Coolest Stuff I Have Worked With In A While

Electro-Luminescent wire.


I am a little late to the game on this stuff -- apparently hobbyists have been using it for crafting.  For example, who wouldn't want a Tron outfit?

To date, I have mostly sheltered readers from the geekiest of my hobbies: model railroading  (Yeah, I know what you are saying -- how can anyone who spends hours a day at a computer writing on arcane bits of business and economics issues possibly be anything but cool?)  This may soon change, as I am starting a new N-scale layout and I will probably inflict some in-progress photos on you folks.  To get an idea just how crazy I am, I build my own track from wood strips and bundles of rail and tiny, tiny spikes -- so we are not just talking about putting the old Lionel out on a green table cloth.

Anyway, for some time I have wanted to build a layout that is primarily meant to be run in the dark as a night scene.  So I am experimenting with a lot of technologies, from florescent paint to tiny LED's to small bulbs to get ideas for various scenes.  The EL wire turns out to be a dead ringer for scaled down neon, so I expect to use a lot in the city part of the layout.

I will leave you with a photo of the layout that probably inspired more people (including myself) into the hobby than any other  -  by the master, John Allen:


If you get intrigued with his work, more photos are here.

I wish I had more pictures of my old work, but they seem to have been lost in a move.  All I have left is a few poor-quality, poorly-scanned under-construction photos of my first layout from years and years ago.



Postscript: Can a hobby be geeky if Rod Stewart shares it?  He has built an absolutely stunning layout - one photo below and more herestewart-layout

And yes, the work really is his own, he didn't just pay someone to build it for him.


  1. Michael:

    I grew up on a bluff over looking a Norfolk and Western rail yard. That Rod Stewart yard looks realistic. I wonder if he'd fund my Miami Valley spur?

  2. ElamBend:

    Your old stuff looks like my home town.

  3. Ian Random:

    I got a whole closet full of model train stuff that I intend to set-up one of these years.

  4. Hunt Johnsen:

    Ah, the Gorre and Dapheted. My wife and I once had the CS&DB in our front yard (cat scat &dead bird RR).
    I've built a couple of 40'sailboats and commercial fishing boats, but the patience to do this sort of detail work eludes me. I have a bunch of G-guage equipment waiting for a yard big enough for a garden railroad.

  5. Michael:

    I wouldn't consider model railroads geeky. It requires a wide range of skills. From the planning to the mechanical and electrical engineering to the various artistic talents to make it look real. Even as a youth, I laid my own rails. It only gets geeky when you wear the hat.

    Now if you were traveling to Utah to mine copper to smelt and roll in to rails, and the northwest to fell trees to whittle ties, and crush rocks to make ballast, you might have a problem. But any dad hobby your kids love to show off has to be pretty cool.

  6. Mesa Econoguy:

    Rod got a liquor license for the bar next to the L. MacAllister Storage Warehouse. Now that’s attention to detail!

  7. Sol:

    Michael, I think hand-laying N-scale rail is definitely 100% geeky. But it's an awesome kind of geeky, and I would certainly love to see it be a regular subject on this blog.

    I saw an article on the very first Gorre and Daphetid layout a couple of years ago, and it very nearly single-handedly got me back into the hobby...

  8. ScottH:

    If you're going to hand lay track take a look at this:

    Make sure you click on the link to his CNJ Bronx Terminal layout.

  9. Michael:

    I guess I was wrong. I checked Websters. Geek:

    1 : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
    2 : a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
    3 : an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity

    1 and 2 don't fly, but 3 looks like it fits.

  10. Phil in Sonoma:

    In around 1973, making me 16 if that's the correct year, my youthful, ernest letter to John Allen (whose address I obtained from a phonebook at the public library) netted, by return mail, a grudging invitation to Monterey. I went with my father. Walking down the narrow staircase and into that barely describable world unto itself, much of which I had committed to memory through compulsive study of Model Railroader and Railroad Model Craftsman, was tantamount to having an out of body experience, especially when I found myself standing in the canyon where the mountains famously went down to the floor. Mr Allen flipped some switches and one or two trains chugged around while the lights automatically dimmed and brightened over the course of an HO-scaled 24-hour day. The locomotives were so exquisitely detailed you could see illumination from their fireboxes. They moved as if against the real inertia from cast iron, water and coal.

    I also remember how the house --- long since destroyed by fire and replaced --- had a glorious view of Monterey Bay.

    This whole Rod Stewart thing is astounding, by the way --- corroborated in Wikipedia in a paragraph that includes this hilarious line: "..his passion for the hobby has been blamed for contributing to the end of his second marriage."

  11. Dan Maloney:

    Bring it on!!

    I, for one, would love to see your in-progress photos!
    I have an N-Scale project that I've been planning and collecting stuff to build for several years.
    Unfortunately, pro-troop activism took up all of my spare time.
    Still looking for new tips/techniques though to squirrel away for when I finally do have time.

    I hadn't heard about this electro-luminescent wire before, for example, which interests me on several levels, both for modeling and activism. Neon "Hands Off Healthcare" signs and the like would definitely be attention grabbers!


  12. Kyle Bennett:

    Dude, I'm jealous. Back in high school I laid out an N-scale switching yard from .080 nickel-silver rail (didn't have the confidence to use true to scale .055 and file the wheel flanges down...) and individual ties soaked in actual creosote. Made all the turnouts myself, including filing the points. Installed the Kadee couplers.... Then I moved out of my parent's house, and haven't had the time or space since. Every time I see something like this, I so much want to get back to it.

  13. feeblemind:

    Handlaid track is definitely the only way to go. Properly laid it is much more reliable than commercial track. Having said that, I would think hand laying track in N scale would be very challenging. Hand laying code 55 rail is about like trying to lay string, and I shudder to think about building the switches. I always thought N scale was more for the younger guys. At my age, I am having enough trouble seeing the fine detail in HO. Re Rod Stewart: Funny you should mention him. I just inherited my late brother-in-law's railroad magazines and stumbled across that article in an old MR a few weeks ago. I was truly surprised. I never expected him to be a model railroader, especially modeling US prototypes.

  14. feeblemind:

    I forgot to comment on the pics. Your modeling is quite good. Looking forward to seeing pics of your new efforts.

  15. steve-o:

    You are, by far, the most productive person I (feel like I) know.