By Tim Blackwell /
The team at TrainWorx in Dallas may have felt the same urgency as the BNSF Railway engineer who pilots the long-distance priority Z train under a tight schedule.
The design company had seven weeks to build a centerpiece O-scale layout for billionaire Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett to display at Berkshire Hathaway’s May stockholders meeting in Omaha, NE. With founder Roger Farkash at the wheel, TrainWorx delivered an 8’ x 32’ “masterpiece” of Buffett’s railroad and companies.
Right on time.
“(Buffett) is quite a character and a lot of fun to talk to,” Farkash said. “I was forewarned that he would be there, and the trains were up and running when he came in before the meeting. His first reaction was, ‘It’s a masterpiece!’ Everybody was pretty pleased.”
TrainWorx, a division of TW Design, got the nod from BNSF in January and spent the next six weeks refining the design and drawings until formal approval was given. After logging 2,400 manpower hours by a dozen model and design professionals, the layout was ready to ship.
Setup, which took about three hours, was a challenge, but a modular design with a single umbilical-style wiring cluster enabled quick installation and operation. On May 4, Buffett and company officials got a preview before the layout was unveiled the next day to an estimated 40,000 stockholders at the CenturyLink Center Omaha.
The layout, featured on BNSF’s “Friends of BNSF” website, is divided into eight 4’ x 8’ sections that are bolted together and roll on casters. Designers used 160 pounds of aluminum for caster plates, 370 board feet of white pine for benchwork, 128 cubic feet of urethane foam for mountains, 650 feet of electrical wire, 330 feet of track and 10 gallons of track ballast.
A Lionel Legacy Control System powers six engines and about 60 cars.
The focus is on BNSF’s unit train business and features depictions of iconic scenery – the bridge at Two Medicine River Bridge near Glacier Park, MT; Sullivan’s Curve at Cajon Pass, CA – along the railroad’s 32,000-mile route.
Cityscape scenes are populated with scratch-built or kit-bashed replicas of buildings from Berkshire Hathaway’s vast portfolio of companies. Short on time, designers used photographs of buildings rather than drawings to assemble representative structures. Scratch-built buildings were constructed from laser-cut pieces of plastic, Plexiglas and 1/32” laminates taped together.
More than 170 light bulbs illuminate 44 street lamps and structures.
“The buildings are by far the most delicate pieces,” Farkash said. “That was the biggest challenge. Personalizing and building each was really time intensive.
“When the layout was running, all the presidents of the companies came over and had their picture taken by their building. Mr. Buffett really liked that we included all 58 of the subsidiary companies of Berkshire Hathaway. That was pretty exciting for him.”
BNSF’s unit-train business is represented by grain silos, electric power plants, wind energy turbines and an intermodal terminal.
Farkash said most of the supplies were purchased locally in North Texas and trains were supplied by Lionel, but the project had to be kept a secret. Once unveiled, trains ran continuously on three loops of track (one climbs 20 feet at about a 1.25 percent grade and descends at 2.8 percent), and switching was simulated by push-pull operation on a trio of sidings.
A BNSF spokeswoman said the layout has since been stored in Dallas/Fort Worth and will be brought out again for company functions.
This story appears in the July/August issue of Cowcatcher Magazine.