Mexico, Missouri, located in the central part of the state approximately 100 miles northwest of St. Louis, has a rich railroad heritage. From the time the iron road first reached Mexico in 1858, its trains have fascinated generations of people, and furnished employment for many of them. Over the generations, gifted people who had enough time and creativity were able to capture some of the essence of railroading by building models – first with wood, then cast iron. When Joshua Lionel Cowen first mounted an electric motor on a model streetcar and harnessed its power through scale rails and a variable-current transformer, he graded the right-of-way, so to speak, for a method by which people of all ages could share the fascination of railroading heretofore reserved for “employees only.”
Nearly a century later, in the spring of 1990, the Mexico Train Works Model Railroad Club was founded by a group of individuals who shared this fascination with railroading and modeling. The club held its first several meetings in the meeting room of a local bank. After a few months, we decided that we had a stable enough membership base to sustain a rent payment and started looking for a permanent location to build a layout.
After a couple of months of looking we found what we thought (at the time) would be our permanent home. We spent two months cleaning and painting the basement of a local medical professional’s office and afterward, we had an 18’ x 80’ room just begging for a layout. Picture 1 Picture 2 This room was VERY rough! But we were eager to have a railroad!
Our first layout was a 12’ x 10’ pre-constructed “table style” layout which we purchased and shipped nearly 50 miles on a cold winter night with the layout sitting on a trailer. Within four months we had expanded this layout to 12’ x 65’ and we now had a true model railroad, which we operated for about two years. Unfortunately soot, dampness, security concerns, problems with the ancient electrical service, and the pigeons forced us to start looking for another place to call home. There not many pictures of this time period, but here is what we have!
After a search of about three weeks we found a 28’ x 53’ room in the basement of a downtown business. This facility had electrical service that would meet city code and was much more secure. We spent about a month scrubbing, painting and cleaning, since the room had been a storage facility which had not been occupied for several years.
We decided not to move the existing layout “as is” to the new room, opting instead for an entirely new layout designed from the ground up. Each member submitted plans and ideas for the new layout, and a committee of the club’s officers merged all these proposals into a final plan. The benchwork was 80 percent L-girder construction; the remainder was built as an open grid with a small section of dual level benchwork. The track arrangement was single-line main line with a small portion of dual line. The elevation ranged from 38” to 60” inches above floor level.
Our layout progressed through several relatively minor changes. We originally attempted to model a section of the City of Mexico in our layout but could never achieve results with which we were completely satisfied. We wound up scrapping the Mexico model and building a completely new community.
In 1997 we made some major changes in operations. By this time our layout, which had been wired for traditional power blocks, had grown to a size that required 15 power packs for full operation. This method had gotten extremely cumbersome and created substantial problems on operating nights. At this point an anonymous member advanced the club enough money to convert the layout to the Railcommand ™ Command Control System. This change permitted us to eliminate traditional power packs and gave us full walk-around capability. We also changed from a loop layout to a point-to-point operation. With the purchase of the RailCommand system we started by removing ALL of the wiring from under the layout. We found some interesting things while doing this, we had several runs of wire that were disconnected at both ends! We installed new wire with track feeders every 3-5 feet. We had the layout out of service for 2 weeks during the installation. Once it was up and running we found the layout much easier and enjoyable to operate.
Over the next three years several minor changes were made to the layout, some by necessity, others by choice. We added a third level to our layout, reaching a point of maximum expansion. It now took approximately 20 minutes to run a train from one end of the layout to the opposite end. While this enabled us to expand the number of trains in operation, the fact that the third level was located under the existing benchwork often resulted in crews reaching over, under and around each other to run the larger and longer trains. Nonetheless our layout had become one of the best model railroads in Missouri, or at least we thought so!
Unfortunately in 2000, some external factors began to work against us. New building management brought not only a massive rent increase but a major reduction in building maintenance. The new manager decided to scrap our long-standing “handshake agreement” and placed our rental renewal on a month-to-month basis. Water pipes broke in the building on two separate occasions, doing considerable damage to our office space. Some new tenants introduced many undesirable elements into the building. Security and safety became a serious concern. After considerable debate, we decided to be masters of our own destiny, and the Mexico Train Works began searching for another new home. “To everything there is a season,” and now began the sad task of dismantling our old layout and salvaging the structures, switches, scenery and lumber for future use. It was very difficult for us to take a hammer and chisel to nine years of good times. Each foot of the old layout told a tale of creativity, hard work and special memories. But however difficult it was, we knew it was best to make this move on our own rather than have the move forced upon us, possibly at a half-moment’s notice.
Almost immediately we stumbled onto the basement of a local drug store. It was larger than our existing room and was being used primarily for storage. One of the best features was it had doors at ground level, no more stairs! The major items being stored in the room was the stage setup for the Miss Missouri Pageant. Another handshake agreement, a lot of sweat labor to move the stored items, a little bit of cleaning, and our new quarters was ready for occupancy.
The benchwork for the new layout was completed in about 2 years. We took our time trying not to make the mistakes we made building the last two layouts! The lower level benchwork is comprised of L-Girder style construction while the top level is cantilevered supports. The track is supported on spline roadbed. Track is flextrack and turnouts are #6 - #10 depending on location. To get from one level to the next the trains will run over the helix. There is 75' of track on three loops. The helix is 8' in diameter.
The Missouri Texas & Western comprises two railroads, the first is the Missouri, Texas & Western which runs from Des Moines, Iowa to Houston, Texas. The second line is the Chicago, Kansas City & Western which runs from Chicago, Illinois to Kansas City, Missouri. The CKC&W is owned by the MTW and they shared a small amount of trackage at one location. The old layout modeled a small portion of the MTW from the Iowa-Missouri border south to the Missouri River, and the CKC&W from just east of Kansas City to just west of St. Louis. The new layout will model a portion of the line from the Missouri River south to Springfield, Missouri.