Modeling the Rock Island
Railroad By Kelly Housman 

Recreating the historic Rock Island railroad 

The Rock Island Railroad

Creating a layout in remembrance of one of the greats: By Kelly Housman

Starting out

 The New Plan 

 Ok after a whole year with not much being done on the old layout I decide to start fresh. The old layout was fun to play with, but wasn't very conducive to operations. Also the first plan I sort of jumped into it rather quickly, and didn't know a lot about operations.  The new layout will still be modeled after the Rock Island, albeit a little more loosely. All my rolling stock is mostly Rock Island so it'll still be road I model.

 I'll be constructing it in proper stages from the ground up, including wiring, and since I have the DCC control system already, it'll be wired with Digital Command Control from the start.  

In Addition I've decided to do a shelf layout that hugs the wall around the basement. This will give it a more realistic approach, and actually give more usable space in the middle of the room for other purposes.

I'll be posting photos as I go through the process, including the tear down of the old layout. I hope you'll follow along as I build this new layout. It should be a lot of fun and if you're a close friend in the area and would like to help, message me and we can talk about build sessions.

The tear down has begun, follow the progress on the blog page



 OK yet another update. can you say work in progress! I think I have a winner here...You'll notice I isolated the Silvis yard, and leveraged the 1 into three switch for the east side of the yard. I it looks much better, and I can elevate the main a little to give it a better appearance.


Click the image below to open large image.  





I made some slight modifications to the layout after testing the layout on TrainPlayer software, it needed some minor adjustments. Mostly to be able to switch between mainlines easier. SO I put in the double crossover by the Union Yard. click the image below for a bigger image.


 Previous layout:



Being new to the hobby, but having had a long time passion I was very excited to get started and jump in. Thankfully it took some time to finalize on a layout.

Initially I was going to just have a standard versatile layout, and not be prototypical of any area or era. After scouring designs and plans from various sources I got some great ideas, but no plan fit what I wanted to do (at that time). So taking ideas from a few plans, I downloaded a rail CAD program and was on my way. In about a week I had a layout I was happy with. Then my son gave me a couple of box cars for my birthday, and one of them happened to a Route Rock car.

I had been continuing my research on plans as well as information on trains through the help of sites like MR, and Bing search, looking for things I could add to my layout. With the Rock car sitting on my desk I decided to do a search on the Rock railroad. I found an article on Wikipedia, here, on the history of the Rock Island Rail road. I was fascinated by the rich history, diversity, and eventual (sad) demise of the RI.

A short time after finding that article I attended a local train show, the Great Midwest Train Show. While there I found another RI enthusiast and I even found a RI Route Map from 1974! I was hooked. I spent the rest of the show looking for anything Rock Island. I came home and told my son I was going to prototype my layout after the Rock Island rail road.

Since the RI had a HUGE presence I decided to model from Chicago to Denver. A very long route to fit into my 11x16 area. I broke it down into two phases. Phase one is the initial line from Chicago to Rock Island. Very similar to its beginnings in 1854.  Then phase two (to be added later)would ride a helix up to the second level for the Davenport to Denver route. I also knew that I wanted to have the layout be operationally prototypical as well and knew I would need a staging yard.  I began on a new layout design starting near Chicago. I knew I didn't have enough space to model Chicago itself, so I settled for a backdrop scene that made the train look like it was coming out of the city.

Being from the mid-west, Joliet area, I decided to incorporate that into my layout instead of the Blue Island depot. I wanted to model the Des Plaines river bridge in Downtown Joliet and incorporate that into the layout.

From Joliet  it's on to Ottawa, and then LaSalle Peru. There is an iconic building on the Illinois river I wanted to model and plenty of other local industry there. I also incorporated the Oglesby spur which is a agricultural co-op. Then on through Silvis yard to Rock Island.  Where you can take the reverse loop back to Chicago or continue on across the Mississippi and on to Denver, or route back around to the yard or Chicago.

Another consideration was the time period. This was a tough one as there are many era's I like. Ultimately I knew I wanted diesels. So it would be a more modern railway. During my research I also fell in love with the "Rockets". The Rockets were passenger service that the Rock Island offered from 1939 to the late 1960's. There were several routes for the Rockets and each was named after their respective route, for example the Peoria Rocket, the Texas Rocket. The one to Denver and Colorado Springs was called the Rocky Mountain Rocket. The Rocket's were beautiful trains from an era where people were enamored by their beauty. Folks would travel to the train depots just to see the trains! Back then to see one of these beauties flying down the rail at 80 mph must have been incredible.  As you can see my passion for the Rocket, I had to incorporate this in my layout. I still wanted some of the most recent Rock Island engines with the new blue paint scheme as well. Therefore I knew the end time was 1980. The last year for the RI. Now I had to find what starting year. I order a couple time schedules one for Fall of 1966-1967. The Rocky Mountain Rocket was not on there. It in fact was halted in 1966. The last Rocky Mountain Rocket rain on October 16, 1966. Another schedule I ordered was from 1953. It contained the information I needed along with Wikipedia's site, Rocky Mountain Rocket. I settled on the time period between 1960 and 1980.

The Layout at a Glance

Name: Rock Island - Chicago to Denver line
Scale: HO (1:87.1)
Size: 11X16 feet
Prototype: Rock Island
Locale: Chicago to Denver
Era: 1960-1980
Style: walk-in
Minimum Radius: 18"
Minimum turnout: no. 6 mainline, no. 4 yards
Maximum grade: 3%
Height: Phase 1- 42" , Phase 2 60"
Roadbed: 1 1/2 foam on 5/8 OSB
Track: Code 83
Scenery: Foam with spackling
Backdrop: Hand painted sky, and photo's
Control: Digitrax DCC

Work Begins

Wanting  a layout that is strong but still light weight I decided to use 1x4 for the leg supports and 1x3 for the top framing. I used 5/8 OSB with 1 1/2 foam on top of that. It gives me very strong platform to work with. I built the lower level staging first and work my way up. temporarily laying the track in place to ensure correct fit. Since my main level was only going to be 42" high, I struggle with entrance to the layout. originally I had planned a swing type of door to open the bridge section of the layout.  This would have worked, but I ran into a  problem with space and a neighboring wall. I knew that 42" would be a pain to duck under so I decided to create a lift bridge. This makes it very easy to lift the section and duck under.

The whole assembly is assisted with 20lb weights, and a double pulley system. The bridge section is perfectly counter balanced, and will stay at any level you raise it too. Since this bridge section is the Des Plaines river and the Mississippi river with bridges, it will be easy to conceal the transitions

Work then continued on to the backdrops. This would be a bit challenging in that the time of year I wanted to model was spring/summer, and it's the dead of winter. I wanted to use actual photos for some sections especially for the Chicago sky line. I needed to drive out and take photo's, as most sky line photo's of Chicago are shot from the lake. I needed the skyline from the southwest side of Chicago I found Damen Ave. near I-55 to be a good location, now I just needed a clear spring/ summer day.

There are a couple other areas where I wanted to use photo's, for example downtown Joliet, and some rural areas. I like the sense of realism the photo backdrops gives to layouts. So I have some scouting to do finish the backdrops scene by scene. Once the backdrops were painted sky blue (temporarily until the photo's get taken) and installed it was time to finish laying the track this process takes quite a while.  Once the track work has been completed I can then move onto the scenery. I already have a general idea of how things are going to look, but some of it will be ad hoc as I get into each section.




The layout was designed to be operated by two to three operators. This is a nice session as one person can work as the staging yard operator role getting consists ready to  run and then sending them up for their routes. The other two people can run the routes designated, whether that be a passenger service, running The Rocket from Chicago, to Rock Island and on Denver (Phase two), or running freight from Chicago to the local industries and connections at the Silvis yard.


The sidings are designed to allow trains to run in both directions at the same time. The sidings can handle about six cars. With this in mind the consists should be of six to ten cars in length. With passenger cars around 4-6 in length. Since the main line is a double loop, there should be plenty of block timing to allow for movement. Careful planning and speed control should obviously rule here.

With the John Deere and other facilities in Rock Island, the Oglsby CO-OP spur, LaSalle Peru lumber yard and other factories, along with Ottawa and Joliet industries there should be plenty of work to be done along the road. I can't wait to get started!


Members Area

Upcoming Events

Great External Links

Recent Photos

Recent Blog Entries

Recent Videos