June 30, 2022

Meet Milwaukee’s ambitious layout builder

The most recently featured layouts here reflected the leisure activities of two of the top performers of the second half of the 20e century, each of which has a reputation for greatness around the world. In fact, if beings far from the Solar System have a toe to tap, they probably do so to music recorded by toy train enthusiasts Frank Sinatra and Neil Young.

Celebrities are always on our minds on Trains.com, but the gentleman we’re highlighting now has another fame. Gil Bruck has not enchanted audiences around the world. Truth be told, this talented three-rail model maker is highly respected and widely listened to only among his peers residing in the southeastern part of Wisconsin. Yet for his three-rail comrades, Gil stands tall because of how he influenced the work of the Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club and the exceptional miniature railways he designed and built at home.

One of Gil Bruck’s favorite prototype railroads is the Chicago & North Western, primarily because its cabin units and highway diesels once served his hometown of Milwaukee. This Lionel GP9 drives a freight train out of one of the lower level tunnels of its tracks. Photo by Chris Becker

Brilliant Developer

The cover of the December 2021 issue of Classic toy trains focuses on the Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club, which is about to commemorate 75 years since its founding by the late Jerry Brettschneider. During a snowstorm in January 1947, Jerry asked a few of his buddies living near him in Milwaukee to pass the time playing with their Lionel trains. Eventually they formed a club with officers, dues, and a large O gauge layout.

As the Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club article explains, the group has built some impressive three-rail screens over the past few decades. The last screen shows several main lines circulating on a few track levels. Another spectacular feature is a massive replica of the famous Hell Gate Bridge in New York City.

While preparing the article, I interviewed some of the current club officers and members and asked them specific questions about creating the extraordinary layout. Time and time again they have told me that there are areas that reflect Gil Bruck’s vision and ideas. A longtime collaborator with the club, he had taken the lead after the organization moved to a new location at the start of the 21st century and began to think about his next O-gauge railway.

People listened intently to what Gil had in mind, especially regarding the overall look of the layout and some of the more important scenes. They did so because virtually everyone had visited his home and had seen up close how cleverly he had arranged the network of tracks, then fashioned landscapes and built remarkable structures from scratch. If the layout of the club could look as realistic and have as much detail as the layout of Gil’s house, everyone involved would be sure they had succeeded in creating a true masterpiece.

Activity everywhere

The 14 x 19 foot O-gauge display that Gil built from scratch in the basement of his home provided dozens of neat scenes where his pre-war, post-war and the modern era could play. He had in mind a railroad providing viewers with industrial, agricultural, residential and commercial sites served by freight trains run by some of the best steam and diesel replicas.

The experience of building and operating two earlier developments during his adult years guided Gil as he sketched out his plans. Like so many other model builders, it started with a compact O gauge layout (5 x 5 feet) and then grew to a medium size (6 x 19 feet).

When time and resources were enough, Gil switched to the impressive and exciting three-rail setup pictured here. It consists of a lower loop going through the L-shaped platform and an upper loop in the shape of a dog bone. The two levels are not connected.

A lively station scene on an O gauge layout.
The center of passenger activity on the 14 x 19 foot O track route is this Lionel no. 2709 Rico Station. While a modern-day New York Central rationalizer drops travelers off on a distant trail, a pre-war Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Zephyr picks up commuters. The classic American Flyer O train set was given to Gil just before WWII. Photo by Chris Becker

Trains on the main level include some passenger express picking up and dropping off travelers at the many different depots, including the popular no. 2709 Rico Station. Along the way, people boarding the coaches and dome cars spot small towns, a Native American settlement, and even animals roaming the wilderness.

Meanwhile, freight trains go full speed, handling some key raw materials and delivering finished products to various markets. Coal, petroleum, grains and logs provide the foundation for the local economy. Other residents make a living maintaining the rugged locomotives.

Details are essential

At the heart of Gil’s modeling philosophy is an idea he gained from building his own layouts and studying those of friends in Milwaukee and its suburbs. Namely, these details bring scenes to life and make all the difference between a railroad that looks simple and rudimentary and one that truly captivates viewers and keeps them coming back for more about it.

The idea that details – vehicles, human and animal figures, signs and lights – lift up any arrangement regardless of its dimensions is a notion Gil passed on to friends tasked with building scenes on the huge railroad tracks. of the Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club. He showed them how to improve each area while avoiding the temptation to ignore to make every square foot interesting and alive. Since then, members have been extremely grateful for his wisdom.

Additionally, Gil encouraged the club to follow in his footsteps by building some of the buildings from scratch rather than relying on what various manufacturers had already brought to market. Likewise, he emphasized the benefits of painting the figures and making trees and bushes to fill the hills and fields adjacent to rivers and forests.

Another facet of Gil’s modeling that he shared with the Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club was enjoying the fun and thrills generated by the operating props that Lionel had cataloged during post-war and modern production periods. . On his house plan were hard-wired coal loaders, magnetic cranes, block and semaphore signals, and freight platforms.

Saluting a born craftsman

Visitors to the Milwaukee Lionel Railroad Club won’t understand how important Gil Bruck was to the organization from the newspaper clippings framed on the walls around the layout or focusing on the various thumbnails. Only by talking to longtime members and asking them questions about notable areas will they get a feel for its influence. That and by reading his name on the list of Founders Award winners.

But as a good overview of the layout of Gil’s home clearly shows, he devoted his adult years to promoting the O-gauge railroad and learning all he can about what makes a layout. satisfying and fulfilling toy train ride. He willingly shares this wisdom with other club members as well as with readers of Classic toy trains and Trains.com. We are grateful for the education.


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