The 1990s in eastern Michigan wasn’t the best of times for railroads and railfans in this area. The loss of many large manufacturing plants and other businesses over several decades told a dark future for railroads of the region. Many branch and secondary lines did not survive this downturn in business. Conrail, CSX, and Grand Trunk Western soldiered on, but at reduced volumes from years past. A young railfan and modeler watched these changes from trackside, hoping for a brighter future for the railroads of Michigan. Armed with a passion for a thriving Michigan regional railroad and strong influence of other great proto-freelanced model railroads, Greg McComas created the Michigan Interstate (MCIS).
Growing up, Greg was reading stories about model railroads like Eric Brooman’s Utah Belt and Jim Hediger’s Ohio Southern. All these great proto-freelanced railroads had an influence on Greg, to inspire him to create his own. It didn’t hurt that the Ohio Southern was in a region just south of Greg’s old “neighborhood,” and provided a template for prototype operations. The Utah Belt inspired a deep appreciation for developing a realistic and plausible roster, and updating not only paint schemes, but types of locomotives.
ABOVE: Eastbound Amtrak Train 372, the Northern Arrow, makes its stop at Bay City before continuing west to Mount Pleasant and Mackinac City.
Greg is a lifelong model railroader and railfan with a passion for operations. This comes through when you talk with him about his job as a senior manager of freight equipment for a Class I railroad. Greg’s trackside experiences in eastern Michigan, observing local railroads serve their customers, gave him valuable information on the types of cars they used, as well as the specific commodities being shipped.
The Michigan Interstate Railroad (MCIS) is a proto-freelanced railroaad representing a regional carrier, having trackage in eastern Michigan from the Ohio border to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Greg models the St. Clair Subdivision of the Bay City Division, which represents the main line from Port Huron to Bay City’s Fogelsinger Yard. The yard is named for Greg’s friend Fred Fogelsinger (who passed away in 2020) who painted most of the MCIS fleet.
ABOVE: Manifest freight M-PHBA-23 led by a pair of SD40-2s charges through the superelevated curve at Grays Lake heading west toward Bay City.
Greg began building the layout in 2009 in his home office. He began construction with his father until he had to move away for a new job (Greg’s dad is also a railroader). They started by putting up Masonite for a backdrop around the walls, and then placed shelving brackets to support the subroadbed. Greg used both plywood and 2’ foam insulation for subroadbed. He has been particularly happy with the foam and how easy it is to work with, especially when it comes to creating scenery. Greg used an Ashlin Designs 23” radius helix kit (sometimes found at train shows or on Ebay) to get MCIS trains between the levels on his railroad.
Cork roadbed was laid on top of the foam to support the track. Most of the main line has concrete ties representing a heavily trafficked route, and the yard and secondary tracks are all wood ties, using Atlas Code 83 track. The turnouts are a mix of Walthers, Peco, and Atlas. He used Harley & Sons ballast from Ohio, secured with diluted white glue. Almost all the turnouts are manually controlled with Caboose Industries ground throws. All of this helps give the MCIS the feel of a modern, well-maintained regional railroad…