Pardee Peninsula Pizza Party

Yesterday, my friend Stephen Gardiner organized a work session for Liberty Village – his HO scale shelf layout that models a section of a one-time industrial neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.

The Gang's All Here
Clockwise from left: Mark, Dan, James and Stephen are Getting Things Done

A capacity crowd – Dan Garcia, James Rasor and Mark Zagrodney were also on hand – tackled wiring and track-laying projects, with most of the work focussed on the Pardee Avenue peninsula.

It was a terrific day, despite a rare mid-winter thaw and heavy rain warning, and we made excellent progress. Click on any of the photos in this post to read Stephen’s full report on his website.

Pardee Ave Peninsula
An overview of the peninsula, after an afternoon’s work and a good clean-up by Stephen. Weights and pins keep glued-down track in position while the caulk dries…

Soldering along Liberty Street
Stephen captures a plume of rising smoke in pixels as I solder drop feeders to the main bus near the Parkdale (CPR) staging area

Thanks for a great day, Stephen – and thank Heather for the awesome cookies! I look forward to our next work session. Not too many more, and we’ll be running the first trains!

—-

(I’ve turned off comments on this post – but you can always join the conversation on Stephen’s website!)

Around the Web: Sherton Abbas and Vernon River

I’ve been enjoying a couple of layout blogs recently, and thought I would share.

First up is Sherton Abbas. This is a 7mm (British O) layout based on the Great Western Railway and being built by David Stone in the UK. Thanks to my friend Simon Dunkley for sharing this one.

If you’ve enjoyed my occasional reports on Roweham by Brian Dickey, you’re going to love Sherton Abbas. Brew some tea, click on the photo, and settle in…

Sherton Abbas

Next up is Vernon River in 1:87 – a relatively new project by Calvin Monaghan. Thanks to my friend Chris Mears for the heads up on this one. I’ve just added Calvin’s site to my blog reader and look forward to following his progress. Again, click on the photo and enjoy if you visit…

Vernon River

These are two very different projects, in different scales. But they’re both what I like to think of as Achievable Layouts. I’m always on the lookout for ideas…

Down Another Rabbit Hole: GWR coaching stock in 7mm scale

You know, I sure do like the Great Western Railway 517 Class locomotive I bought a couple of years ago from the Lee Marsh Model Company. But while it looks fine shoving goods wagons about on Roweham – the 7mm layout being built by my friend Brian Dickey – I can’t help thinking that it would look great with a passenger train in tow.

So, I’m working on that. Click on the image below to read about my GWR passenger train project:

GWR 517 Class on Roweham

Room for context

I’m in a bit of a British railways mood these days – in large part because I’m working on some 7mm (British O scale) passenger cars*. So while poking about my library of railway books, it’s no surprise that I pulled this one off the shelf for another look:

GWR Modelling V3

In the book, author Stephen Williams describes his layout, based on a Great Western Railway branch line terminus. Because it’s designed to take to exhibitions, he made the benchwork as compact as possible so it would be easier to carry and to fit into a vehicle. Then, he makes the following observation, which really struck a chord with me:

However, now the model is complete, I realise I have made a significant error in excluding all the non-railway buildings. Because the model station is surrounded by grass, it looks for all the world like a rural outpost when in reality, it is set within a built-up area. It is probably too late to do much about this now, but more thought at the design stage might have led to the creation of a more convincing model.

What an important lesson!

The author’s layout certainly looks lovely – but it does indeed have a rural flair to it. Given that I know next to nothing about GWR branch lines in general or about the author’s specific prototype, I noticed nothing “wrong” with the layout until I read the above quoted passage. From that perspective, the layout is a success even though it presents as rural instead of urban – because I enjoyed looking at it. But others more familiar with the subject may react differently: They may feel, as the author appears to, that his prototype has been mis-represented. (Or they may fill in the missing pieces – they’re just beyond the edges of the benchwork, after all, and most of us are really good at filling in missing pieces when we know them to be there.)

I should stress that this is in no way a criticism of the author’s layout: I think it’s superb. But I’m glad that he pointed out this oversight so that I and others might learn from it.

In relating it to my own layout, I’m relieved that I included so much space around the railway – especially in the terminal at Port Rowan:

Port Rowan - overview of terminal from meadow
Click on the image to visit my Port Rowan website, where you’ll find lots of other photos of the railway in context

To be honest, I lucked out with this: the terminal includes a turntable, which is approximately 12″ in diameter, and therefore needed a foot of depth in the benchwork. But nothing else needed that space – there are no industries to model around the turnable, or other tracks.

I could have placed the turntable in a blob off the front of the layout and saved myself some space. Instead, I simply kept the front edge of the layout deep enough to accommodate the feature, and filled the rest of the space with meadow and orchard:

First Time Here - 20
This view from a few years ago shows the Port Rowan yard as seen by an arriving train. The second switch along leads off to the right – and you can follow that track through the meadow to the turntable in the distance…

Imagine how different the above scene would look if instead of orchards, I had built large warehouses on either side of the main track – or if I’d added multi-storey brick buildings along the backdrop and a combination of dirt and pavement between track and fascia. The same track arrangement would’ve told a completely different story while remaining functionally identical.

To be fair, I am building a home layout – not something that has to travel – so it’s perhaps easier to include space beyond the railway. Even so, I might have narrowed the benchwork through much of this yard in order to gain some space in the aisles. Having read the highlighted passage from this book, however, I’m glad that I included space for context.

If you’re in the design stages of your layout, consider adding an extra 6″ behind the scene, and 3″-6″ in front of it. Sometimes that isn’t possible – but chances are you can do it without sacrificing comfort in the room, or access to the track for operations or maintenance. This little bit extra is especially important for shelf layouts where those few inches may make a huge difference by placing the railway in the larger scene.

*If you want to know more about the 7mm Great Western Railway passenger cars, click on the book cover in this post.

Ringing in 2020 on the Clovis branch

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Tarpey

Extra 1736 moves a refrigerator block through under-construction vineyards en route to Clovis

On Saturday, my friend Pierre Oliver hosted the first formal operating session on his HO scale model railway, based on the Southern Pacific Clovis Branch between Fresno and Friant, California. Pierre invited four guests – myself, Stephen Gardiner, Robin Talukdar and Hunter Hughson – to take part in the Clovis Branch shakedown run.

It went well. Very well indeed!

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

The day starts in Fresno – represented by this scenicked staging area. Pierre powers up the engine service tracks at the far end while Robin and Hunter check their paperwork

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

Two views of the engine service area in staging (Fresno). I brought along my Southern Pacific SW-1, which I described in the June 2019 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine

Pierre had set up two trains: the regularly-scheduled way freight would work the entire line, while a seasonal special would switch the various produce-packing houses in East Fresno and Clovis. Robin and Hunter had run a reefer extra during an earlier visit so they took the way freight, while Stephen and I teamed up on the packing house job.

The session ran just under four hours and was impressively trouble-free for a layout that’s so early in its operating life. Pierre gave us a quick pre-session briefing – explaining the throttles, the car forwarding documents, and the very simple traffic control scheme – and then we got to work.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

Robin ties his 2-6-0 onto the way freight in Fresno

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - East Fresno

The way freight rolls through East Fresno, between packing houses and the small interchange yard with the Fresno Interurban

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Las Palmas

Hunter and Robin switch Las Palmas while Pierre hovers over Tulare Avenue (on the far side of the backdrop)

The schedule called for the way freight to leave Fresno first, switching Las Palmas and Tarpey en route to Clovis, where it would leave a block of cars to work on the return trip. The reefer extra would be held until the operator at Clovis reported in that the way freight was headed out of town, then head out to East Fresno to switch a row of packing houses there before travelling to Clovis. Once at Clovis, the reefer extra would own the track: the way freight would be held in Friant until the reefer extra was headed back to Fresno.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - East Fresno

With the way freight clear of Clovis, the reefer extra has rolled to East Fresno. Stephen is the engineer on this train, while I took on the conductor’s duties. Here, Stephen is backing a string of reefers towards three packing house customers

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Friant

Meantime, having switched the gravel pit at Rockfield, the way freight has arrived in Friant. Robin is weighing the gravel loads on the scale, located to the left of the station

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Friant

A look at Friant – including a section house, the scale track, and station. I scratch built the scale for Pierre

There was plenty of time in the schedule for each crew to pause, take photos, and watch what the other crew was up to. The trains were respectable: I didn’t count cars on the way freight, but the packing house extra for which I donned the conductor’s cap had 16 reefers in each direction. Even so, the trains were dwarfed by Pierre’s large but simple layout: there was a real feeling of going places as we trundled past line side structures, down the middle of Tulare Avenue, across grasslands, and through vineyards on our way to Clovis.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Maltermoro

Our switching finished in East Fresno, the reefer extra exits Tulare Avenue and rolls into Maltermoro

Our work – mostly in Clovis – was challenging without being artificially complex: There were no puzzles or “gotcha” moments, providing one planned one’s work. (With about 20 identical-looking reefers to move about in Clovis, I wrote a switch list on a scrap of paper taped to a piece of styrene sheet and that kept me out of trouble.)

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

On arrival in Clovis, we drop our cut of empty reefers in a clear track and grab the caboose. We’ll take it up the line to spot it out of the way at the station

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

Towing one empty past our caboose and the Clovis station, en route to United Fruit. This is our only trailing point switch here, so we’re getting it out of the way first

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

We’re hauling a cut of loaded cars down the Clovis main, between packing houses and the ice deck. The real Clovis did not have an ice deck but Pierre wanted the modelling and operating challenge of one so we included it on the plan. It’s a fine addition!

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

The switching in Clovis proceeds apace. Stephen and I designated the left track – in front of the packing houses – as the place to collect loaded reefers that will need to be iced. The ice deck siding holds our empties, destined for the packing houses. Once we’ve emptied that track, we’ll grab the loads and spot them for top icing. We started with 10 reefers for Clovis, so it looks like we’re halfway done with today’s work

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

While the loads were iced, we retrieved our caboose and tucked it onto the far end of the cut of reefers. Here, we’re all done in Clovis and Stephen is starting our journey back to Fresno. We’ll pick up a cut of reefers in East Fresno on our way back to the yard

This is what an operating session should be. It was fun and engaging, challenging without being stressful, and at the end of the day I felt like I’d experienced a day in southern California in 1951. On a personal note, having had a hand in designing this layout, I was very pleased that it performed as I expected it would.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

Stephen and I enjoy some railfanning as Hunter and Robin arrive in Clovis from Friant, with their train of weighed gravel

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020

Stephen has our reefer extra headed towards Las Palmas (left side of the aisle) while Robin and Hunter (barely visible behind Robin) ponder their work in Clovis

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Clovis

Hunter and Robin switch a customer in Clovis

As the photos show, Pierre is making excellent progress on a large (although simple) layout that he started less than two years ago. Already, the scenes are coming together and they’ll only get better as more structures and ground cover, trees and details are added.

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Tulare Avenue

Running tender-first, the reefer extra trundles past the under-construction homes on Tulare Avenue en route to East Fresno

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Las Palmas

Hunter and Robin switch the future home of Gallo Winery in Las Palmas

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

We’re home again! Putting on our yard crew hats, we will pluck the caboose off the end of our reefer block and spot it on the caboose track before heading to the engine house in Fresno

Thanks to Pierre for hosting… to Stephen for being my engineer… to Robin and Hunter for the company… and to Kate for the wonderful post-session dinner. That was a pretty grand way to start the year – we’ll have to do this again!

(For other perspectives on the day, you can read posts by Pierre, by Stephen and by Hunter on their websites.)

Pierre Ops - Jan 2020 - Fresno

Fillmore Terminal in January 2020 RMC

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

At the end of November I had the opportunity to work a shift at Fillmore Terminal, the wonderful engine-service-as-layout built by Rick de Candido. I was joined by our mutual friends Hunter Hughson and Regan Johnson. We spent a couple of hours attending to the New York Central Railroad’s finest passenger power – watering, inspecting, coaling, sanding, cleaning the firebox, lubricating, turning and prepping for their next run.

Many of us have engine terminals on our layouts. Unfortunately, many of us use them almost exclusively as a place to store and display our excess motive power. I say “unfortunately” because we’re missing out on a prime opportunity to model real world activity, and learn more about how railroad’s worked. There’s a flow – a dance – that’s required when you have a half-dozen locomotives working their way through the servicing routine. It can be the subject of a dedicated layout, like Rick’s, or a coveted job on a larger layout that includes yards, mainlines, and all that other stuff.

If you would like to know more, Rick has written the cover story for the January 2020 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine:

RMC 2020-01 Cover

While you’re waiting for that to hit the stands (or your mailbox: you do subscribe, right?), here are more photos from our session:

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

Thanks again, Rick, for a great session.

I see my taxi has arrived: I look forward to the next time!

Rick Ops - Nov 30, 2019

A retreat? Or a way forward?

Wayne Slaughter is an exceptional modeller who is building the Dominion & New England Railway, an achievable layout in 1:48. (If you have never visited… hit the go button on your coffee maker or plug in the tea kettle, finish reading this, then grab a hot beverage and go spend some time in Wayne’s world. It’s worth the trip.)

Wayne recently posted to his blog that after a sustained effort to attempt to make it work, he’s decided to (in his words) “Retreat from Proto:48″ in favour of O gauge (1.25” between the railheads).

I’m sure it was not a decision that he took lightly – but, I also agree with him that it’s the right one for him. As Wayne explains on his blog, he was becoming frustrated with the added expense and difficulty of regauging locomotives and freight cars – especially any steam engines he would like to run, which would require new drivers to be turned.

St George Freight House
(Wayne’s beautiful model of a freight house in 1:48. The track in front of it is Proto:48 – for now – but will soon be re-gauged to O scale (1.25″). Will that slightly wider gauge make any difference to the scene? Of course not: prototype modelling is less about the technical details and more about the approach. Click on the photo to read more about Wayne’s decision to re-gauge his layout.)

Wayne was also finding that some of the details embraced by Proto:48 modellers, such as realistic couplers, were causing more problems than they solved. I’ve run into these sorts of dilemmas on my own, S scale layout: I gave realistic couplers a fair test over several weeks, but found that they dominated post-operating session conversations, and not in a positive way. I switched back to Kadee couplers and now we talk about other things, which is as it should be.

You can read more about Wayne’s decision on his blog by clicking on the image above. But I’ll add that there’s an important lesson here:

I’m a firm believer that we should try to stretch our skill sets and that if we’re interested in prototype modelling it’s worth striving for accuracy. But we should not let such ambitions kill our enjoyment of the hobby, just for the sake of being “more correct”.

Proto:48 works for some – but not for all. A layout is only achievable if it’s one that you look forward to working on: If it becomes yet another source of frustration in one’s life, it’s going to stagnate. And what do you want out of the hobby? A “100 percent” layout that exists only in your mind? Or a “95 percent” layout that is fully realized in your train room?

Back when I first met Wayne online, he and I were both fans of the Maine two-footers. When Bachmann released its On30 Forney, there was some discussion amongst the On2 community about what this would mean for modelling the Maine two-footers in 1:48.

Some people focused in on the few inches in difference in gauge and said “30 inch gauge isn’t Maine two-footing”. But others – myself included – argued that if everything else was modelled with respect to the prototype, the gauge wouldn’t make a difference. We suggested things like “Use slightly wider ties so the rails look like they’re in the correct spot, proportionately’, “Model prototype equipment instead of using Bachmann’s three-foot inspired rolling stock’, and so on.

An On30 layout built by Lou Sassi has recently started making the rounds in Kalmbach publications and proves that this is a viable way to model a Maine two-footer in 1:48. Lou’s layout is entirely convincing – and the gauge doesn’t matter. By contrast, I’ve also seen On2 layouts that are not convincing because the builder made other compromises that were more noticeable.

I’m glad Wayne shared his thoughts about this change via his blog. It’s not a retreat – it’s a way forward. Based on the photos on his website, Wayne is building an awesome layout in O scale – and it will be “Proto”, regardless of the spacing between the rails. This is an excellent decision on his part, because it allows him to move ahead, instead of having his hobby derailed by 0.073 of an inch.

Can you tell me how to get… how to get to Prince Street?

I sure can!

I recently spent some time reviewing posts on Prince Street, the blog written by my friend Chris Mears. He has a lot of thoughtful things to say about layout design that go well beyond “where to put the track”.

It’s safe to say that nowhere else in the hobby will you find a post about layout planning that includes such observational gems as…

“When we draw this way we leave evidence of our humanity in each line each time that line projects past an intersection with another line and in the smudges on the page from stray graphite caught under our hands as we move about that drawing. Those marks connect us through time to those designers and looking at these drawings you see them as each building’s designers did and you share a moment with them.”

… but that’s just the start. You can read more of this fascinating post by Chris, by clicking on the following image:

I can't find this book

If, like me, you’re a lifelong student of layout design then you might also enjoy Chris’ thoughts on breaking out of the classic, rectangular form. Click on each of the images, below, to read more on his blog – and enjoy if you visit!

Cake post image

Broken View post image

Juice Jacks at the Train Show

Earlier this month I spent a Saturday with my good friends Chris Abbott and Mark Zagrodney at the annual Greater Toronto Train Show. This show has grown over the past several years to take over three buildings at a fairgrounds north of the city. There’s always something interesting to see – and an opportunity to catch up with fellow modellers from around southern Ontario. (I was so engrossed with the show, I forgot to take pictures – if only there was a handy camera that I could fit in my pocket – but my friends Stephen Gardiner and David Woodhead came through with photos for me: Thanks guys!)

SN 650 - Train Show Test Run
Test-running one of my two Proto:48 Sacramento Northern steeple cabs.

A highlight for me was spending a bit of time (not enough time!) with David Higgott and Mark Hill – two talented modellers I’ve known since we were all in the Canada Southern Free-Mo group about a decade ago. Dave and Mark decided to work on an exhibition layout in Proto:48 (finescale O) and now have a classic “through station to double-ended staging yard” display measuring (at a guess) 20×50 feet. There’s still a lot of work to be done on this layout but the potential is huge, and it was great fun to run some 1:48 trains.

Proto48 - Toronto Train Show 2019
Dave Higgott – at right – talks with another Proto:48 enthusiast, Robin Talukdar. Mark Hill is third from right talking with another show visitor.

Dave and Mark even let me bring along and test my Proto:48 Sacramento Northern steeple cabs. At home, I have only three feet of test track in Proto:48 – not really enough to put these lovely models to work – so it was wonderful to let them stretch their legs. The layout is about four feet off the floor, so these O scale models were right up at eye level, where I could appreciate their mass and their detail.

(I wrote about this Proto:48 layout when Dave and Mark debuted it two years ago.)

While the layout is large, the plan is simple enough that two guys (with some help) are able to build it and exhibit it. They’ve focussed the details, such as their hand-laid track with tie plates, on the visible front section – and have used flex track (yes, in Proto:48) for the staging areas to speed construction.

Another highlight was seeing a small 7mm scale (British O – 1:43.5) layout based on the narrow gauge railways of India. The exhibitor – Lloyd Pierce – had a Darjeeling Himalayan Railways steam engine built from an EDM Kit, plus a wonderful collection of scratch-built diesel locomotives, passenger carriages, freight wagons, and other goodies – even a rail bus.

Darj layout - Toronto Train Show 2019

Darj layout - Toronto Train Show 2019

This layout was quite small, but obviously very satisfying for the owner – and is an excellent layout for showing off his exquisite models of a prototype that really stands out from the crowd at a Canadian train show. Lloyd and I talked about the challenges of modelling a prototype that’s so far away, about how he gets his information and about the state of railway preservation in India. I learned a lot in a very short time.

Both layouts on display are still works in progress, but more progress is evident each time I see them. I can’t wait to see what’s new next time!