See you at the Ontario Manifest!

That’s Ontario, California

I’ve been invited to speak at the banquet at Ontario Manifest – the 2017 annual convention for the Pacific Southwest Region of the NMRA. This looks like a lot of fun, and I’m thrilled to take part.

I like California – a lot. I’ve been a couple of times, including for hobby-related events – and there’s a lot of spectacular railway modelling taking place in the state. The people are a ton of fun, too. I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days with them.

For the 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. I spoke on this topic at the Niagara Frontier Region NMRA convention in Ottawa, Canada just over a year ago, and had a lot of interesting feedback from those who attended. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts in California.

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. As the Ontario Manifest website explains…

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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 experience in his professional life as a corporate speech writer, Trevor has garnered some insights into the demographic known as The Millennials. He’ll share 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”. Trevor will 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.

That’s a tall order! But I spoke on this topic at the Niagara Frontier Region NMRA convention in Ottawa, Canada just over a year ago, and had a lot of interesting feedback from those who attended. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts in California.

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 branchlike will be of little interest to many at the convention, I’m using the layout as a jumping off point to talk about working in a minority scale. Again, from the Ontario Manifest website…

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Trevor Marshall is a prototype modeler, and he’s working in S scale. In this clinic, he’ll share theopportunities and challenges of modeling a specific prototype in a minority scale-using his layout as an example. Trevor will cover why he ended up in a less popular scale and how that influenced his decisionwhen choosing a prototype. He’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 look forward to discussing S scale with convention-goers. I wonder if I’ll be the only one working in 1:64?

Ontario Manifest has a great line-up of activities planned – including a visit to the Orange Empire Railway Museum. Those who know me know that I’m a big fan of Interurbans – including the Pacific Electric and Sacramento Northern. So I’m excited to have the opportunity to visit the museum, because they have a lot of preserved Interurban equipment – from those two lines, and others. That’s my Sunday planned…

Ontario Manifest runs September 13-16 in Ontario, California. Check out the convention website for details – and I hope to see some of you there!

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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“The Daily Effort” with Andrew and Chris

Yesterday, I hosted Andrew Batchelor and Chris Abbott for an operating session. Andrew took on the conductor’s role while Chris held down the engineer’s seat – and the session was different than most I host in several respects.

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(The star of the show: M238 after collecting its lifts in St. Williams. It ended up being too long for my sector plate…)

This was the first session I’ve hosted in a long time in which we’ve run Mixed Train M233 / M238. Usually when guests arrive – especially first-time guests like Andrew – we run a freight extra because they’re more familiar to most hobbyists. But Andrew was really interested in the paperwork that I use on the layout, and since there’s a fair bit of paper involved with running The Daily Effort it was the better choice for an ops session.

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(That’s a whole lotta paperwork…)

While I’m quite comfortable with using the waybills and switch lists, I’m a bit rusty with the paperwork for the mail, express, LCL and passenger portion of the Mixed Train, and it showed. My method for calculating the time taken to transfer packages etc between train and baggage wagon is clunky and distracts from the feeling of operating the train. This was not apparent when I was doing it myself, but is definitely an issue when I try to explain the process to guests. So I need to rethink this.

One possibility I’m now seriously considering is to use a set of triggered sounds to represent the time required. My layout’s ambient audio system easily supports this type of application. I may build several sound files that include the following:

– The railway car door unlocking and opening
– The rumble of a baggage wagon being positioned.
– The sounds of hand trucks and workers moving cargo.
– The railway door closing and locking.

If I were to build a half-dozen of these sound files, each of different lengths, and then have the audio system select and play one at random when triggered via a button on the fascia, that might add enough randomness to the time required for a station stop. The fact that each stop could require three such sequences (for combine, baggage/mail, and LCL boxcar) would further randomize the length of a station stop.

I would still retain the paperwork – the conductor would exchange these with the station agent, as he does now by using the pigeon holes at each station desk – but there would be less math during a session. And that would be a good thing.

I note that Kalmbach recently published a book by Jeff Wilson called Express, Mail & Merchandise Service. As the name suggests, it covers this head-end traffic and how to model it. I have not yet perused a copy, so I don’t know if it addresses how to represent the traffic at the kind of micro level that interests me, or whether it’s confined to (for example) moving carloads of LCL between freight houses. But I have other books by this author and he does a good job of covering a topic, so I’ll investigate next time I’m at my local hobby shop.

This session marked the first time we’ve run trains (beyond some five-minute tests) using my new DCC system – the ECoS 50220 command station and Mobile Control II wireless throttles from ESU.

Overall, things went well – although there were some minor issues. I put these down to the novelty of the new controllers. Chris, who was engineer for our session, is fairly used to my Lenz keypad throttles so it took a bit of time to adjust to the ESU approach.

For example, the ESU throttle knob also acts as the reverser: turn it all the way to the left until it stops then let go and it’ll click and switch direction. But we discovered that the movement has to be deliberate – if it’s done too fast the controller doesn’t necessarily register it. That’s not a problem with the controller – just something that operators have to learn. Now that I know this, I can explain it better to others.

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On the positive side, I figured out ahead of the session how to program the physical buttons on the throttle. I mapped frequently used commands to them so that the operator does not have to look at the touch screen to use the horn, bell or progressive engine brake (which is a feature on the TCS WOWSound decoders I’m currently using).

On the slightly annoying and somewhat humorous side, we found that the throttle will save power by going to sleep – but the factory setting (one minute of inactivity) is too quick for a typical operating session. This is slightly annoying because Chris was spending a lot of time tapping the power button on the top of the unit to bring it back to life, and there’s a very slight delay while powering up. I’ve adjusted the sleep setting to a five-minute delay. We’ll see if that works. I can set it as long as 15 minutes, but of course the longer the screen stays active the more power it consumes. I’ve also tried to balance the extra power I’ll be using with the longer delay by dimming the screen.

The sleep issue was humorous because every time Chris woke up the throttle, the WOWSound decoder – which has something like 40 whistles built into it – would randomly change its whistle setting. The next time he blew the whistle, it would be different.

I have to admit that I’m underwhelmed by the WOWSound decoders. They have some neat features that my previous Tsunami decoders did not, including the progressive brake (which I really like) and an audio function to represent clearing the cylinders of condensed steam (which I know is vital when operating a steam engine). But the audio circuit occasionally blasts a “Matrix”-like digital distortion. And I’ve had other issues.

So I’m not too concerned about interoperability issues with the ESU throttles because I plan to replace the TCS decoders at some point. I’m waiting to see what Matt Herman from ESU in North America does with steam sound. He’s already done a great job introducing new diesel audio files under the “Full Throttle” banner and I know he’s been travelling over the past few months to record steam sounds across North America. So it’s only a matter of time. That Engine Brake button can always be remapped to the LokSound “Drive Hold” feature…

Naturally, food and drink was involved. Before our operating session, the three of us enjoyed brunch at Harbord House. While there are other places worth eating at, this has become the tradition of sorts for new guests. I’m currently quite keen on a Toronto brew, Henderson’s Best ESB from the Henderson Brewing Company.

Andrew: Thanks for getting in touch. It was great to see you and I hope the day answered some questions about paperwork. It did for me.

Chris: Thanks as always. Cheers!

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!

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!

Ops with Bernard and Greg

My friend Greg Stubbings was in town this week from the Ottawa area and we got together last night for dinner and an operations session. I thought it would be great to add a third person to the evening, so I invited my friend Bernard Hellen to join us. We had a great time.

I’ve known Greg since the mid-1990s, but it has been well over two years since his last visit. He and I always have a lot to talk about – from the CNR in the steam era (he models Lindsay, Ontario in the late 1950s) to working border collies on sheep (Greg is a fellow border collie owner – with two, who until recently worked a couple hundred Rideau Arcott on his farm) to our mutual friends in the Ottawa area.

By contrast, I met Bernard at this year’s Copetown Train Show and it was his first visit to the layout. (I’ve yet to see Bernard’s layout, based on the Quebec Gatineau Railway – but he and I are planning a reciprocal visit.) Naturally, this called for an ops session. I threw Bernard into the deep end, making him conductor on a freight extra behind CNR 1532, while Greg commanded the engineer’s seat.

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It was a fairly busy day for the Simcoe Sub, with a four-car train (plus the van) in each direction. Our session ran a solid two hours, with pauses to discuss various aspects of the layout and the operations, plus interruptions from at least two of our three dogs.

(Fortunately, all three of us are dog fans. As I mentioned, Greg has two border collies, while Bernard has had many dogs in his lifetime and currently shares his walks and snacks with a high-energy field spaniel.)

The ops session went smoothly, and the layout performed well. I always like when that happens, because it allows everybody to simply enjoy running the trains.

Just as on a real railway, when things are going well the conversation flows freely and we covered a wide range of subjects. These included updates on layout projects, philosophy towards layout design and construction, the challenges of prototype modelling and porto-freelanced modelling, and ways in which a layout operating experience can be enhanced beyond the trains.

One of my favourites is the ability of environmental audio to set the scene for operators. Everybody who has experienced this has remarked on how effective it is. The ambient audio system I use provides a very simple background soundtrack of bird songs, with the occasional insect buzz thrown in for good measure. It’s the sound one would hear while standing in a southern Ontario meadow in the summertime.

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The audio tends to fade out of consciousness once one is running a train. It’s there the way that bird song is there when one is outside. We filter it out of our perceptions automatically and only hear it if we’re listening for it. And yet, if we went outside on a summer’s day and the birds were not singing, we’d definitely notice that.

We gathered at my place around 6:00 pm so before our ops session, the three of us (plus my wife) made the short walk up the street to Harbord House for dinner and pints.

I have to say I love having a gastropub just five minutes away – and I love combining ops sessions with the more relaxed atmosphere of sharing a meal with friends. Unlike many hobbies that are either solo pursuits or involve competing against other enthusiasts, our hobby is at its best when friends get together. Model railroading is a very social way to spend a few hours with friends, and pausing for a meal and a drink together just makes it that much better.

Greg: Thanks for getting in touch. It was great to see you! Any time you’re in town…

Bernard: I know the invite came at the last minute and I’m so glad you were able to join us. I’m looking forward to more ops sessions and meals together!

Donnie at the Throttle!

Years ago, before I started my own business, I worked for a large telecom company. And another guy on the team with me – Don (“Donnie”) Blair – was one of the best colleagues anybody could have at work. Hardworking yet easy going… creative… and funny as hell. (And he still is.)

Don is not, however, a model railway enthusiast. He likes trains – just not in the same way as those of us in the hobby do.

But Don recently got in touch and wanted to see the layout, so we arranged a time. He came over last night after work. I gave him a tour of the layout with help from Ian Wilson’s book on the line. Then we ran a freight extra to Port Rowan – and we had a blast:

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Don has never run a train on a “serious” model railway, much less taken part in an operating session. I can’t imagine the learning curve involved with that.

I gave him a quick lesson on using DCC – not much more than “This makes it go faster, this makes it go slower, this changes direction, this is the brake, this is the bell, this is the whistle” – and then set him loose in the engineer’s seat. I worked as conductor. We switched St. Williams and then headed to Port Rowan – then decided to break for dinner.

It was tremendous fun. Don did a great job at the throttle, and I think the look on his face in the photo collage above says it all.

After our session, my wife joined us for a trip to (need I say it?) Harbord House, for pints and dinner. Harbord House is as much a part of my ops sessions as a throttle and a switch list. It’s a great chance to sit down, away from the trains, and talk about life (which may or may not include the hobby). And last night was a perfect example.

Thanks for coming over, Donnie! Come again soon…

Hand Signals: Lunch and Ops with Steve

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(Doesn’t he look like he’s having fun? Figure 100 is like an ice dancing move. We did not do this – but we did something similar…)

On Thursday, I was fortunate to entertain Steve Lucas, a modeller from Ingersol, Ontario who also happens to make his living on the rails as a locomotive engineer.

It’s always interesting to see how those who work on the real railways react to my little slice of the long gone Simcoe Sub. As such, I’ve wanted to have Steve over for a while to show him the layout – and this week, work and other commitments allowed us to do just that.

Steve and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Harbord House, then worked a freight extra along the line. Steve opted to wear the conductor’s hat, and took the opportunity to give me some lessons on switching using hand signals. Steve did NOT wear a jaunty conductor’s uniform or sport a handlebar moustache like the gentleman in the lead image – and the signals were not quite what’s illustrated either.

Instead, a lot of our discussion was about the hand signals used to convey distances (e.g. “Six cars”… “Four cars”… and so on). I only remember a few of these, as it was a lot to take in, but I certainly appreciated how elegant they were to use while switching.

Steve and I also talked about sight lines from engineer to brakeman – important because if the engineer cannot see the brakeman he’s required to stop moving.

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(Having scale brakemen to position on the layout helps to understand where the people need to be when switching cars. To read about the ones I use, click on the image.)

And I learned that one reason all the prototype photos at Port Rowan show the locomotive facing westbound (towards the end of track) is that this would allow the engineer to switch the sidings without having to look over his shoulder – a consideration that had never occurred to me.

So, lessons big and little. I have that much more to think about, and more information to make my layout come alive. Thanks Steve: We’ll do this again when our schedules allow!

I’ve been able to give back something, too:

At this year’s Toronto RPM, I did a presentation on my layout and as part of that I discussed the benefits of blogging. (I’ve summarized that information in a separate post, for those who are interested.)

I’m pleased that Steve has taken some of that presentation to heart and has started a blog about his layout, the Midland Railway. Drop by and have a look around…

What’s Next? The Millennial Makers

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Saturday night, I was the guest speaker at the banquet for Algonquin Turn 2016 – the convention for members of the Niagara Frontier Region NMRA. This was held in Ottawa – a place I lived for much of the 1990s – and it was great to reconnect with a number of fellow hobbyists that I hadn’t seen in many years. Ottawa is only 4.5-5 hours away by highway, but it seems like another world sometimes, and I haven’t been to the nation’s capital in many years.

When I was asked to speak, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to say. A banquet speech needs to be special. I wasn’t going to stand in front of the crowd and give a how-to clinic, and I certainly didn’t want to make it “all about me” (and boy am I glad that I did not, as I’ll relate*). Fortunately, 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.

But most of all, because 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 those who have never heard of the hobby.

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And one thing that I’ve learned 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 – and I’m as guilty of that as anyone else.

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 – about 80 people, I’m told – 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.

Unfortunately, other commitments prevented me from attending anything beyond the banquet portion of the convention. But I did get to take a quick spin through the convention’s contest room and model display area. The photos below show off some of the creative and accomplished work on display:

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I also treated myself to a nice room overnight – at the Chateau Laurier. This is one of Canada’s legendary “Railway Hotels”. Originally owned by Canadian Pacific, they are located in major cities, near the station (or, as is the case in Ottawa, where the station used to be). I always enjoy the rooms and the lobbies, which are from a different era. And the Sunday morning brunch was a terrific way to start my journey home.

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(The view from my room of the interior of the U-shaped hotel)

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(Mailbox in the lobby)

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(Mail chute in the elevator lobby)

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(Close up of the mail chute)

*On a technical note, I had a moment of panic when my PowerPoint presentation refused to launch on the NMRA’s laptop. In the end, I gave my speech without the support of pretty pictures. Fortunately, I was delivering a philosophical talk – a subject that does not rely upon visuals.

I had joked with a couple of friends before dinner about how PowerPoint presentations can be deadly dull and that instead of subjecting everyone to a slide show, I was going to describe my layout via an Interpretive Dance. Little did I know it almost came to that…

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Full crew ops

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(The first train of the evening, CNR Extra 1532 East rolls past the tobacco kilns in St. Williams, Ontario)

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(3/4 of my visiting crew for an ops session: Ryan, Bob and Barry plan their moves in Port Rowan. Hunter would join us later…)

Last night, I had four friends over for an operating session. I emphasize “four” because that’s a big deal on a one-train-at-a-time layout…

Recently, Bob Fallowfield and I spent the afternoon together and he mentioned that he hadn’t yet had an opportunity to run trains on my layout. I’ve known Bob for several months now and I’d been to operate on his excellent CP Rail layout a couple of times, so I was well overdue to return the favour.

We did a whip-round of regulars, looking for a third person to join us, and we ended up with three more friends: Hunter Hughson, who writes about his layout on his Niagara Branch blogRyan Mendell, who blogs about his Algonquin Railway… and Barry Silverthorn of TrainMasters TV.

(This was a great combination for many reasons, including that I’ve wanted to get Bob, Hunter and Ryan together with Barry for a while now to talk about doing various projects for Trainmasters. We now have a schedule for some shooting days, and ideas for more…)

I was a little worried about having so many people over at once for an operating session. Previous experience has demonstrate that my layout works well with one to three people (including me as host). Five in the room can get a little crowded, and with only one train on the line I worried that I wouldn’t have enough for everyone to do.

I need not have worried: The guys all enjoyed each other’s company and we managed to run a pair of freight extras. In fact, since my 1950s prototype would have run with five-person crews, we qualified as a full crew and divided the work accordingly:

1 – Conductor (managing paperwork, making decisions)
2 – Engineer (running the locomotive)
3 – Two brakemen (aligning switches, coupling and uncoupling cars)
4 – Fireman (well, nothing for him to do since that role is combined with the engineer, so I did that. I guess as the layout owner, I was the “put out the fires” man)

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(Ryan, Bob and Barry at work. Having dropped cars in St. Williams, CNR Extra 1532 West – at this point a van hop – is just arriving in Port Rowan)

The division of labour worked well for a Friday night. Operations was low-key and gave everyone plenty of time to socialize without disrupting the session. Barry, Bob and Ryan ran a freight extra behind ten-wheeler 1532 before dinner. Then my wife joined us and we met up with Hunter at (where else?) Harbord House. After food, drink and many laughs we returned to the layout for a five-person ops session, working another freight extra behind 2-6-0 Number 80.

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(The last train of the session heads home, behind 2-6-0 Number 80 at St. Williams)

A good time was had by all. I know I’d had a long week and needed a few laughs with friends while running trains – and the guys did not disappoint…

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(“Luke: I am your father!”: Hunter and Silent Bob.)

It’s also gratifying that people are keen to join me for operating sessions: All of them gave up their Friday nights and for most of them, the visit involved an hour or two of travel in each direction. Thanks for making the trip, guys: I’m looking forward to the next time!