See this interview with Eric White, Editor of Model Railroader magazine. Trains.com Unlimited Members can see the video in the Trains.com Video section.
Steve Sweeney: Well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another Q&A with the Editors. And today, our special guest is Eric White, editor of Model Railroader magazine. Eric, welcome.
Eric White: Thank you. Good to be here.
SS: Glad to have you join us today. So you have been editor at Model Railroader magazine just for a few months now. If you don’t mind, tell our audience briefly what you do and how you came about the job.
EW: Well, I’ve been an editor for quite a while. I was a newspaper editor before I came here.
One night, while waiting for some sports stories to come in, I went on the MR forum and saw that there was an opening for an associate editor. So I thought, “Hey, what the heck, let’s apply for MR, see if I can get a job.”
So that was back in 2013 and 2014. I started as an associate editor at Model Railroad, and about 2018 I got to join the books team. So I became a books and Model Railroader editor.
And in 2020, I was promoted to senior editor, when Dana Kawala left to go work for Walthers. And this past spring, I was offered the job as editor of MR. And of course, I said yes. Thank you. Yes.
SS: So I do have a standard list of five questions that I’d like to ask you. First question, what is your favorite railroad, present or past, and why?
EW: So I’ve had a lot of favorite railroads. I guess I started off being a Penn Central fan as a kid because that was the railroad that ran by both of my grandparents homes. My mom’s parents lived in Aberdeen, Maryland, so we weren’t far from the Northeast Corridor tracks there.
I love going up to the Aberdeen train station, watching Black GG-1s with those big white PC worms on the side, pulling freight trains and then Metroliners.
Those were always a favorite of my brother and I because they’d shove you up against the station wall as they blast blasted pass through the great crossing that was there in Aberdeen.
I’d also go up to Bristol, where my dad’s parents lived.
At the end of their street was a yard at the other side of the yard, an embankment and the top of the embankment again was Northeast Corridor.
So, so lots of Penn Central stuff.
As I got older, I started to do some research and learn where Penn Central came from. I learned about the Pennsylvania Railroad and of course, being a Pennsylvania native, I was interested in that railroad. I started studying that.
I had this idea at one point that I would build a transition era, railroad model, railroad using Bowsers, metal, diecast metal, steam engine, kits, and then whatever plastic diesels I could find.
By the time I actually got around to building a railroad, Bowser was no longer making those kits. I didn’t manage to build one.
I have a Pennsy H9 consolidation, but at that time, around that time, I also I won a raffle at a new hobby shop. And the prize was a Santa Fe diesel. I figured it’s a new hobby shop. It’s probably going to be some take home model and it’ll go on a shelf somewhere. And that’ll be nice because I did find that I won the prize. I went, picked it up and it was one of the early Atlas U23B locomotives. Nice road switcher.
Those were of course, that was about 1996 or 1995, so before DCC and sound was common. So, it was just a DC locomotive, but there was no viable way I could turn this into a Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive. The new 23 B’s came out after Pennsylvania ceased to exist.
So, I did a little research and discovered that the Lehigh Valley had had them, and that’s the other railroad that’s in the area where I grew up.
I grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and north of me is the Appalachian Trail. And the Appalachian Trail passes around the Lehigh Valley. In fact, one of my favorite spots on the trail is Lehigh Gap. And through Lehigh Gap runs the Lehigh Valley on the one side, on the south side of the Lehigh River, on the north side is the Central of New Jersey.
For a while between them, I think it was the Lehigh New England that had a huge bridge that ran across the river at that point. So I started to look into the Lehigh Valley and said, hey, the U23-B in Cornell Red. That’d be kind of cool.
So my current favorite railroads are the Lehigh Valley and the Penn Central.
Tell me, what is the best part about what you do?
EW: There’s a lot of really good parts. I mean, we just got back from the the National Train Show in the NMRA convention that was down in St. Louis earlier in August.
And it was fun to meet people and talk to people and see all the great ideas people have and also get a chance to share some of what I’m doing. It’s fun to talk to people about model trains, and it’s fun to talk to people about real trains, and that’s why this is a great job.
So I think that’s probably the thing that’s sort of the most energizing.
But we also we get to build models. We get paid to do modeling that can be both satisfying and frustrating, because when you’re building a model for the magazine, it has to be done by a deadline.
So sometimes you can go the extra mile that you might want to do, but on the other hand, it teaches you how to finish projects. So in the past I had lots of projects. I still have lots of projects that have been started and set onto a shelf, put back in boxes, never to be touched again, or for quite a while.
When you’re doing something for the magazine and you’ve said, Yes, I’m going to have this story for the October issue, well, you got to have it done before the deadline so you learn how to do stuff.
So that’s that’s been a good part of it, too.
SS: Eric, tell us about something you’ve exciting you’ve been working on lately.
EW: Well, I’m working on the November and the December and the July issues of Model Railroaders, so that’s exciting.
Let’s see what else? Well, I’ve got a project railroad at home. It’s a Pennsylvania railroad switching layout. It’s in my living room. And I wanted to build a coaling dock, a coaling trestle right at the front of the layout, right at the front edge.
So I found some drawings on Pennsy on the Pennsy page, Rob’s Pennsy Page, which is a great website, great resource, because it’s got all these Pennsylvania Railroad, I guess, picture mechanical department drawings.
So I found a really cool steel and concrete pier coaling trestle and I’ve been working on that.
So I’ve got the, the steel beams all put together from some evergreen channel and I’ve been soldering Clover House PCB Board ties onto some old Atlas Code 83 Flex Track.
So that’ll be the track with the those really long ties that will hold the walkways on either side. And they’re about every four feet. So the coal can fall between them.
So I’m excited about getting that project going and that’ll be a neat scene right at the front of the layout.
SS: What interests you most about modeling or rail fanning or research or any of those things?
EW: Well, you know, rail fanning, that’s the fun thing about that and seeing how it actually all comes together.
You know, seeing the the mass of the trains, the sounds, seeing what what railroading looks like today.
So it’s fun to be out. One of my favorite spots, common spot around here is to Duplainville. There’s a CN and CP crossing.
So a lot of Friday afternoons I meet some former MR guys and sort of friends of the magazine. We hang out and watch trains go past there and eat our lunch. When it comes to research.
I blame this partly on my dad, who was a history teacher. So I’ve always been interested in history and it’s fun to go back and and look at stuff in the past, see how things used to be compared to how they are.
So, you know, that’s one of the things researching my ideas for a Penn Central Lehigh Valley layout is looking at old aerial photographs, finding various Facebook pages about different areas, seeing how things were, the time periods.
And I want to model, which was like obviously early seventies when it comes to model building.
There’s this point for me when I’m building that things start to come together enough that you can see what it’s going to be before it’s done.
And it’s exciting to see it start to coalesce into something and you’re looking forward to the completion of the model, but you still have the enjoyment of both assembling the parts and then finishing things. So they look realistic when you’re finished. And I think that’s what I get out of modeling. That’s where I find my enjoyment. They’re excellent.
SS: If you were working for the railroad. What railroad would craft or position best describes you?
EW: Oh, I think you can ask me what I would want to do. Well, I mean, I’m the magazine’s manager, so I would think I’m probably somewhere in middle management type of a job. I don’t know what they are really, really clearly.
But I guess probably the closest thing of what I would understand would be like a dispatchers job where I’m making sure that all the parts are coming together at the right time and keeping things moving and making sure that deadlines or schedules are met.
Of course, we’re not to worry about anybody dying, putting the magazine together.
That’s true. That’s true. That’s a that’s a nice bonus. Yes. I mean, of course, if you’re going to work on the railroad, I would think running a train, being an engineer would be the fun job.
SS: Have you ever had the opportunity to operate a train in the cab?
EW: No. In fact, the only cabs I’ve ever been in are the stuffed and mounted types of locomotives. The closest I came, actually, as a kid, I used to go to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. They have a Baldwin steam locomotive in their basement. And when I was little, there were those two big green and red industrial buttons mounted in the cab, and you could press the button and it would move the locomotive would move forward about five feet and press the button, and it would move backwards.
I took my son there a couple of summers ago. He was fascinated. He also likes trains, but it no longer moves, disappointingly.
SS: We’ve talked a little bit about about railroad museums and memories from your childhood.
How important do you think actual railroads are? Seeing actual railroads in action?
EW: Ah, for the modeler. Well I mean I think that depends on the individual.
Some are very much interested in recreating what’s actually happening or what actually happened. Some just think the trains are cool and they like the motion in the movement. So I think it sort of depends on what it is you want to do. It’s what’s interesting to you.
I guess the some might not look at them as model railroads, but trains in in settings that have absolutely nothing to do with reality. But they’re still interesting constructions.
You know, it’s sort of what you want to get out of it.
SS: Where do you see Model Railroader in the next ten years?
The next ten years? Well, see, in ten years, we’re going to be almost 100 years old.
So Model Railroader, at 100, I think there’s still going to be a printed magazine. We have a lot of people who are interested in that. In fact, that’s where the bulk of our audience comes from, is from the print magazine.
But I think there’s also going to be a much more robust digital aspect to it as well.
So I think you’re going to see more things like this where there’s video, there’s interactive, maybe digital content as well as a printed magazine. I’d like to see the magazine stick around.
I think that it has a good place. It’s nice to have something physical in your hands.
It’s nice to make something physical that you can say, “Yeah, that’s that’s the October issue. We just put that out. Here’s everybody’s work.”
I think that it’s going to have similar content. People like to read how to do things. So I think that will keep on showing people how that how things are done and how that’s going to evolve is going to depend on, I guess, somewhat how the products evolve.
We learn techniques from other kinds of modeling. You know, you get a lot from the military modelers. They teach us a lot about weathering and what they call ground work or what we call scenery.
There’s some neat products out there for that, and I think things are just going to start to look more and more realistic. It’ll be easier to pull that off. There may be some some sort of virtual stuff that you can mix into your your physical modeling.
I’ve thought about wouldn’t it be cool if you could project this backdrop onto a screen behind your layout?
And, you know, as as video screens get cheaper, maybe there’ll be a point where you can buy a 24-inch-by-30-yard roll of LCD screen that you put behind your layout.
And you can have whatever background you want and have the clouds float by. And. Well, that would be fun. So who knows? Of course, maybe you’ll see that on April Fools issue sometime.
SS: Eric, it’s been great talking with you today. Is there anything else you’d like to say or anything that you’d like to mention about your editorship at Model Railroader?
EW: Well, you know, this is the beginning of it. So it’s going to be fun to look at this maybe ten years in the future and see where I am then compared to where I thought I might be.
Hopefully I’m still here and we’re all still here. We’re all still having a good time. You know, it’s it’s been a fun ride for the first eight years I’ve been here. I’m looking forward to getting at least the 100th anniversary issue.