Over the course of the last couple of years, my roster and ideas about what to roster have changed significantly. This has happened due to a combination of what I've learned as I research equipment to model plus my evolving budget and design preferences. 

For those who read my original site you might recall that my initial operating scheme was to be based primarily on the second trick of autumn 1951. I arrived at this date because of two major points. First was that New Haven steam is not well represented by affordable, plastic locomotives and I could not afford to buy brass. The last steam ran on the Highland Line in December 1948.  Second, freight traffic declined dramatically in 1949 and the New Haven discontinued Hartford-Maybrook freights. They were reinstated in autumn 1951 due to the escalation of the Korean conflict.
Because of the fact that the actual layout wouldn't need to change much, I have always intended making the necessary details replaceable so I could run additional dates to allow me to run some variations in the equipment, specifically the locomotives. So running an operating session in late 1949 would include RS-1s, RS-2s, DL-109s, FA/B/A sets, etc. Running a 1951 session would replace most of the RS-1s and RS-2s with RS-3s. By 1953 the majority of passenger trains would be Budd RDCs.
However, based on this approach, I realized that for late 1948 I could get buy with even one steam locomotive, an I-2 for train 131/136. The next steam I'd likely need would be an R-1-b (which I already had) for ANE-1/EA-2. From there, it didn't take me long to find out that if I was patient, I could have brass steam for around the same price as the top plastic models (like the I-5), although work would still be needed to add a decoder and sound.
So here I am with two R-1-bs (after modifications), an I-4, and two L-1s. An F-5 will also be an inexpensive modification of a Bachmann engine. Even better, all of the locomotives I currently own have made it up the helix and through the layout's turnouts. Thus, the plans have changed.
I'm fortunate (and the layout is too), to have several great modeling buddies. Although we often do our modeling alone, being able to get together with the guys to show off our work, learn new techniques, and help with the design and work is great fun. 

Modeling Standards

On most Thursdays we get together to catalog the large NHRHTA photograph collection. A number of us converge on my buddy Chris Adams' house most Thursday evenings to catalog the NHRHTA's large photo collection. Most of us are modelers, and there are usually several show-and-tell items each week; models, updates on layout progress, newly aquired prototype photos, paperwork, or information, etc.
One of the benefits of these friendships is that it provides encouragement not only to make progress, but to continue to improve our modeling efforts. We both have about as much theorizing about all of this stuff as we do modeling.
In addition to researching, identifying, and acquiring the specific models needed for our rosters, we've been spending time refining our criteria for modeling standards. In addition to getting together each Thursday, Chris and I work near each other in Hartford, so we usually get together for coffee or lunch a couple of times a week. We're of a similar mindset in terms of our desire for prototypical accuracy on our layouts, and we're both in the early stages of developing and building the layouts and roster. Since we're both getting started, we have found that the opportunity to set high modeling standards since we don't have a large collection of older cars to upgrade.
I feel that this is a great time to be modeling. Manufacturers are more in tune with the prototype modelers desire to run equipment with a high degree of accuracy and fidelity. While it's necessary, at least in the transition era we're modeling, to include a large number of resin kits for a prototypical mix of freight cars, the models are available in ever increasing number. Major prototypes, particularly the major evolutionary points for box cars, are well represented by the major plastic manufacturers.
While it's easy to acquire relatively accurate ready-to-run (RTR) models, my preference still leans toward kits. Part of this is because they tend to be less expensive. But mostly it allows me to select specific prototypes and make any modifications needed to be as accurate as possible.
So the only downside to this era of modeling is that kits are becoming increasingly rare. And aside from Accurail and Branchline, most kits are only available undecorated. If you don't mind painting and lettering your models (Chris and I don't), then this is fine since if I know I will make modifications anyway I would have preferred an undec version

Layout at a Glance

Modeling standards do evolve over time. There has been a lot written about the subject in the modeling press, from John Nerich/RPI Green and Tan Dot system, to the through freight vs. local freight model concept, the old standby '3-foot' rule, and your tolerance for stand-ins.
Locomotives and cabooses tend to be the most detailed and accurate because there are fewer of them in a typical roster and they are signature models. Freight cars tend to be well detailed for the home road, less so for foreign cars.
Modeling standards for scenery and structures will be covered elsewhere on the site.

Modeling Standards

For all equipment models on the layout I have some general standards.
  • Era accurate equipment
  • Era accurate painting and lettering
  • Era appropriate weathering
  • Major dimensions and components accurate
  • Accurate appliances per prototype
  • Separately applied detail parts (grab irons, ladders, etc)
  • Visible appliances modeled (brake gear, etc.)
  • Fine-scale wheelsets

Roster Standards

I have two basic categories for freight car models; 'Must Have', and 'Can Have'.
'Must Have' Models
'Must Have' models are those that I need for the layout and will pay full price as soon as they are available. This primarily consists of specific locomotives, cabooses, and home road equipment. Other equipment is layout specific. For example, there are Armour and Swift meat-packing distributors in New Britain. So I need a reasonable number of accurate Armour and Swift reefers.
Others are might be a specific prototype that was so numerous that it must be represented. PRR X29 box cars and NYC USRA-design steel box cars are good examples.
'Can Have' Models
'Can Have' models are everything else. When a manufacturer releases a model, I try to determine which prototypes it accurately represents with reasonable modifications. I'll compile a shopping list with that information and keep my eye open for bargains.
As far as I'm concerned, any prototype that was in interchange service in the era I'm modeling is a candidate for appearing on the layout, however unfrequently. Of course, this is partially because of the 4 daily through freights through New Britain. Chris' Valley and Air Line layout would be different in this regard since there are no through freights.
I've used Ted Culotta's Essential Freight Car series, plus books like his Postwar Freight Car Fleet as well. To me,with resources like this readily available I don't accept the idea that foreign road cars should be held to a lower standard than home road cars.
While I don't mind kitbashing or modifying a model, these types of projects (including cars that require removing a lot of molded detail) are lower on my list of priorities. Even if there is no other available option for a 'Must Have' model, I would rather work on other models first and wait to see if a better model is available in the future. While I haven't progressed to brass freight cars yet, considering the cost of some no-longer produced resin kits, an available brass version may be a cheaper option. Before I go that route, I'd probably look at scratch-building the model first.
Some cars appear in both lists, such as a 1937 AAR box car. I must have NYC 1937 AAR box cars since they directly interchanged with the New Haven. Most other roads are 'Can Have' since the specific road isn't as important as having a good representation of models.
Roster vs Operation
There is also a difference between a car that is appropriate for the roster, and appropriate for an operating session.
For an operating session, the mix of both prototypes and road names is important. Running an operating session in 1947 will have a greater proportion of composite box cars to steel box cars than an operating session in 1953. In addition, since I'm modeling the New Haven Railroad, a couple of ATSF box cars would be appropriate. Having 15 of them on the layout in a session, probably not.
So acquiring cars for the roster is one thing. I will address the mix when setting up operating session. John Nerich has a lot of good information and thoughs on the mix of freight cars on the RPI Railroad Heritage Website. One month access is $8.00 or continuing access is $5.00/month. I highly recommend it. There is a wealth of information on paint schemes, models, etc. The information on appropriate scenic details is also very good.


Some compromises are inevitable. The primary goal is to have an operating layout that depicts a specific time and place reasonably accurately. Areas where I'm likely to accept compromises, at least temporarily are things like:
Some molded-on details on locomotives, particularly if very fine (handrails along doors, etc.) is acceptable if a more accurate model is not affordably available.
Plastic vs Resin
I will accept detailed plastic models with separately applied details that meet my standards, even if I know a more accurate resin model exists. The Atlas 1932 ARA Box cars are fine, even though Sunshine and others released resin versions. However, there are a handful of prototypes that are not accurately modeled by Atlas. For these cars, if I need them I will build the resin version.
Manufacturer Supplied Details
Separately applied details must be reasonably fine. For example, for most of the modern plastic models (Branchline, Intermountain, Proto 2000, Red Caboose, etc.) the detail parts provided are fairly fine. I usually use the supplied parts and replace them with wire parts later if broken.
Manufacturers models evolve as well. Early Red Caboose kits have very little in terms of brake gear. In many cases, the brake gear is molded out of a single piece of styrene, which means all of the pipes and rodding are on a single vertical plane. In that case, I'll replace some or all of the detail with separate parts.
I've moved toward replacing the kit running boards with etched metal or scratchbuilt wood ones for the appropriate thin profile and see-through appearance. In addition, a lot of railroads didn't paint their running boards, and these are modeled accurately where known.
Weathering and Reweigh Dates
Since I'm modeling a wide range of years, there is no easy for me to affordably model all of these eras. I don't recall who to credit with this, but somebody said something like, "somebody who models 1950-1960 is just modeling 1960...poorly.'
While I appreciate this sentiment, I think that by selecting a primary operating year for each model and weathering and dating appropriately, the mix is more important while operating. In addition, while I can run operating sessions reasonably accurately for the range of eras, most sessions will focus on particular years, the primary ones being 1947, 1949, 1951, and 1953.
For example, while I might paint, letter, and weather a couple of 1947-built model as brand new for a 1947, most of them will be moderately weathered to be more appropriate for a 1951 session.
Operations vs Photography 
This is similar to the old idea that lesser detailed cars are OK for through freights, while the local freights use only the more accurate cars. Companies like Accurail and Bowser have really raised the bar on shake-the-box style models. Although they have molded details, the fidelity is so fine and near scale that it's sometimes hard to tell they aren't separate parts. This is particularly true with a weathered model at layout distance.
But with digital cameras, photographing models is much easier than it used to be. What may seem to be an obsessive level of detail when building a model becomes much more apparent when photographed. This is because the picture essentially scales up the model to 1:1 scale. Out-of-scale or missing details become much more evident.
Once again, though, not every model has to be up to this standard. Not only are few cars needed, if the goal is to make the photograph look like the prototype, then the photography itself is framed as if photgraphing the prototype. Most railroad photos are 3/4 views, focused on the locomotive with a string of cars behind.