Road Show



Texas Express 2023 NMRA International Convention

Gateway 2022 NMRA National Convention

As seen on
Trainmasters TV

Black Swamp Junction 2021 NCR NMRA Convention Participant

Lansing Lashup 2018 NCR NMRA Convention Participant

NMRA Kansas City 2018 participant

North Central Express 2016 participant

Highball to Indy 2016 participant

Cleveland 2014 participant

Maumee Express 2014 participant

Grand Rails 2012 participant

The Model Railway Show Episode #37
Episode 37

Dork Forest Podcast
As heard on The Dork Forest podcast #92
Episode 92

Hartford National 2009 participant

Fast Freight '08 participant

Great Lakes Express 2007 participant

Cincinnati Limited 2005 participant

Maple Leaf 2003 participant

Operations Road Show - FAQs and Stats


The Wabash flag
Updated: 11-MAR-2023


Is the Operations Road Show project over after the 2019 NMRA National Convention in Kansas City?

No, not at all!

While we are not taking the ORS Wabash layout to Conventions any more, we are still interested in offering timetable and train order operating sessions at National Conventions, and have already done so once. We were were able to test out one set of ideas successfully at this year's NMRA's Gateway 2022 National Convention, in partnership with the Gateway Free-MoN group which provided an N scale layout at the Convention Hall. Having a local group provide the layout significantly expands the area we can cover, so we are approaching the Convention Committees for upcoming NMRA National Conventions in the Southern and Western United States.

This year we will be offering sessions at the 2023 Texas Express NMRA International Convention in Grapevine, Texas, during the week of August 20-26.

Now that the Operations Road Show layout will no longer be traveling to attend NMRA National Conventions, what will happen to it?

The end of the layout traveling is not the end of the layout. The layout has been set back up at its home base in southeast Michigan. We continue to hold operating sessions for our base crew and for guests. We participate in area operations events, and offer operating sessions in conjunction with nearby Regional NMRA Conventions, from our home base.

How large is the Operations Road Show (ORS) layout?

The ORS layout itself is 51 feet long by 22 feet wide. It is designed to fit into a standard-sized hotel conference room. We have approximately 480 feet of mainline track, which works out to about 7.25 HO scale miles.

How long did it take to set up and tear down the layout?

At the convention site, we needed a full day of 11 to 17 hours to unload trailers and get the layout to the point where we can run trains. Tear-down and packing usually took six to ten hours. The configuration of the Convention site had a big impact on the loading and unloading.

How often did the ORS layout go to NMRA Conventions?

Since it hit the road in 2003, the ORS layout appeared at eight NMRA National Conventions: Toronto, Ontario (2003), Cincinnati, Ohio (2005), at its home base as part of the Detroit convention (2007), at the Hartford, Connecticut Convention (2009), in Grand Rapids, Michigan (2012), in Cleveland (2014), the 2016 Convention in Indianapolis, and the 2018 Convention in Kansas City. The 2018 Convention was the layout's final road trip.

We figure that the layout traveled over 4,500 miles to attend conventions.

So you didn't take it to every NMRA National Convention, then?

No. With the amount of effort it took to bring the layout to a Convention, we were most comfortable doing it no more frequently than every two years. We stayed within two days' drive of southeast Michigan in order to keep the time commitment to a reasonable level. Also, since we usually paid for all of the expenses for the trips out of own pockets, there was the consideration of cost each time we brought it out.

Do you take the ORS layout to train shows?

No. The ORS layout is designed specifically for operation, and its dead-ended aisle structure isn't a good fit for public viewing by large numbers of people. Plus, in order to make the effort of moving the layout worthwhile, we feel that we need to be able to be set up and running for at least four days, straight at a time. Very few events other than NMRA National Conventions are set up to permit that.

While we took the layout to a NMRA National Convention, we did not show it at the National Train Show, since that would require a lot of effort to move it from the Convention space to the show hall, and as mentioned above, its design doesn't lend itself to train show viewing. When the National Train Show opened on Friday, we were usually well into tearing down and packing the layout for its return home. Now that we're not bringing the layout when we attend National Conventions, we look forward to being able to enjoy the National Train Show as attendees at a much more leisurely pace.

What did it take to move the ORS layout?

We usually packed the layout into several trailers, several large towing vehicles, and a car. We typically needed at least ten people for set-up and tear-down.

Do you operate the layout when it is not at a convention?

Yes. We try to hold operating sessions at least twice a month when the ORS layout is at its home base. We have a regular group of crewmembers who come from across Michigan and adjacent states to participate in operating sessions. We also participate as a host layout for regional operating weekends.

We are willing to host groups and individuals who wish to learn TT&TO operation; a contact address is at the bottom of this page (please do not use the Rails on Wheels email address for this).

Do you hold public open houses?

No. When the layout is set up at its home base, it is in the basement of a private residence.

Is the ORS layout a club layout?

No. It is the privately-owned and operated project of a group of five model railroaders from southeast Michigan, with a considerable amount of help from a number of their friends. While we are members of the Rails on Wheels model railroad club, which hosts this web site, decisions related to the Operations Road Show are made by the ORS team of owners, separately from decisions of the club at large.

How many people does it take to run the ORS layout?

For a typical operating session, we like to have between ten and twelve people. This includes a Dispatcher, an Operator, one or two people running the Fiddle Yard, and three to six two-person train crews. During the sessions at a convention, we typically had 144 operating slots available during the week.

How do I learn how to run under timetable and train order rules?

We provide hands-on instruction during our operating sessions, and have docents available to explain things as new crews go along. We've also put together a "quick start guide" that is available on this web site. This covers the rudimentary procedures we use in our implementation of TT&TO operations.

The Operations Special Interest Group has published 19 East, Copy Three, a comprehensive book on TT&TO operation on model railroads. If you want to really jump into the deep end, the standard text on the subject is The Rights of Trains, by Peter Josserand, available from Simmons-Boardman publishing.

What is a Fiddle Yard?

A fiddle yard is used to stage trains that come onto the layout as if they originated some place that isn't modeled on the layout. It is "the rest of the world", relative to the modeled portion of the layout.

What distinguishes a fiddle yard from other forms of staging tracks is that trains are constantly being made up and broken down during the operating session. This allows us to send out additional trains if there are enough crews to require them, and to adjust the length and the composition of the trains we send out to match the number of crews at a session and their skill level. Since trains are being made up and torn down continuously, we don't have to spend time between sessions pre-staging trains for the next session.

Our fiddle yard requires one or two people to run it during an operating session.

Where did you get the flags you use on your locomotives to indicate that a train is an extra, or has sections following?

We made them ourselves by wrapping strips of .005" thick styrene around bits of fine steel wire. For the white flags, indicating an "extra" train, we left the flags in the basic white color of the styrene. The green flags, indicating that a scheduled train has one or more sections following it, we painted by hand with hobby paint.

Several years back, a company in Ontario, Canada offered more modern-looking flags made from etched stainless steel, but these are no longer on the market.


Do you have questions or comments regarding this web site? E-mail to
All original contents of this web site are Copyright © 1999-2023, John F. ("Fritz") Milhaupt on behalf of the Operations Road Show, All Rights Reserved.