Go from Westwego to Texarkana, and never leave the club house
By James Ronald Skains
"Our model railroad track follows the old Texas and Pacific route that ran from Westwego just outside New Orleans to Texarkana, Arkansas," Jack Green, one of the founders of the Mid-South Railroad Club told the Piney Woods Journal. "It is as authentic as the original route was with pulpwood siding yards, log yards, sawmills and the paper mill at Mansfield."
"These pulpwood yards, logs yards, sawmills and paper mill are replicated in minute detail on our model railroad layout," Green added. "Some of the members of our club are artists and craftsmen while others are trackmen and rolling stock experts. The T&P route, which later merged with the Missouri Pacific railroad, followed the west bank of the Mississippi up to Port Allen and then turned northwest running through Bunkie up to Alexandria," Green elaborated. "From Alexandria the railroad ran up through Boyce, Cypress, Robeline, Pleasant Hill, Shreveport and on up to Texarkana staying on the west bank of the Red River."
"The T&P intersected many other mainline east west railroads along the way," Green noted. "We try to depict those interchanges in our layout."
Viewing the layout of the tracks intertwining with the timber industry brought back vivid memories to this writer of the many pulpwood yard sidings, log yard sidings, pole yards, sawmills and paper mills that dotted the landscape throughout north Louisiana in the 1950's, 60's, and '70's.
"We have over 900 feet of main line track and 1,600 feet of sidetracks," Green explained. "The track starts out at the Avondale shipyards on the west bank of the Mississippi River, travels, through Addis/Port Allen and then part of the Atchafalaya Basin. We replicated the towns and landscape along the route from actual photographs of the towns and businesses along the track," Green, one of the eight founding members of the club pointed out. "It has taken countless hours and tons of money to get our layout to where it is today."
The club started out in one room of a metal building owned by Green 1995 in Baton Rouge, but has now expanded to four rooms totaling over 1,000 square feet in the building. It is an alcohol and smoke free facility.
The MidSouth Model Railroad Club has about a dozen active members and an invite list of about 80 people. The economic downturn in 2008 affected the attendance and participation at the MidSouth events.
"With the advent of computer programs, we have been able to computerize our entire track layout so that we can control the traffic just like the big boys do on the regular railroads," Green noted. "Before we were able to computerize the layout, we would manually have to throw the switches which involved talking on the radio to different club members on different sections of the track."
The Midsouth Club uses wired and wireless North Coast Engineering DCC systems, RailOp car forwarding and CMRI/JMRI signals, turnout and block detention devices in their state of the art layout.
"We have 25 operating engines and 560 various different cars ranging from the pulpwood cars to tank cars and passengers cars," Green stated. "These model engines aren't cheap. Some will run a couple hundred dollars each."
"I've been a model railroad buff since I was a kid," said Green, a Special Forces Helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. "During World War II, they stopped making model trains but after the war I was able to add to my collection. My Dad worked at what is now the Exxon refinery in Baton Rouge. Back in those early days, it was steam locomotives that pulled the loads into and out of the refinery in Baton Rouge. We still have a few steamers in our inventory."
"I also had several aunts and uncles who worked for railroads," Green remembered. "I just love to take pictures of trains. I lived in Homer, Louisiana for a while which was the headquarters of the Louisiana Northwest which ran from McNeil, Arkansas to Gibsland. I've taken countless pictures of the trains passing through Gibsland and know most of the old railroad routes throughout Louisiana."
"We travel around to different model railroad clubs in Arkansas and Texas," Green added. "In fact, we may be hosting a regional model railroad club meeting here in Baton Rouge in a couple of years."
"MidSouth is a member of the Lone Star Region of the National Model Railroad Association," Green added. "We run an HO scale track and train which is smaller than the well known Lionel trains which run an O gauge track."
"If it wasn't for the golden age of the timber industry of yesteryear, there would be very few railroads in Louisiana, especially in North Louisiana," Green concluded.