After last week’s model railroad version of War And Peace, I’ll keep this short.

Years ago I was serious about modeling the Pennsylvania Railroad operations in my hometown of Richmond, Indiana. As part of the design process, I was able to amass a surprising amount of information from obvious and not-so-obvious sources.

The obvious sources included websites discovered from search parameters, links and generally going down any online rabbit hole that looked promising. The fact I was researching the PRR didn’t hurt, because there’s a wealth of resources for it.

Other sources of info popped up in the most unlikely places. My local library proved to be a treasure store of good data. Talking with the reference librarians led me to files of newspaper clippings of local railroad events, such as the last day of steam operations, when this train stopped running and so on. Old city directories helped me establish the names and dates of businesses that were operating along the tracks. By comparing directories from different years, I learned when a specific business closed, changed names or relocated. This told me which businesses would be operating in the era I considered modeling. Further research on a specific company helped me understand their operations, traffic base and whether they were a railroad customer or not. The library also had Sanborn maps of the relevant areas for different years. These allowed me to track changes, although the track arrangements were a bit sketchy. I was even able to determine the weather for the month and year of the era I chose to model by looking through the newspaper archives on micro film. All-in-all, neat stuff!

Then it started to get good.

The County Surveyor’s office produced copies of track charts featuring a lifetime of information that would warm the heart of any railroad specific modeler.

These two photos show the trackage on the west end near the old passenger station as I remember it from long ago. Although a bit wrinkled from storage, you can make out the details. The depot is still there, along with an old steel water tower used to service engines during station stops. This saved cutting off and running east to the yard to top off the tenders. Stand pipes, and later fuel racks for diesels, were located at both ends of the main platforms.

PRR Pass. Station trackage, RIchmond IN

PRR Station trackage, RIchmond IN close-up

In addition to these goodies, the City Engineer’s office had a large scale blueprint showing the roundhouse, engine facilities and car repair shops; plus the track arrangement, building outlines, their locations and more data than you could absorb in one sitting. You could build a unique and fine layout based on this single document. The railroad had to submit such documents to the city for planning purposes. They had a copy made for me on the spot.

Engine terminal, Glen Yard, Richmond IN

PRR Engine Terminal, Richmond IN

All of this was the tip of the iceberg. Ongoing research turned up train schedules, timetables, rule books covering local operating practices, interviews with former railroad employees and on it went. A side trip to the state library at Indianapolis produced all the local valuation records from the USRA takeover period thanks to the kind assistance of the research librarian. (Note, I made an appointment with a request for this information.) Over time, I learned more about my hometown than I ever thought possible. At the time I wasn’t familiar with the resources at the Natural Archives. I’m certain there’s gold in those stacks.

Ultimately, the plan for what would have been a complex, club-sized HO model railroad was put aside. I like to model solo and I thankfully (and quickly) realized the scope of such a project would be overwhelming for one person. I knew I would never finish this monster. All wasn’t lost, however. The exercise taught me basic research skills and deepened a desire to do faithful modeling based on facts instead of made up fiction. Who knows? Eventually maybe a book of some kind might come from it all.

Sources of valuable modeling information are all around us; we just have to be persistent in tracking them down. I have to think that similar resources are available in most medium sized towns and cities. Richmond has a deep sense of its history and happens to be the county seat, which likely helped in my case. If you’re close to your county seat or government center, it’s worth a look if you’re modeling a local railroad. The satisfaction gained from more accurate modeling is worth the effort. You could say:

For more realistic trains, engage your brains.





  1. Dunks

    For more realistic trains, engage your brains.
    And an airline ticket!

    Sadly a lot of this information is unlikely to be scanned, digitised and loaded onto the web: it’s a lot of effort for possibly just one or two people. Even then, accessibility is largely determined by the catalogue format, deign, and content.


  2. mike

    Hi Simon,

    In the situation I outlined in my post, I was researching the town I live in, so finding these goodies was fairly easy. Had I been looking farther afield, the outcomes might have been very different. Finding the time, people and monies to preserve such things is always a challenge for small privately owned entities. Much has been lost and much sits buried in moldering piles of “old stuff” no one knows what to do with. As we all know, it’s a role of the dice every time.


  3. edward

    Mike I collect anything that deals with the Richmond roundhouse and I saw your blueprints on line and needing some information on some of the buildings ive been into railroading since kindergarden I know it would be impossible to get a copy due to how old it is but if I can get a copy or information as for as the buildings would be helpful

  4. mike

    Hi Edward,
    Welcome to the blog.

    I’m not certain I can provide anything that you likely don’t already know. As for copies of the documents, try asking at the City Engineers office for any information and plans they may have on the old yards. That’ show I found the plan of the engine terminal. Also check the Surveyors office in the Annex building. That’s where I found many track charts from the 1903 reconfiguration after the PRR consolidated all the lines through this area.

    I didn’t have to pay anything for my copies but that was nearly two decades ago. Policy may have changed since then, so I’d be prepared to pay a modest fee if needed. Good luck! I also ask that people sign their posts as a courtesy to everyone.


  5. edward

    me what I am looking for I do have but the copys I have shows the roundhouse and the coaling docks and it says what they are what I am trying to find out is behind the roundhouse on a siding are 2 or 3 other buildings my copy don’t say what these buildings are didn’t know if your blueprints say what they are I got the plains at the annex building but tried the city building and they told me someone came in and bought the planes the track that goes around the roundhouse leads to a siding with it looks like 4 tracks then out to the yard I have asked around and have got some answers but no one know anything about the buildings even went to the Richmond railroad socity and ran into a dead end I live in Richmond didn’t know if it would be possible to stop by some weekend to see the blueprint