Chelsea Milling Company Home of Jiffy Mix

Looking for a prototype industry straddling a main line, try Chelsea Milling Company. Located in Chelsea Michigan, the company produces Jiffy brand mixes since the 1930s. Jiffy was created as the first prepared baking mix in the United States.

Chelsea Milling Company
Chelsea Milling Company

The company has been family owned and operated since it was founded. The company is now managed by Howdy Holmes, a former Indianapolis 500 and CART driver. The company employs about 300 workers and produces 1.6 million boxes of its products each day. The Jiffy corn muffin mix has a 90% market share and is the company’s biggest seller.


Most of the company’s products are handled, processed and produced in-house, which includes grain storage, the grinding of grains into flour, product mixing and box manufacturing. A significant amount of product ingredients are sourced from Michigan-raised crops, including “most of the wheat and some of the sugar. Some sugar and shortening is imported from Illinois and Indiana. The company offers free tours of its operations to the public. Over the last few years, Chelsea Milling has been expanding into the food service and institutional industries. They have also been upgrading equipment and processes to become more efficient. To learn more about the history of the Chelsea Milling Company, and the “JIFFY” Mix brand, there is a Virtual Tour video.

Overview of plant (click to enlarge)

The Chelsea Milling Company straddles the old Conrail (ex: Conrail/New York Central/Michigan Central) main line between Detroit and Jackson. The line today is owned by Norfolk Southern and sees several Amtrak trains every day with service between Detroit and Chicago. Although the Chelsea Passenger station is standing and is in good shape, no passenger trains stop in Chelsea. Additional info on the operation along the line is available at


Chelsea was once home to the Glazier Stove Works who built a very large clock adjacent to the milling works and across the street from the passenger station. This clock tower is a major feature of Chelsea.

Clock Tower (hides a water tank which is no longer used) built by Glazier Stove Company
Clock Tower (hides a water tank which is no longer used) built by Glazier Stove Company

If someone wanted to model the entire Chelsea milling works to scale, it is approximately 1,800 feet (20 feet in HO) wide along the main line. This includes the passing siding, all spurs and the switching lead. The depth of the scene could be done in 360 prototype feet (less than 2 feet) if the main plant is done as a background building with the grain elevators on the front of the layout.


The entire scene of Chelsea would make an excellent subject for a Free-mo module. The scene will fit within the 2 foot width and could include the station and the clock tower. The milling company would be a great addition to operations. The facility information according to Norfolk Southern is:

Facility Information:
Types: Wheat Flour Mills
Switch Road: NS
Switch Status: CL
Storage Capacity: 1500000
Track Capacity: 15
Loading/Unloading Capacity: 3

Most grain is gathered within a 150 mile radius of Chelsea and is delivered by truck. Even so there is almost always a few grain cars on hand and the plant can also receive other bulk products (such as sugar and Shortening) by rail when required. With selective compression the Chelsea Milling Company can serve a small layout, free-mo module or even be a small Layout itself.

Layout Spotlight – Will County Model Railroad Association (WCMRRA)

On a recent trip to Chicago for business, I managed to get time to visit the Will County Model Railroad Association (WCMRRA). I knew of the club from meeting Chris Herzog at the 2012 National Train Show in Grand Rapids Michigan.

The WCMRRA has recently acquired new space in downtown Joliet. The new address is:

9 West Cass Street
Joliet, Illinois

The move to a new location was easier for the WCMRRA than most clubs because the entire layout is built from modules based on Free-mo and a few from the NMRA Module standard. The layout is currently on the main floor but plans are to move the layout to the lower level which will be even larger.

The club is open most Thursday evenings to walk-ins. Since they are right on the main street with large windows, they are hard to miss. Everyone I met at the club was very nice and willing to discuss what they were working on and future plans for the club. I am sure I will return for either a visit or one of their future events.
















I want to thank everyone at WCMRRA for making me comfortable and feeling like one of the group during my visit!

Back in the NMRA

I joined the NMRA on a trial membership back in 2012. The experience was uneventful. Because of where I live, I was placed in a division which met in another state and was not close to my home or work. I never attended a meeting and too much my surprise, I never heard from anyone in that division. Not a hello, welcome or anything else. I did receive the usual welcome package from the NMRA home office and copies of the magazine.

I did not feel that I was getting enough out of the membership and let it expire. Today, I think I made a mistake. I assumed the NMRA would provide me some service in my modeling endeavors. this year I became a member again and this time i reached out to a local division. In the NMRA you can attend any division, your just limited to voting in your division. I have also found that the more you give to the NMRA, the more you will receive from it. The NMRA is a two-way street.

This year I have signed up for a few meets in the fall and I am putting together a clinic for Dead Rail. My schedule is still tight and I have only been able to attend a couple monthly meetings but some new-found friends have kept me up to date on what has transpired. I feel more connected with the hobby and fellow modelers by participating and stepping up to the challenge.


Layout Spotlight – Kostlee Brick & Stone RR

This months feature layout is the Kostlee Brick & Stone RR  yard by Paul Love. Paul attended the 2014 Small Layout Design Meet and displayed a 24” x 30” HO scale “Christmas tree stand” layout. This month we show off his variable length switching layout.

Paul has designed and built a portable layout that comes apart into two shelves for mobility. The 2 shelves are HO gauge and are 54″ X 12″ each. They can be joined by one of two bridges (short or long). The longest bridge is 27″ and can double as a fiddle stick. to run either shelf separately.






The layout era is set to approx 1906. Paul uses two Shay locomotives for slow and easy operation. The layout is strictly for switching. Paul claims there is a lot more detail to be added but it looks like he has a great start.





Modeling The Celestial Railroad

Last month we took at the narrow gauge Jupiter and Lake Worth Railway aka the Celestial Railroad. This month we will look at modeling the line. The prototype itself is small lends itself very well to a small, operations based layout.

There is very little information on the prototype except that it was about seven miles long, had a dock at Jupiter and did not have any means for turning a locomotive or train. Equipment on the line was sparse and consisted of two locomotives, one to two combines and a couple freight cars (most likely flat cars).  Only one locomotive was used at any time. The other locomotive was kept as a backup for the first.

Railroad schematic based on assumptions from descriptions and photos
Railroad schematic based on assumptions from descriptions and photos

Locations along the line include the dock at Jupiter, the stations of Mars and Venus, and a station at the end of the line at Lake Worth. The line could easily be modeled on a shelf of almost any length. I have created plans for a 24 x 60 inch layout.

The prototype was 3 foot gauge, but for this version I choose HOn30 (or OO9) to take advantage of low cost N scale mechanisms and PECO track. One conversion is available from Shapeways (description at This will create an acceptable stand-in for the prototype. You could easily use the commercially available HOn3 equipment, but an affordable 4-4-0 may be hard to acquire.

I believe this to be the J&LW #1 at Jupiter. Note the structure behind the tender, which could be an engine house.
I believe this to be the J&LW #1 at Jupiter. Note the structure behind the tender, which could be an engine house.


The railway was very simple when it started and ran the trains locomotive first when going south and backwards when going back north. A wye was added later but we will model the early operating scheme to keep things simple.

From a couple photos we can deduce a few additional assumptions about the line. Jupiter must have been the home base. The photo of Locomotive #1 with the children was most likely taken in Jupiter as they were the children of the store manager on the pier at Jupiter. We can also see in the photo that the locomotive sits on the middle of three tracks. It appears to be a small yard or passing siding. With only two locomotives and four to five cars at most three tracks would have been sufficient.

Jupiter Dock under construction.
Jupiter Dock under construction.

The dock in Jupiter and the yard will be the primary focus of the layout. In the plan, I included a passing siding and a storage track. The spare locomotive would be placed on the storage track while extra cars not currently used would occupy the siding.

Platt of the Jupiter area showing the railroad.
Platt of the Jupiter area showing the railroad.

In order to make the individual scenes in such a small footprint, I made the track plan bend back on itself and create two halves separated by a scene divider. The 24 inch width would allow up to a 20 inch but I went with a smaller radius. Equipment should be short to fit the sidings and the curves. The layout could easily be unfolded and made to fit a long narrow shelf of 12 x 120 inches. The plan can be setup for automated back and forth between the stops for a show setting.

View from the lighthouse at Jupiter Inlet. The Jupiter dock and a ship docked can be seen across the bay.
View from the lighthouse at Jupiter Inlet. The Jupiter dock and a ship docked can be seen across the bay.

Documentation about the railroad’s equipment is not clear. From the photographic record we know there were two small 4-4-0 locomotives and at least one combine. Some records claim the line had two combination passenger/freight cars and another one claims two passenger cars and three freight cars. For this version, we will allow room for one combination car and two flat cars. We know the line took ten years to build and as with most railroads the first car you need for hauling rails and ties is at least one flat car. The line was also known to have hauled supplies to build at least one of the large hotels on Lake Worth. We can see from the photos of the combination car, it did not have the capacity for such work.

Jupiter and Lake Worth #2. This is the only image showing any rolling stock. The single combine is rather short.
Jupiter and Lake Worth #2. This is the only image showing any rolling stock. The single combine is rather short.

With the warm climate of south Florida, it is most likely any railroad buildings like car sheds or engine house would have been more of an open-air type of structure. There is just a glimpse of what appears to be an engine house in the background of the photo of locomotive #1. Today there is no evidence of any structures and to date I have not found any photographs of any railroad specific structures other than the dock in Jupiter.

Another Magazine Lost

I recently had one of my articles (VREELAND RAIL) published in the print magazine, Model Trains International. It was especially nice since I did not submit the article; they found me and asked to re-print it. Unfortunately within a couple months of printing the article the magazine has shut down. It is another victim of the changing market.

I had never heard of the magazine until they approached me about the article. I managed to acquire a copy of the magazine with the article and found the magazine was all about small layouts. The Magazine was printed in the UK and showcased a number of plans and design concepts for small UK style layouts.

It is very sad to see a magazine loose the fight with the digital marketplace, and especially one that was specific to small layout design.

Small Layout Ideas – Prototypically Whimsical

In model railroading, many times we have layout owners who have “fun” with their names, locations and purposes for their layout. You cannot be in this hobby very long without hearing names like the “Gorre and Daphetid” or the “Gum Stump and Snowshoe”

This month we will take a look at a Prototype that decided to use whimsical names for locations along it’s route and became know as the Celestial Railway.

Jupiter and Lake Worth Railway (aka The Celestial Railroad)

Southeast Florida during the early days (prior to the Florida East Coast Railroad) was not easily traveled. There were treacherous reefs outside of the barriers islands and the Intercoastal Waterway did not exist as it does today.

Northern newspapers advertised hunting and fishing trips into tropical Southeast Florida around Lake Worth and the West Palm Beach area. Steamboats would carry passengers down the Indian River and arrive at Jupiter at the far end. The passengers would then disembark and travel overland their destinations in and around Lake Worth. The problem with arriving in Jupiter by steamboat was that it was an “end of the line” settlement with little to offer tourists. Even in 1900 the local population of Jupiter Inlet was 145. Traveling on to Lake Worth, seven miles southward, meant bouncing in a hot, bumpy stagecoach.

In the late 1890's the area was becoming a vacation spot
In the late 1890’s the area was becoming a vacation spot

So was born the Jupiter & Lake Worth Railway on July 4th 1889. Work on the roadbed is said to have began in October, 1880, but due to the limited cargo holds of steamships coming from Titusville, it took almost 10 years before the last rails were set in place.

The 3ft narrow gauge line linked the dock at Jupiter with Juno at the head of Lake Worth. The old site of Juno was near Oakbrook Square and PGA Boulevard. Present day Juno Beach is north of the original Juno by about seven miles. From here passengers boarded boats for the rest of their journey south.

Dora Doster is pictured on the front of Celestial Railroad engine #1
Dora Doster is pictured on the front of Celestial Railroad engine #1

There were no other settlements between Jupiter and the end of the line at Lake Worth when the railroad was built, but with high hopes, the railroad created the locations of Venus and Mars. The total railroad was seven miles in length. The stations from North to South were:

  • Jupiter (mile 0)
  • Venus (mile 3)
  • Mars (mile 5)
  • Juno (mile 7.5)

Officially the names were derived from Roman deities, but it did not take long for a British journalist in an article published in March 1893 in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine to label the line the “Celestial Railway” and the name stuck.

Boats similar to the above would provide passengers and freight traffic to the line.
Boats similar to the above would provide passengers and freight traffic to the line.

Nearly 100 residents showed up for the grand opening and given a free train ride from Jupiter to Juno which took a half-hour. Once the train reached Juno it had to go backwards the whole seven and a half miles since there was no way for it turn around. It enjoyed six years of service hauling freight and passengers.

Operations on the line were very simple. There were no turning tracks, so the locomotives always pointed towards Juno, forcing trains making the return trip to go in reverse. Fare was rather high for the time, being 10 cents per mile, a total of 75 cents one way. At it’s height the line ran four trains daily, except on Sunday when only two trains were run in the afternoon. The line ran a flag stop service along the line as well.

The line carried building materials for the the Hotel Royal Poinciana on Lake Worth
The line carried building materials for the the Hotel Royal Poinciana on Lake Worth

The railroad had only two locomotives, both were Baldwin locomotives with 4-4-0 wheel arrangements. The line operated with two combines, two passenger cars, two flat cars and one boxcar. Freight traffic headed north would consisted of coconuts, pineapples, dates, citrus, sugar cane, turtles, fish and early vegetables. Southbound traffic included building materials and merchandise.

Ben Hill Doster, moved his family to Jupiter, Florida about 1894 to help his recently widowed sister, Mrs. Gus Miller, on her homestead there. Mr Doster ran the store on the pier that was built for the Celestial Railroad. The pier was built on pilings over the river. The tourists coming down the river by steamer always found their way into his store, and he became a sort of first official greeter for the community. He met many wealthy and distinguished people. At one time President Cleveland and his party, en route to Palm Beach, stopped briefly and had dinner at the little hotel before continuing on.

Dock construction at Jupiter
Dock construction at Jupiter

The materials for the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach were transported on Celestial Line, but Henry Flagler (owner of the Florida East Coast Ry) felt that they had charged him too much for their service. He tried, unsuccessfully, to buy the line, so when his Florida East Coast Railway tracks were laid they bypassed Juno.

When the Florida East Coast Railway finished it’s line to the area in February 1894 the need for the steamships and the Celestial Line ceased to exist. The Jupiter and Lake Worth Railway was abandoned by June 1896. Boats were eventually able to make the entire journey without the aid of rail or coach when a canal was dug between the two waterways that the railroad connected; this is now part of the Intercoastal Waterway.

Jupiter and Lake Worth number 2
Jupiter and Lake Worth number 2

The rails and right-of-way remained where it was until the 1930s. One wooden tie was found along the former right-of-way as late as 1998, and was donated to the town of Juno Beach. A portion of the old right-of-way was used for U.S. 1.  Today, over 100 years after the line’s abandonment, the flat grading of the former right-of-way can still be seen in the northeast corner of the Juno Dunes Natural Area

More information on the exact route of the line can be found in the book Retracing the Celestial Railroad by Geoffrey Lynfield. The book was written in 1982 and can be viewed on line at


Layout Spot Light – The Bigfoot Spotters Excursion Railway

Every so often I come across layouts that just, lets just say “scratch that itch”. So it was when I saw the Bigfoot Spotters Excursion Railway (BSER) by Chris Walas. I found the BSER while looking for inspiration for a pizza layout.


Per Chris; the subject for my 2013 pizza Snowflake challenge. The railway will be the Bigfoot Spotters Excursion Railway (BSER). Perched high atop Mt. Hooey, the railway provides paying customers with a revolving 360 degree view of the entire Mt. Hooey area, where Bigfoot is seen abundantly. I know this sounds mundane, but I’m hoping to add some silliness to it all.

IMG_6371_zpsb0573785 IMG_6370_zpsaa08e6f5 IMG_6369_zps9c761bb4 IMG_6368_zpscb0587f4 IMG_6362_zps35511028 IMG_3118_zpsf10c1160

I think it is a job well done. The full build article can be found on the GnATTERbox at

Now for Something Completely Different

I have been posting to this web site for some time now. Most times I will get out one article a month but things have been busy here and I have not had much time. Hence I have missed a couple months during 2015. I believe people like the site as I get 100-200 views every day. I write the articles in on this website because I enjoy sharing the many facets of the hobby.

I have decided to change things a bit. I have added some free advertising for a few of my favorite model railroad information sources like Model Rail Radio Podcast, A Modelers Life Podcast and Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine. I think since they provide a free service to us why not advertise for them.

The look of the site will also be changing as well. The old way “works” but I want things to be organized a bit better. Honestly the subjects of the site have changed over time and I need to update the content with better menus, links and searchable content.

To encourage more content, I am opening up the site to others who would like to write articles, post photos of your work, industry news and upcoming events. If you would like to join the fun, feel free to contact me at

I want to thank everyone for reading!

Model Railroad Control Systems – The Next Generation

Recent technology growth combined with innovative modelers has created a whole new trend in Model Railroad Control Systems with electric power. Prior to 1990, most control systems were DC with block control in the smaller scales or AC in some larger scales. There were some radio controlled systems, but there were only used in the large scales and garden railways.

Basic DCC Setup
Basic DCC Setup

After 1990 several individuals and then manufacturers started to bring DCC systems to the marketplace. For a brief history of DCC I suggest checking and DCC revolutionized the way we run our railroads and brought simplification in the wiring of the layout. The drawback to DCC was in the added complexity to programming the locomotives and the other devices that use the DCC signal. The train power and the control method were still tied together.



Today much of the complexity for programming has been alleviated by the use of software, especially by the wonderful people who support the JMRI open source software. JMRI brought us plain English and simple screens to program our locomotives. Some DCC system manufacturers have also tried to make programming less complex and have provided (or are developing) simplified programming into their control systems.
Even with all these developments there are still limitations that plague us when we want to operate our railroads. These include:

  • Dirty track causing stalling or command issues
  • One way communication to the locomotive
  • Command/network issues on large layouts
  • Control blocks on large layouts
  • Shorts
  • Network issues
  • And many more…
JMRI and the WiFi Throttle allow remote control with current DCC technology
JMRI and the WiFi Throttle allow remote control with current DCC technology

I have a very simple view of train control; I break down most issues into two categories: Control Issues and Power Issues. Some problems will affect both but these are the two things we must accomplish and need to be reliable as possible. Analog (DC/AC) and DCC systems combine Control and Power into the same feed. This of course has been by necessity. I believe that technology has progressed far enough that the two should be separated.

Power Delivery

You have only two choices for getting power to your locomotive today, by rail or by battery. Obviously in small scales battery is not an option (yet). But in HO scale and larger it is a viable option. Battery allows uninterrupted power to the locomotive. Even a poor running locomotive can smooth out and crawl on battery power. Battery power does require work to get the maximum battery in the small space of a locomotive, tender or a dummy unit. It is only a matter of time before manufacturers design the locomotives to accept batteries. Most modern diesel fuel tanks are about the right size for a battery pack. A simple clip could be produced to make swapping the battery very simple. Steam locomotives only need the top of the tender removable or hinged.

I still use an MRC power supply for small layouts running one locomotive
I still use a Railpower power supply for small layouts running one locomotive

Rail power is a must for small HO locomotives and smaller scales but this does not mean the control must come that way. By removing the control from the power source, we are free to modify the power for improved usage. For instance capacitors can be added to provide enough extra power to glide through the pickup and track issues. You are also able to add a rectifying circuit so that polarity of the track did not matter. You could run on DC or AC.

Control Systems

Before DCC we simply increased or decreased the power to make the locomotives go faster or slower. Reverse the polarity and the motor would run in the opposite direction. DCC allowed us to send a constant voltage and let the receiver make sense of what the signal inside the power said to do. In such DCC (and its forbearers) allowed the use of a constant power supply.

DCC is similar to AC and uses a wave form to send the signals through the rails
DCC is similar to AC and uses the wave form to send the signals through the rails

Very small radio control receivers came next. These allowed larger scales to add receivers to their locomotives and run batteries. Radio Control (RC) has come a long way in recent years. The advent of small RC cars, planes, helicopters and drones has caused a revolution in control systems and battery technology. RC chips have become very small and LiPo batteries of immense power output are small enough to fit inside an HO locomotive.

LiPos come in many shapes and sizes
LiPos come in many shapes and sizes

Bluetooth technology came to the mainstream with the cellular phone. Early Bluetooth did not have good range and was hard to sync and used a lot of power. Over the last few years the technology has progressed and a new type of Bluetooth called Bluetooth Smart (a.k.a Bluetooth low energy/Bluetooth LE/Bluetooth 4.0) has made its debut. Bluetooth Smart is a low energy version that also has a range of a football field or more. Bluetooth allows for two way communication and is inexpensive to integrate. Since most mobile devices already have Bluetooth Smart technology in them, we just need to equip the thing you wish to control and write an app for that mobile device.


Bluetooth Smart receiver size sample
Bluetooth Smart receiver size sample

Bachmann in conjunction with BlueRail Trains have already begun shipping blue tooth chips in ready to run train sets. BlueRail has stated that it will be coming to market very soon with receivers for the aftermarket. Word on the street, is that Tam Valley Depot will soon be coming out with a Bluetooth Smart receiver of their own.

Where To From Here

I believe that we are the edge of a major change in the hobby. Soon you will be able to control your trains from any mobile device independent of any control box across the room. The powered rail will be a thing of the past or will be modified to the point that wiring and maintenance is minimal. My one major concern is that the technology will move faster than standards can be put in place to make sure everything plays nice together. If several manufacturers all start installing Bluetooth, what language in the background will be used to make sure everything works together. Bluetooth and RC are just the tools to deliver the message. How that message is formatted and what it says are up to company that designs the receiver and the app. From my understanding BlueRail has developed its own system around the Bluetooth signal and currently cannot talk to a DCC sound receiver or anyone else’s technology. BlueRail has stated that they intend on sharing their technology but since it was developed alone without thinking of existing systems how robust is it? These things remain to be seen.

Tam Valley Depot System works with existing DCC technology
Tam Valley Depot System works with existing DCC technology

The radio control market has already progressed to the point of a few ready to go systems on the market and guess what; none of them work with the others. To run a locomotive on another RC system means swapping controllers in the locomotives. I see no reason for the Bluetooth offerings to do any different. I also would hate to see all the amazing sound decoders we have all paid a lot of money for, have to be removed and something else applied just because there is not a standard.

The only manufacturer who has made compatible equipment that I have seen is Tam Valley. His systems piggyback with DCC so you can add RC to a DCC locomotive. You can keep that Tsunami sound and add RC to it.


I feel now is a time for a call to action on the part of the NMRA to review where this hobby is going with remote control technologies and define some rules before a lot of people find their way down the primrose path of proprietary equipment. This is why the NMRA exists and why it should be supported. I recently put my own money down and became a member. Setting standards are very important for the good of the hobby, and I see this new technology as both a great leap and possibly a great divide for the hobby.

What of the Old Technology?

As with any new technology we need to see how the market embraces these new technologies. Is DCC dead? Not yet, after all I know people who are still trying to purchase old Lionel and American Flyer throttles. Our hobby tends to move slowly and I am sure DC and DCC will be alive for some time to come. I have always believed that variety in the hobby makes for a good hobby.

everyone should do something small

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