By Bill Krause, President of the Connecticut S Gaugers
From the NASG's "Dispatch".
Like many an S gauger Craig O'Connell's fascination with model railroading started with American Flyer trains. But it wasn't the usual train-around-the-tree type of beginning either. Craig's dad, fondly known to his co-workers as Okie, worked in the paint department of the A.C. Gilbert Co. factory in New Haven. On weekends Okie would walk his son over to factory's employee store with its operating model railroad, showroom catalogs and the latest AF equipment.
It wasn't until Craig was ten that the O'Connells could afford to buy their son the AF set of his dreams. It was the "Keystone Rocket Freight" set featuring the 21004 Pennsy 0-6-0 with sloped-back tender. Almost 40 years later and the set still runs on Craig's hirail layout.
As a teen Craig dabbled in HO before the hobby took a back seat to more serious concerns such as college, marriage and career. Two decades later, in the mid-eighties, Craig returned to the fold. "I picked up an issue of the S Gaugian featuring Brooks Stover's Buffalo Creek & Gauley layout," recalls Craig, "and that was enough to rekindle the spirit." Craig dug out his old Keystone set from '57, started hanging out around Harry Gordon's train shop in New Haven and even contributed an article about his dad to Don Heimburger's book, "American Flyer Features."
Craig started building his layout using Brooks Stover's formula of Gargraves track with AF turnouts. No sooner than he framed out the benchwork when he decided to move to neighboring Hamden, just a couple of blocks away from A.C. Gilbert's former estate.
Six years ago Craig joined the Connecticut S Gaugers. He recalls "not having a clue as to what these guys were talking about." Terms like open frog, code .100 rail, #8 turnouts and the like were a foreign language to one reared on AF sectional track. With notebook in hand Craig would attend regular meetings of the Connecticut S Gaugers and quietly take copious notes. He joined the NASG and signed up for a local adult ed. course on model railroading.
Today Craig's layout uses DC power on code .148 American Models flextrack. Thanks to the addition of closed frog turnouts from Terry's Model Railroad Supplies, he can now run anything from American Flyer to scale motive power and rolling stock. Craig builds many of his own structures either by kitbashing or scratchbuilding. He has one area of the layout, equipped with push buttons for AF accessories, set aside for kids. As a first grade teacher Craig brings his classes over to the house for operating sessions featuring AF steamers that smoke and choo-choo. What's the favorite of the children? It's the rocket launcher. The same one that attracted Craig back in 1957 and came with his first AF set!
For Craig the hobby has spawned many new interests including rail travel, computer networking, art and photography. He describes model railroading as an art-form that has sharpened his eye for color, perspective, texture, nature and detail. "It was when I started photographing rooftops and rocks that my wife really thought I had lost it," Craig adds. Over the past few years Craig and his family have traveled over 20,000 miles across America on Amtrak. His "Friends of Amtrak" internet effort has adherents from all across the country. Craig has also established a World Wide Web page devoted to S Scale model railroading.
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Changes last made on: October 7, 2001.
NASG Bernie Thomas Award, 2003 NASG Perles Publications Award, 1997
NASG Bernie Thomas Award, 2003
NASG Perles Publications Award, 1997
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