More trees for Port Rowan

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I’ll get to the trees in a minute. But first: I had a fun day yesterday…

A colleague from university got in touch and arranged to visit with his wife. Doug Moorhouse and I were both railway modelling enthusiasts all through school, but it never really came up.

(Apparently, when one is 20 years old, trying to get through post-secondary education, start a career, and impress the many beautiful 20-year-old women in your classes, professing a passion for model trains isn’t considered a conversation-starter: Who knew? Anyway…)

So, fast-forward 30 years or so, and Doug gets in touch. He and his wife Rose are going to hit a local club railway open house on the weekend, and could they come by to see the layout afterwards? Of course!

We had a great time. I gave Doug and Rose a tour of the layout. We even ran a train, and although we didn’t spot any freight or follow a schedule, we did turn the train in Port Rowan and take it back to Simcoe, so we did do a bit of switching. I learned that I still had an emergency stop button programmed on one of my two wireless throttles – a feature that’s easy to accidentally hit, so the DCC system shut off a couple of times mysteriously. (I figured out the problem this morning and reprogrammed the button in question to do something less disruptive to operations.)

Doug works in audio production and was really interested in the ambient audio on my layout, so we discussed the hardware and sound files that I use for that. It was nice to talk audio with another person trained in this stuff…

After tying up the train in Simcoe, the four of us went up the street for dinner at Harbord House (as is the tradition with new visitors to the layout). It was wonderful to reconnect with Doug and to meet Rose. It was interesting to learn that other people from my past life were also railway modellers – including at least one professor. And we’re already planning another get-together.

I decided that I wanted to get a little more done on the layout before Doug and Rose visited, so over the past week I worked on more trees for Port Rowan. I’m sure there was still a whiff of hairspray in the air, because the canopy went on Saturday night. But I have finished the trees behind the elevated coal delivery spur and it makes a huge difference to the appearance of this scene. I’ve taken way more photos of St. Williams than of Port Rowan – and I realize that’s in part because Port Rowan has not been as visually interesting, because the scenes lacked the drama of tall trees. Drama? Well, I think they make all the difference in terms of framing what I see through the camera lens. But have a look and judge for yourself.

Here’s a photo from four years ago, without trees:
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And here are two photos taken today, from a similar point of view:
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I know which look I prefer.

The forest continues to march towards the end of the Port Rowan peninsula. Time to make more trees…

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German 1:32 steam – with steam

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

This is from a few years ago now, but my work this week with LokSound Full Throttle Steam has me thinking about the next frontier of locomotive control and realism – and these 1:32 scale models of German locomotives remain right on the edge.

This is not your grandfather’s hi-rail smoke generator, which creates smoke that looks like you dropped a lit cigarette down the stack.

The question is, would anybody want this much smoke in their layout room? That said, our furnace is equipped with a steam boiler humidifier to combat the lung-cracking dry air of the typical Canadian winter. Maybe a pair of these could be used instead? “Honey – it’s kinda dry in here: I’m going to go run the layout.”

I note that LokProgrammer has a whole tab devoted to smoke effects…

Roweham 2017

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(The passenger train – an auto coach pushed by a 14XX class 0-4-2T – arrives at Roweham)

Those who have read this blog for some time now know that I’m a fan of smaller layouts. I’m far more impressed by a small, thoughtfully-conceived and expertly executed model railway than I am by a half-baked basement-filler. The hobby is not about quantity for me; it’s about quality. In fact, I have a whole other blog devoted to what I call Achievable Layouts.

So it’ll come as no surprise that last Saturday, I was delighted to help my friend Brian Dickey exhibit his 7mm (British O scale – 1:43) masterpiece, “Roweham”, at the annual model railway show organized by the club to which he belongs. Also on hand was my friend Pierre Oliver – who, like me, helped Brian exhibit Roweham at last year’s show. We were joined this year by Ross Oddi. (Great to meet you, Ross!)

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(Ross, Pierre, and Brian on deck)

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(Ross deploys Brian’s version of the Galvanick Lucipher to break the train as engineer Pierre prepares his next move. Brian’s layout uses prototypically-correct three-link couplings, which add to the play value)

For me, Brian has really hit all the targets with Roweham. The modelling is excellent, and careful. The design is realistic and relaxed – perfect for a branchline terminal in a Green and Pleasant Land. The locomotives and rolling stock are appropriate for the modelling subject, and run flawlessly. (We had one derailment during the show – the result of buffer lock between a longish 2-6-0 and a short wagon. Brian immediately removed the mogul from service so it would not detract from the presentation.) And the presentation is professional – from the skirting, to the fascia, to Brian’s handsome waistcoat complete with brass GWR buttons. (Since I’m part of the exhibition team, I’ll be happy to follow Brian’s lead and pick up a waistcoat from his supplier.)

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(An overview of Roweham, from the terminal end)

In short, it’s clear that Brian has made an effort to reward the public for their $5 admission fee – even as he enjoys this layout at home. This also informed Brian’s wise decision to have three people help him exhibit Roweham. He wanted to make sure he could talk to visitors even as the layout continued to operate, and he wanted to make sure everybody had a chance to take a break from operating – a much better situation than one person, standing on his feet for six hours, trying to explain the layout to guests and keep the trains moving.

While it’s a modest design, with just four turnouts, Roweham is already finished to a level rarely seen at exhibition in these parts, and Brian continues to add details. New features this year include a cattle dock, a water tank, a brick workshop, some tractors, and more.

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Meantime, Brian has taken a second pass at things, especially equipment, to give it a tasteful weathering job. All in all, Roweham will only get better each time it’s on display. Here are some more shots from the day…

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Most modellers I meet are obsessed with quantity. They talk about the number of locomotives they have, or the number of freight cars, or the size of their layout. The first question often asked is, “How big is your layout?” – with emphasis on “big”. How different the hobby would be if we instead started with the question, “What story are you trying to tell?” – and then gauged how well the layout accomplishes that.

Brian’s layout tells a very clear story, and that’s why it succeeds so well.

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Thanks again, Brian, for letting me be a part of your exhibition!

Wabash work session : November 2016

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Yesterday, I joined friends Doug Currie, Mark Hill and Ryan Mendell at Pierre Oliver‘s house for a work session on Pierre’s Wabash Railroad.

Pierre organized the work session with one major task in hand: to pull the troublesome QSI decoders from his fleet of 20 Wabash F-units, and replace them with LokSound decoders from ESU. (UPDATE: After reading this post, Pierre has posted this morning on his own blog to explain why he decided to swap decoders across his fleet.)

Mark, Ryan and Pierre worked on this for most of the day at a table set up in the layout room:

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(Diesels disassembled and prepped for work)

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(The pulled and piled QSI decoders)

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(Plenty of room for a LokSound unit)

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(For this type of work, a professional soldering station is your friend: The Weller WES51)

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(With new decoders, Wabash cab units in the west staging yard are once again ready to race across southern Ontario)

Mark, Ryan and Pierre managed to re-decoder about half of the fleet before we had to leave, but Pierre promised to keep the momentum going and tackle the rest in the coming days.

While those three were busy at Soldering Central, Doug and I were given other tasks.

Doug made significant progress installing foam board insulation along the mainline east of St. Thomas:

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Meantime, I devised, built and mounted a push-rod for a switch in a tricky situation: right on the end of the steel trestle at the east end of St. Thomas yard. This required adding a styrene box around the mechanism to prevent scenery material from gumming up the works. It also required splicing in a new piece of fascia, which Pierre makes from 0.060″ thick styrene sheet. Pierre will shape the fascia after doing the scenery behind it. We mocked up the scenery with some green poly fiber to prove that the mechanism can be hidden under the hillside:

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All in all, an excellent day, including lunch at the Sunset Cafe and dinner at Boston Pizza. As always, work was accomplished and much hilarity ensued. Definitely a grand day out!

3D Printing at home

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Our hobby is embracing 3D Printing, but we tend to think of it only in terms of commercial services such as Shapeways. These services have printers costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they can create ready to use (or almost ready to use) models for us.

By contrast, we typically dismiss consumer-grade 3D Printers – those costing under $1,000 – as being too coarse for our needs.

But a couple of months ago, I hosted modeller Jeff Pinchbeck at the TrainMasters TV studio for a discussion on these home 3D Printers, and how they can be a valuable addition to our workbenches. Jeff took the plunge and bought a 3D Printer about a year ago, and since then he’s found many uses for it – including many he didn’t expect.

The first of a four-part series on 3D Printing is now available for viewing on TrainMasters. In this episode, we discuss why Jeff decided to buy a 3D Printer, how he selected the model that he did, what’s in the box, and how the process actually works. Jeff brought his 3D Printer into the studio, so we even turn it on and start printing something.

The rest of the series will be shared over the coming months. But be warned: After watching these four segments, you may be clearing space on your workbench for a 3D Printer. I know I’m thinking about it.

Enjoy if you watch.

UPDATE: Part two of this four-part series is also now online for viewing.

To Caledonia, Lowbanks and beyond with Chris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(What are they doing over there?!?)

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

What gives with that?

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

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

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

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

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

Not cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 Brampton Model Railway Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candy comes in navy with green accents

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

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

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(The Festool Roadshow: a workshop in a rig)

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

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

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

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

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(Routers and “Domino” joiners)

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(Sanders and Systainers)

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