Gaithersburg/Germantown Double-Header

September 3rd, 2016

Dean Ripple's B&O Monongah Division, Gaithersburg, MD

Ed Rosado's Puerto Rican American Railroad, Germantown, MD

Pictures of Dean Ripple's B&O Monongah Division

Slide Show of Ed Rosado's Puerto Rican American Railroad, by Marshall Abrams


    On those days when we’ve been fortunate to have two model railroads near enough to each other to each other that we can visit them both, I have often found the differences between them worthy of a discussion in and of itself. But the two set up for the first weekend in September, approximately six minutes driving time from each other, are about as disparate as any two model railroads could be.

    For logistical convenience I started with Ed Rosado’s Puerto Rican American Railroad. Ed, a native of Puerto Rico, began model railroading six years ago; his layout depicts rail operations on the island during two eras: The Old San Juan portion is set between 1898 and 1928, and connects to a tunnel that transports passengers into the 1940's - 60's (reminiscent of an old episode of The Twilight Zone) depicting many of the island's well known geographical landmarks, including the original fort (Moro Castle) and what remains of the old city wall that once completely encircled it, the cathedral, the governor’s mansion, the ferry pier, and the town hall, most with pictures of the prototypes nearby and all reflecting his main interests in building scenery and structures. He has recreated Aguirre, a company town owned by the sugar cane barons of the time, and he plans for a future operations involving the transportation of cane products to the Don Q rum distillery. I recall some of these landmarks from my own visit to San Juan in 1968 courtesy of the U. S. Navy when our ship anchored off shore for two or three days. I was able to arrange a trip one evening while we were there to check out those nearby rail sugar cane haulers (I thought it would be more rewarding than hanging out in the casinos); there was nothing running at the time, but they looked sort of like the old Maine two-footers, with some decrepit looking steam locomotives and open box cars for stacking the stalks of cane. While Ed considers his railroad only about 20% complete, he does have some interesting scenic features that are unlike those on any other model railroad I’ve seen: A bioluminescent bay caused by the live glowing plankton that inhabit it and can only be seen at night from small boats and kayaks; a beach and a resort hotel high above it connected to each other by an operating funicular railroad; a model of the rain forest (which I also got to see while we were visiting) that includes some projects built by the old CCC in the 1930’s prior to WW II. Another one of his plans for the future is to lower a fairly steep grade by lengthening it, a move that, from personal experience, I highly recommend.

    Moving on to more familiar territory for me anyway, especially since I spent a part of the week before these tours vacationing in the mountains of eastern West Virginia. Dean Ripple has set his railroad in the environs of Buckhannon, WV, in the mid-1950’s, a town located somewhere between those two well-known B&O action centers of Grafton and Charleston, both of which serve in this situation as staging areas for the rest of the railroad. This region featured light weight rail and tight curves (his railroad’s main line maximum radius is 21”), so there were no articulated locomotives in use such as EL-5’s or EM-1’s, or any large ridged frame locomotives either like T-3’s or S-1’s (or, as the B&O called them, “Big Six’s”). Dean was running old brass steam (Q class 2-8-2’s and E class 2-8-0”s) and some first generation GM diesels. He has extensively reworked those early imports to improve their running qualities and installed sound decoders, which is not a simple job; I have a few of them around myself and just putting conventional non-sound decoders in them is project enough for me. The scenery was advertised as 95% complete, but it all looked pretty much finished to me; I failed to see where the supposedly incomplete 5% might have been. It featured many, many, trees, a lot of open spaces too, and great attention to details. His modeling concept is what I like to call “less is more:” More trees, fields, structures, etc., but fewer tracks and trains, and although I’ve been a big advocate of that idea, he has done a much better job than I have of actually implementing it. For example, the small yard and operating engine facility look just about right for a railroad the size of the one that that he has built and most of the structures are placed in specific locations to facilitate the switching of cars during operating sessions which Dean hosts regularly, and provide enough activity to keep three crews busy.

    Comparing two different model railroads is often at best comparing apples to oranges, but the two we toured this past weekend were more like comparing apples to avocados: Different eras, different prototypes, different locations, and completely different equipment; the only commonality was that they were both HO scale, so for practical purposes I’ll not even try any comparisons. Instead I would speak to how two model railroaders, almost neighbors in the Washington area, could come up with two such utterly different concepts of model railroading  and still make them both work as well as they have.

                                    Bob Rosenberg