The Great Divide Lines A tribute to John Allen and the Gorre & Daphetid

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On January 1st 2019 an ambitious project to recreate the most famous of all model railroads began. This project will try to recapture the scenic panorama of the miniature world of the Gorre & Daphetid and the magic it still holds for so many model railroaders across the world. This should be fun to watch unfold. Current photographs of the progress will be added regularly for everyone interested.

John Whitby Allen was a true leader in this hobby and his legacy and the fans of his work still grow today. John touched the lives of so many people with his tireless guidance to this hobby throughout his life. Today there are an untold number of modelers who credit John, without hesitation, as a big part of the driving force in their pursuit of excellence within this rewarding hobby. My lifelong career as a craftsman and a scale modeler and my current dedication in recreating this incredible layout proves that I am no exception to Johns spell. He raised the skill level of the entire industry through his countless magazine articles on techniques and the many photographs of the masterful, miniature world he created and shared with us all. His influence would be described as vast.

The tragic loss of John, and then the terrible fire that followed shortly after, took away so much from the modeling world. It left many of us in shock. For those of us, younger fans of Johns at that time, it was as if Disney World had been destroyed never to open again. John was very close to completing his masterpiece when his health failed him and he passed. While dealing with his loss, Johns family and his many friends were interested in seeing his legacy live on. A heartfelt effort to save the layout, by all those who knew John as a friend and fellow modeler, was begun. There was even talk of trying to buy the home in Monterey and preserve the model and keep John’s legacy intact through continued operations of the layout by this dedicated group. Then came the tragic fire that ultimately took the Gorre & Daphetid from the world and left Johns many friends along with the entire community of model railroaders in sad disbelief and shock once again.

Like the mythical Phoenix, this HO scale model railroad "The Great Divide” will rise from the ashes, and although it has been nearly 50 years since these events took place, this effort will perhaps add one more small chapter to the large and the fascinating story of John Allen and give the next generation of his many fans a closely constructed example of Johns incredible work and, perhaps, capture just some of the magic of the Gorre & Daphetid Railroad.

So please stop in here and look around and wish me luck. One day soon we may all raise a glass and toast the return of the GD lines. I am just getting started but I am dedicated in seeing that this masterpiece is brought back to life here in Northern New York State. I am working in the shadow of a creative genius and a magical, whimsical wizard. The Wizard of Monterey

05 Great Divide Plans.JPG

Randy Lee Decker
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I sincerely hope everyone has fun following along with this build. This project is a bit odd in the fact that there is a well documented original layout I am trying to recreate. But this fact will give the viewer a fun comparison to be able to make as I go along. This work is being done out of great respect for John and the model railroading icon that he already was well before his death in 1973. I welcome a friendly, open and honest discussion about John and his work. Please feel free to stop in and check it out, and by all means, ask questions if you have any. I will do my best to answer them if I can. I have a long way to go, but some scenery will be coming soon and that adds so much to things.
Please visit for a good place to make comparisons of my work. If you click on the photographs on the first page and explore around you will find some incredible photographs you have never seen of the G&D. Guys like Gary Wernick and Warner Swarner shard the images they took during a visit to Johns home in October of 1971. Also check in the photo galleries for "The Slides" there are even Johns early construction photos that resemble my bench work very closely in there and more than 100 photographs you may never have seen before. it is pretty cool to see John at work in his cellar back in the 1950's. Luckily Kalmbach did not get all of John's photos so we are able to freely see and share all of these pictures and makes copies for ourselves if we wish. All high resolution images of Johns famous HO railroad.

Please also visit my facebook page as well.

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Gotta start somewhere. The space I have for a model railroad is on the second floor of a garage that I built many years ago. I sold off many of my other hobbies and interests and focused on this project in late 2017. Half of this second floor ended up becoming a studio apartment for my mom who moved here from our family home in a neighborhood and city not far away that was, and sill is, crumbling into welfare chaos. So this second floor space in the garage worked beautifully for this purpose. Just about half of the second floor is divided off and with a nice large deck off the other end it is nice to see her happy and safe and enjoying this place as well.
I took a shot of the the garage as it sat in the winter of 2017-18.... In the spring of 2018 the additions to change the egress began. Windows and doors on the interior walls were moved and sealed off, and the room was readied for a layout with a 32" masonite backdrop, flat black painted ceiling and a full 16" felt covered lighting valance and LED track lighting fixtures around the entire layout area. This interior work was completed on January 1st 2019. and the first bench work began. So here's a few early construction photos that take me to january.... 001.JPG 01 addition 3.JPG 03 222.JPG 02Devils Gulch  4.JPG 04 333.JPG 020.JPG backdrop4.JPG 08 clouds5.JPG 11 forward (13).JPG
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Much of my model building takes place in the first floor car ports, where my old car hobby has been liquidated and many of the tools and benches for wood carving metal engraving have been rolled out and even a small dental lab (where I made dentures for a while to supplement my income for a time) that has some nice dental lathes and a nice long top bench for bridge work. Anyway it's fun to see workshops and here's a few shots of mine. The case is an old store case with a deep storage area behind the door that houses all of my wood and brass rolling stock. I built models for everyone but myself for many years and to stay sane I would grab an Ambroid or LaBelle kit and build one up when I had a table to work on. I now have somewhere around 80 hand built cars that will inhabit the Great Divide.. The case shows some of them. The Yard at Great Divide will be able to handle 70 cars mostly 40 footers... I have enough to fill the yard and many of the sidings now. I want some steel cars as it is 1948 or thereabout.. Should be a good mix of them by that time. 14 Case.JPG 14Shop1.JPG 15 Shop Today.JPG 16 Shop Today 2.JPG 17 Shop Today Stone Arch and Truss Bridge.JPG 18 Pheonix & Stone Work.JPG 12 Port Bridge1.JPG 13d High Bridge Work continues.JPG
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Moving right along there Randy. You may have mentioned it before and I missed it, but is this going to be exactly as John built his, or are you going to enhance it with extra trackage?
Hey Willie... Yes indeed... as close as possible on the ICONIC buildings and bridges and scenery and track plan. I will have a few of my own additions but anything I do will be explained by the fact that this layout the "Great Divide Lines" takes place just before John Allen buys it. Nothing past 1949...... John is alive and well and runs a small railroad called the Gorre & Daphetid Lines and his office is in Gorre. His car will be at the Main headquarters in Great Divide, where he is negotiating for the Great Divide Lines. John has ownership of many of the mines and a small oil rig, and he has struck oil and he has stuck silver..! So his cash flow is good and he wants to expand and buy the railroad that is profiting off the transportation of his products and tying up his railroad for right of way usage and bridge maintenance contracts. A SP tycoon runs the Great Divide...(so you will see a few engines like the early smaller Cab Forward and perhaps the McKeen Cars... etc. but some of Johns Gorre & Daphetid engines are already in the round house there being serviced. John figures.. He can keep the diamond logo the same GDLines and just change lettering on the cars and engines.
You find things like a version of the Cats Head Pier from Sheepscot down in port and the HOn3 lines will be almost tripled in size. John never finished his narrow gauge work so it won't be wrong to do what I can with it within reason... He very well might have done the same.
John came so close to finishing the very last bridge and driving his golden spike before he died, his "Great Bridge" will finally be done... I am going to do it for him.
For anyone who wants to see what JOhns original looked like... please go to and click on the photos on the first page.. then scroll down and check out Gary Wernicks photos and Warner Swarner's .... then go to the next page and find "The Slides" and use the tabs up top to scroll through hundreds of photo's not in Linns book. This web site was created by true fans of and true friends of John Allen's. They do not profit off his name, as others still do, nearly 50 years later. You can use those photo's to compare my work for fun or print to hang on the wall. There are some great photographs in there.... And more on the way BTW.. a few new pictures have been found.
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I am trying to find some fun views. So I will try and keep things somewhat as a natural progression but I did not keep good track of photos being in order.... , I see now it would have been better if I just saved them all using dates. Will do so, from here on out for myself. As for the build, I found that in order for anything to fit right and follow my version of Johns plan (very close BTW but not quite the same) I had to establish the High Bridge run as it weaves its way upward from the cutoff tunnel (next to the Central Valley Building in position in photo's still coming) all the way up and round the steel high bridges over port then uphill through West Divide and over the cutoff tunnel and across the yard on its way to the back wall and the Great Bridge. Once this is in, the streets and the electric line and the buildings on the back wall of Port including the massive Port Station can all be built to fit. This bridge track more or less establishes the footprint of my entire build here in the cities.
The cooper electric line is in and running. And I used cobblestone on the west divide streets that have the trolley line. I liked the look and its a perfect fit for the story of the GDLines. You will find that Johns streets were concrete, so my work can be explained as what came before they covered the old, broken, worn, cobblestone with concrete in the early 1950's which was the era of Johns Gorre & Daphetid. Mine is circa 1948 layout panoramic.jpg Deck Bridge Progress2.JPG . Cooper Electric Instal.JPG Overall 1.JPG Overall 2.JPG Port tunnel1.JPG Central Valley Building.JPG Tunnel Liner 1.JPG Port Access1.JPG
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I'll have to say: "You are not letting any grass grow under your feet - for sure!"
Sherrel, John's layout is so incredible and the layers of work and expectation of lighting and details and also exacting replication of so many scratch built buildings and bridges (112 bridges BTW) does not allow for picnics or distractions. I am having the time of my life bringing the layout of so many kids dreams back to life, including this Kid.... I wish I could make myself go faster.
Please take the time and click on the photo's and look around the benches there's all kinds of odd things being built that I will not highlight or try to.. I have just a few of the buildings that might be recognizable finished.. as these multiply and more track is run and I get to some of the mountains and start slapping some plaster on things, this will come alive in photo's seemingly overnight. That will be this winter. I hope the group all has fun just making the comparisons to the original. Ya don't get to do that often. (if ever)
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Well-Known Member
I have to say I am very impressed. I have heard of other people attempting to re-build the G&D Line, although most aren't after a complete do over, like you. John had something which allowed him to pretty much work on his layout when ever liked and for however long he wanted. Are you similarly set-up, monetarily? I think John worked on his layout from 1954s to 1973 when he died. That is a 20 year span of fairly constant work to get it almost to fruition, when he died! You might have some help with the fact that the process of modeling has changed since 1973. No longer do model railroaders need to be able to build every freight and passenger car. In fact there are very few freight or passenger car kits available to build, anymore. Also, hand laying ties and rail is no longer necessary as beautiful scale track is available to use.

I applaud your ambitiousness and also look forward to seeing your progress, Randy! Keep us posted.
A few more shots of some progress near the cutoff tunnel entrance. I enjoy seeing the Central Valley building coming back to life again. It needs some more attention and lot of things missing from the roof and any interior yet, but the frame is there and with the Purina building in its proper place after the tweaking is done there as well and vines added one day this area will come back to life again as well. I am amazed a the visual depth John could create in small areas. Photos of this spot seem to show a full city in the background and in photographs the illusion was incredibly well done. Hats off to John once again. He used photographs of his own cityscape and buildings and by reducing the sizes he could pick and choose what scale seemed to create the best illusions by adding them to the wall behind or beside other buildings. I will of course be doing that as well. There are many false front, half buildings to be built here but I am still establishing the high bridge route and have now completed the tunnel track to Cross Junction that begins in the tunnel portal in the left of some of these shots and the roadbed across the top so I can now build the small mountain there as well and seal this area off for good. (there is a short video on my facebook page for this if you are curious to see what John did under the yard area) So I have now moved on the yard area to establish the tracks and the truss bridges that traveled overhead and cross the yard there.

But these photos are of West Divide. After John buys the railroad (in the near future in my story). The city will concrete over the old worn cobblestone streets I have put in here. The little trolley line is up and running... I did my Birthday celebration for John on June 2nd by turning on the power for a short run with a Diesel.... I do not own a good trolley yet, but no hurry, none of the overhead lines are strung nor is the theater built or a host of other build projects finished for this entire area.... But the march forward is going well. The two bridges that cross here are now done. They have never been seen before. John put his in only a few days before he died. Photos from those last few days are very rare but I was lucky to obtain the use of some to build the bridges accurately. The truss bridges over the yard have never been seen either and they will be going in soon.


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Love the work and descriptions. I'm sorry to say my own much smaller build isn't as far along. and I've been working on it longer.
Patrick, I am driven. I spent my whole life hoping to get involved in Model Railroading and having a good size space to do something fun...., spent countless hours reading and honing skills building things for other people. I had a Malcolm Furlow narrow gauge three piece unit set up (unfinished) that ended up being moved 4 times in 40 years and it is now being cut up and included in this layout for my own nostalgic desires.
So please know my constant work and speed on this is sort of making up for lost time here and I do have a project I have taken on that is about as ambitious in its undertaking as you can find. There is NO other layout that would EVER be something I'd want to "Copy" But Johns means so much to me... and it is a task that took John Allen nearly 20 years to get as far done as he did before he tragically died and then his layout was taken away from us all for good. So I have to dig in and go for it... I plan on 4 years for operations completed and 90% of the scenery done.... 2 years I should have some photo worthy scenery and many areas that are totally worth seeing. With the 5th year running out a punch list and fixing the small stuff and adding the extra missing buildings & details and I suppose that kind of stuff may never end with this layout.
I am not a young man anymore so I want to give this my best shot. John Allen gave me the desire to achieve excellence in this, skill based hobby that encompases so many fun aspects of craftsmanship and scale realism achievement and also just plain enjoying the simple pleasure of turning a throttle... and his influence landed me a job that gave me such great satisfaction for so many years I want to pay him back in some way and at the same time make the 8 year old Kid in me happy by giving him the layout of his dreams to run some trains on. I am glad some of you guys enjoy seeing this sort of project unfold in real time. Johns layout was a by god amazing thing. I envy (and applaud at the same time) ... and marvel at the stories of those who did get to see the real thing, much less operate at Johns sessions.! But to achieve this crazy thing... I have to continue to work as hard as I have been to even come close my friend. This man was a model building fool and he makes me shake my head all the time when I discover new stuff and figure out how he did things. I am having the time of my life with this.
If you do facebook don't forget to check the there might be a few things there you don't see here. And here's another factor........ the Pi Factor
Pi factor.JPG
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Plucked Tailfeathers
Staff member
Randy - That is an excellent, well-written article.
I love O-Scale ... no longer have the room, but keep toying with the idea of On30. After several years of helping a friend a couple of miles away build his 20 acres 7.5-inch gauge railroad ... even now O-scale seems small to me.
Randy - That is an excellent, well-written article.
I love O-Scale ... no longer have the room, but keep toying with the idea of On30. After several years of helping a friend a couple of miles away build his 20 acres 7.5-inch gauge railroad ... even now O-scale seems small to me.
On30 might just be the PERFECT Gauge and Scale to work in. I have some On30 guy's traveling up to see the layout on their way to the Hudson Valley meet in October... You can fit tight curves as it is HO size track and short engines and cars and all kinds of FUN whimsical structures and scenes tunnels stackers and high wood trestles into a decent size space more like HO rather than the massive areas neded for standard gauge O scale layouts. And hey, who can deny the detail you can achieve in O scale. Not only can you produce realistic looking rusty nuts and bolts and working door handles but people can actually see them without magnification. If I did not decide to rebuild JOhns masterpiece I would have gone with On30 and built an empire here that looked like the Robin Williams Popeye movie set and tons of gigantic trees with squirrels nests and birds and realistic wild animals up in the woods on the hills. and crazy precarious wooden bridges and trestles. Malcolm Furlow is my other hero.. He did not invent narrow gauge fun, but he did bring it into the light.

Live Steam..... ? My god that is exciting..! If you have access to that outdoor railroad you should get yourself a nice machine and run it over there... Expensive but that's like real railroading at that scale... And if you can run Live Steam! Just wow man... that's about as good as it gets brotha..

Glad ya liked the article.
Found an old Alexander brownhoist crane kicking around in a box from back when I was a kid so I reglued it and stuck it on a tall pedestal and eventually this will go down by the car ferry at the docks and have lots of chains hanging from the railings and crane attachments sitting nearby all rusted up on pallets for unloading and/or transfering HOn3 freight to Standard gauge and visa versa. Ollie3.JPG Ollie.JPG
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