Model Railroading

Mike Stokinger

Published in San Francisco Chronicle on October 17, 2010

Mike Stokinger A long time railroad buff and friend of many, died Sunday September 26th, he was 56 years old. There will be a gathering of friends to celebrate Mike’s life at the Josephine Randall Museum on Wednesday, October 20 from 6:30 to 9:00 pm.

From the Golden Gate Model Railroad Club blog:

Last week, the Golden Gate Model Railroad Club lost a long time member and friend: Mike Stokinger. Mike was not only an active participant with the GGMRC but also a great person and very much involved with building the organization and ties with the model railroad community and friends of the GGMRC. Help us remember him and his love of model trains by stopping by to see the passion that he lived for.


From The Peter Pan Express in April 1997 Salon

I recall Mike Stokinger, the genial treasurer of the Golden Gate Model Railroad Club, who described his love for trains in such different terms. “There’s something very soothing, very musical about them. When you’re in a train, you’re in a cozy enclosed space, you’ve got movement, this hypnotic hum of sound and it’s almost like being in the womb.”

My memories of Mike

I grew up in Noe Valley in the 1970’s and took classes at the Randall Museum. Open houses at the GGMRC were rare and big events. The line typically ran down Museum Way and the wait seemed like hours. I grew up, moved away, school, etc. but made it back to the Bay Area in 1996 and was a member of the GGMRC for a few years in the late 90′s.

Mike was a great guy. We had him over for dinner one night and he brought over a projector, a screen, and 4-5 slide carousels (several hundred slides) of his recent train trip to Chicago on Amtrak as well as photos from his trip to China. Mike managed to make a three hour slide show very entertaining. Mike was always passionate about passenger trains and I fondly recall his long strings of name-train cars snaking around the layout. I’m very sad and sorry he is gone and agree that he will be missed.

Cross-posted from my Autistry Studios blog.

Switching Track

Ryan is another of our railroad-minded students and he chose to model a railroad yard. We used a classic John Allen Timesaver track plan and we added an Atlas turntable at one end.

We built the layout on a block of pink foam-board and glued 1/4″ plywood on the sides and bottom making a light but extremely rigid foundation.

Switching Track

Ryan soldered all the electrical connections.

Ryan Soldering

Dan Running the Trains

Here the ground has been painted and the track has been airbrushed. Ryan is cleaning the paint off the tops of the rails.

Cleaning the Tracks

The temptation to run some trains as soon as possible was irresistible.

Running the Trains

Ryan and the Layout

Next we ballasted all the track.

Ryan's track

Then we got Ryan started building some structures. He quickly mastered the plastic buildings.

Ryan's building kit

Ryan building some structures for his layout

We have placed the buildings on the layout and we’ll blend the bases into the scenery in the coming weeks.

The turntable

A small place of our own

Ready for some more scenery, grass, trees and trains.

Looking down thw tracks

I prefer to model the 1920′s. I settled on this era in a process I outlined years ago. However, I was not alive in the 1920′s. My parents weren’t either.


My grandmother died over ten years ago and while she was born in the teens she was pretty young in the 20′s. I want to have a body of stories and information about the era so that my model work will reflect the correct “feeling” of that time. Since first-hand information is hard to come by, here are the resources I’m using.


Dasheill Hammet stories are very readable and give some insight into life in the 20′s. A bonus is that many of Hammett’s stories are set in the Bay Area and they imply a seedy grittiness that I want to portray.


Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. A very good recent (2002) survey

Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s. Very interesting, especially when you consider that it was written in 1931!

Local history:

Both Sides of the Track: A Collection of Oral Histories from Belvedere and Tiburon.

A Pictorial History of Belvedere 1890 – 1990 a California Island Town.

Any number of the local Arcadia Publishing books…

In a separate post I’ll discuss what books I use as source material about the local railroads.

MRH Cover

Note: This review is my own opinion, unsolicited, and based purely on my experience as a customer.

I’m generally sad about the state of model railroading magazines. In August of 2006 I started a series of blog posts analyzing what has happened to Model Railroader to make it the raging wad of mediocrity it is today. I grew up loving MR. I have 46 years of MR back-issues in the loft bookcases of my office.

I have 32 years of Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazettes and a few decades of Railroad Model Craftsman. They have ebbed and flowed as well but overall are reading now much as they did many years ago.

I’ve been open to the idea of other model railroading magazines and have subscribed to several. None stood any test of time.

I have something to be happier about.

Joe Fugate and friends started Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine in January of 2009. Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine (hereafter MRH) is published quarterly (bi-monthly in 2010) as a free download in PDF format using many of the rich media extensions available in that format.

I really liked the first issue and I wished them well in the tough world of model railroad publishing but I must admit I said to myself “I bet they threw everything into that first issue and the content will dwindle over the next few issues.”

I got busy with life, work, and other non-modeling pursuits and while I downloaded the 2nd and 3rd issues I did not read them.

This week the 4th quarter issue came out and I started to read it. And read it. And look at it again. It is great. I learned something new, several times. It was fun to read. It is what I think a great model railroading magazine should be.

I double checked by sitting down this morning and reading through all four issues back-to-back. I’m really impressed. I’m really happy I have these issues on my hard drive. It’s exciting to have a new magazine where I’m actually curious what the next issue will bring.

I carefully read Joe’s editorials and articles to see if he actually delineates the secret sauce. In issue #1 he says that it’s the rich media. In another issue he says it’s because he advocates “layout modeling.” I think he’s missed on both. It’s the content. Not only are the articles excellent quality but they have room to breathe. In a medium where megabytes are cheap MRH can allow an article to go long, go deep, have more pictures. Print can’t compete.

MRH Article

I highly recommend Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine.

Go look. It’s free and I feel really confident that you will find it time well spent.

Have you gone yet?

Walt Disney was a model railroader. Indeed, his idea of Disneyland was as a huge walk-in, live-in complete model railroad. Recently the Walt Disney Family Museum opened in San Francisco.


We just went this morning and it is a very nice display of the work and life of Walt Disney.

Photography is prohibited inside but some folks over at Mouse Planet have a great set of pictures and a detailed description.


My rating of the museum? It is a MUST SEE for die hard Disney fans.

For everyone else the quality and richness of the environment and displays is very impressive. If you are an autistic or aspie (and/or have one in your family like we do) bring earplugs because the audio in the displays can be a bit overwhelming otherwise. The price  is appropriate for the quality of the displays ($20 for adults, $12 for kids) but may be too high for some families.

Mike recently commented on Nick’s next railroad and I wanted to respond in detail.

Dan, a couple questions for you. I recently got back into model rr after only doing it as a kid…and those were the days when we’d run them like racecars to see if we could get train cars to tip off the track around corners!


So, I started from scratch and made a L-shape layout in a corner so far. It’s about 6 feet long on one wall and 8 feet on the adjacent wall.

Here’s my question.

I see that you use cork roadbed under your track. But What do you use for scenery ground? What I mean is this: do you glue the scenery to the plywood base, or do you use a styrofoam, or that putty compound?

If you use sytrofoam or something else, does it completely cover the plywood base, or do you use it only to attach certain scenery like a peg board?

Do these make sense? Please help…any helpful hints would be great!!!

I know there are much more complex ways to build layouts but bare plywood is a worthy start and I think it is super important to be able to actually achieve a certain level of “doneness” in the scant time modern life gives us and bare plywood is FAST.

I would use cork under the track. Next I would paint EVERYTHING (except the track!) with a coat of dirt colored paint.

Here’s Nick doing just that with his micro layout.

Nick Paints Dirt

You can see two peanut butter jars full of two different colors of latex house paint. I get these colors by going to my local hardware store and they invariably have a stack of “rejects” where they mixed a can of color and the customer did not like it so they had to do another. They sell these for $5.00 a gallon. I look them over for a nice dirt brown/olive. I’d still buy a can at full price if they don’t have any rejects.

Anyway — paint over the whole layout with the base color so you cannot see any bare wood anymore.

Next I use a brown dirt-colored fine paper mache product mixed with real dirt and white glue to make a “mud” and paint this everywhere too.

To make hills you can build them up out of Styrofoam (very messy) or just use wads of paper and cover them with plaster cloth like Nick is doing here.

plaster cloth

Then paint and mud the hill. Sprinkle real dirt and then glue it down by soaking with white-glue-water mix — with a few drops of Mr. Clean to break the surface tension so it soaks in better.

This makes a great “base” and then you can add rock castings, trees, grass, bushes as you go.

When you gotta go ...

Keep an eye out for our next steps with Nick’s layout: we’re almost ready to build up the terrain.

David Lyman a.k.a. Dan D. Sparks posts a great description of how he makes and applies home-made decals to his Birney car project. Really nice work.

Photo by David Kyman, Dan D. Sparks

Photo by David Lyman, Dan D. Sparks

The Carquinez Model Railroad Society is having its annual December Open House on December 6, 2008. The open house will be 10am to 4pm, December 6, 2008. A donation of $2 per adult, $3 per couple or $5 per family will help them keep moving forward.

The Carquinez Model Railroad Society is located at 645 Loring Ave., Crockett, CA, across from C & H Sugar.

The Carquinez Model Railroad Society’s layout is HO scale, DCC operated, and is inspired by the Southern Pacific line from Oakland to Truckee.

In less than two years the club has completed the bench work for all three levels, installed track, and wired the mainline on the first two levels. We have about 500 feet of double track mainline currently operating. Trains move between the levels via the two large helixes. Work continues adding more track to the second level and planning for the third level.

Also please check out their new web site at:

Thank you,

Greg Ockander

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