Member Profile - Miles Hale

The Right Place at the Right Time

submitted by Miles Hale

The right place at the right time... that’s my life and I suppose many others as well. Being in the right place and having friends seems to be the key to making your way through life. My life certainly has followed the path of luck and friends.

Chapter 1 - Taking a Train to Vietnam

My first luck-out and friend was Dr. Betty Abercrombie at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. With her help I made it through college with a Bachelor of Science in Education, but more on that later. I graduated just in time for my paid trip to the Far East - Vietnam in 1969. My choice was the Draft or the Air Force, so I picked the USAF.  (OK, so not all my choices have proven to be the best.) The United States Military had decided to go after graduates with degrees in education and send them to Vietnam to teach English to the Vietnamese military. My program was called "Palace Dog" and you can read about it if you like because it is now declassified.

So there I was in Vietnam and they blew out the back wall of the school I was going to teach in just before I arrived. Many "Purple Hearts" but no teachers killed. Still, it was not totally safe. We stood guard on our off-teaching time.

Miles receiving the commendation for top of the class as a TI for new Air Force recruits

So that’s some background.  Now to the "how I became a model maker". In my duffel bag when I went to Vietnam was a Unimat lathe and all the parts to scratch build a brass steam locomotive, in "N" (1-160) scale, no less. The sergeant at the departure point in San Francisco asked, "Why is your duffel so heavy?"  I told him the contents and I am proud to say I may have given him the biggest laugh of his career. As luck would have it, I did get the loco built and it won an award at one of the National Model Railroad Association meets. 

After returning home, I taught for five years, and then as fate would have it, I wound up in a job as a paste-up artist at an advertising agency in San Antonio, Texas. On my desk were several models. One day Mr. Hayes of Hayes Productions, a television production house, walked by and saw the models. He asked about them. Then he asked if I could make larger than life models, naturally I said: YES!

From this meeting started my special effects and model building business, H & H Models. For the next 20 years I made models, controlled motion devices, models for Rotoscope work, and architectural models. Everything was going great until one new-fangled device came along and wiped me out overnight. The Computer, now able to do most of my models for television production overnight and make models for architects and their projects.

A Rainbow Bread commercial required a 4 toast “pop-up” mechanism to be built into a loaf of bread. The slices were individually triggered in sequence.

A Handy Dan advertisement required a flying harness so that Squire Fridell (of Toyota fame) could walk out leaving the helper hanging!


Chapter 2 - The APMM

I found a job at Atlanta Models and Exhibits and my wife Fran and I moved there. Then I saw an ad for a model maker in Medford, Oregon with Kadee Quality Products. They make couplers for all scales of model railroads. Then on to Eureka Springs, Arkansas and working for Bob Lunde. Bob had a note pinned to his desk’s bulletin board about the APMM. I asked about it and he said, "Oh, it’s some group trying to get model makers together." I called the phone number and Cyndi Hoffpauer, then executive director, offered to send me some of the newsletters the APMM had published. To my amazement, there were employment ads for model makers. From Kadee I moved to Woodland Scenics, the largest manufacturer of model railroad scenery products. Fran and I became the demo team for the company and together we have done a hundred-plus shows and demos for the products over the years. It gave us some notoriety in the model railroad realm. We were even invited to an APMM Conference to give one of our demos.

I found a job at Vermont American, the tool manufacturer. I was there for seven years and then the company was bought by Bosch. Bosch eventually released 4,000 of us because the home office knew more about running the company than our founders. But, it turned out to be a good move for me. I had scheduled a class (we call them Clinics) at my house for 9 students looking to learn model railroading skills over a weekend of instruction. At one of the sessions I said that I was starting a model railroad building business. The next day one of the students said he had talked to his wife and they wanted my help building his garage empire. 

Fran and Miles at the Chandelier Tree in California. Fran is one of only 5 female Master Model Railroaders. She wrote the Scenery Manual for Woodland Scenics, some of you may have used this book for reference?

Chapter 3 - Model Railroad Builders

For the next 9 months I made the trek from my house in Louisville, Kentucky, to Mount Eagle, Tennessee. I left early Monday morning and came back home Friday at noon. Jim, my client, helped me greatly by offering to write my contracts. He was a lawyer and he did a great job with the contracts for my business. After Jim, things progressed well until my retirement. 

Most recently I have started using my laser cutter, Cricut (drag knife cutter), and Prusa 3D printer. I first saw an FDM printer in 1998 at an APMM conference in Austin, Texas. I, along with other model makers, was fascinated by the machines that can make an idea come to life in minutes and all on the top of your desk. 

I’m currently making detail parts for my own railroad layout. I have also made parts for my cameras. Many kinds of parts that are new and just made to help me along with my present concepts are coming off the build plate. This is a great time to be a model maker! I have gotten to meet some very successful business owners in the basements of their houses as I built the railroads and made their dreams come to life. I have also built railroads for museums and for corporations. 

I have always been very grateful for my friends and the help they provided to me in my career. Especially the members of the APMM and the MILE email list-serve. All of us who are modelers, from all over, seem to join together to help our fellow members succeed. I hope to meet many more APMM friends in the future and I hope you will keep up your association with your fellows and continue what is a great tradition of sharing for all of our continued career goals.  

As a self-promotion, please subscribe to my YouTube channel at "Model Railroad University". I never ask for monetary support so your support is a great pat on the back. I really appreciate all the modelers who come by to watch my videos.

~ Miles Hale

Please scroll down to see more photos... 

This is the yard approach for the South Park Railroad I built in San Antonio, Texas. It represents the Colorado mountains and the early days of railroading.


Now I spend my time working on the basement railroad empire that represents the Kansas City “Bottoms”. These two areas, the East and West Bottoms, were the railroads' industrial areas in the early days of Kansas City. I make videos for my YouTube Channel “Model Railroad University” whenever I can. I also go to Canada and record a show for, a subscription channel that features shows on railroads and model building.

One of the large classes taught every year for the Amherst Railway Society’s Train Show in Springfield, Mass. These are the classes sponsored by Woodland Scenics.



A class in Phoenix, Arizona for modelers wanting to learn structure building. They built 6 buildings in 3 days! 


Return to Summer 2019 Newsletter