BRACK: Snellville resident selling model trains layout and plans history book

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher   |  If you are into model railroading, you might be interested in what Jim Cofer of Snellville is doing this weekend.

Over the last 13 years, Jim has used his basement to house his own 12×16 foot O-scale, 3-rail model train layout. If you remember the Lionel toy trains, that’s the O Gauge model trains which he has. But they are not toys. One of the more sophisticated model engines can be priced as much as $2,500. His system has remote controls, comes with scale-model depots, grain elevators, roundhouses and other buildings.

Altogether, he has 17 engines, over 100 freight cars, such as auto and coal carriers, refrigerated cars, others that were built to haul pulpwood, or building supplies, and plain box cars. He has Southern Railway and Norfolk Southern passenger trains, as well as an old Pennsylvania Railroad rounded-end Pullman car. Model Amtrak passenger trains are included in his stock.


Jim’s auctioning off his model railroad this weekend, trying to recoup some of the $20,000 he has in it.

He’s always loved railroading, since a kid, when he enjoyed seeing his Lionel engine and cars tooting around in a circle under the family Christmas tree.

But why is he getting out of model railroads now?  “We’re trying to downsize next year, and we figure it’ll be hard to sell a house with a train layout in it. So this is one of the first steps toward downsizing. I’ve had a great time with the layout, putting it all together, but as I get older, I’m running out of time and flexibility.”

Jim’s always liked trains. Back in 2003 he took a month-long trip on Amtrak around the country, going first to Washington D.C, and the east, then to Chicago, on out west and even into Vancouver and onto the mountains of Alberta, then to Southern California, and eventually home.  

“You see the different topography of the country, and note the different people.  You see casually-dressed Southerners getting on in New Orleans, you see in Boston business people wearing three piece suits with their computers, and from Minnesota to Seattle, you see ranchers and Indians.  It’s a different clientele depending on which part of the country you are in.”

But, he adds, you see “the ugly back side of life, gang graffiti, trash piles, old buildings, and man, do the rails rattle your teeth in switchyards. Too, freight trains are always coming at you, and passenger trains can sit on a siding for two or four hours to give the freights the right of way. All the major rail lines  are owned by the big railroads, and Amtrak just rents the track from them.”

JIM’S INTO ANOTHER PROJECT: writing a book about 200 years of Snellville history. He’s got it mostly finished, after working on it for six years. The Snellville Historical Society has commissioned him to produce the book.

He’s uncovered lots of history not available before, including letters from one of the two persons who founded Snellville, James Sawyer.  “We ran across a descendant in Florida who knew something about the history of the Sawyer family, including having two generations of birth certificates showing who Sawyer’s parents and grandparents were, plus seven siblings . It was stuff we didn’t know about”.

Cofer hopes to complete and print  the book and possibly to have it out in early 2018. Profits from the book will go to the Snellville Historical Society.