Monroe Stewart’s Layout Open House
May 19, 2012
by Bill Day

You can go to Chicago’s Museum of Science and industry and see a $3 million layout or you can go to Monroe Stewart’s house in Oxon Hill and see more detail, more variegated scenes, more freight and passenger equipment than you can in the Windy City’s museum. Last month, 35 modelers did just that.
    You approach Monroe‘s house and see prototype crossbucks and signals surrounding his driveway and know that, somehow, this is a serious model railroader.  Inside, there is a veritable museum of railroadiana: lake ore boats, scratchbuilt, diesel engines of various scales, photos and pictures of boats and trains and, in one corner of the room, a jumbo screen showing a tape of Alan Keller’s Great Model Railroads. One of them—number 30—is Monroe’s.
    And then you step into his N gauge railroad empire, scale miles of waterfront, mountains, yards, countryside, cities and villages, all bound together by two parallel tracks. One sees sheer cliffs, plains, farmland.  One sees illuminated signals arching over tracks, then lone signals on branches. There are backdrops of varied terrain, each cued to the scenery around it. It’s difficult to take in everything at one visit, as testified by those who have been to the layout repeatedly.
    In adjoining rooms there are more tracks, wending through walls, looping back to the main layout. Under these tracks are workbenches, drafting tables and tool racks. Taken altogether, the layout has thousands of details. You re in the presence of one accomplished modeler.
    And yet, Monroe started as we all did. When he returned from military service in Vietnam, he bought a small circle of track and thought working with it might be a pleasant diversion. Musing over his tiny railroad, he looked out his back door, saw a garden shed that looked one of the Vietnamese huts called hooches and named his fledging empire Hooch Junction.  Now a Master Model Railroader, now a modeler with national recognition, now a modeler with a presence in virtually every modeler’s magazine, he continues to broaden his horizon.  As I was leaving, Monroe showed me a locomotive he had built, a scratchbuilt, N Scale, working Heisler. It doesn’t get any better than that.


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