What you see here is a long journey coming full circle.
Back in February of 2009, my LUG, TexLUG, set up a train layout at the World's Greatest Hobby on Tour show in San Antonio. At the show, the layout next to us belonged to a traditional model train club, the Tinplate Trackers of Austin which specializes in three rail O-gauge models.
One of their members, Allen, was running a model of an Allegheny, 2-6-6-6, steam engine #1650. This happened to be the very same type of steam engine I was currently designing, though I had not started putting bricks together, so I asked him if I could take some photos for reference. Allen was nice enough to put his train on the tracks for me, but at the time he seemed very preoccupied so I tried to take my photos as quickly as possible and leave him to his business.
This last weekend, TexLUG set up another train layout, this time at the 2010 Fall Super Train Show in New Braunfels, Texas. Low and behold who was setting up next to us but none other than the Tinplate Trackers. By now my Allegheny is not my most recent train MOC, but it is still a source of pride, so I asked if Allen was there in hopes to show off my MOC. He wasn't there that day, but he would be there Sunday, so I said I'd check back then.
New Braunfels is not very close to my home; I had to drive four hours to get there, so I decided on Sunday to sleep in a bit to rest up for the long drive home. When I arrived at the venue, about an hour after it opened, my fellow TexLUGgers told me that Allen had already been over at the display ogling my Allegheny. I immediately went over to the Tinplate Trackers' layout and started talking with Allen, who remembered TexLUG and me immediately. He was more than happy to set up his #1650 again, this time with a side-by-side comparison with its' LEGO doppelganger.
Now when I built my #1602, I did not have a model on which to work off, only photos of the real thing and the reference photos of Allen's model. I had no idea as to the size or scale of Allen's model; all of my decisions as to size were based on blueprints and the size of BBB large drivers. I think we were all shocked at just how close the two Allghenys were, not just in level of detail, but in overall dimensions and scale as well.
Later that day both Allen and I ran our Alleghenys on their respective layouts, and we both ogled them in operation. Allen took special interest in how #1602 navigates the tight radius of LEGO track. That in itself is a great illustration as to why I love going to train shows. At normal events, and even at train shows, the general public will point to a train and say "That's a cool steam engine!". But at train shows, the real train buffs come out and they begin recognizing not only types but even specific model numbers and manufactures. One of the Tinplate Trackers said to me "Nice RS-3!", recognizing just about exactly what my Texas State Railroad Engine #7 MOC to be (the differences between a RS-2 and RS-3 are incredibly minimal). Even though traditional model train users don't run LEGO trains, they all can recognize hard work and attention to detail.
So now my little Allegheny has come full circle. From initial design to completed model, it all starts and finishes with a photo of a model steam engine. Life is good.