Last December I received an invitation from Riley Triggs to speak at the NMRA’s Lone Star Region convention, which took place last weekend (May 5-7). On Friday I presented a morning clinic on getting started in P48 modeling and an afternoon clinic on detailing track. Both were well attended and folks seemed to appreciate the information.

I also delivered the keynote address at the Saturday evening closing banquet on the theme of designing a craft, where I shared my journey from traditional model railroading to approaching the work as a craft and medium of expression.

This was my first trip to Texas. Rather than fly, Susan and I drove down a couple of days early and I spent Wednesday prior to the convention with Riley, touring his own layout and a couple others he arranged for me to visit.

It was wonderful to meet Riley in person and see his work. We share similar approaches to this craft and connected right away. I can say without hesitation that it was the highlight of the entire week for me. The wonderful Texas BBQ we had for lunch just added to the enjoyment.

After lunch, we headed over to Jim Zwernemann’s P48 layout. I have met Jim before at the Chicago and St Louis RPM meets and was happy for the chance to see his work in a more relaxed and less crowded setting.

By his own admission Jim is not an operator or that concerned about building a fancy layout. As you might expect what he has built is simply executed but extremely well done.

When visiting a layout, I like to just walk around the space and let my eye be drawn where it will. On Jim’s layout, my eyes went to the magnificent roster of scratch and kit built rolling stock. I’m well aware of Jim’s skill and reputation as a model builder and it was a treat to see the work in the context that he enjoys it.

Imagine a layout full of wonderfully detailed rolling stock like this. What a treat for the eyes.
Jim’s transfer caboose was a model I wanted to see in person as soon as I learned about it from Gene Deimling’s blog. I wasn’t disappointed and plan to build one of my own based on this prototype in the Whitewater Valley Railroad’s collection in Connersville, Indiana.
The Whitewater Valley is a tourist line that follows the old canal path to Metamora, Indiana. The wooden benches on each end were added for passengers.
Jim likes caboose modeling most of all and has built a fine collection over time. I was on the lookout for one in particular and wasn’t disappointed when I saw it.

His Penn Central transfer caboose drew me in completely. I have many memories of these working Centerville on the local and even got a short ride on one. Jim’s model captures the essence of them perfectly. The poor handheld photos I shot don’t do the work justice. Having seen the model in person, I couldn’t help thinking how great it would look easing into Mill Road behind a Geep or SW7. After experiencing Jim’s model firsthand, I decided to add one to my list of future projects. There is a prototype example nearby that I can document and measure, sooner, rather than later I think.

We also visited Steve Nelson’s excellent MKT/MoPac layout. One thing that struck me about his work is the size of the major industries. They are huge. Steve also dedicated space to non railroad features like crop fields that bring out the character of the region he’s modeling.

I’m not at all familiar with these railroads or the area represented. Although the layout is well lit, I didn’t shoot any photos. The lighting was too low for hand held photography and my images wouldn’t do the work justice. Instead I refer you to a wonderful in-depth review of this layout that Riley wrote for his Model Railroad Design blog. (Linked below.) This is an older post now and many of the scenes featured in it have been completed.

I came away from the trip with a new appreciation for the people that makeup this craft. I found something inspiring in each of the layouts Riley and I toured and it was a pleasure to put faces to some of the names that appear in the blog comments. Texas hospitality was wonderful and the area around Temple Texas is quite lovely. Two days on the road each way was a stretch for us but we made it work. Susan and I want to express our appreciation to everyone in the Lone Star Region of the NMRA, who went above and beyond to make our trip so enjoyable.


Model Railroad Design Blog Steve Nelson’s MKT/MoPac layout

Gene’s Blog Jim Zwernemann’s Transfer Caboose


  1. Greg Amer

    Wow. What a great trip! If there is video of your presentations please post links. I’d love to see them.

  2. Pete Leach

    Mike, I enjoyed your clinic on track detailing and hope to upgrade areas on my layout in the future with some of your ideas. Your keynote address on Saturday evening presented a unique point of view that will get many of us thinking. Thanks for attending!

  3. mike

    You’re welcome Pete. I enjoyed my visit immensely and it was great to meet you in person.

    Greg, I’m not aware of any video for the clinics or my speech. The recent posts on Designing The Invisible and Designing the Time Of Your Life are taken from the text of the keynote.