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Visiting Tom Johnson and his Cass County Railroad


Cass County locomotive 702 prepares to couple up to a covered hopper spotted at Farmer's Grain & Supply on Tom Johnson's new layout.


We’ll wrap up this year with a visit to Tom Johnson and his beautiful Cass County Railroad. Tom is a master of scenery for model railroads and his backdrop to 3D scenery transitions are legendary. Tom’s years as an art teacher can be seen with his scene composition and attention to detail.

Tom recently moved to Florida and dismantled his Logansport and Indiana Northern Railroad (L&IN), featured in Great Model Railroads 2008. When Tom moved to Florida he wanted to start off with a clean palette and build a new layout from scratch. Not to worry that Tom’s previous work went to waste, the L&IN lives on incorporated into a friend’s layout.

Moving to Florida had one disadvantage, the lack of a basement for a model railroad. Tom decided that a spare bedroom, 11’X10’, would be adequate to meet his needs for a small switching layout focused on one town. Tom enjoys the freedom of a prototype freelance theme that allows him the artistic creativity he desires. The Cass County Railroad Tom developed is based on a short line that operates on former Conrail trackage in Cass County, Indiana.



The layout is a shelf style that is U shaped, leaving the center open for easy access. A workbench and car storage are located below the layout. You can see more about Tom’s layout and his track plan in the Model Railroad Hobbyist website layout journals page;

https://forum.mrhmag.com/post/tom-johnsons-cass-county-railroad-12403512

In addition, you can read and see more about Tom’s Cass County layout in the October 2022 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.


Tom is modeling the fall season in September, 1978. This includes numerous handmade trees by MBR from Poland (available from Scenic Express, and Bentink Modelsppor in the Netherlands). While the trees may be a bit expensive, they really help set the scene on Tom’s layout. Tom uses the trees in the foreground to emphasize their height and prototypical size in relation to the structures and trains.



You could look at Tom’s layout for hours and still not see all the details. As an example, his Gene's Grocery in the above photo has scratch built ceiling fans, pop machines, empty crates, and other details too numerous to list. The roads blend seamlessly into the photo backdrop and the weathering on all the structures is perfect.

The crew has pulled two covered hoppers from the Farm Bureau Co-Op and one CN covered hopper from the Farm Bureau Fertilizer siding.


Operations on the layout are fairly simple with only four main industries to serve. An interchange track at the top of the U is the inbound and outbound connection for the freight cars. Depending on the work for the day, crews start out at the engine storage track picking up their locomotive, and work the adjacent industries pulling and re-spotting cars as necessary. When their work is completed they conduct a shove move to the interchange track. The crew then works the other industries on the right side of the layout. If there are inbound cars, they are picked up and spotted at the industries prior to calling it a day. Tom uses a ProtoThrottle which gives the crew a very realistic control of their train and slows down the operations. Taking time to follow prototype rules and procedures also helps slow down the operations and adds time to the ops session. The day I operated, Tom worked as conductor, while I ran the locomotive. The work involved pulling four cars from various industry locations and re-spotting a couple of cars, no inbound cars were scheduled to be delivered. It was a very enjoyable hour of operations and the layout performed flawlessly.

Tom Johnson may be "laid back" like his shirt says, but he certainly is not lounging around while building his layout in the past few years.

I really enjoyed meeting Tom in person, seeing his amazing layout, and getting to operate on it. His layout lived up to and exceeded my expectations. Tom is a true artist and makes his layout come to life with incredible attention to detail. You can just imagine shrinking yourself down to 1:87 scale and watching to the local crew work the line while breathing in the crisp fall air and hanging out at the county store drinking a pop. I had a great time visiting Tom and hope to be back soon to see what else he has incorporated into his layout, and do a little work switching the Cass County Railroad line.

Until next time stay safe and keep model railroading.

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