Peter's Model Railroading - About the Web Site
06/17/2018

Thank you for visiting my web site. My name is Peter Vanvliet. I live in Houston, Texas. My main hobby is model railroading, and that is the purpose of this web site; to showcase the work I have done over the years. I started off in the late 1970s modeling in N-scale (1:160), but switched to S-scale (1:64) in July 2008. I am currently working on modeling the Pennsylvania Railroad' Chartiers Branch, set in the summer of 1924, when this 23-mile branch line that ran southwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was booming.

I have had a personal web site up since January 1994, although its domain name has changed a few times over the years. In August 1999 I re-entered the hobby of model railroading (after a 19-year hiatus), and since that time my web site has been focused on model railroading.

Browsing My Site

I am staunch supporter of a free and open Internet, and so my web site has the following features:

1. I do not use Google's "free" service to track visitors on this web site. Many web sites do, because Google offers a free service to web site owners that tracks your every move on their sites, such as your IP address, which pages you visited, for how long, the order of the pages you visited, and much, much more. Because of Google's ability to document your IP address with your name and physical address, their database contains a lot of personally-identifiable data on you. By giving away this tracking software for free, they can follow you to all the web sites you visit. They then turn around and sell that information, which is the core of how Google makes their billions. The US' NSA is keenly aware of that, so they have coerced Google to give them access to their data (a violation of the U.S. citizen's Constitutional rights), so that means the U.S. government knows exactly which web sites you visited, when, and for how long. I am NOT willing to be a participant in that, so this site does not use Google's tracking. How do you know if a web site uses Google tracking? Watch the statusbar at the bottom of your web browser as the web site is first being loaded; you will see many hits to "google.com". Alternatively, take a look at the source code of the web site, which will show the calls they make to google.com.

2. A secure version of my web site is available: https://pmrr.org/ (note the "s"). Edward Snowden recommended that all web sites be secure. The SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption technology has not been hacked by the NSA (if it had, your interaction with your bank would be hackable, which would be a disaster for all). So, by using the secure version of a web site, you are further guaranteed that you browse in total privacy and anonymity .

3. My web site does not use cookies. "Cookies" are small data files that are stored on your computer by your web browser (if implemented by the web developer) to keep information about your visit to their web site. It might contain any data. Some of the data is innocuous, but some may be used to hold personally-identifiable information, or to track your behavior on their web site. In Europe they passed a law requiring web sites to notify the visitor if they use cookies. That is why you see those annoying pop-ups on sites that have European customers. It is stupid, because it is not like you can turn them off! So, your best defense is to set up your web browser to delete cookies and all temporary files when the web browser is closed. Even though you may have that set, web browsers do not actually delete all the files. You may need to manually go and find those files and delete them. I have implemented that ability in Fourth Ray Software's FRSFileMgr.

If you have a minute, read this page.

My History

Briefly, I was born in The Netherlands, lived in Nigeria for a couple of years, and moved to Houston, Texas, where I have lived ever since. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I have also, very briefly, lived on the Navajo reservation, and in China.


(Madurodam; on the far right, my Mom and I in the late '80s)

My inspiration for model railroading started with my parents occasionally taking us to Madurodam in The Hague, The Netherlands (see photo on the right). This area is a 1:25 scale model of most major features of Holland. There is lots of action and animation. The "streets" have been enlarged for full-size humans, but you walk right through the towns. I remember in one area, you walk under the train. That was always a favorite model train "rail-fanning" spot.

The small town where we lived was a major tourist attraction during the summers. During those peak tourist times passenger trains would stop at our little station. The rest of the year they just flew by. From time to time I would ride my bike to the station and watch the trains.

My Start in the Hobby

In my teens I was given an N-scale Fleischmann train set. My bedroom in Holland wasn't that big, so a 2' x 4' layout was built that never really got much further than the track-laying stage. Nonetheless, the layout provided hours of fun and imagineering. I scratchbuilt some buildings from left-over wood and had a couple of small kits. You can see some photos in the "Model Railroads" section of this web site. My Dad was never into the model railroading hobby, but he did help my brother (who modeled in HO-scale) and my efforts. However, he was instrumental in my interest in electronics and woodworking, two of my other hobbies (see my Dad's fantastic woodworking web site).

My Re-start

In 1999 my then-wife and I were watching a Discovery channel program on Lionel trains. This sparked my interest in model railroads, and her fond memories of how her Dad would always build a full-blown train layout around the Christmas tree. The next weekend we went to Trains & Planes in Houston, and bought a Bachmann N-scale starter set. It was August 1999, and I have been in this hobby "full time" ever since.

Early on I was inspired by the Reid brothers' N-scale "The Cumberland Valley System" layout. What they are able to do with their layout was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Later, the stunning "Franklin & South Manchester" railroad by George Selios just took my breath away. Both layouts are my personal inspiration for super-detailing my models.

A few months after buying the trainset, during the annual October/November Fall Tours in Houston, we met Frank Wyatt, who, at the time, was also an N-scale modeler. He introduced me to the Digitrax DCC system, which I have used ever since (until I switched to battery-powered engines in December 2012). Later, in 2004, I helped him tear down his N-scale layout, and later rebuild a very nice HO-scale layout. I built the new benchwork in individual sections so that the layout could, theoretically, be moved. I also did most of the wiring work. Frank did the track design, track installation, and scenery and structures.

Membership in Organizations


(Houston S Gaugers at a local train show)

In 2000 I was encouraged by Frank to join with the Houston Northwest Crossing club, which, at the time, had Z-, N-, and HO-scale divisions. I eventually became the club's Librarian and Webmaster. We participated in all the local train shows. I learned a lot about what it takes to set up show layouts. I enjoyed the shows, but I didn't like the internal politics, so I left in 2002 (it is my understanding that the club has completely changed).

When I switched to S-scale in 2008, I was contacted by Bob Werre (a well-known model layout photographer) to join the Houston S Gaugers. We went to the next meeting and really liked the relaxed feel of the group. Membership requirements are very strict: just show up! Since joining the club, I took on the "job" of webmaster and we created our Houston S Gaugers web site, which I update after each show. The club has a modular S-scale layout (code 100 rail, see photo above), and we set up about three to five times a year in the greater-Houston area. In 2018 I decided that I needed to start curtailing my activities, so I withdrew my membership from the club, in the sense that I will no longer participate in the shows. I still maintain the club's web site. It was really just a time-commitment issue; they are a great bunch of guys.

When I switched scales in 2008 I also joined the national organization dedicated to supporting S-scale in all of its flavors, the National Association of S Gaugers (NASG). In December 2011 I was contacted by then-members of the NASG board to consider taking over the position of webmaster for the NASG web site. I accepted the challenge. Although it does take some of my time away from model railroading, I enjoy maintaining the site and find it very rewarding work.

I am a dues-paying member of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society.

Published Articles

I have had some articles published in the 1:64 Modeling Guide magazine, the NASG's The Dispatch, and The S Scale Resource magazines. For the The Dispatch I now continue to write a regular column that describes features of the NASG web site, to help promote the site to the membership. You can see the list of articles on this page (not yet fully updated).

Modeling Scales


(same car model, S-scale in the back, N-scale in the front)

As mentioned above, over the weekend of July 4th, 2008, I decided to change scales from N-scale (1:160) to S-scale (1:64). The bigger scale makes it easier to see things, especially the road numbers on the sides of engines and freight cars. Even though N-scale today is significantly better than it was in the late 1970s, the contact surface between the wheels and the rails is so small that engines still operate with some stammering. This is much better in the larger scale.

I also really enjoy scratchbuilding, which is a lot easier to do in any of the larger scales (S, O, G) than it is in N. Since switching to S-scale, I've invigorated my interest in the hobby again. I just keep thinking "why didn't I switch sooner?"

My Work

Professionally, I own and operate Fourth Ray Software, a commercial software development and publishing company. You can visit the web site to see if there are any software products that you might like. All my software is targeted at the average computer user.

Additionally, I am also the webmaster of these web sites:
    Papa Ben's Train Place
    Sidetracks
    Pre-Size Model Specialities
    NASG
    Houston S Gaugers

The pmrr.org Web Site

This web site contains a lot of articles. All opinions expressed are purely based on my own personal experience. I don't proclaim to be an expert in any of the topics that I discuss on this site; I am just sharing what I've learned. None of the products mentioned are sponsored promotions; they are ones that I have bought and used (successfully, or otherwise), and might give you an idea of where to start. I also don't mind sharing my "failures", as both my future self and others might learn from my "mistakes". Anyway, I usually make some change to this web site at least once a week. Sometimes it is as small as fixing a typo, or a minor update of an article, and sometimes it is a whole new article altogether.

Printing

If you want to print a page for your own use, I would recommend setting the page format to "landscape", because I use rather wide pages to maximize the usefulness of the photos I include on the pages. Also, some browsers support the "Shrink to Fit" option, which seems to show both the text and image nicely when printed. However, you may need to play around with your print settings for your printer to get the page to print nicely. I have not yet gone through the effort of trying to make this web site display properly on portable devices, such as tablets and cell phones. Because of the large quantity of photos I use, the site is probably less useful on smaller devices.

Searching

You can search this entire site using the Duck-Duck-Go search engine. If you have never used this search engine, it is very easy to use. Just enter one or more keywords in the edit field of its page, e.g. "site:www.pmrr.org nw2", and press the magnifier glass icon/button. It will only show you pages for this site (of course, you can do generic Web searching by replacing all of the text shown in the edit field). The search engine has a weird name, but it is simple, quick, and most importantly, it does not track what you search for like the other search engines do. You have complete privacy.

Tools Used To Maintain This Site

If you are curious, the following are the tools I currently use to create and maintain the content of this web site:

I don't test with Google Chrome, because I don't want Google to track my every move on the Web, and have my personal data be sold by them for their enrichment and against my will. Similarly, I don't test with Opera, because that browser is now owned by a Chinese company. Sorry about my strong opinion here, but I am a software developer, and I know how powerful software can be, so its development and distribution needs to be done from a strong ethical point of view; when that is lacking, as it is with Google, Facebook, etc., it is a very dangerous tool to wield.

These are my company's products I use to help in maintaining the content of this web site:

Awards

During the 2011 National Association of S Gaugers' annual convention in California, I received the "Josh Seltzer" award for this personal model railroad web site. You can read all about the award on the NASG web site, but briefly, it is awarded to those who use their web site to promote S-scale modeling.

During the 2012 NASG Convention in Tennessee, I received the "Josh Seltzer" award for the work I had done on the NASG web site itself.

At the 2012 Convention, I also received the first-ever Trustee's Award for the NASG web site.

"Professional"

My definition of a professional is, "someone who has done something more than once and got paid for it". This is handy to remember, because not everyone who claims to be a professional is an expert at what he or she does. So, I thought it might be fun to remember all the things for which I am a "professional":

    entrepreneur
    software design engineer
    computer programmer
    web site developer
    seismic data processor
    restaurant assistant manager
    restaurant shift manager
    restaurant server
    author
    model railroad builder
    model painter
    woodworker
    courier
    newspaper deliverer
    dishwasher
    lawn maintenance

Try to remember all the things you have done with a level of competence for which you have been compensated!

Interesting Tidbit

Assuming we could find some central, stationary point in the Universe, how fast are we as an individual human moving around that point?

The Earth, at the equator, covers a distance of 24,901 miles in a 24-hour period. That means someone standing at the equator is actually moving 1,040 mph. The further away from the equator you are, the slower you are moving, all the way down to zero at the North and South Poles.

The Earth is in an elliptical orbit around the Sun. This path covers about 584 million miles in one year. To cover that distance in that time, the Earth travels at 66,627 mph. So, relative to the Sun, a human is now traveling as much as 67,667 mph each and every day! To put this in perspective, the fastest bullet out of a gun travels at about 2,700 mph, and the International Space Station orbits the Earth at only 17,150 mph. Voyager 1 is going about 30,000 mph.

The above paragraph was with respect to the Sun. However, our Sun, and therefore the entire solar system orbiting around it, are moving as a cohesive whole as well. The Sun is located in one of the outer arms of the Milky Way galaxy, at a distance of about 25,000 light-years (a light-year is approximately 5.9 trillion miles). Compared to the center of our galaxy, to cover an entire orbit around its center requires the Sun to travel at about 448,000 mph. So, our little human is now traveling as fast as 515,667 mph, relative to the center of the galaxy.

The Milky Way, much like our solar system, is hurling through space as well, probably around some central point. However, this is beyond what humans can currently calculate and comprehend. However, the thought that we are each traveling at a half a million miles per hour relative to the center of our galaxy is already mind-blowing enough. Now if you loose your balance occasionally, you know why!