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WSO Digital
Model RR

"What's a Train GIF and Why Do You Do This?"
aka FAQs

Train GIFs?

Train GIFs is a small but active hobby of very simple DIY digital railroad modeling for your own screen or for Web Pages. No software to buy...just little GIF images and some simple(ish) HTML or Java Script elements if you want them to move across the screen! If you want to learn more, try There you will find MUCH background on this hobby and MUCH content from all the artists who work in it.

What is a Train GIF?

The short answer: It's a little computer file drawing of a railroad item: a locomotive, a railcar, objects near the track...

The long answer: Train GIFs are Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) files with drawings of individual locomotives, rail cars, track objects and scenes. GIF is used because it supports transparency in the image to let background images show through around the object in the drawing. These individual images can be used in groups to make whole trains and whole scenes. There are even ways to make them move across the image. Want to see more and learn more? Go to

What size is a Train GIF?

The Train GIF community settled on the scale of 1 pixel = 8.5".

How do you make these things move?

There are two primary techniques for this. The original method is the <MARQUEE> tag in HTML which is an extention of standard HTML unique to Internet Explorer and it only works there. The newer technique used by many in the Train GIF community is a Java Script written by Brian Clough which can setup scenes and trains and create more complex movement. You can learn more about this on the Techniques & Tips page or at or at Brian's Banks of the Susquehanna site.

How do you make the photographics scenes?

Two copies of a photo are used. One has every pixel that is at or behind the line of the rails set to TRANSPARENT. When the Java script builds the scene, it places the train between the complete background image and the transparent foreground image to give the effect of disappearing behind closer objects.

Why do you do this?

This is just another small niche in the larger hobby world of people who love trains! Some people make model railroads. Some people take trips to ride on trains. Some people take trips to watch trains. Some people take photos and videos of trains. Some people collect railroad history...
We make our own little model railroads for free on the computer through these small images. Some people use them as decoration on their websites. I'm using them to make a website based model railroad of the Wisconsin & Southern. Other people just love to "paint" these little guys. That's probably the best part for me too. I haven't got the time in my life right now to build a model railroad, but I can do this...and it's FREE!

Why the Wisconsin & Southern?

I'm from central Wisconsin in the 1970's and 80's. Soo Line country, but they're disappearing as a unique entity now and freight trains never thrilled me as much as passenger trains. My true love is the Milwaukee Road's Hiawathas from the glory days of steam! Sleek and beautiful rolling mechanical artwork flying past at up to 100mph!.

My parents and my brother now live in southern Wisconsin in territory now served by Wisconsin & Southern, but I never really stopped to think about it except to watch the trains roll past just outside my brother's front door. That is, until August of 2007...

We were visiting from Ohio and at my mother's suggestion went to visit WSOR's working roundhouse in Janesville (a heart-warming sight in it's own right). While there, we were told that a passenger train was due in later that day with company personnel on it. My kids didn't have the patience to wait, so back we went to Grandma & Grandpa's in Edgerton and I thought nothing more of it.

Later that day at my brother's, I heard a horn blow and the crossing bells ring for a train coming through Edgerton. It's such a routine thing, I don't usually take much notice, but I looked out the window and was treated to the site of a clean shiny EMD streamlined hood in sharp red and white sliding gently into view! I raced outside for a full view of TWO beautiful E9's in shining red, white, and silver pulling a short consist of four passenger cars: baggage at the front and "theatre" car at the rear in WSOR livery with a couple of mismatching coaches between, but all in clean shiny repair. They sat in that crossing for me to gape at while someone ran back to set a switch before pulling out northwest to continue their tour.

Only after they pulled out did I remember the digital camera in my pocket! I missed photographing the 2nd best sight I could have asked for! The only thing better would have been a shrouded Hudson pulling the Afternoon Hiawatha up to the Twin Cities thundering through town...but that will have to remain a daydream.

A real classic passenger train being pulled by real classic passenger power! It hadn't occured to me that I'd see anything but a modernish deisel pulling the execs around. I went online to find out more and was thrilled to see WSOR's variety of passenger equipment from rear observation cars to double decker passenger cars to domed cars used by Northern Sky Charters in WSOR colors. (or is it the other way around?) And here was an independant shortline railroad that seemed to be a success story! They're growing. They're repairing old track. They're restoring service to abandoned track. They're laying new track. They're cleaning and painting the locomotives they pickup from the larger roads. Their putting classic locomotives and cars back in freshly painted service! And the clincher...E9 #10C served it's first life for the Milwaukee Road beginning in the 50's pulling Hiawathas and WSOR's property is old Milwaukee Road turf! How could I resist! I started making my own Train GIFs...