Presentation (McCook’s Landing)

Over on my Port Rowan blog, a recent post – “Roweham 2017” – generated a lot of discussion about how we present our layouts to others. Roweham is a well executed exhibition layout built by my friend Brian Dickey to 7mm scale (British O scale / 1:43). It provides many valuable lessons about presentation that can be applied whether one is taking a layout on the exhibition circuit, or planning a home layout. I encourage you to read through the comments on that post if you have not.

My friend Gerard Fitzgerald sure did. Gerard has given this subject a lot of thought as well, and shared his thoughts with me. I present them here. (Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Gerard!)

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On the question of “professional presentation” I include some photos of McCook’s Landing, the Civil War roadshow layout that Bernie Kempinski and I – plus a few other folks including Paul Dolkos – built to take to some shows a few years back. A great deal of planning went into this freelanced layout, which allowed us to introduce O scale Civil War model railroading to people at a national and regional NMRA convention.

These photos were taken when the layout was set up in my living room a few years back for an NMRA home open house. The layout was designed to be as photogenic and presentable as possible. Bernie’s mom made the curtains and also probably the red white and blue bunting.

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Much time was spent on designing a layout that was similar to a British exhibition layout but which captured a very rare American prototype. O scale Civil War is probably even a bit smaller than the equipment used at Roweham and so operations were pretty interesting.

The layout had a small fiddle yard behind the schedule/chalkboard.

We received a great deal of positive attention when the layout was displayed and it was a very big attraction at the Atlanta NMRA National (when people could find the display room).

Putting as much effort into the design and construction of a shadowbox/display layout to make it attractive and presentable – to visitors, other modelers, and potential operators – is extremely important. Why people do not always put that much work and planning into small layouts always sort of baffles me.

One of the Model Railroader editors later said this design gave them some ideas for one of their later project layouts. For some reason I recall that at both my home open house, and the MER convention, a number of non-hobbyists wound up stopping by and were really intrigued and excited by the layout and that was quite gratifying. I must admit the layout was very impressive in person. We sweated the “window” approach with the vertical supports, which made the individual units stronger and lighter. However in operating and observing from the front you just sort of forgot about them. Bernie and I debated that approach for a while and we were surprised the supports seemed invisible after a while.

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In the USA, for whatever reason some people seem to associate “presentation” more with home crew lounges than small layouts. Not always but one can go to train shows and see some portable and modular layouts that are, for lack of a better description, unfinished. Public shows are about advertising the hobby to some extent, not to mention putting your best foot forward as a layout builder, but the small British display layout approach just hasn’t taken root in the states. Maybe someday … but I doubt it.

Sadly Bernie tore his sections down and the only section left is my Biscuit Run bridge unit, which I have downstairs along with the other benchwork components. And yes, the legs were attached and folded down and there was lighting.

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I need to finally write something up about McCook’s Landing and send it to Model Railroader, which I promised a while back.

You can see lots of photos and there is more information at Bernie’s blog too:

United States Military Railroads…
Home Page
McCook’s Landing category

– Gerard

Gerard J. Fitzgerald
Charlottesville, Virginia

Progress in Scarborough

Thanks to my friend Regan Johnson for sharing a photo of progress on his layout, the CP Rail: Scarborough Industrial Spur. As regular readers know, I drew a plan for Regan, and built the two in-street turnouts that the design requires.

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In the image above, we’re looking from the room entrance along the main track next to the team yard (along the bottom edge of the plan, below). The boxcar is standing on spur 358, while spur 361 to John Inglis is in the upper left.

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Regan reports that all track is now laid up to the location of those two in-street turnouts, so it’s time for me to pay him a visit and help him install them.

Thanks for the update, Regan!

Prototype inspiration: Cobourg ON

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(Welcome to Cobourg – an ideal subject for an achievable layout.)

Sometimes, everything for a layout just comes together in one place. My friend Bernard Hellen reminded me of that recently when he posted on his Quebec Gatineau railway blog about a visit to Cobourg, Ontario. (My friend Chris Abbott and I visited Cobourg a decade ago, which is when I took the photos for this post.)

This small city, about an hour or so along the highway east of Toronto, sees a lot of railway action. That’s because it’s on the Toronto-Montreal corridor for both the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific – in fact, Canada’s two major carriers parallel each other through the city, just a stone’s throw apart.

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(Looking southeast from the VIA/CN station parking lot towards Division Street. That’s the CPR on the overpass.)

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(The parking lot – south – side of the VIA station. The CNR main runs along the north side of the structure. The CPR track is behind me.)

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(An eastbound CP Rail train rolls behind the VIA station…)

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(… and then across Division Street. Ahead of the train can be seen a small yard where the two railways could interchange traffic, although I don’t know how often this was done.)

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(West of the depot, a westbound VIA train accelerates away from its station stop on CNR trackage. Down the road, one can see the gates for the CPR line that parallels the CNR)

The CNR had a small yard across the tracks from the station, some of which was removed a few years ago, when VIA installed an overhead walkway and second platform on the north side of the mainline. When Chris and I visited, the yard was still there – and held a string of covered hoppers:

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(Chris inspects the scene)

These were destined for one or more customers in the adjacent industrial area. Yes, industrial area! In addition to the parallel mainlines, a layout based on Cobourg would also offer plenty of switching opportunities. Let’s get oriented with a satellite view – straight up, and labelled. Click on the images to view larger versions:

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You’ll note there are a lot of “KS##” labels on the second map. These are track assignments, from a CNR track map from 1984:

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(Area to the west of the station. North is to the right of the image)

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(Station area. North is to the top of the page)

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(Customer assignment list)

The “play potential” for this area should be obvious. The industrial park – in the upper right – has several customers and is quite organized, while the jumble of tracks to the left serve a large, multi-building complex that belonged to General Foods/Kraft at the time. Let’s look at some photos of the area, starting with General Foods:

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(Looking east from Ontario Street, towards the runaround at KS76. The track diverging towards us at lower right is KS79)

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(Looking west from Ontario Street, towards the General Foods plant. KS79 branches to the left, while the righthand track is the lead – KS77)

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(Another shot of the General Foods plant, looking west from Ontario Street)

Now, let’s look at the industrial park:

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(Looking north on KS32. In 2006, the switch to KS35 has been lifted but the ties remain)

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(End of track, KS35. The track is gone, but the impressive stop remains)

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(Curves at the top of the park. The closest is KS46, while the track beyond it is KS43)

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(Looking east. KS43 is at left, while to the right are KS46 and, behind it and leading into the building, KS44)

A layout based on Cobourg could be easily built in N or HO. It would fit around the walls of a rectangular room, with the station area along one long wall. Here, one would face south, looking at the station from the CNR side and with the CP Rail running along the back of the scene.

A peninsula into the centre of the room would accommodate the General Foods industrial trackage, while the industrial park in the northeast corner could wrap onto benchwork built away from the long wall opposite the station area. Behind the industrial park (preferably accessed by a separate aisle against the wall, and separated from the park by a backdrop) one would build a double-ended staging yard to feed the two mainlines – one for CNR/VIA trains, the other for CP Rail trains.

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(Literally, a back of the envelope sketch of a possible layout. Not all track shown. Click on image for larger view)

This would be a great layout for three or four people to operate. Obviously, the focus would be the local job that switches the industrial park, and this would keep a conductor/engineer team occupied for a session. A third – and possibly fourth – person could polish the rails on the CNR and CPR with manifests, locals to switch the interchange and yard… and, of course, VIA passenger trains.

Thanks, Bernard, for reminding me of this great location!

F Units in Woodstock – in 2016

Last week, Bob Fallowfield, Barry Silverthorn and I visited Woodstock, Ontario to do a bit of rail fanning. We saw many things, including a pair of F units working in revenue service – in 2016, no less:


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

These covered wagons are designated as “FP9u”. They were originally owned by the CNR, and later VIA Rail. VIA upgraded the locomotives (hence the “u” suffix) with new prime movers and other changes to extend their useful service life. The diesels next went to Rail Link, and are now owned by the Ontario Southland Railway.

The OSR is a model railway enthusiast’s dream: A modern short line offering personalized service with an eclectic collection of locomotives. Any of its operations would make an ideal subject for a layout.

Spend some time on the OSR website and see if you don’t agree…

(NOTE: The three of us were shepherded by an official from the OSR. Don’t trespass while rail fanning!)

CNR – Purina mill in Woodstock

Last week I joined my friends Bob Fallowfield and Barry Silverthorn in Woodstock, Ontario. Bob is modelling Woodstock on his HO scale home layout and was our guide for the day. We saw many things, including a Canadian National Railways local crew switching the Purina feed mill. I only captured a short video of this work (see below). But it was enough to confirm that this would be an ideal subject for an achievable layout:


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

The mill spans the tracks, and on a layout the overhead conveyor could act as a scene divider into staging. So too could the pedestrian overpass that I stood on to record this video. The mill itself (specifically, to the right in this video) would make an imposing backdrop, if one positioned the viewing aisle to the left of the scene. Tall trees further frame the scene, while there’s plenty of detail to model in the mill and the track.

Sound makes a big impact in my video. The throaty prime mover and the squeal of flanges bring home the mass of railroading. To that end, building this layout in a larger scale (Proto:48, anyone?) would put the viewer right in the scene. One of the O scale “Red Caboose” geeps would provide ample room for DCC, other electronics, and a big speaker – while the new “Full Throttle” decoder files from ESU Loksound would deliver the perfect atmosphere. Check out this Loksound video, shot on Bob’s HO scale layout. In particular, listen to the GP in the video and imagine what that would sound like in an O scale model with a much larger speaker:

Beyond engine sounds, I would add a flange squeal device to the curved route through the turnout. Iowa Scaled Engineering makes a great flange squeal module.

And, I would add environmental sounds – especially birdsong. I’ve done this on my own layout, using Dream Player Pro kits from Pricom Design. It’s incredibly effective.

A layout like this would be a showcase for fine model-building – including a lot of scratch-building. But the prototype shows that inspiration can come in small spaces, even if one wants to work in larger scales.

Titus and Gene on the(ir) future

I recently ran across a couple of interesting blog posts that address the future of the hobby from two perspectives.

The first, by Titus (my apologies – I don’t know your last name) touches on a number of issues about which I’ve been thinking a lot lately. And several of Titus’ thoughts are directly applicable to the Achievable Layouts that I encourage others to embrace.

Have a look at Model Railroading, Media, and Trends and join the conversation on Titus’ blog. I have.

The second post that got me thinking is by my friend Gene Deimling, a well-known Proto:48 modeler who in the process of downsizing his hobby. Have a look at OPINION: Getting Older? – and, again, join the conversation on his blog.

Both of these modelers are expressing thoughts about the future of their hobby. In Titus’ case, it’s about the future for everyone, while in Gene’s case it’s about the future for himself. Despite those differences in approach, I feel that both are defining what for them will be an Achievable Layout (or, possibly, no layout at all).

If you want to do this as well, I think the first step is self-awareness.

Be honest with yourself about how prolific you are in the hobby. At the same time, be honest about the investment required (in terms of in time, money and other resources) in order to build a layout to your standards (whatever they are). Then match your layout ambitions to your resources.

I’ve provided several examples on this blog of what, for me, are Achievable Layouts. I’m confident that I could build any one of these, given the space they require, to the standard that I demand of myself. Your milage may vary – but until you do the calculation, how will you know?

Algonquin Railway plan and tour

My friend Ryan Mendell has shared a layout plan and photos of his excellent (and achievable) Algonquin Railway. You’ll find them on his blog by clicking on the photo, below:

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I’ve written about Ryan’s layout previously on this blog. Follow this link for more.

Thanks for the plan and tour, Ryan – I’m sure many people looking for achievable layout ideas will appreciate the information and inspiration!