a Winning Webmaster
Webman: Phillip Cohen
Railroad: Southern California Live Steamers
Cohen is the webman for the Southern California Live Steamers which is located
in Torrance, CA. His first intro to railroading was when his father brought home
a shiny new Lionel O gauge GG1 locomotive and some track for the first day of
Christmas back in 1960. Living in New Jersey at the time, model railroading was
simple since most of the homes had a basement to put the layout. After a year
the basement was full of goodies in O gauge and Standard gauge. Phil's dad said
he bought it all for Phil to enjoy but that may just have been a cover story for
Phil's mom, good memories either way.
Unfortunately in 1964 when the
family moved from the house in N. J. with a basement to one in Southern
California without one, the trains had to go. And so it was that in 1964 all but
the original GG1 was sold and Phil was without trains until the age of 54 almost
45 years later.
worked as an electronics engineer in the aerospace industry designing satellite
tracking, telemetry and command earth stations around the world. Traveling
almost 400,000 miles a year during the 80s and 90s left little time for hobbies
such as live steam so it was not until Phil got out of the consulting business
and settled down in Torrance, CA that the train bug hit once again.
From the mid 90's through to the 2000's, Phil had mostly
switched from designing hardware to writing software for microprocessors and
control systems used in a variety of equipment ranging from large communications
systems to control systems for giant 12 head textile printing presses. It was
not until the mid 90's that Phil got interested in building web sites as it was a
little more artistic and less demanding then some of the complex control
programs he used to write, plus it was more enjoyable actually having something
visible that could be used by normal people and he could actually tell friends
about without going to jail for disclosing classified
years of writing software Phil got tired of living in the virtual world and
wanted to create something that actually had some mass to it. Having always been
interested in precision machining he had decided to get a little shop set up and
then machine something. The little stationary steam engines has always held his
interest but then the practical/engineer part of his brain kicked in and said, "OK now you spent X hundred hours making these things, what will you do with
them beside put them on the shelf?"
when Phil remembered talking with a good friend, Gary Burdorf, who is a member
of the Los Angeles Live Steamers. Gary talked about the live steam hobby and how
great it was. Remembering that earlier conversation pretty much made up Phil's
mind that the thing to create with "mass" would be a live steam locomotive.
doing a web search Phil found the Lomita Railroad Museum which is about 2 miles
from his office. This location used to be the home of the Little Engines Company
several years ago, so what better place to go see some live steamers. Phil went
to the museum and the one of the docents told him that there was actually a live
steam club, the Southern California Live Steamers not to far from here at Wilson
Park. Well dang! Having worked within walking distance of the SCLS club for over
25 years, Phil didn't even know it was there! They really needed a web page!!!
Phil immediately joined the SCLS club and volunteered to
create a web page for them. Maybe there are others out there that had no idea
that the SCLS was there at Wilson Park in Torrance, THEY NEED TO
designed the web site from scratch without the use of purchased templates
(always like to do things the hard way). The SCLS web site is what is known as a "dynamic site" which means that page templates are created using a web layout
program, in this case Dreamweaver, and then the actual content is added to the
page as it is being displayed by the server. The content information is held in
an SQL database that can be continuously updated by club members, without having
to have any web design experience, using web based forms that are filled out as
basically a lazy person, Phil did not want to be the only one responsible to
keep the web site updated. The "back office" of the web site has dozens of pages
that Phil created which club members can access to keep the site updated. All
members can upload photos to the online gallery complete with comments and info
about the image. The images are resized on the server, a thumbnail image is
created and the data is stored in the database, all automatically. This always
keeps the site fresh as new info is added all the time by a number of people.
Visitors may also leave comments about the images, sign the guestbook or use the
clubs Live Steam Forum to discuss the hobby or railroading in general. Images on
the front page are randomly selected each time the front page is refreshed and
linked into the photo gallery. There are many other features added that will
keep visitors interest as they explore the site.
Phil's main philosophy about web sites is that the site
must have good content that will interest a large amount of people and keep them
coming back to check for more. The site must be easy to navigate and have no "dead end links" (you should never have to use the browser back button). The
pages should load fast with minimal waiting times for things like animations,
flash or sound. Design the site for the search engines to read with ease. There
is no sense putting all that effort into a site if no one can find it.
your web site may be the first impression that people have of your club so it
must look organized and operate correctly with up to date information. It is
also a way for club members to participate in club activities around the clock
without actually being at the club. This has the effect of bringing the members
closer together in the off times. This means that the site must be simple to use
for both visitors and members alike or else it will not be used by either.
the first to admit that he is "artistically challenged" and couldn't make a
pretty web site if his life depended on it, so the site may not be the sharpest
looking with fancy graphics and trendy colors, but it has loads of good,
organized content that is growing every day. The SCLS web site is a constant
work in progress with many new additions planned for the upcoming year, so
please check back often, leave a message in the SCLS Guestbook or join the SCLS Live Steam Railroad Forum.
of some Major commercial sites Phil has built over the years:
Usefilm.com - Written from
scratch both layout and database and design. Over 2,000,000 images on line and
Beonvcast.com - Contest site for
Verizon VCast Service, layout and database programming.
Jammin - Contest site for SiTV,
layout and database programming
CrashtheParties08.com - Received a Webby Award 2008, Contest
site for SiTV - layout and database programming.
web pages can be fun, and building web pages for live steam clubs is really fun.
However; there is nothing like building something with "mass" and getting out on
the tracks, running that mass, that you have built, around the rails. Thank you
all for the 2009 DLS/BCWRR Web Site Award and hope to see you all out on the
rails in the future. Come by and visit us at SCLS sometime.
still has that original Lionel GG1 that started it all in a little glass case at
his office. It brings back memories of some very good times down in that N. J.
basement so many years ago.