Most people have a hobby that they may spend time on once or twice a week. But for Bruce Elliott, it’s something he works on every single day.
Elliott is the owner and operator of the Piedmont Division of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Green Bank. He has been in the railroad modeling business for more than 63 years, and focused on HO modeling for 55 years, and he plans to continue doing what he loves.
HO or H0 is the most popular scale of model railway in the world. According to the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) standards predominantly used in North America, in HO scale, 3.5 mm (0.1378 in) represents 1 real foot (304.8 mm); this ratio works out to 1:87.0857142, usually rounded to 1:87.1. According to the MOROP standard NEM 010 predominantly used in Europe, the scale is exactly 1:87. In HO, rails are spaced 16.5 mm (0.64961 in) apart which models the standard railroad gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft. 8 1⁄2 in).
Elliott started this project about two years ago, and has made major progress since.
“It’s more than a hobby for me,” Elliott said. “For me, it’s a passion, a lifestyle. I was first interested in HO modeling when I was eight years old. Most kids don’t take such a fascination to one specific thing like that, but I was hooked. I joined the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Historical Society (B&ORRHS) in 1968, and that was one of my best railroad-oriented ideas that I have ever had. It’s because of the members of this group that I became so fascinated with the B&O. They were an amazing wealth of knowledge and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I have been focusing on modeling the B&O for the last forty-one years, and it is truly amazing how much four decades of pictures and knowledge goes into creating the perfect image for my model designs.”
That knowledge shows in his work with the number of details in the buildings, interiors and landscapes. Elliott makes sure that they are as historically correct as possible. The buildings are all handcrafted, some that he made himself entirely from scratch, and some that he built from a kit, and then adding his own special something to it. He even builds his own cars, freight and caboose models from scratch. The only thing he buys are the engines.
“They are the most expensive things you’ll come across in this business,” Elliott said. “My most expensive engine cost me $1,000. But that’s not always the case. One of my best engines is a brass steam locomotive that my father purchased for fifty cents many years ago. To this day, it still runs like a Swiss watch, and it now costs a lot more than fifty cents. Through the years I have worked for many companies building model railroad systems, and the newer systems will run you up to $75,000 for just one operational train and track system. That’s why I like my older stuff. I just fix it up, and sometimes, I tell you, it looks better than the new stuff. Some of my oldest equipment was made in the late 1950s, and it still runs like brand new. It’s just all about the amount of time and care you put into it. And I would say that I put in about thirty-five hours a week with my system, so I take great pride in the way it looks now.
“It has taken me two years just to get the train tracks and what little bit of scenery that I have operational,” he continued. “My setup is twenty-one feet by forty-four feet, eight inches, with eight foot of depth inside. Of that, so far, I only have about twenty-one feet by eight feet of actual scenery completed. The scenery is comprised of wood and styrofoam bases, with wire mesh and plaster covering to mold the land. Once I get that down, I make the rocks and mountainsides out of rubber molds of coal bricks, and the grass is made out of dyed pieces of crumbled styrofoam. I make the water out of clear resin. Then I add trees and telephone poles and all of the rest of the structures. The trains are fully operational, and it would only require four people to completely operate the entire train system to its fullest potential. The tracks, so far, have five main areas that I have focused on: Fairmont, Patterson Creek, Point of Rocks, Maryland, Somerset, Pennsylvania, and Garrett, Pennsylvania. I also plan to add some more to the empty middle, that will include two coal mining operations and a small Mom and Pop logging operation. It has taken me a great while to get what I have done so far because I always find the smallest issue with the details.”
Even though he works continuously on his project, he is only one man.
“I only have one other man, who is from Helvetia, that helps me with the scenery,” Elliott said. “Realistically, I don’t think I will ever have it one hundred percent completed, but in the meantime, what I do have completed, I can share with the community and hopefully spread the history of the railroad systems. It brings me joy to see kids and adults alike take an interest in what I do. Railroading has been with me my entire life, and the knowledge I have could fill libraries. But God didn’t make me Ernest Hemingway. He made me Bruce Elliott, and I will continue spreading my knowledge through the art of model trains and their historical positions.”
The Pocahontas County Society of Model Engineers is located in Green Bank on North Fork Road after 796 on the right side of the road. It’s marked with orange traffic cones and a railroad sign. It is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. by reservation only. For reservations or more information contact Elliott at 304-456-5389 or 5480.
Brandon Nottingham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org