London, January 1944: General Dwight David Eisenhower arrived in the British capital to take command of the Allied invasion of Europe. He met weekly with a group of Allied officers, among them the Canadian in charge of coordinating troop and materiel movements between Canada and Great Britain, assigned to ensure the critical buildup of men and munitions necessary to defeat Hitler's armies.
But as undeniably important as he was to the success of the Allies against the Axis, "Ike" isn't the focus of this particular anecdote. Allied soldiers were moved via subway between London's railway stations, and the Canadian army coordinator--John Wallis' father--developed a friendship with the "Tube" system's operations manager that survived the war. A three-month posting to London in 1946 gave the elder Wallis the opportunity to introduce his family to his old friend. Six-year-old John got a subway-train cab ride that sharpened what was to become a lifelong interest in railroading.
John was born in Montreal, then Canada's largest city and headquarters of the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways. Back home, he didn't have his own subway, but he could operate the Lionel set he had from age 5. He moved on to HO four years later, running a Varney diesel and a John English (now Bowser) 0-4-0 steamer, then switched from 2-rail to Hornby 3-rail HO by the time he was fourteen. Before entering the University of Ottawa, he left model railroading.
John earned a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Ottawa and won an Athlone Fellowship to study in England. Similar to a Rhodes Scholarship, the Athlone allowed him to complete both a master's in electrical engineering, at the University of Birmingham, and an MBA at the London School of Economics. He then returned to Canada and full-time employment with Northern Telecom.
During his 32-year career with Northern Telecom, John traveled extensively on business: Tunisia, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, India, and a two-year stint in Singapore. Whenever his destination and schedule permitted, he took the train. There were regular round trips between Ottawa and Montreal, when he lived in Canada; Amtrak's Metroliners, when he was assigned to the Washington, D.C., area; and the Paris-London Eurostar.
The NMRA convention in Montreal during the late 1960s alerted John to N scale. He bought an Arnold 0-6-0 steamer, which he still owns, four passenger cars, and track. A Con-Cor PA-1 followed, purchased new for $11.95, and he got into Micro-Trains rolling stock "very quickly." One of his most pleasant model railroading experiences was the 1996 NTRAK East Convention, in Alexandria, Virginia, with its huge layout, "being able to run trains any time of the day or night, and the fact that all the dealers were N scale."
Northern Telecom transferred John to Raleigh in 1980, where a newspaper advertisement for the November North Hills Mall train show caught his eye. After visiting the layout and talking with members, he joined the North Raleigh Model Railroad Club the following month. Since then, John has been NRMRC president, vice-president, secretary, newsletter editor, and Standards Committee chairman. Currently he is webmaster, having established the club's web site in 1997.
A member of the NMRA for over 30 years, John became a Charter Member of the Carolina Piedmont Division 13, NMRA MER when it was established in 1997. John's view is that no matter what the scale, there is always something to be learned and enjoyment received from seeing the work and modeling of others. John is currently webmaster of the CPD13's web-site and a Division Director.
John's N-scale trains most often see action on the Hochelaga Western Railway, his freelanced pike; Hochelaga was an Indian settlement that once occupied the site of Montreal. The HW crosses western Canada from Edmonton, Alberta, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The mountainous route between Dawson Creek and Prince George, in eastern-central BC, is represented on his 13' x 18' home layout. Town names were borrowed from places actually served by BC Rail and the Trans-Canada Highway in that part of the province.
Soon after founding the HW in the late 1970s, John began decorating locomotives and rolling stock in the road's distinctive blue and white color scheme. Eventually he tired of having to paint and decal everything and "sold" the HW to Union Pacific in 1992. The choice of "buyer" made available a vast selection of pre-painted N-scale merchandise while allowing the layout to keep its northwestern theme. UP and Canadian equipment figure prominently on John's N-scale roster.
Traffic on the HW is orchestrated via Digitrax Digital Command Control. John experimented with the CTC-80 system around 1990, but control problems with multiple train operations put him off. "When I saw that DCC had staying power, I switched," John said, and he became the first NRMRCer to embrace the new technology. Thus far, he has equipped 70 percent of his locomotive fleet with DCC decoders. He also has worked diligently to convert fellow club members to the system and, via the NRMRC website, has become a resource for modelers outside NRMRC. Besides DCC, John has considerable experience with Micro-Trains coupler conversions.
A Cary resident since 1989, John became a U.S. citizen in 1992. He retired from Northern Telecom (now Nortel Networks) in 1996 and then spent five years as a communications consultant, and webmaster, with Rendall and Associates, Raleigh. Since semi-retirement in 2002, John works part time at Tom's Train Station at The Shops at South Hills.
John has worked closely with the Northern Virginia NTRAK club over the past year to prepare for the Capitol Limited convention in August 2004, billed as the largest N scale layout ever, totaling 479 modules, 2,336 feet and 70.8 square miles. John was Digital Master for the convention layout and successfully orchestrated the largest Digitrax installation ever.
John is Co-Chairman of Rails to Raleigh, the 2005 Fall MER COnvention.