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March 30th- On the Shoulders of Giants- Part 7

posted Mar 31, 2017, 8:02 AM by Sue Line RailRoad   [ updated Mar 31, 2017, 8:04 AM ]

This time I want to share with you a “Giant in the Hobby” that has has had a far-reaching influence on my journey through the hobby: David Barrow, an architect, developer, and business jet pilot who lives in Austin Texas.

(Photo 1- David Barrow and the Cat Mountain and Santa Fe- 2017)

David Barrow is a leader in minimalistic layouts and the developer of the “domino system” of layout design.  David Barrow’s railroad, the magnificent Cat Mountain & Santa Fe is over 40 years old, but has been presented in numerous configurations. The first version of the Cat Mountain & Santa Fe that I saw was a completely scenic and detailed layout with a beautiful backdrop which operated like a fine Swiss watch. When I returned in about six months later, it was again beautiful, but completely rebuilt.

This pattern of dismantling and rebuilding occurred several times over my numerous visits, but I noted at each re-build there was less and less complexity.  The Cat Mountain & Santa Fe has been present in at least 16 versions to my knowledge. During these re-builds, David Barrow has evolved a minimalist layout. Many times modelers have said, “I can’t do backdrops, I can’t do scenery, I can’t do structures, I can’t lay track, I can’t wire my layout”, etc.  David addressed these issues by minimizing their importance and showing that you can operate a layout without detailed scenery, without complex structures, with pre-built track and hand throws, etc.  David Barrow’s main point was “get up out of your chair and do something.”


(Photo 2- David Barrow and the Cat Mountain and Santa Fe- 1999)

In the September 1999 issue of Model Railroader, David Barrow celebrate 25 years of the Cat Mountain & Santa Fe.  For many years prior, numerous articles featured different aspects of enjoying operations and simplified building schemes to get a railroad up and running.  Over the years, you could see that David Barrow was encouraging people to get a layout up and running as the first focus.  This would keep interest up for any modeler’s railroad while they learned and practiced other facets of the hobby such as scenery, backdrops, weathering, etc.  We took this lesson to heart on the Sue Line as the large mainline extension remained relatively bare from a scenic standpoint while we maintained our “fun factor” with weekly operating sessions.  In fact, if you look closely at the Sue Line trackage from NorthPark to the Alexandria area, you might catch glimpses of vaguely familiar track work.

David Barrow is a great lover of the Santa Fe Railroad and his layout depicts the barren west Texas region. David Barrow has studied in detail the actual operations of the Santa Fe Railroad and has duplicated them in the car and train movements on the Cat Mountain and Santa Fe. David Barrow believes that designing a model railroad for operation begins with understanding the real thing. There are only a few locals and many through freights.  There is plenty of yard operation to keep stationary yard operators busy.   In my opinion, the crown jewel of the layout is the dispatcher’s panel which uses parts from a real Santa Fe “Traffic Control System” panel, the Santa Fe name for a Centralize Traffic Control (CTC) panel, which David Barrow found in Amarillo, Texas, dis-assembled, and then transported to Austin. The panel was re-assembled and modified to fit the configuration of the Cat Mountain and Santa Fe. This panel was visited and written about in the August 2009 issue of Model Railroader.

In the “domino theory” of railroading, David Barrow proposed that all layouts can be reduced to simple units. In this system, any layout can be built from a series of standard length modules that David Barrow named “dominos”. In general, the modules were 48 inches long and 18, 24, or 36 inches wide. The idea behind this system was that the modules can be built, moved, re-arranged, and reconstructed with a minimal loss of previous work.  Again, the focus was on helping people move past the arm chair phase of the hobby and on to working on a personal layout one domino at a time.

Through all of the iterations of the CM&SF, my visits, ongoing dialogue and shared operating experiences over the years, I was inspired to realize the fact that any layout is not, and probably should not, be static. 

I was challenged by David to paint the fascia a different color on the Sue Line.  We did.

His operations evolved over time with a willingness to look at the railroad differently each time even though the track work may be the same.  We do.

The fingerprints of the CM&SF and David Barrow can be found on the Sue Line today.  A nod given by a structure, a piece of rolling stock drifting downgrade at Crawley’s Ridge, a transformed Summit switch lead still handling long strings of rolling freight cars, and operating sessions for months on end over track surrounded by sand scenery and not much else.

You can find David Barrow on the Sue Line layout in many places if you take the time to notice.  They really are not meant to be homages to a good friend, but act as reminders that for me, he has had a giant influence on my personal journey through the hobby as well as so many others.

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