The Gallitzin Western Railway
An O Gauge Toy Trains Layout
by Bob LeBras
To date, I have spent a great deal of time
writing about the individual pieces in my
toy trains collection focusing, in detail,
on their relative merits, and offering my
personal recommendations. In addition, I have
photographed and authored articles about several
great layouts, as well as other aspects of
the hobby. However, I have not given the same
overall treatment to my own layout, the Gallitzin
The reasons behind my neglecting the "view
from the top" approach were two-fold: 1.
The layout isn't finished and has no scenic
detail. 2. I could not arrive at an angle
from which to write about it. In other words,
the layout isn't special, big, or remarkable,
so what is there to say that will interest
In November 2000, fellow TCA member, Brady
Burdge, wrote to me suggesting an angle:
Relate the story to my preference for toy
trains versus hi-rail. Because I liked the
concept so much, I saved a hardcopy of this
e-mail in my "Pending" folder waiting for
the day when I would actually finish my
layout and write about it.
Since that time, two things have happened:
1. Rather than making any attempt at superdetailing,
which is neither my desire, nor forté, I
have decided to chuck that concept and go
strictly with the toy trains look cramming
as many accessories, lights and trains onto
the platform. 2. The Gallitzin Western will,
most likely, never be really complete. Few
layouts ever are 100% done and, quite often,
if they are, that's the time to rip it out
and start over. Hence, now is as good a
time as any to feature my small railroad
During my youth, in the 1960's and 70's,
all I had for trains was a Lionel Hudson
starter set circa 1956, a poor running DT&I
switcher, a few extra signals and sections
of track, some switches, a styrofoam tunnel,
a 4' by 8' piece of particle board atop
a ping pong table in the basement, and the
limitless imagination of a young boy. The
latter resource was, indeed, my greatest
Since my early layouts were never permanently
secured, I could alter them whenever the
mood struck me. With limited trackage and
space, I managed to come up with a wide
variety of trackplans by simply combining
sections and switches until everything fit.
It was never so complicated as to require
any sort of scale diagram, and all of the
wiring was done by the time-honored method
of trial and error; if it smoked, and it
wasn't a smoke pellet, it was a short.
For nearly 20 years, I enjoyed toy trains
in this fashion reshaping my tabletop world
over and over. Then, abruptly, I sold off
my meager collection and withdrew from the
hobby. Although the train bug never really
left me, it would be nearly 20 years, and
becoming a homeowner before I would consider
delving back into the wonderful world of
O gauge toy trains. The purchase of a ZW
transformer, without owning a single train,
section of track, or accessory, sealed my
At first, like many collectors without
a layout, or a plan, I began buying up trains
on eBay and the web without truly knowing
whether they would physically fit on an
eventual room-sized platform. Also, at the
time, all I knew was Lionel, and had never
heard of MTH or Williams. I remembered K-Line
from the 70's and 80's and, also, remembered
that it was relatively junky, similar to
the Lionel of that era. So, I started collecting
that which was familiar to me, and that
was postwar Lionel. I tried to ensure that
my acquisitions were in great condition
with original boxes. However, I soon discovered
that, by purchasing everything with boxes,
the result was a room full of cardboard.
Another factor was that the trains were
costing more than if simply purchased in
good condition without the box. Having no
requirement for additional cardboard, I
switched to just buying nice postwar trains
and accessories. If it had a box, fine,
but it was no longer a condition of sale.
Forging ever onward, I continued to buy
toy trains, accessories, track, switches,
scenic details, and pieces parts packing
them away in a third floor bedroom. A convenient,
yet odd-shaped, five-sided bedroom on the
second floor was designated as the official
train room. The extra side was the location
of a former fireplace in the 80 year old
Two opposing walls of this room are paneled,
one with a small closet door and the other
with a large window. The former would be
the canvas for hanging railroadiana and
pictures. On the latter wall, I constructed
a cantilever shelf for a small television.
One wall was painted off-white. The color
was changed to sky blue and clouds were
fashioned using a sea sponge, and a mixture
of white and blue paint. The fourth and
fifth walls were covered in fake applied
brick also painted off-white. I decided
to paint the faces of the brick a color
that closely matched the outside of my home
leaving the "mortar" joints off-white. The
effect is pretty decent and I've even had
visitors ask if the brick is real.
The room is carpeted in dark blue and has
a drop ceiling with ceiling fan installed.
I painted the transom and closet door the
same blue as the sky wall. My home is heated
by radiators, each having a metal concealing
cap over them. The cap in the train room
was sprayed with Rustoleum dark grey to
make it blend into the background. Now that
the bedroom itself was ready for conversion
to a train room, it was time to plan the
I use the term "plan" very loosely as it
involved a few measurements, rough sketches,
some wood and homasote, bolts, screws, and
my limited carpentry skills. As my intent
was to have a toy trains layout versus a
scale model railroad, all that was required
were six flat platforms each with legs,
and bolted together for stability. From
the shape of the room, and my desire to
avoid "duck unders," I arrived at a wraparound
"G" configuration providing accessibility
to all parts of the layout. The wood was
cut and the tops of the platforms were constructed
in my basement workshop. Attachment of the
legs and final assembly was performed in
the trainroom. The rough plywood and 2x4
edges of the tabletops were finished by
attaching red oak stained strips of 1/8
inch birch plywood.
Next, came the control panel. Again, going
with the toy trains look, Most of the controls
would be original to the accessories. Lionel
switch controllers, UCS track controllers,
and a #97 and #456 controller would share
the flat top panel, also bolted to the layout,
with two ZW's, a KW and TW transformers.
The exceptions to the original controls
would be modern toggle switches for block
and accessory activation, and the replacement
of those cheap modern momentary buttons
with equally cheap inset doorbell pushbuttons.
If I needed to add another control, I'd
just drill another hole.
Finally, it was time for the moment of
truth: What would really fit on these platforms?
Just like the good old days, there was
no trackplan. I had constructed significant
benchwork, but I had no idea what the layout
would really look like, nor a plan of how
it would operate. At this point, all I knew
was that I wanted alot of track, enough
space to park many trains, and the ability
to run at least two trains simultaneously.
As a tribute of sorts to my youth, instead
of using track planning software, or even
a graph paper sketch, with a pile of track
and switches, I began piecing the rails
together. The goal was to use every #022
switch in my collection.
As mentioned, when my interest in the hobby
was reignited, I knew very little about
modern toy trains. As a matter of fact,
I did not understand much about the old
ones either. I just knew that I liked them.
Although my RailScan @ wuarchive website
had been online for years, I had no idea
that there were discussion groups devoted
to electric toy trains (such as Toytrains
and Lionel Collectors). The concept of toy
trains clubs was totally foreign to me (such
as TCA, TTOS and LCCA). Believe it or not,
as far as I was concerned, York was just
another city in Pennsylvania. The one that
sported the big barbell dude.
For about 15 years, my train universe revolved
around Lionel O-27. Therefore, as an adult,
I purchased massive quantities of O-27 track
and many, many #1122 switches. I do not
recall how many turnouts were in the final
count, but there were nearly 600 sections
of used track. Given the comparatively small
amount of tabletop on the benchwork, all
I can say is that I was being very overly
Of major concern, as the time drew near
to lay rail, was the fact that all of the
track was second-hand and, subsequently,
rusty. Attempting to clean the rust using
a variety of liquids, scrubbing pads, and
grinding bits and brushes, attached to both
a Dremel as well as a drill, clearned very
little of the rust. Nothing was terribly
effective, and any method was extremely
time consuming. I turned to my train guru,
Ted Symonds of CoolTrains.com, for an answer.
His response was simple, "Buy all new track
and make it O gauge."
"But I have all these #1122 switches,"
Ted replied, "Sell them and the track on
eBay. There is nothing better than the postwar
Lionel #022 switch."
I reluctantly agreed, understanding that
this was the best solution. I haven't regretted
the decision for one second since. The constant
voltage switches are great and the track
is clean and shiny. Purchasing far less
O gauge than what I had acquired in O-27,
I began piecing together the trackplan adjusting
it until I had accomplished my goals of
complete switchability between two simultaneously
operating loops with adequate yard and siding
Naturally, since postwar trains were my
primary collecting focus, the postwar period
between 1945 and 1965 was a logical choice
as an operating era. This clearly defined
purpose would serve me well in future acquisitions
eliminating such decisions as whether to
buy an F3 or a Genesis for my passenger
consist. Clearly, these kinds of choices
were predetermined; one less thing to think
I fiddled with the track for awhile, but
the olde-tyme know-how came back to me like
riding a bicycle. It took a surprisingly
brief period to fashion a layout meeting
all of my requirements. While I was working
on the trackplan, using Lionel tubular O
gauge track on a flat series of interconnected
platforms, I realized that the effect was
decidedly toy trains versus hi-rail. Although
this was the case and my primary interest
has always been operating trains, at this
point, I still wanted to create some measure
of scenic detail beyond the trains to provide
After settling on a trackplan, and acquiring
a couple of extra #022's to cram in more
short sidings, I began placing the vintage
and new accessories. An estimated 95% of
my trains have been acquired from two sources:
1. CoolTrains.com, and, 2. eBay. The TCA
Eastern Division train meet at York has
played a relatively minor role in actual
purchases, but has been a great source of
inspiration and desire.
The operating layout is designed with an
outer loop that follows the outside perimeter
of the entire six platforms. The outer loop
crosses a modern Lionel Bascule Bridge and
a #110 Trestle Set provides aerial lift.
An inner loop on the largest platform (4x8)
is connected to the outer loop via four
switches for complete in-out access without
reversing. A long siding switches off the
inner loop and parallels the outer loop
passing under an MTH Flyer Coaling Tower,
a postwar #132 Automatic Stop Station, a
modern Lionel reissue #497 Coaling Station
and terminates with the #456 Coal Ramp.
This siding has a short one coming off of
it at about mid way to service the #352
Icing Station. Another long siding, also
parallel, switches off the first passing
the #97 Coal Tipple ending at a lighted
bumper past the postwar #256 Freight Station.
Just prior to the station, a siding splits
from the long to provide access to the #364
Lumber Loader and #397 Coal Loader. Between
these two sidings, and next to the station,
I installed a "track to nowhere" abutting
the station on one end and installing a
lighted bumper at the other end. Finally,
inside the inner loop, there is another
short siding beyond a #356 Operating Freight
Station that serves the town. Every deadend
siding, except for the one terminating with
the coal ramp, is protected by a postwar
diecast lighted bumper. Each section of
siding between switches is divided into
a block. The inner loop is one block and
the outer loop is split into two blocks.
The loops are designed for clockwise train
Like laying the track, the location decisions
for various accessories progessed quickly
and followed the obvious space requirements
for each piece. At the center of the largest
platform, I created my "Main Street" by
installing inexpensive diecast street lamps.
Roads and parking lots were extended to
various parts of the layout using AMI Instant
Roadbed. The town consists of an MTH operating
ESSO station, a vintage Lionel #334 Operating
Dispatching Board, a Lionel electric generating
station kit, an MTH repro #455 Oil Derrick
with some Lionel "Linex" oil storage tanks,
and a Lionel loading dock kit that will
With all this stuff, more or less, in place,
it was time to wire. Given the design M.O.
so far, it shouldn't be surprising that.
electrically, the underside of the layout
is far more chaotic than above board. Instead
of organized circuits, I drilled a hole
in the platform, ran wires down, made each
connection individually, and tested it for
function. In this instance, function followed
form, and everything does function, however,
the form is basically spaghetti. There are
wires criscrossing in a maze, and terminal
strips of varying sizes seemingly randomly
placed beneath the platforms like leeches
on a juicy tourist. If I decide to do it
all over again someday, I will not follow
my own example.
The flat control panel with the four transformers
and mostly original accessory controllers
is at a comfortable height for operating
while standing or sitting. I identified
the transformers as 1, 2, 3 and 4 from right
to left. Each throttle was given a letter
designation from right to left as well so
that, for example, a "2D" identification
on a terminal strip would indicate the left
main trottle on the second ZW. Each transformer
was checked for synchornous polarity and
assigned control over a specific block.
Running a train between two blocks sometimes
requires the coordination of two separate
throttles. Control is pretty easy between
ZW throttles, but gets tricky between a
KW and ZW. I imagine this form of control
would be akin to lashing up a couple of
diesels and leaving the MU cable disconnected.
Power to each block is controlled by a
toggle switch. Since two trains may occupy
two continguous siding blocks controlled
by the same throttle, power has to be cut
to the rear block to move the leading train,
while leaving the rear one in place. As
in prototype railroading, two toy trains
occupying the same control block can have
Alright. The layout is built, up and running,
and looking like a classic toy train railroad.
The final major construction step of securing
the track and accessories to the platforms
was greatly assisted using a variable speed
cordless drill. What's left to do?
- Finish the scenery.
- Decorate the trainroom walls with railroadiana.
- Give the rail empire a befitting name.
The first item on the punch list could wait.
Having two rambunctious cats (Ghost and Nefertiti)
who, in reality, own the house and merely
allow me to live with them, I knew it would
be impossible to keep their little paws off
of the layout. Therefore, I had some serious
decisions to make regarding detailing. I would
later discover, in a dramatic way, that, as
a consequence of living with the two fuzzballs,
many scenery options would be predetermined
thereby limiting my choices and deciding the
question of toy train versus hi-rail.
Decorating the walls was an easy one. I
had lots of neat pictures and railroadiana
to put up, and I always thoroughly enjoy
jazzing up a room. I bought some frames
and just randomly placed things where I
thought they would look good. It was a nice
diversion from the intensity of stringing
thousands of scale miles of wire while laying
on the floor.
Number three on the list was an interesting
challenge. I put together different monikers
in my mind, but wasn't completely satisfied
with any of them. Since I am a native Pittsburgher
having traveled throughout western and central
Pennsylvania, I sought a name that reflected
the heritage and history of the region.
Surfing a knarly brain wave, I stumbled
on the idea of holding a contest to determine
the name of my toy train railroad empire.
Offering a new in the box Lionel Route 66
flatcar with two black sedans as first prize
for the winning entrant, I sat back and
waited for the responses.
Overall, I was a little disappointed with
the total number of submissions, not fully
comprehending why folks would pass up the
chance to get a free piece of rollingstock
in exchange for a mere suggestion. Indeed,
this was the case and, in the end, there
were not a great many names from which to
choose. However, as it turned out, I only
needed one roadname, and it was provided
by Dr. Joseph Lechner: Gallitzin Western.
While several other fine suggestions were
offered, Lechner's Gallitzin Western combined
a great little town on the former Pennsy
mainline with territory to the west which
Russian prince Demetrius Gallitzin was
born in Hague, Holland, December 22, 1770.
His father, a Russian prince, served as
Envoy Extraordinary to Hague. His mother
saw to his education and both were introduced
to the teachings of Catholicism. To round
out his education and to prepare the boy
for manhood, a two-year trip to America
was planned. In 1795, at the age of 22,
Demetrius landed in Baltimore.
With a letter of introduction to Bishop
Carroll and needing a place to stay, Demetrius
entered the Sulpician Seminary. With the
desire to become a priest, he completed
his schooling and became the first Catholic
priest to have received all his orders in
the United States. In becoming a missionary
priest, he gave up his rights to Russian
nobility and was assigned to the Conewago
Mission in Pennsylvania some 60 miles from
A priest was summoned to give last rights
to a sick woman on the Pennsylvania frontier
and Father Gallitzin made the journey to
the McGuire Settlement in present Cambria
County. Father Gallitzin, having a desire
for his own parish, saw the need for a parish
to serve the Catholic settlers of the frontier.
He petitioned Bishop Carroll of Baltimore
to assign him to the frontier and in 1799
permission was granted.
Father Gallitzin set about establishing
the church of Saint Michael's and later
laid out the town of Loretto. Though offered
Bishophood in other areas, the "Missionary
of the Alleghenies" remained with his parish
to his death on May 6, 1840. Father Demetrius
Augustine Gallitzin will long be remembered
as the "Apostle of Western Pennsylvania."
In Gallitzin Borough, an important transportation
crossing along the Main Line, the twin railroad
tunnels breach the mountain summit at the
Cambria/Blair County line. The tunnels were
built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1854
and 1905 and measure 3612 feet in length.
Still in use today by Norfolk Southern,
you can feel the awesome power of trains
as they pass through the tunnels daily.
With the roadname question resolved, it
was finally time to plug in the transformers,
add the trains, and start running a railroad.
Of course, there were some glitches and
quirks to work out. It took some acclimatization
to coordinate operating trains using two
throttles. However, wiring everything individually,
and testing its function prior to moving
onto the next segment served well the goal
of relatively smooth initial operation.
Operationally, the rail traffic flow on
the Gallitzin Western is pretty good. A
primary hinderance to performing some interesting
switching maneuvers is the placement of
six trains with locomotives on all of the
sidings. Moving trains from the farthest
points is like playing that game where you
slide the numbers to make a sequence from
1 to 30. It's a technical challenge to shift
everything out of the way, and, at times,
nearly impossible to get it all back. The
plan is to build some storage shelves to
alleviate the congestion and allowing maximum
operational enjoyment from my hard work.
While most of the trains and accessories
came together naturally, two oddball passenger
cars presented an integration challenge.
The first is prewar Lionel O gauge tinplate.
Nothing fancy and no wheel sets. I got it
as a gimme in a mixed lot grab bag eBay
auction. Initially, I simply had the orphan
on a dresser, but got the idea of placing
it next to my Esso gas station as a storage
shed. The other misfit is a 1989 TCA National
Convention heavyweight passenger car. It
is lighted and has silhouettes in the windows
that appear more like the people are partying
rather than riding on a train. This party
look inspired me to place it on that "track
to nowhere" mentioned above coupling it
with a postwar Lionel Lines red caboose.
The effect is that this car serves as a
restaurant at the adjacent passenger station.
The Gallitzin Western continues to evolve
and grow. While there is no real estate
left to add large accessories or expand
rail construction, accomodations can always
be made for smaller do-dads such as lights
and signals. As of this writing, I am installing
two floodlight towers, a new crossing signal
system, and a prewar Lionel #76 block signal.
One of the electrical innovations I have
discovered along the way is the joy of solderless
crimping. While for those expert in wiring
this seems a no-brainer, for me, it was
a revolutionary concept akin to discovering
the terminal strip. On a whim, I picked
up a neat assortment of connectors at Home
Depot one evening, and have been been happily
crimping ever since. Whenever the opportunity
arises, I have retrofitted earlier direct
wiring to include terminal strips with solderless
crimped connectors. Eventually, I would
like to rewire the entire layout into a
logical series of panels and circuits.
Not every idea that I implement turns out
to be a good one for my situation. I sought
an inexpensive alternative to purchasing
little bags and bottles of ballast at over-inflated
prices. My friend, Dr. Lechner, who gave
my layout its official roadname, suggested
that I try cat litter. Naturally, I worried
that Ghost and Nefertiti would find too
much to enjoy about that concept, but was
lured by this extremely low cost solution.
I thought that if I used a different brand,
combined with the fact that it wasn't in
their kitty box, they would leave it alone.
Further, it was suggested that I bond the
ballast using a mixture of white glue and
water so that it would not scatter, would
not find its way into turnout mechanisms,
and would not get pulled into locomotive
gears. While the overall concept sounded
good in principle, I had some trepidations
about the plan.
Instead of diving head-on into full-scale
ballasting, I bought a bag of unscented,
clay-based cat litter and began applying
it to the inner loop and part of the outer
loop. I used a narrow pitcher to pour a
pile along stretches of track then, with
a small regular paint brush, I "sculpted"
a roadbed with gentle brush strokes. The
effect was quite satisfactory, but I wanted
to conduct a long-term experiment with the
cats in order to determine their level of
interest. I wasn't keen on bonding the material
as this would be too permanent making future
alterations, additions and repairs to the
trackplan difficult. I conducted a test
bond on a piece of homosote in the basement
and found that, after applying the glue,
the ballast turned into a material similar
to composite rock.
For about a half year, the only thing I
noticed was that the cats would move the
litter around which was easily repaired
using the brush. One day, I walked into
my trainroom and noticed a pungent odor.
I couldn't pinpoint where it was coming
from so, turning on the overhead light,
I scanned the ballasted areas of track to
see if there were any hidden accidents.
Sure enough, at the switch tracks between
the inner and outer loops, there was a dark
wet spot indicative of illegal use of ballast.
Immediately I grabbed my Fantom Thunder
vacuum cleaner (I had burned up my previous
Fantom Fury vacuuming plaster and debris
associated with extensive home renovations
so I knew the Thunder could handle cat litter)
and started removing the ballast as quickly
as possible. This job being a time consuming
process, I thought it could be done in stages.
However, this thought turned out to be quite
wrong. Two subsequent incidents occurred
at different locations requiring an immediate,
concerted removal effort. I vacuumed all
of the cat litter off of the layout and
learned a valuable lesson.
Of equal importance, I came to the realization
that any attempt at scenic detailing would
be met with the cat's double destructive
efforts. I look at them like children; they
don't know any better, they only want to
play, and who can blame kids who just want
to play with trains?
The toy trains crossroads had been reached
and, at this juncture, I wisely decided
to take the low road. I wasn't sad, nor
upset. Given my areas of interest and understanding
my limitations, the Gallitzin Western Railway
would forever be an O gauge toy trains layout.
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The big picture: My trainroom
and toy trains layout known as The Gallitzin
Classic control panel; nothing
The small town of Gallitzin,
PA inside the inner loop.
Side view of Gallitzin.
Heading west past the bascule
bridge and postwar Lionel water tower.
A short distance down the
line is the first of Central Pennsylvania's
Small town station enroute.
Many roads ply the rails
on the GW, but Pennsy, B&O and C&O
predominate. Here, the NYC takes on
A postwar Lionel #97 coal
tipple loads more black diamonds as
we approach the Steel City.
How many signals can you
stuff into one crossing area?
Passing the tower at the
entrance to the Pittsburgh yard.
Coaling and lumber loading
operations provide plenty of action
in a small space.
In the background is my own
version of Horseshoe Curve.
The good old days. That's
me enjoying my first Lionel layout in