CNR 3640 in RMC


I’ve written a feature for Railroad Model Craftsman magazine about my model of CNR RS-18 3640 (shown above). This is an Overland brass import from many years ago, which I tuned so it would run better. I then made some basic cosmetic changes and added DCC, sound (with two speakers) and lights. I then painted the model – including creating my own masks for colour separation.

You can read about the model in the October, 2019 issue of RMC. Click on the cover to visit the RMC website:

RMC Oct 2019 cover

CNR 7456 in HO

I haven’t been doing much on Port Rowan this year for various reasons. Truth be told, I haven’t done too much in the hobby this year, period. But I have been trying to keep my hand in – primarily with some projects for others.

This locomotive is one of them:

CNR 7456 - Weathered
(CNR 7456 in HO scale)

A while back, my friend Stephen Gardiner and his wife Heather bought a townhouse – and in the summer, a bunch of us descended on his place to build benchwork for Stephen’s HO scale layout based on Toronto’s Liberty Village district. (You can read more about the benchwork party on my Achievable Layouts blog, and more about Stephen’s Liberty Village layout on his blog.)

Even before Stephen moved into his new place, I knew that I wanted to have a locomotive to take out to operating sessions. And when I happened to stumble across a “like-new” example of the brass CNR O-18-a imported many years ago by Van Hobbies, the die was cast. I picked up this model earlier this year, and started working on it back in May.

If I’m counting correctly, this is the fourth example of the VH O-18-a that I’ve owned, and I’ve regretted selling on every previous model, so I was excited to find this one. And it was indeed in great condition. Every one of these that I’ve owned has enjoyed a super smooth mechanism ideal for slow speed running, and this model continued in that tradition. However, the models are quite venerable now – they were imported a couple of decades before anybody had even heard of DCC – so they do need their motor upgraded. I also needed to drill the headlight and back up light and provide holes for wire runs.

(As an aside, after I acquired my O-18-a, another friend – Ryan Mendell – also picked up one, which he’ll use on his new Grand Trunk layout. And that led Stephen to find his own O-18-a – so we’ve started a club of sorts and have been sharing ideas for updating them.)

To make a long story short, I’ve done all that. I’ve added a LokSound Select, a TCS Keep-Alive (with a cut-out switch for programming, accessible from between the centre sills of the tender frame), LED lights, and a pair of ESU sugar cube speakers. It’s pretty crowded in the tender!

CNR 7456 Tender gubbins
(A view of the gubbins)

Up front, I’ve replaced the old open frame motor with a NSWL can motor, including a new bracket I fabricated from brass. This was a hurdle for me – but it turned out to be much easier than I thought it would be. The lesson learned is “Just go ahead and try, because it will probably work – and if it doesn’t, it’s just a bit of brass sheet”.

For this model, I decided to branch out from the typical model railway suppliers and experimented with Tamiya paints from my local plastic modelling hobby shop. I’m really impressed and will be using these a lot more on future projects.

But of course it wouldn’t be one of my projects without some sort of disaster. Yesterday, I reassembled the model and went to test it – and the decoder blew. I traced the fault to the bare contact on one of the sugar cube speakers, which came into contact with the bare brass of the tender interior. I thought I had secured the speaker enclosure to the underside of the top of the tender shell, but it worked its way loose. Lessons learned: Do a better job of securing the speaker enclosure and cover up those contacts.

Meantime, I’m in for another decoder – and a lot more fussy wiring. I’m kind of discouraged by that, so I’m not going to tackle it just yet. But I have plenty of time to get this model ready to run on Stephen’s new layout…

UPDATE: December 13, 2018

CNR 7456 - Fixed
(That’s more like it!)

On the weekend I was able to nip through an area hobby shop and pick up a replacement decoder – and yesterday, I installed it. This time, I made sure all speaker terminals were insulated (I applied Bondic to each one) and I also wrapped some of the interior of the brass tender shell with Kaptan tape.

The ESU approach to decoders once again proved its value: since any LokSound decoder may be loaded with the user’s choice of ESU sound file, and managed through LokProgrammer, I was able to buy the appropriate decoder – a LokSound Select Micro – with a diesel sound package preloaded on it. I then simply used the LokProgrammer to overwrite the package with my file for CNR 7456, which not only replaced all the sounds but also rewrote all the CVs to those I’d established before I blew the previous decoder.

The locomotive is now back together and running as it should. I still have a few details to address, such as a crew, window glazing and – perhaps – cab curtains. And I may want to adjust the brightness of those LED headlights. But the hard work is done!

As an aside, I picked the locomotive number – 7456 – back in the summer while visiting my friend Andy Malette. The choice was practical: Andy had a limited selection of etched brass CNR number plates and 7456 was one of the ones still available. Andy also supplied the lovely brass numerals for the cab sides. (Thanks for those, Andy!)

After deciding on 7456, I was pleased to discover a photo of the prototype when I visited the Andrew Merrilees Collection at Library and Archives Canada in September:

CNR 7456 - Merrilees

You’ll note there are a number of small differences between the prototype and my model of it. Notably, the coal bunker should be taller, the handrails are different on the tender and around the smokebox, and the headlight is lower on the smokebox front. The number board is also at the back of the headlight bracket, instead of at the front as it is on the model. However, I had already painted the locomotive when I found this photo, and a decided I could live with the discrepancies. Maybe on my next one…

Roll-by inspection

A member of CNR’s section gang pauses on the siding in St. Williams to give a roll-by inspection to a passing freight:


Roll by

Roll by

On Wednesday, my friend Stephen Gardiner visited for an operating session – and left me with a nice present. Stephen had drawn up a speeder for a 3D print job in HO scale, and wondered how it would turn out in S. So he revisited his drawings and the result is what you see above. While I’ve posed it on the siding in St. Williams, Stephen’s modifications for printing in 1:64 included providing pockets for extendable wooden handles so the speeder can be posed with a figure hauling it on or off the rails, if I so desire. Thanks Stephen – what a great little detail!

The ops session went well, considering that I haven’t run the layout in a while. Stephen took on the conductor’s role, while I clambered into the engineer’s seat on CNR 80. We had one derailment – possibly due to the freight car truck seizing up a little since it hasn’t been moved in many, many weeks.

Our biggest problem came from misaligned couplers – my fault, for not stopping ahead of coupling to let Stephen do a visual inspection. I don’t use the centring spring that comes with the Kadee 808s – I don’t like how it makes the draft gear bounce in and out, and I don’t really mind that the couplers sometimes need to be aligned manually. I just need to remember that all-important and most prototypical pause before attempting coupling.

Of course, I also need to run my own layout more often: I was pretty heavy-handed on the throttle and was guilty of some pretty hard couplings as a result. I’m sure that the conductor is going to give me a proper dressing down for spilling the coffee in the van!

A few days earlier, I’d updated the files in the LokSound decoders I use – from a beta file to the full production file for SOO 1003, which is my current sound file of choice. The 80 sounds better than ever, although I need to tweak a few volume settings and substitute a different air pump sound file. All in good time…

Stephen is currently planning a new, prototype-based switching layout for his home office space, and is writing about it on his blog. You can following the link to his latest post on the Liberty Village layout – and I highly recommend that you follow along.

Stephen and I have been talking about traffic density a fair bit – specifically, about finding the right balance between realistic appearance and sufficiently engaging operations on a small layout. It’s often tempting to fill a small layout with track, but there are other ways to boost the play value – which is something I’ve been demonstrating (I hope) on my model of the line to Port Rowan. It’s a medium-sized layout, at approximately 14×30 feet, but has just eight turnouts and lots of space devoted to a single track running through the landscape. It doesn’t work for everybody but it does for me.

Ops paperwork and throttle - 2017-11-08
(The work desk at St. Williams: The switch list shows there’s a lot of traffic today)

Because of these discussions, I set up the layout with a bit more switching than I normally do. In addition to several cars to drop and spot, I placed an off-spot car on the run-around in Port Rowan, which added some complexity to our switching duties. I’m pleased that even with the extra work, the session went smoothly and we had a fun time.

Afterwards, my wife joined us as we retired to Harbord House for dinner and drinks. The newest item on the menu – dill pickles breaded in cornmeal and deep fried – are out of this world delicious.

Great to see you, Stephen – and thanks so much for the speeder!

Decals and Data on TMTV

Recently, I had a question about applying decals. I’m no expert, but my friend Pierre Oliver is – which is why I was more than happy to host him for a segment earlier this year on TrainMasters TV, all about applying decals:

Applying Decals on TMTV
(Click on the image to head directly to the decal segment on TrainMasters TV)

And since you’re already heading to the video chair, why not also check out this companion piece on deciphering all that freight car data that you’re about to apply?

Deciphering freight car data on TMTV
(Click on the image to head directly to the freight car data segment on TrainMasters TV)

I don’t often mention TrainMasters on my site since my work on that show is not what this blog is about. But we have had a lot of positive feedback on these two segments – including from people who are experienced freight car modellers – and I know I learned a lot about decals and data in the process of hosting them. I’m confident you will, too.

TrainMasters is a subscription-based service, but your subscription comes with more than an hour of network TV quality programming each month, for less than the price of a magazine. Becoming a member is easy

Big Sound for a BURRO

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

I upgraded my River Raisin Models S scale BURRO Crane with a LokSound decoder and two speakers. I wrote a feature on this, which is the cover story in the September, 2017 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine. Check out that issue for details:

RMC September 2017

In the above video, you can hear the sound. (I’ve cranked the volume on the decoder for the purposes of recording this video. In practice, I run the crane at a lower volume – more suitable to the layout environment.)

The sound is not correct for a BURRO – it’s the EMD 567A six-cylinder diesel that’s found in an SW-1. But it’ll do just fine for now – and when ESU offers a correct BURRO sound file, I can simply reload the decoder (and post a new video, of course). That’s pretty cool…

For more details on the BURRO Crane, follow my BURRO category link.

(If you’ve just found my blog through the Craftsman article, then welcome aboard! Have a look around – perhaps starting with the First Time Here? page – and enjoy your visit!)

Equipment Portraits :: 7

Here’s the seventh in a series of posts featuring portraits of the equipment that runs on my S scale model railway, with notes about each model. The equipment is presented in no particular order. Click on each image for a larger view…

CNR 4204

CNR 4204 - portrait

CNR 4204 - Portrait

This stunning example of the scratch-builder’s art was built for me by my friend Simon Parent, who also did my 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s. If I recall, it is the 3rd of 10 of these locomotives he plans to build – although the number may be less. The model combines brass castings and photo-etched nickel silver. Simon designs his own patterns and makes masters for his own castings: It’s an almost-lost art. Like all of Simon’s work, the 4204 is finished with details specific to the road number and the era. I obviously didn’t need this one – it’s way too big to ever have appeared at Port Rowan – but I love Simon’s work and wanted to support it. This locomotive gets regular workouts as part of the S Scale Workshop Free-mo style exhibition layout.

CNR 7184

CNR 7184 - Portrait

CNR 7184 - Portrait

This is an essential car on my layout – a combine in the solid green CNR scheme, to fill out the mixed train to Port Rowan. The model is a mixed media (brass and wood) kit designed by Andy Malette and sold through his MLW Services company. My friend Pierre Oliver at Elgin Car Shops built the kit for me. I then added finishing details – including the window glass and shades and the diaphragms (which need to be cleaned up and coated with a clear coat so they don’t rust). I also added the conductor in the vestibule and a spare DCC sound decoder with speaker in the baggage section so I can emulate train line signals from the conductor to the engineer. The trucks are American Models six-wheel trucks, which look nice but do not track well, so I enhanced these with special rigid beam compensation subframes designed and laser cut for me by Tim Warris at Fast Tracks, based on a solution sometimes employed by UK modellers. This working suspension made the world of difference.

BAOX 378

BAOX 378 - Portrait

This is a brass model (as evidenced by the bare brass peeking out around two of the domes), which I painted for a Canadian petroleum company. The lettering – the most important part of this project – came from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing: He offers this set in HO scale, and kindly did a custom run for me in S. This is a great resource for Canadian modellers. Reasonably, he charges twice the price of the HO decals, since it’s a custom run. Also reasonably, this is a lot less than the set-up fee one would expect. Thanks, Al!

CNR 470015

CNR 470015 - Portrait

I did five of these cars about a year ago. They started as ready to run models by S Helper Service. I replaced the plastic roof walks with real wood, and updated the provided K brakes to AB brake sets using brass kits sold by BTS. I then painted this car (and its four mates) with CNR mineral red #11 from the CNR Historical Association, and lettered them with decals sets from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing.

CNR 52247 and CNR 52274

CNR 52247 and CNR 52274 - Portrait

CNR 52247 and CNR 52274 - Portrait

These two scale test cars are certainly conversation pieces. They are brass imports from Southwind Models, which I painted, lettered and finished as CNR prototypes. The decals are a mix: The road name came from HO scale van (caboose) sets from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing, while the balance of the lettering is from HO scale CNR scale test car sets from Andy W Scale Models. Scale test cars are kept relatively clean since dirt can change their weight, so I was very careful with the weathering. They also typically are used in pairs, so I was fortunate to find two models. Despite being so small and having a two-axle stance, these cars are heavy, being almost solid brass, and the springing is well done in the journals so they track very well. They’ve become my go-to cars for testing track work, appropriately enough…

Eventually, I hope to document all of my S scale equipment in this fashion. We’ll see how that goes. Meantime, see the Portraits category to find all posts in this series. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with it. I hope you enjoyed these equipment portraits and notes.

Equipment Portraits :: 6

Here’s the sixth in a series of posts featuring portraits of the equipment that runs on my S scale model railway, with notes about each model. The equipment is presented in no particular order. Click on each image for a larger view…


CNR 1 - Portrait

CNR 1 - Portrait

I’m tickled that even a continent-spanning operation like the Canadian National Railway system had a “Number 1” locomotive – and this is it. Dan Navarre at River Raising Models imported 180 of these GE 44 Ton diesels in December 1993. They’re a well-designed model with a nice drive. To create CNR 1, I added marker lamps on the four hood corners, removed the stock single-chime horn and added an (oversized) HO scale Miniatures by Eric horn on a custom bracket on the front exhaust stack, and built the cab roof-mounted number board from a pair of steam engine style number board kits from my friend Andy Malette at MLW Services. I added a crew to the cab, real glass in the windows, LEDs in the headlights at each end, and a Loksound sound decoder hooked to a TCS Keep Alive module under the hoods. A speaker shoots sound up through one of the open hood hatches. I painted the engine with Warm Black from the CNR Historical Association and I worked with Bill Brillinger at Precision Design Company to develop custom decals. At some point, I may re-visit this locomotive to add the protoype’s boiler-tube pilot. But for now, I’m really pleased with this project.

CNR 3640

CNR 3640 - Portrait

CNR 3640 - Portrait

This was a real beast of a project. The model started as an Overland brass import from 1989. (Yes: Overland used to offer S scale brass!) I found a few errors on the model that needed to be corrected to more accurately represent a CNR locomotive. I did not fix most of them because they were, to me, minor. But the one I did address was turning the cab interior 180 degrees so that the crew would face the long hood, which was “forward” on these models. The mechanism also needed attention to remove binds, isolate the (two!) motors, and adjust the ride height of the trucks side frames so they wouldn’t foul on road crossings and turnouts. In S scale, there’s a lot of space inside an RS18 and I packed it with electronics, including a Tsunami decoder and current keeper module, a large speaker, a second decoder to give me additional lighting effects, and a fistful of small LEDs for headlights, class lamps, number boards, truck lights and a cab interior light, all run off separate functions. (At some point, I will revisit this model to upgrade the decoder to a LokSound with “Full Throttle” features. I have the decoder, and an expansion board that will give me enough function outputs to control all of the lighting. I just need to sit down and do it.) The next challenge with this model was painting: There are no decals for this unit in S scale, and while CDS offered dry transfers at one time, they are wrong. So, I painted the whole unit yellow and then, based on photos, carefully masked it and sprayed the green. The yellow bands were then trimmed in black by hand, using a fine tip marker. The lettering – cab numbers, road name, heralds and so on – came from a set produced for S scale F-units and available from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing.

CPR 191200 and CPR 403726

CPR 191220 - Portrait

CPR 403726 - Portrait

My friend Pierre Oliver at Elgin Car Shops built, painted and lettered these these two Fowler patent boxcars for me from Ridgehill Scale Models resin kits. I did final finishing – such as adding real wood roof walks – and the weathering. I like that the two models show different styles of Fowler car: One has a wood roof and door, while the other is rebuilt with a steel roof and door. The roof walks are different, too. It’s the little details like this that attract people to prototype modelling.

PRR 503798

PRR 503798 - Portrait

This is a rarity in S scale – a modern, injection molded plastic kit. This PRR X29 was introduced by Des Plaines Hobbies at the 2013 NASG Convention, and since the prototype was ubiquitous it was easy to justify one for my layout. My friend Pierre Oliver actually asked if he could build this one for me, and I was happy to let him play with it. I did the weathering. Many manufacturers have abandoned kits in favour of ready-to-run models – while others have abandoned S scale altogether. So it’s great whenever a company like Des Plaines Hobbies bucks that trend. Thanks for that!

Eventually, I hope to document all of my S scale equipment in this fashion. We’ll see how that goes. Meantime, see the Portraits category to find all posts in this series. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with it. I hope you enjoyed these equipment portraits and notes.

Canadian National Santa Fe

No, that’s not a new, merged railway à la BNSF. Rather, it’s CNR 4204 – a T-3-a 2-10-2 (Santa Fe type) beast of a locomotive:

CNR 4204

While visiting Exporail with the S Scale Workshop this past weekend, I was able to collect CNR 4204, built for me by my friend Simon Parent. Simon truly is one of the top builders in our hobby, in any scale. His work is impeccable.

I did not buy this to run on the Port Rowan layout. Such a locomotive would’ve collapsed the bridge at Caledonia and busted all the rails in the two towns I model. For the time being, this one is primarily for running on the S Scale Workshop modular layout.

That said, I’ll want to be able to test it on my own layout from time to time. Even though it won’t fit on the turntable at Port Rowan, it will need to turn a wheel now and then to keep it in good working order.

I was pleased that Simon designed this massive machine to negotiate a 40″ radius, even if it looks a bit pinched in the process. Here it is on the 42″ radius leading into Port Rowan:

CNR 4204

And just how big is a T-3-a? Well, it hulks over a Mogul:

Extra 80 West - Glanford cutoff

CNR 80 and CNR 4204

CNR 2-10-2s were used in the Toronto area to help shove eastbound trains up the Don Valley. But the trains on the line I model also needed help – not 2-10-2s, but 2-8-2s – to scale the Niagara Escarpment as they headed south (railway west) out of Hamilton. Those helpers would be cut in behind the road power, as suggested in the above photos. I guess in this case, the crews forgot to cut out the helper at Glanford and just got lucky with the bridge…

Thanks, Simon: Great work as always!

Photographing an RPM

Toronto RPM 2016 - Brian Gauer

Earlier this month, I attended the 2016 Toronto RPM. I had a number of models to display and also gave a clinic on how I ended up being a prototype-inspired modeller in 1:64. But I was also on assignment:

Toronto RPM 2016 - Me and the light box

That’s me shooting a photo of an HO scale Canadian Pacific Railway van modelled by meet organizer Brian Gauer. The photo itself leads off this post.

I was working this meet for Railroad Model Craftsman magazine. Under previous editor Bill Schaumburg, RMC developed a strong presence at prototype modellers’ meets and I think it’s wonderful that current editor Stephen Priest has continued that tradition. I covered the 2015 New England-Northeast RPM for Stephen and I was very impressed with how my photos appeared in the magazine. I look forward to seeing Stephen’s treatment of my material from the Toronto meet (and I will update this post once I know when my coverage will appear in print).

I’ve shot a fair number of pictures of layouts and models over the years, and have developed a style that works for me. My favourite for equipment is a portrait in my photo box using Fillex LED lights, and it’s an ideal set-up for covering an RPM.

I’ve written previously about the box and lights, as I have used it to capture a series of equipment portraits for my Port Rowan layout.

In addition to creating a nice image, I like this combination of lights and photo box because it’s easily portable: the box collapses into a flat package and comes with its own sleeve that includes a carrying handle, while I can fit three lights with power supplies into a wheeled Pelican case. If I really wanted, I could leave one light at home and use the freed-up space for my camera. Meantime, two long zippped cases with shoulder straps accommodate my tripod and light stands.

People are eager to share their work at RPM meets, which makes my job easy. And yes, I always get the owner of the model to place it in the box: I don’t touch other people’s stuff – even with their permission. So if you see the lights and the big white box at an RPM meet sometime, come over and say hello – and bring along a model or two for a portrait!

(And a special thanks to my friend Stephen Gardiner for the portrait of the portraitist!)