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John Russell’s Rock Island Line in O Scale

On the west end of Eldon Yard, an 0-6-0 takes a break from switching cars while 4-8-2 departs with a westbound freight train. Note how the scenery extends down to where most layouts have facia.

John Russell’s Rock Island Line in O Scale

March 2020By Dan Munson/photos by the author

John Russell is a retired railroader, and like all good railroaders he has some great stories and some bragging rights. Back in August of 1964, John tried to hire out with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy in St. Louis. He talked with the Superintendent, a Mr. Stevenson, about a job. Stevenson was very nice, but told him he didn’t have any openings and word from the top was not to hire because of the looming Burlington Northern merger. While they were talking, the roundhouse clerk overheard the conversation and interjected that they needed someone to cover his vacation. John was hired on the spot.

At the end of the vacation period, Stevenson told John that morning it would be his last day.By that afternoon Stevenson had found another job for him. This went on for almost a year, and John worked a variety of jobs including clerical and laborer, mostly around the roundhouse.

When there were no more jobs left for John to fill at the Burlington, Stevenson found him a job on the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, otherwise known as “The Katy.” He told John to head over to the yard office, as they had a job for him as a switchman. John went by, filled out paperwork, and was hired.

John Russell's Rock Island

Rock Island FA1 149 leads a westbound train over a river at Windsor, Missouri. This whole scene is a lift-out section to access the railroad! It is nearly impossible to tell that this is a lift-out section when it is in place. The precise engineering work and the level of detailed scenery is incredible.

On his way home, he was heading down Carrie Avenue and made a wrong turn. He pulled into a parking lot to get turned around. While he was turning around, he was approached by a gentleman in the parking lot. They started talking, and John explained that he had just hired out with the Katy. He told John he didn’t want to work for the Katy, “You need to work here for the Rock Island.” You see, John had pulled into the Carrie Avenue Yard parking lot to turn around, and the man was the paymaster for the Rock Island. John hired out with the Rock Island that day, April 28, 1965.

John proceeded to work the rest of his career on the same piece of railroad. After the Rock Island declared bankruptcy and shut down in 1980, the line between St. Louis and Kansas City was acquired by the Cotton Belt (a Southern Pacific subsidiary officially known as St. Louis Southwestern). He hired on with Rock Island and retired from successor Union Pacific on April 10, 2006, with 42 years of service. Not many Rock Island employees can boast working the same stretch of track for their entire career!

John Russell's Rock Island

Rock Island’s Carrie Avenue Yard is a busy place today: teams of carmen are cleaning and maintaining cabooses, while a crossing flagman is protecting vehicle traffic from a set of light EMD covered wagons slowly moving behind the cut of cabooses.

John models the Rock Island route from St. Louis, Mo., west to Eldon, Mo., and onto Raytown, just outside of Kansas City. This was the same territory he worked as a trainman for more than 40 years.

This O scale version of the Rock Island represents operations between 1948 to 1952 during the steam-to-diesel transition era. The railroad fills up a 65-by-35-foot basement. Construction began in March of 2000. The layout is designed as a simple folded dogbone that allows for continuous running…

March 2020Read the rest of this article in the March 2020 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman!

This article was posted on: February 24, 2020