Getting up and running

   Barry, at about age 13.

Somewhere in my father's basement there's a tattered box of 8mm films.  And burned into one of those films are images of Christmas 1969 when Santa brought me my first train.  It was a Triang set, and my father had already tacked the track to a piece of 3/4' plywood and painted streets on it. The engine looked something like what I might later recognize as an ALCO RS-3, but with its oversize wheels, MK3 couplers and coarse details it was a really bad attempt by a British company to build a model of an American locomotive.  Of course there was a tunnel, which looked like a large, green loaf of bread with a hole punched through it.

Barry's second N-scale layout, age 13.
My second N-scale layout, age 13. It did actually run, just not very well. Remember traction tires? .

Oddly, in all of those short film clips (8mm film was expensive, so no one shot more than 8 seconds at a time) not once will you see me running the train. My father seemed to have that job under control.

Fast forward 14 years. I had built six layouts in a couple of different scales, none of which were ever anything near completed. By this time I had graduated to better Atlas locomotives and Athearn and Roundhouse rolling stock and I started to realize that quality models made a difference. I had even inherited one of my father's Athearn freight cars from the late-50's, a Santa Fe boxcar with sprung trucks (I still have that car today). I had a subscription to Railroad Model Craftsman and my layout design was getting much more sophisticated. For the first time I was building a point-to-point shelf layout rather than the usual loop or dog-bone. Scenery was underway and structures dotted the landscape.

Barry's first locomotive kitbash attempt
My first locomotive kitbash attempt was a CN GP40-2LW, age 17..

Then one day my sister and her friends passed through the basement. Someone asked about the trains.

"Oh, those are my brother's."

"They're kinda cool."

"Yeah, but I've never actually seen him run a train."

A winter scene on the bare plywood of Barry's first shelf layout
A winter scene on the bare plywood of my first shelf layout, age 17..

Fast forward 30 years. In that time I've operated a model train shop. I've built custom layouts for other people. I've built a few portable switching layouts to take to train shows. But after all this time I still haven't created a basement layout where I can run my own trains. I built my new house with a 15' X 75' space for a railroad underneath it, but right now my basement is full of video production equipment for TrainMasters TV. There is one corner, however, where I can start some benchwork and test out some ideas in the meantime, and we can use it to demonstrate some techniques in The Backshop Clinic. See:

And there will probably be enough space to move a train around once in awhile.

When I finally do, I will send a video to my sister.

Barry Silverthorn


Bill Brillinger's picture

Thanks for sharing some of your story Barry! I'm sure the video will be a great one ;)

Great story.  Thanks for sharing it.

Very much like my own with the first set arriving about 1971.  Now working on the fifth? layout without ever completing anything in the basement.  Maybe this second floor playroom layout will be the one?

Hi Barry.

I still have my Tri-ang locomotives and and a few cars. My station platforms survive on my nephew's layout. I stil have the 1964, 65, and 73 Tri-ang catalogs that I look through once in a while.


Why do you put up a link in your blog and then not let people view it?

When I go to "" it tells me "Access Denied".

But the rest of your blog entry was entertaining, thanks for the story!


We apologize for the bad link - try it now. It should work.