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Building a Layout Billboard Because I Biked a Rail Trail

By Michael Marmer TCA 92-35192
                                                                                               Fall 2020

I got back into model trains in 1991. I wrote an article about how that happened and it was published in e*Train's Winter 2019 edition.

However, I have been bike riding even longer. Biking started when I met Linda, on our second date in April of 1981. We went bike riding on a very muddy Chesapeake And Ohio Canal bikepath. We have pretty much biked on a regular basis every weekend, either on the C&O Canal or on the rail trails in Maryland, Pennsylvania or Maine.

A rail trail is a rail line that has been shut down by a railroad since it is no longer economically feasible to make a profit. Options are letting the railroad bed go back to nature or selling the land that the rail line is on. Often these abandoned rail lines can be refurbished into a path. They may be either paved or crushed stone for walking, biking and sometimes horseback riding. It preserves the history of the line. The track is removed, but many of the things along the rail line remain.

In biking, we have seen many telegraph poles, some in very poor shape, but many in great shape. There are mileage markers in metal or stone, railroad signals, whistle signs, abandoned graveyards, abandoned houses, and water tank foundations.  I know one cousin who has seen water tanks and a turntable in New York, signage and so on!

The TCA Eastern Division has its bi-annual meets at York in April and October, and Linda and I usually go the April meet.

We started to bring our bikes to the meets, as a rail trail was opened that goes from the City of York to the MD/PA state line.  It runs for 21 miles to the line, then it goes another 20 miles south towards Baltimore, ending at a town called Ashland, MD.  An extension was recently finished for this rail trail for 4.5 miles north of York.

Along the MA & PA Rail Trail

This rail line was the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad, the "MA & PA," that was in operation from 1901 to 1999.

Biking on the PA part of this rail trail is wonderful, as you go though many towns, and the railroad stations in New Freedom and Hanover Junction still stand.  There are many semaphore stands and some railroad signs still in place along this railroad line. There is a very short tunnel, that you go though. The railroad line is parallel to Interstate 83, but you do not see it. It is very scenic, with rock cuts and farmland.

This rail trail also has the railroad track in place on the PA part of the rail trail. I never understood why, until now. It is because there is now an incredibly unique, railroad train ride in operation. “Steam Into History” has a replica 1863 steam engine, with replica passenger cars. The docents are dressed in period clothing.  President Lincoln took the train to Gettysburg in 1863 and that train went up to Hanover Junction and then went west to Gettysburg. So this train ride is recreating what life was like in 1863!

But there is one unique railroad relic we would see as we passed the town of Railroad, PA, on our bikes. Think about it!  A full-size billboard, like what you would see along a highway from a motor vehicle. But this billboard, you can only see from the train!

There was passenger service on this railroad, so a furniture store put up this billboard.


Sieling Furniture Billboard near Railroad, PA (2009)

The Sieling Furniture Company employed about 50 workmen in manufacturing dressers, chiffoniers, center tables and a variety of other furniture pieces. The company was owned by 5 brothers. The billboard dates to 1941, and the company closed in 1971. I took these pictures from the rail trail in September of 2009.  There is a road behind the billboard, but the billboard was pointed towards the railroad tracks. There is a playground to the right of the billboard today, which is the reason for the parking lot.

There are vintage lights that illuminated the billboard, still attached to the billboard. The sign is full of pot marks and flaking, but it has survived all these years.

Old road and building signs have always intrigued me throughout my life as well as other things from the past that I might come across in my travels. I knew that I had to replicate this great piece of history on the train layout that I was building at the time! My friend, Bill Z of New Jersey, who I came across on a toy train Yahoo group, offered to make me professional photos of this billboard in S gauge if I sent him my photographs of it. That was a very kind gesture, and many people have done things for me like this for my layout.

But what size to make the actual billboard for my layout?  I did already have a wooden billboard for the layout that I got in 1993, already made in S gauge from NE Trains in Peabody, MA. So I measure the size of the billboard part, which was 4 and 7/8 inches long by 2 inches high.  An actual billboard is 14 feet high and 48 feet wide, so that would be 2.6 inches high by 9 inches to be a true billboard in S? That won’t work.

So, I emailed Bill the photos I took for the billboard, and I gave him the measurements I needed. Bill sent me several photos, professionally made, on photographic paper in that size. And wow, they were great!  I could not thank Bill enough for what he did for me.

So now, I selected a photo that Bill sent me, and I ordered Bass wood in the same size that was used for the billboard from the hobby shop in MA.  I measured the pieces used for that billboard and cut the wood. I also got some craft paint in forest green. I started this project on December 30, 2009.

The pictures here are from that day, which I spent cutting the wood.


Preparation for building a billboard

On December 31, I must have spent all day and all night gluing the wood and painting the billboard as I went along.

I worked in the kitchen on the round kitchen table, as I did for all of my building kits. I have wax paper down on the table top to protect it, Elmer’s wood glue, toothpicks to apply the glue, ruler, paint, brushes and there I start. I still have some very small, tiny drops of paint on the table from some kits, but you really have to look for it.  Fond memories of building the layout!

In one picture, you might see some yellow objects. Those are white Plasticville cones for the Turnpike Toll Booth that I painted Yellow and Black, while waiting for the green paint to dry to proceed with the billboard. I never did put the red tips on those cones like there should be. I did not think I could do it right. Yup, this is how I spent my New Year's, according to the Page A Day Cat Calendar and that is just fine. The walkway in front of the billboard is complete.


2010!!!!!!  And Happy New Year and its back to work on my great Seiling Modern Furniture Billboard!!!

And I glued the picture of the actual billboard to my S gauge billboard and it's done!

A picture of the billboard I made by itself and then a side by side of my billboard with the billboard from the hobby shop in MA.  Priceless.

And when one comes off the phantom Turnpike into the town of the D&K Railroad, one of the first things they might see is the billboard for the long gone Sieling Modern Furniture, but the billboard lives on.  Pictures are from the layout on January 1, 2010, as the layout is far from being done.

So now for pictures from the layout of the billboard from July 2010:

I have the billboard for Sieling Modern Furniture as a tribute to the original billboard angled a bit as best as I can due to space towards the railroad tracks.

But wait, what happened to the billboard in Reading, PA?  The real Sieling Modern Furniture billboard got covered up soon after I took those pictures of it in 2009. On a bike ride on the rail trail on September 16, 2016 (one day short of the day in 2009 that I took the picture of billboard as in its condition from 1941) the billboard came back to life, as a new billboard for Railroad Park. See the picture at the top of this article.  The tan van with bikes is ours.

Railroad Park is what the billboard is now promoting, as most likely this playground is called Railroad Park. It's okay, as the billboard was a eyesore, and I got to see it before it was covered and it now lives on, on my train layout and on Flickr.   

The original billboard, with a picture of a piece of furniture that the company made, lives here too.  There are many pieces of furniture from this long-gone company from Railroad, PA on the web when you search the company name.

Editors Note: It’s such fun to discover something old and make it new!

Second Decade.
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