More progress in Scarborough

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(Me and Mark hard at work. Not our best sides!)

On Sunday, Mark Zagrodney and I enjoyed a day-long work session on the CP Rail Scarborough Industrial Track that Regan Johnson is building around the walls of his home office.

I’ve written previously about Regan’s layout, but the recap is that he’s building an HO scale layout that I designed for him a couple of years ago. You can read more about it by clicking on the layout plan, below:

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As I noted in the linked post, I built two in-street turnouts – serving the spurs along the left side of the plan. These are not, strictly speaking, prototypical for the spur line that’s inspired Regan. But I thought the street-running and in-street switching would add significant visual and operational interest, and Regan agreed.

Since they were my idea, I felt it unsportsmanlike to force Regan to tackle the in-street turnouts. Plus, I was curious whether I could build them. So I did – well over a year ago.

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(Click on the image to read about the turnouts)

My goal at Sunday’s work session was to finally install these two turnouts and hook them up to mechanical switch machines. Regan, Mark and I worked together on this and by the end of the day, we had two turnouts ready for the paving crews:

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(The results of a few pleasant hours of spiking and soldering. The black lines denote the edges of the road)

Regan has been very patient, waiting for this work session to take place. But he hasn’t been idle. Almost all of the rest of the track has been installed. In fact, we managed to lay the main through the street in both directions, and link it up to the team track area at the bottom of the plan. There’s only about three feet of track to spike in the upper left corner, and the mainline will be finished.

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(The roadway is 4.5″ wide – or approximately 33 feet in HO scale. That’s enough for a lane of traffic on either side of the track. A couple of truck trailers and a covered hopper demonstrate the clearances and hint at the visual for this area of the layout.)

I’m looking forward to operating sessions on this layout. The street section will be particularly fun, with the switch crew having to tread carefully down the middle of the street, bell ringing and crew ever-watchful for cars and trucks driving too closely to the centreline…

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!

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!

Switching Putnam

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(Putnam: A layout-within-a-layout)

On Saturday night, some friends and I ran trains on the excellent CP Rail layout built by Bob Fallowfield. I’ve written previously about the layout on this blog, but I want to focus on one town in particular – Putnam, Ontario.

As part of the session, Ryan Mendell and I worked a turn out of Woodstock to St. Thomas. Putnam was part of our assignment, and Bob warned us it would take about 90 minutes.

Really? That’s hard to believe, given how simple the town’s track arrangement is. Here’s a schematic, drawn from memory, of what’s there on Bob’s layout:

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(Click on the image to view a larger version)

What the schematic does not show, however, is how much time is required to block and move cars per prototype practice. Putnam offered several challenges. First, that long track for the mill complex has three distinct spots, so it’s not what Bob refers to as a “blow and go” industry: You can’t just shove a cut of cars in and be done with it.

In our train, we had cars for certain spots, and other cars to be held at Putnam until the mill needed them.

When we arrived at Putnam, we also had a number of cars sitting on the run-around. Some of these needed to be spotted, while others were to be held.

Furthermore, we had lifts to make – but while we would lift these on the outbound trip, since Putnam’s spurs are trailing points when headed to St. Thomas, we would leave the lifts at the east end of the run-around (at right in the photo below) to collect on the return trip to Woodstock.

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(Cars to spot, cars to lift – and cars to leave alone)

Further complicating matters – but in a realistic fashion – is the other customer in Putnam: A propane dealer.

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(The west end of Putnam. The spur at right leads to the propane dealer)

Propane cars are dangerous – whether empty or full – and needed to be handled in specific spots in the train. Rules include not spotting the cars next to either locomotives or the van (whenever possible), and not marshalling next to open-topped loads that might puncture the tank car should a derailment occur.

Ryan and I spent at least 90 minutes switching Putnam – and it never felt like “playing trains”. The work was realistic, and therefore real to us. It was satisfying to accomplish this safety, and efficiently.

As we worked Putnam, it occurred to me that this simple place – just four turnouts – could be the basis for an entire layout. A train staged on a single track at right on my diagram (above) would enter the scene from Woodstock. The crew would spend 60-90 minutes sorting out the mill and switching the propane dealer, then prep its outbound cars to be collected on the return trip.

The train could then head west (left) to St. Thomas – in reality, another single track staging area. There, it would be switched with the 0-5-0. Cars for St. Thomas would be removed, while cars returning to Woodstock would be re-ordered behind the locomotive.

The train could then reappear in Putnam from the west (left) and do its eastbound lift – just to complete the sequence. As Ryan and I found on our return trip, we had to do some re-ordering of our lift in order to protect an empty propane tank car from some open loads we’d collected in St. Thomas.

Such a single-industry layout would be particularly impressive in a larger scale, like O, where one could experience the presence of a cut of grain hoppers rolling into place next to a truly massive structure. Bob’s HO scale rendition of the elevator was already imposing, as the photos show.

Thanks for the ops session, Bob! I had a great time, and it gave me an interesting insight into the potential of single-industry layouts. With all cars looking essentially the same on the outside, it just hadn’t occurred to me how much switching could be involved at such a mill. But of course, it’s what’s inside the cars that counts…

Roweham by Brian Dickey

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Yesterday, my friend Brian Dickey displayed his British 7mm scale exhibition layout, Roweham, at an area train show – and he asked Pierre Oliver and me if we would like to help him out.

We both jumped at the chance – and we’re really glad we did.

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(Brian (L) discusses his layout with a show visitor while the Auto Train arrives at Roweham)

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(Pierre uncouples a wagon carrying materials to build a cattle pen at the far end of Roweham. Almost the entire layout is visible in this view. Like many classic British exhibition layouts, Roweham is designed to be operated from the back. The sturdy backdrop provides solid support when coupling, and protects the structures and scenery from errant elbows)

This was my first opportunity to operate on a 7mm British layout, although I have seen many in print and a few at shows. Brian has done a spectacular job, as I hope the point-and-shoot photos I’m sharing here convey. And he’s done all of this in just two years.

As the description below notes, the layout is 16 feet long by 19 inches deep. It’s built in four-foot sections. Brian designed the layout so that everything required for exhibition fits into his Prius v:

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The first – rightmost – section contains has a three-track sector plate / fiddle yard. This is hidden from view by a nicely finished panel:

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(Brian at work behind Roweham. Note the level of finish on all aspects of this in-progress layout. The layout sections stand on short legs that fold into each section for transport and storage. These in turn stand on a set of venue-supplied “banquet tables” to bring the layout up to a reasonable viewing and operating height)

The remaining three sections create a small branchline terminal on God’s Wonderful Railway (otherwise known as the Great Western Railway). There are only four switches, plus a cosmetic derail. The entire layout, left to right, can be seen in the following views:

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(End of the line and site of the future stock pen. A railway water tank will be added to the right of the stock pen in this view)

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(The Roweham depot with high-level platform. The not yet built railway water tank will be at the lower left in this view)

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(The main is in the foreground, with the turnout leading to the run-around loop at the front of the layout. A spur – we’d call it a “team track” in North America – comes off the main at left and serves multiple customers, providing several car spots and plenty of juggling of wagons into proper spot order. A loading gauge to the left of the goods shed acts like a height-checker on underground parking garages: It ensures that wagons loaded by the crane can still fit through tunnels and bridges on the line)

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(The mainline disappears under a stone road bridge, as it so often does. In the back, a wagon is spotted at the coal dealer at the end of the team track)

Brian was inspired by two sources – an article on a layout with a similar design, in 00 scale, and a book on the Abbotsbury Branch of the GWR:

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Despite its simplicity, Roweham kept Pierre and I entertained for several hours, and as a bonus I came away with several thoughts about layout design. In no particular order, they are:

Three-link chain couplings are fun in 7mm:
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I’d never used them, but they were surprisingly easy to master. Brian has made up coupling/uncoupling tools similar to my Galvanick Lucipher, with a fine brass hook instead of a magnet at the business end of the tool.

Further thoughts:

– There are never any false couplings – e.g.: uncoupling then moving the train in the wrong direction and recoupling.

– There are never any false couplings – e.g.: thinking you’ve mated couplers, but when you pull away, the couplers separate. This isn’t usually a problem with Kadees but it’s definitely an issue with Sergents.

– Delayed uncoupling to shove a wagon into a spot is a snap. It’s the default condition.

– All places where one must couple or uncouple must be easy to see and to reach. Carefully consider structure and tree placement and how they would affect this. Brian’s layout is at an ideal height for working with three-link chains, while the 19″ depth meant we were always able to look down on the job – not try to do it from the side.

– You can neither couple nor uncouple while laughing. So cut that out.

The locomotives are beautiful. We operated with a GWR pannier tank engine from Lionheart Trains on the goods train, and a lovely 0-4-2T from Masterpiece Models, hauling a Loinheart Autotrailer. Both locomotives were factory-fitted with DCC and sound. The 0-4-2T’s decoder even provided appropriate Autotrailer sounds, including guard’s whistle, carriage doors slamming shut, and the warning gong.

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The control over the locomotives was astonishing. Never mind the lack of need to thump the table: When Pierre and I were shunting wagons, we could ask the engine driver to give us slack in the chain – and the engine driver could back up so slowly and precisely that one could provide slack without hitting the buffers on the wagon. Basically, one could creep back half a link at a time.

7mm British modelling is an ideal size for an exhibition layout. The models are big enough that they have real presence at a show. At the same time, they’re small enough that a nice exhibition layout can be built without requiring a gymnasium to set it up. With the exception of the Autotrailer, which was quite long, all the equipment on the layout compared in length to what one would find on an HO layout that ran 50-foot freight cars.

Presentation is important. While those in the UK may be used to layouts that exhibit some thoughtful and professional presentation, I find this is rare in North America. Brian has done a wonderful job of finishing the layout. The benchwork is nicely painted. There’s a drape to hide the legs (and the DCC system, and a camera or two, and lunch, and…) – plus another drape to hide the venue’s banquet tables. There are some nice signs to tell punters what they’re looking at, and so on.

Operating from the rear of the layout was a new experience. I know there’s a debate in UK circles about operating from the back vs the front. The argument goes something like this:

– Back: Exhibition layouts are like a theatre stage, with the trains as the actors. The people who bring the theatre to life – the director, the stage manager, etc. – are backstage, in the wings, so they don’t take away from the performance.

– Front: Exhibition layouts are like a TV talk show shot in front of a live audience. The trains are the guests, the layout is the stage – and the presenter is out front, where she/he can engage with the audience.

– Back: I don’t agree with you.

– Front: I don’t agree with you.

– Back and Front: Let’s grab a pint.

That said, I enjoyed working from behind the scenes – although I also made a point of talking over the backdrop with the punters. The narrowness of this layout – just 19 inches – definitely helped in that regard.

From a practical perspective, the sturdy backdrop was important, given that we had to reach into the layout frequently to couple and uncouple. It protected structures and trees from our elbows and gave us a place to steady our arms so we could hook a link.

I need to learn more about British railways, particularly operating practices that one can adapt to a model. For example:

– What sort of paperwork is used to move wagons? Did the GWR have waybills, and what did they look like?

– When and how was the locomotive whistle used? (UK locomotives, in general, do not have bells.) If I recall, a “long-short” is used when emerging from tunnels, under bridges, or other sight-limited situations. But the 0-4-2T had two whistles – a high-pitched one (with long and short function buttons) plus a lower pitched “warning whistle” (with long and short function buttons). When would I use each of these?

– When was the Autotrailer’s “Warning Gong” used?

– What language was used between engine driver and the guy on the ground (what we’d call a brakeman here) to communicate shunting moves? Is he a brakeman in the UK?

I’d love to find out more about GWR operating practices to help bring Brian’s layout to life at shows.

I would love to see more quality layouts like this at exhibitions, as opposed to layouts that emphasize quantity. A huge, poorly-conceived and poorly-executed layout leaves me cold, but smaller, well-done layouts like this are a delight – regardless of theme, scale, or prototype.

Thanks, Brian and Pierre, for a terrific day out in GWR country: I look forward to future opportunities to run trains to Roweham!

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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:

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(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)

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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:

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(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.

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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.

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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!