All about the community of model railroading and rail enthusiasm


2023 Cowcatcher Magazine

All issues priced at $6.95 each unless otherwise noted.

Natural Merger – January/February 2023:

Cover Story: The national Mudhens modeling group, which started in the 1980s, is one of the oldest clubs in the country devoted to HOn3 modular narrow-gauge railroading. On a busy Saturday afternoon at Milwaukee’s Trainfest, all members appeared clean and upright.

At the show, George Pierson and Craig Crombar seamlessly melded modules representing East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad and Tuscarora Valley Railroad. They are the signature scenes and seamlessly transition into the modules of the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s narrow-gauge operation, where trains pass the depot at Telluride, CO, at one end.  

The Illinois chapter displays at shows two or three times a year. At Trainfest the Illinois Mudhens lashed 14 modules and had a steady stream of steam engines running loops. The modules mostly conform to narrow-gauge module standards, although track placement has been improvised on the two Pennsylvania and North Carolina sections.

PLUS, Cowcatcher subscribers say times are still good in model railroading but they may spend a little less in 2023 because of the economy. Also, the railroad industry in the late 1940s hummed as steam transitioned to diesel; it was also a time when railroading faced some of the same obstacles that railroads do today. And, Trainfest came back strong in November in Milwaukee after being sidelined by the pandemic for two years. Elsewhere, Toronto-based Rapido Trains has been ramping up production of its N-scale line and has several products in the hopper.

January/February 2023 – $6.25 Publisher’s Special!

General Purpose – March/April 2023:

Cover Story: Nearly 75 years after the first General Purpose locomotive rolled off the assembly line at General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division, the workhorse diesel is still doing the job it was meant to do.

The four-axle “Geep” is making main line moves, switching industries and doing short road work on mostly secondary railroads. Introduced in 1949 as the “ugly duckling” GP7, it has settled into a comfortable role and is always in demand, whether by lease or purchase.

Over the years, nearly 7,000 General Purpose locomotives in about 20 variations have hustled over the North American rail network and in other countries.  They have worn the colors of many roads, been repainted and repainted again, rebuilt inside and out, modified with new technology and anything else that kept them on the road. Their four-axle design offers better maneuverability than other switchers, and a 16-cylinder diesel engine has been a tried and true power plant for moving cuts of cars, long or short.

In this issue, the Cowcatcher takes an up-close look at some of the most popular models of this venerable diesel, many of which still operate today.

PLUS, some things get better with age. Fifty years later, NTRAK has defined N scale. In most areas of the U.S. Canada and other countries, NTRAK organizations – some without clubhouses – and individuals assemble their mix-and-match modules on the go and run trains at public and industry events. Also, M.T.H. Electric Trains, on the verge of closing during the pandemic, has reinvented itself with a new business plan. And, BNSF Railway goes big on intermodal, plans to build a massive facility in Barstow, CA, to expedite container shipments. Meanwhile, the Rock Island’s Memphis-Californian went west to El Paso and took a lot of good company.


Steady as a Rock – May/June 2023:

Cover Story: One might expect a former track engineer and assistant superintendent with a Class I railroad to be a little stodgy about the track on his layout. Mike Armstrong knows the buck stops there when trains don’t move because of track issues.

From a distance, the rail and roadbed on his HO-scale Rock Island Lines look solid and true. Track geometry is smooth, and high-speed curves on the main line are perfectly super-elevated. Ballast is uniform throughout. But those dark patches scattered inside and outside the rail on the main, in yards and on sidings are intriguing. Too many intense grime and oil spots left by passing trains, it seems.

The Rock Island had a lot of jointed rail. Often the remedy was to just add more ballast to the track in anticipation of making repairs, but mud would eventually resurface. Brownish goo seeped between the ties and out from under the rail onto the ballast on either side of the track, leaving large dark muddy spots, a result of neglect as the railroad neared the end of its life.

Be assured, the track integrity is genuine on Armstrong’s rendition of the Rock Island from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Kansas City, KS.

PLUS, when a bright 14-year-old wowed model railroaders decades his senior with custom O-gauge switches in his Illinois basement, it heralded the second coming of three-rail – and Ross Custom Switches – more than 50 years ago. Also, GVT Rail has big plans for its new ALCO PA “Nickel Plate Road No. 190.” The railroad company recently purchased the restored locomotive from a top rail preservationist. The Rocky Mountain Train Show accomplished its mission of increasing attendance and adding more exhibitors with its show in April. And, The N-scale Whitehurst & Pine Ridge Railroad solves a switching puzzle for a cement distributor in Pine Ridge with help from its Class I parent.

May/June 2023

Current Issue: September/October 2023


Bright, shiny freight cars are showing in greater numbers on the North American rail network. New orders and deliveries increased in 2022 following a decline beginning in 2019 that the pandemic worsened in 2020 and 2021. According to a report from the Railway Supply Institute's American Railway Car Institute Committee, new freight car orders last year were significantly greater than the combined total of 2020 and 2021. Deliveries increased nearly as much.

But car builders are not out of the woods yet, as the first half of 2023 saw some ups and downs.


Too much of a good thing can be hazardous to model railroad operations. Adding more cars to a layout can place more pressure on yards and industries when running the railroad like the real thing. Three veteran operators share their thoughts about how to avoid logjams in yards, sidings and at industries. 


Computer-based applications that complement DCC are driving the new frontier of model rail road operations.


The Sunset Limited ranks as Amtrak's worst train in on-time performance, prompting a Surface Transportation Board investigation. The Southern Pacific's Coast Daylight, with its brilliant colors, was among the most beautiful trains during the golden age of passenger rail. A BNSF test locomotive that set the stage for future developments in alternative energy motive power technology arrives at an Oklahoma railroad museum.