Web Site Excellence Awards



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Profile of a Winning Webmaster

Webman: Phillip Cohen
Railroad: Southern California Live Steamers
1st Place: 2009

Phil 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.

Phil 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 90s through to the 2000s, 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 90s 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 information.

After many 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?"

That was when Phil remembered talking with a good friend, Gary Burdorf, who is a member of the Los Angeles Live Steamers. He 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.

After 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 KNOW!

Phil 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 required.

Being 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.

Remember 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.

Phil is 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.

Resume 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 300,000 users. Beonvcast.com - Contest site for Verizon VCast Service, layout and database, (design by art dept. Remember artistically challenged.) Jammin - Contest site for SiTV, layout and database, (design by art dept. Still artistically challenged) CrashtheParties08.com - Received a Webby Award 2008, Contest site for SiTV - layout and database, (design by art dept. Yup, Still challenged).

Building 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.

P.S. Phil 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.

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