Marshall Abrams' Abrams Railroad Empire
September 6, 2014

See the layout - The photo name prefixes identify the photographer:
PhilL = Phil Long; RayH = Ray Helmke; ARE = Marshall Abrams.


    Most model railroads we get to visit on our Potomac Division Saturday tours have some relationship with a specific prototype or to an overriding theme; Chris Smith’s N&W O scale line or Bill Lyder’s combination of several 1950’s Appalachian coal haulers in south western Virginia serve as examples of this concept. Not so with the Abram’s Railroad Empire. Marshall likes to describe his layout as “urban anachronistic.” I would readily concur with that assessment and might be inclined to add “eclectic” as well. It’s designed for operation using Digitrax DCC, with both their plug-in’s and radio controlled throttles. With an abundance of industries, towns, yards, and interchange tracks, the 20’ by 22’ walk-around has adequate activities and aisle space to keep as many as 8 operators busy during a session although only two were helping him for this tour. Motive power running that day included a SW1500 switcher, a road switcher (probably a GP-7) in C of G paint pulling a freight train, an older GG1 made by IHC and decorated for the Abrams Railroad Empire hauling three heavyweight passenger cars because the newer MTH version was having problems, and a more recent (1970’s?) Amtrack electric with some Amtrack cars in tow. All of them were running quite well and many of them have sound. Among those available but not running were a BL-2, a NYC F-a unit, a two car self-propelled train of European ancestry, and  two gas electrics – one a Bachman – the other a scratch built model over an Atlas frame that looked like it began its life as a LaBelle kit. There was even a freight car fleet painted and lettered for the 13 original colonies, something you seldom see at all much less running in revenue service. The scenery and track ballasting were about 70% complete. There were operating dwarf signals to indicate the throw direction of the turnouts, operating block signals, and additional repeater signals above the back drop to indicate the traffic situation with some of the less visible track for the convenience of the operators. In the past Marshall has presented clinics on those aforementioned dwarf signals as well as on freight car forwarding procedures for use in operating sessions and creating backdrops from scenes available on the internet. A new waterfall was flowing down from the rock faces bordering the double track along the rear wall of the layout. There were also a pair of crossing gate/flashers that were triggered by approaching trains and some lighted animated signs representing various past and present corporations - Esso, GE, “Ready Kilowatt” (remember him?), and a couple of those three ring Ballantine Beer signs in two different restaurant like establishments.  Marshall gives much of the credit for the gates and signs to Bill Day, whose advocacy of animation inspired him to add them to his layout, and I don’t know why we don’t see more of that sort of thing on other layouts. They’re not that expensive or that hard to install, and they really make a dramatic contribution to the overall appearance of a scene.
            “Urban Anachronism” is probably not how most of us would think to described our layouts, but it does give you the freedom to run anything you want to run anytime you want to run it rather than locking you into, say, trying to replicate the New Haven and the B&M in a 1950’s rendition of rural New England. Such a concept may not be for everyone but it works well for Marshall, and it makes for an enjoyable afternoon whether you’re operating it, taking notes on it, or just enjoying watching it run, 
                                                                                                        Bob Rosenberg