piermont division newsletter containing updates on scale model railroads and trains

piermont division newsletter

December 24th, 2007

If you folks have time, please log onto my structure site www.zanestructures.com. Since many projects have been completed, I now have time to resume one of my many favorite pastimes.....building structures and weathering rolling stock and locomotives. I'll have plenty of weathered 'HO' scale freight cars and hopefully several structures from my original designs at the upcoming Feb. 2/3 train show in Timonium, MD. www.gsmts.com.

I can also do work in any scale, but on speculation, I must go were the bulk of the market is......'HO'.

Recently I have had several visitors and groups over for a visit to play with the electric trains. I totally enjoy visitors. I learn much from the many comments, and some ideas I have immediately implemented......"Why didn't I think of that?" etc. Art has no meaning if it is not shown or shared. If you happen to be in the area...give a call and come on over and play. You'll be privy to the worst cup of coffee on the planet, but it don't taste too bad in the train room. Bring photos of your work as I love to see what others are doing.

October 20th, 2007

Allen Keller has now finished videoing what is to be his Volume 58 on the Piermont Division this week. It should be out by mid January, and it promises to be quite good. I will be offering these in DVD at a decent price and as a combo with my book. The New Southern Cowtippers will be playing the entry and exit music. That alone is worth the cost of the DVD.

What a blast it is to work with Allen! We start at 8AM and work to dark and sometimes beyond on our feet all day…………but it is about playing with trains. What could be better!! Keller asked me what would happen to my layout when I move on to a better place? The answer was quite simple……….. “There is no better place than my basement, however if heaven does not have a model railroad program and hell does………it’s a no brainer where I’ll be heading.

Some have questioned that since I have re-done section 1, which will be featured in the new video, will this now supersede the book ? I do not think so. The layout is now somewhat different, but what is in the book on this section is now history and the book will be a record of this. Plus the book is also a story about my life with trains. That has not changed, nor have the incredible full color photos which have been labeled by many as the best model railroad shots ever!

I have become more eclectic in my tastes, as I have come up with a very workable and pleasing (to me) rationale allowing me to operate anything I want. As mentioned Piermont is a mythical railroad based in northern West Virginia on reconstructed once abandoned B&O and WM right of way and trackage. The road now offers service to this region…….coal, general freight and passenger with interchanges at a major city for points east and south. The Piermont Division owns little equipment, but leases older locos and rolling stock from many of the other roads that once ran in the Appalachians….and beyond. This thinking allows me to play with choo choos that I like………rather than limiting me to just one road. The hobby is about limitless imagination as is my book. I can’t emphasize this enough as a way to achieve maximum enjoyment from this hobby.

CHRISTMAS IS A COMING!! My Life With Model Trains will make an excellent gift. I do take credit cards, checks, and Pay Pal. And of course if this book is purchased from me, I will be most happy to personalize and sign it.

April, 2007

Flash....Allen Keller has contacted me about doing a third video/DVD volume on the Piermont Division. As in the last two Keller videos, I had a ball during the video filming. I greatly look forward to working with Allen, and promise to help make this one of the series best. He'll be here between the 15th and 19th of October.

There will be much to see as nothing has been shown to date on Section 3 except two articles in Railroad Model Craftsman (Oct, '06) and (Jan, '07). They show only about 10%. I hope to have the new Section 1 redo complete by then. It is taking longer than expected due to injuries. I am also planning and well on my way to re capturing my old dimensions....72" and 185 lbs. Since my tumble, I have already dropped 35 pounds. I have no choice as I must be able to fit into some really tight spaces to complete the new Section 1.I call this "Extreme Model Railroading", and it just as it sounds. As mentioned in "My Life With Model Trains", I became literally part of The Yew Piney Mountains, as I got in, but could not get out......not without removing a days work accompanied with many expletive deletives.

I recently acquired a portable and folding scaffold from Micro Mark. This thing is fantastic and will let you work on areas previously deemed impossible. I'm now spending much of my time in the prone position on top of this thing.....sort of like a flying Superman position, but it works and sure makes things much easier!!

If you hit the "video bar" on the home page, you may see several clips of section 3, but nothing yet on the New Section 1......Oops, I lied! There are two shots....one engine yard shot with a WM H-9 taking a spin on the Haverhill turntable, and a C&O J-2 powered local all coach train arriving at the new Haverhill station/hotel nestled in a tight valley.

Book sales have now past the 1400 mark. Again I thank Tommy Gilbert for storing these for me until all are sold.

I have begun my next book as promised..."Model Railroading, The Yet To Be Discovered Fine Art." I may change the title and format several times....along with the content. I will self- publish this also as I love the freedom to say what I want. This book will not be about me or my train set, but entirely about the truly greats in this hobby...present and past. I promise to focus on what makes their model railroads works of fine art.

Several groups have scheduled visits, and I love sharing the layout. When near by, feel free to call and we can play with the electric trains...........no once a month and admission bullcrap. The hobby is about model trains and sharing!!!

November 20th, 2006

Update on sales.....as of today we past the 725 mark. I see several orders coming in for Christmas gifts. If I did not write the dang thing, I would want this book under the tree for myself. I still may wrap one up to open Christmas morning, just for the thrill.

I have survived four book signings now, and plan on offering signed copies at the upcoming February 3/4 Timonium show.

As soon as I hit the 1200 book sales mark, I plan on beginning my next book as I had mentioned........"Model Railroading, The Undiscovered Fine Art." Sandy retires in two years and we plan on purchasing a motorhome and visit what I feel are model railroads which are indeed fine art, but are seldom classified as such. There is so much here to say and photograph, that I feel this will be a huge undertaking and certainly a volume that will exceed 400 pages.

I will again self-publish unless a publisher comes forward with an interest in this project and will let me write in my own style.

At the Timonium signing.........."But sir, why do you want 5 books? Gifts?" Said the gentleman..."Nope, I want one for each bathroom, the coffee table and the den!" Whoever you are and I hope you read this....again many thanks, and I do feel you should perhaps seek some professional help....just funnin' ya! I was deeply flattered and honored.

Carolyn Stinson has again signed on as marketing rep and PR person. You may remember several years back she helped us promote the Timonium show. She is already responsible for the new and excellent web site, along with Jeff McCary of McCary Group, and has arranged several TV interviews coming up before the holidays and newspaper articles about the book and my layout.....also the train show as we are now in our 25th year. These interviews.....when and where will be posted on the site. For openers....on December 6th (Wednesday) Maryland Public TV (MPT/PBS) will feature me on their "ArtWorks This Week" program airing at 7:30 PM. The show repeats on Saturday at 9AM. Then Baltimore TV...Channel 13 will have a story about the book, interview with me, and video shots of the layout in operation. The date is not yet firm. More is planned.

I will be spending hours practicing saying sentences with out expletives. I also will have on a clean baseball hat assuming I can find one. Art works may also may do a segment with the New Southern Cowtippers playing traditional old time music.....my other love. You may log onto our site by linking from zanestrains.com or www.newsoutherncowtippers.com On the products page you can listen to four sample cuts. Livestock love it (except chickens) so bring your cow in for a listen. I guarantee the next milking will be better.

Sept 29th, 2006

Since last week, over 100 copies of the book have been sent out, and many have called or emailed with very positive comments. Thank you for this.

Many have asked to see the layout and that is fine also. I built this monster for all to enjoy and as a sharing experience. Several groups have scheduled dates for weekends in November and early December. I’m deeply honored and greatly look forward to these visits.

As mentioned, I am completely re-doing the first section….and I mean completely. All was ripped out except for Lost Mine.

The layout is now operating again and new scenery is well under way. Point:
When visiting there will be many construction items like tables with materials and tools everywhere….be forewarned! Also, we have a boatload of pussycats and a mean dog that loves to eat nitpickers and rivet counters.

I will be scheduling visits on Saturdays from 10 AM to 3 PM beginning in November and Wednesdays from 7:30 PM to 10 PM. Please call first to make sure I’ll be here.

Ask questions and bring photos of your own work. If I don’t know the answers, I’ll be most happy to make ‘em up and I love to see what other folks are doing. I always have a coffee pot on (it is really terrible, but it is the thought that counts) and Sandy keeps the basement ice box stocked with soft drinks.

Again I look forward to sharing the Piermont Division.

Spring-Summer 2006

News….August 16th

Sample books have arrived. They look better than anticipated…way better!!! I’m sending five of the seven copies to magazines for revue and two will remain here for viewing. The shipment is on time and now due September 21st.
I’ve ordered book boxes for efficient shipping and will begin shipping by the end of September.

Peach Creek Shops in Laurel will be having a grand opening for their new and much larger store on September 30th. I will be doing a signing there and our old time music group, The New Southern Cowtippers will be the featured entertainment. We will also be offering our latest CD - Old Bell Cow - for sale.

I will also be doing a signing at Tommy Gilbert’s Hobby Shop in Gettysburg on Saturday October 7th from 11 to 3.

The following week October 14/15 is the Great Scale Train Show at Timonium, MD and I will be signing books on both Saturday and Sunday.

All books are numbered, and lower numbers will go to first buyers. Collectible??? Who knows! I’m 68 now, and could croak off anytime, greatly increasing the value, but I’m hoping to have many more years to write my next book which will be about model railroading as a fine art, including brass models.


This book should be out by mid-September. It has been a one year project. I wrote and rewrote several times, focusing each time more on the railroad. The over 450 photographs are about the best I have seen for a model railroad. Geren Mortensen took them all and did a hell of a job. That alone took around two months. Fred Cherney from Duplicate Impressions designed the book and located an excellent printer. Fred and I spent many hours emailing ideas and changes back and forth well past 2:30 AM. Sandy did the editing and that was no easy task…translating my ramblings into readable American. My first wife, Missy did the initial editing and arranging, and helped convince me with Sandy’s help to remain focused on trains. I have a strong tendency to get easily off message.

Neal Walters of Basement Music designed and produced this site. Neal also designed our site for The New Southern Cowtippers in addition to producing the CD. Neal’s work is beyond excellent!!

I completed the scenery for section 3 in just about one year. This section is 44’ x 19’. In the book I address the many new techniques that enabled me to complete this section in near record time.

I learned quite a lot about myself and writing. Sandy my wife is a full professor at the University of Maryland and jokingly refers to me as being “unliterate,” besides calling me “Howard the Horizontal.” I had to prove her wrong and had fun doing so. This book is about having fun….only with model trains. I could not have even come close to writing this book if it were not for Sandy’s wonderful support and hours of help. I’ll be eternally grateful.


Train season is never over here. There will always be new happenings and construction on the Piermont Division.

The brass hats met in February and decided to re-route the main line around Piermont as rail traffic there had almost ceased. New and modern roads opened the gates to more efficient truck traffic and use of private automobiles.

The line now heads due north circumventing Piermont and straight through to Albright, WV, also serving the huge Moltz mine complex located there.

In reality, I got tired of the urban setting on a sort-of- level plain. Then there were the damn duck-unders. Each year they got lower. One visitor in October tried to navigate the duck-unders, and I hear the poor chap has not yet straightened out. Section 1 1983 to 1991 is now history. It can be seen on Allen Keller’s video #12 and in April, 1993 Model Railroader…..or even better, my book!

The new design totally eliminates the duck-unders. Lost Mine, Pissonet, and Mt Cube had become ghost towns, as no one ever visited them and most of the HO folks had moved out. They had become wasted and certainly unused space.

Bill Carl now owns the city of Piermont soon to be incorporated in his 100’ x 40’ train room…. (if we can ever get him off Ebay.)

Step one was to rent a huge dumpster, and buy pizza and beer for friends with really big saws. Then within minutes what was left of Section 1 had taken up residence in the dumpster. I saved all of the structures and, of course, many of the details, but the original track and turnouts are now history.

The furnace and water heater were placed along the wall that was once Mt. Cube and closed in, accessible now by the original, but unused, stairs. This left a 22’ x 26’10” completely open room for the new Section 1. And no stinkin’ duck-unders!!!

The new design also added an additional ¾ mile to the main line.

The theme will be high mountains and coal operations plus an eight track x 26’ yard. Instead of city buildings, two villages will serve the mines.

The center piece for this new design will be a huge river with several waterfalls traversed by two viaducts, several road bridges, and a high trestle serving the run into the Moltz Mine at Albright. The unsightly lower duct over Armington will now be enclosed in a huge mountain with tunnels. The once branch line into Hanover will be built on the side of this mountain and cliff arrangement.

All curves are super elevated and all track is code 83. Turnouts are mostly number 10 with a few number 8’s.

Presently the benchwork is complete and 98% of the track is installed. All should be running by early July and in time for the convention. The Piermont layout is on the convention tour for both Thursday and Friday.

What really worked well was being able to curve straight turnouts. This was a must as both east and west yard throats required this design. Step one was to cut back the turnout as far as possible, then cut alternating notches in the tie strips…not much different than flextrack. The effect and look is quite good and when finished will look like hand laid rail.

Ready made Shinahora curved turnouts are great but the largest is a 36”/32”…way too tight. These modified number 10’s are in the 50”-60” radius range.


This time Railroad Model Craftsman will be featuring the layout as the cover story for either the September or October issue, or possibly both. The thrust is never-before-seen photos and story on section 3. Bill has promised not to edit me down to “almost idiot” status as had been done several times before. I assume responsibility for all of the previous editing, as I had seen proofs, but my excitement about again being published was far greater than my ability to proof read. But when I got calls like… “Jeez, I just read the article you wrote, and somehow I thought you had completed the 8th grade”…. or “Was that your layout in MR? Sure as hell did not look like it!”

Oh well!! Critics, Ugh!!!


This will be the title and thrust of my next volume. Model railroading is a fine art, and many of today’s modelers possess artistic skills that, were they painters or sketch artists, their works would have sold in galleries world wide.

My dream is to write about possibly the 30 best model pikes ever excluding mine. The chapters will include many photos and character sketches about their builders……and most important, how they influenced the hobby as we know it today.

Even today, us model rails are viewed as “the nut in the basement” with nary the good sense to put up the trains after Christmas. Still “civilian” visitors ask: “Jeez, do you take this thing down after Christmas?” I usually answer yes to this as I have to get the basement ready for my Easter scene…..bunnies, jelly beans, and you betcha……..yellow marshmallow baby chickens.

Holy crap!!!

Then again when visitors ask if I use Homasote for the roadbed, I usually reply……….. “Nope, I use Heterasote!”

In 1962, when I first saw the John Allen article in Railroad Model Craftsman and became totally hooked on this hobby, if that magazine had a cover feature about the then state-of-the art model railroad electronics, things would have certainly been different for me. I’m sure others of my generation would have felt the same. It was the art, creativity, and imagination that brought my generation into this hobby. Electronics and operation are extremely important, but somewhere along the way we became more high tech, and operation oriented. Imaginative scenery, although important, has taken a back seat. I hope my current and future book might just make a small difference. Also, choice of scales have much to do with the application of scenery. Most scales larger than HO seem to lack in this area. It could be limited space and enormity of structures. I do not know for sure. Then again check out the May, 2006, Model Railroader and the wonderful ‘O’ scale layout by Dave Stewart and company. The scenery is top notch!


When Sandy and I designed our latest addition in 2001, I had planned a huge section to be just basement with the roof extending to about one foot above the ground to about four feet towards the rear of our lot. The size was to be 24’ x 85’ and a deck was to cover the whole structure. The county would not approve such a basement-only arrangement with no structure on top, so we were told to apply for a variance or special permit. Two years would be then the average time before this thing could be reviewed. Oh well, said I, I guess I’ll have to settle for 2850 square feet instead of almost 5000!

No sooner do we finish this addition three months later, that we get our approval. Now it would cost almost three times as much to do this. Will I do it? I do not know. Sandy is certainly supportive as she is now convinced that my groundhog is not fully baked. I guess she just wants to humor me, before the nice friendly guys in the white suits arrive.

Life is not a dress rehearsal and if it is a large layout you want, you ain’t gonna do it when you are under the big granite block.

A lot will depend on my health and how soon I can finish the section 1 rebuild. I ain’t no damned spring chicken!



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