Austin Eagle: Layout tours

My trip to Texas to take part in The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s annual convention – included a terrific self-guided tour of area layouts. On the Saturday, a bunch of us hopped into my rental vehicle (a Toyota 4Runner, which had plenty of space for a crew) and hit the highway.

A highlight for me was a visit to the Proto:48 layout being built by master craftsman Jim Zwernemann. I’ve written about this on my Achievable Layouts blog, and you can read that story by clicking on Jim’s GE 70-Tonner, below:

Jim Z - SP 70 Tonner

Another key stop on the layout tour, for me, was the HO scale Santa Fe layout built by noted designer David Barrow. Again, you can read more about that experience on my Achievable Layouts blog, by clicking on the image below:

Barrow - layout tour

In addition to these two layouts, we visited a nice HOn3 layout built by Ben Sargent. Ben’s Santa Fe & San Juan Railroad models the D&RGW’s narrow gauge Chili Line in New Mexico.

Ben Sargent

Ben Sargent
(I liked the false front stock pen – what a neat idea for a minimum-space model!)

Ben Sargent

Sargent Press
(Ben is a retired political cartoonist whose layout shares space with his speciality printing business, run with this 1905-era press. Ben’s press and his collection of type for it garnered as much interest at the layout did!)

We also visited the HO scale MKT Sedalia Division being built by Steve Nelson – covering the line between Franklin Missouri and Parsons, Kansas in the autumn of 1966. Steve is a modeller I can really relate to: he shows restraint in the composition of his scenes, but not trying to crowd too many ideas into a given space. Instead, he devotes proper space to each idea.

For example, note how much space is devoted to these harvest scenes – and how Steve has created vignettes in the fields:

Steve Nelson - Harvest

Steve Nelson - Harvest

Steve Nelson - Harvest

Steve Nelson - Harvest

I was also impressed by this large soybean processing operation. I didn’t realize how many different car types are required to process soybeans and ship various finished products – it’s almost as complex as a paper mill, and would make an excellent subject for a one-industry layout:

Steve Nelson - Soybeans

Steve Nelson - Soybeans

Finally, Steve had a simple but clever homemade device for laying out parallel track. It’s pretty self explanatory:

Steve Nelson - Parallel Track

Thanks to everyone who hosted layout tours. I really enjoyed seeing your work!

Austin Eagle: operating sessions

My trip to Texas to take part in The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s annual convention – included a really fun day of operating on local layouts – starting with a session on the HO scale Port of New York Railroad being built by Riley Triggs. You can read about Riley’s layout on my Achievable Layouts blog by clicking on the following image:

PoNY Herald

Later the same day, I took part in a large operating session on the HO scale D&RGW Moffat Route built by David Nicastro and his son, Sam Nicastro. Sam is a millennial who is already passionate about, and accomplished in, our hobby. He’s a modeller, a railfan, and a member of several groups including the Operations Special Interest Group. More than anything I can do, guys like Sam will help keep the hobby strong and viable in the future.

Their layout features a number of advanced electronics applications, including a dispatcher’s desk complete with virtual CTC machine linked into the DCC system and phone system. What’s most remarkable about this is it’s Internet-enabled, so the Nicastros can call upon a friend out of town (or anywhere in the world) to direct traffic during an operating session.

Nicastro DRGW - Dispatchers Office

David’s goal with this layout was to give one the feeling of running a train through the mountains, and he is certainly achieving that. I signed up to run a manifest freight as it would take me the length of the mainline – from terminal to terminal – and it took almost two hours to make the trip, with several pauses along the way to meet opposing trains.

DRGW

DRGW

DRGW - through the mountains

Moffat tunnel

Lift gate

While this is not the sort of layout I would build for myself, I really enjoyed running on it and would be happy to contribute to building and operating the Moffat Route if I lived in the area. Thanks, David and Sam – and your crew – for hosting us!

The Austin Eagle is in the books!

In mid-June, I spent four days in and around Austin, Texas to attend The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s annual convention. I had an amazing time! Everyone I met in the region was incredibly friendly and even though they knew each other much better than they knew me, they immediately made me feel right at home.

I packed a lot into the four days – including two operating sessions, a day of touring layouts, a clinic presentation, speaking at the Saturday night banquet, and a whole bunch of great food, craft beer and engaging conversation. It’s hard to know where to begin.

But I’ll start with the banquet. I was the guest speaker, and whenever I do one of these I’m cognizant that there’s a wide range of interests in the room. Speaking at the banquet is not the time to present a tour of your home layout, no matter how well known you are (and I’ve seen that done by some people in the hobby who are much better known than I am). That’s fodder for a clinic (and I did discuss my layout in my Friday morning time slot).

As with other such engagements – including the Algonquin Turn 2016 in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and the Ontario Manifest (Ontario, California) last September – I used the keynote opportunity to share some thoughts about where the hobby is going, where we’ll find the next generation of serious hobbyists, and what we can do to foster them.

I have done many things in this hobby. I have worked in several scale/gauge combinations, attended conventions, operations weekends, RPM meets, narrow gauge gatherings, SIG events, train shows, exhibitions in which trains are displayed to the general public, and more. I’ve given speeches, written articles, produced and co-hosted a podcast, and been both a guest and a host on TrainMasters TV. And, of course, I’ve blogged.

While that reads a bit like a brag, I feel I need to mention it because as a result of this exposure, I’ve had brilliant conversations with many, many people about our hobby. That includes people who have been railway modelling enthusiasts for decades… those who have just started… and even those who have never heard of the hobby.

Man using Ear Trumpet

One thing that I’ve learned from all of those conversations is that for many of us in the hobby, this is more than a way to kill some time. It’s been a lifelong journey of friendships and learning. We love this hobby – and many of us wonder how we encourage more people to join us as railway modelling enthusiasts. In particular, we wonder how we’re going to reach young people.

I run into similar questions in my professional life as a speech writer. I’ve worked with many clients who are trying to connect their businesses – and the products and services they provide – with customers, and one demographic that everybody is trying to figure out is the Millennials. Broadly described, the Millennials are the cohort of young people born in the 1990s or later.

One of the biggest factors that sets Millennials apart from the rest of us is that this is a group that has never known a world in which the Internet did not exist. That has had a huge influence on how the Millennials think and act.

I won’t get into detail here – I had an hour for my speech, and I filled it – but I shared a number of insights about the Millennials, including:

1 – The world in which they’re living. Millennials gravitate to urban cores for a variety of reasons related to lifestyle and employment. And those are expensive places to live. That means dedicated space for a layout is limited, or non-existent.

2 – The economic reality they face: For a variety of reasons related to cost of living and the changing nature of employment, it’s expected that the members of this generation will be the first who are financially worse off than their parents.

3 – The relevance – or, more to the point, irrelevance – of real railroads in their daily lives.

Those are challenges, but there are some positive things to be said, too. Specifically, there’s a group of Millennials – call them The Makers – who love to build things. They are the future of our hobby.

4 – The Makers are building battle bots, steampunk accessories, LEGO machines, and more. They speak Arduino and Raspberry Pi. They’re comfortable with designing on computer, to run a machine (such as a 3D Printer) that does the construction. They develop apps to integrate their smart phones with their devices. And so on. Our challenge is not “How do we get young people to build things?” but “How do we identify those who do – and convince them to give our hobby a try?”

5 – Our hobby embodies many characteristics that appeal to Millennial Makers – including the collaborative nature of the “operations” game that we play, in which there are no winners or losers.

6 – I’ve run into many examples in our hobby where our interests and those of The Makers overlap. So we’re not as far apart as we think.

However, to engage with The Millenial Makers, we have to take a different approach. For them, trains are not the gateway into our hobby. I believe we need to back them into becoming railway modellers by emphasizing those things that appeal to the Millennial Makers – such as electronics, interactivity, collaborative work, and social media. For example:

7 – If a Millennial is doing something with servos and controllers, ask them how they would tackle a semaphore signalling system or train order boards.
 
8 – If they’re doing something with RFID, ask how they’d apply it to tracking freight cars on a layout.

9 – If they’re creating designs for a 3D Printer, ask how they would replicate a diesel control stand, in miniature, to hold the electronics found in a DCC throttle.
 
10 – If they’re interested in APP development, ask how they would create an APP to turn a smart watch into a fast clock.

And yes, these are ideas that are already being tackled by hobbyists, but so what? These are the places where our hobbies meet. Let’s take advantage of that. And let’s recognize that there are many ways to approach a problem – a fresh, non-hobby set of eyes may be just what we need.

That said, reaching Millennial Makers will require changes to how many of us do things in the hobby. For example:

11 – We can’t do this if we’re preaching to younger people, because that will just drive them away. To encourage more people to join our hobby, we need to do more listening – to find out what fires a person’s interests, and then relate that to what we do. We enjoy a hobby unlike any other in terms of the depth and breadth of what can be done in it. No matter what a person says they’re interested in, I am confident we can find examples in our hobby to which they can relate. But we have to know what they like, first – so shut up and listen. And yes, I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to not listening. I think we fall into this because we are so keen to tell people about our great hobby. We want to share it. And sometimes we smother others.

12 – We also can’t engage Millennial Makers – or anybody else for that matter – if our only public presence is the Train Show. That’s because at train shows, we’re mostly talking to ourselves. Say the words “Train Show” and an image comes to mind that, frankly, many people outside of the hobby would not consider interesting. To reach Millennial Makers, I think we need to do more to take our hobby to where they are – to events such as Maker Faires, and meetings at Maker Spaces. (If you’re not sure what those are, Google them.) And we need to do more to put our efforts online where younger, connected people can find them. Starting a blog is a good example of how we can do that, and in a previous post I’ve offered some thoughts on doing that, as well as some reasons why your hobby might benefit from one.

I hope I left the banquet attendees with some useful information and some ideas for further discussions. If you were in the room, thanks for letting me speak – and do share your thoughts on this via the comments section on this post (or start your own blog!), because it would be great to hear from you.

In fact, I’m already receiving a great deal of interesting (and positive) feedback from the banquet speech. A number of attendees approached me afterwards, to run ideas past me or offer up suggestions on how they intend to incorporate some of my ideas into their local activities as a way to encourage more people outside the hobby to consider railway modelling as a worthwhile, rewarding, lifetime hobby. What was especially notable about my presentation this time around is that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – rather than fret that the hobby may be changing, the members of the Lone Star Region of the NMRA seem, to a person, to be ready to grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it. It convinces me that the hobby will remain strong in the Lone Star Region.

As an aside, The Austin Eagle was the final regional convention for Charlie Getz in his role as NMRA President. I was pleased that he was in the room for my address. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to talk to him afterwards – so I didn’t get any immediate feedback. But I was pleased to read Charlie’s thoughts in the July/August 2018 NMRA eBulletin:

Getz-eBulletin

(Thanks for the kind words, Charlie. And you’re right – this hobby is robust enough that it has a bright future!)

I also took part in a couple of operating sessions and a self-guided layout tour, which I’ve covered in separate posts.

Finally, I ate some superb food in Texas. The greater Austin area has a vibrant food and craft beer culture. A highlight on the trip included Jack Allen’s Kitchen, a small chain of farm-to-table restaurants. I liked it so much I bought the cookbook on the way out the door and my wife and I have been enjoying a taste of Texas ever since.

And it wouldn’t be a trip to Texas without barbecue – including Green Mesquite and The Salt Lick.

Thanks to the organizing committee for putting on the terrific event – and a special thanks to Riley Triggs for reaching out to me and asking me to speak at the banquet. I had an awesome time (despite picking up a nasty cold on the plane trip home) and I look forward to returning to Austin in the future!

See you at The Austin Eagle!

Austin Eagle Banner

I’m putting the finishing touches on the presentations I’ll be delivering at The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s 2018 convention being held June 13-17 in Austin, Texas. If you’re in the area and want to attend, click on the banner, above, to head straight to the convention website.

I’ll be delivering two presentations…

For the Saturday night banquet, I’ll be offering up some thoughts about where the hobby is going, where we’ll find the next generation of serious hobbyists, and what we can do to foster them.

For many of us, the hobby is more than a way to kill time. It’s a lifelong journey of friendships and learning. We love this hobby ‐ and many of us wonder how we can encourage more people to join us as railway modeling enthusiasts. In particular, we wonder how we’re going to reach younger people. Based on my experience in my professional life as a corporate speech writer, I’ve garnered some insights into the demographic known as The Millennials. I’m going to share some thoughts on how we connect with a cohort that has never known a world in which the Internet did not exist, and who many dismiss ‐ wrongly ‐ as being “more interested in playing games on their phones than in building things”. I’ll also offer some suggestions about how we make our hobby relevant to more people ‐ especially these Millennials ‐ at a time when few people encounter real trains on a daily basis.

Since I’m making the trip for the banquet anyway, I’ve also offered to speak about my layout – but recognizing that an S scale Canadian-themed branch line will be of little interest to many at a regional convention in Texas, I’m using my layout as a jumping off point to talk about working in a minority scale.

In my clinic, I’ll share the opportunities and challenges of modeling a specific prototype in a minority scale. I’ll cover how I ended up in a less popular scale and how that influenced my decision when choosing a prototype. I’ll offer suggestions for others to research and ponder to determine whether a niche scale is a viable one in which to work. Anybody who has ever considered switching scales or who is interested in working in a second scale can benefit from this clinic.

I’ve never been to Texas. I’m looking forward to visiting Austin and putting some faces to some names at the convention: maybe yours will be one of them!

No NERPM for me this year

Well, nuts.

Things did not work out. Something has come up and I won’t be able to attend the New England / Northeast RPM June 1-2 in Enfield, Connecticut.

I was really looking forward to it, but life sometimes gets in the way of trains.

No need to send best wishes, etc. It’s all good. But if you want to take my place, there’s a clinic slot open at 9am on the Friday…

South Paris Switcher

My friend Ryan Mendell is embarking on a new layout project. Having freelanced for many years, building his delightful Algonquin Railway, Ryan has now been bitten by the prototype bug and is going to build an HO layout based on the Grand Trunk Railway in Maine.

Click on the image, below, to visit his new blog and have a look around. It’s worth the trip!

South Paris Switcher - Header

(I’ve disabled comments on this post, because any comments about Ryan’s new project should really go on his blog.)

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.

Ermagerd!

“Ermagerd! I’m at the trrrn shrrr!”

Ermagerd!

All appearances to the contrary, I’m having a great time at the 2018 Great British Train Show. To find out why, click on the photo.

UPDATE: The organizers had a video produced at the show. It’s a nice overview of what was on offer. Roweham appears starting around 22:50…

Mark: He’s right, you know…

My friend Mark Zagrodney writes A Model Meander and it’s always worth a read – but his post today really resonates with me, and there’s not a single image of a model railway in sight.

I won’t give away the story, but it involves the important role that slippers play in the hobby.

Enjoy if you visit – and while you’re there, have a look around at what Mark is doing. I always enjoy the visit.

Start your own dinner club!

As I mentioned earlier this month, I was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders. I used to be a member, many years ago when I lived in the nation’s capital. And that experience inspired me a few years ago to set up a similar group in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Toronto Railway Supper Club is a social club – we don’t build a layout, hold a contest, or have clinics. There are plenty of other organizations that do that – and members of those organizations are part of the supper club.

Supper Club - March 2015

(A member of the Toronto Railway Supper Club discusses a brass model he’s been re-detailing. No, it wasn’t me…)

As the name suggests, we get together once a month and have dinner. More recently, we’ve started having a member (or members) do a brief after-dinner presentation. The point is to gather with hobbyists who are, perhaps, outside our normal circle of friends or modelling interests. We can learn from each other, over a meal and an adult beverage. New friendships are formed, too!

I ran the Toronto Railway Supper Club for three years, before stepping aside to let some others take over for a while. I think it’s important to build up a group of people who can manage such an organization. (That’s the OVAR model, too: that group has an executive team that regularly changes up as people decide it’s time for someone else to take a turn.)

Some people have asked how I set up the Toronto Railway Supper Club, so here are a few tips – based on my experience – for setting up a supper club of your own:

1 – Work with the venue. Before I even approached other hobbyists about the supper club, I talked to my local gastropub (yep – Harbord House) to see if they could accommodate a large group. We picked a Monday, since that’s a day that’s normally slow for the pub. Each month, I’d check with the pub to confirm a date, so they could write it in their calendar. And I would get in touch with the pub about a week before the event to let them know how many people we would have – approximately – so they could plan staffing, etc., accordingly. (More on that, below.)

2 – Start small. For the first event, I invited fewer than a dozen friends. I described what I wanted to do, and then at our first dinner, I invited to each invite somebody to join them at the second dinner. The idea was to grow gradually, so I could figure out the details as I went along. And by having my friends invite friends, I would meet a bunch of people I did not know well – that was the point, after all.

3 – If the group grows too big for your venue, look for another. This happened with us: once we were regularly getting 25-30 people at Harbord House, we found the noise level was overwhelming. People started to leave the club because it was just too loud. So I went looking for another venue. A friend in the club suggested Louis Cifer Brew Works, which has a mezzanine for larger groups, complete with audio-visual equipment that allowed us to do powerpoint presentations after dinner.

3 – Don’t get stuck in your own niche in the hobby. In other words, don’t make it an S scale group – or a free-mo group – or a D&RGW modellers group. Branch out. In our club, some are primarily interested in operations, while others focus on electronics… or live steam… or building structures. A broad variety of scales, gauges, eras and so on are represented. Some are members of clubs, or historical societies, or museums. Some are manufacturers, while others work at (or own) hobby shops. Some are historians, with no interest in modelling. But the best conversations happen when three or four hobbyists talk about a common subject from different perspectives.

4 – Find a way to organize the event that works for you. When I started the Supper Club, I did this almost entirely by email (sample below), and kept a list on my smart phone of who was attending in a given month. Now that two others are managing the club, they use Doodle polls to announce dinners and tally attendees.

5 – Lay out some ground rules – but not too many. The Toronto Railway Supper Club has one main rule: If you plan to attend, let the organizer know at least a week ahead of time so an accurate number can be given to the venue. That’s it. Oh – and pay your bill at the end of the night: my rule for that, as organizer, was that I would stay until the end of the evening and would cover anybody’s bill – but add a 30% tip for the server. And then I’d collect from the person who dined and dashed. (It’s surprisingly easy for that to happen: when you’re in a conversation and realize your car-pool driver is about to leave, you might grab your coat and go…)

6 – Encourage participation: ask people to bring out models or other projects to display and talk about. If someone is a member of a club, or historical society/museum, or organizes a train show, ask them to talk for a minute or two about what’s going on with their group. Supper clubs should be all about the cross-pollination of ideas. Getting people to talk about what they’re doing is what it’s all about.

7 – As for presentations, they’re a great idea – but keep them light, and short! Remember, most people in the room will not have a strong interest in or extensive knowledge of what you’re doing – and most of them will probably have had a bit too much to eat and drink, because hey: we’re having fun, right? So, no RPM-style clinics. No displays of your encyclopedic knowledge. Give your audience a break, with a presentation that will appeal to a broad range of interests: An overview of your layout is a good one, as is a rail fanning trip you recently took. Pictures are good! 20 minutes is fine. 40 is probably the limit.

8 – Encourage responsibility: encourage car-pooling with designated drivers. If you’re in an urban area, pick a venue that’s close to public transit.

To help you organize your own supper club, here’s a copy of the typical email I would send to members to announce an event.

Hi everyone:

Here are the details for our next get-together…

Monday, September 25, 2017 – 6:00 pm on

Louis Cifer Brew Works
417 Danforth Avenue
Toronto ON M4K 1P1
(Map attached)

http://www.louisciferbrewworks.com

PLEASE CONFIRM YOUR ATTENDANCE BY MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 18TH. And please do not “reply all” when confirming.

As always, knowing how many are on board is vital, so…

IF YOU PLAN TO ATTEND, YOU MUST LET ME KNOW. It’s the ONLY “rule” for this group. Thanks in advance!

As the maps show, Louis Cifer is quite close to the Chester TTC subway station, on the south side of Danforth. It’s also just a few minutes east of the Don Valley Parkway – take the exit for the Danforth/Bloor and go east over the King Eddy Viaduct. There’s are a couple of Green P parking lots in the vicinity. Here are links to five close ones:

http://parking.greenp.com/parking-info/carpark-info/87_14-arundel-avenue.html
http://parking.greenp.com/parking-info/carpark-info/277_242-danforth-avenue.html
http://parking.greenp.com/parking-info/carpark-info/156_18-ferrier-avenue.html
http://parking.greenp.com/parking-info/carpark-info/88_25-ferrier-avenue.html
http://parking.greenp.com/parking-info/carpark-info/78_35-erindale-avenue.html

If you do not want to be a part of this social group, let me know and I’ll remove you from the list. Just because you’re invited, doesn’t mean you have to attend – but we’d love to have you as a part of this group.

If you know someone who you think would be a good addition, let me know that too. Send me an email with their email address, and I’ll invite them.

RIDE SHARING, ETC.:

Some of you are coming in from out of town and I know a few of you live in the same general direction as others in this club. If you have a ride to share, or are looking for one, feel free to ask on this list or contact a list member off-list. You all have each other’s emails by now…

Any questions? Email or call…

I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

That should answer most of your questions – but if not, ask via the comments. And if you start up a supper club, let me know: Maybe I’ll come for a visit!