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Billboards are awesome for reinforcing the era of a layout.  And especially in the steam era, before TV advertising, city skylines were littered with them.

There isn't a good kit out there for them, so my friend Darren Williamson drew up a design and 3D printed a bunch for me.  I like to rotate them between operating sessions, so the crews have something to spot.  Here's an example using an actual ad image for a 1952 Chevy, plus some "googie" font in homage to Dinah Shore. 


It's a long-standing tradition among model railroaders that you name towns and industries after your friends.  Well I'm hamstrung by a compact layout, and by having made a lot of good friends in the last few years - long after all the industries and place names were taken.  So here are some billboards wafting across the rooftops in St Amour to honor (and abuse) some of the great guys I'm privileged to call friends these days.


I found this classic ad on Google - one of the few I have not altered, other than to add Tom's name.  I loved it for the graphics and the reference to "Elkhorn Coal".  I was thinking about using it for Tom anyway, as he is a fellow proto-freelance coal road guy (and, OK, a world-class modeler).  

That was before I even realized how well "Tepee" fit as a reference to TP's initials.  Boom!  That happened all over the place in the 50's - making cute patent names out of acronyms.  Some even persist today - you've been to Arby's for Roast Beef, right?  RB?


Speaking of brand names in the 50's, another common trick was to make something phonetic out of a phrase.  Like Noxema ("no exema"), or Rusteez.  When I first met Bill Doll, his name immediately registered in my brain as "Build All", and I knew I was going to have to find a place for that on the layout somehow.


Bob is legendary with his homebuilder for not only adding a breakfast nook onto the plans for his house, but demanding that the nook have a full basement under it as well - because after all, a man needs a place to put his O scale Horseshoe Curve.    

One of Bob's innovations on his PRR layout was to create passive car stops for slightly inclined spurs, using a dab of SuperGlue on the railhead.  Someone in the group tagged these as "Bartizek Brakes", and a legend was born.  I love nothing better than referencing friends with a trade name.  So much the better if the name comes ready-made - all it needs is a little 50's embellishment.   


Gerry is an electrical engineer and a former fighter pilot, who for "relaxation" upon retirement, built a 2,000sf layout it takes 30+ guys to operate.  And oh yeah launched a business, Signals By Spreadsheet, which offers hardware and software for building and making sense of CTC logic to control signaling and detection infrastructure.  

So it was only natural that one of his crew should build an industry for his (Gerry's!) layout, named Albers Electronics.  ...So therefore it was only natural that I should reference that on the SNR - with some fun poked at the level of advancement of SBS products (I had help there!)

And BTW on the Deepwater District, the Albers building really is behind the furnace in Clark's Gap.


John, for "relaxation" upon retirement, tore down his completed 1,500sf layout, bought a new house halfway to Toledo, built an 1,800sf barn, and started reconstructing the K&LE.

So with that much to do, he's received a good bit of ribbing for getting guys over to work on his layout, and then not actually doing much himself - often seen standing with his hands in his pockets talking to the helpers.  Although in his defense he's also usually running tools and finding wires for the guys actually doing the work.  (This rib was not entirely my idea either!)


Paul has used up his entire basement to build a 4-deck N scale layout, modeling the B&O from Chillicothe, O. to Cincinnati in 1958.  With that much real estate he has been able to model a 55-mile sub with 17 scale miles of mainline.  At barely 3:1 compression, it's the perfect stage on which to run true Timetable & Train Order operation, using the actual B&O 1958 timetable for the division. 

Also with that much real estate, he has got a blue million trees to construct.  (Check out the beautiful winter woodlands on the Great B&O!)  


Randy comes equipped with his own business, so I was able to make a sign for him by starting with a picture of the one right outside his shop.  I reformatted the phone number to fit the old assisted-exchange format.  And it needed a 50's "Everyman" and a slogan, of course.

STUART THAYER - L&N Cumberland Valley Sub

Stu is one of those guys who has known so many people for so long, that he ends up with industries named after him on a whole bunch of different layouts.  So much so, that at some point the suggestion was put forward that all those industries should be part of some amalgamated corporation - I believe there's even a ticker symbol floating around for it.  

Freed from having to actually model an industry, I was able to pay homage directly to the conglomerate itself.  L&N fans should appreciate the font etc..


OK, strap in - here we go.

Darren is one of my oldest and closest friends, whom I've known for 40+ years.  Since 1999, each fall we've made a railfan pilgrimage which we call "the fishing trip", and on odd years we go to the Station Inn in Cresson, PA.  Cresson is on the west slope of the Alleghenies, through which a constant parade of trains are shoved up the 3-track main and over the Gallitzin summit toward Horseshoe Curve, on the Pennsy.  I mean Penn Central.  I mean Conrail.  I mean NS.  

Anyway, one of the road signs we encounter along the route through rural PA simply says "Nanty-Glo".  The first time seeing this unusual name in a sleep-deprived, road-weary state led to hilarity, and much speculation as to what it meant and where it came from.  It has continued to be a meme of the fishing trip, and at some point we determined it sounded like some 1950's patent product name, and therefore needed esoteric references on the SNR.

Importantly, we've never actually determined what Nanty-Glo is.  And the advertisements for it certainly don't help.  Suggestions include a floor wax, and a dessert topping.  I suppose at some point we'll have to ask the plastic citizens of St. Amour what the heck this stuff is.  I know they sell it at the Basketful in Three Rocks.

Historical footnote:  The name of the town of Nanty-Glo, PA, per Wikipedia, comes from the Welsh phrase Nant Y Glo, which means "ravine of coal".   Perfect.  


Being an aficionado of old Cadillacs and an owner of one example, tribute to The Standard Of The World had to be paid on the SNR. 

While this is derived from an actual ad for a 1952 Cadillac, the slogan and dealership name are a reference to Goethe's Faust.  Auerbach's Keller is the cellar tavern in Leipzig where Mephistopheles (Satan) takes Faust, and completes the bargain with him for his soul.  

If you've ever maintained a classic car, you know it requires love at that level.  


The rooftop of the freighthouse in St. Amour makes free advertising space for the railway.  So it's only natural the SNR would use it to promote their stellar long-distance passenger service with exotic destinations.


"Ate up" is a uniquely Kentucky phrase, and being a Buckeye, it has always stuck with me as charming.  I first heard it used by my friend Darren Williamson, whose folks were from down Paintsville, when we were both still in high school.  He was saying they'd had to put his dog down because she was so "ate up with cancer".  As sad as it was, though, what was even more striking was that Darren otherwise never would have used "ate" where "eaten" would have been correct - so I knew it had to be a colloquial phrase.

I've since heard car friends say "ate up with rust", and another say a kid was ate up with some video game - or, "I'm not all ate up about it" in reference to some other obsession.  It's kind of an omnibus adjective that depends on context.  In any event, I'd been chortling over the play on 7-Up for some time.    


This idea just completely came upon me unannounced, as I was noodling in PowerPoint with some billboard or another.  

It's always fun to find out how many lines down guys get before they realize they've been had.  How about you?


My friend Ed Swain (PRR Middle Division) is the absolute master of open car loads.  His are beautiful and the strapping/blocking is meticulous to a fault, like the entire layout.  I would call him "LoadStar" if that weren't already a truck.  When operating over there, for a long while I usually left feeling I needed to do something to improve the loads on the SNR.  To Ed goes the credit that mine no longer look quite as much like Playskool blocks plopped on tinplate trains.


This was never an actual ad campaign for DeSoto, but I think it should have been.  For years DeSoto was the official and only sponsor of Groucho Marx' You Bet Your Life comedy quiz show. 

"Say the secret woyd, win a hundred dollaz."

In addition to the usual filmed ad spots, Groucho and the staff hawked DeSotos themselves, right on the air, right on stage.  Groucho would send viewers off to visit the friendly folks down at their local DeSoto dealer, always closing with the tag line, "And tell 'em Groucho sent ya."

Lucky for me, 1952 was a breakthrough year for Chrysler Corp., with the introduction of their OHV (over-head valve) V8 engine.  It was the first and only OHV V8 introduced since Cadillac and Oldsmobile debuted the design in 1949.   In a "newer-faster-better" crazed post-war America, the horsepower race was underway, and getting more power from less weight was an enormous, market-changing advantage.  In 1952 and '53, the only division that got the V8 other than Chrysler was DeSoto - which meant that medium-budget buyers now had a horsepower alternative to Oldsmobile.  It's hard to overstate how important that was at the time.  In '52, DeSoto was hot $#!+.  

So as a lifelong Marx Brothers fan, and a car geek, this was an ideal opportunity to pay homage to the world's original, consummate smart-ass.

"I'd never belong to any club that would have me as a member."  -- Groucho

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