by Tom McComas
TM has produced the first video featuring layouts that operate MTH trains exclusively. The video – appropriately entitled
Great MTH Layouts –
is now available. Included are the MTH Showroom Layout, a layout custom built for an interior designer, and Tony Lash's 2800-square-foot layout.
This is our script for Tony's segment of the show.
Museum Quality – the highest compliment you can pay a model of anything. Tony Lash's layout is Museum quality – all true quarter-inch scale, exquisite detail, and fine composition. It's big too. 2800 square feet. And it's covered with trees. $60,000 worth of trees and Tony's not through.
"Ha-Ha...you really don't want to know, it's about sixty-thousand dollars in trees. Over 4000 trees are on this layout and I'm still short about 1500 trees that needs to go in at various places."
59-year-old Tony Lash is president of Consolidated Waste Industries, located in Capital Heights, Maryland. Tony's layout is housed in Consolidated headquarter's building, across the hall from Tony's office.
This all started a long time ago – in Roanoake, Virginia, where Tony grew up.
"I got started with trains when I was seven years old. I had a paper route and on my paper route there was an electric train shop. Every week I bought a piece and I've been collecting now for 50 years."
Tony built his first Lionel layout when he was eleven. Along the way, Tony built five more Lionel toy train layouts, and in 1981, built his first scale layout, in HO gauge. Tony loved the scale look but was unhappy with HO. It was too small.
Then in the early 90s, the O gauge toy train world began a shift to scale trains. Like many others, Tony was intrigued by the new three-rail scale O gauge cars and locomotives which were being imported from Korea and China.
These new scale trains gave Tony what he wanted. The size and dependability of three-rail O gauge operation along with a realistic, scale look.
The two most popular types of O gauge layouts being built today by serious model railroaders, are O scale and hi-rail. On both layouts, everything – trains, structures, figures, vehicles, scenery – is in quarter-inch scale. The only difference is the track.
On the O scale layout, the two-rail track is also in scale. On a high-rail layout, the three-rail track is not scale, it's rails are a little too high, hence the term "high-rail."
"Well I'm a true high-railer and I wanted everything scaled and everything, all the buildings and everything to look like it was really real, I didn't want anything to look like a toy."
Tony felt the toy-look of his Lionel Postwar collection would not be appropriate for the high-rail layout he wanted to build, so he switched.
"I switched to MTH after postwar. MTH really brought life back to model railroader. I thank Mike Wolf so much for having the foresight to see what people really wanted, and you can tell by how many trains he is selling today. When you take them out the box they work. If they don't work you send them to him and he fixes them right away, no problems."
"I like dealing with MTH, they've got good customer service. They're the only manufacturer that I see when I go to York that they have a crew of people there for anybody that has a broken train to bring it in, and they fix it right on the spot. When you go to York, you see everybody else at 5:00 they're leaving the booth. MTH is still there serving their customers all the way up to 7:30, 8:00 at night. I like that."
In the late 90s, MTH emerged as the leading producer of O gauge scale trains. Engines like the Shay, Blue Comet, E-8s, F-3s and the Hudson converted many toy train operators to full-scale operation.
MTH introduced their Premier Line in 1994. Since then, Tony has purchased every Premier diesel, in every cab number, every piece of Premier rolling stock and almost every Premier steamer.
Tony, who keeps track of price trends on his computer, currently values his MTH collection at $345,564.05 and his Lionel Postwar collection at $516,583.95. So far, Tony has over $500,000 invested in this layout.
The layout fills the 70 by 45-foot room. An aisle in the center divides the layout. There are also aisles at right angles to the center aisle that allows visitors to get close to the action.
"The layout goes from wall to wall we are able to walk around on the inside of our layout, this way instead of me being on the outside looking in I feel more within the train because I'm inside of the layout."
The layout was inspired by memories of Tony's granddad, Sam Johns, who worked for the Norfolk & Western railroad. Sam was a fireman on a Y6b and used to let his11-year-old grandson ride in the cab on the 120-mile run from Roanoke to the coal regions of Bluefield, West Virginia.
"My grandfather worked for the Norfolk and Western railway and he would get me a ride and he would go along with me from Roanoke to Bluefield West Virginia, carrying empty coal cars up and we would spend the night and then we would bring the loaded coal cars back to Roanoke and that's where they changed crews and that was a thrill and I've never forgotten it."
It is not surprising the memory has lasted and that Tony would want to recreate that journey on his layout.
The layout includes the coal yard in Bluefield, West Virginia where the Norfolk & Western coal trains, loaded with coal from the Pocahontas coal region, and headed by giant Y6b articulated steamers, would travel through the hills of West Virginia back to Roanoke, then switch crews for the final run to Norfolk, Virginia, where the coal would be unloaded, and loaded on other trains and ocean-going freighters to be taken to all parts of the world.
Sometimes the loaded coal trains required five Y6bs to negotiate the grades between Bluefield and Norfolk – two pullers, two pushers and one in the middle. What a thrilling sight that must have been.
Roanoke was the home base of the Norfolk and Western. The center of the operation was a huge roundhouse and 140-foot turntable, located at Schaffer's Crossing in northwest Roanoke. Grandpa Sam used to take Tony to watch the action – giant steamers, belching smoke and sparks, moving slowly on the turntable, while other steamers were being serviced in their stalls, anxious to get back on the rails.
The roundhouse, turntable, the East End Shops where they built the Js and Y6bs and the whole panorama of Norfolk & Western steam power offered about as much excitement as a young lad's heart could bear, and Tony would never forget.
Years later, Tony would recapture all those vivid memories on this layout.
The track plan includes 5000 feet of GarGraves track and 88 Ross Custom Switches with Dell Air motors. Trains operate on four levels and are powered by three MTH Z-4000 transformers. The two mainlines go up and down between the first two levels.
"I drew the track plan myself. I knew what I wanted and how I wanted to operate and it's a very good operating layout. One loop in here is over 577 ft. On my other layouts the train hurried up and got around the corner. This time it takes about seven to ten minutes at scale speed for a train to go around. It's more realism."
There are four loops and two trains operate on each loop. No control system is needed because the loops are so big. Even so, Tony is anxious for MTH to come out with their new control system.
Tony runs mostly Norfolk and Western and Norfolk Southern trains but not always. On this day, he is running a Rock Island E-8 passenger set, a gorgeous Southern Pacific Daylight set headed by twin F-3s, a Baltimore & Ohio E-8 heading scale models of streamlined passenger cars, the new Berkshire pulling a mixed freight, and a New York Central J1e Hudson with heavyweight passenger cars.
"Well we run the Norfolk and Western J, the Powhatten Arrow, we run the Y6b's on the coal drag, for some fast freight we run a SD-40-2, we have some SD-60's that we run, that's basically what we run because I'm modeling after the Norfolk Southern and the Norfolk and Western. And most of the roads that merged with them although you have seen that we run some other passenger trains on the line.
"Who's to say? I remember when I was a little boy the Southern used to come through Roanoke with some F-3 diesel's, and I've seen the Pennsylvania come through Roanoke, and I've seen the Nickel Plate come through Roanoke and it was once in a blue moon but during the war back in 1942 or '44 you might see anything come through."
Tony is very satisfied with the results and only has one regret.
"I would have put down a three-track main, instead of a two-track main."
Tony's advice for future layout builders...
"Just have a good dream and plenty of money."
Speaking of money, Tony sees MTH as a good investment.
"Well, let's put it like this: I have never, not even Lionel, have seen an engine when the UPS man pulls up to the hobby shop and the engine full retail retail price pre-order was $1399 and when the UPS truck pulled away the the engine is $1599 to $1700. I think it's very collectable, especially their steam engines and their diesel engines, the early Premier lines is what I'm speaking of.
"My approach to buying trains is, I buy as a collector and I buy as a operator, I buy what I like to run and to operate and I buy to collect because I think MTH is better than the Wall Street.
"I'm very happy with it. Very satisfied. Happy with all the work everybody did. When people come in here it takes them right back to childhood or to their dreams and they are really impressed."