Royal Oak and Southern by Stan Knotts
Saturday, March 14, 2015

See the Layout - Pictures by Tom Brodrick


After two successive postponements because of our exceptional Washington weather, I finally made it up to see Stan Knotts’ HO scale Royal Oak and Southern Railroad in Laytonsville, MD, and a very well done railroad it is. Representing a free lanced model with no particular prototype in mind, it fills a 17 foot by 25 foot basement room and is composed of a continuously operating two level standard gauge line with a duck under stone arch bridge over the main entrance aisle, and a narrow gauge subsidiary that winds around a mountain in the middle of the room to a timber/logging area at the top. A 10 foot by 12 foot extension is under construction in an adjacent room that also doubles as a work shop. The layout is operated with NCE DCC radio controls; some of the locomotives are currently equipped with sound, and eventually all of them will be. The turnouts are operated by DCC stationary decoders powering Tortoise or Switch Master switch machines, and all turnout control panels have been removed. The scenery is traditional Hydrocal and Sculptamold over a cardboard substructure with much of it carved out as rocks.

Stan began building the railroad in the early 1990’s but, like so many model railroaders, didn’t really get rolling on it until he retired. Although not intended to be an explicit era or location, the general concept reflects the heavily industrialized area of Western Pennsylvania in the late 1930’s; locomotives are strictly steam of varied sizes (not a diesel in sight), the largest one being a USRA Heavy 2-8-2; the rolling stock is from the same time frame – truss rod box cars and billboard reefers (I could write a whole Ancient Modeler article using his railroad equipment alone), and while no specific towns are identified, Uniontown seems to be more prominently mentioned in the signage on the buildings than any other. Many of the industries are named for friends and family, something it would seem that we all enjoy doing. There are audio CD’s from a company called Fantastonic Engineering installed in various places under the layout to provide industry appropriate sound effects, and a couple of those Miller Engineering lighted and animated signs around as well. He even went so far as to start up a Railroad Industry SIG which he managed for 20 years

Every modeler has their “thing” (the part of the hobby they like to do best) and Stan’s is building structures – lots of them - in various shapes and sizes that include kits, kit bashed, scratch built, anything that meets a need on the railroad, all of which are weathered to some degree. The primary rationale for the new extension is to provide additional building sites for more structures, having run out of room for them in the original section. There are even some structures from his father’s Troll and Elfin Railroad, which some of us old timers can remember from before there was a Potomac Division, that he recycled for their sentimental value. The entire railroad and its scenery are as finished as a railroad can get, and the whole thing appears to me to have an “industrial cast” about it, for lack of a better term; a vague sort of soft gray layer of coal dust, or soot over everything. If this is the weathering he referred to, it’s very effectively done, and the somewhat subdued layout overhead lighting, which some might feel could be a bit brighter, actually enhances the illusion even more. 

Stan Knotts is one of those modelers with a sharp eye for details as well as the ability to pick up on the little things and apply them to his railroad. Examples of this are everywhere: The small steam powered boat in the sawmill pond to round up the logs for cutting and stacking; the old fashion single strand steel cable guard rail along the side of a road; the canal in the (“Uniontown,” maybe?) section with its model lock at the end;  the employment of period trucks (mostly Mack’s by Jordan Miniatures) for shipping everything that doesn’t travel by rail; the light gray atmosphere that permeates the entire layout; small features that may not seem that significant by themselves, but when you put them all together they create the impression, albeit in 1:87 scale, that you really are in Western Pennsylvania  just before the onset of WW II. It’s one of those talents that are nowhere near as easy to implement as they often appear to be, not unlike playing the cello.

                                    Bob Rosenberg