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Home / News & Reviews / News / Meet the Modeler: Jim Kelly

Meet the Modeler: Jim Kelly

By Rene Schweitzer | March 7, 2022

After a long career working for Model Railroader, Jim still enjoys the hobby and continues work on his N-scale layout

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Locomotive on an N scale model train layout
Man sitting on chair next to model layout
Jim Kelly works on his N scale Tehachapi Pass.

What was your first train set (or locomotive)?

When I was very young, I had several Marx wind-up trains. They would circle the loop of track several times and then run down. My first “real” train set was an S gauge American Flyer with an Atlantic type steam locomotive and several cars. I was probably eight or nine and got it for Christmas. I had wanted an electric train so badly and my parents sacrificed considerably to buy it, as we had little money.

Describe your model railroading philosophy in 6 words.

Learn and have fun. Enjoy. Share.

Jim shares his thoughts about N scale railroading with Hal Miller and David Popp in this episode of The Roundhouse:

Locomotive on an N scale model train layout
Santa Fe no. 5300 is an Atlas N scale SD45. Jim enjoys adding railroad-specific such as the smoke lifters and snow shields atop this engine and just behind the cab. The railroad added these in the early 1980s. After several years they were removed because they interfered too much with maintenance. Jim controls his railroad with NCE DCC.

What has been your biggest modeling success?

That’s easy – finding a livelihood at Model Railroader magazine where I worked as an editor for almost 25 years. I thoroughly loved it. It was my dream job. Second would be my dream layout, the N scale Tehachapi Pass, upon which I am still working.

Watch a video of Jim’s layout:

What was your biggest modeling mistake?

Building the Tehachapi Pass layout, which is hard to keep up with because of its complexity. Second would be burning out a consist of three locomotives and their decoders with a short circuit.

Scene on N scale model train layout
The Tehachapi Loop is the highlight of Jim’s N scale railroad. The line was finished by the Southern Pacific in 1876. The Santa Fe bought running rights to the Tehachapi Pass trackage in 1899. The ranch has been at the loop since the 19th Century. This is among the most popular railfanning spots in the U.S. and is owned and operated by the Union Pacific. Burlington Northern Santa Fe has running rights. Both these lines are successors to the earlier railroads.

What’s your least favorite modeling task?

Ballasting track, although gratifying upon completion. It gets tedious quickly, so I only do about 3 feet at a time, then turn to something else.

Jim has tips on how to keep track clean:

Scene on model layout of concrete plant
Jim built this selectively compressed version of the Monolith Portland Cement company cement plant that stood next to the railroad in the 1980s. Much of California’s freeway system was built with cement from this plant. Some structures were built from kits, but most were scratchbuilt. It has since been replaced with a modern plant that looks quite different. Roen Kelly photo

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

Improvements in operation for better operating sessions. Also still working on structures and scenery.

What advice would you give to a new hobbyist?

Read books for beginners and Model Railroader magazine so you’ll learn more quickly and avoid mistakes. Get to know other model railroaders.


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