PRR Nassau Division by John Sethian
Saturday, April 11, 2015


Pictures by Thomas Gaffuri


     In the event I hadn’t mentioned this previously, the most important factors that I consider when writing up any model railroad are relatively simple: Does it replicate the region, area, or time frame that the builder is trying to model closely enough that you feel that you are actually standing there in person? (It also helps if it runs well too, but that’s another topic altogether.) My knowledge of the PRR Nassau division is pretty much limited to what I could see from the window of an occasional train travelling the North East Corridor, and most of those trips were long after the 1950’s, but the less than esthetic industrialized areas of southern New Jersey have changed little over the years, and John Sethian has replicated it very well. As is so often the case, it’s the small touches that make the big differences; the used car lots with models of the cars that he has personally owned, and the models of vintage cars placed around the layout in general, many of which I recognized (unfortunately) by being able to recall the real vehicles; the prints of  paintings by the American artist Edward Hopper, which have been reproduced as part of the scenery and/or the background (there’s also an original Grif Teller 1955 PRR calendar as you descend the stairs to the layout room); PRR style stone retaining walls fabricated from ”Legos” covered with spackle; bridges that represent actual structures on the Pennsy in that region; the buildings in the not specified city that reflect the architecture common to the northeast at that time, although the “Starbucks” sign hanging in the window of one of them might be a bit of a stretch;  a scenery elevator powered by a TV lifting device, nominally used raise or lower a large flat screen set from behind furniture into viewing position, that’s used to raise a large completed section of scenery for access to the area behind it, but when the moving section is returned to its usual position the separation points disappear.

The railroad itself was started in 2006 to replace a predecessor three rail O gauge layout.  It occupies an “L” shaped space with a duck under entrance area; the main line run is about 150 feet, double tracked in some areas and four tracked in others, a continuously running large circle designed for train watching rather than operation. There’s a wide variety of steam, diesel, and electric motive power, including Atlas, MTH, Sunset brass, and a full length (9 car) Aerotrain, all controlled by DCS, the proprietary DCC system developed by MTH. And as for that other topic mentioned earlier, everything ran very well, which is an advantage with O scale; the additional natural weight of the locomotives and cars mean fewer operating problems. The supporting structures for future catenary are in place but stringing the wires is a project for another day. The scenery is about 75% completed with about a quarter of it detailed. He also keeps detailed journal of all his activities on the layout. This eliminates the need to remember anything (or repeating the same mistakes), as everything is written down. As of December of last year, it had grown to 28 chapters.

Another advantage of modeling in O scale is, in addition to the impressive size of the trains, is the fact that your room space, when filled with such large equipment, is probably restricted to one or maybe two prototype railroads, as opposed to the smaller scales, where the limits of your collection are often restricted only by the limits of your checking account, making you prone to wander off and buy anything that you find tempting, whether it fits in with your modeling goals or not (trust me, I know this). O scale, on the other hand, more or less forces you to stick relatively closely to what you’re trying to model. It’s especially true when you like to run a GG-1 pulling a long string of full length passenger cars or large P5a electric freight locomotives doing the same with the equivalent freight train, all in a conventionally sized room. 

Finally, on those mornings when it’s 5:30 am and I’m lying in bed trying, but failing, to get back to sleep, I’ll think about John, who is making practical use of those early hours by working in his basement making his PRR Nassau Division railroad even better.

                                    Bob Rosenberg