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  Valley Auto's Lionel train layout - 2005    2006     2004     2003    1997

Just when it seems we can't add any more space to our layout, we figure out a way to squeeze a few more square feet in. This year, we removed some built-in shelving that was no longer being used, which allowed us to make the back part of the table wider.

The added area made several things possible. First, we were able to raise two areas of the layout and have an uphill grade leading to the raised area. Second, we finally had enough room to show off our newest train: A Santa Fe scale passenger set, featuring detailed cars and a really nice Northern engine. (More on the engine below.)

We also gave our railroad a name this year: We call it the BBB & D Railroad. Three Bs for three generations of Blakesleys, and the D for Ray Deering, who built all our benchwork and without whom our layout would not exist.

It also wouldn't exist without my wife Lynn, who encouraged us in 1999 to turn it into more than just a merchandise display, and my parents, Bruce and Sheila Blakesley, who allow us to "take over" the front of the store every year to play with trains.

Our table is built in eight sections and takes about half-a-day to put together. During the "construction" phase we try to disturb the retail operation as little as possible by placing various displays in front of the table during the day.

Our most frequently asked question is: How long does it take to set this up? Answer: Setting up the table, track and wiring takes about two weeks, and then it takes two or three days to decorate and get everything placed. It takes about a week to take everything down at the end of the season. We do most of the work in our spare time.

Ray Deering masterminded our layout table, built many of our model buildings (and two bridges), and designed the raised portions of the layout.

Things are pretty congested around the rail yard; in fact, the coal tower and water tower are pretty close to a farm! The stuff in this picture is from all over the place. The water tower was scratch-built by Ray; the coal tower is a kit I found in Billings; the farm animals came from Caboose Hobbies in Denver; and I found the barn at a small train store in Winter Park, Florida.

Here's a nice view of our downtown area.

The train shown here is our new Santa Fe "Chief" passenger train. The engine is a scale model of an engine which still exists today and can be seen in Los Angeles. The engine and passenger cars are a replica of a real train that ran all over the western United States in the '40s and '50s.

A freight train, led by a mighty Hudson steamer, creeps through the downtown area. Although there were once 500 Hudsons on the rails in the US, most of them were cut-up for scrap metal in the 1960s. Hudsons were named for the Hudson River in New York, where most of them were used. They are considered one of the the best-looking steam locomotives by many enthusiasts, myself included.

Some people have asked why our layout only features steam engines. The obvious answer is that we can see the diesels in real life every day!  But the main reason is, we're trying to evoke the last glory days of the steam era on our layout, so we feature the big powerful steam engines that were most common around the late 1950s, and we've tried to feature the same era in our buildings and other items.

It's a shame that most people don't get to see the layout with the store lights turned off.

This bridge was built from a kit. This is a "Pratt Truss" type bridge. The other bridge on the layout is a "Warren Truss" type. The two are similar; the spans of a Pratt bridge are level on top, while the Warren bridge spans taper up toward the center. Both types of bridges were common in this area.

Here's a good view of six of Ray's model buildings. Going left to right, first comes The Deering Hotel. No such hotel existed in Forsyth, but this building looks a bit like the old Commercial Hotel, which is now porchless and known as the Howdy. Next to it is Georgie's Cafe, owned by Georgie Herndon in the 1950s.  Next comes the Roxy Theatre and the Texaco station. These are scale models, right down to the Roxy's interior doors and ticket window! Then comes Blakesley's Cigar Store, with all its features including window blinds. Finally, there's the Home Trading Company, which was housed in a building that existed in Forsyth until 1930 when it was torn down to make room for...the Roxy Theatre!

Our Village on the south end of the layout consists of buildings made by Lemax. My wife Lynn is great at finding bargains and we manage to pick these buildings up when they're on sale.

If you look closely, you can see yet another train running through the Village. This is the original General train that used to run around my grandpa's Christmas tree, making its annual appearance. This train will be 50 years old in 2009. In the true Lionel Trains tradition, it still runs as if it were new.

The track running through the Village is just an oval this year; at some point we plan to connect it to the rest of the track.

The crane behind the sawmill is our oldest piece of equipment - it dates before World War II. The semi-truck is our only nod to the "modern era," with its modern BN logo.

This is our "North Pole" area. The passenger train is the Polar Express, from the movie of the same name. This train can run down to the main station and pick up any kid who doesn't believe in Santa, and take him or her to the North Pole. This area is fairly unfinished, as you can tell by the makeshift "pier" holding up the track.

The star of our show is the Santa Fe Northern steam engine. This engine is a more than just a model train; it's a model of an engine you can still see today in real life. (See below)

The Santa Fe Railroad didn't operate in Montana, but engines like this one passed through Forsyth every day. This is a Northern type engine, meaning it has four pilot wheels, eight drivers and four trailing wheels.

Here's a picture of the "real thing" in operation. For more information on this engine and hundreds of great pictures of it, visit the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society's website by clicking HERE.

Santa Fe 3751 operates on oil, not coal, which accounts for the flat top of its tender. The engine was originally a coal burner, but it was converted in the 1940s to make it more efficient. Today the engine is stored at Los Angeles and is worked on every weekend by members of the SBRHS. The engine also makes occasional excursion runs, hauling passengers just like it did in the glory days of steam.

(This picture courtesy of the SBRHS)