How To Model Train Layouts Summertime era-swapping on the White River Division

Summertime era-swapping on the White River Division

By George Dutka | March 1, 2023

The many looks of George Dutka’s HO scale model railroad

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A blue model diesel engine and train in rural New England
A Boston & Maine/Central Vermont pool train operates through Bellows Crossing in this early 1980s scene on George Dutka’s HO scale White River Division. George Dutka photo

It’s been more than a decade since Lou Sassi photographed my HO scale White River Division for a feature in the March 2009 Model Railroader. A lot has changed since then. The track plan has been altered to better view and photograph scenes. I also eliminated the duckunder. Now a point-to-point layout, there’s a yard at each end of the line for staging. Though my primary modeling focus is the 1950s, I’ve been incorporating equipment from other decades during the summer months.

A pair of model diesel locomotives
In this early 1960s scene, Central Vermont and Grand Trunk Western Geeps await their next assignment in front of the now unused White River Junction coal tower. George Dutka photo

For most of the year the White River Division is set in the 1950s. During the warmer months I’m often away at the lake and the model railroad goes on hiatus. I usually take all of my equipment off the layout to make cleaning and dusting the White River Division much easier come fall. This practice also keeps dust from accumulating on locomotives and freight cars.

The last couple of summers I’ve had modelers contact me to visit the White River Division. Not having any engines or equipment on the tracks became a concern.

A model train passes a pumpkin patch
Pumpkins are a requisite for modeling New England in the fall. A local operating in the Bellows Falls area passes two pumpkin patches in this 1970s scene. George Dutka photo

I have a varied collection of New England equipment that appeals to me but doesn’t fit into my primary operating era. The locomotives and freight cars are normally stored or displayed elsewhere. Could this group of equipment be put to use moving my layout forward to another era? By doing this I could keep the layout ready to run when guests stop by for a visit during the summer. A couple of trains could be parked on the mainline with a few cars located in each yard. The sidings would also look better with a car or two. In just a few hours, I can stage my layout and give it a totally different look.

A model railroad track plan representing Vermont
George’s layout is specifically designed to change eras in a short amount of time. Kellie Jaeger illustration

Era swapping isn’t new to the hobby, as I found out during a visit with my friend Don Janes to Wayne Sittner’s layout. Wayne’s Lehigh & Susquehanna Ry., featured in Great Model Railroads 2014, is set between 1978-85. Wayne can move his layout back to 1952-62 by changing out the rolling stock, vehicles, and a number of buildings. Wayne mentioned that in a day the whole layout could be backdated to the steam era. Wayne is an artist who loves the look and feel of life in the past. I would love to visit his layout again after it’s been transformed.

Model boxcars and a caboose pass in front of a covered bridge
This 1970s scene along the Central Vermont is set in the northern part of the Green Mountain State. The covered bridge is based on a prototype in Northfield Falls, Vt. The sign on the full-size bridge was salvaged from the station when it was torn down. George Dutka photo

With Wayne’s point of view fresh in my mind, I contemplated how many eras could I model on the White River Division? That will depend, in part, on doing an inventory of the equipment I currently have on hand. During the past two summers, I’ve been able to move my layout’s era forward to the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, I’ve found almost enough equipment to re-create the 1980s, 1990s, and possible current operations. I’ve grouped these models into what I can era-specific consists.

Two model train engines meet the caboose of another train
Here’s a Maine Central meet at Bellows Crossing during the mid 1980s. The U25Bs will wait until the tail end of the Bellows Falls-bound train clears the diamond before proceeding to White River Junction. George Dutka photo

My layout measures 12 x 14 feet plus a 12-foot extension into the next room. The model railroad’s size makes modernizing scenes a realistic goal. Being set largely in rural New England during the 1950s, most of the scenes can be left as is. The main items that need to be swapped out are the trains and vehicles. Modernizing some structures could also help reinforce the time frame. Locations along the mainline, such as the railroad crossing and junction, could also be updated with contemporary signage.

A model of a green diesel locomotive passes by a coal dealer
E.C. Crosby & Sons Coal still stands today in Danby, Vt. along the Vermont Ry. In this scene, Green Mountain Electro-Motive Division GP40 No. 305 heads past the coal and grain dealer. George Dutka photo

Updating locations can be done with drop-in scenes, a topic I wrote about in Model Railroad Planning 2018. The Bellows Crossing diamond received a reversible Rutland-style station. Since only two sides of the building are visible at any time, I boarded the windows up on two sides to make it look abandoned. The other two sides depict the station as it looked in the 1950s.

At Westminster Center, the Rutland-style station is changed out with a drop-in lineside Boston & Maine (B&M) storage shed modeled from a retired boxcar. Across the tracks the creamery is removed and replaced with a lumber unloading area which only requires a small shack, some unloading equipment, and bundles of lumber and banding.

A model of a red diesel locomotive passes behind a station
Vermont Ry. Electro-Motive Division GP38-2 No. 201 switches an industry in this 1980s scene at Bellows Crossing. The station is based on a former Rutland structure. George Dutka photo

Outside Westminster Center at a crossing near the feed store is another drop-in scene. Normally a section house or water tower is located here. For later eras, I built a new scene which is my version of Red’s Eats, a location famous for its lobster rolls in Wiscasset, Maine. The restaurant, adjacent to the ex-Maine Central Rockland Line, still stands. On my layout this location is a good stopping spot for my train crews when a meal is needed on the fly. Having worked for 33 years as a railway engineer, I know a lot about go-to spots.

A green diesel locomotive pulls a train through a model tunnel
In a contemporary scene, the local is seen emerging from the Bellows Falls south tunnel portal with a Canadian Pacific covered hopper in tow. The railroad tunnel under the town center is a key feature in modeling Bellows Falls, Vt. George Dutka photo

Lineside customers such as Crosby Coal are scenes found along the Rutland Ry. in the 1950s. Crosby Coal has changed little over the years and still stands next to the Vermont Ry. This scene can be left as-is for trains to pass during any of my modeling eras.

The engine servicing area for White River Jct. is across the river at Westboro, N.H. I’ve modeled the sand house, sand tower, section house, and fuel platform for the 1950s. Not much changed for the next few decades, so I can use this scene for the 1960 and 1970s. Though now abandoned, many of the structures still stand, including the sand house, roundhouse, section house, and division headquarters. Both ends of the layout, White River Jct. and Bellows Falls, aren’t that easy to change and will remain as-is for now.

Era-specific consists

My current problem is filling out trains for eras beyond the 1950s. To make things easier I’ve divided my equipment into decades. The 1960s is my go-to summer changeover as a lot of what I run regularly is appropriate for the next decade.

I have a limited collection of engines and rolling stock for the 1970s and 1980s. I have even less  if I try to model the modern era. This is a good problem to have, though. I can research what I need and find what’s offered online and in the current Walthers reference book.

Two blue diesel engine models idle at a fueling facility
In this 1970s scene Boston & Maine GP9 No. 1724 and GP40-2 No. 311 are serviced at Westboro. Although abandoned today, many of the structures still stand. George Dutka photo

The 1970s may have been the most colorful era for Central Vermont’s diesel fleet. The Coast Guard and American Revolution Bicentennial units, as well as the olive-and-gold repainted Geeps, accented the other schemes of the decade. The 1970s also had some interesting operating practices that I can re-create, such as the pool trains operated by the CV and B&M and Canadian Pacific (CP) and B&M.

For the CV/B&M trains, each road supplied one or two engines to the pool from 1977-1982. Since I have some CV and B&M GP9s, these trains are easy to model. My friend Peter Mumby has offered on long-term lease his model of B&M GP40-2 No. 311. The GP40-2s began arriving on the B&M in the late 1970s.

A model of an old boxcar used as an office
In this late 1980s scene, a CP Rail freight passes the local railroad office housed in an old B&M boxcar at Westminster Center. A lumber unloading area is located across the tracks along the quarry spur. George Dutka photo

In the 1980s, you could see MEC U25Bs (Nos. 225-238) in the area I model. Nine of the 14 U25Bs that came to the MEC in August 1980 spent most of the decade in New England. I modeled two Bowser U25B engines in MEC and Guilford paint when they first were offered. Although these models are now in the collection of Peter Mumby, they do come home on occasion when required. Bowser once again offers U25Bs, but now with Digital Command Control and sound. I may add one of these new offerings to my fleet.

A model of a green diesel locomotive leads a train across a bridge
With the clock turned ahead to the 1960s, Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific RS11 No. 3610 crosses the White River with a freight train. The DW&P unit was set up to run long hood forward. George Dutka photo

Another aspect of modeling northern Vermont in the 1980s is the early years of Guilford. Guilford purchased the MEC in 1981, the B&M in 1983, and the D&H in 1984, making for some colorful consists. During these years you could find cabooses from all three lines on trains. Following the purchase, many of the diesels were repainted into the Guilford Gray scheme.

For the 1990s and beyond, I’ve acquired some Vermont Ry. and Green Mountain (GM) units that my friend Andy Greenlees was selling off. Green Mountain No. 405, an RS1, will be used as my Bellows Falls yard switcher. The prototype can still be found today working at White River Jct. or Bellows Falls.

The Vermont Ry. units will be used on the mainline. The Central Vermont Ry. was taken over by the New England Central Ry. in 1995, which opens the doors for some NECR GP38s.

A green switcher pulls a mixed freight trough the countryside
The 8081, the last Alco switcher on the Central Vermont, is seen in this early 1980s scene headed through the countyside. The prototype engine is now on display at the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic, Ct. George Dutka photo

Railfanning the White River Division

Since I’m a bit of a railfan, I included some photo locations on my model railroad. Perhaps the best scene on the White River Division is Bellows Crossing. Another location is Middlesex Center, a junction where two lines come together. There’s also a spur at this location.

A bridge scene over the White River and numerous grade crossings are great spots to view trains and take a photo. Almost all of the scenes were designed to double as railfan locations. There are numerous angles to consider. I’ve been surprised seeing what views visitors have captured.

A yellow caboose passes behind a model restaurant
A through freight passes Red’s Eats just outside Westminster Center, a hangout for local train crews. The restaurant is based on a prototype business in Wiscasset, Maine. George Dutka photo

Future consist plans

Since Canadian National (CN) and CP trains frequent the area I model, I want to add more Canadian presence to my consists. I’ve already acquired a Rapido C40-8M, which CN began receiving in 1990. I recently saw an appealing view of an all-CP consist in East Deerfield during the winter of 1976. The trio of London, Ont.-built GMD power featured a GP35, F7B, and GP30, all which are offered in HO scale. I’m sure I will locate each of these units at some point to fill in my 1970s fleet.

Rolling stock is another consideration. I need a few more pieces for the later eras. I plan on turning a few pieces into rust buckets using acrylic paints. Weathering is another area of the hobby that I will venture into.

As one can see, I do have a lot of options for how the White River Division will look going forward. Although operating my layout in the 1950s is my primary focus, I’m excited to see what will happen with summertime operations in the future.

Layout at a glance

Name: White River Division

Scale: HO (1:87.1)

Size: 12 x 14 feet plus 12-foot extension

Prototypes: Central Vermont, Boston & Maine, Vermont Ry., and Green Mountain Ry.

Locale: Vermont and New Hampshire

Era: 1950s to present

Style: around the wall

Main line run: 50 feet

Minimum radius: 24”

Minimum turnout: No. 6

Maximum grade: none

Benchwork: L-girder

Height: 48”

Roadbed: Cork

Track: code 83 flextrack

Scenery: plaster cloth over cardboard webbing

Backdrop: drywall with sheet-metal coved corners

Control: NCE power cab DCC


George Dutka is a retired Canadian National Ry. locomotive engineer with 33 years of service. He’s a member of the National Model Railroad Association, Canadian Association of Railway Modelers (CARM), and the Central Vermont Railway Historical Society, including a stint as editor of its quarterly publication, The Ambassador. George is currently the CVRHS modeling editor. He and his wife, Susanne, live in London, Ontario, Canada, where he also enjoys photography, sailing, woodworking, and visiting their five children and eight grandchildren.

Man in maroon shirt poses next to model train layout
Meet George Dutka






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