Gary Eames’ Pennsylvania Railroad Northern Central Branch

November 19, 2016

Pictures by Marshall Abrams

    I decided to visit Gary Eames’ Northern Central model railroad again on November 19th. Even though I had seen it last year on a Potomac Division tour, it was a short trip for me that didn’t involve driving on the beltway so I opted to take advantage of another chance to view it. For those who missed the last tour, the original Northern Central ran in a general northerly direction from Baltimore to southern Pennsylvania. The line was supposedly used by Abraham Lincoln to reach Gettysburg in 1863 for his dedication speech at the battlefield there. It was eventually absorbed into the Pennsylvania Railroad and has recently become part of Baltimore’s light rail system. The graded section beyond where the light rail ends continues on as a hike-bike trail. I wrote it up at that time and have used some of my notes from that earlier visit,

    High rail O gauge has a tendency to overwhelm any space short of club size, and it’s especially problematic with the room that Gary is using. Working in it or even visiting in it is not for anyone with a tendency to claustrophobia. The railroad is built on two levels and you need to climb a step stool to view and/or access the upper level which connects to the lower level via a helix. I chose to forego the climb and view it from the ground. Aisle width is also, shall we say, a bit tight, another element of a railroad that’s, unfortunately, not designed for everyone. 

    Nonetheless, despite its condensed size he has managed represent Baltimore very well with the railroads, the PRR and the B&O, running behind the ageing factories and businesses in the less appealing parts of town, the sections of your typical older east coast cities that have seen better days. He has interspersed appropriate models of both trains and of the actual city landmarks combined with structures that look like they belong there as well.  The PRR station and the Bromo-Seltzer tower are the most noteworthy of the real places, and an establishment called the Kit Kat club, representing a business no doubt similar in nature to Blaze Starr’s old haunt on E. Baltimore Street, which I visited back in 1964 when she was still at the pinnacle of her fame as part of the downtown scene. Power equipment on the layout includes a PRR H-class 2-8-0 which was running this time, a GG-1, and a PRR streamlined K-4. A B&O dockside 0-4-0 prowls the harbor area.  Some of the model factories on the layout had complete interior details including the American Can Company that had both model O scale can making machinery and model O scale people working in it. Maybe he could invite Bill Day over to make the machinery in the building actually produce O scale cans. That section also has an operational rotating dumper for hopper cars, and while I wouldn’t have expected too much to have changed since my last trip there, he has added some interesting new highlights. Those of us in the early group of visitors were subjected to a large, loud, storm as we entered the room (shades of rolling thunder?) with numerous flashes of lightening; fortunately for us, the heavy rain it must have produced missed the aisles. He has also added a working grist mill (no actual grain – just a turning wheel) that had an uncanny resemblance to Colvin Mill in Great Falls, Virginia, and he is beginning a mountain with a tunnel to enclose the helix that connects the two levels. Then there was a Western Maryland Shay attached to a freight tailing a PRR N5c caboose that I don’t recall from last time. But the operating signal system was still there, controlled by a computer tucked somewhere under the lower level, and the trains and turnouts are still controlled from a single fixed panel. The compact nature of the space available makes the way he has utilized it all the more fascinating, though I still find working in such tight spaces is no more appealing this time around. 

Bob Rosenberg