“Buzzard” by Joy Webster (Trailer)

Back in July, I hosted director Joy Webster and her crew for a day of film shooting in my layout room and workshop. This week, Joy released the first trailer for the film, called Buzzard. You can view the trailer – part of a fundraising campaign to finish the film – by clicking on the image, below:


While the trailer only includes a brief shot taken on my layout, Joy and her team filmed more than two dozen shots in my workshop and layout room and it will feature more in the final film. In fact, Joy and cinematographer Filip Funk visited on Sunday to film a few more shots on the layout – and overview, and close-ups – to fill out some of the scenes.

The film is not about model railways – or railway modelling – but the layout is an important ice-breaker in the relationship between the two main characters, Hanna and Frank. The Indiegogo page for the trailer includes more information about Buzzard, including the following description of the film:

Buzzard is a film about the fragility of the human conscience, and the corrupt corporate system that threatens it. It’s about two very different characters that have both been manipulated by corporations to their own detriment. Hannah is a young girl who is recently out to make it on her own and trying to navigate through life, and Frank an older man who has given up on his own life after losing his daughter and sinking into depression. Both are vulnerable to the overarching corporate trap – Hannah as a young person trying to pay her bills who gets roped into working for the corrupt company, and Frank as a man struggling with depression who becomes one of the company’s prey.

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to play a small part in the creation of this film and can’t wait to see it! It’s only natural that I’ve invested in the Indiegogo campaign – because I really want to see this project finished. And no, I’m not asking you to do contribute, but of course if you wish to do so (even as little as Cdn$10), I know it would be greatly appreciated.

And while I’ve never asked for a dime for the blogs I’ve written over the past seven years, if you’ve enjoyed Port Rowan in 1:64 and are looking for a way to express that appreciation, a Cdn$10 investment to Buzzard would be a terrific way to do that. If fifty of us gave $10 each, that would put Joy and her team way over the top.

Thanks in advance for considering it. And enjoy the trailer if you watch!

A pair of Seltzers

Well, I’m honoured!

Seltzers x2

Yesterday’s post included a pleasant gift. This website won the 2018 Josh Seltzer Award from the National Association of S Gaugers. Thank you to everyone who made this possible!

As the photo above shows, my blog also won in 2016. Not to make light of these awards, but if I win every other year I’m going to quickly run out of wall space. So here’s the challenge:

If you’re modelling in S scale, and you haven’t already done so… start a blog.

Share your progress on models. Give us a tour of your layout. Share your thoughts on the state of the hobby in general, and of S scale in particular. (If you need some ideas about how to start, check out my post, “Why you should consider blogging“.)

Let others know you’re doing this so they can follow along – by cross-posting to the S Scale newsgroups, S Scale SIG, S Scale groups on social media, etc.

And perhaps in a couple of years, you will be looking for a spot to hang your Josh Seltzer Award!

(Thank you, again, to the members of the NASG for these awards. They’re wonderful!)

“Cue the train…”

Joy W - Film Shoot
(Setting up for a scene – one of more than two dozen shot during a 13-hour day in my basement)

In 1968, artist Andy Warhol wrote in an exhibition programme, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Yesterday, I was fortunate to experience a bit of what that feels like, when my Port Rowan layout was used as a location for a short drama directed by Toronto filmmaker Joy Webster.

Joy checking storyboard
(Joy reviews her storyboard prior to shooting a scene)

Joy contacted me in April via this blog. She’d found my layout online and wrote (in part)…

I’ve been on the hunt for a model railroad setup in a residential home (ideally in a basement) to use as a location for a short film that I am directing this summer … I’d love to get in touch with you and chat about seeing more of your train room and work. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Well, that was pretty much all it took. We arranged a site visit, and she decided almost immediately that the layout worked for her story. (I won’t give away details now – but will update this post when the film is released.)

What’s more, Joy was very accommodating with a couple of important technical requirements on my part.

First, I would be the only person touching the trains or adjusting scenic elements on the layout – I’d be happy to move things about, but of course I know best how to pick them up.

Second, we arranged a meeting with her lighting person to find a lighting solution that would not generate any heat (because aiming traditional film lights at the layout would quickly melt things). In the end, the lighting person found some awesome LED lights that look like a fluorescent tube, but run off a self-contained battery pack, are dimmable, colour-tunable (not only through various colour temperatures of “white” such as indoor and daylight, but also through the full RGB spectrum), and controlled via Bluetooth and an app on a smart phone.

Layout lighting
(Setting up lights on the fascia to create the look of actors being illuminated by the layout lighting. It was very effective!)

Joy and her producer Lucas Ford appreciated the time, effort and money that I’ve invested in my hobby, and they were terrific about making sure I felt comfortable having a film crew of approximately 20 people in the layout room and workshop for the day. For my part, I was thrilled to be able to take part: I studied television in university and while many of the details differ between TV and film, there were enough similarities that I appreciated what was going on (and knew when to shut the heck up), even as it reminded me of what I’m missing as someone who abandoned a career in media and who now works largely by himself.

What’s more, it was an easy decision to welcome this film project in our home. Joy’s work is stunning: Two previous films “Game” (2017) and “In The Weeds” (2015) have garnered multiple film festival awards, and it’s easy to see why. I feel privileged to have worked with her.

Here are some more pictures from the shoot, with permission from Joy to share them:

Reviewing script.
(Joy and one of the actors discuss a scene in my workshop)

Actor and machine tools
(Framed by machine tools, an actor delivers her performance on the basement stairs)

Sound and makeup
(Capturing audio for a shoot on the basement stairs, while the makeup department takes a break in the kitchen)

(The baggage wagon in the backyard was an ideal staging area for equipment. That’s Lucas checking his phone at left)

(Joy and her crew in my workshop, watching on a monitor as a scene unfolds in the layout room next door. My comfortable workshop chairs were most welcome by the end of the day…)

Final scene
(The actors have been released and Joy’s cinematographer is shooting the final scene of the day. “Cue the train…”)

Thanks, Joy and Lucas, for inviting me to take part in your project. I loved every minute of it – everyone on set was fantastic, professional, and respectful of my work and our home. I look forward to seeing the film when it’s released!

Weathering Heights

What’s special about this CNR ballast hopper?

CNR Ballast Hopper

My friend Matthieu Lachance weathered it using techniques found in the military modelling hobby. Matthieu writes about the experience – and how it’s different from the typical approach employed by railway modelling enthusiasts – on his Hedley Junction blog. Click on the image, above, to read more – it’s worth the trip!

(Rather than steal the discussion, I’ve disabled comments on this post. Join in on Matthieu’s blog, instead!)

As an aside, Pierre Oliver and I just shot a series of segments on weathering for TrainMasters TV, including one on using washes by military supply company AK Interactive. Those segments will air later this year.

California Dreamin’ | Sugar Short Line

Pajaro Valley Consolidated RR Logo
(Click on the image to visit Nick’s new layout blog)

While attending the Ontario Manifest in California earlier this month, I was delighted to meet Nick Lisica. Nick’s modelling is exquisite – he went home from this NMRA regional convention with a number of merit awards and category wins from the contest room, including for this lovely O scale model of a steam-powered stern-wheeler, built from a Train Troll kit with many extra details:

Alexandria by Nick Lisica

But Nick is an N scaler at heart, and has picked an obscure prototype to model. The Pajaro (“Paw-haw-row”) Valley Consolidated Railroad was a narrow gauge line created in the late 19th Century to provide sugar beet farmers in the Salinas Valley with an alternative to the Southern Pacific when transporting their produce to a refinery in Watsonville, CA. Nick’s prototype is modest, making it an achievable layout. But the SP absorbed the line in the 1920s – and the PVCRR’s modest nature and short lifespan means it’s a challenge to find information and photos of the prototype.

Port Rowan is not as obscure – it lasted longer, and later, so there are better photos and records. But I face many of the same challenges in modelling my subject as Nick does in modelling his. So while we spoke at the convention, I suggested to him that he start a blog. I pointed out that by putting his work on the web, he would open it up to search engines and therefore to a broad spectrum of people who may have information.

My experience with Port Rowan in 1:64 bears this out. Obviously, when I started it, the blog was followed primarily by fellow railway modellers (because that’s who I told I was writing a blog). But since then, my readership has grown to include people who are interested in Port Rowan, St. Williams, and the area… people who are related to railway employees on the line, and to those who were customers of the railway… and so on. I’ve received as much useful information from them as I have from those within the hobby. I never know who is going to provide the next piece of the puzzle to help me build the complete picture of the CNR’s Simcoe Sub in the 1950s.

Nick took the comments to heart, and recently emailed to say he’s started a blog about his plans for his N scale home layout. I’ve added it to my links (right side of the home page). You can also visit the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad by clicking on the logo at the top of this page.

(Great to meet you, Nick! I look forward to following your progress online…)

Six years of blogging

On this day in 2011, I started writing about Port Rowan in 1:64, with a post called “Breaking Marley’s Chains”. You can find that post – and other early ones that outline the thinking that evolved into this layout – on the “First Time Here?” page.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how the layout has taken shape while remaining true to the ideas I set out in those early posts.

Coincidentally, I spoke last night at a local social club for railway modelling enthusiasts and railfans, and one of the subjects I touched upon was the power of coupling a blog to a layout project. I think this blog remains my most important tool for modelling Port Rowan in S scale.

That’s due, by the way, to all of you who read and comment on my posts – offering insight and information. Thanks for that. This blog has generated more than 670,000 page views and 6,700 comments – and my knowledge of Port Rowan, S scale, and modelling has benefitted tremendously from this exchange of ideas.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about the power of blogs as a modelling tool, called “Tips for blogging about our hobby”. If you missed it, click on the dogs, below…


What a wonderful surprise!

I had no idea I was even in the running…

… but my friends in the S Scale Workshop emailed me this evening from the National Association of S Gaugers (NASG) annual convention in Novi, Michigan with news that I’ve received the 2016 Josh Seltzer Award for my Port Rowan ramblings:

NASG Blogging Award
(That’s a smiling Andy Malette holding the award: LLAP, Andy!)

What a wonderful surprise!

I’m not sure who to thank – the award is based on nominations form NASG members and selected by the Board of Trustees. So I’ll start by thanking the NASG Board, and the person or persons who nominated this site. Also, all of you who have shared information and ideas through the comments on my posts – the blog, and my layout, are better because of your contributions.


Leonard Lee: 1938-2016

 photo leonard-lee-obituary-lee-valley-tools_zpseadonffz.jpg
(Click on the image to read the company’s tribute to its founder)

I was sad to read today of the death of Leonard Lee. He wasn’t a railway modelling enthusiast (not that I know of), but he did so much to make my hobby more enjoyable.

That’s because Leonard was the founder of Lee Valley Tools, one of those rare companies that, for me, does everything right. Lee Valley Tools offers high-quality products … excellent customer service … and a truly useful e-commerce site for shop-at-home convenience. It has always stood behind the products it sells: I’ve returned a few (mostly, because I realized I needed something different) and returns were always hassle-free. Like a good hobby shop (and for wood-workers, that’s what it was), Lee Valley Tools holds course and seminars to help its customers learn new skills. And it researches and develops new or better tools under the Veritas brand.

Yes, I could have built a layout without Lee Valley – but not as easily. Not as painlessly. Because when I needed an answer to a construction challenge, chances are I would find it at Lee Valley. And if I did, I could always buy with confidence.

What is less obvious about Lee Valley Tools is how it treats its employees. I’m sure there are examples of workers who were unhappy at Lee Valley – you can’t please everyone – but I have never, ever been in one of their stores or on the phone with an employee and had anything but a terrific experience with someone who is obviously knowledgeable and happy about doing the job that they do. Maybe I’ve been lucky. But I suspect the real reason is the work environment that Leonard Lee created – one that he described in a 2013 Globe and Mail article about executive compensation thusly:

You get tremendous loyalty from employees if they enjoy their work and they are participating in the income and they have the authority that they need to execute their job.

Written like that, it seems like a simple concept. But in the case of Lee Valley, this isn’t just HR lip service or PR bafflegab. And what a difference that can make.

Thanks, Leonard, for creating Lee Valley Tools (and opening a store a 25 minute walk from my house!) – I’m so glad that you did. You will be missed.

Dan Kirlin

Dan Kirlin - Obit photo

I was shocked to learn that Dan Kirlin passed away last Thursday, of a heart attack. He was 60.

Dan was well known in the Canadian railway historical and modelling communities, as a wonderful source of information. I certainly benefitted from this in many ways – from drawings of CNR RoW signs to information and photos of CNR Jordan Spreaders. Dan also provided me with a CNR paint chip sampler. If I recall, this is something he helped develop for the CNR Historical Association as part of the creation of accurate paints for modellers.

CNR Paint Chip Sample Board

Dan’s knowledge – both in his head and in his files – was remarkable. And, most significantly, everything he shared with me he volunteered. I had never asked him, directly, for anything. He would read about what I was doing, via this blog, and I’d get a package in the mail, or handed to me at a show…

I think that speaks volumes about the man.

Dan was less well known as an S scale enthusiast. He’d done some brass importing, and detail parts manufacturing, in the past – but always in HO. But his true love in the hobby was 1:64.

Dan’s funeral is today. Details here.

Thank you, Dan, for your friendship and your knowledge. You will be missed.

A letter from Copetown (2006)

S Scale Workshop - Cover photo SScaleWorkshop-CoverImage_zps884a9f05.jpg

A decade ago – in February of 2006, to be exact – I visited the Copetown Train Show and saw the modules built by the S Scale Workshop. I was working in another scale and gauge at the time, but a seed was planted that today has resulted in the layout featured on this blog.

It was the Workshop’s first exhibition of their free-mo style modular layout and it impressed a lot of visitors at Copetown that year. I headed home and wrote a letter to Bill Schaumburg – then editor of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine – about the show, and the debut of the S Scale Workshop on the southern Ontario exhibition scene.

Here’s the letter… which Bill printed in the June, 2006 issue as part of his Editor’s Notebook feature. After you read it, I’ll offer up some observations…

Hello, Bill:

Greetings from the Great White North! Although I must admit it’s not really white in Southern Ontario these days, despite it being the middle of winter. It’s cold, but the ground is brown and the roads are dry, which makes for easy driving (always a concern at this time of year).

But even if the weather outside IS frightful, many enthusiasts (myself included) brave the elements at the end of February and hit the road to the Copetown Train Show, which takes place in a small town of the same name just west of Hamilton, Ontario.

Copetown has never been a typical train show, but rather a showcase for fine model building with a focus on Canadian prototypes.

Copetown does not attract the usual train show crowd of families and casual punters (not that there’s anything bad about shows that do, but not every show has to cater to every taste). Instead, it draws many of the same people one meets at Railway Prototype Modelers meets such as Naperville, Cocoa Beach, and the others you regularly write about in your monthly column. Word is, about 400 people attended this year’s event, and I even saw some old friends there who had driven a good six hours to attend. (That’s particularly impressive when one considers that Copetown is only open to the public on Sunday: Exhibitors set up on Saturday and then get the chance to visit each other’s displays, buy stuff, sell stuff, socialize and so on. The day ends with a dinner, followed by an evening of slide shows and/or clinics. All in all, it’s good incentive to become an exhibitor: I’ll have to do something about that.)

Copetown features photo dealers, Canadian railway SIGs and Historical Societies, booths about area club layouts, tables staffed by manufacturers of Canadian-prototype rolling stock, structures or other details, authors or dealers of books about Canadian railroads, and layouts that exhibit a high degree of craftsmanship, usually based on a Canadian prototype.

There were a number of layouts on display this year, but I think it’s safe to say that the one that created the biggest buzz in the hall was a modular layout created by seven members of the S Scale Workshop. This layout is built to the Workshop’s own version of the Free-mo standard, which allows groups to build modules of any size and shape and then link them together in any number of ways to create large free-form layouts (the concept is described in detail at www.free-mo.org).

The members of the S Scale Workshop began building their modules in earnest just a few months before the show, yet managed to assemble an astonishing 93 linear feet of model railroad in a large, lazy U-shape that worked its way through the main exhibition space.

The modules assembled into a single track line with a staging yard at one end, a model of Port Dover, Ontario at the other (actually, part of one member’s home layout), and a passing siding in the middle, with a couple of spurs still to be built. Using wireless walk-around DCC throttles and a small fleet of sound-equipped S scale Canadian National 2-6-0s built from etched kits by S Scale Loco and Supply (www.sscaleloco.com), the layout kept visitors entertained all day.

Some of the modules were unfinished at show time – one was still at the pink Terra Foama stage, while another had nothing more than green garbage bags stapled to each side of the roadbed to prevent any derailed trains from making a 50-inch plunge to the floor – but the potential was readily apparent and I’m sure this group will impress us all over again the next time they do a show.

It was particularly enlightening to see an S scale, craftsman-quality layout up close and personal. Interesting things are happening in 1:64, and it’s worth looking into (as if I need ANOTHER distraction). I can understand the attraction, especially if one’s modeling subject is a modest prototype, such as a branch line patrolled by small engines pulling light trains of 40’ steam-era cars: The “slightly larger than HO” nature of S would give small prototypes a presence and heft that HO just can’t accomplish, without having the overall scene overwhelm a layout room.

It was also interesting to watch the crowd’s reaction to both S scale and the free-mo nature of the layout. One could almost see the current hit the mental light bulbs. I predict that in the next couple of years, I’ll be seeing many more Free-mo style layouts at Southern Ontario shows – mostly in HO, of course, but in other scales too.

While most of the Copetown attendees have invested serious amounts of time and money into their chosen scale/gauge/era/theme, building a Free-mo style module would give many of them an opportunity to explore an avenue of the hobby that lies beyond their primary interest, and who knows where that could lead? Only to great things, I expect.

The builders of the HO scale Ontario & Eastern sectional layout (which was the cover story in the February, 1998 RMC) started the show several years ago. After a long and successful run, the O&E members decided to retire their exhibition layout to devote more time to their endeavors at home, and they passed the show’s organizational duties onto the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers (with a double “L”, since that’s how we do things here in Canada).

So, Bill, that’s the story. I hope you can make it to Copetown some year – weather permitting, of course. But to be fair, I should warn you that by the end of the weekend you may end up horse-trading your Nevada County Narrow Gauge equipment for some CN moguls, eight hatch reefers, and other signature models of Canadian railway history.


– Trevor in Toronto

Workshop video poster - Copetown 2014 photo Copetown2014-Poster_zps64528bc3.jpg

I was an outsider to S scale when I wrote that, but I find it interesting that my initial reactions to the scale were, by and large, right on the money for me.

– “(as if I need ANOTHER distraction)”
It turns out I did. I was unhappy with what I was doing in the hobby, and it was time for a change. It took me about five more years to realize that.

– “I can understand the attraction, especially if one’s modeling subject is a modest prototype, such as a branch line patrolled by small engines pulling light trains of 40’ steam-era cars.”
Well, that’s pretty obvious, since that’s what I’ve ended up modelling on my Port Rowan layout.

– “The ‘slightly larger than HO’ nature of S would give small prototypes a presence and heft that HO just can’t accomplish, without having the overall scene overwhelm a layout room.”
This is definitely something that I’ve appreciated as I’ve been working in 1:64 over the past few years. I’m a junkie for detail, and as I wrote way back near the beginning of this blog, I originally tried to design an O scale layout to fit my space. It didn’t. S did, while still giving me most of the presence that I love about O. It’s not “in your face”, but it’s also not “way over there” either.

– “I predict that in the next couple of years, I’ll be seeing many more Free-mo style layouts at Southern Ontario shows – mostly in HO, of course, but in other scales too.”
This has also happened. Since 2006, several Free-mo groups have launched in the region. I’ve even been involved in a few of them. Some have folded, others have remained quite small, but there are also some quite large groups that are very active.
I’m glad I read the crowd right that day.

– “Copetown does not attract the usual train show crowd of families and casual punters (not that there’s anything bad about shows that do, but not every show has to cater to every taste).”
This is still the case, 10 years later – and it’s one of the reasons that Copetown continues to be a terrific show for the “serious” hobbyist.

As a show, though, it remains a novel experience in Southern Ontario – an exhibition with a specific focus, instead of a general train show. Other good examples of “focussed events” in the area include the Ontario Narrow Gauge Show and the Great British Train Show, organized by The Platelayers Society. Both are well worth attending – in large part because of their unique focus on the hobby.

There are several local shows each year that pretty much present the same thing as every other local show. The same layouts are featured. The same vendors show up. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all – so there’s not much point in attending. Some of these local shows are failing. If they want to turn around their fortunes, they could look at how to make their shows a unique event instead of offering up more of the same.

It’s been 10 years since I wrote that piece, and The Copetown Train Show continues. So does the S Scale Workshop – which will be celebrating the 10th anniversary since it first exhibited those Free-mo style modules, as it exhibits at the 2016 Copetown Train Show. Workshop member Jim Martin has written about this on The S Scale Workshop blog. We’ve included a couple of early photos from 2006, as well as a layout plan for this year’s exhibit and information about attending the show.

Check it out, and I hope to see you in Copetown on Sunday, March 6th!