Bob Cook's Port Road Railway

June 4th, 2016

Slide Show by Thomas Gaffuri

Slide Show by Marshall Abrams


    It’s been many years since I last saw Bob Cook’s PRR based HO scale railroad. I had been able to follow its construction, going back more than three decades to the 1980’s, because we are both long time members of the NVMR; the club would usually hold its annual business meeting off site, and on occasion it would be at Bob’s house where we would have the opportunity to observe the progress he had made. Additionally, The Potomac Division had not toured it for 10 years, so I expected to see many changes, and I was not disappointed. The only thing unchanged from my last visit was the chair suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the room.

    Most of the better model railroads we see are based on either our personal experiences with real railroads or one that we’ve taken the time to research; I doubt that all of those beautifully done Colorado narrow gauged layouts were built by modelers that were from that region. Bob, however, is a native of Pennsylvania and quite familiar with the PRR back in its glory days, prior to the Conrail years and its eventual break up into NS and CSX components, when it truly might have been, as claimed by its public relations department, “The Standard of the World”, and has tried to recreate some of the grandeur of that long ago era. The layout is a transition period setting that showcases the normally freight only electrified line of the PRR along the Susquehanna River (minus the catenary) from Harrisburg southeast to Perryville, a.k.a. the “Port Road”. The railroad design is an inverted “U” shape; each leg is about 20’ long with a loop at the end. One leg has a substantial switching and storage yard in the center; the other has locomotive storage facilities and a turntable. At the top of the “U” is a branch about 25’ long that runs at a right angle along the back wall to a loop at the end of the room and represents the line along the Susquehanna River. Construction is modified “Z” girder and the scenery, done with strips of paper towel dipped in plaster or crumpled newspaper placed over screen wire, is pretty much completed on one of the legs and the longer river section which also features a stone arch bridge similar to one that I recall seeing once in Columbia, PA; the other branch of the “U” has some grass applied in spots, but much of the scenery there is incomplete. Motive power is provided with Pennsy steam, first generation diesels, and electrics, and a supplemental leased Reading unit. Although the original five cab system is still in place, operations now are now carried out with Digitrax DCC cabs. One to four engineers use a computer generated car order system that specifies 48 cars in 10 separate trains serving up to 29 sites. Although it’s intended to run point to point during operating sessions, it’s also possible to run continuously to simulate greater traveling distances, a feature that Bob sometimes takes advantage of when he’s working on projects by himself.   

    Certain images say “Pennsy” whenever you see them: A pre-war K-4 with a string of P-70 coaches for example, or double headed M1as on long a coal train assisted by a pair of 2-10-0’s pushing an N5c Caboose in the distance.  Bob’s contribution to those images this day was a GG1 in Brunswick Green with five gold stripes (a BLI sound equipped model) pulling 14 Rivarossi Broadway Limited lightweight cars in the post-war tuscan red livery complete with the square end observation Mountain View at the rear with a lighted tail sign. He has included many of the small industries and agricultural enterprises for use in operations that were every bit as much a part of the “Standard of the World” as were the coal mines and steel mills to the west, a part no doubt more familiar to many of us from around here if we’ve had the opportunity to visit the Lancaster area and the rolling Pennsylvania Dutch countryside surrounding it. There was also a display case on the wall containing more PRR and Reading equipment, and a sizeable contingent of the Southern motive power that Bob runs on the Western North Carolina, the Northern Virginia Club’s layout that follows the original Southern Railroad from Salisbury through the Carolina mountains to Ashville and was the subject of an article in the February 2016 Model Railroader.  

    There are distinct advantages to modeling open areas; the details are easier to see and probably easier to do. Additionally, those areas are more reachable for maintenance purposes; it’s just easier to get the trains back on the track if and when things go south. I know this because my own experiences have convinced me that when things do go wrong, they will inevitably happen at some hidden or inaccessible site and Bob has either eliminated or minimized most of them, something best done during the original design and construction rather than trying to retrofit it later on, an idea to keep in mind for any future layouts.                                                                   
Bob Rosenberg