Like most modelers, John Mueller was bitten by the model railroading bug at an early age. Born and raised on the shores of Lake Michigan in Port Washington, Wisconsin, he was enamored by childhood memories of the Chicago & North Western. Like most kids of the era, he and his friends would chase trains through town and would watch the yellow and green “400” streamliners arrive at the depot.
John was introduced to model railroading in the 1960s when he received a Fleischmann train set from his father at Christmas when he was just 10 years old. He also recalls his brother’s O scale train set up to run around the Christmas tree each year. John had also previously built a layout on three sheets of 4×8 plywood when he was still living in Port Washington. As he recalls, it had no rhyme or reason, and might not stand up to his current efforts, but it set the foundation for his future in the hobby.
An A-B set of F7s are in charge of a loaded pulpwod train as it passes Mueller Wood Products near Turtle River.
His family would often take vacations up to northern Wisconsin in the 1960s and 1970s, visiting the Rhinelander and Minocqua areas. The C&NW ran through this area on its route north to Ashland, from Antigo, Wis. All of this set the tone for what was to come. While yellow and green flows through his veins, John was born just after the last firebox was dumped and steam locomotives were scrapped.
His parents later purchased a local motel and he found himself living in Rhinelander for a brief time, attending Nicolet College. John quickly fell in love with the area. He took note of the commodities that the C&NW hauled through the area, particularly wood products and pulpwood. He was smitten with the variety of the equipment and the beauty of the Wisconsin northwoods country. Those experiences shaped his modeling choices in the present day.
C&NW 3025 is pulling a westbound freight into Iron Point as it passes the depot. This train is bound for Oreland.
John models the Chicago & North Western in HO scale, loosely based on the route between Antigo and Ashland, Wis. The layout is set in 1953 because John loved the types of rolling stock that were running at that time and the fact that steam was still in service on this particular line. The scenes are freelanced, freeing him from the constraints of following the exact prototype locations. The layout captures the flavor of the area and his favorite railroad with a purposeful blend of fiction, fantasy, and reality all rolled into one. With the wink of an eye and a well-placed chuckle, he whispered that he changed the names to protect the innocent. Antigo was changed to “Suretogo,” Three Lakes to “Two Lakes,” Ironwood to “Iron Point,” Rhinelander to “Woodlander,” and Ashland to “Oreland.”
John and his wife Carla moved into their present house in DeForest, Wis., in 1990 and started to build a smaller version of what was to become incorporated into his present layout. The only existing pieces of the original layout still intact are the long sections containing the Uppanort River on one side and the sawmill at Chossek’s Grade directly across the aisle. Chossek’s Grade was named after Walter Chossek, an expert Port Washington modeler and close family friend who took John under his wing as a young boy and showed him how to be a model railroader.
A pair of Geeps leads a westbound reefer train through Woodlander as it crosses over U.S. Route 8 on its way to Oreland, photographed from the roof of the Dari-King.
The original layout also made a loop into what is now his lounge and staging area. This was removed early on to make a playroom for his daughter, Angelica. After sitting dormant for a couple of years while he was deciding what to do next, he learned the National Model Railroad Association was going to have their national convention in nearby Madison, Wisc., in 1997. He reorganized the layout and had it completed in time to be on the layout tours.
In 2005, John put an addition on his house, which provided more basement space to expand his layout. Although the layout was nearly 100% complete, if John had any “druthers,” it would’ve been that he didn’t have any staging. Operationally speaking, he didn’t have any place for his trains to travel from and to. After speaking to a fellow modeler about this, John added a double-ended staging yard in 2015 in his lounge area. The staging represents Oreland on one end and Suretogo on the other…