An overview of Gifford City, a major urban and industrial area
on the Tech Nickel Plate (a pun on "Technical" and
the old Nickel Plate Road ). Many buildings were saved from
the old layout in Building 20. Gifford City is loosely based
on scenes in the greater Boston area. 105th Street Station can
be seen at lower left. The Coca-Bubblie building is at lower
right. Some building walls are secured using magnets, for easy
access to building interiors.
||A view from the Tower, overlooking Gifford
City and MIT alum Andy Miller (looking up). Engine terminal
is seen at lower left. Tower FY is just out of sight at right.
The Masonite pieces are a model for a rolling-lift bridge planned
for this site, currently in the design phases.
| Gifford City passenger station, mostly
scratchbuilt by Andy Miller. A stiff wind has blown over many
of the local citizens, and cars struggle to stay on the road!
The heroic war figure statue is none other than General Lee!
Notice the TNP E-unit idling below.
|| A platform level view of the Gifford
City station. The TNP's crack streamliner The Aaron Burr waits
patiently on one of the terminal tracks. Platforms will see
the addition of canopies in the near future. John Purbrick is
adding functional dwarf signals to the station tracks.
|| This was the first example of a MIRTA
train I saw on the layout. It was never quite explained to me,
except that the transit and commuter items are the work of a
single member who enjoys painting models for this fictional
authority. MIRTA's paint scheme looks loosely based on the MBTA,
Boston's transit and commuter carrier.
|| With Gifford City Station to our back,
we look up the mainline to see the large Railway Express Agency
building on the left. TMRC has done some very nice things with
multi-story buildings, having structures go above and below
street level. Notice the graceful handlaid turnouts!
|| This view looks back towards the REA
warehouse. Andy Miller scratchbuilt this interesting truss bridge-
perhaps you noticed that one side is longer than the other?
Notice the modeled expansion joint towards the left of the bridge.
Yes. That's a zipper. Pretty clever, huh?
|| If you were driving your HO scale big
rig over one of Andy Miller's bridges, this is what you would
see (notice the zipper expansion joint) The lines were created
by painting the road surface yellow, then masking off the lines
with 1/64" chart tape. The road was then painted black,
and the tape removed, exposing the yellow stripes beneath.
||A nifty MIRTA trolley car crosses an
equally nifty Miller-built bridge. The prototype for this bridge
was torn down shortly after Andy took his research photos! You'll
notice trolley tracks all over the city- most of them are dummy
tracks, but I was told at least one line will be powered with
|| The author stands next to a famous piece
of R&IT/RITMRC propaganda. There were a few other pieces
of RITMRC paraphernalia present, we promised to supply more
in the future!
||James demonstrates the home-brew software
that is used to run the layout. The software allows you to select
a train, set its route, and allow it to be run automatically.
In essence, they have created a system of Automatic Block Control,
along with Automatic Train Stop. If a train enters a block that
it is already occupied (equivalent to passing a red signal),
then that train is stopped. When the block ahead is clear, the
train is allowed to proceed. This software also allows you to
scroll to any area of the layout, and to throw switches by simply
clicking on them! This laptop is assigned to this staging yard,
but can control any portion of the railroad.
|| Another laptop control at Gifford City,
hidden by the REA building. Notice the rapid transit subway
station below? More on that in a moment. The REA building can
be updated to be an Amtrak Express warehouse- the sign is applied
to a piece of tin can, and a magnet inside the building holds
it in place. Depending on the era, the sign can be reversed
to represent the current tenant.
|| A trolley subway station, located below
the REA building area. Looks like it is based on MBTA's Green
Line subway. A very simple, but effective set-up: the walls
are made from tile-textured styrene, and the beams are pieces
of Plastruct channel.
||Tower FY, made from an Ertl plastic kit.
Yes, the signal bridge is equipped with working signals. The
plywood area to the left is to be a river crossing, complete
with working lift bridges. Notice the industrial siding that
is buried in the pavement. Paved areas on the layout are created
by using a special mix of plaster and carbon black. This way,
if the road surface gets chipped, no one will notice, since
the plaster itself is colored.
|| Over in the Gifford City engine terminal,
we see a MIRTA RDC and a Conrail switcher resting between runs.
||Andy Miller demonstrates the elegant
turntable control. "First, you turn the time circuits 'on.'"
Actually, all you do is punch up the number of the track you
want to line up with, and the motor does the rest!
|| The old master panel and clock from
the previous layout. Lights would indicate block occupation.
I don't think the track plan refers to the current layout, but
the clock is still used and maintains correct time. This clock
can also run "fast-time" for regular operating sessions.
I assume the numbers correspond to switch locations. Notice
the mirror that allows operators an unrestricted view of Gifford
City trackage. Also notice the directional track lighting.
|| A busy industrial area near Gifford
City and 105th Street station. The Bassex House was created
by kitbashing two Bachmann Ambassador Hotels together.
|| 105th Street station, and a bridge that
was NOT scratchbuilt by Andy Miller, but by a recent MIT graduate.
The tracks in the foreground are the mainline, while the freight
runner is off to the right. Notice the different bridges, and
|| Reverse engineering from extraterrestrial
technology? James examines the dimensions of an NCE ProCab to
see if they can adapt if for their own system.
|| No magic under here, it looks just like
layout. Tortoise machines drive the turnouts. The only difference
is that the Tortoise machines are hooked into "switch cards"
that provide the electronic interface with System 3.
|| Peeking into the tower. The tower is
not used much anymore, since the railroad is designed for walkaround
control. Today, the tower is used more by visitors. However,
I assume that trains can be controlled from this station. Notice
the presence of the slave clock built into the desktop.
|| The author standing at the entrance
to TMRC. The folks at MIT were very gracious to us, and expressed
a true enthusiasm for the hobby and for their work. We hope
they come to visit Rochester some time!
By Otto M. Vondrak/Photos
by the author
Quick- what is MIT's mascot? You'll never guess it's the beaver.
In many ways, the beaver is like an MIT student- a hard working
engineer that does most of its best work at night, and is often
made fun of by the other animals because of its appearance.
While visiting Boston on December 21 to document the PCC trolleys
run by MBTA, my friend Josh Weis and I paid a visit to the Tech
Model Railroad Club at MIT. I had been in e-mail contact with many
of their members over the years, and I met several of them that
night. MIT alum Andy Miller was our host for most of the evening;
I also had the chance to meet Joseph Onorato, and John Purbrick
(also alumni). I also met two recent grads, who asked only to be
identified as"Ed" and "James," no doubt to protect
the innocent. Little did they know that I was sent to spy on them
and report on the progress of their HO scale Tech Nickel Plate.
We had heard that there was a collegiate group of model rails in
Cambridge, but no direct contact had been made in years. My commanders
in Rochester were afraid that the techies in Cambridge were developing
some sort of Inter-Collegiate Ballistic Boxcar or something. I was
sent out to do some reconnaissance and report back to RIT; to evaluate
the possible threat, and outright steal some of their best ideas
The TMRC can trace its roots back to 1946. As expected, the club's
main focus has always been the development of home-built control
solutions, using the skills they were learning at school. The club
has managed to build two very complex automatic block control systems
(called System 1 and System 2, respectively) based on telephone
relay hooked up to an early Digital PDP-11 computer. Only last year
did they cut in the successor System 3, which employs today's microchips
and software technology.
This is not to say that their modeling suffers at the expense of
electronic functionality. All track is handlaid, except for temporary
or hidden connections where flex is used. Most structures on the
layout are kitbashed or scratchbuilt. Carefully built models of
common bridges and crossings seem to be present everywhere. As the
original TNP was borne out of a time where puns were a popular form
of humor, there are many interesting names on the layout. Want to
go shopping at the Caveat Emptor Department Store? Maybe you just
need to stop quickly at Fiefeinger's Discount? All that running
around must have made you thirsty, here, let's stop for a cool Coca-Bubblie.
Clever puns and a special slang lingo have been a long-standing
tradition at TMRC, which is considered by many to the birthplace
of "hacking" (not the destructive intrusion of computers,
but a quick, inelegant solution to a problem).
I arranged for a meeting over the phone, introducing myself as
a fellow collegiate model railroader. Everyone I met down at the
club was very gracious, and spent many hours with us explaining
what they were working on, sharing techniques, and discussing model
railroading in general. They were also curious about our progress
in Rochester, and had admitted that they had not seen our web site
in quiet some time. I walked them through some of our site, and
showed them some of our key accomplishments. They were equally impressed
with the guiding principles of the R&IT concept, as well as
our general layout design for operation.
Presented here are some images I captured while visiting. The TNP
is based loosely on the Boston area and Eastern railroading in general.
No specific prototype is followed. While only some scenery is complete,
they have a functional mainline, and are coming closer to completing
the rest or the layout every day. In the works are plans for a helix
to allow running to a second level, and an additional yard.