experiance.

I’ll go for two out of two.
(1) I’d like to put the date at pre 1953, but really pre 1955 is closer to the mark, that date three years before I was born.
(2) Not only is it a place I haven’t experienced but I’ll up the ante by adding that I haven’t experienced the country.
If Bachmann ever decided to reissue it’s Spectrum Heavy Moutains, in particular, I’d be inclined to back date my timeframe, my liking for steam being that as the New Zealand Railways was still running steam locomotives until I was 14, I have fond and clear memories, particularly the Ja Class 4-8-2 s depicted in my avatar. 
Why the North American prototype as a modelling choice is simple, though the explanation may not be!!
At the time I began to have some discretionary income, I studied my options, at the time NZR modelling was S scale, and everything was either in kit form, not inexpensive, or had to be scratch built. I deemed that S scale would take up far too much room and kit building a brass locomotive (s) and scratch building in general was beyond my abilities.
As my Dad emigrated to NZ from the UK after the Korean War, he often spoke of his Dads favourite railway “The Great Western Railway” and having been bought up on a diet of the Reverend Awdrys “Thomas the Tank Engine” books, sent as Christmas and birthday presents sent by my English Grandmother, I was inclined to go down that path.
At that time the local club had a two rail British OO layout, an US HO layout, a Marklin layout and a multipurpose N gauge layout, so it wasn’t that I didn’t have a choice, in fact I figured that I was spoiled for choice!
In the end what did it was the difference in the mechanism between the “British” locomotive’s vs the US locomotives, the US being, in general, away ahead, far more bang for my buck! So, my first model railroad purchase was an Athearn BB GP9, all wheel pick up and flywheels, Wow!!!
Hope I haven’t bored you to tears,
Cheers, the Bear.Smile

"One difference between pessimists and optimists is that while pessimists are more often right, optimists have far more fun."

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Posted by dstarr on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 10:56 AM

I like steam.  That sets my era to the 1950's.  The Boston & Maine was running advertisements bragging that they were completely dieselized in 1957.  And I also like the first generation hood units from ALCO and EMD.

I grew up in the Boston area.  I can remember meeting my father's B&M commuter train, open platform truss rod wooden coaches pulled by steam. I  am now living in northern New Hampshire so my layout is Boston & Maine in rural New Hampshire.  I can go rail fanning, bring back photos and sketches, and model from them.  I scratch built a model of the Roger Robar renovated Lisbon station from photos.  More is coming.  I need to model the ball signal over in Whitefield.  I have the photos.

  I have some out of era (three bluebird GP38's), some unlikely stuff (ABBA set of MoPac ALCOs) and some pure fantasy stuff (Hogwarts Express) that I run when I feel like it, which is fairly often.

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Posted by Ulrich on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 11:49 AM

I'm only just getting started on my layout... slow work in progress. But based on present day and what I see close to my home.. 

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Posted by MidlandPacific on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 1:16 PM

The first "Transition Era" - wood to steel.  Equipment-wise, roughly 1890-1913 (with some anachronistic loves of mine, like a few odd 4-8-4s), but my new layout to be built after I move next week is to be strictly 1913.  That was the year that the ICC decreed that iron-boilered locomotives would have to be rebuilt (which, coupled with the events of the following year, meant scrapped and replaced, in practice) and three years after the completion of Penn Station in New York, which was the first large station off-limits to wooden equipment.  It was the last year that can easily be backdated if I want to run only 1890s-era equipment, but early enough that big, modern steam was starting to make an appearance- and it can be run with prototypically wooden passenger consists on a western-themed layout, because Pullman was entirely preoccupied with building steel equipment for the large eastern carriers.

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Posted by CandOsteam on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 2:27 PM

Chesapeake & Ohio, New River Subdivision, Summer, 1949.  All steam with DCC sound and only period specific rolling stock, etc. 

I really enjoy researching my prototype and time period.


Modeling the C&O New River Subdivision circa 1949 for the fun of it!

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Posted by Doughless on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 5:43 PM

Contemporary.  Moves around, but generally stays within the past 15 years.

- Douglas

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Posted by PRR8259 on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 7:31 PM

Son Johnny wants modern freight cars and diesels (SD70M-2's and SD90MAC-H's) but also likes some steam.  I am getting rid of all my steam or transition era freight cars so that we have room for the modern equipment, and so as to not have 2 whole rosters of freight cars from 2 eras as it just becomes way too much.

All my motive power is steam...big steam.  I am cheating as though the last and best steam lasted a lot longer.  (Some railroads like ATSF initially planned to do that, but maintenance labor costs skyrocketed, and they realized they could eliminate the servicing facilities sooner and save even more money.  Plus there were bad water districts and helper districts to eliminate with new diesels.)

We like the big autoracks from Atlas and Intermountain and are also getting the new 86' auto parts boxcars from Tangent.  We just like the big stuff all the way around.  Guess I'm missing the big auto parts trains that now seem to be less frequent than they were.  Always wanted a good 86' box car.

So we're cheating on motive power, but the freight cars in the trains mostly fit within the "modern" era.


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Posted by jeffhergert on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 8:33 PM




Colorado 1989. The same year D&RGW was merged into UP.



The merger took place in 1988.  It's in the wiki.


My modeling interest is about 1977-1983 D&RGW Grande Junction and west into Utah.


Wouldn't that be when the D&RGW bought, and then became the SP?  Later UP acquired SP in 1996.

The UP's DRGW heritage unit carries the number 1989.  The MKT heritage unit is numbered 1988.


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Posted by E-L man tom on Thursday, August 6, 2020 11:39 AM

Well, my latest layout venture, called the Lake Erie & Ohio RR, actually features a fictional section of track that runs from up near Lake Erie down to Southern Ohio. the period is 1965-1978, when the Chessie system still ran and the Erie Lackawanna was in its waning years and about to be absorbed into Conrail. This "branch" line shared trackage rights between the two railroads. Also thrown into the mix is my fictional Toledo Erie Central RR, which would run between Sandusky and Toledo, Ohio, which will also share trackage rights along part of the line. So, all first and second generation diesels, EMD's, Alco's, GE U-boats, etc. And still some post WWII cars can also be on the tracks, along with the typical '70's 50 ft boxcars and per deium cars. And, as this is the advent of Conrail, some other foreign road power may also be seen. 

Tom Modeling the free-lanced Toledo Erie Central switching layout.
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Posted by Erie1951 on Thursday, August 6, 2020 12:28 PM

Howard Zane
early 1950's....NY, NJ, and Pa.....all what I remember first hand growing up in NJ during the 40's and 50's.

Just about the same here. I was born and raised in northern NJ right alongside the Erie mainline in '51. I'm modeling a fictional Erie industrial area set in the early '50s in Paterson, NJ with motive power that I remember from that time.


Modeling the early '50s Erie in Paterson, NJ.  Here's the link to my railroad postcard collection:

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Posted by SpaceMouse on Thursday, August 6, 2020 12:51 PM

I'm modeling the RRRR (Rock Ridge Railroad). Rock Ridge sits in the very spot Willits, CA is supposed to be. The era is June 1895. Randall "Rock" Ridge, the town's founder, has already made his fortune and Rock Ridge is prospering.

I wasn't born yet.


Building the Rock Ridge Railroad with the slowest construction crew west of the Pecos.

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Posted by MTRailsandCattle on Thursday, August 6, 2020 3:17 PM

I model the modern era BNSF and MRL in Montana.  Born in 87'.  I do have enough stuff to do a unit coal train in pre-merger BN that I run every once in while.

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Posted by IronBelt Ken on Thursday, August 6, 2020 6:48 PM

May 1969 to August 1972, B&O - with some C&O and fantasy motive power thrown in.  My period ends immediately before the first bright yellow Chessie locos started showing up on the property, that helps me keep my spending under control!

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Posted by DrW on Thursday, August 6, 2020 8:06 PM

Transition era Santa Fe in West Texas. As to the precise time, I can be flexible. I can assemble a 1948 steam-powered heavyweight passenger train or a 1959 freight train with the last zebra-striped Diesels (RSD-15, SD-24). Growing up in Germany where you can see frequently foreign train equipment, you might also occasionally spot a short Mexican freight train with an NdeM RS-1 or RSD-4 and an NdeM caboose.

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Posted by DAVID FORTNEY on Friday, August 7, 2020 5:33 PM

Born 1946

Model from about 1990-present. Raised and still live near Philly but rarely saw many trains when I was young. Around the time of PC I started to get interested in model trains. Although not too specific for some years on what I ran. I then made friends with a couple guys who were into trains.

It was that time I became more interested in the Union Pacific. So today I run almost exclusively Union Pacific locomotives. I love the power and looks of today's locomotives. 

It seems odd to some of my friends that I really like the UP because being raised near Philly and with all the great railroads here.

I have never seen a UP locomotives in my life but now with the internet you can find anything. 


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Posted by joe323 on Friday, August 7, 2020 6:01 PM

Fairly modern but with a few caveats given that space limits restrict my motive power to 4 axle diesels mostly GP - 38's

Joe Staten Island West 

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