Nicholas Kalis’s Oahu Sugar Company — 1944, McLean, VA

November 4th, 2017

Trackplan by Byron Henderson With Descriptions

Tour Handout

Pictures by Elizabeth Boisvert


    My only personal involvement with sugar cane hauling narrow gauged railroads occurred in 1968 when the Navy ship I was assigned to stopped in San Juan, Puerto Rico for a day or two. Most of the crew took advantage of the opportunity to visit the casinos; I decided to arrange a ride out to where I had been told the trains were and sure enough, they were there although it was evening and nothing was moving. From a distance, the little steam locomotives reminded me of the Maine two-footers but in poorer condition, and the cars they were pulling around looked like refugees from a scrap line, mostly open sides with ends and a roof. I shot some slides until the light faded; they’re around the house somewhere but I lost track of them years ago. So when Nick Kalis offered to put his railroad on our home tour schedule, I took advantage of the opportunity to see them, or at least models of them, once more.

    Nick’s Oahu Sugar Company railroad is set in 1944 on the Hawaiian island of the same name (the island is better known for another of its enterprises, the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor). He models in Fn3 scale, the only person I know who does so, using #1 gauge (45mm) track. Others also use this track, and trains are available in different sizes to match the scale in which the modeler is building. The layout, using a track plan designed by Byron Henderson, fills a third of a large basement room and consists of six viewing boxes varying is size from four to nine feet long around an oval facing inward on three sides. with a combination duck under/swing open double track section at one end for access and continuous running. Each box represents a single complete scene; some are finished, but others have details remaining to be done. I had never seen this arrangement before but it has some unique advantages; you can detail a scene without having to be concerned with the scene on either side of it and, like any well done model railroad, it’s the little things (animals, people, vehicles, etc.) that make the difference.

    Starting on the far side, the first box presented a typical flat sugar plantation landscape with some sugar cane stalks in the foreground about 20 feet high (yes, they grow that tall). Nick uses broom straw to represent them and it works quite well. That’s where the double track end section becomes single track and the turnout there, like all the turnouts on the layout, is hand thrown. The next box has a seven foot long wooden trestle running the length of it, Next was more sugar cane, some palm trees, and a small replica of the entrance to Kipapa Air Field with an Army Air Force sign, which also dates it to the mid-1940s. Continuing around the oval, the fourth box has more vegetation but with low mountains in the background. Around the corner is the box with the engine facility at Waipahu featuring a large water tank and an engine house awaiting finishing on the inside; the last box is also Waipahu with a row of stores in the background and several vintage 1930’s and 1940’s vehicles parked in front of them (a 1944 version of a shopping mall?); it then becomes double track again as it heads back to the end section. Nick scratch built most of his structures.   Motive power is a battery run, Airwire wireless controlled, modified Bachman Porter locomotive with a scratch built tender; the sugar cane cars are from Shapeways. Nick’s wife, Kate, did the background art work and provided the snacks. The whole layout uses “Bendi-Board” for fascia, a Masonite type material that’s smooth on one side for painting but has quarter inch vertical slots on the other so it can be easily curved around corners. It originally had to be imported from England, but there’s a company in Minnesota that sells it now too.

With so many of us modeling the transition era in either HO or O gauge (myself included), it was interesting to see what an outstanding job Nick Kalis was able to do in a completely different scale with a virtually unknown railroad in an unusual location and time frame as well. It shows that a model railroad doesn’t have to be large to be interesting. It also shows what can be accomplished when you call upon some of the modeling talent available in the Potomac Division for assistance. Working alone would never have produced such a well done railroad and no one understands that mistake better than I do. We only had 25 in attendance, a relatively small crowd for what turned out to be a beautiful day. The next time Nick’s railroad comes up for a tour, I would suggest that we try a little harder to get there.

Bob Rosenberg