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Layout Tour: Milwaukee Road Electric Territory at Avery, Idaho.

December 15, 2009


At a recent NMRA layout tour in Marin County, I visited an exceptionally detailed layout that depicted the Milwaukee Road’s (MILW) route through Avery Canyon, which was one of a handful of places in the nation that ran electric freight. The era is pre-world war two, with only steam and electrics depicted on the layout. The terrain is realistically sparse river plains that weave the mainline into and across Avery Canyon.

MILW 2-6-2 and roundhouse at Avery, MT
MILW 2-6-2 and roundhouse at Avery, ID

All the motive power is brass, that has been heavily modified and rebuilt to run reliably and look super detailed. Most of the freight cars surprisingly enough were either resin kits or brass. There were very few, if any models from major manufacturers on the layout. It takes you off guard from the dozens of layouts you normally see only Athearn, MDC, and Atlas cars. There’s plenty of interesting prototypes in resin, and they’re all built, painted and weathered excellently.

Collection of Milwaukee Road HO Brass locomotives waiting for their next freight assignment.
Collection of Milwaukee Road HO Brass locomotives waiting for their next freight assignment.

The overhead wire has been installed over all the appropriate mainline sections, one can run a mainline freight completely around the massive layout under the catenary, which is pretty neat. Those huge EF-2 electrics growling upgrade under wire is quite an impressive sight to see.

MILW bridge in Avery Canyon

The bridges and turntables, as well as all the structures, are scratchbuilt from original MILW plans, and look quite impressive. Micro-Engineering bridge girders seem to be a favorite material on this layout, it seems for good reason.

MILW steeplecab electric MILW steeplecab electric sits in the yard.

Milwaukee Powerhouse at Avery MT

Operations are pretty straightforward. There’s an absolute minimum of industry on the layout, with the main operations of the layout consisting of mainline running and the switch from Steam to Electric to operate on the mainline.

Milwaukee Powerhouse at Avery, ID
MILW Roundhouse at Avery, MT

It was a pretty impressive layout, that snakes its way through two main rooms in the basement. All the track is at upper chest height, almost near chin level for maximum realistic viewing angles.

Scratchbuilt MILW Depot Scratchbuilt MILW Depot

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Lewkowycz permalink
    January 3, 2010 9:04 am

    What make are the GE Boxcabs that are running?

    • January 3, 2010 10:07 am

      I want to say they’re completely rebuilt Suydam models from the sixties. The layout owner stressed that the motors, gears and many details were replaced to make these EF class boxcabs look as good as they do…and they run spectacularly well with all new drive trains in them. You can still find Suydam EF-1 EF-2 and EF-3’s floating around train shows and online auction sites.

  2. Steve Lewkowycz permalink
    January 13, 2010 2:38 am


    I only ask because I have an old Suydam EF-1 set up. That I am looking to repower, I have weaked them with the origional springbelt drive, with new can motors, but I wondered what other people have done?


  3. Samuel Roethlisberger permalink
    November 21, 2010 1:15 pm

    Wow! A real nice layout! I’m planning a Milw electric layout myself, focussing on Avery and the climb to East Portal, MT. Do you have any contact information from the builder of this fantastic layout? I’d really like to ask him some questions about the buildings on his layout.

  4. George L. hledik permalink
    September 16, 2011 5:00 pm

    I’m with Samuel, I’d very much like to talk to this layout builder. I model my dads section that includes the famous 16 mile canyon and Eagle nest tunnel in Montana. please some contact info. thanks

  5. Trevor C. permalink
    February 2, 2012 2:22 pm

    Breathtaking, I can’t wait to finish my layout of THe Northeast and Canadian National in the 40’s-70’s.

  6. Chet Z permalink
    July 31, 2012 1:06 pm

    Really looks great. I can remember riding from Deer Lodge, MT to Avery, ID a number of times when I was a kid, with relatives who worked for the Milwaukee Road. I had at one time considered modeling this, but I didn’t have enough room to do it justice. Just love the Milwaukee electrics

  7. Mike permalink
    June 23, 2013 12:17 pm

    Really what i love! I’m working on a Milwaukee Road layout to, but in a freelance way. Here in Switzerland i have not the same possibilities to get information about a real site.

  8. Jim permalink
    January 14, 2014 3:42 pm

    Wow, very impressive layout! Great work

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