Transit Modeling – A Broad Niche
First in a Series
By Alfred Barten
Bachmann HO-scale Brill semi-convertble in my South River Paint Shop awaiting lettering and reglazing.
For a small niche in the model railroading hobby, transit modeling has a wide range of prototypes and modeling practices. At its core is the quintessential trolley car, the early semi-convertible trolley car with clearstory roof and arched windows that ran on steel rails and collected power from an overhead wire by way of a pole and contact wheel that rolled along the wire. Early attempts at building a workable system produced a two-wire design with a little cart that rolled along on top of the wires and was towed by the trolley car. The device was called a “troller” – hence the term “trolley car.”
Postcard from Springfield, MA.
But transit includes many more vehicle types than the basic trolley car. There are those that preceded the trolley – horse cars and cable cars – and vehicles that were contemporaries of the trolleys – rapid transit trains and, soon, buses and trolleybuses – and now vehicles that have largely supplanted the trolley – light rail vehicles and new ideas such as people movers and remote-controlled vehicles. Then there is a varied group of vehicles that fall under the general heading of commuter rail, which could range from the early steam powered lines into major urban centers to their modern-day counterparts: either diesel-powered or electric and diesel multiple-unit trains. Interurbans, doodlebugs and rail diesel cars (RDCs) are perhaps a little beyond what most people think of as transit, but they have so much in common with transit vehicles that they might as well be included with the rest in what I think of as transit modeling.
Matchbox model of a 1931 "Diddler" trolleybus.
Modeling practices are equally diverse. As a young boy, I built a fleet of buses out of construction paper. There was no track, no road and no motor. Many people model, or collect models of static transit vehicles, though most are far more sophisticated than my early attempts.
Corgi model of a Feltham tram.
Of course the longtime favorite has been the electrified train on track and – for small children, the wooden hand-powered and metal spring-powered windup versions. More recently we have wireless remote-controlled vehicles, and even more recently virtual modeling on a computer. Whatever limitations may have been imposed by physical size, access and control are blown away by virtual modeling. Regardless of your modeling preference, transit modeling has something for anyone who is interested.
Screen capture from Fred Barbieri's F1 IND route for Microsoft Train Simulator.
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©2006 Alfred Barten. All rights reserved.