Chicago Great Western Railway, RI, CNW and M&St.L

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Chicago Great Western map

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Fort Dodge, Des Moines and Southern map

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Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway map

Mike Porter’s Chicago Great Western Railway

The Chicago Great Western Railway is a nine year old layout that is a work in progress. It depicts the CGW located in North-Western Iowa in the mid to late 60's. Its a time when covered wagons were in command of the daily mortgage lifter timefreights.

The CGW is a 450' long single un-signaled main track with six ample sized passing sidings. It also depicts the main line to Minneapolis.

The working Division point yard at Clarion, Iowa is represented. The yard is at the junction of the three spokes of the system that radiate out towards Chicago, Omaha and Minneapolis. The yard has 8 tracks measuring 16' long. It also serves 5 industries.

The industrial switching yard at Fort Dodge, Iowa is represented. The yard has 5 tracks and measures 18' long. This yard services two 36' industrial stub end spurs that host 18 industry spots accumulatively.

The balance of the CGW portion of the layout hosts 12 granger townsites where grain and small business are served.

95 percent of the buildings are in place and 60% of the scenery has been installed.

The independently operated Fort Dodge - Des Moines and Southern Railroad depicts the north end portion of an electric short line railroad after it was converted from Juice Jacks to GE 70 tonners. The scene is the Fort Dodge, Iowa yard and the 7 surrounding industries which measure about 52' long. The connected downtown industry site measures about 46' long and serves about 15 industries.

The independently operated Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad area depicts a compressed version of the Soy Bean plant located at Belmond, Iowa. All of the scenery and all of the buildings are in place. It measures 30' long and there are about 20 car spots to pull and set along with interplant moves.

The independently operated Chicago North Western Railroad area depicts a compressed version of the Soy Bean plant located at Eagle Grove, Iowa. 90% of the buildings are in place. It measures 50' long and there are about 20 car spots to pull and set along with interplant moves.

The independently operated Rock Island Railroad depicts a portion of a modelers combined branch line that served Clarion and Belmond, Iowa. All of the buildings are in place. It measures 50' long and there are 15 industry spots at Clarion and 4 at Belmond.
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Layout at a Glance 
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Layout at a glance
  • HO scale
  • The room size is 75 X 35 and/or 3100 Square Feet. The home has a suspended garage floor and a suspended front porch to accommodate more model railroad space commonly known as the Man Cave.
  • Several of the locomotives (known as Motors on the CGW) have sound and working Mars lights.
  • 98 percent of the turnouts are hand thrown.
  • Normal time freight size is 30 cars.
  • The traffic velocity as compared to the Prototype is enhanced by 433%.
  • 90 percent single level
  • Linear in design
  • Easy DCC - eight radio throttles and six tethered throttles
  • The CGW is verbally dispatched
  • Push to talk phone system on the CGW
  • 3-1 fast clock
  • Straight forward Plain Jane waybills
  • Color coded waybill boxes reflecting the road involved
  • Repurposed key board trays to conductors desks
  • Four independent switching areas
  • Small CTC panel at a junction and crossing
  • Four crossings with interlocking plants
  • 15' bridge
  • Huge water tower at Fort Dodge
  • Three staging yards
  • Emergency battery powered lights
  • Ground entrance if required
Jobs on the Layout 
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Jobs on the Layout
Chicago Great Western Jobs:
  • Train Dispatcher for the Chicago Great Western.  He/she directs train movements on the main track (up to 26 trains in a three hour period) via telephone.  We use the “Mother May I”  scheme.  The job is busy. 
  • Foot Board Yardmaster (FBY) for the CGW Clarion yard.  The FBY segregates traffic in three different directions.  This job is both interesting and busy.  
  • Foot Board Yardmaster for the CGW Fort Dodge yard.  The FBY arranges blocks of cars to be picked up and also pulls and sets two industry tracks which consist of 18 industries.  This job is low key. 
  • Engineer/Conductor for the CGW Turnaround job runs from Clarion to Fort Dodge and returns.  This job has its own independent branch line yard and switches seven industries and interchanges with the FDS.  This job is medium key. 
  • Pool crews will protect both freight and passenger trains without fail.  All of the pool crews set out and pick up on their own cars.

Fort Dodge - Des Moines and Southern jobs:  
  • FDS Foot Board Yardmaster segregates a 20 car train and an eight car train.  Then lines up the cars up in sequence for a shoving delivery for the down town job.  It also switches eight industries.  Then this job builds two outbound trains.
  • FDS downtown job pulls from the fifteen down town industries; lines up his return train in outbound station order, makes up a switch list and returns to the main yard.   This job may be instructed to work the other industries in the man yard area.  Then this job shoves the set cars downtown and spots the cars at the industries.  Both of these jobs are busy.

Minneapolis and St. Louis job:
  • This job is a turnaround plant switcher.  It arrives in town with cars for the soy bean plant and other industries in the area.  The outbound cars are pulled from the plant, interchange cars are pulled and delivered and the inbound cars are set.  There is some interplant moves and other industries to work in the area.  There is about 20 car spots.  The job returns in the opposite direction.  This job is low key.  

Chicago North Western job: 
  • This job is another turnaround plant switcher.  It arrives in town with cars for the soy bean plant and other industries in the area.  Outbound cars are pulled from the plant and the business tracks and the inbound cars are set.  There are some interplant moves and other industries work in the area.  There are about 20 car spots.  The job returns in the opposite direction. This job is low key.

The Rock Island job:
  • This job works two townsites on a 50' main track.  It starts out by running a short passenger train from staging to staging.  Then it picks up a local freight and starts working Belmond with two industry spots and two interchanges.  Then it continues on to Clarion where it works 15 more local industry spots.  This job works across the CGW main track at an interesting interlocking plant at Clarion.  This job is low key.

About the Layout Owner 
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About the Layout Owner

Mike Porter
(known locally as “Cliff”, “Cliff Clavin”, and “Saucy Jack, the Yarnspinner”)

I started the hobby with an American Flyer train at the age of 10. As a junior in high school I started my railroad career as a student telegraph operator at the joint agency of the Illinois Central Railroad and the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad at Tara, Iowa. I also did student work at the Chicago Great Western Railway depot at Fort Dodge, Iowa. Upon graduation from High School I hired out as a switchman / engine foreman on the Illinois Central Railroad at the Fort Dodge yard.

I had the opportunity to work the Omaha, Sioux City and the Waterloo road districts while employed by the I.C. I was cut off as a result of the Public Law Board 282 award (fireman award) and I hired out as a brakeman on the Minneapolis and St. Louis Division of the Chicago North Western at Fort Dodge. I worked on the Des Moines, Spencer/Estherville and the Albert Lea districts. I separated from the railroad and began a career as a apprentice electrician. I attended night apprenticeship school and worked in the day time for electrical contractors for four years in order to obtain my journeyman rating. I worked the construction trade for 10 years.

The Chicago North Western called me back to work as a locomotive fireman and I attended their formal engineers school in Chicago. I was promoted to Locomotive engineer and I worked out of eight terminals while assigned to the Fort Dodge Terminal. In 1979 I relocated to Kansas City, MO with the CNW and worked out of the former CGW Ohio Street Yard until it closed in 1983. Jump ahead to 1996 when the CNW was ingested into the Union Pacific. I finished my career with the UP and retired at the age of 69 years old.

I had always thought of building a model railroad but work and family came first. At the age of 63 and with a ton of help from local modelers we built the CGW and the other connecting roads. I installed a lot of the electrical work and the phone work but I had lots of help with the bench work, the electronics and the continuing task of installing scenery.

In addition to my 42 year railroad career I completed a 39 year career with the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve.

It has been a great journey with good friends in the model railroad community and I would not change this experience for the world.
More about the Layout 

More about the Layout

The layout is a sheet rock layout. I was inspired by the group in LaCrosse,WI who used sheet rock for their table tops. I also asked four of our local engineering type modelers if there was anything wrong with using sheet rock and I received a resounding "its OK to use!" The only thing I found objectionable was when we cut it with a Roto-Zip we had to follow it with a shop vac. Its been in place since 2006 and it has proven to be OK. The second reason I used sheet rock is that it was economical. The LaCrosse group shared with me that a tightwad CNW engineer from Chicago used the sheet rock method many years ago and it was again OK at that time. Since I constructed my layout with sheet rock another local modeler followed suit and is happy with the results.

There are only two rules on the CGW and the foreign lines. Rule #1 - Have fun! Rule #2 - Keep the radio throttles tethered around your neck.

The atmosphere in the basement is laid back, non judgmental and forgiving. My goal is for everyone to have fun; that's what its about.
Track Diagrams 

Track Diagrams

Here are track diagrams for the primary locations on the layout

(click each header to view the diagrams)

Belmond Iowa track

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Clarion Iowa CGW track

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Clarion Iowa Rock Island track

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Eagle Grove Iowa track

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East Fort Dodge Iowa track

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Fort Dodge (downtown) CGW track

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Fort Dodge (downtown) FtDM&S track

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Photo Gallery

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Dave Acheson switching quarry between Florence and Clarion
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J D Spicer on the CGW Fort Dodge downtown job
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Keith Robinson switching the soybean plant on the Minneapolis and St. Louis at Belmond
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Lenny ohrnell working Fort Dodge Des Moines and Southern team track
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Lynn Masoner switching the CGW Fort Dodge yard
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Steve Priest on the Rock Island job at Clarion, Iowa
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Soybean plant at Belmond, Iowa
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Patrick Lenahan on the FtDDM&S Fort Dodge city job
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Passenger train headed east on Fort Dodge high bridge
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Keith Mercer working the FtDDM&S yard
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John Breau running reefer train approaching west Fort Dodge
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John Acheson working M&StL job at Belmond, Iowa
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Joe Kasper sorting cars at Clarion, Iowa
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Greg Murray at the dispatcher’s desk
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Fort Dodge bridge
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Fort Dodge bridge west end, looking east
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Fort Dodge bridge east end
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Dave Acheson pondering his next move on the west local
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Clarion, Iowa interlocking
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CGW Business train coming through Moorland, Iowa
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CGW C&NW job at Eagle Grove, Iowa
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Belmond bean plant
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Belmond bean plan
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Alan Saatkamp with passenger train coming off Fort Dodge high bridge
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Alan Saatkamp talking to dispatcher while running passenger train at Moorland, Iowa

Map and Directions to the Layout

You can click on the “show directions” tab to print directions from the host hotel to the layout. Or you can download them in Apple Maps or Google Maps on your portable device.