Basin Electric employee lets off steam with model railroading hobby

Micheal Farley

Micheal Farley, Basin Electric training coordinator, stands inside his model railroad helix. He explains the power plant behind him. “I knew when I started working at Basin I would have to explain why I chose to model the UPA power plant at Stanton, ND, and not Leland Olds. I did not have space to include both, and in my research, I determined that Leland Olds did not receive coal by rail in the timeframe I model (1975-1980). I am always open to new information, so if my research is incorrect, I’m happy to paint it blue,” Farley says.

Micheal Farley, Basin Electric training coordinator, began working at Mandan Transmission System Maintenance (TSM) in November 2013. Farley already had a good understanding of Basin Electric’s facilities, even as a new employee, because of his hobby for model railroading.

Micheal FarleyAs he looks at the model train layout that consumes most of his basement he says, “I guess you could say it’s more than a hobby, it’s a passion.” Then he pauses to smile and says, “My wife may call it an obsession though.”

Model railroading has always been a part of Farley’s life. His dad got him into the hobby when Farley was four years old and it has been a part of their relationship ever since.

His hobby is different than just collecting trains. “We actually use the locomotives, freight cars, and buildings to simulate real-life railroad operation,” Farley says.

Farley compares building a model railroad to the set of a Broadway show. “The model railroad layout is like the stage. The script is going to be your operating schedule and your locomotives and freight cars are the actors,” Farley says. “At some point you can sit back and watch the production, but it will be awhile before I get to do that.”

Micheal FarleyFarley is in the process of building his third permanent layout, which will resemble the 1970s branch line in North Dakota that went north out of Mandan, to Stanton, then through Zap, Golden Valley and Killdeer. “I chose this part of the country because it was close to where I lived so I could go do the research if I wanted. It also offered a nice mix of some back country branch line. Then from Beulah on east it was busy with coal traffic to the power plants,” Farley says. The layout will also depict parts of downtown Bismarck and downtown Mandan. “If I do a well enough job people can start to recognize that,” Farley says.

Due to his employment at Basin Electric, Farley is learning many new things about coal-generated electricity, which goes hand-in-hand with railroading. “I have a location where I want to put in a TSM building. I’ll have some transmission lines, a substation and a power plant. It’s neat because now rather than just using the kit out of the box, I can make them more realistic,” Farley says.  “I don’t, in any way, want to say that that’s why I came to work for Basin but it is a beneficial side note.”

Micheal FarleyFarley looks forward to when the railroad will be fully operational. “When I can get four or five other people to come in and watch them enjoy the layout is probably the best aspect of this. We aren’t there yet but I have a vision,” Farley says. “You just have to keep your eye on the ball.”

Farley created the Burlington Northern Yellowstone Division Model Railroad Facebook page where he shares tips and inspiration. “It’s all about sharing techniques and getting to know other people in the hobby. There are people from half way around the world that have visited my Facebook page,” Farley says. “I didn’t build this strictly for myself. It’s something I want to share with people.

Check out the video to learn more about Farley’s hobby for model railroading.


  1. Rob Kjelland says:

    Great summary of a fascinating hobby. It is amazing that this effort involves research, carpentry, electronics, and so much more.

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