Evoking the 1970s with cars and trucks.

Many times I see a great model railroad scene marred by bad vehicles.   Some of us slave over our freight roster only to have the vehicles on our layout sorely detract from them.  Cars and trucks are really worth our close attention as well.  They can make or really break a scene.


Here are a few of my higher quality “foreground” models.  I have rougher vehicles I can park in the background.


This scene would not be nearly as good if I had low-quality models with no rear view mirrors, license plates or wrong era cars.  All of these cars are late-1960s to mid-1970s models which fits my era of mid to late-1970s (1975 and 1979) very well.  I have a dual era layout.  (Those damn yellow dots!  As appropriate, I only put the wheel inspection dots and newer COTS on just one side of my freight cars.)


Your tractors need license plates too.  Don’t want them to get stopped on the road!


Noone can look at my layout and think it is modern.


These cars scream out 1970s!  Which is exactly what I want.


Cars and trucks need to be carefully weathered as well.


I apply a very thin wash of grimy black and roof brown thinned with alcohol with occasional dips of the brush in rust and black powder.


Attention to detail on your cars and trucks will pay off as you photograph your layout.  You want them adding to the scene and era versus being a distraction.



The Golden Era of Railroading

The “new” Golden Era

Many model railroaders today witnessed the late 1960s and 1970s and early 1980s.  Few of us witnessed the steam/diesel transition era. Many of us love to see and hear steam and think it’s awesome, but we didn’t experience that type of railroading in person.

Many of us ran to the track filled with excitement as to what kinds of locomotives, freight cars and cabooses would be on the approaching train. Trains almost always offered a surprise or two–a new road name we had never seen, flat car loads, a few piggybacks in the consist or the caboose of another road tacked on the end.

My beautiful picture

Escondido, CA September 1974–©photo by B. Smith

We are happy to see railroading doing well today and still enjoy seeing a few contemporary trains, but a lot of that magic we knew as a kids is often missing.

A few reasons for a celebration of the 1970s (including the late 1960s and perhaps a little early 1980s)–

  • The wide variety of road names–the Frisco, Rio Grande, Milwaukee, Western Pacific, Chessie, Illinois Central Gulf, Maine Central, Missouri Pacific, Katy, Southern Pacific and Rock island were all still with us. Cars from my beloved Northern Pacific, Great Northern and Burlington still widely roamed the rails. A single train could have 30 different billboard schemes. Railroads cared if the public knew who they were.  Some older schemes still reflected passenger advertisements.



NP 1882 EFCX Tucson 1975 Ricky Relic

NP 1882 EFCX Tucson, AZ 1975  Photographer and location unknown. –©photo C. E. Hunt Collection


  • First generation power from multiple companies–locomotives used to look different. An F unit coupled with a GP-9, GP-20, GP-30 and an RS-11 was not uncommon.  All looked different and some had their own distinctive sound.
  • Cabooses–I have countless memories of not being able to feel closure until I saw the caboose go by, often with a waving occupant. It was so human. I felt a connection somehow.


Near Texarkana, TX August 1978– ©CE Hunt photo


  • Carload traffic–little businesses still got single car shipments. I could see if our feedstore had any boxcars spotted in the back while my mom shopped for tomato plants. A very fond memory is watching two guys unload a couple of 40 foot boxcars with just a dolly of countless bags of Purina chows.  Smaller shippers help our layouts to be more realistic and more interesting to operate.



  • Far more locals operating because of these smaller shippers. That meant more action and a diversity of trains–both long and short.
  • Awesome cars and trucks–there were still a some 1950s and a lot of 1960s cars on the road. Trying to evoke the 1970s through our vehicle selection is powerful.
  • Advertisements of former iconic brands–many brands have disappeared that we can incorporate into our signage and businesses. Names such as Pontiac, Falstaff, Montgomery Wards, American Motors Corporation, A and P Groceries, Pacific Intermountain Express, Pacific Fruit Express and other regional brands that have disappeared don’t have to disappear from our layouts. Though not gone yet, brands like Sears played a huge role in many of our lives. Sears had a warehouse that received rail shipments near my house.

These are just a few railroad highlights.

I like to think in terms of the entire 1970s aesthetic. Some non-rail stuff cool about the 1970s–

There was a lot of great music that many of us still listen to. I listen to some great 1970s tunes at the workbench to help connect with the era.

Classic Rock radio continues to connect new audiences with this epic period in American music. The fashions and architecture were pretty lame for the most part, but television offered some relief. A number of incredible private investigator and police series were brought to the TV screen, such as Columbo, Kojak, McCloud as well as my personal favorites–Rockford Files and Mannix.

Lastly, the sports scene was less mercenary and teams seldom moved. Ball players stayed with teams a lot longer and the Baltimore Colts, Saint Louis Cardinals, Houston Oilers (my old favorite) and the LA Rams (now back) would never have even thought of moving over a stadium dispute. I miss that NFL.

Enough on this for now–Enjoy modeling the Golden Era!


Note:  If you like this post, consider joining the Facebook Group – Railroad Modeling the 1970s at:



The Limpia Canyon Northern RR, part V (Magdalena)

By B. Smith
Magdalena is located in the opposite end of the house from Pecos.  Built along two 12 ft walls, it has a rail yard along one wall and an industrial district along the other.
LCN Map with Logo Magdalena
In the photo below we see the track curving from the yard portion, past the engine house, across the removable section that allows access to the closet, and around the removable curve section to the industrial area.  The track leading to San Angelo can be seen passing through the tunnel in the wall on the very right.  The tunnel is disguised as a highway overpass.
Here is an overview of the yard section.
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And facing the other way the engine house.  More about the yard operations can be found on the September 8 and 16, 2017 postings on this blog.
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This is the industrial area with the elevator down at the end of the track.  Unit grain trains of seven cars are loaded with wheat at the elevator, about one train a week. D&RGW orange covered hoppers are the predominant empties, here we see four empties on the right most track, two loaded cars on the next track, and one car with the elevator engine being loaded at the elevator.  The two GE locomotives have backed into the printing company spur to pick up an empty hi-cube BN box that has just delivered a load of paper.  A feed mill is on the very left that loads SP and SSW covered hoppers via the overhead pipe.  Those cars are moved during loading by a winch-pulley seen on the ground.
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Two other rail served businesses are located in the industrial area, a beer distributor and a grocery distributor.
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A couple of employees at the beer distributor wave to the switch engine from their lunch area.
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A loaded grain train backs out of the Magdalena industrial area.
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After clearing the mainline switch, the engine and seven cars proceed through the highway overpass, through San Angelo, and on to the Great Hall.
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The elevator engine and seven empties crossing the Great Hall on the return trip to Magdalena.
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Here the unit grain train backs empties into the Magdalena industrial area.  The conductor rides the point.
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The empties for the elevator are set out here.  Seven cars just fit on this track and still allow the elevator engine to run to the other end to begin loading them.  See the September 3, 2017 post, Bumper Crop on the LCN, for more details on the loading process.
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That concludes the LCN series.  Hope you enjoyed our trip to 1990 (and the 1960s/70s)!
Editor’s note:  I have had the privilege of operating this layout numerous times.  It is a joy to operate. You can tell that B. Smith has logged many an hour as part of a real train crew, including many years as an engineer.  If you ever get a chance to operate with a real railroader, I highly recommend it.  You will learn a great deal.  From brake tests, to closing angle cocks, to setting brakes, to picking up crew members, its a lot of work to railroading.  Operating your layout with a consideration of these tasks, will make your operations a lot richer and more realistic as well as making your layout seem a lot larger.
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The Limpia Canyon Northern RR, part IV (San Angelo)

Across the Great Hall and tunneling into what used to be my daughter’s room (she says she left home because of all the train noise in her room) is the town of San Angelo, which has some similarity to the real town of San Angelo in West Texas.

LCN San Angelo correct

Located in the real town of San Angelo is Hischfeld Steel, served by the Texas Pacifico Railroad who I was employed by.  Steel plate is delivered to the end of a very long building where large steel structures are welded together. Steel beams are unloaded from gons and bulkhead flats further down under the white overhead crane supports seen in the distance.  All rail shipments are inbound, the finished structures are trucked out.


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On the LCN it is Hoof Steel and Fabrication that receives steel plate and beams by rail. Unlike Hirschfeld Steel, Hoof Steel also ships out its products by rail, steel structural shapes in 60 ft gons and large tanks on 90 ft flat cars.

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Steel coils also come in by rail.  This is the steel coil unloading overhead crane.

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Here we see where the steel plate and beams are unloaded.

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Steel pipe is unloaded here by a tracked crane with a vacuum attachment.

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Hoof Steel and Fabrication is a busy industry.  Rail cars are often moved around with their tractor.

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Occasionally high side gons are loaded with scrap steel here at the end of track where these 90 ft flats sit after their loads of steel plate were unloaded and they were shoved here by the tractor so a gon could be loaded at the fabrication building.

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Hoof Steel has their own “triple ace” covered gon for material that needs to be protected from the weather.

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Also located in San Angelo is San Angelo Appliance and Furniture.  It distributes appliances and furniture in the West Texas area.  Good deals can be had if you purchase directly from the warehouse here.
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The third industry served by the LCN in San Angelo is American Recycling that receives baled cardboard in 60 ft box cars, seen below on the very left.  The baled cardboard is shredded and used as packing filler.  In the real life San Angelo, Butt’s Recycling shipped baled cardboard to Mexico in 60 ft flat cars.  By having an industry that receives shipments from all over the country the LCN sees a variety of road names on the box cars.  The Butt’s cars were all SP and SSW box cars coming through the SP interchange in Alpine, TX.
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Here is an overview of the LCN’s San Angelo.
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Next time we visit the big city of Magdalena.
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