The Rock Springs and Sweetwater County Railroad

I was raised in a home with no tools.  For that reason and perhaps for other reasons, the first thirty years of my interest in model railroads was confined to the ďarmchairĒ.  Now that I have begun modeling I rarely look at a book, which is unfortunate because I am far behind the current technology in model railroading.  Despite all that, I began building what has become the Rock Springs and Sweetwater County Railroad about ten years ago in a desultory sort of way without any help.  It was based upon John Armstrongís modification of Atlas N-107.  I added mountains to hide the small-radius turns and added two straight tracks at the highest elevation that were supposed to meet N-Trak standards.  Also, I added two very short narrow-gage pieces that may be a little difficult to find.  I purchased only one Nn3 freight car.  The layout had to be free standing and portable.

About two years ago, I sent some photos to Loren Neufeld that I described as representing good conception and bad execution. I knew Loren because of earlier involvement with the N Crowd.  He noticed the bad colors immediately.  He suggested that I find someone in the current N Crowd at Papa Benís who was not color blind and get some help.  On the day I visited the old layout on South Blvd., Steve Lancaster was working on the scenery all by himself, a fairly typical circumstance in those days.  Steve agreed to help and the two of us painted out all the old scenery and began again. 

During the new construction, I built a few of the smaller DPM buildings.  I added Waltherís Cornerstone roof details and window dressing from the internet. I modeled asphalt streets with vinyl spackle and added road markings using my computerís printer and Chart Pak.  Ted Davis thinks that Chart Pak tape looks too three dimensional, so I am considering printing all of my roads and parking lots using the method of trial and error to get the size and shape right with inverted color to save ink.  The nest time I will let the printings determine the widths and directions of the streets.

Early on I determined that I would not dwell upon any item of the construction that did not appear on the table top. The result is ragged carpentry and bad wiring.  Despite my admiration of Steve Reddís construction and Hugh Boydís control panels, I have persisted in my slipshod methods since I possess neither the skill nor the money to produce anything that I donít find at least a little embarrassing.  But, weíre among friends here. Right?

Sometime in July of 2008, a woman from the Texas Childrenís Hospital (THC) called Papa Benís and asked Steve Lancaster, who answered the phone, to provide a small portable layout that could be moved from room to room for the benefit of children who could not visit the big layout on the ground floor.  Steve suggested that we collaborate.  He brought the table shown in the photo to my house and we began work. 



Adding telephone wires can make life difficult when the layout is under development, but they look nice as a finishing touch. The street signs are way too large for N scale, but at least you can read the names of people you know on them.


After Hurricane Ike struck and Papa Benís moved, we could not find the woman who spoke to Steve and no one at the childrenís hospital had ever heard of the project.  Thus, it occurred to me that I might build an even smaller transition layout and connect the Rock Springs to the THC.  I wanted a nearly square compact layout with the modules connected side to side, but I found minor differences in the relative heights of the three modules each time I bolted them together, which made it difficult to join the track and blend the scenery.  The metal bolts were enlarging the holes in the wood sides of the modules. I partially solved that problem with metal joining plates through which holes were drilled with a Unibit.  These holes do not change diameter, but a better tool would have made more perfect holes.

Unfortunately, I forgot what I did to color the water on the Rock Springs.  Beavers bailed me out in one place and a sand bar in another.



Photos can be an important part of the fun.  These photos were taken with a Kodak Easy Share, which is the digital equivalent of the old Kodak Brownie.  It makes nice photos so long as you donít ask it do something it canít do.  Photos of the Rock Springs can be found on the N Crowd website with a hyperlink to additional photos.  Also, I put 83 photos on Facebook.  The photos on my Houston Chronicle blog have the luxury of captions, cf., .  Photos of the THC layout can be found at  A few photos of the first combined layout with the transition, which was never completed, are at  Photos of the new combined layout with the new track plan upon which construction has just begun are at  The overhead views are supposed to stand in for the track plan I have not learned how to make on the computer.  (The photos arenít good, but my drawings are lousy.)  And, yes, most of the track is recycled. 

If I had this to do over again, I would be much more careful with the roadbed to make the levels level and the grades uniform except in the transitions to level ground.  Finally, I would do whatever was necessary to increase the minimum radius of the curves. As much as I like the look of SD-40s, I should confine my motive power to locomotives with four axles.

Tom Wayburn, Houston, January 18, 2010