Inspired by a post on Jack Hill’s blog, Chris Mears wrote a lovely post of his own about the Manheim Industrial Railroad, a shortline that serves a single LPG customer in Manheim PA.

At less than two miles in length with only a single turnout, such micro operations are often of little interest to a majority of modelers, though Chris and Jack among others make their enthusiasm for such lines clear.

While I can only speak from my own experience, such simple operations are a place where time is collected. There is time and opportunity to appreciate the slow and steady motion of a train. We understand these machines are massive things weighing many tons each. As such, we take note of all the unhurried moves a switchman makes to unlock a turnout, throw the points and secure things before the next move.

There is time to be deliberate in studying the track and environment and learn to appreciate that the railroad is part of the landscape, not removed from it.

This is railroading in its most basic form: serving the needs of a customer and a community at once.

Tracing the line via Google Earth photos, I’m struck by how similar it is to my own Mill Road cameo. This confirms for me that I’m on a solid path with the layout, one that is rooted in reality, rather than fantasy.

Thank you Chris for your enthusiasm and for sharing it with us.


Jack Hill’s original post
More Manheim Because It’s May Prince Street Blog


  1. Chris Mears

    Thank you for the mention. I appreciate that and, always, your consideration. Playing off your ideas, I like the thoughts they inspire:

    A prototype like this is made beautiful by the way it wears its purpose on its skin. At times in my life I have used fuels like what this railroad carries to warm my family or feed it. There’s a connection through the media of its existence.

    “Where time is collected” is a fascinating thing we should talk about more. The maker might express the value of their work as being the product of hands who have practiced that craft for years. As patrons of that work, we admire the consequential dedication of one’s life during that same time. A few years ago I noticed I just wasn’t reading as many books as I used to and it bothered me. When I started to read books again, really read, I had to relearn that skill. I had to learn to slow down and make room for that book’s message to catalyze with my attention. Can we apply that same lesson to how we live with our model railroads? To not make it a demand on the model railroad it always surprise and entertain us but instead be a place where time and experience are collected?

    As a railfan, when I’m trackside, it’s not always possible to know the railroad from what I observe. As more of a real railroad’s documentation moves to web-based activities and away from hard copy resources like paper employee timetables or switchlists the void between our respective sides of the fence widens and our relationship grows more distant. Those resources are like educational tools guiding me toward appreciating the nuanced movements of the railroad at work. Appreciating what I see is a way of tempering the experience and reinforcing that relationship. I can see why Ferrellgas use a railroad like Manheim. It’s obvious. Equally, as a subject for my model railroad I find that appealing. I’d like to have a conversation about how I’m modelling the details and the decisions I made but the baseline of what the real railroad does, as I model it, doesn’t requite the viewer to be fluent in train language to relate to it: “Oh, that’s propane.” and “Oh, we have to figure out how to get that car into place so they can unload it.”

    I enjoy the way your comments inspired some thoughts and while working them out in the text above I felt additional responses welling up in me. That, a prototype like Manheim is not a small railroad, a prototype you can model, but instead representative of what the Craftsman would attempt to render in clear oak they are representing on a mile and a bit of railroad track and tank cars. We’ve talked about the craft of making models and how craft is not a term for precision so much as it is a way of thinking. Is Manheim prototype railroading that is itself Craft?


  2. mike

    My apologies Chris for not responding sooner than this.

    Is Manheim prototype railroading that is itself Craft?

    That is an interesting question that I’m probably going to answer poorly.

    It’s my belief that the generic hobby has become so focused on mammoth layouts, operating procedures, products and quick techniques that it’s easy to lose sight of a bigger picture around what we’re doing. A railroad like your Manheim and similar operations brings us back to the basics of what a railroad does and why it exists. It’s easy to think that more is always better, but is it? That’s a question each person must answer. You and I and folks like us see a different kind of beauty and interest in such operations. Could we call this aesthetic a form of craft? Quite possibly. Speaking only for myself, I’m looking to express something that I don’t find in more complex forms of railroad operation. I find the idea of multi-train operation too opaque to understand for my tastes. (I hasten to add that this is only a matter of personal taste. rather than a blanket judgement.)

    I agree with the notion of craft as a mindset as well as a matter of skill. I see craft in Jack Hill’s descriptions of the work involved. I see craft in reducing a prototype down to the essential qualities worth modeling. I see craft in your own descriptions of and ways of approaching the design issues you’ve shared. All too often people fall back on tired formulaic solutions that fall short of capturing the uniqueness of these smaller examples. Craft to me, means taking the time and care to look beneath the surface of a subject and bring out the deeper meaning and connection we find in it.