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Craig O'Connell's S Gauge Model RR


By Craig S. O'Connell


Memories of Okie printed in American Flyer Features by Heimburger House Publishing Co., 1985. -- Thanks, Don!

Craig's bio--from the NASG's Dispatch "Meet An S Gauger" column, February, 1997.

Craig's Friends of Amtrak Homepage.

Craig's page of train links.

The Connecticut S Gaugers

Craig's Ireland by Rail Trip July, 1999

The Canal Line in southern Connecticut

The Man Who Stole Paradise: The Demythologizing of A. C. Gilbert


Ron Stringer's brass UP 328 Consolidation from Southwind Models crosses the scratchbuilt trestle on my home layout.


Skip the boring text, Craig, and take me to the PHOTOS!


As a child growing up in the 50s in New Haven, Connecticut I had a simple loop of S gauge American Flyer® tinplate track and one small trainset that afforded me endless hours of fun. The "people" on the layout came to life--from Shultzie the rail tycoon to Skitchie the blue collar working class guy, a fellow who was a lot like my own family. The trains puffed pungent smoke, went choo choo and meandered in and out of the mysterious tunnels. We Flyer kids passionately argued that our two rail track made our railroads far superior to the three rail competition that shall go unnamed. It was war; akin to the rivalry enjoyed by the fans of the N.Y. Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers back in those days ... or perhaps the more modern rivalry between Red Sox and Yankees. That devotion to S gauge, from a kid who used to hop freights along New Haven's Canal Line, begins this story.

My layout shown below is "S" hirail which means that I can operate just about anything ever made in S gauge (3/16" = 1 foot)...whether it be finescale models, newer hirail equipment or those old American Flyer® tinplate trains that were manufactured in my home town. Much of the track I use was made by American Models. It's code .148 (.148" high rail) nickel silver flex track with a fair amount of tediously hand spiked rail added to keep it all from shifting out of gauge. Model railroad purists might consider the rail a tad high for the prototype but it has a much more realistic appeal to my aging eyes; and anyway, who's coming with a ruler?

The roadbed is from HomaBed® (pressed recycled paper) and I like it because it deadens the sound -- you get more clarity from that "clickety-clack" -- and it holds the spikes fast mind you.

The turnouts, which most folks might call "switches," are custom made #4 to #8 closed frog, and allow for the clearance of just about any S gauge equipment ever made, from scale to tinplate; the only restriction being for the tight radii, 27 inch minimum. The turnouts are powered remotely using "Tortoise" machines wired to micro-switch relays, and I'm no electrical wizard. DC power is the norm for most trackage. Four amp tethered Rix cab controllers, with rectifiers fed by American Flyer® AC transformers, supply the juice. Ammeters and volt meters are mounted on the main control panel so I can monitor the odd short circuit. In other words, it's old school operations all the way. No modern DCC (digital command control) run here.

One AC powered loop of the model railroad is devoted to American Flyer® trains and action accessories with a panel that can be operated by young children and the young at heart. As a first grade school teacher, building a layout that is child-friendly was a major consideration. The kids just love the operating log loader, coal loader, barrel loader, electromangetic crane, Gabe The Lamplighter, and the ever popular rocket launcher.

The layout takes place circa 1950 in the area of New Haven,CT where I grew up. I make no pretensions to model this era or locale with any degree of historical accuracy. I model what I see and what I like.

The layout is "L" shaped, approximately 13' by 15' and is located in my basement where conditions are generally dry. The benchwork is L-girder (see the pics). My collection of rolling stock includes some original American Flyer®, some scale and mostly hirail from S Helper Service, American Models, Downs, and Crown Models including a dozen AF conversions. A fair amount of rolling stock in the hirail category was built from craftsman wood kits by Kinsman, Sunshine and Ye Olde Huff and Puff; their only hirail component being the dimension of the wheel flanges. The motive power is from S Helper Service, American Models, River Raisin Models, Rex and American Flyer®. Kadee 802 S scale couplers are used on 90% of the rolling stock. I've used Kadee 802s, 33s and 5s on the motive power.

The structures are S scale and modified HO scale kits as well as some scratchbuilt models using styrene, wood and clay. Some are named after members of my family. Many of the HO kits have been kitbashed to be as close to 1/64 proportions as I could get. Structure kits are from Portlines, Twin Whistle, Lehigh Valley Models (LVM), City Classics, Korber, Magnuson, Design Preservation Models (DPM), Bill's Train Shop, Walthers and American Flyer®. The scenery is mostly hardshell using hydrocal and foam insulation board. I created most of the rock formations myself by making my own rubber molds from pieces of coal. 95% of the trees are home made, constructed from weeds and Woodland Scenics ground foam. There are over 200 figures, mostly soft metal from Railmaster Exports in New Zealand, all individually handpainted by me. The people come in various skin colors, just like we humans do in real life. I've meticulously hand painted each figure to reflect the range of skin tones found in my urban world since very few commercially painted figures are people of color.

There are three underlying premises upon which this model railroad was built.

This layout is dedicated to my dad, Walter O'Connell (Okie), who shared with me the joys of childhood!

I hope you enjoy this page. If you have any feedback that you would like to share with me please write to me at: I thank you for visiting my page. So sit back with a pint and enjoy the pix below.


Layout view featuring American Models New Haven PA, American Flyer® Branford Diner and Gilbert News Co./Glendale Station.


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Here's a couple of photos of the layout from one end view. Some of the buildings are kitbashed from HO Design Preservation Models (DPM) and City Classics structures. The Coca-Cola building is an S scale model from Frank Titman's Lehigh Valley Models (LVM). Two Gas Stations in the pic at right (left foreground and lower right) ae also S scale from Twin Whistle.

L girder benchwork is the framework for my S layout.



I scratchbuilt this tunnel portal to S scale dimensions using Das clay, a self-drying, non-shrinking clay sold in toy/craft/art stores. The building plans were written up in the Dec. 1995 issue of "The S/Sn3 Modeling Guide."


Kinsman made S scale craftsman style wood kits such as the one pictured above. This kit took me about 25 hours to complete.



Here's a modified version of the original Plasticville Diner kit. Ann's diner (named for my wife) received a fresh coat of dull black paint over the original yellow roof, which is adorned with the three dimensional red lettering, giving the structure a new look. Red auto pinstriping was added to the chrome exterior.


My only brass piece of equipment - the G.E. 44 tonner by River Raisin Models. It has recently been painted in an early 1950s color scheme (Accupaint Hunter Green, Warm Orange and Black) by fellow CT S Gauger Pete Prizzi. To operate the switcher an S scale figure was added to the cab.


The AF® electromagnetic crane is one of the more popular action accessories on the layout. I continue to add a variety of magnetic metal "junk" to the scrap heap including Parts from clocks, radios and other devices. Some of pieces are plastic and painted shades of gray, black and rust to simulate metal.

Another view of the layout integrating American Flyer operating accessories at left.

New view of double mainline at the curve passing downtown (left) and heading into a crossover (right).


An unusual track level view of the mainline and sidings. To the left is a Korber Models Global Transfer Co. and the Lehigh Valley Models Coca-Cola Co. Turnouts are #4 and #8 closed frog to accomodate hirail and scale.

For a close up of the Korber Global Transfer Company CLICK HERE.

American Models New Haven S-12 passes kitbashed Korber factory (L) and scratchbuilt warehouse (R).


An aerial view of the AF section of layout showing a variety of structures: Plasticville Diner (L foreground), AF Wayside Station (L), BTS Interlocking Tower (Right foreground), modified Plastiville freight station (R), cardstock utility company (R).

Two more views of the Korber Global Transfer Co. that is modified for S scale.


Kitbashed Plasticville signal tower. I removed the concrete bottom, among other things.


View of the AF accessory control panel used by visiting children to operate action accessories. All are original AF® control buttons and are wired to the AC transformer.


The building in the foreground to the left is HO by Magnuson Models and is typical of structures of this deco style period found in New Haven, CT. The factory behind it, and to the right, was made using add-on parts from the City Classics Smallman building. Detail parts have been added to the roofs. Same buildings at right.


Here's the double mainline approaching the Glendale Station stop. Behind the station are the AF® Gilbert News and Branford Diner. At far right is Packard's Diner, a Twin Whistle S scale wood kit available from Portlines Hobbies.


This view captures some of the scenic elements of the layout. Most of the trees were handmade in a variety of ways. Most are collections of weeds held together with Durham's water putty. Woodland Scenics foliage is held in place with Elmer's spray adhesive. Others include shaped fragments of artificial Christmas trees, twigs with poly fibre and evergreens made from Scotch Brite scouring pads. Rocks are made from latex molds I created using real pieces of coal. Others are made from styrofoam insulation board.


This is yet another structure that I kitbashed from three HO Korber buildings.


This is a photo of the Korber HO Goodyear Tire Building that I modified. I essentially took a few HO kits and added them together in such a manner as to give the building more presence. Other minor modifications were made.



Here is a Twin Whistle Models wood kit Deco gas station.


This is an aerial view of the same Deco gas station block.

Detailed scene under scratchbuilt wooden trestle that brings life to my model railroad. The campfire light at left flickers with the variable volume of an FM radio hidden below the table.


Layout view - New Haven RR boxcars from American Models.

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So did you like what you saw, boys and girls? I have begun expansion to a new space with much of the benchwork now completed.

Click on the image above to see the larger pic.

My expansion will include a 1950s urban/industrial setting with a simple trolley line in the cobblestone streets and an Elevated 3rd rail line traversing above.

Making cobblestone streets
To make the cobblestone streets I use a product known as Scale Crete. This compound sets slowly so you can work with it over a period of time. I apply the Scale Crete to the area I want to pave using an artist's palette knife. Then, with a piece of square brass tubing stock, I imprinted the cobbles as shown in the photo above.
The pic below shows the scratchbuilt EL I'm building. This is work in progress. "Bird Lives" refers to Charlie Parker, jazzman of bebop fame, another passion of mine.



This shot shows the EL further along in the development stages.

Be sure to check out the Urban Modeler's Special Interest Group.

Here are a couple of thumbnail photos of my urban module that I created for use on the CT S Gaugers' layout that we take to model train shows to promote "S" gauge. The module conforms to the NASG S Mod Standards. Click on the thumbnails to see the larger images.

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January 4 , 2014



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NASG Bernie Thomas Award, 2003


NASG Perles Publications Award, 1997