John Armstrong Eulogy

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 years.

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 model railroaders.

"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 railroad industry.

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.