When Ernie Barry of Northport, Mich., retired in 2001, he decided to devote the cold winter months to his favorite hobby: model railroading.
“Like almost anyone in the hobby, I started with an electric train around a Christmas tree when I was five or six years old,” said Barry, who worked as the director of advanced design at Chrysler and has a fine arts and design background. During his career, he designed the 1980 Chrysler Córdoba and Dodge Mirada. Some of his other achievements include developing concepts and vehicle architecture for the Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde and the current Chrysler 300 as well as leading the design program for the Dodge Viper from concept car up to the 2000 production vehicle.
His impressive layout depicts the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway at Raton, N.M., in 1952. “I’ve always been interested in the Santa Fe because of its Warbonnet paint scheme,” he said. The Warbonnet scheme, designed by General Motors’ Leland Knickerbocker, features a red “bonnet” on the front of the locomotive bordered by yellow and black pinstripes.
When he started his hobby, Barry read an article about the Raton Pass and researched its creation. The famous pass was ATSF’s main route through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the late 19th century. The area interested Barry so much, he decided to make it the setting for his dream layout. He chose the year 1952 because of its importance in the evolution of the railroad. “It’s an era people like to model because it represents the transition from steam to diesel,” he explained.
Barry, who is a member of the Santa Fe Railway Historical and Modeling Society, designed his current home’s 30-by-40-foot basement with his model railroad in mind. “When designing and building our retirement home, I was also planning the railroad, which necessitated asking the builder to move a support column and a major ceiling beam, turning a three-season room into a year-round room to get more basement space.”
He uses that space to the fullest. The layout is built close to eye level and stepstools are needed to fully view higher sections. It has 550 feet of track, 125 switches and 18 blocks governed by signals. Four of the signals are semaphore and the rest are searchlight.
When trains enter a tunnel on one end of the layout, they travel through a helix and arrive at a lower level. There are black and white cameras inside the hidden level to help keep track of the trains. The layout contains around 50 sound-equipped steam and diesel engines, 18 operating trains and 300 freight and passenger cars at any given time. It also has around 100 buildings and railroad structures.
Barry is part of a local community of railroad enthusiasts who gather once a week in the winter to operate layouts. The group meets at a different member’s house each week.
When Barry hosts, the group operates for about three hours and runs up to 18 train assignments. He has a dispatcher station in a separate room and each town in the layout has a phone connected to a dispatcher. Train movements are controlled by verbal train orders and signals.
Barry has modified the way his layout runs on those nights in order to accommodate the group. Although it’s not entirely historically accurate, the modifications create a more fun operating experience. “By 1952, one of the tunnels [near the Pass] had been sealed off, but on this railroad I decided to keep it open. We run extra passenger trains as a way to keep the dispatcher on his toes. He has to move freight out of the way as passenger trains come on stage.”
Barry has visited Raton Pass several times over the years. “I’ve been over the pass by car and Amtrak,” he said. “I’ve gotten tons of photographs.” He has also used his trips as opportunities to get authentic materials for his layout.
“I picked up soil from Raton. I bought plastic containers and mailed them to myself, but one problem with using real soil is the lighting in the room isn’t the same as real sunlight, so you have to use lighter shades.”
His favorite part of building the layout is creating the scenery. “Being a designer, I’m real hands-on. I like to build things. I painted all of the backdrops and I’ve done a lot of the buildings in Raton.”
Jim Ebejer, a friend of Barry, took this series of photos over a period of two days. “It’s not easy to photograph a model railroad,” Barry said. “The lighting isn’t good for photography and there’s not a lot of room for equipment. It took him two days to get these shots right.”
Barry has been working on the layout for about 20 hours a week during the winter months for the past 14 years and says his layout will never be complete. His next project is a scratch build of Raton station using the original plans. The station, shown below, was built in 1903 in the Mission Revival architectural style for the Santa Fe. It currently serves Amtrak trains.
Model railroad photos courtesy of Jim Ebejer.
Raton station photo released to public domain by Magicninja.
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