Back when I was growing up, my father was into model railroading – a hobby as common back then as it is today, possibly even more so. In fact some of my earliest memories from the mid-1960s are of watching my father’s HO-scale model trains making their way around his first layout filled with detailed model buildings he had built himself from kits. While my siblings and I were far too young to be trusted with these delicate model trains from this earliest layout, the situation had changed by the mid-1970s. A couple of years after my parents had moved the family into a huge old Victorian home, my father decided to build his third model railroad layout in the spacious basement which had been recently cleared of an earlier renovation. And since my siblings and I were now old enough (I was the eldest just entering my teens), it was turned into a family project with all of us contributing our talents to the project over the next decade.
In addition to the usual array of books on various aspects of model railroading, my father also frequently picked up issues of popular magazines on the topic from local newsstands that were filled with projects and inspiration. An article from one of those magazines caught my attention and has stuck with me to this day. In the April 1978 issue of Model Railroader was a four-page article titled “A Lunar Railroad You Can Model”. While the article was meant to be an April Fool’s joke that took advantage of interest in space colonization that had captured the popular imagination at the time, the idea of a lunar model railroad really caught my attention since it combined my interest in model railroading and my far greater interest in space exploration.
Since railroading on the Moon involved issues completely alien to its more familiar terrestrial counterpart, a lunar model railroad would require a lot of scratch-built equipment designed to handle the unique environment. The article, in addition to a photograph of a diorama built by one of the article’s authors (pictured above), included detailed pencil drawings of motive power, cargo containers, ore hoppers, track designs and other aspects of the system. As any serious model railroad enthusiast will tell you, a true model railroad layout is not just about running trains around a loop of track, it is also about modelling all the details of every aspect of a real railroad’s operations. While it all seemed very plausible, a lunar railroad was a bit beyond my modeling capabilities and my rather limited budget to pull off in any form at that time.
After I grew up and moved out on my own, my interest in model railroading continued and I even had my own small N-scale layout for a time a couple of decades ago – set in New England not on the Moon. Recently, while I was rummaging through some old papers on lunar colony infrastructure, I came across a paper from 1993 on actual lunar railroad concepts by Peter Kokh et al. and was reminded about this old Model Railroader article. A quick Google search to see if anyone had ever built a lunar model railroad showed that others were similarly intrigued by that same article over the years and apparently had the same question as I had. Best as I can tell, no one has ever built such a model train layout. The closest I could find from a cursory search on-line was a sci-fi model locomotive kit-bashed by a modeler named Jack Hess whose work appeared in July 2011 on the Model Railroad Craftsman web site. The model was built for his HO-scale fantasy layout which is set in a place called Colony 5 on the planet Parta established by the Sector 4 Alliance – not quite the Moon but at least it is the first example I found of an extraterrestrial model railroad.
While I would enjoy having my own model railroad again, I simply do not have the room in my present situation and do not have the time, especially since starting my new Drew Ex Machina web site last year. Still, I do wonder if there is some gifted modeler with more room and time (and skill!) than I have who has quietly built his or her own lunar model railroad tucked away in some basement or spare room out there.
Five months after this article was originally published, I received an email from Jack Hess – the builder of the Colony 5 HO-scale fantasy layout. He apparently did not like his work on the Colony 5 layout and took it down as well as discontinued his original Fantasy Trains web site for lack of any response. While Mr. Hess still believes trains and science fiction are a good mix, it seems that most railroad modellers are interested in building layouts based on historical themes. Jack Hess still continues his railroad modelling efforts in O-scale (along with his new Fantasy Trains blog which can be found here) as does the search for a model lunar railroad layout.
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“When I thought My Dad Was an Astronaut”, Drew Ex Machina, July 1, 2014 [Post]
Alan Cerny and Bob Hayden, “A Lunar Railroad You Can Model”, Model Railroader, Vol. 45, No. 4, pp. 87-90, April 1978 [Article]
Peter Kokh et al., “Railroading on the Moon: A Design and Exercise”, 1993 [Paper]