2017 S Scale Can-Am Social

2017 S Scale Social - group photo

It was another fun day out this past Sunday, at the 2017 S Scale Can-Am Social in Lowbanks, Ontario. My friend Jim Martin (near the middle, back row, light green shirt) has organized this casual get-together for a few years now, and this year’s gathering included participants from across Ontario, as well as Quebec and New York State.

The social is a chance to catch up with each other. It has also turned into a bit of an S Scale swap meet. Every year I go, I think, “Oh – I’m not going to buy anything” and every year, I do. This time, I came home with a brass model of a GS gondola, lettered for the Boston & Maine… a resin kit for a Canadian Pacific “Fowler” boxcar once produced by David Clubine at Ridgehill Scale Models… my third example of Andy Malette‘s mixed-media kit for a CNR combine (one of the essential pieces of rolling stock for modelling the line to Port Rowan)… and a craftsman kit for a brick general store by Grand River Models (a manufacturing company once owned by TrainMasters TV executive producer Barry Silverthorn).

Barry joined me for the meet and together we lined up a couple of interesting guests for future episodes of TrainMasters TV. After the meet, we were joined by David Clubine for a brief visit with Bob Fallowfield and a chance to run trains on his excellent HO scale re-creation of the CP Rail operations in Woodstock, Ontario, in the fall of 1980. It was David’s first visit, and he and I spent a lot of time talking about the powerful draw of the 1980s – an era we both experienced as younger, impressionable hobbyists.

All in all, a fine day out. (Thanks, Jim, for putting it together!)

The Ontario Manifest is this weekend

I’m headed off later this week to attend Ontario Manifest – the 2017 annual convention for the Pacific Southwest Region of the NMRA. I’ve been invited to deliver the after-dinner speech at the banquet on Saturday night. I’m ready to go and looking forward to it!

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.

PSR-NMRA Banquet Speech

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.

I’m also looking forward to my first visit to the Orange Empire Railway Museum.

And yes, I’ll post all about the trip when I return…

Please Stand By

As a consequence of being out of the country for a week, I’ll be tardy about responding to comments on my blogs until late next week – and if you’re a first-time commenter, your post may get held in the moderator’s cue until then. Apologies in advance – that’s just the reality of the Internet these days: everybody gets moderated the first time.

The Pindal Electric Tram

I’d heard about the Pindal Electric Tram for many years, and even seen a few videos. But nothing quite prepared me for the experience…

Earlier this month, some friends and I visited Kaj and Annie Pindal to spend a few hours in the afternoon riding the delightful 15-inch gauge, ride-in electric trolley line that runs in their back yard in Oakville, Ontario.

While I could go on at length about how Kaj built his own equipment, powered mainly by motors liberated from electric lawn mowers, made his track from fence rails, switched from trolley poles to bow-collectors which he fabricated himself, and can use the railway to take the household garbage and recycling to the curb… I think a video is the best way to express the magic that is the Pindal Electric Tram.

So here it is: enjoy if you watch…


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

Thanks, Kaj & Annie: What a wonderful day out!

(I’ve posted this to my “Adventures in Live Steam” blog, because while it isn’t live steam, it is a garden railway so that’s the most appropriate place to publish it. But since that blog receives very little traffic I thought I’d also put it here. Really, this defies categorization.)

“Go on, what’s the THIRD verse?”

Well, look who’s moved into the neighbourhood…

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This is a story four years in the making.

Back in November 2013, I built a tree fort in one of the trees behind the station in St. Williams. You can read about that project by clicking on the photo, below…

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… but at the end of that post, I noted that I was inspired by Calvin & Hobbes, and wondered where I could find a suitable tiger.

Fast forward almost two years, and in October 2015 my friend Stephen Gardiner surprised me with a model of Hobbes, which he had designed, 3D Printed, and painted. Again, clicking on the image, below, will link you to that part of the tale (or, tail?)…

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Since then, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a suitable figure that I could modify into a Calvin – but without any luck. There aren’t any nice models of S scale kids around – and certainly nothing with Calvin’s Peanutsy proportions.

Still, when Stephen got in touch and suggested we get together for lunch, adding, “I have something for you”, it never occurred to me what that might be. So I was completely gobsmacked – and delighted – when we met up yesterday and he presented me with a 3D Printed Calvin:

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I carefully added a pin to the bottom of his foot, and placed him in a patch of light in the backyard.

Everybody sing along with Calvin!

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If Hobbes ever lets Calvin into the tree fort, he’ll have a good view of the passing trains:

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Thanks Stephen – what an awesome surprise!

The visit was grand: We went for lunch at Harbord House and had a great conversation about a number of subjects.

We discussed the announcement on Monday from Rapido Trains that it would be producing HO scale models of the iconic Canadian diesel switcher: The SW1200RS. Stephen was at the launch party, and had a lot of details to share. This is huge news for the Canadian hobby, and Rapido notes it is their most-requested model. The good news is, the Rapido Trains SW1200RS is more than vapourware – the company had test shots from the tooling on display, and a running sample. The models are due early next year, and already I know a number of people who are considering switching scales back to HO just to take advantage of these. The SW1200RS certainly figures prominently in a number of the Canadian prototypes I’ve covered on my Achievable Layouts blog.

After lunch, Stephen and I ran a freight extra to Port Rowan and back. Stephen took the engineer’s seat in CNR 10-wheeler 1532, while I headed for the conductor’s desk in the van. The layout ran well, with only a couple of misaligned couplers to contend with. It was Stephen’s first experience with ESU’s Mobile Control II wireless throttles – a combination of Ambroid tablet computer and throttle with physical knob and buttons. I switched to this system late last year and it’s been a terrific experience. (Stephen was suitably impressed, I think – but I’ll let him provide his thoughts if/when he reads this.)

All in all, a terrific day – and let’s do it again!

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!