Steve Reynolds' “Weed Line”

December 3rd, 2016


Photos by John Darlington



                 A GHOST RAILROAD RERUN
    Seven or eight years ago the Potomac Division sent out an invitation similar to the one we sent out for the weekend of December 3rd: the opportunity to help the widow of a model railroader liquidate his collection. The modeler lived in Alexandria and his name, as I recall, was Martinelli. Clint Hyde was in charge of arranging layout disposals at the time and he asked me to write an article about the proceedings for the Flyer. It wasn’t a particularly large railroad, but it was beautifully detailed and it was set in Northern New England, which immediately got my attention. I called the article Ghost Model Railroads of the Washington Area and the point I tried to make at the time was that there were probably many such model railroads in our region equally well done, but that like his, had never been seen on a home layout tour because the modeler was reluctant to open it up to a potentially large group of visitors.

Fast forward to December 2016. Our objective this time was a visit to Elk Ridge, Maryland and the “Weed Line” of the late Steve Reynolds. Though Steve was not in a local division, Joan Reynolds offered to hold a last run for both the Potomac and Chesapeake divisions, at the close of which the layout would be dismantled and sold off to any interested parties. I’ve always thought that assisting these folks is one of the better things that we do in our division. While the amount of money changing hands may be nominal, the family at least knows that after all the work the modeler has put into their layout, its final trip will be to a “good home” rather than to 1-800 GOT JUNK? Again, however, it was a layout that had never been open for a division event, which in this case was a shame because it was obvious that a great deal of TLC had been put into the building of it. His “Weed Line” nickname describes it perfectly. The track work was reminiscent of many small, rural, southern lines from that era with mostly weeds, dust, and dirt hiding the ballast. Set in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, his layout focused on the B&O and the Southern in the Harrisonburg area circa 1943. There was a 4x8 folded dog bone with both standard and narrow gauge track and a separate elevated section wrapped around it comprised of loop ending in a long tangent. Motive power was mostly small steamers, 2-6-0s, 2-8-0s, and 2-8-2s, with DCC and sound, and first generation EMD F units. Steve’s thing (we all have our “thing”) was structures, both scratch built and heavily modified kits; large ones, such as the Shenandoah Power generating facility and a saw mill complex, small rural businesses, and everything in-between. I don’t recall many model railroads with the variety of structures that he had, and that doesn’t include the bridges crossing the valley’s many rivers and streams.

Coincidently, I had a conversation at our November home tour with Ken Wilson, our former point man on setting up home tours, about how difficult it is becoming to find modelers willing to host them. In some ways this is understandable; the idea of 50 or 60 people hanging out at your house on a Saturday afternoon is not something I would hype as an incentive for recruiting future hosts. I have hosted tours at various times, including the last two Washington area MER conventions. In 2008, I was programmed for a Friday afternoon. Guessing that I wouldn’t get more than a dozen visitors, I decided to handle the tour by myself. Major miscalculation! Over 60 people showed up and for three hours I had my hands full. For the 2013 convention, I was set up for Thursday evening on the day when it rained constantly into the night. I had help this time, but it was hardly necessary because only one visitor was able to find me all evening. However, he was a true New England railroad aficionado and we had a very rewarding discussion. I’m already wondering what might transpire at the 2018 convention.

     In my original article, as in this one, the purpose was to point out that while hosting a home tour might sound like it could become a total disaster, it’s usually the contrary. For a minimal investment in testing and clean up time, a bag or three of Doritos, some soft drinks, and an invitation to the Keebler Elves to bring over a box or two of cookies, you can show off your railroad to people who, unlike casual visitors, are in a position to genuinely appreciate your modeling skills and what you’ve accomplished. In addition, to show our gratitude for your generosity, someone will write a really nice article about your layout in the Potomac Flyer. So take the opportunity to impress us; invite us to visit your masterpiece, and if per chance it should rain on you the way it rained on me that night, we promise to wipe our feet before we enter.  

Bob Rosenberg

As far as Steve knew, none of his friends had an interest in model railroading, and he was not a member of a train club or organization. Model trains were a personal enjoyment, shared only with his wife. In that regard, he was much like the typical model railroader: a “lone wolf.” In my case, many of my friends, work colleagues and even acquaintances know of my interest in trains. That led to my learning about Steve’s layout. My car mechanic, knowing of my peculiar proclivity, asked me if I had any ideas for a relative whose husband had died leaving a beautiful model railroad. Joan is an accomplished hobbyist in many crafts, most notably creating art works in stained glass. She well knew the value in skill and time that goes into model railroading, as in other crafts pursued to a high level. But she, too, did not know of other model railroaders – until, that is, conversations with other women after Steve’s death. These were friends she already knew from other parts of her life. “Many of these ladies had spouses who were model railroaders” she learned. “But none of them had a clue as to what to do with model trains after their husbands die.” Joan did have a clue, many in fact, thanks to Steve’s preparations. Over the years Joan had on occasion accompanied Steve to hobby shops and Timonium train shows, so that Joan at least knew about them and “knew the territory” so to speak. Steve made a careful inventory of the more expensive items – namely locomotives, with original prices marked for each, and their special features. Steve made a list of a few particular items – mostly from his other hobbies - which he wished to go to relatives and friends. Joan made suggestions to add to that list, and made a list of a few railroad items with special meaning, including some she had helped construct, that she would keep for their memories and their intrinsic aesthetic value. Some tools and modeling materials have applications to other household and hobby activities of her own, and Joan will “re-purpose” these. Most importantly, Steve thought about what portions of his layout might be reconfigured into an easily moved freestanding unit. Then he tackled that as a new modeling project he could accomplish as his capacities diminished. Was there more she wished he would have done to prepare her for handling disposition? “No, he did as much as he could.”

Joan has been looking into ads in the back of model railroad magazines, of people purchasing estates and collections. She will be visiting a large hobby shop and train shows to learn about current prices, including people who make and sell model railroads. She will seek out vendors who buy model railroad items for resale, and learn about options for her situation. “My advice to ‘model railroad spouses’” says Joan “is to get your husband to at least make a list of valuable items, like locomotives. Get his wishes as to where he wants stuff to go. And from time to time take you along to hobby shops and train shows so you know about them.” And to my fellow model railroaders, I would add that you should let friends and acquaintances know of your love of trains. You never know what might emerge from sharing your interest with others.

Arthur Boyd: The Relay