Rail Modeler John Armstrong Dies
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 12, 2004; Page B05
John H. Armstrong, 83, who earned a
living working for the Navy but who spent his life working on model
railroading, died July 28 of complications due to pulmonary disease at
Laurel Regional Hospital. He lived in Silver Spring.
Mr. Armstrong was widely known in the
field of model railroading as a designer of layouts, which include both
the track and its surroundings. He began working on a layout in his
teens, his son John Armstrong said, when "the hobby was really
primitive. Everything had to be built from scratch."
John H. Armstrong was known among
model railroad enthusiasts for his 1/48-scale "Canandaigua Southern."
Mr. Armstrong's lifelong project was
the "Canandaigua Southern," a 1/48-scale model of an imaginary railroad
in Upstate New York and western Pennsylvania. He began the railroad in
his teens and continued working on it, with help from other modelers,
until shortly before his death. The railroad completely filled a
24-by-36-foot basement and attracted thousands of visitors over the
A hobbyist newsletter called his
Canandaigua Southern "arguably the most well documented layout in O
Scale." O Scale is the 1/48 size model layout. The track was so popular
at the O Scale National Convention in Arlington in late July that
convention-goers were asked to get time-stamped tickets to view it.
Mr. Armstrong was the subject of a
number of feature stories in Model Railroader magazine over the years,
and in his retirement he designed and built custom track plans for
"His most significant impact upon
model railroading was his ability to create track plans," said Brent
Lambert, library director for the National Model Railroad Association
in Chattanooga, Tenn. "He definitely had a significant impact upon the
hobby that way. He was not only an expert in model railroading but also
in creating the prototype."
Mr. Armstrong was born and raised in
Canandaigua, N.Y. He graduated from Purdue University with a degree in
mechanical engineering and soon began working at the Naval Ordnance
Laboratory at the Naval Gun Factory in Washington. He moved with the
laboratory, later known as the Naval Surface Weapons Laboratory, to
White Oak in 1948.
After his retirement in 1979, he was a
contributing editor for the trade publication Railway Age for 10 years.
He wrote scores of articles for various publications and published 13
books, mostly focused on model railroading. He also wrote "Railroad:
What It Is, What It Does" (1978), a standard text widely used in the
Mr. Armstrong was active for many
years with various railroad-related organizations including the
National Model Railroad Association, Capital Area O Scalers and the
Lexington Group. He was named to the O Scale Hall of Fame in 1998 and
was a two-time recipient of the National Model Railroad Association's
Distinguished Service Award, in 1968 and 1997.
He was a member of Northminster
Presbyterian Church in Washington, and later, Northwood Presbyterian
Church in Silver Spring.
An insatiably curious man, Mr.
Armstrong also enjoyed classical music, art, science and history and
the cultural resources of the Washington area.
His wife of 44 years, Ellen Palmer
Armstrong, died in 1994.
Survivors include four children, Mary
Ellen Curtis of Towson, Md., Andrew Armstrong of Orrtanna, Pa., Peter
Armstrong of Silver Spring and John P. Armstrong of Gettysburg, Pa.; a
sister; and six grandchildren.