by Jan Poff
"All trains are pretty, including BN green, and even Conrail blue has some glamour to it." Jim Reske never met a train he did not like. When it comes to model railroading, he readily admits to being a "collector with no focus." Three or four years ago, he started tracking his N scale investment on a spreadsheet. Jim rosters 77 locomotives, around 70 passenger cars, and 320 freight cars. "I like it all — anything from the East Coast to the West Coast. You name the railroad, I’ve just about got it.
While his taste in model railroad equipment ranges widely, Jim favors the Chicago and North Western among Class 1 lines. His childhood home in Racine, Wisconsin, was less than a block from the double-track right-of-way the C&NW shared with the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee.
Although he often paused on his way home from school to throw snowballs at the C&NW’s premier passenger train, the constant presence of the railroad guaranteed Jim’s affinity for the goldenrod and dark green consists plying the "Route of the 400."
Jim’s interest in electric trains stems from the Lionel set his brother received for Christmas in 1948. By the time Jim was in junior high school, his brother had abandoned the Lionel. Jim then assumed ownership of the set, adding to it until he entered the navy in 1957; afterward his parents "sold the whole shebang," complete with ZW transformer, for $50.00. Recently he saw a switcher, like the one from his youth, offered at a train meet for $300. Clean, operable ZW’s often fetch from $250 to $275.
After spending seven years in the Navy, Jim moved to Raleigh, enrolled at NC State University, got married and began raising a family. He was haunting the hobby department in J.C. Penney’s at North Hills Mall in the late 1960s when he first encountered N scale. Jim bought an Atlas/Rivarossi freight set, complete with E8 locomotive, track and transformer for about $15.00. Back then Atlas cars cost $1.37 each, and Kadee (Micro-Trains) cars retailed for under $3.00.
The NRMRC exhibit at North Hills in 1972 or 1973 fired Jim’s imagination, and he quickly joined the club. Since then he built an eight-foot yard module, to which he recently added a mountain-division bridge unit; and two, four-foot modules representing Sturtevant, WS. The Sturtevant set features an Amtrak station, sauerkraut cannery, lighted buildings and street lamps, and operating track signals. The real sauerkraut factory figured in the lives of two generations of Reskes: Jim’s father worked there briefly, and Jim’s grandfather grew cabbage for the cannery. When not included in NRMRC layouts, all the modules comprise a good portion of his 15’ x 8’ home setup.
Jim enjoys running trains immensely. Although he counts many model railroading skills among his specialties, he particularly relishes electrical projects like those on the Sturtevant modules. He also repowered many of his older locomotives, replacing factory-installed motors with Sagami and Kato units. In fact, Jim likes nothing better than going to train shows and "rummaging through boxes" of used equipment, "finding half a dozen cars, and putting them back into running order." Making rock castings from rubber molds is one skill he wants to improve.
"Patience" is a quality all model railroaders should possess, according to Jim. "If you can’t find out why something doesn’t work and you get frustrated easily, you need to find something else to do," he observes. Actually, Jim did find an alternative to trains while in the Navy: to pass endless weeks at sea, he began building remote-control boats. Altogether his personal fleet has one gas- and three electric-powered craft. He continued to pursue the hobby intermittently after his final tour of duty ended, but it obviously took a back seat to model railroading.
Jim lives in Cary and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from NC State in 1974. A quality engineer for IBM, he took early retirement in 1992 after 28 years with the company. Since October 1992, he has been an electrical engineer with the Traffic Engineering Branch of the state Division of Highways.
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