"If you put your mind to it... you can accomplish Anything!"
George McFly
Lion Estates - Hill Valley, Ca
November 6, 1985
The Model:

Hill Valley: The Model Railroad
ca. 2015
Sharing space with the builder's actual working office

           I had long-intended to build a serious railroad or slotcar-based table model of some sort ever since "growing up" had separated me from the table-modeling hobby that I had spent so much time around, and that I had so dearly loved as a kid. The hobby and I had actually been strangers to each other ever since the year nineteen seventy-three.
          This section contains far more information detailing my background within this noble hobby - as well as my motivations around building Hill Valley - than many folks might be interested in wading through. But, it is all detailed here if you are interested or inclined to hang around this section of the website a bit longer.
          Be that as it may;
          Hill Valley: The Model Railroad  was first established in early 2005.
By late spring of that year the basic table had been built, including the retractable control panel (less any of the electricals), all three loops of rail were laid out, as was the loop of slot-car track. The "Ravine" was established and so were both of the rail trestel bridges. All of that hardware amounted to approximately seventy feet or so of rails and about thirty feet of slot-car track. The table itself measures eight feet by seven feet. A relatively modest set of dimensions for an H/O scale table model. 
           (I think I eventually made ample use of each and every fraction of each and every square inch of my table-top!)
           So... With all that track and roadway having been established on top of the still naked plywood table, what became apparent was the approximately six-foot by three-foot crescent shape that remained unoccupied inside all the rails and the electric highway. This would be the spot where my little "town" would eventually nestle into place. The only thing was; I had no idea at that point what kind of town I would be building, absolutely no idea at all! All I knew was that I intended to challenge myself by modeling a little town based on someplace that was "real". I figured anybody could build some nameless little 1/87 scale town using a bunch of factory-built model kits. That sort of project simply held zero interest for me.
          I struggled over the next several weeks or more trying to decide what exactly to do about my missing town! I really had not the slightest clue what to do next other than to simply begin working on the countryside until something to model in town came to mind.
          There is writer's block... and there is also modeler's block. I possessed the latter.
          Then one day my son happened to be home from college.
          He and I were in the basement looking at the table with all the track and everything that I had accomplished up to that point when I mentioned to him that I still had not decided what to do about a town... in as far as a theme or an idea about any real subject-place was concerned. If memory serves... I think I was working plaster of Paris around what would soon become one of the river banks that day. If memory continues to serve, my son eventually got bored with watching the ol' man smear wet plaster and he disappeared back up the stairs.
          But, he came back down to the train room a bit later that same day...
         He walked up to hand me something.
         What he handed me was a fairly small toy which had remained at the house from his childhood years; A little die-cast DeLorean Time Machine from Back To The Future! The little toy was 1/64 scale, and he obviously knew that it was not at all the correct size to match the 1/87 scale model I was building... but as he handed me the small object, he asked; "Do you think you could maybe do something with this, Dad?"
        My son obviously knows his dad very well and he could see the wheels turning the moment the little toy car settled into my hand! I'm actually convinced to this day that he knew full well that that little car could be the key to the whole thing! And that, indeed, it was!
         Now... before I continue... let me just state right up front that my wife and I had always enjoyed all three of the BTTF films - even before the table model - and my son and my daughter had grown up with the trilogy simply being a staple of the family's steadily growing home video library. From VHS to DVD, to today's latest Blue Ray set, the trilogy has been in the house from way back! But, if anything, the BTTF films were always "just there as part of the library" and really not a whole lot more than that.
        OK... maybe a little bit more than that!
        My wife and I had always considered ourselves to be a "Star Wars couple", and the kids have always considered their dad to be a major Star Trek "Trekkie"! ( And that, I suppose I am)
        But, I digress.
        The wheels were turning faster and faster now as I considered the little die-cast toy that I was cradling in the palm of my hand...
       My first thought:
       The Hill Valley that I recalled from the films seemed to me to have been as flat as, well as flat as a sheet of plywood! A very Important attribute when building a table model!
        My second thought:
        I had all three films on DVD. I could easily find all the images of the movie town that I would ever need right there!
And I hadn't even thought of all that would eventually be found on the Internet!!! (Like every image and detail any researcher could EVER hope for!!!)
        My third thought:
        The Courthouse and its iconic clock tower would be the PERFECT centerpiece for such a scale model town.... Totally identifiable, and relatively easy to model!
       Hill Valley it would be, I decided, virtually right there on the spot!
       Within a few short weeks, the Courthouse had been roughed in on the workbench, complete with the clock and (an ingenious) way to handle its illumination!
       And the rest, as they say, is history!
        Toward the end of 2005, I had the opportunity to navigate my way through a very agreeable and manageable job change. For the very first time since 1976 I would go nearly a month and a half without a job to need to get up and go to each day! I was idle from the middle of November that fall all the way through New Year's Day... and I spent nearly every waking moment of those days and weeks designing and building Hill Valley: the Model Railroad! And I had a blast!
       By the time I started my new job on January 3, 2006, nearly everything you have seen (or hopefully will see) within this website was established and in place...including nearly all of the rural landscaping and scenery and most of the buildings in and around Courthouse Square. The entire electrical "grid" was established as well!
       Over the course of the following decade, I fine-tuned most of the structures, completely replacing some of my original 2005 work entirely. I added more and more detail into the landscaping, and I gradually increased the complexity of the model's grid. I eventually replaced a great deal of the original light bulbs with LED technology.
        Today (2015) the model is as complete as any model of its kind can probably ever really be. And, although I'm confident it never will be truly "finished", I also think there will always be something to update or change, and, as with most other model railroads, it will never ever be brought up out of the basement in one piece. Unfortunately that is the nature of this hobby.
       Finally... I must admit that over these past ten years, I have indeed become a genuine Back To the Future geek - First Class!
       I simply Couldn't help myself!
       My frequent research and subsequent fiddling with the model had brought me to that point! And, if you want to know the truth; I'm darned proud of the fact!
I have come to consider all things Back to the Future to be absolutely irresistible!
        I did always admire the BTTF films. No doubt about that.
But the more I have watched the films over the years, the more I have come to realize just what a magnificent job Mr. Gale and Mr. Zemeckis did writing the stories. Mr. Zemeckis attention to detail in his direction (of ALL his films) is absolutely stunning! The casting of the trilogy was amazing! And I'm talking the deep cast of minor players all the way up the line!
        And what can you say about the performances of Mr. fox, Mr. Lloyd and Ms. Thompson! All three of those talented artists were perfect for their respective roles... each artist was completely believable in their respective role, and, again, totally irresistible!!!
        After crawling around on, in, and underneath the model for ten years... and after watching all three films "several times" throughout the duration of the project, I feel like I have actually grown up a little bit within the community of Hill Valley. And, of course, I dearly love Marty, Doc, Lorraine and George!
And, yes, I even think Biff and I could likely even end up being buddies!
       I have never been to Universal Studio's back lot... But I would love to visit one day!
       It is my  hope that you have enjoyed the history of Hill Valley: The Model Railroad!
                                                                                                 -     Brian Thomas
The little die-cast car that sort of started it all!
The Model Builder:
My Very First Train Set
ca. 1960
        Just who in the heck would build something like
Hill Valley: The Model Railroad anyway!
        The model has received numerous visitors over the past ten years, but, being that the model resides in the basement of my private residence, nearly all of those who have seen it are either family, friends of the family, or the occasional work colleague, etc.
         The reactions over the years to what I have built - upon seeing the model in person - have generally ranged from "Artistic" to "Eccentric"!
         It's good for an individual to know who they are as a person... Perhaps one day I will be able to actually identify with one of the above definitions or the other... Or perhaps I'll just settle for something somewhere in-between.
              But, for now... what I truly am is a husband (of nearly thirty-nine years), a father of two and a very proud granddad of one!
              Much of my family and I reside in the Midwestern U.S. city of Lancaster, Ohio.
              I am privileged to be a territory sales manager for one of the largest and one of the very best outdoor power equipment central distribution firms in the United States. I have been working in the outdoor power equipment industry for more than thirty-five years. There is almost certainly more "gasoline running through my veins" than there is Plaster of Paris or airplane glue!
       I am a member of a very large United Methodist church where I have been a very active member for nearly thirty years - including a number of years as a member of her board of trustees. I have been associated with The Earth Angel Foundation (a regional children's charity) for more than a decade as an active member of that organization's Corporate Committee.
             In addition to model railroading, my other interests over the years have included the classic car hobby, woodcraft and cabinetry, antique furniture restoration, creative writing (when that mood strikes me) and keeping up with the 1923-built home that my wife and I have been privileged to have been only the second owners of since we first purchased it back in 1986!
            And... I have been an avid builder of scale-model cars, boats, rockets and planes all my life.
            Basically, I have been a modeler of all sorts of things ever since I was a very young boy way back in early 1960's!
               I was given a simple electric train set by my parents when I was only three or four years old. This was one of my very first toys that was not made expressly for a toddler! I was so young at the time that I barely remember playing with it all these fifty-five or so years later!
          But, that little train and those several feet of track - nailed to a home-made table built by my dad - apparently made a very big impression on me! Model trains and then slot-cars and then model trains again have been in my blood ever since!
          Nearly a full decade following that first little mid-century train set - and in the family's subsequent Columbus, Ohio home - my dad hammered together yet another sturdy plywood table onto which he and I would this time install a few feet of H/O scale slot-car track. A TYCO slot-car set no less!
         The year was 1968 or possibly 1969.  It was above and below that second  plywood table that I began to teach myself the fundamentals of electrical circuitry and switching - both high and low voltages - both A/C and D/C currents.  I began to understand what worked with miniature illumination (and what didn't), as well as many other things that tested my little hands and fingers and spurred on my youthful imagination!
        I also began to discover - by trial and error - the rudimentary skills required to construct various types of scenery to scale. (and often times... not so much to scale) I learned how to properly time my work with various adhesives, paints and plaster compounds. I experienced something of a "quality buzz" brought on by inhaling the fumes and vapors emitted from various of the above mentioned materials while occupying the same confined space as those materials!
         I incinerated at least a complete metric gross of those old-fashioned, glass thread-in electrical fuses that occupied the house's primitive, sixty amp fuse box!  I learned all about open circuits, closed circuits and most especially about shorted out circuits! I learned what a 120V A/C single phase charge feels like when exposed to tender young fingers!
         Fortunately, I somehow failed to actually ignite the table, the house or myself on fire! Self-electrocution also never occurred! (Thanks entirely to all those burned up fuses no doubt!)
          As a young boy in his very early teen years, I would pedal my bicycle up the street to Cohagen's Hardware Store where I learned how to select the proper switches and wire and whatever other hardware supplies were required to satisfy my table modeling addiction - and those shopping trips were handled nearly entirely as a self-served customer without much, if any  adult supervision! Cohagen's sold a LOT of fifteen amp fuses to that scrawny little kid as the late 1960's progressed into the early 1970's!
          By 1971, or so, my folks were permitting me to ride a big orange Columbus city bus - again, unsupervised - from our east side neighborhood all the way into downtown Columbus in order for me to patronize Hall's Hobby Shop, which was located in the basement of Hall's Hardware Store on the then very bustling south Front Street.
Now THAT was high adventure for a (yes... somewhat geeky) fourteen year-old kid in the very early nineteen-seventies!
          Back home again in my basement, it was always much more about the experience of actually doing  the modeling, and figuring out  the electrical circuitry than it ever was about really enjoying the finished product for me!
          All in all, building a table model was simply a marvelous experience for a young boy with a flair for translating the images of the mind into tangible, material objects and working all manner of materials with his little hands!
         Then came the summer of 1973.
               Mom and dad abruptly sold the east-side Columbus house that the family had called home since 1963, and we would all soon be relocating to a brand new home located way out the country! Well... way out in the country by an east-side Columbus kid's standards anyway!
         By the beginning of the 1973-74 school year, we would be living just outside the south-eastern Ohio city of Lancaster, and the slot-car table - my "lay-out" as it had come to be known in the household vernacular - would not be making the twenty-plus mile trek out to our new home!
         The lay-out was deemed by dad as being simply too large to be brought up out of the basement in one piece and, by that point, it had become far too complicated to ever consider sectioning into pieces for transport.  
        The slot-car lay-out was doomed...
        But not to worry as something other than the family's address was in the process of changing anyway.
        The boy was turning into a young man. His thoughts were quickly turning more toward real cars than just models of them. Learning to drive was just around the corner... and so were members of the fairer sex.
        I was to leave the very small, all-boy's private high school that I had been attending the previous two years in Columbus to finish up my high school years in the gigantic co-ed public Lancaster High school!
          So, in spite of having to destroy the H/O lay-out and set it out at the curb for trash collection, life was good indeed during the summer of 1973 and I very much looked forward to whatever my new life would offer in Lancaster!
           But... I did make myself a promise; As solemn a promise as most any sixteen year-old boy could have made to himself in the summer of 1973...
           The promise:
            If I ever got the opportunity - and a good place to set up - there would come a day - sometime in the future - when I would go to work on another "lay-out"!  
And it would be a really SERIOUS one this time!
            That day eventually did arrive...
            Just a bit shy of thirty-two years later.
                                                                                               - Brian T
      To be continued...