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Modeling the Rock Island Railroad

Five Rock Island GP35 locomotives pass over Battle Creek bridge near Dayton's Bluff, MN on Mike's Rock Island model railroad.

I recently had the opportunity to visit my friend Mike who models the Rock Island Railroad in the 1960’s. His layout is extremely well designed, prototypical, and meticulously executed. Mike specifically designed a 30’X 40’ room for his layout when his house was built. The layout features a double decked plan, two large yards, a hidden staging yard and includes an option for continuous running. The layout also contains two helixes to traverse from the upper level to the lower level. While viewing and operating on his layout several things stood out to me.

The yard on the upper level is Inver Grove Yard in St. Paul, MN and the lower yard is Armourdale Yard in Kansas City, KS.

The layout room is neat and clean with no storage under the layout, all storage was located in the hidden staging room. The lighting in the room was very pleasing and included lighting under the upper deck to illuminate the lower one. The isles were wide and comfortable to operate in without feeling crowded by others in the room. Mike also kept the deck heights at an optimum level and projected the lower deck out slightly from the upper deck to promote better viewing of the lower level. There were no support legs from the bench work to get in the way as he used cantilevered or angled braces from the wall to support the layout. The backdrops were also very nice with hand painted scenery representing the rolling country side of the Midwest.

The layout represents the upper Midwest from St. Paul, MN to Kansas City, KS. The track plan is very prototypical with large areas of beautiful rural scenery. Mike can easily run 30 car trains on his layout with his large sweeping super-elevated curves the trains flow smoothly through the scenery. Various towns along the line are replicated with a few industries for the local crew to switch. In addition, passenger stations in each town were scratch built based on the prototype facility.

All the locomotives are nicely weathered and represent prototypical units on the Rock Island Railroad during the time period modeled. Mike even replicated a unique Rock Island F unit that was damaged in an accident and rebuilt. All rolling stock is weathered and a few standout models of auto racks with a full complement of new vehicles can be seen in his consists.

Unit #18-A is a Milwaukee Road E7 locomotive heading up a detouring Twin Cities Hiawatha passenger train over the Rock Island line.

Mike holds regular operating sessions with a crew of 8 to 10 guests. The crews operate through freights, local switch jobs, and passenger trains. A train traveling over the entire layout at normal track speed can take up to 20 minutes to complete their run, longer if briefly waiting in a siding for other trains to pass.

You can see videos of Mike’s layout on his YouTube channel, RImodeler79. Here is a link to his latest video.

Mike has done an outstanding job with his layout. While not everyone has the space that Mike has to build a layout, modelers can learn a lot from viewing videos of his layout that can be applied to their own model railroad. A prototypical track plan, realistic scenery, smooth flowing track work, and a comfortable layout environment should be standards that all model railroaders strive for on their layout. Mike’s Rock Island Railroad layout is easily in my top five favorite model railroads.

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