The Evolution of WarrenVille RailRoad:
How It Got Started
Sometime around 1983 while shopping for Christmas gifts for my daughters I purchased a Lionel Cannonball Express starter train set at Toys-R-Us. At the time MPC (Model Products Corp) licensed the Lionel name and produced cheaply made trains that, while they ran on traditional 3 rail Lionel track, were not compatible with Post War (1945-1969) Lionels, as they ran using Direct Current (DC) in lieu of traditional Alternating Current (AC). Many people bought MPC's Lionels and became frustrated with their quality, and lack of compatibility with any older Lionels they may have brought out from attics and basements. Despite these issues, this little MPC set rekindled a fire in me, beginning the evolution of my forever growing layout. Building on that starter set, additional track, a pair of switches and some Plasticville buildings were purchased and all were mounted onto a 4 x 8 foot piece of plywood. Our layout was "done", taking up just a small corner of my workshop. You might find it interesting to note that, not having the heart to ever tear this first layout apart, almost 40 years later it still remains as part of what is now the Warrenville Railroad.
The original MPC trains were put aside and I began to purchase Post War Lionels from hobby shops and mail order catalogs. EBAY and the internet as we now know them didn't exist at the time. It didn't take long until I knew that a layout expansion was needed but space was in short supply in my workshop. My wife had no idea what was to come when she innocently suggested that I "move the layout into the adjacent spare basement bedroom". Her suggestion was taken, the layout was moved, and a second 4' x 8' section was added. The resulting layout now consisted of two towns, Lisa-Marieville and Karentown, named after my two daughters. Today the operating accessories in this area includes two # 455 Oil Derricks, a # 32920 Airplane Pylon and a # 138 Water Tower. There is also an elevated siding where one can watch an Aquarium car and a Cop & Hobo car operate.
Lionels can be addictive and my urge (need?) for another layout expansion could not be abated. Fifteen inch widths of plywood were added around the entire layout's perimeter for a new mainline. Mountains, buildings, light towers, streetlights and other scenery were added. Train shows (swap meets) were discovered and I came home from my first one with two shopping bags full of cars, accessories, tracks and other assorted goodies. These items could not just be put on shelves; that expansion itch had to be scratched! More plywood, cut into strips of varying widths, was added to the back and front of the growing empire allowing room for two new sidings and a passing track. Still 'itchy', an elevated loop was soon added.
Only fifteen inches of walk-around space on three sides of the layout remained leaving no more room to expand, but my addiction was now very strong. A cold four day Thanksgiving weekend gave me time to remove the doors from the new train room's three by twelve foot closet. “The Alcove” was created consisting of a lower loop circling Main Street and the Warrenville Zoo. “The Alcove” line also had an upper level of Lionel trains that entered and exited the old closet via two tunnels cut into the back wall. In 2020 this upper level was rebuilt using PostWar Gilbert American Flyer layout "S" gauge trains. There is a 1950’s American Flyer store type display (that I built) above it.
The following year the train room's front wall and door were sacrificed to allow a five by nine foot extension to what was now called the Warrenville Railroad. A train pulling Lionel's space related cars circle this section, and it was dubbed Cape Warrenaveral. In 2019 Cape Warrenaveral doubled in size. It now consists of a # 175 rocket launcher, a # 12749 radar tower, a # 470 Missile Launching Platform, a # 448 Missle Firing Range, a # 443 Exploding Ammo Dump, a # 12878 Control Tower and other military and space items. A Main Street of stores and a # 424081 K-Line operating Billboard are in front of Cape Warrenaveral under the elevated mainline, This elevated mainline now stretches over Karentown, Lisa-Marieville, Cape Warrenaveral and part of the (described below) Absolute Yards. It also shares a trolley line via two switch tracks.
Feeling bold, as my wife did not leave me when the old bedroom's front wall was torn down, yet another expansion was planned. The Absolute Yards (appropriately named as I promised my very understanding wife that it would be absolutely my last expansion) was completed shortly thereafter. This four by twelve foot addition both expanded the Cape Warrenaveral mainline and added three sidings and a outer passing loop.. Operating accessories including a # 12873 sawmill, a # 3662 milk car and platform, a # 397 diesel coal loader, a # 497 Coaling Station and an # 456 operating coal ramp. a # 342 culvert loader, a 345 culvert unloader, a # 164 log loader, a # 787 American Flyer Log Loader, a #362 Barrel Loader Ramp, a # 352 icing station, and various light towers and other operating accessories are located along these sidings.
I guess nothing is absolute as, the following year, my wife released me from my "no more expansions" promise in return for hard labor cleaning out and painting her laundry room. Eight feet was added to the Absolute Yards which also gave me space for a carnival with a N-gauge operating train ride and a carousel. It also features the unauthorized landing of the Starship Enterprise with heated conversation going on between Commander Riker and Jon Luc Picard. It's red alert and Superman is concerned and ready to take flight from his Fortress of Solitude in the background. Godzilla stands atop a mountain here, holding a Lionel gondola, ready to throw it onto the carnival.
Yet another expansion, approximately 6x5 feet in size, took place late 2015. Jutting out from the Absolute Yards. This area is referred to as the Warrenville Docks as it includes a bay bridged by a Lionel re-make of their # 313 operating Bascule bridge. Other operating accessories here include a # 12300 Oil Drum Loader and a # 282 Magnetic Gantry crane. There is also a short Gang car run located at the Docks.
Warrenville's first (and only) venture away from Lionel engines and cars occurred about 20 years so ago when I saw MTH's Subway cars (MTH was a major Lionel competitor). Lionel did not produce subway cars at that time. Having been a daily NYC subway rider for decades, I had to have it! Completed shortly thereafter was a subway, located under Cape Warrenaveral, featuring the Stillwell Avenue/Coney Island station.
All track, about 575 feet of it, is O27 gauge with curves are O42, O51, O54 or O72 wide radius. Operating switches are O42. Contrary to their reputation, I have been using Lionel O42 switches all these years with only one failure. The only exceptions to wide radius curves is the original loop earlier noted. Track appearance is improved with approximately 2,800 balsa wood track ties, painted brown to match the existing metal ties. Kitty litter makes wonderful, inexpensive, track ballast.
I love the compromise between the toy train look and realism. Scenery consists of dressed up Plasticville and similar buildings, odds and ends, and hundreds of trees both store bought and made from various weeds and other materials. Mountains and tunnels were made using several materials and methods ranging from paper towels dipped in plaster to spray foam insulation and layers of Styrofoam. Streets and sidewalks are painted, fences, walls, etc. are made from balsa wood, aquarium gravel, Styrofoam and other goodies. I believe that "people" bring a layout to life, Warrenville's "people" population exceeds 1,000.
Other than the Subway and the upper “Alcove” level, almost all engines, accessories and rolling stock are Lionel, mostly Post War with some modern era Lionel thrown in. There are also and a few Marx, MTH and K-line accessories. The Railroad's roster consists of over 60 engines and over 700 freight and passenger cars. There are also over 18 Motorized units (such as trolleys, Fire cars, Gang Cars, etc.) Warrenville's trains operate conventionally, without the current modern electronics.
I like the Post War reversing unit buzz and engines with "open frame" (not "can") motors. My engines must have good old Magne-traction too!. I like to pull the transformer levers to make 'em go! Train Power is provided by four ZW's (Post War Lionel's most powerful transformer each producing 275 watts of power and the ability to operate 4 trains each). Smaller transformers (2 TW's, a LW, a RW and a R) power lights and accessories. Can anyone say "Power strip"?
The spaces under the layout and all of the surrounding walls are covered with shelves housing my "collection".
All trains are run, I consider myself more of an operator/accumulator than a collector.