Investing in others: Roweham

Roweham exhibition at 2018 GBTS

Over last weekend in April, I once again joined my friends to help Brian Dickey exhibit “Roweham” – his 7mm (British O scale) Great Western Railway layout. This time, we were at The Great British Train Show – a two-day event held in the spring of even-numbered years in the Greater Toronto Area.

I really like the GBTS because there’s a large contingent of hobbyists in southern Ontario who model British prototypes, but we don’t often see their work at general interest train shows in our area. (Maybe it’s there, but it’s overwhelmed by the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific layouts that dominate the train show circuit hereabouts.)

I’ve written about Roweham many times on this blog, as it’s an ideal example of an achievable layout. (If you haven’t read those posts, follow this link to see them all.) So I won’t provide a detailed show report, except to say things ran well (as they always do) and we received many favourable comments.

Instead, I’ll describe how Roweham has become an example of how one can engage with and contribute to the hobby – even when one does not have the space or time to build a layout of one’s own.

Roweham is Brian’s vision, and he’s done all of the work on the layout. For exhibitions, however, it’s nice to have several people to share the work, keep an eye on things, give everyone time to take in the rest of the show, fetch hot beverages, set up and pack up, and so on. (It’s a measure of how well liked Brian is that his modest layout – roughly 16″ deep by 16 feet long – attracts a huge group of helpers – including John Mellow, Ross Oddi, Pierre Oliver, and myself. That’s more than one operator per turnout!)

We could simply show up. But that’s not how we roll.

It started with vests. Sorry – waistcoats. They’re not vests. I hate vests – those patch-covered horrors one sees at many train shows. A waistcoat, on the other hand, is classic. They’re worn for weddings, for goodness sake.

A few shows ago, Brian appeared in white shirt, black pants and black waistcoat, complete with six brass buttons embossed with “GWR” and a break-away safety tie. He bought his waistcoat/tie at Heritage Operations Processing System – a UK company that supplies gear to the many preserved lines in the country. Since then, others on the team have followed suit:

John-Brian-Trevor in waistcoats
(John, Brian and me at an exhibition in February)

Brian-Ross waistcoats
(Brian and Ross at the 2018 GBTS)

We were definitely dapper fellows. And waistcoats – a modest investment – really kick the presentation up a notch. I think Brian is also flattered that we’ve made this kind of commitment. While all of us have our own home layouts, someone without a layout of their own could make a small gesture such as this as a way to express appreciation to the owner of a layout who regularly lets you play with his trains.

There are other ways to contribute, too. I’m enjoying Brian’s layout so much – and have an interest in British prototypes – so when Brian hinted that others would be welcome to run their own equipment on the layout during shows, I took the bait and bought a locomotive:

GWR 528

This is a Lee Marsh Model Company brass model of the GWR 517-class 0-4-2T. With its open cab and brass dome, it’s out of era for Roweham – but Brian’s cool with that and I just could not resist the antique design and colourful green-red-black paint scheme.

The model came ready to run, with a LokSound DCC decoder. My only updates were to lightly weather it and add a crew to the cab:

GWR 528

GWR 528

I have a set of Slaters GWR 4-wheel coaches to build and finish for this locomotive to pull. Perhaps I’ll get them done in time for the next GBTS…

As an aside, the crew was an interesting modelling exercise. The crew is from Modelu in the UK, which scans real people in vintage clothing and appropriate poses, then uses 3D Printing to create the figures:

Modelu Crew

I gave them a good scrub with rubbing alcohol on a tooth brush, followed by soap, then primed them and painted them using techniques I’ve been practising for wargaming figures. I’m enjoying exploring the use of washes and shading products that aren’t normally associated with railway modelling and will do more of this on future projects.

Granted, buying a brass locomotive was an expensive way to show my appreciation for Brian’s work. But there are cheaper ways – including building a locomotive from a kit, buying a non-brass model, or building some rolling stock. And it’s not on loan: I’ll display the model on a shelf at home when we’re not exhibiting Roweham. Brian has plenty of his own locomotives to enjoy.

Regardless, contributing a locomotive – or a complete train – to someone else’s layout is an easy way to get out of the armchair and more actively engage with the hobby. That said, such a contribution may actually give you the push you need to start building your own layout – the one for which you don’t think you have the time or space. Although I’m not about to embark on a 7mm layout based on “God’s Wonderful Railway”, I am really happy that I have this chance to explore a different modelling subject and I look forward to working on the coaches for my 517-class to pull.

Thanks for being an indulgent host, Brian!

GWR 528

Serving the Golden Empire – one black line at a time

Last Wednesday, I visited my friend Pierre Oliver to spend the day drawing lines on homasote – something that’s become one of my favourite aspects of the hobby.

Pierre Oliver - Clovis - Lines on Homasote
Clovis, California takes shape in the space formerly occupied by Aylmer, Ontario

As I recently reported, Pierre has made the decision to switch focus – abandoning his vision of Time Table and Train Order-controlled Wabash fast freights across southern Ontario for the relaxed pace of a local freight working a Southern Pacific branch in southern California.

For most of us, abandoning a layout is not an easy decision. We are understandably reluctant to tear out what has taken us so long to build. But sometimes, it’s necessary. In this hobby, if you’re not happy with what you’re doing, don’t keep doing it. You may feel that you’re losing your investment in the layout. You’re not. Because the real investment isn’t in the layout – it’s in you. It’s in the skills you’ve acquired and the knowledge you’ve gained. This includes the knowledge of what does not work for you.

Pierre understands this, so he’s not one to agonize over the time and money he’s invested in the Wabash. Instead, he thought about the pros and cons of the transition from the perspective of what he enjoys in the hobby and how a new layout would either enhance that, or diminish it.

Kettle Creek Bridge - gone!
The big bridge at the west end of the St. Thomas yard has already found a new home. So have the 10 pairs of Wabash F7As that formed the backbone of the old layout’s fleet.

Once Pierre decided that the SP Clovis Branch was, indeed, the way to go, he figured out how he could unload the equipment he would no longer need and acquire the locomotives, rolling stock, and structures that would make the new layout possible.

With a new concept and a plan for the acquisition and disposal of stuff in place, Pierre and I discussed how to transform the existing Wabash layout into the new Southern Pacific project. He decided, and I agreed, that it made the most sense to reuse the existing benchwork as much as possible – especially the long peninsula that currently hosts the yard at St. Thomas.

I scanned a copy of the layout plan from Pierre’s Wabash layout article in Model Railroad Planning 2018. I then erased the Wabash in Photoshop – leaving just the outline of the peninsula, and the room itself. This gave me a nice, scale drawing upon which I could lay in the Clovis Branch. To start, I simply scanned the track diagrams from the Joe Dale Morris book, Serving the Golden Empire – Branch Line Style, and dropped them onto the room drawing. Some quick work with a fine tipped marker connected the scenes:

Pierre Oliver - Clovis branch - early concept
A very quick sketch to determine what would fit. The modest track arrangements at each scene make it easy to work from the prototype, with little compromise. We did make some adjustments, as detailed below.

Pierre liked the idea – a lot – so we fleshed out the details and I did a complete redraw of the plan to create something closer to scale that would actually guide Pierre during construction:

Pierre Oliver - Clovis Branch - Concept
An overall concept for the SP Clovis Branch in Pierre’s layout space. The space is generous for the prototype – much more so than it was for the Wabash – which will make the resulting layout feel very railroady. (Right-click on the image to open it in a separate window, to enjoy a larger view.)

Even with such a modest prototype, there are some deviations from reality:

– Fresno is completely made up. It’s a staging yard, so that’s fine. But since it’s also visible, I thought it would be nice to have some railroady things in it, like an engine house and an SP yard tower. The yard tower and adjacent overhead road bridge help hide the end of staging. Meantime, the engine house (the Port Costa two-stall structure: a kit from BTSRR) will be a lovely spot to store Pierre’s much smaller fleet of motive power.

SP 2-6-0s
Two of three 2-6-0s Pierre acquired for the new layout. Pierre equipped them with LokSound decoders and paired sugar cube speakers. He reports these Iron Horse Models brass imports are smooth runners, sound great, and easily handle 25 cars on the flat.

– I flipped Tarpey so the winery is on the far side of the tracks, against the backdrop. This just made more sense for the space: the stub tracks can head towards the corner, and it will be easier to switch this important customer if the winery is not in the way of the operator.

Wine tank car.
Pierre has been collecting brass models of multi-dome tank cars for winery service – something he didn’t need for the Wabash layout. Now, if only someone would offer them in plastic!

– The biggest change is the addition of an ice deck to Clovis. Pierre and I discussed this and agreed that while it’s a major departure from the prototype, the additional play value of icing refrigerator cars for all of the packing houses on the branch was just too good to pass up.

Ice Deck at Clovis
Extra moves for on-layout cars justified this design decision

Icing refrigerator cars is an operation that is unique to railroads serving produce packing areas, and helps define the character of the prototype. This is especially important for those of us who live on the other side of the continent, and need all the help we can get in capturing the character of southern California railroading. (In a further adjustment, Pierre decided the ice deck should go against the wall, and that the packing houses I had replaced with the deck should remain in place. So we added another double-ended siding in this space.)

– The quarry at Rockfield was an important customer for the SP, providing a lot of ballast to the railroad. We didn’t have room to model it, but a couple of spurs in the furnace room will allow Pierre to at least model the stone traffic on the branch.

– We could not fit every track in Pinedale on the layout, but captured the flavour of it, at least.

With a plan in place, construction could begin.

Rather than tear out all of the Wabash at once, I suggested that Pierre start with Clovis. This long wall previously held Aylmer, Ontario – the farthest he’d built the Wabash as he worked his way around the room. By starting here, Pierre could get a switching layout up and running relatively quickly. He could then work his way up the branch to Friant to add some play value. Friant can become a temporary staging area, with trains working to Clovis and back. Meantime, Pierre could scrape off the peninsula and start working his way down the branch towards Fresno. The last piece to build would be Pinedale, which will just be in the way during the rest of the construction.

All of which brings me back to last week’s trip. Pierre had scraped off the rails and ties at Aylmer, spackled and sanded the homasote roadbed, and given everything a coat of medium brown paint. It was time to lay out centre lines for the track in Clovis.

Ice Deck at Clovis.
The ice deck at the left end of the Clovis scene.

It was important to determine the icing facility’s footprint before drawing in the track. Pierre went one better and actually built the model – consisting of three Tichy icing platforms and a Walthers ice plant. The deck is 54″ long and can serve 10 cars at a time. As noted above, it doesn’t belong in Clovis, but will add too much to leave out. Rather than displace some packing houses, we added a track to Clovis for icing.

In the above photo, the main is the track next to the icing track. It’s placed on the standard 2″ centres for HO scale. To achieve the more open look of California, however, the siding for the packing houses (to the left of the main) is offset from the main by 3″. The sheets of paper and kit boxes represent packing houses.

Clovis - planning - centre.
A cluster of turnouts near the heart of Clovis. The hairspray bottle is standing in for a town water tank.

To help with laying out the plan full-size, we employed Number 6 turnout tie strips from Fast Tracks. This made sure that we didn’t fudge the drawing and create turnout clusters too tight to build. The paper template is for a Number 4 turnout: I didn’t really want to use one that tight, but the prototype included a spur that branched sharply away from the main at this point and it was the only way to fit in this spur.

We had the plan pencilled in, agreed upon, and inked with black marker in just a few hours. All in all, a most productive day. Pierre is already gluing down ties so we should be serving the Golden Empire – at least in Clovis – in no time!

(You can visit Pierre’s blog to follow along on his new layout building adventure!)

From Wabash conveyor belt to SP peddler freights

This is a story about changing track – in pursuit of an Achievable Layout:

I’ve written on this blog before about the Southern Pacific Clovis branch from Fresno to Friant. I thought at one time that I’d build a layout inspired by this branch in Proto:48 – it’s one of my favourite lines. But it just didn’t fit my layout space – and then I discovered S scale, and the CNR line to Port Rowan.

But a friend was unhappy with his layout, and a recent trip to the La Mesa Model Railroad Club in San Diego convinced him of two things:

1 – He didn’t have enough space or regular crew to model Time Table and Train Order operations effectively.

2 – He really liked California railroading.

And then I told him that in addition to my collection of Proto:48 Southern Pacific steam I had three SP moguls, in HO scale – plus kits for cabooses, a station and an engine house.

Well, I don’t have those anymore – and Pierre Oliver has a new project.

“Well, my work here is done…”
– The Model Railroad Enabler

(I’ve turned off commenting on this post. I encourage you to join the conversation on Pierre’s blog!)

Roweham 2018

GWR Logo on Roweham

Once again this year, my friend Brian Dickey exhibited his 7mm (British O scale / 1:43) layout “Roweham” at a train show hosted by the Burlington (Ontario) Model Railway Club. And it’s a measure of the man that for a four-turnout layout, he had four friends come out to help.

John, Brian, Me ready for the punters
(John, Brian and me looking splendid in our white shirts and waistcoats. I normally don’t wear train-boy apparel – but I make an exception for the always stylish Brian. Note the clip-on ‘safety ties’: John has obviously lost his in an incident but he seems okay with that…)

John Mellow, Pierre Oliver, Ross Oddi and I spent a most enjoyable day running several month’s worth of passenger and goods traffic to this branch line terminal. As always, the three-link couplings were a special treat that slowed operations and forced us to think about what we were doing in ways that semi-automatic couplers such as Kadees do not. Brian is constantly adding details and equipment to the layout, and it was nice to see his progress over the past year, too.

Here’s a sampling of photos from the day…

Brian - auto train
(Brian has an auto train in hand)

John and Pierre at Roweham
(John shunts cattle wagons while Pierre looks on)

Me working Roweham
(I’m working a goods train at Roweham, while Brian prepares the next train up line)

Auto train

Auto train

Auto train
(Three views of the passenger train – a 14xx 0-4-2T sandwiched between two auto trailers. This is the first time we’ve run the passenger train in this configuration)

2-6-2T and goods train
(A 2-6-2 tank engine arrives with a short goods train)

Cattle wagon
(A cattle wagon heads up a string of goods stock)

GWR Toad
(A GWR Toad – brake van)

Crane
(The crane in the goods yard, as seen from the rear. This shot was taken after we removed the backdrop while packing up)

Fire buckets
(The fire buckets are a recent addition to the platform. This shot was taken as we were striking the layout at the end of the day – looking through the space normally occupied by the station)

It was great to see so many friends at the show, too. Some had made a trek that would’ve been more than an hour in nice weather – and I hate to think how long in the snow that fell all day. Thanks for coming out, guys – very much appreciated! I was thinking of you as I cleared snow off my truck for the trip home…

FJ Cruiser in the snow

Brian’s next show is Copetown, in just a couple of weeks. I can’t make that one, but I will join the team again in April for the Great British Train Show in Brampton. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Scott Thornton’s Milan Branch

This is rapidly turning into one of my favourite examples of an Achievable Layout. Scott Thornton is modelling the 12-mile Milan Branch of the Iowa Interstate in HO scale. It’s a modern branch, with a nice variety of customers, and Scott is taking a thoughtful approach to bringing it to life.

Click on the image, below, to visit his website. You’ll find a menu dropdown in the upper right of Scott’s site, where you can access his blog…

Scott Thornton's Milan Branch

Enjoy if you visit!

Wayne Slaughter’s Dominion and New England Railway

It appears to be the season for Achievable Layouts in Proto:48.

I recently attended a local model railway show at which a couple of friends displayed their work-in-progress Proto:48 exhibition layout… and now I learn via Gene Deimling‘s Proto:48 blog of the Dominion and New England Railway. Wayne Slaughter is building what he calls an Achievable Layout in Proto:48.

Click on the image, below, to visit Wayne’s blog:

Dominion and New England

Those working in finescale O have, perhaps, an advantage when it comes to layout design. The desire to model everything accurately – right down to the nuts, bolts, washers, spikes and so on – naturally skews one’s ambitions towards more modest, achievable, layout designs. Wayne’s work is a perfect example. When you visit his blog, you’ll find a carefully conceived layout plan that offers an opportunity for realistic operation and some interesting scenes. You’ll also find many in-progress photos, showing that he’s quickly moving from an idea to a layout.

Thanks, Gene, for bringing this one to my attention – and thanks, Wayne, for sharing your work online: I look forward to following your progress!

David and Mark build a Proto:48 exhibition layout

My friend Pierre Oliver got in touch the other day, and said, “Are you going to the Brampton Model Railway Show on Sunday? Dave and Mark are exhibiting their Proto:48 layout for the first time…”

Well, I hadn’t planned on attending – I’d just been away for a long weekend, doing train things in California – but I wasn’t going to miss this!

Proto48 layout - overview
(An overview of the Proto:48 layout – still very much under construction – at the show)

I met David Higgott and Mark Hill when the three of us – and several others, including Pierre – were part of a group that modelled the Canada Southern Railway as an HO scale exhibition layout using the double-track Free-mo standard. David and Mark had each tackled a portion of Waterford, Ontario – Mark had built the yard, while David did the unique-to-the-CASO-in-Canada track pans for refilling locomotive tenders at speed. I knew they were talking about Proto:48, but I didn’t know they were ready to exhibit. This I had to see.

Mark and David have built a whopping 40 feet of Proto:48 exhibition layout. This is still very much a work in progress – the track has not yet been ballasted, many of the structures are simply mock-ups of printed paper on foam core, the trees need shaping, and so on. But it’s already very impressive!

Handlaid track.
(The track is hand laid, with tie plates and spikes on each tie.)

Proto48 - mocked up industry
(A mocked-up placeholder for a future customer of the railway. Looking at this photo, it’s hard to appreciate that the boxcar is O scale. That building is huge – as it should be!)

Another view of the big building.
(Another view of the big industry at the left end of the layout)

I particularly enjoy the amount of open space they’ve planned into the layout. They decided to put the main track to one edge instead of up the middle (which is more common on today’s Free-mo style modular layouts) to maximize the space for large structures. But then, rather than fill all of that space, they intend to leave much of it as open field, with trees and grass. It’s going to be very realistic, and give the eye places to rest between the vignettes of activity.

Proto48 - open spaces
(An open space to rest the eye. Those are Scale Trees – no longer made – which Dave and Mark found at a local hobby shop at fire sale prices. They’ll get worked on to be made more realistic.)

Another industry.
(Another railroad customer, at the right end of the exhibit. This is also a mock-up.)

I’m very glad I made the trek to the show. This was a highlight for me. While I’m not ready to build 20 feet of module – I’m already overcommitted to the exhibition circuit with my 20+ feet of modules for the S Scale Workshop – I do have some Proto:48 equipment, including steam engines, that may get an opportunity to turn a wheel at a future show. Meantime, David and Mark have plans to expand their layout – including the addition of staging. And maybe they’ll find some more people to join their effort: I saw at least one other person from our CASO days who spent a lot of time running trains with them…

Thanks for exhibiting, David and Mark – it was great to see you both, and you’re onto something big here! I look forward to seeing your progress at future shows…

Train time.
(Train time – Proto:48 style. An RDC makes for a manageable passenger train in O.)

More progress in Scarborough

 photo ReganLayout-InStreetTurnouts-01_zpsezprlo7t.jpg
(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:

 photo CP-SID-Plan-01-Labelled_zpsv3dwuq0e.jpeg

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.

 photo InStreetTurnouts-Finished_zpslwh5oarr.jpg
(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:

 photo ReganLayout-InStreetTurnouts-02_zpsuhqzphjw.jpg
(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.

 photo ReganLayout-InStreetTurnouts-03_zpsto2ebpv9.jpg
(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!)

 photo Presentation-McCooks-02_zpsscssinzb.jpg

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.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-03_zpsp6oz4eao.jpg

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.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-01_zpskf2tpsau.jpg

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.

 photo Presentation-McCooks-04_zpsdtvlmqmi.jpg

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