Off The Shelf

by Ronald J. Vassallo

   I first started cultivating the idea of doing a bookshelf model railway after seeing several "hanging" or shelf type layouts in area restaurants and one particular wall track system at the Matterhorn Nursery in Pomona NY. I still had one big problem as I was not really into the hobby and still had no idea where I would do this even if I was. I remember picking up a copy of a Garden railway magazine and seeing an ad for the wall track system and gave them a call thinking boy this will be easy and fairly inexpensive to do when and if I am ready. Was I surprised! It was something like $35 a foot for each section, albeit it was oak, but I had to cover a 48' diameter!! So nevertheless the idea stayed with me but it was put on hold for awhile.

    I was still not convinced that modeling was for me even though I had a brief introduction to the hobby in N scale thanks to Santa Claus. Also my good friend Mike Murray had the most awesome N scale layout I had ever seen. He and his father built it in nothing of a space but this layout was the most action packed piece of modeling I had ever seen.

There was also the question of "What scale would I model in if I ever got the itch again?" Through my involvement with the society and after seeing the countless fine custom models by the Old & Weary Car Shop and Branchline Trains. I was finally convinced that HO would be the scale for me, as I felt it offered the most realistic modeling at a reasonable price. As mentioned in Don Spiro's article A layout in almost no space, others including John Pavelchak and Bob Mohowski made me take a look at modeling from a prototypical perspective, and it finally occurred to me that I could bring together my love for history and the O&W through modeling, thus the fuse was lit.

    I finally decided I was going to do this in Sept. of 1998 and made arrangements with my wife Maureen, to secure the second bedroom of our apartment. I still had to figure out how this was going to happen without it costing me a small fortune, but after a few days of crunching ideas I realized that everything I had seen in all these various places could be reproduced with pine shelving and wood shelf brackets. So off to Home Depot I went, and went... and went.. and over the course of about a week I had the framework up. Next came the Owens Corning 1" foam insulation board. I glued this with liquid nails and carved out the face of it using various tools of destruction including a 6" razor knife and a serrated steak knife that John borrowed from a local eatery.

    Track laying took the most time as had to to most of this while up on a 3' ladder with my head bent against the ceiling and stabbing myself in the fingers with rail joiners and an exacto knife and hot solder. After that it was pretty much smooth sailing and the fun stuff to me which is scenery, structures and paint. I tried to represent the O&W as much as possible although most of what you see is not modeled after any specific area of the O&W. i just tried to give it as much flavor of the Old Woman as possible. The trestle you see in one of the photos was inspired by the Cadosia Trestle and other scenery and structures are representative of my favorite part of the Old Woman which is the Sullivan County area.

I hope you enjoy the photos and if you have any questions about doing a layout like this please feel free to contact me at:

Header Photo: Dusk is slowly setting in as a 4-8-2 eases past a grade crossing somewhere in the Catskills. The flatbed in the foreground is a Stoney Mountain Classic 1950 Chevrolet 1 1/2 ton truck which I painted to resemble a photo I had seen of a similar O&W truck shown in Paul Lubliner's Color Book.

Photo 2: Here is another shot of the trestle showing off Mike Murray's brass 4-8-2.

Photo 3: A 4-6-0 Camelback receives a last minute inspection before heading out of Weehawken with some empty coal hoppers.

Photo 4: A work crew is busy repairing some damage to one of the abutments on a trestle very similar to the O&W. I used photos of both the Cadosia and Ferndale trestles as inspiration for this structure.

Photo 5: An FT set emerges from the north end of Highview Tunnel and prepares itself for the gradual decline into Summitville. These models belong to Don Spiro who did a wonderful job painting, detailing and decaling these units.

Photo 6: A close up of the same area with an FT A unit emerging from the tunnel.

Photo 7: John Pavelchak's brass 44-tonner was the intro. photo in Don's article. John left us somewhere in the middle of the shoot, unbeknownst to us, to get these models and as we were just beginning to wonder where he was off to when he returned with two of these beautiful models. I am sure glad he did!

Photo 8: One of the famous O&W "wooden fleet" passenger cars takes a rest during the summer rush somewhere in Middletown.

Photo 9: looking down the mainline we see a lone O&W boxcar to our right. Notice the way the tracks are on different levels to allow for viewing two trains running simultaneously.

Photo 10: Here is the same stretch while under construction. What was great about this project was that I was able to run trains long before the layout was finished.

Photo 11: This photo shows how the shelving was assembled for this area of the layout. Although most of this construction was straightforward I did have to allow for such issues as this "suspended shelf", the one you see running horizontal into the shelf on the right hand side. What I wound up doing in this case was simply using wood dowels to join the two pieces together.

Photo 12: Camelback No. 251 prepares to take on water at the Summitville, NY water tank. This is a Campbell kit with an Old & Weary Car Shop top including the trademark "doghouse" . The mold for this top was made by society member Joe Bux.

Photo 13: After positioning herself at the water tank No. 251 takes a well earned break and drink before heading north up the Red Hill grade.

Photo 14: Another photo of the same location. There would be a removable wooden ladder placed against the water tank to access it for maintenance. This would be removed when not in use to prevent anyone from climbing up and possibly drowning in the tank.

Photo 15: The day has come to an end yet a light still burns in the coaling tower office. The boiler house shown to the left of the water tank is a John Forni model. John has done some exquisite structures on the O&W, including the Summitville, NY Station, tool sheds, milk platforms, towers, etc. and the few pieces I have of his are prized possesions. If you are interested in purchasing a John Forni model contact the Old and Weary Car Shop.

Photo 16: An underneath shot showing how this area was constructed. Note the way I ran the back part of the shelving all the way to the right above the doorway to allow for a double tracked yard about half the length of the wall. There is a single track which runs the other way to the left side of the wall. I mostly use this for storage and staging as it is hard to do switching from ground level.

Photo 17: This crossing photo could have been anywhere on the O&W's Middletown Branch, complete with Atlas crossing tower, Model railways billboard kit and Stoney Mountain Classics vehicles. The advertisement is an almost exact replica of a billboard that would have been up along Rt. 17 and was sent to me by Professor Phil Brown who was a "hotel brat" growing up in the Catskills where his parents worked. The bus was given to me by my good friend Mike Murray and I think it completes the scene of a Fri. night excursion to the Catskills.

Photo 18: An employee watches as the bus is finally cleared to cross the grade and perhaps reminisces about his days as a kid fishing in the beautiful mountains of New York State. Notice the snow fences in the background that the O&W did experiment with to battle the harsh winters of this area.

Photo 19: Although the O&W is my favorite road the NYS&W has a special place in my heart also. The boxcar was given to me by The old & Weary Car Shop, and the bay window caboose was purchased at Larry's Model Trains.

Photo 20: Taken in the same location we see various O&WCS models including the stunning St Mary's brewing boxcar. The barbed wire fence is a Center Court Hobby kit and was purchased at my favorite hobby shop, Model Railway Post Office in West Milford, NJ.

Photo 21: Another look at the NYS& that John Treen up on the boxcar?! Having met John as a young railfan chasing trains at Passaic Junction, I couldn't help but conjure up this scene on my layout.

Photo 22: This is the third corner of the room having started from the trestle. I had to also account for the clearance over the windows and doors in the room which left minimal yet effective room to play with, in this case about 9 1/2 ".

Photo 23: A look at the duel tunnels under construction. this area posed a dilemma because I need to be able to access the tunnels for cleaning and possible derailments but i could not do this from the top down because of the limited clearance, so.....

Photo 24: ....I decided to do a rough of the tunnels and then did some brainstorming for a few days till I finally came up with what I think is a pretty clever solution...

Photo 25: A removable front that was adhered to a wide bottom, all made of foam board, that would allow me to access this area and when closed...

Photo 26: ....would not be noticeable!

Photo 27: A unique view over a coal drag heading into the tunnel. The coal loads are available through the O&WCS.

Photo 28: And finally a view of the room from the doorway. Doing a bookshelf railway may take away the effect you can get when doing a layout at a lower level but it does afford some interesting opportunities and perspectives.

Happy Modeling!

Here are some photos I took of the same layout a few years later.


And finally a few from the layout when it was moved in 2003 and re-built at my current residence where it ran again for several years before being dismantled in 2009.