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Researching Your Miniature World: A Review of “The Model Railroader’s Guide to Industries Along the Tracks”

Updated on November 13, 2012

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

Oh, for the days when researching a model railroader meant a pleasurable afternoon at a library or bookstore to browse physical books with heft and solidity. Today, there are no more bookstores – just one chain about a half-hour’s drive from my house. The libraries in my area are cluttered with dusty tomes from the Nixon era. Or they’re digitally enhanced with the same Internet data that my home computer can produce. So what would be the point of visiting them?

Modern research drowns you in TMI (Too Much Information). Type in “model railroading industries” into Google inundates you with over 4.8 million results. Interestingly enough, the first result to that search is the subject of this review. The Model Railroader’s Guide to Industries Along the Tracks is the first of many volumes that turns research about what to put on your model pike into a pleasurable read.

My Rating

5 stars for The Model Railroader’s Guide to Industries


Bound in just under 8-1/2 by 11 inches, this paperback contains 88 three-column of mostly black-and-white pages describing six industries that model railroaders can include on their layouts:

  1. Grain
  2. Petroleum
  3. Coal mining
  4. Automotive
  5. Produce
  6. Livestock

The reference closes with a four-page chapter on models and accessories, and a page with a selected bibliography. The paper is shiny, similar to a magazine, and uses a modern serif font. Most of the pictures are historic with a few colored diagrams and artwork.


Each chapter typically describes the history of the industry, how the industry functioned in the past and today, what buildings and processes it uses, how the railroad services it, what locomotives and cars are in common use and modeling suggestions. However, each section does not follow a rigid breakdown of subtitles. Its free-flowing presentation makes it suitable for casual reading.

Tables of figures help you determine how your layout might fit into the grand scheme of the industry. For example, if your pike is set in the 1930s and features petroleum operations, the biggest tank care operator was Union Tank Line, which means cars from that company might dominate your layout. By the year 2000, General American topped the tank car list, although Union Tank Line was at second place.

Layout Suggestions

A colored three-dimensional layout suggestion highlights each industry, similar to the fuel dealer artwork at the bottom of the front cover. Not all the suggestions have such detail, but they’re all drawn to scale. And while some concepts would fill a small room if fully realized, such as the stockyard with over 30 pens, they use mostly straight track with a few switches. You could easily incorporate just a piece of any industry into your own layout.

Models and Accessories

The models and accessories list is quite useful for those interested in recreating an industry because it describes the scale (mostly HO), manufacturer, description and era of available items. Structures, cars and scenery details are included. For example, the coal mining chapter sources the New River Mining Company from Walthers, a 55-ton offset-side 2-bay hopper from Atlas and scale coal from Woodland Scenics. The book was published in 2004, so models may no longer exist or be replaced by better versions.

Bottom Line

The reference belongs in the library of every model railroader. It makes your existing industries more realistic and gives you ideas for additions to those empty layout spaces. If you don’t have room for a full layout or need a break from your current efforts, consider modeling some of the suggestions as standalone modules or dioramas.


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