OVAR Report – March 2018

Earlier this week, I was in Canada’s capital as the guest speaker at OVAR – the monthly meeting of the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders. I had a great time – I’m so glad they invited me!

Before I report on the trip, some words about OVAR are in order…


OVAR is an amazing group. It’s been around for decades – it was established in 1961 – and has a membership of around 180 people. Key to its success is the informal nature of the group. It exists as a social organization – an umbrella for various other groups in the Ottawa area – and that’s it. Membership includes representatives of many such groups, of course – from round-robin operating groups and modular railroading associations, to members of the NMRA and other such official organizations, to those who volunteer at museums and other railfan/historian venues.

Anybody who has been part of a group or club in this hobby knows that politics can become a problem. It rarely is with OVAR, because it exists solely as a place to bring those various other groups and clubs together under one roof, once per month, for dinner and a presentation.

When I moved to Ottawa in the early 1990s, it was for a work opportunity. Never mind knowing fellow hobbyists: I knew nobody in the city. But I found the local hobby shops – and there, I found a brochure for OVAR. It sounded like a good way to tap into the local modelling community, so I attended a dinner. And then I signed up – because it was such a great concept.

Each of us in this hobby have a different approach to railway modelling. We all have preferred scales, prototypes, eras, degrees of prototype adherence, and so on. In addition, we each enjoy some aspect of the hobby more than others. Everyone’s approach is valid – but let’s face it: If the local club’s approach is too different from what you want to do, you won’t continue to be a member.

The strength of OVAR is all of those unique combinations come together in one room. So when I first joined, I’d use each dinner to sit at a table with a group of modellers, and talk to them about how they engaged with the hobby. If their approach was too different from my own, then I’d sit at a new table the next month, and so on until I found the people with whom I best identified. It took a few months, but what a great way to survey the hobby within an entire region!

I haven’t lived in Ottawa in more than 20 years, but I’m still regularly in touch with those friends I made at OVAR.

Having said all that, it’s not surprise that I had a wonderful time as the group’s guest speaker on Tuesday night. I talked with many old friends – several of whom I haven’t seen in person in years. (A few asked about blogging, so I have written another post on that topic, called “Why you should consider blogging“.)

What’s more, I thought the presentation went very well.


I talked about how I ended up modelling Port Rowan in S scale. I started with my days in Ottawa when I built my first prototype-based layout – on which I attempted to recreate a portion of the Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo Railway in the late 1970s in HO scale. Then, while helping a friend decide what to model, I realized the TH&B’s bridge line railroading was not for me, and I switched to a Boston & Maine branch line in the steam era. I was still doing this when I moved back to Toronto in the late 1990s and built my first B&M layout.

However, dissatisfaction with the performance of my fleet of brass HO steam engines – small models of small prototypes – and recognizing in myself an interest in detailing structures and scenes, I moved up a couple of scales, to model a Maine two-footer in O scale. Here, after several years of progress, I ran into an unexpected setback: Modelling a Maine two-footer while living in southern Ontario was a lonely prospect. There just aren’t that many people in the hobby who are interested in The Standard Gauge of Maine. I was also frustrated by poor running qualities of my On2 fleet.

While searching for ideas for what to do next, I met the members of the S Scale Workshop and the die was cast.

There’s more to the story – and I hinted that it might be time for another change – but I’ll save that for future presentations.

As with many of these events, the guest speaks after dinner – and the dinner is a buffet style. Whenever doing this type of event, I’m cognizant that the audience isn’t looking for a clinic – it’s not an RPM meet. They want to be entertained – and they’re going to be sitting in a dark room (so they can see the presentation) after a big meal. Talks have to be general enough to appeal to an audience with broad-ranging interests.

Therefore, I framed the talk in such a way that I hope those in the audience who are curious about making any sort of change in their own hobby have some ideas about the research they should do and questions they should ask before diving in – in the interests of knowing, ahead of time, what they’re about to undertake.

After dinner speeches also have to be entertaining enough to keep everybody awake. I didn’t hear any snores from the audience, so I think I did okay.

I’ve done this talk before, but this was the first time I’ve presented to an audience in which several members lived through my various changes in direction. It was novel, and fun, to be able to expand on some of those stories.

When I do a trip like this – where I stay for less than a day – I like to treat myself to a good hotel. (I’m glad I did – the weather was, well, wintery: that made the 4.5 hour drive from Toronto to Ottawa feel even longer.)

OVAR covered the price of a modest hotel. I paid the difference and gave myself an upgrade, booking into the Chateau Laurier – one of a family of grand old railway hotels built by Canadian Pacific.

Chateau Laurier - Main Lobby

I got to my room late in the evening, and looked out my window in time to see an entourage pull up: a fleet of black vans with red/blue flashing lights. They showed up again the next morning to collect their passengers:

Chateau Laurier - Belgium Entrouage

I found out at breakfast that the King and Queen of Belgium were in town, and staying at the Chateau. They even left behind some terrific waffles, which I thoroughly enjoyed:

Chateau Laurier - Belgian Waffles

All in all, a fine trip!

See you at OVAR! (March 2018)


I’m off to Canada’s capital shortly, to speak this evening to members of the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders (OVAR) at their monthly meeting. I used to live in Ottawa, so I’m looking forward to seeing many friends at the dinner.

I’ll be talking about how I ended up in S scale, and the research I did before jumping into 1:64 and building Port Rowan. I hope I provide some ideas to those in the room who might be considering whether, and how, to model a new prototype, era, theme and/or scale.

(This talk is particularly timely for me, as I’m currently undertaking the same sort of research to decide whether to build a new layout based on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. I’ve been posting a lot of information about the NS&T on its own blog: If you haven’t visited lately, you might want to have a look…)

OVAR meetings are always a good time. I’m looking forward to it!

The NS&T: The end of Port Rowan?

The short answer is “no”. The long answer is “not yet” and “possibly not ever”.

I’ve had a couple of readers ask if my interest in the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway means I will be dismantling the Port Rowan layout.

As I mentioned in my first post about the NS&T, I have a number of issues to address before I decide whether to put Port Rowan in the bin. These include:

1 – Building the NS&T equipment I’ve acquired to my satisfaction.

2 – Building some overhead wire to my satisfaction.

3 – Designing a layout for my space that I would actually want to build and operate.

4 – (And this is important) A commitment to finishing Port Rowan. I’m so close that it would be unfortunate to not do so. Providing circumstances (eg: moving, major mechanical failure in the house, etc.) do not force me to dismantle Port Rowan, I’ll get it done.

Addressing the above four issues could require a few more years. And it’s possible that I may never address all of them, in which case Port Rowan stays put.

It’s true that if I do decide to build an NS&T layout, Port Rowan will have to go. But that’s fine. Most of the investment in this layout is in the skills I’ve developed – which I can carry forward to the next project.

As for the physical plant, most of that is reusable too. Equipment, structures, trees, electronics… all can find a home on my new layout, or on modules for the S Scale Workshop. What would be lost? Some benchwork. Some track. Some basic scenery. That’s about it. I can live with that.

No: I will not be selling off Port Rowan – either whole or in pieces. I’ve had a few people ask about that. It’s not going to happen. See above re: physical plant.

I’m excited about the NS&T because it hits many of my hot buttons. I have a stronger personal connection to it than to Port Rowan, which was chosen simply for achievability. That said, if Port Rowan comes down, it will survive in some form or another. As an example, I may rebuild the terminal area into a module for the S Scale Workshop. We’ll see…

Meantime, I’ve created a new blog about the NS&T precisely because I want a place to collect and organize my thoughts and information about the next layout, without cluttering up the blog about Port Rowan. To that end, I’ll stop posting about the NS&T here. If you want to know more, follow along with the new blog.

The NS&T: Well, that escalated quickly…

Soon after starting this blog about my adventures with Port Rowan, I decided that I would never embark upon another layout project without also writing a blog about it.

Given that I’m in the very early stages of deciding whether to embark upon a layout based on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway, it should come as no surprise that I’ve set up a blog for it. You can find it by clicking on this image:

NST-Blog Header

There’s not much to see, yet. But I’ve included the usual email sign-up form so you can follow along if you’re interested.

Hoo-boy: It’s the NS&T!

That’s “Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto” – and it’s like kryptonite to me. I go weak at the knees for this stuff…


In an earlier post, I mentioned that I picked up a number of pieces from my friend William Flatt, who is downsizing his hobby due to age.

William is an excellent modeller who works in S scale, and models a very unusual prototype: a former interurban in the Niagara Peninsula that became an electrified subsidiary of the Canadian National Railway.


I have a long history with electrics, and the NS&T. I grew up in Toronto, and my first exposure to full-size railroading was the Toronto Transit Commission’s extensive streetcar lines and (at the time) two-route subway system. Today, I live in a neighbourhood bounded on three sides by streetcar lines. The fourth side is defined by the subway. (As a consequence, our vehicle spends most of its time in the garage.)

Later – around age 12 – my parents and I moved to St. Catharines. And while the NS&T was long gone by that time, the CNR still ran freights on NS&T trackage through the city – including up the middle of streets – as part of its Grantham Subdivision.

CNR Grantham Sub - Merritton
(The ex-NS&T yard at Merritton, Ontario – in the southeast corner of St. Catharines)

I would walk to high school along one such street – Louisa Street – and a couple of times a week I could count on seeing a freight behind an EMD switcher as it headed to the local General Motors plant…

CNR at GM Ontario Street - 1993
(While visiting my parents a few years after university, I snapped this photo of the CNR passing between the GM plants on Ontario Street. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw a train on this line…)

If I recall correctly, the GM Ontario Street job worked five days a week, but my timing wasn’t always perfect. Still, I was curious about the local lines – who wouldn’t be? – and was delighted to discover that they had once hosted freight motors under wire. A couple of books were published, and I grabbed them as soon as I could at my local hobby shop.

Between the TTC and the NS&T, electrics became a strong influence in my hobby. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, many hobbyists my age were inspired by the appalachian coal hauling layouts build by people named Al and Tony – but my hobby hero was Bob Hegge, and the articles I looked forward to in the hobby press were those covering his O scale Crooked Mountain Lines I even have a CML tribute boxcar on my layout.

Many hobbyists model the railway that influenced us at a formative age. I have several friends who do exactly that: to name a couple, Bob Fallowfield is modelling the CP Rail of his youth in Woodstock, Ontario, while Hunter Hughson is recreating the Penn Central in New York State – a line he rail-fanned with his father. By all counts, I should be building a layout based on the CNR in St. Catharines in the 1970s-1980s. But I’m not – for a few reasons.

I’ve never been able to design a CNR Grantham Sub layout that would balance prototype accuracy with my available space. The era I saw first-hand included some pretty big equipment – up to and including 86-foot high cube boxcars that trundled up the street to a General Motors plant.

Boxcars at the GM plant on Ontario Street

Even in HO, those require some space-eating curves. And that’s just as well, because what really appealed to me about the lines in St. Catharines was their electric heritage.

But that posed another problem, in that there are few models of suitable NS&T equipment. I wasn’t about to scratch-build everything. (Keep in mind that I’m only just learning to bash brass and use machine tools – skills that are invaluable when it comes to making locomotives from scratch.)

Now, I knew that in addition to being an excellent modeller, William was also a manufacturer. To model the NS&T in S scale, he designed and produced photo etched sheets and cast parts for various freight motors. I first saw examples of these at the 2007 Copetown Train Show, where the S Scale Workshop was exhibiting its Free-mo style layout. (As an aside, I was not yet a member of the group and their Free-mo layout was less than a year old at the time.)

Will Flatt's work at Copetown
(William’s model of freight motor #18 and express car #41)

The first time I saw William’s work, a couple of his models were on static display on the S Scale Workshop layout. (I could not get a better photo, unfortunately.) I had no idea that he was creating kits for some of the NS&T equipment – and by the time I found out, he was sold out.

At various meets over the years I’ve picked up a couple of unbuilt kits for NS&T freight motors #18 and #20. It was definitely a case of “buy them while I could”, but they’ve always been a low priority for me: I could turn the finished models into a diorama, but two locomotives weren’t enough to convince me to model the NS&T – and anyway, I’m modelling the line to Port Rowan, right?

NST 18
(NST 18)

NST 20
(NST 20)

I knew that William was not interested in selling the NS&T equipment that he’d built. I wouldn’t be either: the models represent a lot of time, and many are the pilot models for his kits. But he did have some unbuilt kits and some part-built models for sale, plus all the detail parts needed to finish them. And that’s how come I now own a small fleet of NS&T potential:

NST 8, 15, 19:

NST motor 15

NST 19

NS&T 15 and 19
(Mostly-finished bodies for NS&T freight motors #15 and #19. I also bought an unbuilt set of etchings and parts for #8 – a third motor built to this design, and the subject of the lead photo for this post)

NST 17:

NST 17

NS&T 17
(The etching sheet for NS&T freight motor #17 – a steeple cab. I also bought the parts to finish this)

NST 620 class:

NST 620

NST 620
(The etching sheet for an NS&T 620-class interurban. Again, I also bought a set of castings to finish this one)

Added to what I have already acquired, I have six freight motors. That’s a respectable fleet. While I only have the parts for a single passenger car, the NS&T hosted a number of fan trips and excursions over the years, so I can use the car for that.

IF… I build a new layout.

Will I do that? I don’t know – yet. And I won’t make the decision until several milestones are achieved.

First – I intend to finish Port Rowan. I’m so close, it would be unfortunate to not do so. I enjoy my Port Rowan layout but I have no personal connection to the prototype: I chose to model this line for the very practical reason that it fit my layout space.

Second – I would have to design a layout that I would actually want to build. I’m picky about layout designs and compromises. In fact, this is something that has prevented me from modelling the CNR Grantham Subdivision in the past. That said, modelling the earlier era – the NS&T under wire – opens up new possibilities for me. For one thing, the freight equipment is shorter, and curves could be tighter – tighter even than the 42″ radius I used on Port Rowan (which is already pretty tight – the passenger equipment barely negotiates it). For another thing, the NS&T offers different scenes and customers to model than the CNR of the 1970s-1980s.

Third – I would have to actually build all of these electrics – to my satisfaction. I can do it – I’m sure I have the skills – but until I have them ready to run there’s no point in considering a new layout. Get the equipment finished first, then address the layout. It worked for Port Rowan, after all…

Fourth – I would have to build some trolley wire and get it working to my satisfaction. Despite being a traction guy at heart, I’ve never done this. Can I do it? I’d better figure that out before I commit to a layout.

If I can satisfy those four criteria, then I’ll retire Port Rowan and embark on a new adventure. Until then, Port Rowan is safe. If I can’t satisfy those four criteria, then I see a wicked good NS&T diorama in my future…

As a bonus, there were a number of locations where the NS&T met the steam-powered Canadian National – from Merritton to Port Colborne – so if/when I do embark on this adventure my CNR locomotives and other equipment can all be put to good use.

Pack the trunks and set up the refreshment trolley…

Baggage Wagon and Waving Ladies

I have a busy travel schedule this year, with a number of hobby events already booked across North America. Maybe I’ll see you at one of the following?

Burlington, Ontario – February 10, 2018
Once again this year, I’ll be helping my friend Brian Dickey to exhibit his 7mm Great Western Railway layout, “Roweham”, at the Burlington Model Railway Club’s annual Winter Model Railway Show. (You can search this blog for “Roweham” to learn more.)

Ottawa, Ontario – March 13, 2018
I’m the after-dinner speaker for the monthly meeting of the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders (OVAR). I was a member of this amazing group in the 1990s when I lived in the nation’s capital and it’ll be great to catch up with many old friends from the hobby. I’ll be speaking about my layout.

Brampton, Ontario – April 28-29, 2018
Once again, I’ll be helping Brian exhibit his “Roweham” layout – this time at the Great British Train Show.

Enfield, Connecticut – June 1-2, 2018
I’m attending the New England/Northeast Railroad Prototype Modeler’s Meet – my second time at this event. I’ll be giving a clinic on being a prototype modeller in a minority scale, and the opportunities and challenges this represents. I’ll use my layout as my example.

Austin, Texas – June 13-17, 2018
I’m the banquet speaker at The Austin Eagle, the NMRA Lone Star Region annual convention. I’ll be offering suggestions on how to make railway modelling an appealing hobby to millennials – many of whom rarely see a real train. I will also present a clinic on my layout.

Collinsville, Illinois – July 20-21, 2018
I’m attending the St. Louis Railroad Prototype Modeler’s Meet for the first time. I’ve been asked if I would talk about S scale as a viable option for prototype modelling and naturally I’ll be using my layout as my example.

I’m looking forward to meeting many new people, and catching up with friends (including those I’ve only ever met online). My trunks are packed and there’s a fresh pot of tea on the refreshment trolley, so I’m ready to go!

Refreshment Trolley

“End of the Line”

This 1959 documentary from the National Film Board offers a nostalgic look at the steam locomotive in Canada as it passes from reality to history. As with all NFB titles, it’s extremely well produced.

There’s a lot to absorb here – not just about the end of the steam era, but also about how different groups of people reacted to that. And of course there’s plenty of fascinating footage with well-done sound.

Grab a coffee, tea or adult beverage – and enjoy.

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

As an aside, I’m grateful to the team of professionals who took the time to create this piece – and that we have the NFB to produce and share such work.

A railway modelling craftsman reflects on his hobby

Boy, does this sound familiar!

Gene Deimling is a well-known modeller working in Proto:48. He’s responsible for the patterns for many fine rolling stock kits that O scalers enjoy. He blogs about his hobby, and I’m a regular reader. His most recent post really struck a chord with me – and I’m sure it’ll resonate with many of you, too.

Click on the image, below, to read it:

Gene's Wanderings
(Is there a better way to wander than in a doodlebug? I think not!)

I have offered up several comments about this post on his blog – and in the interests of keeping the conversation in one place, I’m turning off comments on this post. If you have something to contribute, please do so! But do it in Gene’s original post. I’m following the comments on his post so I’ll take part in the discussion there.

Gene – thanks for sharing your thoughts! (And thanks for the shout-out for Port Rowan in 1:64!)