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Meet the modeler: Ray Dunakin

By Rene Schweitzer | April 18, 2022

A Buddy “L” train set purchase leads to a fabulously detailed garden railway

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Model diesel locomotive stopped at a depot
Steam locomotive on garden railroad
The author’s first locomotive was a Buddy “L” 2-6-2. This is how it looked after he modified and repainted it. Photos by Ray Dunakin

In a paragraph, how did you get started in the hobby?

Model railbus with artificial cacti on a garden railroad
Handmade scale ocotillos, cacti, and other desert plants had to be designed to withstand the elements.

Meet Ray Dunakin: As a child, I had always been interested in trains and model railroads. When I was in junior high my dad gave me and my brothers a 4′ x 8′ plywood layout he had acquired from a friend. It came with a box of Model Railroader magazines. From those I learned about making scenery and scratchbuilding structures. John Allen’s famous layout made a huge impression on me. Unfortunately, I never had the money to do much more with the layout, and later, I didn’t have room for even a small layout.

In December 2005 I bought a large-scale Buddy “L” starter set that was kind of cheesy, but it had realistic sound. Although I had no room indoors for a layout, I soon figured out how to fit a large-scale layout into our backyard.

What was your first large-scale locomotive?

It was a Buddy “L” 2-6-2. It had a copper-plated, die-cast boiler so it was a bit toy-like. However, I fell in love with the realistic sounds. Eventually, I modified and repainted it to look more realistic. It didn’t last long, and it was replaced with a Bachmann 4-6-0.

What’s your favorite part of the hobby?

Scenery! I love to make realistic scenery. Figuring out ways to model realistic desert scenery in an outdoor setting, exposed to the elements, was a challenge. I had to make some compromises, and the result is sometimes more impressionistic than realistic, but I’m happy with it. I also love scratchbuilding structures, which I consider to be part of the scenery-making process.

Read some of Ray Dunakin’s structure articles from Garden Railways:

Model diesel locomotive stopped at a depot
The Dos Manos depot is flanked by a kitbashed narrow gauge RS3 and a scratchbuilt railbus (at right).

What’s your least favorite part?

Electronics and electrical issues.

What has been your biggest modeling success?

Getting a layout up and running, with most of the scenery in place. The closest I ever came before was in the late ’80s when I started an HOn30″ layout in our garage. I only got as far as building the benchwork and laying some track, then I had to tear it all out to add a room over the garage.

Model structure with lit interior
All of the buildings on the In-ko-pah Railroad are scratchbuilt and most include detailed, lighted interiors.

What was your biggest modeling mistake?

That’s a tough one. Not that I haven’t made my share of mistakes, but most were just part of the learning experience and figuring out what works. I think the worst mistake was using Aristo-Craft “wide radius” switches, which were notoriously troublesome. I thought I could make them work, but I never could get them to work reliably in both directions without derailing. Now I’m in the process of replacing them. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by just spending the extra money for better switches in the first place.

What advice would you give to a new hobbyist?

If you’re like me, you’re going to have times when you feel burned out, or overcome by a tedious task. Set it aside and work on something else for a while. A model railroad is made up of smaller projects, so if you get sick of doing one task, switch to another. You can finish the other project later.

If you’ve enjoyed this article on Ray Dunakin, you can read more Meet the Modeler articles here.

One thought on “Meet the modeler: Ray Dunakin

  1. Ray, I enjoyed your story as well as visiting your thoroughly detailed railway scene in 2012. From fence to fence, your backyard emanated the essence of rocky hillside mining. Thank you!

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