PENNSYRR.COM by Jerry Britton

Jerry Britton's PRR Middle Division in HO Scale

Several months ago I started listening to several podcasts related to model railroading. They are actually quite enjoyable. One that I listen to regularly is Lionel Strang's A Modeler's Life. They interview model railroaders and bring out their background in the hobby. Reflecting on my own past, I decided to share where I got my start.

Born in 1962, I got my first train set at a very young age... no later than seven, but I really don't remember. The HO scale set included a Mantua GP in Reading yellow and green livery. Many years later it would take a nose dive off the layout due to a sibling which resulted in breaking the short hood off.

The first layout was on a sheet of plywood laying on top of a pool table. From an Atlas plan book, it was a basic figure eight with the Atlas pier set. Never got to scenery and, quite frankly, I don't remember running in much.


In 1970, when I was eight, we moved to a new house. A new layout was started and I was old enough and capable enough to do a lot of the work myself. It also started as an Atlas plan, on a 4x8 sheet with a 2x4 extension. Eventually I filled in the open corner with another 2x4 section. Like most model railroads from those books, it was grossly unrealistic. Some scenery was done... with mountains consisting of paper mache over window screening.

On this layout I started using Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives and rolling stock. To be honest, I think it was only because "Pennsylvania" was my home state. I don't think there was anything else to it, but I never deviated!

Being young, and in the pre-internet era, I had no clue about the prototype. Hence, I had steam locos without Belpaire fireboxes that never ran on the Pennsy; an Athearn DD40 (with two motors) that was the pride of my collection; and a complete set of Athearn blue box passenger cars that included a vista dome!

We moved again in 1978, when I was 16. The new property included a shed that was approximately 10x20 feet. Other than having to house the riding mower, I was given use of the building. I had two stalled attempts at creating a layout, the second being the west end of the Rockville Bridge flyover. Neither got very far.

In 1980 the trains were packed away and I was off to college. Lionel's show has identified this trend among model railroaders and refers to it as the "girls and cars" era. I was so disconnected from trains during my time in college that I never learned there was a campus model railroading club until afterI graduated!

For several years following graduation, my wife and I continued to make frequent trips to our alma mater. Between not being at home and living in an apartment, trains still didn't make a resurgence.

We purchased a house in 1994 and I started thinking about returning to the hobby. The internet was just taking off and I wanted to learn web site programming. It was at this time that I developed Keystone Crossings as a learning project. I never expected it to become popular and as large as it is today. In the process I started learning about the prototype Pennsylvania Railroad.

Like Rip Van Winkle waking up after many years, I was shocked that Life Like was now the "creme of the crop" of locomotives! When I had packed away some 14 years earlier they were junk!

Proving that knowledge can be a bad thing, knowing too much about the prototype made any potential design unsatisfying. After some "hands on" experience, I committed to a move to N scale. I sold off the existing collection and in 2000 began construction of a large model railroad featuring the Pennsylvania Railroad at Harrrisburg, on one level, and the Allegheny mountain crossing -- including the Horseshoe Curve -- on another level. The layout was called the PRR Eastern Region.

I got to the point of hosting operating sessions when disaster struck in 2008. I had over 120 Atlas code 55 #5 turnouts installed when their frogs magically "shrunk". An NMRA track gauge literally had to be forced through the frog. Locos would stop like they had hit a brick wall. Atlas' solution was to file the frogs, but that was really impractical for the number of turnouts involved, and no expectation that it would not keep happening.

During the N scale era, high quality sound-equipped locomotives had come along, with Broadway Limited Imports leading the pack for accurate Pennsy models. When I made the decision to rip out the layout, I also opted to change back to HO scale. I proceeded to sell off the N scale collection. 

The present model railroad, the Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division in HO Scale, was started in 2010. I've done all of the construction myself, but will likely engage a few of my former crew to assist with the scenery. The main line is complete, and I am probably just a few months away from initial op sessions.

So there you have it!