The S-Scale Zilwaukee

Okeechobee and Tremungus


- - Background and History - -

The Zilwaukee, Okeechobee and Tremungus Rail Road (the ZOT) was an S-Scale model railroad built and displayed as a part of the 2002 NMRA National Convention in Ft. Lauderdale.

Here is a little background on the railroad, the concept and the techniques used in creating it.


The models and trains are all built to be 1/64th the size of the real world items they portray. That means an item that is 12 inches long in the real world would be only 3/16ths inch long on the ZOT.


There is no actual prototype for the ZOT. Instead it is based on several realities which are combined to make a fictional setting. Model railroaders often refer to this sort of technique as 'free-lancing' a railroad. I try to be reasonably accurate in my historical and geographic references, but, there are inevitable compromises and artistic choices that provide a new reality. For me, that is part of the fun.

The geographic location is on the north side of the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan. The time is about 1955. The Straits of Mackinac is a narrow waterway (hence Straits - but with the capital letter and ends with an 's' for historical reasons) connecting Lakes Huron and Michigan. The Straits divide the two parts of Michigan - the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula. St. Ignace is located on the north side and Mackinaw City (note the phonetic spelling) is located on the south side. In 1958 they were connected with the longest suspension bridge (at that time) - the Mackinac Bridge. There are other bridges with longer center spans but, none of them have the lengthy approaches that Big Mac has.

Before the bridge was functioning, the only way to cross the Straits was by way of boat. The State of Michigan operated a fleet of automobile car ferries for years. There were also several railroad car ferries that served the rail traffic.


The setting is the resort and commercial 'center' St. Ignace, Michigan. Rail lines extend to the north and west to serve the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and to the north and east to connect with Canada at Sault Sainte Marie. St. Ignace features a car ferry dock. In the 1950's, there was a fleet of automobile carriers and a single railroad carrier. That car ferry was the Chief Wawatam and it was a part of my previous rail road in N-Scale. The new ZOT will have a smaller and older car ferry, the St. Ignace. Partly that is due to the size of the resulting model and partly due to the appearance of the two ships.

Techniques and Construction Details

The room is 11 1/2 feet wide by 13 1/2 feet long. The benches are about 30 inches deep and they run around all four walls except for the 60 inch entry.

The rail is Shinohara code 100 flex track. The turnouts are also Shinohara and are a mixture of number 6 and 8. Turnouts are powered by Tortoise, slow-motion motors.

Right now, there are no real control panels. My plans for the future are a bit muddled. The original thought was to use DCC and to control all turnouts and block shutoff switches by means of DCC accessory decoders. That way, all functions could be controlled using handheld throttles and there would never be a need for one or more electrical control panels. To faciltiate that plan, I prewired the layout with a bus of heavy wires. There are 16 of these wires to provide 8 circuits. That would have been two DCC blocks and six circuits for lighting and other effects.

Recently, I have been considering a more conventional alternative. It would be a simple matter to wire the layout as three blocks: Mainline, Staging and Wharf Area. There could be three sets of toggle switches to allow any of three throttles to be connected to any of the three blocks and a few toggles to cut power to the sidings. Only time will tell.

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