Austin Eagle: operating sessions

My trip to Texas to take part in The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s annual convention – included a really fun day of operating on local layouts – starting with a session on the HO scale Port of New York Railroad being built by Riley Triggs. You can read about Riley’s layout on my Achievable Layouts blog by clicking on the following image:

PoNY Herald

Later the same day, I took part in a large operating session on the HO scale D&RGW Moffat Route built by David Nicastro and his son, Sam Nicastro. Sam is a millennial who is already passionate about, and accomplished in, our hobby. He’s a modeller, a railfan, and a member of several groups including the Operations Special Interest Group. More than anything I can do, guys like Sam will help keep the hobby strong and viable in the future.

Their layout features a number of advanced electronics applications, including a dispatcher’s desk complete with virtual CTC machine linked into the DCC system and phone system. What’s most remarkable about this is it’s Internet-enabled, so the Nicastros can call upon a friend out of town (or anywhere in the world) to direct traffic during an operating session.

Nicastro DRGW - Dispatchers Office

David’s goal with this layout was to give one the feeling of running a train through the mountains, and he is certainly achieving that. I signed up to run a manifest freight as it would take me the length of the mainline – from terminal to terminal – and it took almost two hours to make the trip, with several pauses along the way to meet opposing trains.



DRGW - through the mountains

Moffat tunnel

Lift gate

While this is not the sort of layout I would build for myself, I really enjoyed running on it and would be happy to contribute to building and operating the Moffat Route if I lived in the area. Thanks, David and Sam – and your crew – for hosting us!

2 thoughts on “Austin Eagle: operating sessions

  1. I remember David Nicastro’s 5×9 wharf layout in the first Great Model Railroads. For its time, it had a lot of sophisticated features, especially lighting and mirrors.

    IIRC, he was using it as an ad for his layout building business. Did he stay in that business? Did he continue to use sophisticated electronics? How did he build that lift gate? America wants to know, editors and publishers!

    Incidentally, his 5×9 is almost certainly closer to the future of model railroading than his Moffatt Road, but I bet he enjoys them all.

    • Hi Marshall:
      My understanding is that he no longer runs the layout-building business. The description in the tour booklet notes:
      “This large railroad combines many things David learned as a custom layout builder (30 years ago) about modeling a prototype as faithfully as possible…”
      I agree – his 5×9 is closer to the future of model railroading. That’s not to say there won’t be larger layouts – but there will be fewer. On the other hand, I believe there will be more clubs following a free-mo style modular approach, because it’s so flexible. And I think the quality of those layouts will improve.
      He sure does use sophisticated electronics still. The CTC panel is a good example. I really like that he can call on someone remote to be the dispatcher. It’s a great way to, for example, allow Sam to continue to take part in operating sessions if he moves away from home for university.
      And I think you’re right – I got a strong impression that he loves the hobby in all its forms. Perhaps that comes from being a layout builder, and having to find ways to embrace another’s vision? I don’t know. But he’s definitely benefitting from that.
      Yeah – that lift-up was sweet, which is why I took a picture.

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