MEMORIAL: James Hickey

I was saddened to read that James Hickey had passed away.  He was an acquaintance who I met through Jim Zwernemann and Bruce Blalock.  I had admired his work for years and exchanged emails with him from time to time. It was my thought we should do something to recognize his passing.  I asked Jim Zwernemann to write about his good friend.

One of the master craftsmen of our time passed away April 12, 2018.  James “Jim” Hickey was a lifelong resident of the Austin, Texas area and developed his incredible model building skills beginning in HO scale in the late 1950’s.  He moved to 1/4″ scale during the early 80’s when the P48 movement began.
Jim’s interpretation of a Rock Island Whitcomb. Jim converted the model to P48, detailed it and did his magic with finishing 
Jim’s modeling projects included On30, On3 and traction but the majority of his work was done in P48 standard gauge.  He didn’t limit his work to any era or railroad but the 50’s and early 60’s seemed to be his favorite timeframe and the Southern Pacific was his favorite railroad.  Most of his models were constructed from styrene but he was a skilled brass builder as well.  Most of his locomotives were first generation diesels which used kits from P&D, Red Caboose or Weaver or various brass imports as the starting point.  He scratchbuilt numerous freight cars and structures.  All of his models had one thing in common-they were exquisite representations of specific prototypes.
Jim had the innate ability to capture the feel of the prototype with his detailing, painting and weathering skills.  He was not pleased with the selection of available decals in O scale so he started a small decal business called Protocals in 1989.  Some of these can still be found at O scale meets today.  He purchased an ALPS printer and began making his own custom decals.
Jim was also a world traveler.  He took trips to Central and South America, Europe, Asia and other locations to photograph railroads at work.  He especially liked traveling to Mexico and built a number of wonderful locomotives, cars and structures based on Mexican prototypes.
I would like to thank Jim Zwernemann for his remembrance of his good friend.  As you can see in these photos provided by Jim Zwernemann, his friend had many interest in railroading and showed his true modeling prowess in each one.
So long



Proto48 today has become a viable gauge for modelers wanting to work in 1/48 scale.  We are fortunate to have a wide range of products available with many of them coming from Protocraft.   Norm Buckhart founded Protocraft to produce products needed in the Proto48 hobby.  The business has grown from its origin of supplying wheels produced by Steve Grabowski and his dad to an extensive line of exquisite brass freight cars, brass trucks, working magnetic couplers, wheels, driver parts and of course decals.

2011-chicago-2Norm is a native Californian raised in the Bay Area with a deep appreciation of the railroads and marine operations present in and around the San Francisco Bay.

His background includes a Naval aviator, Pan American pilot and real estate developer.  Model railroading has been a long term interest of his.

We are fortunate that Norm has demonstrated the ability to identify products needed in the hobby and getting them done.  Protocraft has developed a wide range of products that support accurate modeling.

Proto48 is about accurate modeling ranging from accurate gauge and wheel profiles to correct rolling stock and lettering.  Norm has set about the task of developing a magnetic AAR Type-E coupler, hundreds of decal sets with art developed from photos rather than type setting font like the old Champ and Walthers decals.  He developed and imported a wide range of accurate boxcars for specific prototypes for the major railroads.  Rather than a generic car, Norm has obtaining actual AC&F and Pullman drawings for the actual cars purchased by railroads.  The cars are done with the correct running boards, hand brakes, body details and trucks.  Speaking of trucks, Protocraft has developed a whole range of ball-bearing equipped trucks.  Finally, Proto48 modelers can purchase trucks based upon actual designs and not the generic “Bettendorf” design.

Along the way, Norm got involved with antique automobile ownership.  He still owns a number of classic auto and drives a few of them on occasion.  The photo below shows Norm on the left leaning against his Packard Model 640.  He is toasting his buddy with a glass of Teachers which is his favorite libation.


Norm’s home layout is remarkable in its dimensions in size and the amount of beautiful equipment running on it.   You can visit the Protocraft Layout page by clicking on this link


soo-steelMany of the boxcars on the layout are Protocraft imports lettered with Protocraft decals.  The cars are all weathered and feature Protocraft’s magnetic couplers.


With this huge layout, Norm incorporated an interesting vignette of a barge and slip.  It fits perfectly with the San Francisco Bay Area theme.





The barge slip has created an interesting operating point. Norm has found that he enjoys loading and unloading cars on the barge. He has reconfigured a hidden yard in his shop to provide an off-stage destination for cars coming off the barge.   It turns out that this section of the layout is enjoyable to operate. Switching with a glass of Teachers is an ideal way of closing a long day of work on Protocraft projects.  Norm suggested it as a small layout for someone who enjoys switching. I will take a look at this idea and may develop it into a small layout concept.

Hopefully you enjoyed this quick look at Norm Buckhart.

Happy Trails,


MODELING: Lee Turner’s Latest Efforts


Lee Turner’s large following of customers keeps him busy near all the time.   This winter he has seen a lot of PRR and Eastern equipment in his shop.   The PRR E-8 shown above is a Key model.  At the request of his customer, Lee rebuilt the pilot assembly and matched the factory paint.  Once complete with the modification, Lee weathered the model consistent with the road principal passenger power.

lt-carworks-flatsThe two flats are imports from the Car Works.  They are models of the PRR FM class.  The loads are PVC piping painted and weathered to look it large steel pipes.   Nice looking loads.

lt-lne2Pacific Limited imported a number of highly accurate brass models years ago.  The cars are sought after by modelers and collectors.  At a request of his customer, Lee painted the models in two different schemes for the Lehigh and New England.



Last but now least, Lee reworked an Overland Union Pacific gas turbine with a different number, details and weathering.   The locomotive is a monster and must be something running on a large railroad.   I do remember seeing these beasts at Cheyenne and hauling mile-long trains on the mainline.   The black smoke and scream of the turbine was a sight to behold.


Thank you Lee.

Happy Trails,



Chuck Yungkurth recently passed away in Boulder, Colorado.  He was an accomplished modeler, historian, author and designer.   For years, readers of Railroad Model Craftsman were used to seeing Chuck’s drawings or articles on anthracite railroads.  Yesterday I did a Google search on Chuck and was amazed at the numbChuck_Yungkurth_2013er of books he authored.  I had not idea.   Born and raised in Scranton, he grew up surrounded by anthracite railroads Delaware and Hudson, Lackawanna, Erie and a few others.   Anthracite mines were a common sight in the Scranton skyline in those days.  He observed a great deal and later used his knowledge to enrich his many articles and books.

I first met Chuck in 1977 at IBM in Owego, NY.  He was a mechanical engineer working on high technology projects for his employer.   Over a several year period, I visited him and we did some railfanning in the Chemung Valley.  I visited Sayre to see the Lehigh Valley shops, some of the abandoned mainline of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, the D&H yards in Binghamton, NY.  We managed to collect data for several projects for publication in the Gazette.

BingcoalyardtrestleandconveyorOne of my favorite collaboration was working with Chuck on coal conveyers. It was a challenge to build but with great drawings and photos from Chuck it went smoothly.  The plans and drawings were in the Gazette years ago.

Chuck introduced me to Nichols, NY which was once along the old Lackawanna mainline.  We found this interesting John Deere dealer.  He did a nice set of drawings and I built this model for the Gazette.

Copy of Dempsey Plumbing Scranton 1982

This old building was a real gem.  Chuck did a set of drawings and his daughter did a set of lettering for the building.  Sadly, I never finished the project.

Chuck supplied me with a set of railroad drawings for this Lackawanna caboose.  It was at the urging of Bill Shaumburg, editor of Railroad Model Craftsman, to do an article on building the car and Chuck would do the drawings.  The drawings were done and were pcab on bench finalublished but the article never made it due to some unknown reasons.   Well, the RMC changed hands and the article was published.

I think the railroad hobby has lost an accomplished gentleman who did a lot to further prototype modeling.

We will miss you.

Happy Trails,


MODELING: Some More of Jim Zwernemann’s Great Modeling

Jim Booth, owner of Glacier Park Models, was kind enough to send a few shots of Jim Zwernemann’s layout.  It was the first time Jim Booth has visited the this beautiful Proto48 railroad.   He was in the area for the Houston Narrow Gauge Convention.  Rarely do you find a modeler who builds a beautiful layout and award winning models.

z bulk plant

Jim Zwernemann scratch built this interesting little oil dealer.  You can see some of Jim’s freight car work in the background .

Z dartnaught

This model started life as a Roco/Atlas plastic boxcar.  Jim reworked the end to resemble the AC&F proprietary design used a series of post-war boxcar orders.

z austin frt house

Here is a different view of Jim’s Katy freight house.  The model is based upon the old Katy building that once existed in Austin, TX.

z tower

Speaking of award winning models, the Elgin tower is one of those gems that has won first place.

z yard

This part of Jim’s layout is not quite done as you can see.  What is remarkable are the three exquisite cabooses in the foreground.  The Rock Island car at the far end started out as a San Juan Car Company Rio Grande Fowler clone boxcar kit.  The Cotton Belt drover car is still around in a museum in the Dallas area. It was build from styrene.

z usra

The prototype for this car started life as a USRA double sheathed boxcar.  The EJ&E rebuilt the car with a steel replacement side but kept the basic USRA dimensions.  The colorful scheme was first applied around 1950.  The model is creative blend of commercial parts (kit bash).  The underframe and ends came from a very old Chooch kit.  The sides and roof were reworked parts from an Intermountain steel boxcar kit. The doors were made by Jim.  Lettering was done using an ALPS printer by Jim Hickey.   Orange is not a native color for an ALPS machine but Jim managed to dither the color to get the effect of orange.


I decided to add this prototype photo to show this classic car.  It would make a great kit.

I want to thank Jim Booth for providing the photos for this posting.   All of his shots were is done with his IPhone.

Happy Trails,


MODELING: Correction on Zwernemann Stock Car

zmann stock closeup

The last posting had a photo of a Rails Unlimited stock car that Jim Zwernemann did his magic on.  I missed some detail changes like cutting the original door off and replacing it with a styrene door.  The majority of the pictures Jim found showed vertical slats.  Jim also thinned the roof by 50% and notched the roof edge to give the appearance of individual boards.  The weathering was done with acrylics and actual distressing of the decal with an Xacto knife.   The effects are dramatic and effective.

Milw stock car

The Milwaukee Road stock car was depicted in several Car Builder Cyclopedia.  I have enclosed a page from a CBC reprint.

zmnn turn

Happy Trails,


MODELING: Odds and Ends plus Jim Zwernemann

Wilson painted

Well, the Wilson reefer is just about done.  I only need to weather the car.  These cars ran pretty dirty so I should have fun with this.   The Protocraft decals are really beautiful.  Norm did a super job with the artwork.

Mack AC

I dug out my Brommer Mack AC truck.  My intent is to finish it up after 40 years sitting in a box.   I started the truck when the kit first came out over 40 years ago.   The original Brommer kits were cast in Cerro Bend, 158 degree melting point, white metal.  The kit is beautiful and very accurate.  Cerro Bend can’t support much weight so you need to support the leaf springs with block or they will collapse.  In my youth, I remember seeing them monsters hauling coal or ice when I spent a summer in the Bronx.   That was the 1950s.

zmann turntable

It has been a while since we have seen photos of Jim Zwernemann’s work.   He has been busy working on a new turntable for his railroad.  Jim scratch built it using styrene for the bridge.  The railing was built up using individual pipe fitting.  He just about went crazy drilling the brass castings out.  He found out that he could have purchased cored out castings for a little more money but with a lot less stress.  It is a manual drive  which eliminates the complexity of a motorized mechanism.

zmann rail unlimited stock

I am always amazed how Jim Zwernemann can take a kit like this Rails Unlimited urethane model and turn it into a really work of art.  He added a few details such as the drop door hardware either side of the door.  The faded color projects a feel of a car that has not seen any maintenance work in many years.   The decals are from Rails Unlimited as well.

Till next time

Happy Trails,