Brian Benoit’s Seneca Junction, Poolesville, MD

Brian Sheron’s Long Island Rail Road, Port Jefferson Branch
Poolesville, MD

January 16th, 2016

Brian Benoit’s Seneca Junction, Poolesville, MD, Pictures by Thomas Gaffuri

Brian Sheron’s Long Island Rail Road, Poolesville, MD, Pictures by Thomas Gaffuri

Brian Sheron’s Long Island Rail Road, Poolesville, MD, Pictures by Marshall D. Abrams


    It was interesting to be able to visit two model railroads in one afternoon, especially railroads modeled on two very different actual locations yet conveniently located only a few blocks apart. I had seen Brian Sheron’s Long Island Railroad years ago but I had never visited Brian Benoit’s Seneca Junction before today so I chose to start with it, partly because it was new to me and partly because it was all right turns from Maryland Route 107.

    The Seneca Junction is a 6 foot by 16 foot single level free lanced layout that represents the area south of Frederick, MD, between Maryland Route 85 and the east slope of the Catoctin Mountains, an area I’m somewhat familiar with. The “Junction” in the name is that of the old B&O’s Main Line with a PRR branch extending south through Frederick and is prototypical of the region in the late 1950’s. The junction includes yards for both railroads as well as paired tracks that extend in both directions from the junction. It also includes both left and right crossovers for full interchange/running on either track. The dual-track arrangement runs through the fictional town of Monocacy Crossing where there are numerous businesses and industries served by both railroads. The front section contains most of the structures and sidings; there’s a duck under to reach the access space in the center while the back area is for yards and staging. The railroad is powered with a mix of transition time-frame first generation diesels and steam. A PRR Fairbanks-Morse H-1044 and a B&O Alco S-1 were running that day, which would have been appropriate for a railroad that models a junction shared by them, while a USRA 2-8-2 was quietly parked on a siding. Rolling stock consists of a mixture of freight cars from the 1930’s to the late 1950’s. Brian had recently built many of these cars from 1940’s and 1950’s kits given to him by a friend, including a couple of them by manufacturers that even I don’t remember (they were that ancient), but despite their age they still looked good, plus they provide a tangible link to those who came before him in the hobby. He also runs a few cars given to him by other friends to honor their generosity. All of the track is Bachmann EZ Track and the trains are operated with CVP Easy DCC utilizing two wireless cabs, one for the B&O and other for PRR. The layout is split into two power districts between the railroads. All locomotives save one are DCC/sound equipped. The structures are standard kits by Walthers, DPM, and others of the better known brands, and are placed in a spread out arrangement that creates an uncluttered appearance and leaves room for switching cars around among the various industries. Brian is also in the process of completing the scenery on the layout; the roads are already in place and the rolling central Maryland countryside i is nicely reproduced in the background.

    Moving on to Brian Sheron’s Port Jefferson Branch, the Long Island is a railroad with which I have no familiarity at all, and usually in such instances I am pretty much dependent on what the modeler has produced with regards to authenticity. Fortunately, my live-in Long Island expert (my wife, who once lived on Long Island) was able to accompany me on that earlier visit and recognized much of what Brian had done, and that was enough for me.

The layout is set in 1964, but if he wants to run his new BLI LIRR H-10’s, he changes out his fleet of cabooses and dials the era back 10 years to 1954 (a classic example of Model Railroading Rule #1: It’s my railroad). The layout occupies two rooms in his basement, one 13’ x 19’ and the other 12’ x 12’. It is a double track, folded dog bone arrangement, with a branch that runs into the 12’ x 12’ room where he models New York City, complete with an operating overhead El and a cutaway of the LIRR underground platforms in Penn Station where the MU’s would arrive to pick up or deliver “Dashing Dan,” the mythical LIRR commuter, and which greets you as you descend the stairs. You also have to admire Brian’s version of downtown Manhattan which looks very impressive even in HO Scale. The layout scenery is 100% complete with a myriad of realistic details; Brian estimates he has some 300 figures and over 100 vehicles on the layout, an estimate for which I took him at his word, and he was able to accomplish all of that while still working full time at his government job (so much for waiting to retire to build your railroad). He uses wireless Digitrax DCC and all of his engines are prototypical for the era(s) that he models, although he recently bought two Atlas C-420s in the 1970‘s Metro livery because he thought they looked neat (again, Model Railroading Rule #1). In any event, on that afternoon he was running only Long Island RR diesels, including one that was pushing a flat car carrying one of those small, battery powered, wireless video cameras sending signals to a nearby TV set that gave the visitors a cab ride of the railroad as it traveled around. He had sent out some advanced photos of his recent additions; the track is in as are the sky and clouds on a double sided Masonite backdrop, but no other work has been done as yet.

If the Seneca Junction is an example of uncluttered country railroading, the Port Jefferson Branch is just the opposite; wall to wall people, cars, roads, tall buildings, etc., which I expect is the way Long Island itself is nowadays although I haven’t been there since 1965 when my wife and I went up to see the World’s Fair and visit an old school friend of hers. The whole scene looked like a typical daily Washington area rush hour where nothing seems to move; if that wasn’t enough, the boat yard, Sheron’s Marine, named for Brian’s dad, was packed with many different shapes and sizes of boats and the modeled scrap yard was crammed with various pieces of metal junk. Even the aisles reflected that congested feeling; while they may be adequate for a few visitor or even a group of operators, any claustrophobes in attendance - like myself - no doubt found the experience of encountering a large number of people in a narrow space a bit stressful. Nevertheless, things really came to life after he cut the room lights and the railroad lit up like a Christmas tree; lighted trains, automobile headlights, street lights, lighted structures, and several of those multi-color lighted flashing advertising signs, most clustered around the large model of the Jamaica, New York railroad station. There’s no question that Brian has constructed a marvelous model that reproduces the spirit of the Long Island area and its railroad, but after about 45 minutes, I found myself gravitating to the new room where I could enjoy some of the more open space even if there were no trains in it as yet. I guess crowded, busy, places like New York City or Long Island just aren’t for me, either in model or prototype form.   

  Bob Rosenberg