Wheel Report – Summer, 2023 – SPECIAL EDITION

From the Desk of the Division Superintendent

Robert “Bob” Johnson, Superintendent (2022-24)

This special edition of the Wheel Report addresses a number of activities and events so please be sure to read the entire post.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who hosted meetings and / or presented clinics during the past year (2022 / 2023). This was our first full year of face to face meetings since the 2018 / 2019 program year (something called COVID-19 seems to have gotten in the way since then). Attendance at the past year’s meetings was quite good although not quite up to the level that is was prior to COVID. My aim, with your help, is to not only get back to previous attendance levels but to exceed them.

East Broad Top Railroad Tour

The date for the planned special tour of the East Broad Top Railroad has been set for Friday, July 28th (Now Friday, 11 August). I realize that this date may not work for some of you that have to work on Friday but it was selected to avoid the large weekend crowds and allow those of us attending to have a better experience. Our semi-official hosts for the day will be our own Jane Clarke and her helper Pete Clarke. Both of them are very active in the Friends of the East Broad Top and are quite knowledgeable as to the history and operation of the EBT.

NOTE: The estimated cost for the day will be – $46.00 per person for all of the various tickets you will need (pay as you go – not a single ticket).

The schedule for the day is as follows:

  • 10:00 AM – Meet at the Friends of the EBT museum in Robertsdale, PA – Tour Museum & adjacent mine area
  • 11:30 AM – Lunch (Pizza) Provided by the SMD
  • Noon – Depart for Orbisonia (Est. arrival 12:45)
  • 1:00 PM – Guided shop tour
  • 3:00 PM – Ride Train (Engine 16)
  • 4:00 PM – Trolley ride

You are welcome to bring guests with you. We do ask that you email southmountaindiv@gmail.com if you are planning on participating and let us know how many people will be in your group.

2023/24 Division Meeting Schedule

The regular monthly meetings of the SMD will start in September of 2023 and run through May of 2024. Meetings are held on the 2nd Sunday of the month September through March starting at 2:00 PM. In lieu of the April meeting we will again be hosting an annual SMD Mini-Convention at the Blue Ridge Summit fire hall (across the street from Main Line Hobby Supply). The May meeting, as usual, is moved to the 3rd Sunday to avoid a conflict with Mother’s Day.

For those of you who are not currently participating in the regular division meetings, a meeting normally starts with a social period to allow everyone to enjoy the host’s layout (if they have one) or to examine other aspects of the host’s modeling efforts. This is followed by a short business meeting and then we frequently have a modeling clinic put on by one of our members or a guest presenter.

The SMD does not collect any dues or supplemental fees. The meeting host typically provides refreshments and we do accept voluntary donations at the meetings to help defray the costs of these refreshments.

Membership in both the South Mountain Division (SMD) and the Mid-East Region (MER) of the NMRA is automatic if you live in the areas highlighted on the map below.

Call for Meeting Hosts and Clinicians

We make an effort each year to schedule most of our meetings at locations that are either new to the division, or locations that we have not visited for several years. Each meeting will give you the opportunity to see how your fellow modelers have approached the hobby and to learn new techniques.

If you would like to host a meeting during the 2023/24 program year and/or present a clinic, or have a suggestion for a future clinic, please email southmountaindiv@gmail.com as soon as possible.

2023/24 Division Communication Strategy

Current plans call for the Wheel Report to be issued on a monthly basis starting with the September issue which will come out in mid to late August. Each issue will deal primarily with the upcoming meeting and any current issues of interest to the membership of the division. Other content will include, but not necessarily be limited to:

  • Notices of upcoming events such as train shows. The membership is encouraged to send notices to southmountaindiv@gmail.com for inclusion.
  • Critical Division business that will be taken up during the next meeting for action by the group.
  • Short articles written by members of the SMD and/or photos of interest. These may include articles about your modeling efforts, fan trips, etc. We will also be printing content addressing NMRA content such as the Achievement Program, SMD/MER web content of special interest, etc. Again, the membership is encouraged to provide content.

Please email suggestions for ways we can improve SMD communications to southmountaindiv@gmail.com.

Along those lines we are going to try to cover, at least, the business portion of upcoming meetings (and clinics when practical) with a ZOOM link.

NMRA & MER Links

Don’t forget that both the NMRA Magazine and the Mid-Eastern Region (MER) newsletter, The Local, are now being distributed electronically. If you are not receiving these publications and other digital content, check to make sure your email address is current.

Change your mailing or email address: https://www.nmra.org/request-membership-info-changes

Join or renew with the South Mountain Division: https://www.nmra.org/store/membership

Read The Local: https://mer-nmra.com/elocals.html

Read The NMRA Magazine: https://www.nmra.org/nmra-digital-magazine

Read recent eBulletins: https://www.nmra.org/members/bulletins

Surf web content from the Turntable: https://www.nmra.org/members/turntable

Chat on the Interchange: https://www.nmra.org/nmra-interchange

Attend the Region Convention: https://www.mer2023.org/index.html

Attend the National Convention: https://2023texasexpress.com/

Growing the Division

After several years of declining attendance participation in South Mountain Division activities seemed to stabilize a couple of years prior to COVID and then started to slowly grow. Post COVID active participation has been steady but slightly down from 2019. NMRA membership in the SMD area has been more or less constant at around 100 members. As previously noted, if you are a member of the NMRA, you are also a member of the SMD, so we are encouraging you to become active in your Division. You will meet other modelers, get fresh ideas to help your with modeling, and hopefully just have fun.

For those of you who are active… If you know of a fellow modeler who is a member of the NMRA, but does not participate in our Division activities, encourage them to do so.

Modelers who are not members of the NMRA are welcome to attend one or two meeting of the SMD as a guest but for insurance purposes they will be required to join the NMRA after that. I encourage all of you to reach out to non-NMRA modelers and encourage them to join us.

We have a supply of a very nice color brochures that you can use as a recruiting tool. These were printed just prior to COVID with the primary intent of placing them in area hobby shops to reach out to modelers. Due to recent NMRA changes (primarily concerning the NMRA Bulletin going to an electronic publication) some of the info on membership is out of date, but should not cause any issues.

Starting this fall we will start placing these brochures in area hobby shops again so if you have any suggestions as to where to placed them let me know.

I hope to see you soon; either at the EBT in July or at our first meeting in September (location to be determined).

Bob Johnson, Division Superintendent


MER Convention Seeks Clinicians


I am the Convention Clinic Chair for the 2023 Around the Curve to Altoona Convention 2023 Around the Curve to Altoona Convention hosted by our Susquehanna Division 11. I’d like to extend a warm welcome and invitation to each of you and any of your Division members who would like to present a clinic at our 18-22 October Convention. As you know, Altoona was the heart of the Pennsylvania Railroad during the heyday of American railroading. The Convention will provide visits to historic railroad facilities, sites, attractions, and provide educational experiences for all attendees.

For those who have never presented at a regional convention they can earn 4 points toward the Author Achievement Program. This could be their first step in the path to achieving MMR status. We welcome any topic associated with model railroading or prototype railroading that is related to our model railroading hobby.

As currently structured, our clinic program will offer 50+ clinic slots over the four-day convention. A clinic slot is based on a 45-50 minute clinic, 10-15 minutes for Q&A, and 30-minutes for setup, tear down, and break time between clinics. Each of our 3 clinic rooms will have a full audio/visual setup, tables for model displays or other support material, and a convention clinic team member who will introduce the clinician and provide any assistance needed during the presentation.

We sincerely look forward to welcoming you and many of your members to Altoona in October.

Best Regards,

Barry Schmitt

[To contact Barry or others on the Convention committee please visit https://www.mer2023.org/lcc.html, or email the SMD at southmountaindiv@gmail.com, and we will put you in touch. -ed]

The Mini-Con is Back!

From Grant Berry

On Saturday, 23 April, 2022, South Mountain Division (SMD) will present a Mini Convention in Blue Ridge Summit, PA, sponsored by Mainline Hobby Supply. Beginning at 9:00 AM, this free annual outreach programming consists of a morning loaded with informal clinics, including a couple of make-and-take opportunities, and then concludes in the early afternoon with a couple of formal presentations. Both NMRA members and the general public are invited to this no-cost gathering.

This Mini-Con activity is a great opportunity for the Division. It offers an occasion to reconnect with one another, encouraging active participation as a way to give back, and a path to promote the hobby to the public. It takes a large staff of volunteers to host this event. Most are Division members. Attendance in past years averaged over 200 persons.

To encourage casual interaction and an exchange of ideas, approximately twenty informal clinics take place during the first four hours. Clinic topics this spring will cover structure building and painting, rolling stock maintenance, upgrades, and weathering, locomotive tuning, DCC topics, a fiber optic presentation, Tortoise machine operations, and more. Clinicians will be seated at tables welcoming attendees to observe their projects. Conversation and questions are entertained as the clinicians work.

In some instances, guests may be invited to try their hand at the work.

Being sensitive to physical distancing protocols, no modular layouts will be present this spring to facilitate enough space between and around clinicians.

As in the past, the SMD will have two make-and-take clinics that focus on the beginner, giving preference to the youth in our hobby. Both culminate with a small structure to take home. An entry-level craftsman kit and a basic plastic kit are the foundation for this activity which is billed as a wonderful parent and child activity.

Two formal presentations are slated for the afternoon hours. Division member John Pursell will offer a program on frugal methods to model railroad, and lastly, member Pete Clarke of the Friends of the EBT has arranged for a talk on the happenings and progress at the East Broad Top Railroad.

The sponsor for this event, Mainline Hobby Supply, is within walking distance from the Blue Ridge Mountain Fire Co location. The Division encourages all to thank owners Bonnie and Brian Wolfe and to support their business. Mainline is offering a 10% discount to every Mini-Con attendee on the day of the event. Additionally, a $150 gift certificate for Mainline Hobby will be raffled off during the day.

The raffle ticket holder must be present at the time of the drawing on Saturday to win.

Watch this site to get all updates regarding this event.

News from National

National Election Results

From John Stevens, 2021 Election Administrator

President Gordy Robinson

Vice President Rick Coble

At-Large North American Director Chris Palermo

Eastern District Director John Doehring

Pacific District Director Rob Peterson

By-Laws Amendment Passed.

All Officers-Elect will assume their duties on Friday July 2, 2021 for a three year term.

I would like to thank all the members who make our elections possible. We have Nominating Committees and Ballot Committees in the European Region, the British Region, the Pacific District, NMRA Canada, and a National Committee in the United States. Together, all of those committees were able to assemble a great slate of candidates.

I would also like to thank all the candidates who volunteered to step forward and run for a National Office. The nine candidates were willing to give up many hours to serve the members of the NMRA. It is easy to sit around and complain about how things are being run, but it takes a special level of commitment to be a candidate for one of these positions.  I wish them the best of luck in their new positions.

Lastly, I would like to thank those who voted, and took the opportunity to determine who will be responsible for setting our national policies and leading this organization into the future.


From Christopher J. Palermo, Publicist – 2021 convention

NMRA 2021 Rails By The Bay, NMRA’s 2021 national online virtual convention on July 6-10, 2021, has several exciting announcements.

Click HERE for the latest.

Chris reports the following developments in planning this convention.

Jack Burgess MMR will present a clinic titled Photoshop Elements as a Modeling Tool. Join Jack for a detailed review of the Photoshop Elements software and learn insider tips about how to use it to plan and build models.

Clinic schedule updated. Clinics and layout videos will be offered daily, July 6-10, at 9:00am, 10:00, and 11:00. A break will be observed from 12 noon to 2:00pm, but layout tours will be available to view on your own. Afternoon clinics will be offered at 2:00pm, 3:00, and 4:00, followed by a dinner break at 5:00. Evening clinics will be at 7:00 and 8:00, and breakout rooms will remain open at 9:00 for socialization. Clinics nominally run 35-45 minutes.

Call for volunteers. The convention continues to need more volunteers to serve as: Clinic Track Moderators, Clinic Goes On Moderators, Information Desk Operators, Information Desk Operator Assistants and Breakout Room Moderators, as described below. These are low-tech positions and will include training so that you have the information you need.

Clinic Track Moderators – moderate the chat window (keep the chat on topic, promote discussion on the topic, encourage questions for clinician), share needed links with attendees, and encourage attendees to visit the breakout rooms. Sign up HERE

Clinic Goes On Moderator – moderate the meeting (keep the chat on topic, promote discussion on the topic, encourage questions for clinician, ensure all attendees get to ask questions), share needed links with attendees, notify attendees when next clinics are starting and encourage attendees to visit the breakout rooms. Sign up HERE.

Information Desk Operator – Share important information on screen, help direct attendees to breakout rooms and answer questions as attendees enter the Great Hall. Sign up HERE.

Information Desk Operator Assistant – assist the Information Desk Operator. Sign up HERE

Breakout Room Moderator – Circulate among the breakout rooms assisting attendees. Promote discussion among attendees, introduce people in breakout rooms, be welcoming, helpful and promote social interaction among attendees. Sign up HERE.

Notice of Annual Meeting

From Rick Coble, NMRA Secretary

The National Model Railroad Association, Inc. will hold its 2021 Annual General Meeting Sunday, August 15, 2021 at 3 PM EDT.

Due to the cancellation of the 2021 National Convention, the meeting will be held virtually through the video conferencing platform GoToMeeting. Registration is required to use GoToMeeting. Registration opens July 8, 2021 and closes August 1, 2021.To register, contact the Vice President Administration at VPresident@nmra.org

You may send questions to the President prior to the meeting. Questions may be on any aspect of the NMRA. Questions sent prior to the 2020 meeting touched on many topics, including standards, the Achievement Program, and conventions. Questions and answers to your questions will be posted on the NMRA website no later than August 13, 2021. Meeting minutes will be posted no later than Sunday, August 22, 2021.

Questions to the President should be submitted in advance to the Secretary, beginning July 8, 2021 and no later than August 1, 2021 at secy@nmra.org .

Partnership Program


The companies listed below give discounts to NMRA members when orders are placed using a special discount code. You can find descriptions of these companies and their products, links to their websites, and the discount codes on our Partnership Page at  nmra.org/partnerships . Remember you need to be logged into our site as a member to see the codes! Go to nmra.org/user/register to register your name on the website.

Our newest partners are listed in RED.

Bear Creek Model Railroad

CatzPaw Innovations

Clever Models LLC

CMR Products

Daylight Sales

Deepwoods Software

Deluxe Materials


East Coast Circuits


Great Decals

Green Frog Productions

HobbyWorx Tools and Supplies

Hot Wire Foam Factory

K.I.S.S. Method

LaBelle Woodworking

LARC Products

Logic Rail Technologies

MAC Rail


Mine Mount Models


MinuteMan Scale Models

Model Railroad Benchwork

Model Train Catalogue

Modelers Decals and Paint

Motrak Models

MRC (Model Rectifier Corp)

Nick and Nora Designs


Old West Scenery

Ram Track


Rusty Stumps

Scale Model Plans

Scalecoat Paint

Scenery Solutions

Showcase Miniatures

Team Track Models

The N Scale Architect

The Old Depot Gallery

Tichy Train Group

Touch of the Brush

Train Installations

Train Show, Inc.

Trainmasters TV/MRH Store

TSG Multimedia


Unreal Details (Magic Water)

USA Airbrush Supply

WiFi Model Railroad

SMD “Hobby Hangout” Summary

An Informal SMD Get-Together by Zoom

Summary prepared by Clerk, Harvey Heyser – 2-27-21

Normally, the SMD would not publish “minutes” for a gathering when no business was discussed, but given the fact that the get-together was the first remote informal event the Division has held, the following is a brief summary of some of what was shared during that event (for SMD members information and to encourage future participation).  15 or so attended.

Superintendent Jerry Skeim served as moderator.  [He had his hands full.]  Alex Polimeni acted as Zoom Master.

John Madden described his adventures with an 0-6-0 that he just could not get to run.  It turns out that he had removed the DCC chip for some reason.  (He could not remember why.)  Once he reinstalled the chip, the loco ran beautifully.

Bob Geldmacher told everyone about using 3-D printers at the Westminster Library (available for free) to aid in constructing parts for an On30 mine he’s working on.

Bob also described his efforts to bend tubing in order to make light fixtures (using a jig he made) and his hunt for LEDs with wires small enough to fit into the tiny brass tubing.  Bob Johnson suggested another approach – filling the tubing with sand before bending – and using the tubing itself as one of the wires.

Dave Thalman showed a live video from his phone of his continuing progress turning one of his helixes into a scenicked mountain.  Dave has had much success using “ground goop” in his scenery efforts.  Once mixed, it remains usable for a long time.

Bob Johnson notified everyone that his basement renovations are complete enough for him to [deviously] begin plotting ways to make his operating schedule more challenging.  He also has been reworking some brass articulateds with new NWSL high-low gearboxes to improve running qualities and to quiet them down. 

Rich Randall displayed photos of the Central Locomotive Works SD-40 kit (now almost 50 years old) he has been working on.  One of the things he wants to change is the drive train, which seems (from the photos) incredibly kinked with the trucks turned even slightly.

Ron Polimeni asked what people are doing for paints now that Floquil is no longer available.  

  • He indicated his dislike for the semi-gloss finish of Modelers Decals and Paint’s products.  
  • Bob Johnson said he continues to use his inventory of Floquil.  
  • Others pointed out that they have had success with Scalecoat by using only Scalecoat thinner (the kind specific for each of the 2 kinds of paint Scalecoat makes).
  • Ron reported he has had no luck with Tru-Color, which goes on glossy.  Tru-Color thinner contains a substantial percentage of MEK and, therefore, should be used with plenty of ventilation and other extra precautions for using hazardous materials.
  • Bob Morningstar pointed out the need for constant airbrush tip cleaning (with a q-tip) during spray sessions with water-based paints, which (in his experience) do not adhere as well as Floquil but have otherwise performed well.
  • Tru-Color paints go on glossy.

Ron then displayed some of the diesels he has been painting.  He showed how a chrome marker works for the stainless steel grilles.  (The marker is made by Molotov and is available from Blick Art Supplies.)

Pete and Jane Clarke showed slides from this year’s EBT Winter Spectacular.  [Pete looked quite forlorn in a shot down from the caboose cupola.]

Jane showed the 3-D printed model of the freight house she’s been working on for Robertsdale as well as shots of the component parts, which were quite complex in form (and quite expensive).

Pete showed the trestle he has installed at Pucky’s Coal in Orbisonia immediately adjacent to the (always crowded) operator’s aisle.  Those in attendance immediately started taking bets on how long it would be before an elbow (or gut) would knock the hoppers onto the floor.  [Most guesses were under a minute.]  On a more constructive note, Pete showed his first efforts making a dirt road (to Pucky’s).  

Frank Benenatti talked about the model of Ewing’s Mill he constructed for Mt. Union on Pete and Jane’s layout.  He used a balsa wood mock-up that he cut and reworked at the layout to get the model sized to fit the actual location (an amazing process according to Jane).  The final model was then constructed of more conventional materials and included a very nice embossed paper “stone” foundation as well as custom ink-jet printed decals based on the prototype.

Bob Morningstar displayed several equipment projects:

  1. A Walthers (agricultural) combine model “mounted” on a flatcar with attendant parts not yet installed and with all required blocking, tie-downs, etc. (as the prototype would be shipped):  the load was held in place by micro-magnets.
  2. An old Akane brass USRA light Mikado re-motored and reworked to represent a B&O prototype:  Bob reported that the change that most significantly improved running was adding a torque arm to the drive.

Bob also reported he has found a very fine-tipped marker for adding “chalk” marks to freight cars.  Bob Johnson indicated he has used Prismacolor pencils for the same task.

Frank Benenatti has been trying to sell his layout.  He thought he had a buyer who unfortunately had to back out when the renovation of the proposed location (basement) turned out to be too costly.  Frank is still willing to sell his structures if anyone is interested.  Frank is thinking of building a display of Robertsdale for the FEBT museum – something different.

Frank also reported feeling lonely running trains by himself during the pandemic.  Consequently, he turned up the volume on the sound chips.  That helped a bit.  [It certainly made up for all the bad jokes normally heard during sessions.]

Alex Polimeni asked operations hosts what challenges they foresaw in returning to op sessions after the pandemic.

  • The most obvious answer was cleaning track!
  • Bob Johnson said he will need to work on switches and their machines.  He plans to free-up the switches by wiggling them with his fingers and then throwing them multiple times to make sure they are working properly.
  • Pete and Jane Clarke reported unwanted rodent visitors causing damage to the foliage and leaving debris on the tracks.

Alex has been painting figures (for war-gaming unfortunately) during the pandemic.  He is planning to present to the SMD an up-dated clinic on the water-based Citadel paint system.  [Even at his tender age,] he finds reading glasses quite helpful to relieve eye strain when painting.

Andy Arnold has been developing a computer inventory program.  Given his professional experience with programming, he was surprised that most of the effort so far has involved “making the screen look better.”

Brian Greenawalt has been building some of the craftsman structure kits he has acquired over the years.

Following the discussion (reports, tips, questions, slides, and videos, etc.), the consensus of those who participated was that the Division should do another Zoom get-together.  Superintendent Skeim will schedule a date in the coming month.