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John M. Wallis

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Profile — John M Wallis

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Personal Profile — John M. Wallis

by Jan Poff

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 in 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.A.Sc. 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 Electric (which became Northern Telecom and later Nortel Networks).

During his 32-year career with Nortel, John traveled extensively on business: Tunisia, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Brazil, 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." His ultimate model railroading experience 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."

Nortel transferred John to Raleigh in 1980, where a newspaper advertisement for the November North Hills Mall train show caught his eye. After visiting the NRMRC layout and talking with members, he joined the club the following month. Since then, John has been NRMRC president, vice-president, secretary, newsletter editor, director, and Standards Committee chairman. Currently he is the Club's Registered Agent and webmaster, having established the club's web site in 1997.

Until a recent move to a new house, John's N-scale trains most often saw action on the Union Pacific Model Railroad, which was originally built as a freelanced pike, the Hochelaga Western Railway; Hochelaga was an Indian settlement that once occupied the site of Montreal. The HWR crossed western Canada from Edmonton, Alberta, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The mountainous route between Dawson Creek and Prince George, in eastern-central BC, was 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 HWR 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 HWR 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 UPMR was 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. He has now equipped over 95 percent of his locomotive fleet with DCC decoders. He also has worked diligently to convert fellow club members to the system and, via the web site, has become a resource for modelers outside NRMRC. Besides DCC, John has considerable experience with Micro-Trains coupler conversions.

Looking back on nearly three decades of NRMRC membership, John is amazed that the club has maintained its easygoing nature. "I enjoy the fact that club members get along as well as we do," he said. "We usually get to agreement on issues fairly quickly, and there doesn't seem to be any carryover to other issues if something doesn't go someone's way."

After being a Cary resident since 1989, John and his wife downsized to a new home in Wake County. John became a U.S. citizen in 1992. He retired from Nortel in 1996 and then worked as a telecommunications consultant with Rendall & Associates, and Gartner, Inc., in Raleigh. After "retiring" he worked part-time at Tom's Train Station in South Hills Mall for six years before "retiring" for the third time. John also is a member of the Carolina Piedmont Division 13 of the NMRA MER, and Northern Virginia NTRAK.



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Module Profiles


All descriptions refer to looking at the front of the module.
CCW = Counter-clockwise; CW = Clockwise
Crossovers indicate travel from left to right.
Div, Divn = Division
Mountain Division = Green Track
Mtn = Mountain

Module: Dismal Swamp

Owner Name:

John M. Wallis

Builder Name:

Ted Prichard

Date Built:




Module Type:

Standard 2' x 4' module with Mountain Division





Passing Sidings:


Other Tracks:

Alternate Blue + Mountain Division

Industrial Spurs:


Yard Tracks:


Engine Service:



Blue-to-Alternate Blue Counter-Clockwise


Track Buses:

12-Gauge Wire with Powerpole Connectors

12VDC Bus (White):

12-Gauge Wire with Powerpole Connectors

Accessory Bus (Brown):

12-Gauge Wire with Powerpole Connectors

LocoNet Bus:


Module Photograph

Dismal Swamp Photo

Track Plan

Dismal Swamp Track Plan

Swamp at front of module causes the three main tracks to curve around it. Alternate Blue leaves the Blue Track to connect at the right side. The Mountain Division track runs straight across the module.

The swamp water is numerous layers of polyurethane colored with acrylic paints. The swamp grass is sisal twine inserted while the polyurethane was wet.

The vertical scenery is styrofoam insulation with some white breadboard. The terrain is covered with a mix of Sculptamold, PermaScene, coffee grounds (used) and Elmer's Glue.



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The NRMRC is a Not-For-Profit Corporation incorporated in North Carolina.
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Last updated: Sunday February 20, 2011


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