Jim Hellwege's Bangor & Aroostook Railroad, Alexandria, VA

February 11th, 2017

Pictures by Elizabeth Boisvert*

* - And one by Marshall Abrams


The weather has not been kind this winter to the Potomac Division and its plans for home tours. First an ice storm in December greatly reduced the attendance for John Sethian and Richard Wright’s home tours and then a sudden snow storm forced the cancellation of Dale Latham’s and Glenn Paulson’s home tours altogether, but at least they have all been rescheduled for later this year. In any event, on the 11th of February we tried once again to resume our original planned schedule by visiting Jim Hellwege’s N scale Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in Alexandria and this time we were highly successful (in other words, the weather finally cooperated). I also have to admit to an affinity for New England railroads, and not just because I model a New Haven-B&M free-lanced version of one myself; it’s mainly because I grew up with them. While the BAR, being farther north than the rest, is not one that I’m particularly familiar with, it was part of the six railroads that were once referred to as the New England family of lines along with the then New Haven controlled P&W, the CV, and others roads that members of the Potomac Division have made their primary modeling interest.  

Jim’s U shaped walk-around layout takes up a 12’ by 8’ space in his basement. The intent of the original layout design was predominately for watching trains - continuous running - although operations can now be incorporated into it with the numerous industries on the three independent mainline loops, with passing sidings and interchange points. The scenery on the layout is 100% finished and the walk-around feature allows for different views of the many scenes and vignettes along the way, including the numerous bridges and tunnels in the mountainous regions of the Pine Tree State. One of them, a long bridge that carried one line across another part of the railroad and resembled a Howe Truss, was particularly impressive.  Although the prototype BAR disappeared into the mist of the past years ago (it’s called the Central Maine & Quebec today), Jim has preserved its memory by maintaining both first generation diesels and their more modern incarnations in various past versions of BAR paint schemes including the early F-3s, the slightly later BL-2s (you don’t see many of those running around), the GP-7s and 9s, and eventually the GP 38s. And there was an E-7 tucked into a diesel house awaiting its turn to haul Jim’s custom painted passenger cars on the BAR’s premier train, the Aroostook Flyer. His rolling stock also reflects the BAR as it was back then; who could forget those State of Maine Products cars for the bulk shipping of potatoes with their distinctive red, white, and blue tricolor-like wide striped paint schemes; the New Haven also owned and operated cars like those and Jim keeps his fleet of them ready to roll for the early fall potato season. Running mostly through the Maine woods, another major bulk shipper on the BAR would have naturally involved lumber and wood products. Jim has made one of the more prominent industries a sizeable lumber mill with the large log trucks bringing in the raw material and a fleet of high-ended lumber cars carrying out the finished boards. At the end of one of the loops, he had placed a small engine house and turntable with two plows sitting on sidings beside it; a standard Russell and a rotary waiting patiently, no doubt, for one of those highly anticipated Maine winters to gear up, but his present scenic background is summer, with a lot of forest cover using both commercial trees and modified real Maine vegetation. As I mentioned in the December tour write ups, one of the advantages of O-gauge over the smaller scales is that the size-weight ratio makes for better tracking, fewer derailments, etc. That size-weight ratio was particularly problematic in N gauge which, early in its existence, had all kinds of tracking difficulties, especially if you wanted to have operating sessions where other people are pushing and pulling your trains around. Jim has long solved that with carefully laid and maintained track work using PECO flex track and turnouts. Everything was running perfectly, as it should be of course, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Jim has done a marvelous job of modeling both the details and the atmosphere of Northern New England in a relatively small space; I’d have liked for him to include some Maine lobsters, but in N scale they would probably have been hard to see. I haven’t been to Maine in many years but, as Yogi Berra once said, it was like “deja vu all over again.” I’d also like to thank Elizabeth Boisvert, our “unofficial” photographer, for her recent outstanding photo contributions; it saves me having to write (and you having to read) many thousands of additional words.

Bob Rosenberg