45 Original Track Plans

I don’t often publish reviews but I’m making an exception here.

In track planning books, it’s rare that the plans can be built as presented, because it’s highly unlikely that the reader’s space for a model railway will correspond exactly to the spaces used by the plans the layout designer presents. So, these books should really be judged on their value as inspiration for a modeler to design a layout for their own space.

At the same time, the plans presented should be grounded in reality – they should have realistic curve radii and turnout sizes for the scale and types of equipment to be run, adequate space for structures and scenes, excellent access to all track, aisles that are wide enough to make building and operating the layout comfortable, and so on.

From any measure, Bernard Kempinski has hit the target with his latest book, 45 Original Track Plans from Kalmbach:

 photo BK-45-Original_zpsi5jdqiwm.jpg
(Click on the image to visit the Kalmbach store online)

These 45 plans – never before published – present many great ideas, from small shelf layouts to empires that will fill a large basement or special purpose building. There are also some plans designed to take advantage of popular modular standards, or to be exhibited as self-contained layouts. Truly, there’s something for everyone between the covers.

And for the purpose of this blog, several of the plans would build into what I would call “achievable layouts” – layouts that can be built and operated by one person, with a modest annual investment in time and financial resources, while still providing a lifetime of construction and operating enjoyment. In particular, I encourage people to look at the following layouts (plan number in brackets):

– Canton Railroad (1)
– American Can (2)
– Bear Island Paper Mill (4)
– Menial-La-Tour (11)
– Fort Miles (13)
– Victoria Crater (15)
– West Bottoms (17)
– SNE Air Line (19)
– Ballard Terminal Railroad (25)
– Sunon Motors (26)

The above represent my favourites in the book, because I think they’re all highly achievable layouts. Some are simple shelf switchers, while others fill a modest room.

Some of my favourites would be even better than they already are if they’re built as-is, but in one scale down. For example, the O scale West Bottoms layout (plan 17) is a 10×20-foot U-shaped layout that features 48″ radius curves and #5 turnouts. If one were to do it in S scale (or even HO) on the same benchwork, those 48″ radius curves would look spectacular and the builder could bump up the turnout sizes to a more prototypical #7. At the same time, the structures would be that much more impressive (and could even be slightly smaller, to provide more open space between each). Car capacity would increase, without the need for additional trackage. And so on.

Each plan is accompanied by a photo or two of the prototype (or prototype inspiration) and a description – about a page worth – that provides some background and highlights the key features of the plan. The plans are nicely rendered and the text is very readable – and provides just enough information to start the reader on a Google-powered adventure to find out more about the plans that most inspire him or her.

I particularly like Bernie’s introduction – and recommend that every buyer read it. In about a page, Bernie details his criteria for drawing plans, and they’re good concepts for anyone to adopt when designing their own model railway. Those who do will find their layout gives them maximum pleasure and minimum frustration.

I also appreciate that Bernie has presented a set of plans that cover a wide spectrum of interests.

– As one would expect, there are many examples of traditional steam/diesel transition era railroading, as well as modern railroading. But there are a number of plans based around less-modelled eras, dating back almost to the beginning of railroading.

– What’s more, while most of the plans are of North American themes, there are plans based on prototypes in the UK, Iran, France, Peru – and even on Mars. (This last, while futuristic, is not fanciful: as Bernie notes, it’s based on the ideas presented by Robert Zubrin in the book, The Case For Mars. And Bernie’s timing could not be better, with the book’s publication taking place just ahead of Hollywood’s release of The Martian).

– And finally, Bernie has explored a range of scales – including N, HO, S and O, in standard and narrow gauge formats.

There are many track plan collections that feature layouts that would frustrate anyone who attempts to build them, or result in an unrealistic layout that’s not very far from “toy train under the tree” status. Some designers are notorious for this. Readers of this book will not have that problem. All designs have been created with construction in mind.

If I have any criticism, it’s of the phrase “track plans” in the title. These are “layout designs” – because they consider everything from the placement of structures and key scenic elements, to the availability of the key locomotives and rolling stock required to bring the finished layout to life.

Highly recommended!

Ops with Ryan, David (and Doug)

 photo Ryan-Ops-20151030-05_zps5gfwjfyu.jpg

On Friday, my friend David Woodhead and I hopped the 506 Carleton streetcar across town to visit Ryan Mendell, for an operating session on his lovely (and achievable) Algonquin Railway. It was David’s first visit, and my second. Accordingly, David perched on the engineer’s seat while I took on the conductor’s duties:

 photo Ryan-Ops-20151030-03_zpsehzgpbog.jpg
(Ryan (r) points out a detail on the paperwork for me as I prepare for my shift)

Ryan returned to the hobby a few years ago after a long hiatus, but his layout achieves a realism that even much more experienced modellers can’t match. I think this is because – either by design or by accident – Ryan has trained his eye to really see what’s in the real world, and then learn the skills to successfully interpret it in HO. The good news is, when one pursues the hobby in this way it doesn’t take a lot of layout to deliver challenges and satisfaction.

As an example, Ryan decided on this layout that he wanted to learn how to use photo backdrops. This went beyond buying a pre-made offering: he found a suitable location and season for his prototype, took the photos, cleaned them up and stitched them together on a computer, then printed them out. Then, after mounting them on his layout, he took a lot of care to blend the background into the foreground – even painting a road onto the backdrop in one place where it continues off the back edge of the layout. It’s very effective, and in the process Ryan challenged himself to go beyond his comfort zone.

David was particularly impressed by the small office at the wood lot, and took quite a few photos of it.

 photo Ryan-Ops-20151030-01_zpskvpcd0g0.jpg

 photo Ryan-Ops-20151030-04_zpszrk1qjfi.jpg

It’s a small, simple structure, but I enjoy all the detail that Ryan has added to it – including stacks, vents and a power meter. (Poles and wires will come later.)

The ops session went smoothly. After a visit to my layout, Ryan built his own version of my waybill boxes and generated some half-size prototype-style paperwork to use in sessions.

 photo Ryan-Ops-20151030-02_zpsjdajvpyd.jpg

We had a half-dozen cars to move about, and it took about an hour to perform the work. The session went smoothly. Once the work was done, we spent a bit of time in Ryan’s workshop, looking at some future projects. I won’t reveal them here – Ryan has a blog for that – but his layout can only get better and better.

(Thanks to David for sharing his photos from our ops session.)

Afterwards, we retired to The Feathers where I had an excellent roast beef dinner with all the trimmings followed by Guinness Cake – all washed down with a few excellent pints of Ontario craft beer. Realizing that we had a fourth seat at the table, we called up Doug Currie – another friend who lives close-by – and he joined us almost before I could put my phone back in my pocket.

We had a splendid evening out, and it was a great way to end the week. David and I staggered home via streetcar in the wee hours of the morning, and we’re looking forward to another visit.

Thanks, Ryan, for hosting us on your wonderful layout!

CP Rail in Woodstock, circa 1980

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-01_zpsiszvgemk.jpg

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Bob Fallowfield and his HO scale layout. Bob lives in St. Catharines, Ontario – the city where I lived through my teenaged years, when prototype railroading really made its first impression on me. But Bob’s not modelling the CNR Grantham Sub in the Garden City.

That’s because when prototype railroading spoke to him, Bob was living in Woodstock – an hour and a half west on the highway. So when one descends Bob’s basement stairs, it’s Action Red one finds on the rails, as he’s doing a terrific job of bringing to live the CP Rail in and around Woodstock in the autumn of 1980.

I hitched a ride with Ryan Mendell, while Hunter Hughson joined us later in the day. The four of us had a great time, running trains and telling tales.

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-02_zpsvi2n4dvz.jpg
(Bob, Hunter and Ryan at work)

Bob’s layout has all the qualities I like in a design.

First, it’s firmly anchored in reality. I like prototype-based layouts – or freelanced efforts so well conceived that they could’ve been based on reality – because they challenge the builder to learn about real railways. Everything from track arrangements to operating patterns just rings truer when one observes, and copies from, the full-size world. Even little details are present, like speed signs:

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-06_zpsyhlcwunn.jpg

Bob’s layout is also modest in scope, and his focus on specific scenes has helped him to make great progress. This is his first serious effort at a home layout and he’s accomplished a great deal in less than five years.

In a space the size of a typical basement recreation room, Bob has built the railway’s small yard in Woodstock, plus the neighbouring industries. The yard is L-shaped, occupying a long wall and a short wall in the room. His interpretation of Woodstock is quite close to the prototype and Bob has achieved a nice balance in his composition, putting the railway in its environment:

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-08_zpsx22h50ib.jpg

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-04_zpssiqwaggn.jpg

Across the aisle from Woodstock, Bob has modelled Zorra, Ontario – a community just to the west on CP Rail’s mainline, and site of a large cement plant fed by its own quarry:
 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-03_zpshaqgvpeh.jpg

On the other side of the Zorra backdrop, Bob has included Beachville and Putnam – two small stops along a secondary line to St. Thomas:

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-07_zps7ouzdpyl.jpg

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-10_zpsospqqcrs.jpg

While Woodstock is a modest yard, it’s also a busy place. The town is on CP Rail’s mainline connecting Toronto with Windsor – the gateway to Detroit and the US Midwest. There’s a parade of mainline trains through Woodstock in both directions, including a few that stop in the yard to drop and lift traffic.

A local switch job works the freight house and neighbouring industries around the yard, while a number of branch line jobs operate as turns out of Woodstock. During our operating session, I teamed up with Hunter on a local that switched Zorra en route to St. Mary’s. I also worked solo to St. Thomas via Beachville and Putnam.

Bob has devised a clever track plan that allows all three routes out of Woodstock (east and west main, plus the line to St. Thomas) to terminate in a common staging area on a lower deck. There are many trains stored here, ready to take their turn on stage:

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-11_zpson3kwbdb.jpg

With more than 70 turnouts, Bob’s layout isn’t a simple design. But most of these are in staging, where a lot of storage is needed to support the parade of trains. On the main deck, where all the action is, the layout is quite modest and achievable. There’s a manageable number of realistic structures to build and scenes to detail, and nothing feels crowded or contrived.

I was really impressed by the overall look of the layout, and it was a lot of fun to operate, too. It’s the perfect stage for operations and a terrific way for three or four enthusiasts to spend a few hours completely absorbed in an interesting era in southern Ontario railroading.

Thanks Bob: I’m looking forward to our next ops session!

During our visit, we also discovered that the four of us get along really well. We share a common vision about layout design, despite pursuing different prototype inspirations:

– Ryan is building the Algonquin Railway – a very convincing freelanced line set in the 1970s and inspired by the operations of what was originally the Ottawa Arnprior and Parry Sound through Algonquin Park.

– Hunter has started his 1970s era layout by building the International Paper complex on Tonawanda Island in New York State (and is detailing its construction on his blog).

– I’m modelling a modest CNR branch line in the steam era.

Our layouts may be very different, but they exhibit common traits – including a strong vision and an achievable design that’ll keep a few people entertained for an afternoon or evening, while still leaving time and energy to enjoy a meal together.

In fact, on our trip to Bob’s we enjoyed a couple. Ryan and I car-pooled (thanks for driving, Ryan!) and met Bob for a late lunch at Duff’s Pizzeria. This was a real trip in the wayback machine for me – after I moved away from St. Catharines to attend university, a high school buddy and I used to go there occasionally for late night wings and pitchers. In fact, I think last week’s visit was the first time I’d set foot in Duff’s in a quarter-century – and definitely the first time in daylight. It hasn’t changed a bit…

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-09_zpsy7oz9nv2.jpg

When Hunter showed up after work, the four of us headed downtown for dinner at The Merchant Ale House, before returning to Bob’s for an evening session.

As an article in the local newspaper notes, three young guys who liked to brew beer at home opened this brew-pub in 1999. This was long after I’d left St. Catharines, although I found it on one of my visits home, and I was unsure it was still around. I’m glad it is – and pleased to read that their in-house brews account for 70% of their drink sales. If you’re in St. Catharines, check it out!

 photo BobFallowfield-2015-09-11-05_zpsvx65gjwr.jpg

It was heading onto midnight by the time Ryan and I headed for home – a long but wonderful day out with friends, built around an achievable layout.

What’s better than that?

The Hidden Blessing of Constraints (thanks, Lance!)

Lance Mindheim has written a terrific post called The Hidden Blessing of Constraints. I wish everybody in the hobby would read it, and heed it.

Lance concludes the post with several pieces of advice. To this, I would add two points (related to each other):

Select a prototype to model: Learning to model what is there will force you to challenge your abilities in a way that freelancing might not, because when freelancing it’s always possible to adapt one’s vision to one’s skills or available product.

Pick a manageable piece of railway to build, so that as you tackle the various skills required you see real progress on your layout.

There are plenty of examples on this blog that satisfy both of these points. If you’re new to this blog, I encourage you to go exploring…

Fillmore Engine Terminal

 photo FillmoreTerm-07_zpsvacf9g79.jpg
(Mark delivers a load to the coaling plant at Fillmore. Rick’s modelling is beautiful and the layout concept is engaging – and definitely achievable)

Earlier this month my friend Mark Zagrodney and I visited Buffalo, New York – in the 1940s, thanks to Rick De Candido and his wonderful HO scale interpretation of a New York Central engine terminal that almost was.

Rick’s layout shares the living space in a condominium. As the lead photo shows, the layout is fairly deep so access is needed to both sides of the terminal during an operating session. Rick has built the entire layout on casters so it can be rolled against the wall when not in use. The benchwork itself is executed to a fine finish, making it a pleasant display in the living room. (That said, Rick has fabricated frames and a dust cover to keep the layout clean between sessions. These are removable and store underneath the layout during operating sessions.)

 photo FillmoreTerm-04_zpsmg6gzmxe.jpg
(Mark works in the operator’s aisle, created by rolling the layout away from the wall for operating sessions. The finish on Rick’s benchwork makes the layout look like it belongs in the living room. He built the benchwork in the condo’s hobby room)

Our operating session required three people. Rick worked as the road crews: He delivered locomotives from the rest of the world (staging area) to the first inspection stop, and collected outgoing locomotives from the ready track. Mark and I were hostlers. Mark handled locomotives up to the turntable, while I managed the turntable and roundhouse work.

The staging area features a two-deck elevator moved with an automative-style screw jack:

 photo FillmoreTerm-05_zpszhnv97k6.jpg
(The two-deck staging elevator)

The lower staging includes a manual turntable for spinning locomotives. The upper deck is used for supply trains – for example, a switcher with a cut of loaded hopper cars for the coaling tower. (Rick plans to swap the order of the decks at some point, since the engine level is used more often and he feels it would be nicer to leave the elevator in the “down” position as much as possible.) Each deck is a traverser table mounted on drawer slides to conserve space.

Rick also worked as engine terminal foreman, writing up assignments on his computer and displaying them on a flat-screen TV which featured a representation of a chalkboard. This can be seen in the upper right corner in this photo:

 photo FillmoreTerm-01_zpsye38wha3.jpg
(A cut of loaded hoppers at the coaling tower. A NYC Hudson receives sand and coal on arrival track 1)

Also shown in the photo above are two pairs of digital timers. These have pre-set times loaded into them, and represent the time required to perform various functions as a locomotive travels through the terminal. They’re paired because there are two inbound tracks, so each track has its own timer at each work position. When Mark or I spotted a locomotive at a work position, we’d hit start on the appropriate timer and that locomotive would be considered under “blue flag” protection until the timer dinged. We could then advance the locomotive to the next stage of its servicing.

There are several stages to servicing a locomotive. On Rick’s layout, every steam locomotive goes through the following steps as it arrives:

– Water and initial inspection (a deck of cards produces the occasional fault, which requires additional time in the roundhouse)
– Coal and Sand
– Ash dump and wash rack
– Lubrication (performed in one of two designated stalls)

 photo FillmoreTerm-09_zpso0seuvkq.jpg
(Switcher 7815 is on a service track to work the coaling tower. A cut of cars is spotted, then pulled forward as each is emptied. The streamlined Hudson is on inbound track 2, at the inspection pit. The label on the fascia indicates it will be spotted here for 20 minutes)

 photo FillmoreTerm-02_zpstu4lgcsp.jpg
(The ash dump and wash area. A switcher will soon arrive to haul away that full ash car and replace it with an empty gondola. Note the subtle detailing, such as the weeds in the expansion joints of the concrete pad)

Locomotives that are staying for an extended period of time (either because of a fault or because they’re not needed in the short term for an outbound train) will then be moved to another stall:

 photo FillmoreTerm-03_zps1avpgmib.jpg

 photo FillmoreTerm-08_zpsxs1spmyz.jpg
(The roundhouse is cut away at the back, allowing operators to see their locomotives and appreciate Rick’s fine modelling)

Departing locomotives are turned on the turntable then staged on two outbound tracks. Here, they receive a top-up of water and are turned over to the road crew.

The layout operates on 1:1 time, and even with several locomotives in various stages of servicing there is some breathing room in the operating session. As it was our first visit, Mark and I used that time to admire Rick’s work, talk about the thinking behind the layout, and so on. As more sessions take place, there’s an opportunity to fill the time between locomotive servicing activities with some head-end switching: As the photo below shows, Rick has also modelled a portion of the passenger servicing facilities at Fillmore:

 photo FillmoreTerm-06_zps711wz47i.jpg
(A NYC Alco High Hood diesel spots head-end equipment next to the express platforms. Diners, sleepers and observation cars may be spotted at the brick building to be resupplied)

This segment of the layout is also fed by a traverser table-style staging area. Work here is not as tightly scripted as the engine terminal assignments, so it’s an opportunity to spot a car or two before getting back to the main work of the session.

Rick’s layout is a terrific example of thinking creatively to design an achievable layout. Many of us, faced with the challenge of a modest space in a living room, would gravitate to a modest branch line terminal (like Port Rowan on my layout), an industrial switching area (like the East 38th Street project by Lance Mindheim) or even a single large industry, like the Pine Street Mill.

Rick took a different approach, eliminating almost all (but not all) rolling stock to focus on the locomotives. This would make a lot of sense for most of us, considering that everybody I know (myself included) has way more locomotives than they need for their layouts. (I once joked that the correct ratio for a model railway is one locomotive per freight car.)

We’re attracted to the power – and Rick’s answer is a brilliant way to show it off. This is especially true if one enjoys detailing and painting locomotives. (And if that’s you, then you should really be watching “Notch 8” – a new series on TrainMasters TV.)

To read more about Rick’s layout – and so see a layout plan – pick up the 2015 edition of Model Railroad Planning from Kalmbach. Click on the cover, below, to learn more:

 photo MRP2015_zpsoio27vl0.jpg

Thanks, Rick, for a great day in Buffalo. I look forward to the next operating session!

Jim Dufour’s layout on TrainMasters TV

 photo JimDufour-TMTV_zpsrgohgcgs.jpg

My friend Jim Dufour is building one of the greatest layouts that you’ve probably never heard of. But now you can see it for yourself.

Jim is faithfully modelling scenes and operations along the Boston and Maine Railroad’s Cheshire Branch in New Hampshire in the late 1940s. He’s doing it in HO scale, in a modest-sized basement. And he’s doing a terrific job of it.

Jim lives in Massachusetts, and earlier this year he hosted an open house in conjunction with the annual Railroad Hobby Show in Springfield MA.

I was not able to attend this year, but I suggested to TrainMasters TV producer Barry Silverthorn that he pay a visit. I’m really glad I did, because the result of that visit is a terrific TrainMasters TV episode showcasing Jim’s layout and his preparations for the open house.

That episode is now online*.

Jim’s layout is one of my favorites on the planet. In my opinion, it has all the elements that make for the best type of layout – and it encompasses many of the concepts that I write about on this blog. Here are some of the things to look for in this episode:

– It has a clearly defined prototype, era and location (something that can also be applied to a freelance railroad). This automatically creates interesting challenges for the layout builder, and it helps make the resulting layout unique from other efforts.

– The layout design is achievable. There were a couple of larger yards on the Cheshire Branch, but Jim instead chose to model the smaller towns in between, with yards represented by staging. The area chosen is possible to model well in an average-sized layout space – with a simple, uncrowded, and realistic track plan that provides plenty of challenge for operators without becoming overwhelming or stressful.

– Instead of going for “more”, Jim is going for “better”. It’s clear that Jim is challenging himself to exhibit craftsmanship and excellence in all aspects of this terrific hobby. These include research… scratch-building structures… accurately modelling locomotives, rolling stock, consists, track arrangements and operations… building believable scenery, including signature scenes… and more.

– There are many things for Jim to build for this layout – things that will provide years of hobby enjoyment. Yet the layout is also manageable enough that he will be able to keep on top of the maintenance that all layouts demand of us. This means his trains run well and his scenery and structures will never look neglected.

– The layout doesn’t need a large crew to bring it to life. It provides opportunities for Jim to enjoy running trains by himself without disrupting the next formal operating session. Yet it can also keep several friends busy during those get-togethers.

It’s great to see Jim’s Boston and Maine Cheshire Branch get this public recognition. I’d love to see more layouts like this featured on TrainMasters TV.

*TrainMasters TV is a subscription service, so you need to be a member to view the episode. But here’s the thing: You can pay by the month, and the first month will cost you just 99 cents. I am confident that the tour of Jim’s layout – which has never been covered in a hobby magazine – is worth 99 cents. Give it a try.

If you like what you see, you can then take a multi-month subscription for as little as $2.99 per month.

New look for Lance’s website

This is good news…

Like many of my readers, I’m a big fan of the work that Lance Mindheim has been doing to encourage hobbyists to build what I call “achievable layouts”. I’ve always been frustrated, though, that Lance’s website and it’s always thought-provoking blog 1) was not searchable and 2) did not support RSS or other means of automatically notifying me when he’d posted a new entry.

Apparently, I’m not alone: As Lance notes in a post from last week, he’s in the process of addressing these by migrating this website engine over to something that includes a WordPress blog (the same blogging engine I use here).

The RSS feed does not yet appear to be active. But I will post an update as part of this post when it is.

I know Lance will be pleased by the change, particularly the ability for readers to follow his blog. I have two following options on this blog and I’m flattered by the number of people who use it to keep tabs on what I’m doing.

Ontario Southland in Feb 2015 Railfan & Railroad

The Ontario Southland Railway is a short line company operating in several locations from Guelph to St. Thomas, Ontario – with a mix of classic short line hauling and industrial park or large industry switching. I was reminded of this when I spotted the February, 2015 issue of Railfan & Railroad magazine:

 photo Railfan-2015-02_zpspfwbhesd.jpg

Photographer Marcus W. Stevens has written a great feature on snow-plow operations on the OSR. (You can see more photographs by Marcus W. Stevens – including more of the OSR – on the Railpictures site.)

That’s the OSR’s 1907-vintage plow on the cover – yes, more than a century old! – and still wearing its Canadian Pacific black and red paint.

Like many short lines, the OSR has an eclectic collection of equipment (and they list the roster on their website), many of it still in the paint schemes of a previous owner. The article, for example, documents the work of a plow train consisting of an ex-Chessie System GP9 and an FP-9 from the Waterloo & St. Jacobs Railway. Other locomotives wear the OSR’s maroon and cream scheme inspired by the scheme used on the diesels of the Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo Railway (which was absorbed by CP Rail in 1987)

But I digress…

The OSR offers several potential subjects for an achievable layout. Browse through the company’s list of operations and you’ll discover everything from modern rural railroading on the St. Thomas Sub … to in-plant switching (about 100 auto racks per day!) at CAMI Automotive (itself along the St. Thomas Sub)… to industrial park switching in Guelph (with a branch to Campbellville). Depending on location, the OSR has connections with the Canadian National, CP Rail, or both.

(Some portions of the St. Thomas Sub operation are featured on the Branchlines in Tradition DVD which I wrote about elsewhere on this blog.)

Whether one is looking for ideas for a single-industry layout or a modern branch line… and whether one wants to model an urban or rural setting… there’s a lot of possibility in the Ontario Southland, with interesting operations and a model-railroad-ready variety of equipment.

When people ask me for ideas, I’ll certainly suggest the OSR as the subject for an achievable layout. I’d love to see some maps of track arrangements and suchlike, too…

Branchlines in Transition

I recently picked up a copy of a DVD by this name at my local hobby shop. The video was shot by Steve Bradley, whom I’ve met a few times while operating trains at a mutual friend’s place. It’s a fairly short video – at just 42 minutes – but it provides plenty of inspiration for someone looking for ideas for an achievable layout in a modern (1990s) setting. Green Frog Productions, which markets the video, has a teaser video online:

(You may watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Here’s the video description from the Green Frog website:

Take a look at the operation of 5 Southern Ontario branchlines. Shot in the late 1990’s just prior to many branches being taken over by shortlines or having sections partially abandoned, you’ll join the crews, be trackside, aboard the trains, and even ride a plow extra. A great look at how it was, not that long ago.

I found a number of things interesting about the subject presented here.

First, with the exception of one segment – the snow plough run north of Orangeville – the subjects presented are all strong candidates for an achievable layout. (Don’t get me wrong: The snow plough run – the last chapter of the program – is excellent, but for different reasons.)

These were not high-traffic branches and many of the trains featured are quite short, which would lend themselves to modelling in a larger scale such as S or O. And – as I hope I have proven on my own layout – a lightly-trafficked prototype does not have to result in a layout that is boring to operate: It just changes where one must put the focus. And a couple of the prototypes featured here did (or still do) serve auto plants, significant carload generators that also require the railway to switch to a clock. One – the Goderich and Exeter Railway – did a roaring trade road salt as suggested by this photo.

The above photo is appropriate because my second observation is that all five operations featured were shot in winter. I was struck by how this changed the way I viewed the railways in their environments. Snow adds a uniform wash to the scenes, which tones down the colours of structures, scenery and details. The result is a real focus on the railway equipment, which – by virtue of the fact that it moves – tends to be relatively clear of snow. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean – photos I took during a December 2005 trip to Saskatoon:

 photo Saskatoon-2005-12-29-01_zps4bqfan73.jpg

 photo Saskatoon-2005-12-29-02_zps4g5amdba.jpg

(To see more of Canadian railways in winter, search on the word “winter” at the Railpictures.ca database)

I was particularly struck by segments featuring CP Rail diesels in their “Action Red” paint, which positively leap out of the grey surroundings. A layout given this treatment would be the polar (pun intended) opposite of a layout set in the height of autumn, in which railway subjects would be forced to compete with a riot of leaf colours.

That’s not to say the railway equipment is completely clear. Snow has drifted quite deeply onto locomotive walkways and pilots, which would be an interesting modelling project. It’s also caked onto trucks, brake rigging and other details below the frame, which would wonders for highlighting these traditionally dark areas on a model. Things I knew existed below the walkways, but had never really noticed in photos of clean locomotives, are readily apparent with a dusting of the white stuff.

My own layout is set in August and I’m not about to change that. But I’m sometimes asked by others for inspiration, and this DVD has given me some interesting ideas to ponder…

First visit to the Algonquin Railway

 photo RyanMendell_zps32fa2f6c.jpg

On Sunday, I hopped the 506 Carlton streetcar and headed east for an operating session on the Algonquin Railway – a terrific HO scale shelf layout in a spare room that’s being built by Ryan Mendell. (Ryan recently visited my layout for the first time and was keen to return the favour.)

Ryan is doing a terrific job. He has a great eye for detail, and is obviously an accomplished modeller. What’s particularly impressive is that he’s only been back in the hobby for a few years after a long time away from it for all the usual reasons. From his layout design, to the equipment, to the structures and scenery, everything looks like the product of a modeller with decades of experience under his belt. Well done!

I’ve recently been working on trees for the St. Williams area of my layout, so I was particularly interested in Ryan’s tree-building efforts. Click on the image, below, to visit his blog and learn how he makes those terrific Eastern White Pines:

 photo RyanMendell-Pines_zps5fe712ce.jpg

The afternoon gave me some great ideas for filling in the space under my taller trees with saplings and other plantings to give my forested areas more bulk. I predict another visit to the craft store in the near future to pick up some craft brooms and other materials. And I’m going to build a few of those pines, just because they look great.

The Algonquin Railway runs very nicely and we spent a most satisfying hour or so switching out typical railway customers in northern Ontario, aided for part of the session by Ryan’s young son – who will one day make a fine railway modelling enthusiast, I expect.

After our session, we retired to The Feathers for lamb and ale stews, pints, and more conversation, and I had much to think about on the streetcar ride home.

Thanks for the great afternoon, Ryan! I’m looking forward to our next get-together…