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Well-known modeler and author Tony Koester, once an influential editor of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine and then, for approximately the last four decades, a columnist for Model Railroader and an essentially annual author for Kalmbach Books, is a familiar name and face in the hobby. I think, though, that sometimes we may forget the scope of his contributions. I was recently browsing in my shelf of modeling books, and my glance lighted on Tony’s 2010 book for Kalmbach, The Allegheny Midland: lessons learned. The book, of course, is about the layout that Tony built and operated over about a quarter century, before deciding he really wanted to model the Nickel Plate in the Midwest, instead of a Nickel Plate-lookalike in the Appalachians. (The book remains in print, a testimonial to its staying power, almost 12 years after publication. Here’s a link to buy it at $21.95 — you will need to scroll down the page : https://kalmbachhobbystore.com/catalog/books?filters=fad1ce900f1b40479549a4c670bb57de&sort=title_sort%20asc&page=3 .) Isn’t an old layout kind of a dull subject? Wouldn’t we rather read about and learn from the new layout? Well, I guess I would have answered a qualified “yes” to both questions, except then I started browsing in, and then reading closely the Allegheny Midland book. Here’s what I found. Tony goes into considerable detail about the book’s theme, “lessons learned.” He is pretty candid about why design and construction decisions were made, how they were changed over time, and how well they worked out. Some of them he frankly admits were really mistakes (in hindsight). To me, this is fascinating material, of value to anyone about to build (or about to modify!) a layout.The eleven chapters include a wide range of topics. One that is well done but brief, Chapter 8, is about Appalachian scenery. As such, it is a brief prelude to C.J. Riley’s excellent Kalmbach book, Realistic Layouts: Use the Art of Illusion to Model like a Pro (Kalmbach, 2020). But for most of us, the first four chapters, explaining the design process and goals, will be the most interesting.At some points, Tony distills an important principle just described as a “Koester Corollary of Model Railroading,” and they are numbered. But a proofreading blunder left Corollaries 3 and 5 the same (pages 33 asnd 58). I’m sure Tony has heard about that one many, many times. One subject he explores in several chapters is his debt to Allen McClelland’s Virginian and Ohio layout, and part of the concept of the Allegheny Midland was as a connection between the V&O and the Nickel Plate at Dillonvale, Ohio. It’s good to be reminded of all that McClelland accomplished, and how he has influenced layout thinking ever since. A complication in the overall story is the modeling era, which first jumped forward in time, reaching the late 1970s, then back again to the transition era. But this didn’t happen in two or three steps; there were as many as six steps (depending on how you count), giving one a certain feeling of confusion in looking back at layout photos from the various eras. Tony describes how this all came about, much of it caused by availability at different times of good-running model locomotives. He also acknowledges that his 1970s-era paint scheme for the Allegheny Midland, in partnership with McClelland’s Virginian & Ohio and Steve King’s Virginia Midland, was kind of a mistake. First, he wanted a dark red or wine red color, but ended up with New York Central “Pacemaker” red, a rather bright color (below). I never cared for it, either. He also used the Avant Garde typeface for lettering, which never seemed at all “railroady” to me. Eventually, he realized that the “Allegheny Lines” merger of the three model railroads, while fun in some ways, was taking him away from what he really wanted to do: model the transition era. When Key Imports introduced good-running brass NKP steam, he returned to his original era for the layout, 1957. I can tell from how Tony writes about it that this was a “coming home” for his modeling. This photo, at the layout’s Sunrise, Virginia depot, typifies, I think, what he really wanted to do: strong Nickel Plate influence (the AM was connected), but hauling coal. But whatever the back-and-forth on era or layout goals, it is ultimately a fascinating read, showing all the things he ended up liking, as well as what didn’t work, things that were modified or replaced, things he wished he had done. How rare to have this kind of insight and thoughtful reflection on a major layout — in fact, I can’t think of another. So I would urge you to read it if you haven't, and if you did read it years ago, like I did, you just might find that you enjoy it — and learn from it — all over again.Tony Thompson
This article first appeared on modelingthesp.blogspot.com
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