News & Reviews News Meet Cody Grivno

Meet Cody Grivno

By Rene Schweitzer | March 1, 2023

Cast-metal railroad heralds, made by his father, helped launch a lifelong hobby and career

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Meet Cody Grivno

Photo of cast-metal railroad heralds on white background.
Model Railroader senior editor Cody Grivno became interested in trains thanks to his dad, Steve. In the early 1980s his dad made cast-metal railroad heralds under the Cast Seven label. This photo shows the master and final of the Great Northern herald. Cody Grivno photo

How did you get started in the hobby?

My journey to model railroading isn’t the one you often read about in the pages of Model Railroader. There wasn’t a Lionel set under the Christmas tree. Though my dad, Steve, dabbled with model trains as a kid, he was more into military modeling. Instead, I became interested in model trains and railfanning because of cast-metal railroad heralds.

Scan of advertisement from magazine
This ad from the November 1982 issue of Mainline Modeler shows more of the heralds that Cody’s dad produced.

In the early 1980s my dad taught himself how to do spin casting. He started a side business called Cast Seven and made railroad heralds. My brother, Max, and I often accompanied our dad on trips to the Burlington Northern (BN) yard in Crookston, Minn., to photograph heralds on rolling stock. My dad was high school classmates with the conductor on the local based out of Crookston, and other railroaders (and even the railroad itself) were customers of my dad and grandfather’s auto body repair shop, so access to the yard wasn’t an issue.

Photo of child with camera in front of a locomotive.
Cody Grivno, holding his Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera, stands in front of Burlington Northern Electro-Motive Division GP20 No. 2004 at Crookston, Minn., in the early 1980s. Steve Grivno photo, Cody Grivno collection

This started me down a road of parallel hobbies, model railroading and railfanning. When I was young, my mom, Connie, and dad purchased used cameras at flea markets for me to play with, among them a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. My dad recalls me shooting many rolls of imaginary “film” with these cameras. Fortunately, dad was documenting the Electro-Motive Division F units, 40-foot boxcars, and cabooses that were slowly fading from the railroad scene during that time.

As I grew older, I upgraded from imaginary film to the real stuff and used better cameras. One of my favorites was the Pentax ME Super (I still have it). Before I had my license, my mom and dad supported my twin hobbies by taking me to hobby shops and on railfanning trips.

My dad had a darkroom at the auto body repair shop, where I learned how to roll film and make prints. These skills paid off down the road when I worked on the yearbook in high school and took a photography course as part of my print journalism degree in college.

Color snapshot of HO scale model railroad
Cody’s version of the HO scale Red Wing Division was set in a fictional community in the Red River Valley of the North. The town was served by the Minnesota Northern RR and BNSF Ry. Cody Grivno photo

My brother and I shared an interest in model railroading. We combined bedrooms and turned my room into a dedicated layout space. In there, we built the HO scale Red River Valley & Central (RRV&C). My brother wrote about our layout for the Student Fair column in the April 1990 issue.

The RRV&C was rolling along until I received the December 1994 issue of MR. Once I saw the HO scale Soo Line Red Wing project layout, I knew I wanted to start over. I saved my allowances from cleaning the auto body repair shop for several months until I could afford all of the track components. My mom and dad still talk about the day I walked into Hobby Hut in Moorhead, Minn., to purchase the track. Though the layout had shortcomings, it provided many hours of fun.

When I wasn’t working on the layout, you could probably find me at the shop painting locomotives and freight cars. But I wasn’t using Floquil or Polly Scale. I was spraying DuPont automotive paints. Hey, when you have access to fleet colors, why not use them?

What was your first train set (or locomotive)?

An Athearn HO scale blue box Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) Electro-Motive Division GP9. Why? I grew up in BN country in the early 1980s. At that time, HO scale BN locomotive models were few and far between. The CB&Q was a BN predecessor, so at least it was in the family.

Describe your model railroading philosophy in 6 words.

This is a hobby. Have fun!

“Model railroading is fun!” It’s a slogan we’ve promoted for many years at MR. I can’t think of a better time to be a model railroader. We’ve gone from one-size-fits-all models to locomotives and freight cars with road-number-specific details and paint. Prototype information and photographs are often a mouse click or two away. Thanks to the internet and social media, we can connect with hobbyists around the world with similar modeling interests.

What has been your biggest modeling success?

Photo of locomotive and caboose on white background
Winston-Salem Southbound GP9 No. 1501 leads a short train on the compact HO scale switching layout. Caboose No. 664 carries the markers. The engine and caboose were featured in the February and April 2018 issues, respectively. Bill Zuback photo

Getting a job at MR is the obvious answer. During my 20-plus years with the magazine, I would say it was my eight-part video series on modeling a Winston-Salem Southbound Electro-Motive Division GP9 and the seven-part series on building a wood caboose kit for the layout. These were both long and involved projects, but they documented how to take a project from concept to completion. We showed viewers when I made mistakes and I walked through how to fix them. The locomotive and caboose videos were popular with viewers.

View the GP9 series here.

Photo of two HO scale models on white background
Cody painted these Athearn GP38-2 models for the Minnesota Northern RR. The sign maker who worked on the prototypes made HO scale masks so Cody could model the herald on the long hood. Cody Grivno photo

In my pre-magazine days, I would point to locomotives I decorated for the Minnesota Northern RR, a shortline railroad based in my hometown. As you probably guessed, commercial decals weren’t available, so I had to be creative. My dad knew the sign maker who did the graphics for the full-size units. He made HO scale masks for me, which made it possible to model the railroad’s maroon-and-white scheme.

When the units were repainted into the RailAmerica red, silver, and blue scheme, I learned about the world of custom decals. I worked with Jim Abbott, owner of Highball Graphics decals, to get sets made for the Minnesota Northern. It was fun to combine two of my interests, custom painting and prototype research, to make models based on the full-size locomotives that served my hometown.

What’s your least favorite modeling task?

Wiring. I see that Gerry Leone  enjoys it. Maybe I need to take a trip back to Minnesota for a crash course!

What project(s) have you been working on recently?

My longtime friend, Bill Phalen, recently sent me two boxes containing an EMD SW1200, some NW2s, and decals. My task? Repaint, detail, and decal them for the Lake Superior Terminal & Transfer. You may be seeing some of these models in the magazine and on, so stay tuned!

In addition to modeling, I also have a strong interest in prototype research. My ongoing research topics are the lines in and around Crookston during the Burlington Northern and Minnesota Northern eras. Recently, I started researching the Illinois Central Gulf Sioux Falls District between 1972 and 1981. My wife and children were real troopers during the trip to document the long-abandoned line.

What advice would you give to a new hobbyist?

Photo of teenager standing in front of a tree with an award
Cody Grivno was recipient of the National Model Railroad Association Thousand Lake Region Youth Award in 1994 and 1995. Other names on the traveling award included Jeffrey Hanson (1986 and 1987) and Ian Lisakowski (1988 and 1991). Steve Grivno photo

Get involved and ask questions. I entered my first National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) Thousand Lakes Region model contest in 1994 when I was 14 years old. I loaded up a storage tote of models that I’d custom decorated, and my dad drove me over to the convention site in nearby Grand Forks, N.D.

I didn’t know the first thing about the NMRA at that time. The models I entered were all over the map. Some were pretty good for a kid of my age. Others were, to be blunt, way off target. One diesel was missing handrails. On another I used automotive pinstripe tape instead of decal stripes. Yikes!

Instead of blowing me off as some kid, the judges left honest, constructive notes on the paperwork. When the dust settled, I took first place in the caboose category in 1994. I was also recipient of the TLR’s Golden Spike Youth Award in 1994 and 1995. This encouraged me to keep learning and growing in the hobby.

9 thoughts on “Meet Cody Grivno

  1. Great profile. This Pentaxian salutes you; this guy saved his newspaper money hustling the Chicago Tribune and also bought my ME Super.

  2. Great video. Interesting getting Cody’s modelling background. Would be great have something similar for all the folks working at MR.

    1. Looks like I’m late to the party…I see you’ve been making various “Meet…” videos for others on the staff.

  3. Cody, I have always been proud (as a Red River of the north product) of your talent and work at MR and MR Video+/ Your explanations of modeling techniques, as well as David Popp’s have helped me in my building of my last two layouts. I lived in Moorhead for 26 years and too was a regular customer of the Hobby Hut.

  4. I really enjoyed reading about Cody. I too looked forward to Cody’s Office. But love your all’s in-depth videos from David Popp and others regarding wiring, and taking us along as you build new layouts, refurbish them, detail & paint cars and much more. I’m involved in a couple organizations in KY, and would love it if any of you travel around to stop in at the LaGrange Railroad Museum and Learning Center or the K&I Model RR Club. Hope to have even more time after I retire from my broadcasting (behind the scenes) career later this year! Keep up the “Mid-Day Modelers” if you can. I watch as often as possible.

  5. Cody, you and I are within a year of being the same age, I’ve always enjoyed that there was someone my age working at MR considering most my model railroad friends are in theirs 60s! I wish there was more model railroad models from the 1980s, the years of our childhoods. One of my first models my parents bought me was an HO GP50, which was a new prototype locomotive back then! I sure do miss your Cody’s Office show, I looked forward to it every month.

  6. Cody: You have done many great things at MR but the best I beleive is Cody’s Office during covid when you filmed from your basement and had your kids help out. For those of us limited in getting out and about your series was greatly appreciated, Thanks!

  7. My dad had the same Brownie Hawkeye camera in black with a flash attachment that screwed into the side of the camera. He graduated to that from an old Argus that he used to shoot photos in Olympic National Park in western Washington. My mom was born in Crookston and her dad worked for the GN as a conductor before they moved out west and she met my dad.

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