By Gay Liesse, Photo by Russ Segner
The Golden Grab Iron Service Award is given each year to a member of the 4th Division, Pacific Northwest Region, National Model Railroad Association, who exemplifies service to the organization. For 2011 the selection committee, composed of the immediate past three honorees, chose JJ Johnston for his many contributions to the hobby, the NMRA, and especially the 4th Division of PNR.
JJ was honored with the presentation of an engraved plaque and framed certificate at the November 17 Eastside Clinic. In addition, JJ received the traveling plaque listing him and past award winners, which he’ll keep for a year before passing it on to the 2012 winner.
JJ’s service to 4D includes his years of leadership of the Eastside Clinic, securing their meeting space at the Foursquare Church in Bellevue, assisting with the Pacific Science Center Shows, and opening his layout to fellow modelers and other visitors.
An accomplished modeler and envied owner of the Puget Sound Iron Goat Railway, which was recently featured by Paul Scoles in Railroad Model Craftsman, JJ’s accomplishments include helping to establish a link between the local Division and the Pacific Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie. Though he models in HO scale, JJ’s interest in narrow gauge railroading has led him to serve in the planning for the 2012 national narrow gauge convention to be held in Bellevue.
Ed Liesse, 2009 honoree, presented the 2011 Golden Grab Iron Service Award in the absence of committee chair Gay Liesse, 2008 winner. Gay is recovering from back surgery and was unable to attend. Walt Huston, PNR president who took home the prize in 2010 and served as the third member of the selection committee, participated in the presentation.
The full text of the citation read during the presentation is below.
The Golden Grab Iron Service Award is presented each year to a member of the 4th Division, Pacific Northwest region, National Model Railroad Association, who exemplifies service to the organization. The selection committee consists of the past three honorees, who put their heads together to consider recommendations for the newest member of this elite group.
Gay Liesse, winner of the 2008 Golden Grab Iron, regrets that she is unable to be here tonight to present the award, but recuperating from extensive spinal fusion surgery is taking longer and is more debilitating than she had anticipated and she felt the evening would be too exhausting. Ed Liesse, 2009 recipient, is taking over Gay’s duties for the evening. Walt Huston, honoree for 2010, rounds out the committee.
Because you’ll recognize the 2011 winner of the Golden Grab Iron Award almost immediately, we’ll cut to the chase and invite JJ Johnston to join us while we detail his life story. To say that he has enjoyed unique experiences over the years would be the understatement of this year.
A native of Seattle, son of a dentist and a registered nurse, JJ attended Harvard School, a military academy in Los Angeles and still maintains contact with some of his classmates. He zipped across the country for the first time to attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His high school career wasn’t exactly academically impressive, but he made up for average grades by being active in swimming, high-board diving, basketball and serving as editor of the student newspaper, head of the rally committee and performing in the lead role in his school’s dramatic endeavor his senior year.
In college, JJ was part of the swim team, joined Zeta Psi national fraternity and played soccer. He had the opportunity to meet author William Faulkner and visited Cuba at the time Fidel Castro was a revolutionary fighting a guerilla war against the Batista government. With the draft in effect, JJ joined the U.S. Army after college, serving at various American bases before adventuring into the professional soccer world while stationed in Landstuhl, Germany. He defended the goal for the Sportverein Hermersberg before returning home. Forty years later JJ and Patt had the thrill of a return visit to Hermersberg for a gala reunion celebration with townspeople and soccer players, some of whom were even old enough to remember his soccer days.
JJ’s next step was a position as Director of Alumni and Public Relations at his former high school, working on fund-raising for the private education sector and developing his skills in writing, graphic design, and photography as editor of the school’s alumni magazine. After experimenting with a few other fields dealing with people, JJ earned his license and joined Windermere Real Estate in Bellevue in 1985.
There he met Patt Sellen, already an established, top producing agent, and courted his future bride. They were married during Seafair weekend and JJ still believes that Patt arranged the Blue Angel flyover – close enough for them to see the pilots’ faces – following the wedding ceremony. Patt’s four children, a daughter and three sons, quickly became JJ’s family. After almost 18 years with Windermere, JJ and Patt opened their RE/MAX Northwest Realtors office. Many local model railroaders have acquired their layout space through the efforts of JJ and his now-retired office manager, Sandy Finn.
But what about that model railroading, you say. How did the well-known Puget Sound Iron Goat Railway come to be? Most of us have seen JJ’s layout with its Woody Winter paintings simulating a ticket office, a log cabin, trees, forest animals and other hidden delights. This “fantasy wing” has provided entertaining viewing for countless visitors.
JJ truly is a Johnny-come-lately as far as model railroading is concerned. He’d had the requisite plywood Lionel layout as a child but didn’t get involved in the hobby until 1993 after a chance visit to a hobby shop with a friend. Intrigued by scenery early on, JJ bought a kit, built it, and was hooked. He became a close friend of GAZETTE author Bob Christopherson, who played a major role in the development of the Iron Goat Railway. This first layout was begun in 1996. After only six years under construction, JJ’s layout was featured by Paul Scoles in the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette.
Always a “people person,” JJ soon became involved with the local model railroad organizations, serving two terms as a Director of the 4th Division, PNR, helping with the Pacific Science Center Show, and coordinating the monthly Eastside Clinic meetings here at his church. The Pacific Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie has become a favorite “cause” of many local modelers (not to mention residents), and JJ can take credit for helping create a relationship between the museum and 4th Division of PNR. Though he models in HO, JJ is immersed in the idea of Narrow Gauge modeling and is part of the organizing committee for next year’s national Narrow Gauge Convention in Bellevue.
In addition to being a familiar face to most 4D members, JJ is active in community and church affairs and has been nominated for several other service awards from other groups over the years. We are proud to recognize the talented modeler, JJ Johnston, as the recipient of the PNR 4th Division’s 2011 Golden Grab Iron Service Award.