Port Rowan, St. Williams and elsewhere, Oct 2016

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(Outstanding in their field: Jack, Roy and Mocean take in the site of the former yard in Port Rowan – now a park)

Yesterday, my wife and I were in the mood to get out of the city, so we packed up the dogs and headed to the Port Rowan area to see trees and water, and take in fresh air. It was a fine autumn day for a drive!

While at Port Rowan, I took a few photos to show how the yard area has changed over the decades. There’s not much left that I can recognize from the photos of the yard taken in the 1950s. I realized, however, that I’d never taken a picture of the “garage with loft” that sat across the tracks (and the field) from the station. So here it is:

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In this next photos, I’m looking east – up the mainline towards St. Williams. The corn is growing where the apple orchards used to frame the railway’s entrance to the yard. The red sumach bushes behind the dogs are growing on the old right of way.

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On my layout, I’ve moved the Lynn Valley from the Port Dover leg of the Simcoe Sub to just outside Port Rowan. As I’ve explained previously on this blog, I did this for several reasons: I wanted to disguise the curvy bits of layout between Port Rowan and St. Williams, and I wanted the opportunity to model a couple of river crossings and the water tank from that portion of the subdivision.

While shooting pictures yesterday, I noticed that the trees in the distance, to the right of the break between the orchards, make this scene look a bit like the one I’ve modelled. My Lynn Valley, with its tall trees, is also to the right of the RoW when viewed from this vantage point:

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Speaking of trees, the next photo shows the row of trees behind the former location of the raised coal delivery track. I’ll have a row like this running along the backdrop in Port Rowan, and have already started twisting the armatures for them:

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On the way down, we stopped at Caledonia – where I took some additional photos of the station to fill in my blog posting from last week:

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(Click on the image to revisit that post, now enhanced with more images)

We also drove through St. Williams. There’s nothing left of the railway in this community, although I did find the approximate location of the station. Here’s a photo from Google Streetview: I believe the RoW is now the parallel to the trees:

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Curiously, the property on the other side of that row of trees has a crossbuck on the front lawn: You can just make it out against the peaked wall of the white building:

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Finally, after visiting Port Rowan, we took the Watefront Trail east to Port Dover. We ran the dogs on the park just north of the building in which Fast Tracks is located:

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Fast Tracks is on the second floor of the grey building. The green garage in the distance at right is the company’s previous location.

All in all, a fine day out!

A cold car for St. Williams

It’s been a while since I shot a video on my layout, but after last weekend’s trip to Caledonia and Lowbanks I felt inspired so I grabbed video camera, lights, and tripods and headed to the basement.

In this video, a CNR freight extra pauses at the St. Williams train station, then spots a pre-iced CNR eight-hatch refrigerator car on the team track so the local co-op can load it with produce. With the work accomplished, the train continues on its journey to Port Rowan:

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

I wanted to play around with cut-aways and other editing tricks, rather than shoot a static “set up the camera here and watch the train roll by” presentation. It’s been a quarter century since I’ve had to do any of this, so the edits are sloppy – rusty skills have made my timing atrocious

The exercise made me appreciate even more the skills of professional videographers and editors like my friend Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV.

The thing about what Barry does is that people will watch his videos and think they’re great – but not necessarily know why they think they’re great. The devil is in the details: the timing of the switches from shot to shot, the care in framing the scene in the lens, the fine adjustments to lighting and sound. Compared to his work, this is pretty crude – but still more visually interesting than the single-camera POV.

This approach to video does take more time – I shot 49 segments, and used almost all of them to edit together into this eight-minute story – but I think the result is worth the extra effort.

And the “story” is the real challenge: I’m re-learning how to use visuals to tell a richer story – not just about the trains, but the environment in which they operate, too. I’ve tried to do that here. You can be the judge…

To Caledonia, Lowbanks and beyond with Chris

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Yesterday was one of those beautiful autumn days that make Ontario great. It was also the day of the annual S Scale Can-Am Social – a gathering of 1:64 enthusiasts at a community centre in Lowbanks, in the Niagara Region. So my friend Chris Abbott and I made a day of it.

A massive marathon in downtown Toronto on Sunday morning meant I had to get out of the core early, because several main streets in my neighbourhood would be shut for a few hours. So Chris and I got in touch with a friend who is not in the hobby and met up with him for breakfast in Dundas, Ontario. From there, we decided to take the scenic route to Lowbanks.

A run down Highway 6 took us into Caledonia, where Chris and I stopped to check out the preserved train station:

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Caledonia was the first major stop south of Hamilton for the mixed train that serves St. Williams and Port Rowan. It was also an interesting junction between two CNR subdivisions, and an important source of traffic in the form of a nearby gypsum plant.

Sometimes, I think about modelling something other than what I am currently doing (I’m sure many hobbyists do that, if only to confirm that what they’re modelling is, in fact, the right thing.) When my mind wanders from Port Rowan, Caledonia comes to mind as a strong possibility. But some exploratory doodles have failed to show how I could make it work in my layout space, so it’s an idea for the “Somday, Maybe” file.

From Caledonia, Chris and I worked our way through Cayuga and Dunnville to Lowbanks, arriving just before lunch. I enjoyed catching up with fellow enthusiasts and learning about their projects. The organizer, Jim Martin, encourages attendees to share mini-clinics – lasting no more than 15 minutes – on various aspects of S scale. This year, I contributed a clinic about re-painting and re-lettering S scale die-cast trucks into prototypes that would be seen in southern Ontario in the 1950s:

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(Click on the image to read more about the trucks in this photo)

Every year that I attend this gathering, two things happen:

First, regardless of the forecast, I’ve enjoyed a spectacular day on the north shore of Lake Erie. I’m always tempted to grab a chair from the community centre and sit outside.

Second, this event has become a bit of an S scale-specific flea market and I always think, “This year, I’m not going to find anything that I want”. After all, I have a pretty tight modelling focus. And yet, every year, I’m surprised to find something to buy. This year was no exception, as I picked up a cool little water column:

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This is a River Raisin Models import from October 1991. The prototype is a Poage Water Column, and this particular one features the Fenner telescopic spout.

No, I don’t need one for my layout. But it’s cool. And hey – Caledonia had a water column…

Great to see everybody, including some new faces at the event. And, Chris, it’s always fun: Thanks for a wonderful day out!

4:00 pm means 4:00 pm (or “Why are they packing up early?”)

As reported elsewhere on this blog, I had a great time at the 2016 Brampton Model Railway Show. I did have one issue with the show, however… or rather, with some of the exhibitors.

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(What are they doing over there?!?)

While I really, really enjoyed the show, I was disappointed to see a number of vendors and exhibitors packing up early on Sunday afternoon – even though there were still members of the paying public in the show.

What gives with that?

I don’t blame the show organizers for what happened – not one bit. This happens at every show I’ve been to and it’s hard to police. The organizers asked on Sunday morning – over the PA system, no less – that people NOT pack up early. Yet people did it anyway.

I know, from talking to some of the organizers at the end of the day, that they too were frustrated by the early shut-down. And in talking to others who organize shows, I get the same reaction: It’s frustrating, but organizers don’t know what would work to stop it. Everyone could use some ideas.

The Sunday afternoon visitors were not as numerous as the punters who showed up on Saturday morning. But they still made the effort. It was probably the only time they could attend the show on the weekend – and those who packed up early let them down.

Maybe they won’t bother coming back next year – and maybe they’ll tell their friends “Don’t bother”. The bad reviews will spread – particularly outside the hobby community. And then – at some point – hobbyists will be whining, “There are no good shows anymore”.

I get it – we’re all tired at the end of two days of standing on concrete floors, running trains or making sales. But when I signed up to appear at the show, I signed up for the full two days – not 1.75 days’ worth. Yet, some layouts started packing up around 2:30.

Not cool.

My friends and I in The S Scale Workshop ran right until the organizers announced at 4:00 pm that the show was closed. And we had visitors to our layout right until the closing.

One mother and son looked at a layout next to us and the mom said, “Oh, they’re not running trains anymore”. I called out “We are still running over here” and the two of them came over. The boy – three to four years old – looked at the 2-6-0 I was running and said, “Mogul”. His mom said, “He knows all the wheel arrangements.”

That kid was there to see trains. He could become a serious hobbyist, with time and encouragement. Those who packed up early let him down.

Our group still managed to pack up a large layout and get out of the hall by 6:00 pm. After two full days, I’m not sure how packing up at 2:30 instead of 4:00 makes a difference.

Since this happens at almost every show I’ve attended, the question is this:

What combination of carrot and stick should show organizers use to keep people exhibiting/selling until the show closes? Should early packers not be invited back? Should those who exhibit to the end get a gift card for coffee? What would work?

Frankly, unless you’re having a health emergency there’s just no excuse for shutting down early.

The 2016 Brampton Model Railway Show

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I had a great time attending the 2016 Brampton (Ontario) Model Railway Show this past weekend, as part of The S Scale Workshop exhibit. As noted on the Workshop’s blog, we displayed a large U-shaped point-to-point layout, with short train-length turntables at each end.

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This was our first appearance at the Brampton Model Railway Show and the organizers did a great job. Set-up was well-organized on Saturday morning, and it’s nice to be able to drive right into the building to unload – particularly this year, when a light rain fell for much of the weekend. The organizers also provided exhibitors with free coffee and donuts in the morning (because Canadians run on donuts) plus coupons worth $5 off at the barbecue (hotdogs, sausage on a bun, chips, pop, etc.) that they’d set up outside, which was a nice “thank you for coming” – and much appreciated!

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The S Scale Workshop’s Free-mo style modular layout ran well for the most part. We had a few alignment issues between modules on Saturday, but by the early afternoon we had basically solved those problems.

I contributed my two broad curve modules, which made their first appearance at in the Greater Toronto Area. Also a first, we split the curves and put another module in between them. That worked really well. It’s nice to know my curve modules give the group some additional flexibility.

In addition to the modules, I brought out a variety of motive power – including CNR 2-6-0 908, my Model 40 Burro Crane, my gas-electric, and CNR 2-10-2 4204. With no return loops, the 4204 was a monster on the layout: It was really out of place, given that we were limited to four-foot-long trains. The Mogul was a much better choice.

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This show was the first time I’d exhibited modules with fellow Workshop members John Johnson and Jim Martin. The fourth member to contribute modules to last weekend’s layout was Andy Malette. He has been at almost every show, including the two shows I’ve done in the Montreal area. I know Jim and Andy quite well, but haven’t had many opportunities to “play trains” with John – and I’m really glad we had the chance.

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On Sunday, I displayed one of the die cast trucks that I’ve repainted into “Husband Transport” – a typical 1950s freight carrier in southern Ontario:

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It was a treat to talk to someone from another exhibit who had a relative who was general manager at Husband Transport in Montreal. He was very pleased to discover that lettering is available. (My truck is actually lettered with HO scale decals produced by Black Cat Publishing.) And the truck gave a good giggle to a couple of women who thought it might have a reclining chair, big screen TV and beer fridge inside…

This has turned into the largest annual show in the area, and we’ll definitely be back (although we tend to not do every show every year, because we only do a few shows per year and want to spread around our appearances).

All-in-all, a grand weekend out! And it was great to meet a number of you at the show – thanks for stopping by!

“Instant on”

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While I now have a lot of storage capacity under my sector plate staging yard, I also like to keep a full complement of trains ready to run on the four-track sector plate itself. In addition to the locomotives and rolling stock, I try to have all the paperwork for these trains ready to go.

In discussing an unrelated issue with a friend offline, I realized one of the things I like about this arrangement is that the layout is ready to go with the press of a power button. The electronics world calls this “instant on” and it has several advantages – particularly for simple, one or two person layouts such as mine.

The biggest is the ability to run short, frequent sessions as time allows. Lance Mindheim has written about breaking down operations into small chunks, and then operating several times per week, whenever one has a bit of time. Here’s how this concept applies to Port Rowan:

On my layout there are two towns and a total of 12 “spots” for freight cars – but as I’ve noted recently, typically less than half the spots are used at any one time.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume six freight cars are scattered throughout the layout, and only three of those are ready to be lifted: One in St. Williams and two in Port Rowan. To run a train from staging to Port Rowan and back, with all work performed, would typically take 75-90 minutes – and I do that fairly regularly with friends.

But what if I don’t have an hour and a half? What if I have 15 minutes this morning, and 10 minutes this afternoon, and another 15 minutes tomorrow, and so on?

Breaking the operation down into smaller chunks is the answer:

Let’s assume I have 15 minutes available to me this morning, I could grab my paperwork and throttle, and run a train from staging to St. Williams. I could also complete the paperwork at the station – figuring out what cars to drop and which ones to lift, writing up my switch list, and so on. Then I could go do the “real world” things that need to be done.

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(A freight extra stops with the van in front of the St. Williams station, so the conductor can confer with the station agent on the work to be done in town)

Again, assuming I find myself with another 10 minutes this afternoon, I could return to the layout space and pick up where I left off. With the paperwork ready to go, I could switch the cars in St. Williams. I might get all of the switching done, or I might only get the lifts taken care of, with the set-outs still to do. When I run out of time, I can put down the throttle and paperwork, and go back to the real world.

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(There’s switching to be done in St. Williams – not much, but some…)

Tomorrow, I can use my 15 minutes to run from St. Williams to Port Rowan, stopping for water along the way and arriving at the station. I can prep my paperwork for switching Port Rowan. And then I can walk away, knowing the next time I have time I can start on the switching.

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(A freight extra arrives in Port Rowan. Before switching, it will continue ahead to the station so the crew can receive their orders)

It might take a week of short segments to run a “full operating session” in this manner, but it means the layout continues to entertain, and continues to be run – which seems to be the best way to keep any model railway in good shape.

However, there are several things to consider about running a layout in this fashion. These include:

The layout needs to be “instant on”. If one has to set up trains in staging, or even set in place a removable section of layout to allow for operating sessions, that can eat up a good chunk of the 10 minutes one has to run trains.

It works best for simple layouts – for example, this one, with one train on the line at a time. That said, on a more complex layout one could set up a branch line train to be used for these quick sessions, without disrupting the relationship of trains elsewhere on the layout.

One needs space to store paperwork and throttles, near the places where the train will pause between operating sessions. In my case, I have pull-out work desks at both St. Williams and Port Rowan that are perfect for storing ops aids between sessions.

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(The work desk at St. Williams. Click on the image to read more about these)

I think it’s a worthwhile exercise for everyone to consider how their layouts can be “instant on” and how they can support these segmented operating sessions with activities that require no set-up, are quick to run, and can easily be walked away from when real life calls…

Candy comes in navy with green accents

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(Tool demonstrations and discussions: Who wouldn’t want to take part?)

Today, I took in The Festool Roadshow at the Lee Valley Tools store in Vaughan (north of Toronto, for those who don’t know the area).

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(The Festool Roadshow: a workshop in a rig)

All I can say is, “Wow”. I had a great time and I learned a lot.

I have several tools from this company. Every one of them is a pleasure to use. What I haven’t really explored – until today – is just how versatile the tools are. I know they have variable speeds and other goodies on them – plus almost every tool can be enhanced with accessories to perform specific tasks. But I have never really thought about those: I tend to simply pick up the tool and go. (And to be fair, most of the time that works just fine – in the same way that one can do only basic programming on a DCC decoder and have it serve most needs, but it’s always nice to be able to be able to adjust the more esoteric CVs when the need arises. But I digress…)

While the tools were the stars of the show, the many accessories such as clamps for specific tasks on the Multi-Fuction Table (the work surfaces of which were used for demonstrations) were great to see. I know Lee Valley offers a bundle of useful MFT-compatible clamps in their Veritas tool line. It even comes in a Systainer-compatible storage case. I’ll have to pick up a set at some point.

The staff in The Festool Roadshow display were friendly and knowledgeable. They asked lots of questions and listened to the answers, then tailored the discussion to each guest. I never felt I was being talked down to – but also felt I was learning stuff. I detected at least one German accent, which was great to hear because Festool is a German company: It’s good to know they send people from the home team on these tours, too. If for no other reason, they get to hear what their customers are looking for. (Can we please, please get more tools for the Compact Module System in North America? Please? The system’s bench-mounted router is great – but it would be nice to be able to convert other handheld tools into bench tools, as can be done in Europe.)

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(Routers and “Domino” joiners)

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(Sanders and Systainers)

I was like a kid in a candy store and my Wish List just got a little bit longer – which is, after all, the point of these types of shows, right?

Video from Exporail 2016

Bored? Looking to watch some train videos? Why not check out the S Scale Workshop blog?

I’ve just posted four videos from the Workshop’s appearance in August at the annual model train show hosted by Exporail – Canada’s national railway museum. All were shot using my RePlay XD video camera, mounted on a flat car.

Click on the camera car in the image, below, to visit the Workshop’s blog – and enjoy if you watch!

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(Since this is not about my layout, please offer any comments on the Workshop blog, or on the Youtube videos themselves. Cheers!)

If you’re finding this post months after I published it and you’re looking for the videos, here are links to the relevant posts on the Workshop blog:

Double-headed 2-10-2s at Exporail 2016
Cab ride at Exporail 2016
F-units at Dunham Junction (Exporail 2016)
Two CNR 2-10-2s (Exporail 2016)

Stock Storage Solved!

Back in July, while building IKEA cabinets with storage drawers for my workshop, I mused that the drawers would work well for rolling stock storage under my sector plate. I was right:

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(A single 36″ wide drawer will easily hold approximately 25 pieces of equipment. With 12 drawers – or a 300-car capacity – I finally have more storage space than I’m ever likely to use.)

Sufficient storage for rolling stock has been a problem for my layout almost from the beginning. I like to keep the sector plate free for just the trains staged to run on the layout. And I also like a variety of equipment.

While I already have more rolling stock than I need for a layout of this size, I expect I’ll acquire and/or build more. For one thing, there are certain classes of equipment that should appear on my layout, but which are not (yet) commercially available. For another, I do like building and finishing rolling stock. (In the past, I’ve had my friend Pierre Oliver do a lot of that for me while I focused on building the layout. But I’ve undertaken several projects on my own, too – and I expect to do more of this as the layout nears completion.)

This week, I went back to The IKEA Well, and purchased two 36″ wide six-drawer kitchen cabinets to install under the sector plate:

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I picked the Marsta drawer fronts because they have integrated, recessed handles: I didn’t want handles to project into the aisle, where they could catch on pant legs.

Instead of using IKEA legs and a hanging rail against the wall, I attached the cabinets to the layout legs. This required bracing the sector plate with some scrap pine temporarily screwed to the front of the benchwork, the removal of one leg set from under the sector plate, and the repositioning of other leg sets to match the cabinet widths. But by carefully thinking it through so as not to leave the benchwork unsupported, I was able to do this in an afternoon without any problem.

To finish the installation, I cut some half-inch thick plywood for “counter tops” to keep the dust off and the wiring for the sector plate from drooping into the top drawers.

While building and installing the cabinets, I pondered how I was going to keep rolling stock from rolling and/or sliding about inside the drawers. Previously, I used a thin acoustic foam – the kind used as speaker covers. The foam worked well, but it’s difficult to find and needs to be fastened in place or it’ll slide about.

I thought of several alternatives and in the end I decided to dry the mats that are sold to put under carpets to keep them from sliding about. There are several different styles of these available, but by shopping around, I found the right type: an open-weave made (I think) with a string net that’s then coated in rubber:

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I found these on sale for $7.50 per package at JYSK, a home accessories chain. Each package provided enough to line three drawers, and is easy to mark and cut to size:

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As the lead photo shows, no dividers are necessary to keep the stock in place. The anti-slip mesh stays put in the drawers, and the wheels on rolling stock nestle into the weave. Cars stay put, and with no dividers I have a lot of flexibility in how I use the space.

I should add that the drawers have soft-close features on them, so they won’t slam shut and they stay closed. Providing I don’t yank on the drawers excessively, the rolling stock won’t tip over. (Those who are worried about this could always arrange all cars like the two tank cars in the lead photo, so they’re in line with the direction of movement.)

With room for approximately 300 40-foot cars, I’m unlikely to run out of storage space now. In reality, I’ll use separate drawers for passenger cars and motive power. I may even divide up freight cars by type: CNR boxcars could have a drawer all to themselves, since they account for about half of my freight fleet.

I may also dedicate a drawer to storing other things that should be near the sector plate. These would include throttles, uncoupling tools, clipboards and blank switch lists, and other operations aids that one needs when starting an operations session.

Regardless, it’s nice to have the options that this massive amount of storage space has made available to me. I’m glad I upgraded my stock storage system.