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Glen Downing’s  MILW (Milwaukee Road) and CNSM (Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee)
     November 9, 2019

  by Lee Stoermer

Some bold and interesting plans are among the first things that come to mind after speaking with the owner/builder of this HO scale model railroad. Glenn Downing has a long and storied history with prototype railroads that deserves another article all of its own in the future. This history of railroads and their operations bridged from the N&W (Norfolk and Western) to E&LS (Escanaba and Lake Superior) with several in between. Those stories we'll have to save for another time though as this time the story is about his model railroad.

I contacted Glenn in advance of his open house to gain some insight. A few days prior we were able to speak together over an hour-long enjoyable phone call. That led to email exchanges about everything from his vision to construction methods to operating scheme. His inspiration and general theme are the 1944 era just prior to the European invasion by the Allies. It is based on a route from Chicago following along the North Shore towards Milwaukee then continuing to the Michigan upper peninsula. He has significant first-hand knowledge of the area from prior work experiences there.

This is the fourth layout Glenn has constructed. The origins of the current layout began in 2012 with planning and construction began about 2015. The layout includes two separate railroads connected via an interchange track in Racine, Wisconsin. Routing includes some Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad, with somewhat parallel Milwaukee Road trackage in that area, extends through Green Bay and Coleman with several ag businesses, then onto Crivitz, WI via a helix. At Crivitz, his model branches off to Marinette, WI and Menominee, MI. The main line then continues on a helix to Pembine and then Iron Mountain and then to Ontonagan, MI on Lake Superior, which is the northern terminus of the model. His model serves the Green Bay area for paper mills and associated industry.

There are several key towns and scenic elements that will make it identifiable. The route begins at the Chicago passenger terminal, runs northward with parallel running lines of the Milwaukee and Chicago North Shore, and ends at a paper mill. Routes continue into staging that represent rail lines in further directions from both ends of the layout. South staging for beyond Chicago allows Glenn some freedom to include some big-name passenger trains which he has more than a passing interest in.

The layout is housed in a 16 x 26 room. The track plan concept was drawn out and developed on a series of hand drawn 1"-1' drawings done for basic coarse design to fit that dedicated space. Sidings and mainline tracks were drawn in for the base design plan to see what could fit in and general placement. The benchwork was made to follow these general track needs and final trackwork location was dictated as actual trackwork was being put in place.

His layout is built using a different version of framework. While similar to typical base framework we are familiar with, he has taken a few liberties and expounded upon them for excellent results. Framework is made from 1x2 and 1x3 lumber. While this is common in L-girder, that type isn't used. A better description is the photo included in the article that shows the benchwork much better. Even better yet is being able to visit the layout, view it, ask a couple questions and then realize how it all goes together. This is a definite benefit to visiting in person as opposed to reading an article and a few photos. While this may seem like very small unstable lumber, the layout framework is quite sturdy and strong. It is more of a sandwich of the different sizes that then has a common web section. Particularly the leg construction makes it a convenient method of attaching bracing angles. The peninsula strengthens itself in using a divider wall made of a serpentine construction method developed by Tom Jefferson. Color photo cut outs will be used on the painted Masonite or sheet styrene used for the backdrop.

Track is a mix of Atlas, Micro Engineering and Peco code 83 and 70, using the differing rail sizes where proper. Code 100 rail is used in hidden trackage areas. Track is secured to roadbed material of cork or homasote. Mainline track currently runs about 100 feet, with an eventual finished main and branchline track that will total around 350 feet. Yards and sidings will add about another 200 feet of track. Glenn prefers hand thrown turnouts, no powered switch motors, so leans towards the use of Peco spring motion turnouts and over spring controls. Doing so keeps the train's operation crew nearer their train, keeping operations truer to ground operating switch crews.

A helix in the center turnback loop uses a Y track to connect a couple upper levels. This area is in the beginning phase of construction. This will use a sandwich of thinner material, making a lamination of three layers of three-ply plywood to increase strength, and reduce twisting that is commonly found when using a single layer material. His layout is split between five levels, although they aren't all visible at the same time. Town areas were basically level while utilizing a longer incline hidden from immediate view. One of these was to gain the needed height from the lowest level staging yard to the first main level of operations, as well as between some towns.

Operations goal is about five trains operating at any one time on the MILW, and three trains (two passenger and one freight) on the North Shore. Around ten operators would be the maximum that could be comfortably engaged in the space allowed. Thoughts are leaning towards timetable and train orders. Glenn is very familiar with using stringlines to determine operational capabilities and time frame. These coupled with single use waybills using AAR car types on waybills will be the basis for bringing the layout to life. By using a 1943 industry list, the waybills will have actual destinations that coincide with routings.

Digitrax DCC wireless is the control system of choice for the layout, with the eventual conversion of locomotives to sound decoders being a standard. Kadee couplers are used throughout on all rolling stock for their strength, ensuring operational reliability, by replacing any plastic couplers. Trains are expected to top out at around 15 cars in length. Locomotive and rolling stock are from a wide variety of manufacturers, including Varney wood/cardboard kits.

An area of particular interest to Glenn, and operationally important, is the Ford plant in Kingsford, Michigan. This was the location that originally made Woody station wagons beginning in 1931. During WWII it transitioned into becoming the most effective facility making the WACO CG-4A glider. The gliders were built, passed inspection, then broken down into a couple main assemblies, which were then loaded into a gondola and a flat car. While a gondola could hold two bodies, the flat cars could hold more than two plane wing and parts assemblies. Glenn reported this caused some difficulty with allocation of proper numbers of rolling stock, so shipments of the bodies could sometimes precede the wings by days, or vice versa, dependent upon which type of car was available to load at the time. This facility received inbound loads in nearly all rolling stock types, and shipments out using flats, boxes and gondolas. The only rolling stock type not known to be used were stock cars, but Glenn and I mused the thought that stock cars could have presumably been pressed into occasional rare service if they were the only ones available.

Glenn has included a space in his layout for the airfield where these were assembled for practice and tested before being disassembled for shipment. This airfield had its own level of uniqueness of which Glenn will be recreating a portion. It had a set of power lines at one end causing it to not often be usable in that direction dependent on wind conditions. While the other end was uphill and had a drop off at the end of the runway, causing its own set of issues with obtaining proper take off speed and lift. Near the end of the war, shipments by rail tailed off in favor of the gliders being towed by other aircraft to their points of disembarkation. After the war, the Ford plant was converted from making Woody's into making another wood-based product that is probably more well-known even today… Kingsford charcoal briquettes! In researching this article, I came across an excellent website of a museum dedicated to this facility, located nearby the original facility. This is one of several websites I found:
http://www.exploringthenorth.com/gliders/display.html Additional information including numerous videos are available on YouTube for those interested in learning more about this quite unique operation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjZyaRANv4Q

A scenic highlight that is planned although not yet constructed is the unique Escanaba & Lake Superior Railroad steel center cross braced arch bridge over Menominee River. That is going to be quite an effort to construct and will most definitely garner much attention once in place. While the approaches, piers and the spans are fairly standard, the center portion of the bridge is very distinctive. Its method of construction will be as much of interest as will be the actual finished product.

There is limited scenery and structures currently as most efforts are going towards insuring sound benchwork and operationally reliable trackwork. Glenn's primary goal is to have the layout operational and running well, then to progress on to these other phases.

Lighting is a mix between ceiling mounted fluorescent tubes and dimmable track lighting. We discussed color and type of bulbs and the vast array that is now readily available. Before it was the case that you couldn't find the exact product that you wanted. Now the challenge is deciding between which of several options that appear to be nearly identical. While Glenn says the current lighting is working for him, he notes a transfer to LED seems probable sometime in the future.

Much credit is extended by Glenn to several people in the progress of his layout to this point. These begin with his wife Mary, and his sister Terry, in construction of buildings and scenery. Bill Mosteller has been a major help in the design and construction. Ian Anderson and his father, Bruce, have also helped in construction of the layout. Jan Clark has driven up from Fredericksburg to also contribute towards the construction efforts.

During discussion with Glenn about progress on his layout and future plans, he made a very familiar comment that I have heard repeated with other layout open house owners - the pending date spurred some construction, details and other general work that had been on the 'to do' list, some for extended lengths of time. So, between some helpful family and friends, and the desire to have it ready to show, we are definitely looking forward to future progress updates and opportunities to visit Glenn's layout in person.

Now the question for you the reader is this: how's the progress coming along on your layout? Maybe it's time for you to schedule an open house event sometime in the near future, to set that goal for a specific milepost you would like to reach!

Photos by Lee Stoermer unless noted