Blame the Brass

Alex Polimeni, superintendent

by Alex Polimeni

“Clutter from the Super’s Desk”

Maybe it’s just me, but Thanksgiving always feels far off until it’s the coming  Thursday and you realize you haven’t bought a thing for holiday dinner…

Of course, Thanksgiving also means the South Mountain Division season is under full steam, and let me tell you, we’re highballing it down the main this year. The year kicked off with a visit to Jeff Grove’s new layout back in September, where Jeff gave a thoughtful talk on his eye-catching structure weathering techniques. Last month, we found ourselves in the south-west corner of Division territory, returning to Dave Thalman’s PRR railroad four years after we’d last seen it. Next, we’re coming back around to newly-elected MER Director Bob Morningstar’s home in the run up to the Christmas holiday- and while I’ll be away on travel that day, I’ve asked my assistant Superintendent Jerry Skeim to preside over what should be another good meeting.

Looking ahead, we’re starting next year with a couple of real highlights. In January, the Frederick County Society of Model Engineers will be opening their doors for layout tours at 12PM, ahead of the meeting proper at Richard Benjamin’s HobbyTown Frederick location- so, plan to get an early start! Afterward, in February, we’ve been invited to hold our Frederick meeting at the Cumberland Valley Model Railroad Club in Hagerstown, MD. I haven’t seen either of these club layouts myself yet, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Even further down the tracks, 2020’s Mini-Con is coming together thanks as always to Pete and Jane Clarke’s tireless efforts, Mainline Hobby Supply and, of course, YOUR incredible contributions. Simply said, we put on a great model train show, and that’s something every Division member should be proud of. On that note, if you’re not involved yet, we’re excited to have you come aboard!

Finally, I want to say that it has been my pleasure and genuine privilege to serve as your Superintendent these past two and a half years. After a great deal of consideration, I have made the hard decision to step away from the Super’s desk after May 2020.

I chose to accept my nomination in early 2017 because I wanted to honor Paul Rausch’s memory, and the Division chose to give me a literal vote of confidence (and a leap of faith) in electing me Superintendent. Considering a personal history in other volunteer organizations with a, shall we say, similar membership demographic, it’s meant more to me than I can say that you would trust your Division’s youngest member at the metaphorical throttle.

Going forward, I’ve got a few things going on, with the prospects of getting married, starting a business, and taking classes all on the horizon for me, and a position like this shouldn’t be allowed to stagnate around a single person regardless. If you think you’d be interested in taking a turn in the chair- or think somebody else really should!- we’ll be setting up the nominating committee come January, and I’m confident we’ll be in good hands no matter who steps forward for consideration.

Until then, I’ve still got 6 months to finish out, and plenty on the agenda to complete before then- including a “SMD Superintendent For Idiots” playbook I hope to pass along to our next Super, so maybe they can get the hang of it a little quicker than I did! I’ve learned a lot, had a ton of fun, and remain incredibly grateful to South Mountain Division for my time behind the Superintendent’s desk.

SMD Turns 40

Harvey Heyser III

by Harvey Heyser

This coming year marks forty years since the SMD received its charter on April 26, 1980. The initial geographical boundaries were Jefferson and Berkeley Counties in WV, Washington and Frederick Counties in MD, and Fulton County in PA. In the absence of records from that early period, I have summarized mentions of the SMD in the MER newsletter, The Local, including some of the people [SMD member names in bold face -ed.] and activities from the early years of the Division.

The first officers were:

Paul Berger – Superintendent

Ed Staeblein – Assist. Superintendent

Dennis Masters – Clerk/Paymaster

Directors – Larry Cunningham, Rick Morrison, and Ron Busey

Early activities in 1980 included, a fan trip to the EBT, a meet at the Maugansville Ruritan (with movies, clinics, model displays, model contest, and operating modules), and meetings at held by Ron Busey, Bill Madison, and Larry Cunningham.

Paul Berger was listed as Achievement Program (AP) assistant, and AP certificates were awarded to Paul Berger and William (Bill) Miller of the SMD.

Activities for 1981 included another meet at the Maugansville Ruritan, including contributions from Dennis Masters (HO modules), Bill Rinn (clinic on detailing cast locomotives), and Bud Sima (clinic on building structures from balsa).

This second group of officers was elected in 1981 (and re-elected in 1982):

Ron Busey – Superintendent

Robert Miller – Assistant Superintendant

Mary Synowiec (later Miller) – Clerk/Paymaster

Directors Warren Hart, Earl Reitzel, and Marv Kershner

Planned activities for 1982 included a clinic on wiring by George Perrine, a visit to Harry Clark’s Indian Creek Valley, tours of the Martinsburg Club’s HO scale Blue Ridge & Allegany RR, their O scale Ditch & Gauly RR, Lynn Breland’s HO Lost River & Western RR, Bill Wood’s HO B&O RR, Dave Southerly’s Piedmont Valley RR (WM branch), Jeff Madden’s HO WV layout, and Mike Kidwell’s HO Willoby & Western. There was a visit to the Hagerstown Model Railroad Club (including a raffle won by Dick Powell, Dispatcher for the WM Ry and a clinic on adhesives by Ron Busey), plus visit to the Strasburg (including mention of an injury to Rev. Harry Miller while demonstrating use of a handcar).

The March/April 1982 issue of the The Local contained an article about Paul Berger’s Potomac Central Railroad including a track plan.

Planned activities for 1983 included meetings and clinics at Ron Busey’s and John Kelly’s, a third meet at the Maugansville Ruritan featuring tape slide clinics, a “Pale Pachyderm” sale, modular layouts, and 10 new members. It was noted that the winners of door prizes were Chris Knight (antique bottle car kit (bottle and trucks – he had to figure out how to assemble it.)); Todd Michael (G&D hopper); and Jim Eells (B&O caboose). Meetings took place at Mike Kidwell’s HO Willoby & Western, and at Larry Snook’s layout there was a wood structure assembly session led by Ron Busey. Carpools to the MER spring convention in Wilmington, DE.

Officers elected for 1983 were:

Bob Miller, Superintendent

Mary (Synowiec) Miller, Assistant Superintendent

Steve Green, Clerk/Paymaster

Director – [names not listed -ed.]

Notice of the SMD’s first sponsored fall 1983 MER Convention in Hagerstown appeared in the November/December 1982 issue of the The Local. Paul Berger served as convention chair. Jay Beckham served as registrar, and Warren Hart gave a clinic on rocks.

The convention included layout tours to the following:

  • The Hagerstown Model Railroad Club,
  • Paul Berger’s Potomac Central,
  • Warren Hart’s Potomac Valley and Western,
  • Jay Beckham’s Columbia and Port Deposit Branch (PRR),
  • Will Snyder’s Antietam Valley,
  • Jeff Madden’s South Penn RR (B&O),
  • Mike Kidwell’s Willoby & Western,
  • The Martinsburg Model Railroad Club,
  • Luther Ratcliff’s HO layout (un-named), and
  • Dave Southerly’s Piedmont Valley.

According to reports in The Local, Jeff Madden won three (3) prizes for photography, and the South Mountain Fireball Award was presented to Paul Backentose for a diesel and slug.

After 1983, The Local did not give a complete listing of SMD officers; however, Mary Miller and Lynn Breland were mentioned as holding the Superintendent position.

In the January/February 1985 issue of The Local, there was a notice of the SMD hosting a layout tour for the Dixie Division including layouts by the following: Jeff Madden, Lynn Breland, Luther Ratcliff, Dave Southerly, Will Snyder, Warren Hart, Paul Berger, and Bob Johnson.

Over the early years of the Division’s history, the following SMD members served in various Regional positions:

Bill Miller – Director, MER

Mary Miller – Model Contest Committee Chair, MER

Paul Berger – Achievement Program Coordinator, SMD

Dennis Masters – Ballot Committee Chair, MER

After the 1985 Quad Regional Convention held in Harrisburg, Mary Miller thanked SMD members Bill Miller, Jay Beckham, and Dennis Masters for their assistance with the model contest.

Allow me to end this summary with some observations. Many of the activities the SMD scheduled in the past are similar to those the Division sets up today, including meetings in members’ homes, visits to their layouts, clinics, and railfan trips. Also consider that the early meets held at the Ruritan were strikingly similar to present our day Mini-Cons.

Although many of the names listed above may not be familiar, a few are still active. These are the people who established your South Mountain Division and gave it the solid foundation it enjoys today. They deserve congratulations for their efforts starting the Division.smdcharter001

NJ Free-Mo at Liberty Bell Convention

By Mike Prokop

The Liberty Bell Convention will offer operations on the New Jersey Free-Mo HO scale modules throughout most of the convention weekend. While participating in operations or just viewing the modules, you’ll be able to admire the fine craftsmanship and modeling of the two module sets presented by the New Jersey Free-Mo group. Also, you’ll learn of the historic and prototypical significance of each module set.

Bill Grosse’s “Yardville” module features a look at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s presence in this small New Jersey town circa 1955. Part of the original Camden & Amboy line that successfully ran one of the first steam engines in the country in the 1830’s, Bill has represented the area very well with his modeling of local industries and customers along the line with superb details and interesting features of Yardville. If you like switching and spotting cars, Bill’s module offers plenty of operational opportunities that will challenge your skills and provide lots of fun and excitement.

Mike Prokop’s “Linden Street Freight Station” module is a late 1950’s replica of  the Reading Railroad’s facility on the Camden, NJ waterfront. Built to almost the exact prototype of the Reading property, this module operates just like the real thing. It features car float operations loading and unloading coal and freight cars. Coal is switched onto two raised trestles for truck transfer with freight spotted at the station and public delivery siding for processing. Transfer runs in and out of the facility offer additional challenges to operations. Mike’s Free-Mo module set was featured in the 2019 issue of Model Railroad Planning. If you have a copy, check it out and come operate on it in person.

One last note…when Mike and Bill connect up their modules, they generate plenty of traffic and car loadings between Camden and Yardville that keeps operations moving at a brisk pace. So, whether you’re an experienced operator or a beginner interested in learning and jumping into this fascinating part of the hobby, come operate on the New Jersey Free-Mo module setup. More details and information about operating times and format will be available in future newsletters and at the Liberty Bell Convention.

Liberty Bell Special Convention Update

By Charles Stevens, Philly Division NMRA

Just a friendly reminder to those of you who procrastinate like I do, the “Early Bird” registration date for Liberty Bell Special 2019, Mid-Eastern Region 2019 convention is August 31, 2019. You can register for an exciting weekend of clinics, displays and vendor visits at

Most of us probably don’t need a back to school calendar or reminder anymore. And for those who do need a nudge, the merchants on TV do an excellent job of reminding us that summer is almost over. But while you’re thinking of hanging up those white shorts and trousers you shouldn’t wear after Labor Day, give some serious thought to joining your fellow Region members at the Mid-Eastern Region convention at King-of-Prussia, PA, October 10th through October 13th.

The clinic schedule is full up starting Thursday night running through Sunday morning. In addition to the usual fare of presentations, there are several hands on or make and take sessions available for participants. Whether you want to learn T Trak modular, the finer points of resin car assembly, work on your AP Electrical award or build a Hunterline structure, we have something available for you. Many of the hands on sessions require prior sign up available on the convention registration form at You will also find a tentative clinic schedule on the site. As we approach the convention, please remember to check the convention website frequently for updates, additions and changes. There is even a place on the home page to sign up for emails whenever changes or additions are made to the site.

One thing not listed on the convention website is our vendor roster. Artist Peter Lero will be joined by such familiar names as, in no particular order, Micro Mark, Funaro & Camerlengo, CMR, Downtown Deco, Hunterline, and Nick and Nora Designs

And speaking of Nick and Nora Designs, our Saturday night railroad menu themed banquet will feature a presentation by Mike Baker of Nick & Nora Designs. Mike is been a professional artist and designer and founded TMB Custom Models in 1992. In addition to creating craftsman kits, Mike builds models and details rolling stock for clients. He will regale us with stories of his achievements and frustrations pursuing this career most of us only dream about.

In one of our previous articles we discussed the modular display from the Reading Modular Society that will be on display at Liberty Bell Special 2019. Your author would be remiss if he did not give equal time to the New Jersey Free-Mo display that will share the Reading Modular room. NJ Free-Mo will offer operating time or spectating time on their two modules. Bill Grosse’s Yardville module displays the Pennsylvania Railroad in the name sake town circa 1955. Mike Prokop’s Linden Street Freight Station recreates the Reading Railroad’s facilities on the Camden waterfront also packs a lot of operating opportunities in a small space. Mike’s module was featured in the 2019 issue of Model Railroad Planning.

As you can see, the Liberty Bell Special committee has strived (striven?) to fill all your Region convention expectations over Columbus Day weekend. Register on the convention website, pack the car and family and plan to be on one of the many roads that lead to King of Prussia, PA.

See you all there!

MER Director Candidates, 2019

Nominees for NMRA MER Director were announced in The Local newsletter for July and August. You should receive paper ballots or electronic voting instructions in August. The deadline to vote is 3 September. The three candidates are Randy Foulke, Jerry Lauchle, and SMD’s Robert Morningstar, from Greencastle, PA. Check out the latest Local for all the candidate profiles.

Here is Bob’s bio…

Bob Morningstar

I have been an HO scale modeler since 1978 and member of the NMRA since 2006. I have served as past treasurer and president of the Hagerstown Model Railroad Museum.

My desire to serve as a director is driven by my desire to give back to the hobby and the organizations that promote it. My peers consider me a consensus builder and problem solver. I have attended the past two MER conventions and open my layout annually during the local Mainline Hobby Supply hobby shop open house layout tours. My health is excellent and I am willing to travel for conventions and meetings. Evidence of my passion for the hobby includes publishing to the Model Railroad Hobbyist (MRH) website blog (search “bobmorning”), and at my website, I have presented clinics at the South Mountain Division (SMD) Mini Conventions. In 2018 I demonstrated scratch building 3-aspect signals, and this year I did a soldering clinic.

The process of obtaining my MMR has begun. The documentation gathering phase is currently underway. I did obtain my Golden Spike award in 2018. I entered a structure for the first time into the MER’s model contest at the convention in Rockville, MD, and was awarded 3rd place.

This is a fascinating hobby which has provided me with 40 years of relaxation, friendship, and personal satisfaction. Contrary to popular thinking I believe the hobby is not headed for a massive decline. We do need to engage those who express an interest, raise our awareness amongst the general public, and avoid the exclusivity mindset that I have seen from time to time. Leveraging social media, promoting the hobby outside of normal channels, and not being afraid to try new methods will be critical to the continued success of the hobby.