On August 30 2011 we lost on of the founding members of the ILS Russ Decho. Below is a fantastic article by Joe Slezinger.
Another giant has fallen. Russ Decho: Leader, Renaissance Man, Prolific Builder Par Excellence
Here was a man of few words. His achievements spoke for him. Not only did he manage to raise six children who all went to college with successful lives of their own, but he was an asset to his employers, and church, a model railroader whose skill and ambition put him on the cutting edge of everything he did, and a craftsman who couldn’t make anything that wasn’t a work of art. He started college at Notre Dame ,majoring in architecture ,and got a degree in mechanical engineering at Iowa State during WWII, compliments of the US Navy (not too many 2x4’s on a destroyer), but he learned the cabinetmaker trade at his father’s business as he was growing up. Early on, to help support a growing family and pay for their Catholic school educations, he moonlighted for remodeling contractors and drew the architectural prints for the jobs. As a result, he could build highly detailed models from scratch, cutting individual HO sized 1x4’s and window frame pieces on his table saw!, make beautiful patterns for sand castings and polyurethane castings for 1” scale truck, body and coupler parts, make exquisitely detailed 1”scale cars and locomotives with highly detailed ladders, grab irons and brake rigging , build museum quality furniture, two very nice live steam locomotives, and design interiors for restaurants, and interiors for the well-to-do on Chicago’s Gold Coast. The interior of his own home was a testament to his skill and energy. In addition, he was able to run a business (K-D Models) with his friend Bob Keding and later Decho Scale models. Because of him (and his friends) the One-Inch Bunch had ready –to- run locomotives and cars that would allow them to have an outdoor railroad on their own property.
Russ worked for five different millwork houses. The last one, Detmers, was a high end business. As their field estimator, he was a great asset to them. A German in a German company, with all of his previous experience, he could inspect a location with a tape measure, relate to the client’s wants and needs, design the job in his head, and figure out a detailed materials and cutting list, knowing what woods to use and what the costs would be. His skill in doing this made his employer a very profitable operation. One of the jobs was for a Rockefeller who took a liking to Russ. She invited him to an event at their place on Lake Geneva. The family anecdote was her question to Russ, “you DO have a tux don’t you .”
When he bought his house in Westchester, Illinois in January 1959, Russ and his friends immediately started building a world class, award winning HO model railroad. It wasn’t until June, when the kids got out of school, that the family actually started to live in the house. Before starting the layout, Russ did a four day Nebraska exploratory safari with one of his group who worked for the Burlington Railroad, taking pictures, making notes, and sketches. His layout well captured the look and feel of the CB&Q through Nebraska with its rolling hills, grain elevators, and depots with the agent living upstairs .The system map of the Maywood Central showed the real towns in Nebraska along the Burlington. Russ used his fine arts skills to paint beautiful landscape backdrops, cleverly imbedding cutouts from calendars for items such as farms. He used perspective with the arrangement of buildings, tracks, roads, and the backdrop itself to make everything look extremely realistic.
The original Maywood Central started in the basement of Sam De Legge’s Maywood Bungalo in 1953. In 1956 former Illinois Live Steamer, Al Schneider, joined the group. After that, he and Russ were almost inseparable until Al passed away. After moving to Westchester in 1959 construction of the new layout went quickly. By the fall of 1961, things had progressed enough for Model Railroader to do a story. Editor, Lynn Westcott came down and personally photographed the layout with a press camera until 2AM. The article was a cover story in the January 1962 issue. Even though the railroad was downsized in 1988 to make room for a live steam manufacturing operation, the Maywood Central was an outstanding example of miniaturizing reality in many aspects. Russ was truly a genius at capturing the feel of the real world outside. Even when the railroad was finally dismantled in December, 2011, it was still one of the best model railroads ever built.
Because he saw the feature article in MR, Jim Behnke contacted Russ and became a regular at MCRR. In November, 1964 the Chicago Tribune magazine section did an article promoting model railroading. Both Bob Keding and Russ were in it. As a result, Bob became a regular at the MCRR. Later, Jim, Bob, and Al were all to follow Russ to the Illinois Live Steamers.
Russ’s Paradox Mine (in HO) won the 1961 first place at the NMRA national convention in Cleveland (it wasn’t quite done yet when the magazine photos were taken). It went to Bob Keding’s layout during the downsizing in 1988.
In 1962 Russ went to Cheyenne, Wyoming where he took photos and measured dimensions of the Colorado Wood and Coal facility. The model of it that he built won first prize at the NMRA Racine convention. Russ did an article with plans in Model Railroader. Campbell Scale Models took the article and produced a commercial model from it. (Unfortunately, Russ got no royalties for his efforts). That structure stayed on the Maywood Central until December, 2011 when it went to Bob Keding. It is a beautiful model of a very interesting structure.
In 1982 Russ completely upgraded the railroad with ground foam, new trees, and new ballast in time for the national NMRA convention in Chicago. Even though Russ got very active in live steam, the Maywood Central continued to operate with Al Schneider, Jim Behnke George Dean and John Schmuck after it was down- sized in the beginning of 1988
Live Steamers as a whole are pretty amazing achievers. Russ was a tower among them. He was a founding member of the Illinois Live Steamers in 1967 and was the ramrod for the 1” scale railroad. It was he who planned the arrangement for all the track in the three scales on the seven acre property. He was a regular at the St. Croix Live Steamers in Hudson, Wisconsin (they have what is considered by many to be the premier 1” scale layout in the country). When he would show up there, it was like one of the gods had arrived.
Before the ILS, there were a few live steamers in the Chicago western suburbs (Frank Saville, Dave Boyd; his golden spike event was in 1965). Doc Youngdahl (eye doctor) was in Maywood where Russ grew up. His track and his generosity were an inspiration to all (Tom and Bob Zambreno, Russ) who were near him. Another live steamer, Bud Novy, lived in Westchester. He had a small 1” track at his house and was the nucleus for a regular Tuesday night get together that became one of two incubators of the ILS (Matt Fairlie was the other). Russ became a regular at Bud’s (along with ILS members Nick Schaub and Bill Gardner, Jim, Bob, Aland Tom Zambreno). Soon Russ was building his own 1” scale live steam locomotive.
He started with a small, modernized 1890’s free lance 2-6-0. He built a track at his house in Westchester which was basically a wye, in the mid 60’s. It was a neighborhood attraction. One of his daughters said that the kids would sneak a flatcar out to ride around on it before dad got home from work. It was apparent at the funeral that the whole clan thought Russ’s train hobby was neat.
The ILS started with a 7-1/2 acre apple orchard in what is now Homer Glen in Chicago’s far South suburbs. At that time Bob Keding, (a vocational shop teacher at Proviso High School) built a beautiful 1” scale Soo line caboose and began building other freight cars. Russ and Bob began doing joint car projects. IlS member, Al Garich, who was doing all the steel fabrication at the club, wanted a caboose too. Bob and Russ designed a generic wood caboose for him. Soon they were building car kits for others in batches of ten of a type. Thus started K-D models. Russ did all the drawings. If you were lucky enough to have one of these kits, you got a mechanical drawing that was in itself a work of art. Russ made patterns for castings for trucks, couplers, ends and doors, of aluminum (they later began supplying die cast trucks and couplers designed by Nelson Gray in New York). At about this time ILS member, Joe Slezinger, introduced fellow Oak Park model railroader, Paul Callabrese, to Bob and Russ. Paul, had a degree in fine arts. He was hand carving railroad heralds (about 1’ diameter). Because that was so labor intensive, Paul learned how to use silicone molds and polyurethane to make castings. Bob and Russ hired Paul to make boxcar doors and car ends.
In 1969 Russ started a beautiful Illinois Central 2-8-0 in 1” scale (He had previously built a model of the same locomotive in HO). It was the subject of a cover story in the February, 1978 issue of Live Steam Magazine. Russ also built an IC caboose, of course.
K-D models built about ten kits per year until Bob lost his wife in 1984. Together, they built about a hundred kits. After that, Russ re-incorporated as Decho Scale Models. After extensive testing to determine the relative expansion rates of metal and polyurethane over a complete climate range, Russ began selling finished models of steel cars made of polyurethane. Beloved wife, Darcie, ran the office. Vacations were trips to deliver trains. They made a lot of friends all over the country. Because of Russ and Bob, the 1” scale trains running on tracks in the US, are some of the most highly detailed train models anywhere.
Russ also wanted to do a locomotive. At first he chose the Electro-Motive GP9, but just at that time, Iron Pony came out with that loco. So he chose the Alco RS-3.Barry Prentice had a company in Colorado, Scale Railroad Supply, so Russ entered into a consortium to build locos. Barry built frames and end sills and sold the locomotives. ILS member, George Dean, designed and built control and sound systems. ILS member John Schmuck made battery chargers and operating manuals. Motors and trucks came from Doug Mehring in New Jersey. Paul Callabrese made the bodies for Russ from Russ’s patterns.
In February, 1999 Russ and Darcie celebrated their 50th anniversary with a Caribbean cruise. By November, 2000, it was time to slowdown. Russ started training ILS next generation member, Tim Urquart to take over the model business. In November, 2001 Tim opened as Midwest Train Works. As you can imagine, Russ picked a very competent successor and made sure he trained him well.
Now it was time to populate the Illinois Live Steamer grounds with 1”scale structures. One of them was a 14’ tall model of a typical riveted steel water tower that was common all over the US in 1950. He built it of steel with thousands of parts over a period of two years. Nick Schaub obtained the plans for the water tower in his home town, Ashton, Wisconsin. But what to do for the rounded bottom of the tank?A Weber grill. But not just any Weber grill. Russ got in touch with the chief engineer of Weber, told him what he wanted , and was able to obtain a kettle with no holes punched in it or legs welded to it!
Alzheimers claimed Russ and after he lost Darcie in 2007, #1 daughter, Janet ,moved in so he could stay at home. Club and family members would occasionally bring him to the ILS. A devastating flood in 2010 did a lot of damage to the basement interior. Russ went in assisted living in December 2011 and left us on August 30, 2012 at age 86. He touched many lives. We are all the better for having known him.
September 7, 2012
Below are pictures of the Maywood Central that Joe Slezinger took before the layout was disassembled.
Russ Decho Building Dedication:
Prior to the December membership meeting on 12/9/2012, members of Russ Decho’s family and ILS members dedicated the 1” car barn warehouse building extension to Russ Decho, a founding father of the ILS and a modeler extraordinaire. On hand were Russ’s son David, daughter Susan Leek and grandson Eric. The original building was recently replaced through the efforts of ILS member Ray Evers with material contributions from Steve Kuhn. Ray preserved the original shape of the building and used many of the fine details that Russ was noted for constructing.