News & Reviews News In Memoriam: Jim Hediger

In Memoriam: Jim Hediger

By Cody Grivno | February 10, 2024

He was a member of the Model Railroader staff for 43 years and built one of the first examples of a double-deck layout

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

Photo of man standing by HO scale model railroad.
In Memoriam: Jim Hediger. Longtime Model Railroader Senior Editor Jim Hediger passed away on February 9, 2024. During his 43 years with the magazine, he wrote more than 750 stories, columns, and reviews. Bill Zuback photo

Jim Hediger, a member of the Model Railroader staff from 1972 to 2015, passed away on February 9, 2024 in Oconomowoc, Wis.

Early years

Black-and-white photo of teenage boy in engineer's hat by model railroad.
Jim Hediger’s first HO layout was built in his parents’ home while he was in junior high school. The diagram board next to young Jim had lights to indicate turnout positions. Norm Hediger photo

Jim was born in Chicago to Norm and Elenore Hediger. While in the Windy City, his father worked for the Grand Trunk Western. When Jim was 13, his family moved to Dearborn, Mich. There, his father worked for the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton RR.

While in junior high, Jim built his first HO scale model railroad, the 5 x 9-foot NJ&E RR. The layout was inspired by “Layout in a fortnight,” an article published in the December 1951 MR. Jim and his father modified the plan to use Atlas Snap-Switches and flextrack. They also added a compact yard along the front edge of the layout.

“Corralling my youthful enthusiasm and teaching me to be patient and build things correctly from the beginning had to be a real trial for my dad as I always tried to rush everything,” Jim wrote in the December 2000 MR. “Even so, he patiently helped me add the grade and upper level and lay track. Dad installed the wiring including the track diagram board that showed turnout positions. Building the trains, scenery, and structures was my job.”

Though basic compared to layouts Jim would go on to build, he credits the NJ&E RR for laying a solid hobby foundation. “I still follow the principles I was taught back then: be patient, always do your best, and don’t be afraid to try new things.”

During Jim’s years in Dearborn, he spent a decade working part-time at the hobby shop in his backyard. “Emery Gulash owned Star Hobbies and Bill Maguire was its manager,” Jim wrote in the November 2015 MR. “Both were excellent modelers who encouraged my HO scale modeling. They also introduced me to realistic layout operations as a Junior Member of the O scale Detroit Model Railroad Club.” Jim also worked as a telegraph operator for the Wabash RR for one summer.

Following high school, Jim attended Wayne State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in industrial education. Jim then taught high school graphic arts (printing), machine shop, and wood shop in the Dearborn School District. He later earned a master’s degree in industrial education from Eastern Michigan University.

Reaching out

Black-and-white photo of man building a model at a workbench.
Jim Hediger joined the Model Railroader staff in 1972. In this June 1976 photo he’s shown working on a kit in the MR workshop at 1027 N. 7th Street in Milwaukee. Rosemary Entringer photo

While Jim was reading a 1972 issue of MR, he noticed a small group of people were producing the ever-growing monthly publication. “I picked up that things were going on behind the scenes to get the magazine out,” Jim wrote in the January 2019 MR. “I wrote to Linn (Westcott) in the middle of May 1972 to inquire if he needed help. About three days later I got a telephone call wanting to know how fast I could get to Milwaukee to visit the Kalmbach offices. This happened right at the end of the school year. I completed my teaching contract with the Dearborn School District before I moved to the Milwaukee area in the summer of 1972.”

Jim joined the MR staff as an associate editor, becoming Kalmbach employee No. 62. “My work with Linn Westcott began with an unforgettable comment that I followed throughout my career: ‘Never be afraid to try a new idea; even if something doesn’t work, you’ve still learned something valuable from it,’” Jim wrote in the November 2015 issue.

In the Fall 2015 Proof, Kalmbach’s employee newsletter, Jim recalled attending his first National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) convention with Westcott. “Linn introduced me to nearly everyone in sight, including manufacturers, his friends, and the hobby’s best-known authors. The rest of the week was a whirlwind of home layout visits, tours, and clinics where expert modelers shared their latest ideas. Everyone introduced himself and shook hands warmly, as if we’d known each other for years. Amazingly, this friendly attitude and sharing of model railroad information has never changed during my many years on the Model Railroader staff.”

During his 43 years with the magazine Jim, or JDH as he was called by colleagues, travelled throughout the world. He represented MR at industry events such as the Nuremburg (Germany) Toy Fair, and iHobby Expo; toured the factories of several major hobby manufacturers; and presented clinics at NMRA national, regional, and divisional events. Jim was the keynote speaker at the NMRA’s 75th anniversary banquet held in Milwaukee in July 2010.

The Ohio Southern

Color photo of man holding a throttle running a model railroad.
Jim was well-known for building one of the first practical examples of a double-deck layout. His HO scale Ohio Southern was featured many times in Model Railroader over the years. Jim Hediger photo

Jim became well-known for his freelanced HO scale Ohio Southern. Not only did Jim share the layout with readers during periodic layout visit articles, but he also used the OS as a teaching tool in many Workshop and Paint Shop columns.

The original version of the OS was the cover story of the July 1978 issue. In the eight-page feature, he introduced readers to his freelanced 16 x 22-foot railroad, inspired by the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton. The point-to-point model railroad was designed for prototype operations. The single-track railroad featured passing sidings and several interchange locations.

Not long after that story was published, Jim and his family moved from Menomonee Falls, Wis., to nearby Sussex, both northern suburbs of Milwaukee. On September 26, 1979 Jim began work on his pioneering double-deck version of the OS. In his February 1983 article “The Ohio Southern’s bi-level benchwork,” Jim credited Linn Westcott for encouraging him to try the double-deck concept John Armstrong wrote about in Track Planning for Realistic Operation. “The proof that it works was summed up very well during a recent visit master track planner John Armstrong made to the Ohio Southern,” Jim wrote. “His comment? ‘By golly, it works!’”

In 1990, a city sewer project forced Jim to tear down approximately 80 percent of the OS. All that was left was the Jackson yard and about 10 feet of peninsula. Though a major setback, the event gave Jim a chance to revise his double-deck model railroad. “I was happy with the old layout’s point-to-point schematic, so my revisions are essentially enhancements of the original plan,” Jim wrote in the February 1998 MR. “It still represents the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton RR operations in southern Ohio, but I’ve added more on-line customers, a working interchange with Allen McClelland’s Virginian & Ohio, and revised staging yards.”

On July 28, 2018, demolition began on the 22 x 28-foot Ohio Southern. What took 38 years to build was dismantled in a little more than two days.

An unmatched legacy

Color photo of three men holding an award.
When Jim celebrated his 40th anniversary with MR, Editor Neil Besougloff and Publisher Terry Thompson presented him with a service award featuring the first and latest covers of the magazine that he worked on. Bill Zuback photo

When Jim retired in August 2015, he had written more than 750 stories, columns, and product reviews for MR. His vast knowledge of model and prototype trains, along with his friendly demeanor, made him one of the magazine’s most popular staff members.

In the Fall 2015 Proof, former MR Editor Neil Besougloff neatly summed up Jim’s impact at Kalmbach and in the hobby, “It’s unlikely that anyone will ever equal Jim’s contributions to Model Railroader magazine. Our staff, past and present, and the tens of thousands of readers he has touched in one way or another during the past four decades, are fuller and richer hobbyists because of Jim.”

Service information can be found here.

11 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Jim Hediger

  1. I only met Jim once at an NMRA convention in the mid-90s. But as a subscriber since 1982 I always loved his work whether about his OS layout or other work he did for MR. I really enjoyed the History According to Hediger Series on MRVP back in the day. My condolences to his family and to the Kalmbach family as well.

  2. I’m at the age where the people I grew up with as I learnt model railroading from my own father and his magazines are beginning to pass away.

    I’ll miss every one of those authors, layout builders, photographers, editors and others that have shared so much of their knowledge, their lives and themselves over the years.

    I know there is a fantastic group of equally capable, equally sharing people taking over but these “old friends” – though I never met them – will be sorely missed.

  3. Rest in Peace Old Hediger say hi to the old MR Staff including Gordy, Jay, Andy, and Neil we will miss you. I will miss the stories but we still have them here in the video archive. So Long Old Hediger and “Onward!

  4. The hobby has lost so many innovators in the last few years. It saddens me to see Jim Hediger join that list. I always enjoyed his columns and his wit. RIP Jim.

  5. Is there a possibility of MR offering limited run OS rolling stock and perhaps making a donation with the profits?

  6. A Giant has fallen in our hobby. I would hope as a tribute to Jim and all he has helped us learn that he become a member of the Hall of Fame. Regards to his family.

  7. Jim was a class guy. Had a lot of fun with him when we operated on Ton Lendzions layout, the Detroit, Pontiac & Mackinaw. Always nice to come to Milwaukee to see him. Too bad, great guy.

    kenneth Borg

You must login to submit a comment