The Austin Eagle is in the books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man using Ear Trumpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getz-eBulletin

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

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

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

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

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

No NERPM for me this year

Well, nuts.

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

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

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

Steam Locomotives (the Cyclopedia)

More accurately, Model Railroader Cyclopedia – Volume 1: Steam Locomotives:

Steam Locomotives - Cyclopedia

This arrived for me this week, after a discussion with my friend Andy Malette about research materials for our CNR Mikado project. Andy noted that this book taught him a lot about the various appliances on steam locomotives, as well as the myriad of pipes that connect them. So, I grabbed a copy via ABEbooks. And Andy is right – there’s a ton of information in this tome.

The caveat is, the information is of course “ex-Works”, “best practices” and so on. If you’re detailing a locomotive, as we are, it’s important to check prototype photos of the exact locomotive you’re trying to model. This is particularly important with steam engines, and even moreso if they’ve been around for a while: just like a subdivision can start out looking like it’s built from Monopoly houses, yet acquire character through the passage of time, individual steam engines often developed a unique character as shop forces worked to keep them in service, and to modernize them.

In fact, that’s one of the joys I’m experiencing in doing this project with Andy. We’ve each picked different numbers – I’m doing 3737, while he’s chosen 3702 – and the two locomotives are very different. The plumbing is different. The location of appliances is different (for example, on Andy’s locomotive, the location of the feed water pump and the air pump is reversed). The smokebox fronts are different. The sand domes are in different spots. And so on. When we’re finished, we will have two locomotives of the same class that each exhibit their own character, and have their own back stories.

This is what makes prototype modelling so rewarding. As a friend is fond of saying, “Details Matter”.

“All hat, no cattle”

As I’ve been migrating the photos for this blog off Photobucket, I’ve had the opportunity to re-read all of my posts. It’s been an interesting review.

Today, I came across my post from May, 2012 about MTH buying S Helper Service. At the time, I wrote:

Perhaps MTH will have the clout to overcome S scale’s manufacturing challenges, too, and bring fresh product to market.

Well, that sure hasn’t happened.

In hindsight, the MTH acquisition has turned out to be pretty disappointing. It’s been more than five years, and we’ve seen little out of MTH to support scale 1:64 modellers – or even those doing American Flyer. As an example, S Helper Service offered almost a dozen locomotives, offered in both scale and hi-rail:

SHS Locomotives from the NASG product gallery.

Today, MTH’s S scale locomotive offering is the F3 – and that’s it.

I realize we’re a niche of a niche, but S Helper Service’s Don Thompson seemed to find a way to support us (and thanks for that, Don!)

Fortunately, at least for those willing to build kits, other manufacturers are stepping up. There are rolling stock kits in resin, laser cut wood, brass, and other media. I’m happy to do my part to support those manufacturers who are supporting my hobby…

Get your CNR NSC-built boxcars

They’re here!

CNR-524206

Yarmouth Model Works has just released its first S scale freight car kits – for early and late variants of Canadian National Railways 1937 AAR 40-foot boxcars, as built by National Steel Car of Hamilton, Ontario and featuring the manufacturer’s unique NSC-2 end.

These limited run kits feature a one-piece resin body casting, laser cut running boards, custom photo etchings for details such as brake appliance hangers, Des Plaines Hobbies eight-rung Canadian style ladders, and decals from Black Cat Publishing.

CNR-NSC2-Early
(Early version with flat panel roof and initial brake rigging arrangement)

CNR-NSC2-Later
(Later version with raised panel roof and revised brake rigging arrangement)

I have seen the finished production models of each kit (above) in person, and they are spectacular. With more than 5,700 of these cars roaming the rails across North America between the late 1930s and the 1980s, most of us working in 1:64 can justify one of each style on their layouts. (I’ve already placed an order for a few of each.) The unique NSC-2 end will add some welcome variation to our fleets.

You can order car(s) on the Kits – S Scale page at Yarmouth Model Works. (And if you’re going to this year’s RPM Conference in the Chicago area, I know Pierre plans to attend. Maybe you can order your kits now and pick them up at the show, to save on shipping.)

While I’m not part of Yarmouth Model Works, I was among those who encouraged Pierre Oliver and his team to test the waters in S scale. The company has released a number of kits and detail parts in HO, and has won much praise from the Railroad Prototype Modelers community for prototype fidelity, the quality of castings and parts, and ease of assembly. So I’m excited by the opportunity this represents for those of us in 1:64. If these do well, more kits are planned – including unique cars for some popular American roads.

If you have never built a resin kit, these models will be a great place to start.

Decals and Data on TMTV

Recently, I had a question about applying decals. I’m no expert, but my friend Pierre Oliver is – which is why I was more than happy to host him for a segment earlier this year on TrainMasters TV, all about applying decals:

Applying Decals on TMTV
(Click on the image to head directly to the decal segment on TrainMasters TV)

And since you’re already heading to the video chair, why not also check out this companion piece on deciphering all that freight car data that you’re about to apply?

Deciphering freight car data on TMTV
(Click on the image to head directly to the freight car data segment on TrainMasters TV)

I don’t often mention TrainMasters on my site since my work on that show is not what this blog is about. But we have had a lot of positive feedback on these two segments – including from people who are experienced freight car modellers – and I know I learned a lot about decals and data in the process of hosting them. I’m confident you will, too.

TrainMasters is a subscription-based service, but your subscription comes with more than an hour of network TV quality programming each month, for less than the price of a magazine. Becoming a member is easy

Six years of blogging

On this day in 2011, I started writing about Port Rowan in 1:64, with a post called “Breaking Marley’s Chains”. You can find that post – and other early ones that outline the thinking that evolved into this layout – on the “First Time Here?” page.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how the layout has taken shape while remaining true to the ideas I set out in those early posts.

Coincidentally, I spoke last night at a local social club for railway modelling enthusiasts and railfans, and one of the subjects I touched upon was the power of coupling a blog to a layout project. I think this blog remains my most important tool for modelling Port Rowan in S scale.

That’s due, by the way, to all of you who read and comment on my posts – offering insight and information. Thanks for that. This blog has generated more than 670,000 page views and 6,700 comments – and my knowledge of Port Rowan, S scale, and modelling has benefitted tremendously from this exchange of ideas.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about the power of blogs as a modelling tool, called “Tips for blogging about our hobby”. If you missed it, click on the dogs, below…

 Blog-Barking

Port Rowan Main Street :: 1956

While this is correct for the era I model, Main Street in Port Rowan is south (beyond the backdrop) of what I model. Still, it’s an interesting photo of the community I’m modelling, and I’m grateful that it was shared via the Stories and Legends of Long Point and Port Rowan Area group on Facebook.

Port Rowan - Main Street - 1956

Not to be too grim, but perhaps C. Leslie Clark ships an occasional coffin (loaded or empty) as express on The Daily Effort

Leedham’s Mill research trip

Leedham Mill Sign - Stitched Together
(My stitched-together version of the Leedham Mill sign, based on a series of photos I shot of the original – which hangs in Donald Leedham’s garage)

Yesterday, I visited with members of the Leedham family – the people who owned the feed mill in Port Rowan (now Doerksen’s Farm Supply). Leedham’s Mill is the complex of structures at the end of track in Port Rowan, and a major customer on my line.

Airstream on Bay Street in Port Rowan
(My mock-up of the mill complex: I’m now looking forward to replacing this with detailed structures)

It was a treat to sit down with Donald Archie Leedham in his home. Donald worked in the family mill in the 1940s and 1950s. He seemed really pleased that I’m interested in the mill and plan to build a model of it. The visit gave me a chance to learn a lot about the history of the family and the mill, as well as scan photographs and take pictures of artifacts relevant to the era I’m modelling.

Here are some of the things I learned:

The Leedham Family originally had a mill in nearby Forestville, but when farms in that area switched almost exclusively to tobacco, the family moved its operation to Port Rowan. When the railway decided it no longer needed a separate freight house in Port Rowan, it was purchased for the mill. In February 1938, the freight house was jacked up and poles were used as rollers to move it across the tracks and west to the mill property. Here’s a photo of the move:

Port Rowan freight house - move to Leedham Mill

The Leedhams then added an office to the freight house. This was done because the original mill office had a very low ceiling. The office is clearly seen in this next photo, from a local calendar in Donald’s collection. This also shows that the mill had a truck scale, on the north side of the office. The scale operator worked behind the large window on the north wall – to the right of the chimney – and the truck scale is right in front of the window. I don’t know if I have room to model this on my layout, but I’d sure like to figure out how:

Leedham Mill - Doerksen calendar
(Photo shows the mill after it was acquired by Doerksen – the current owners)

One of the most exciting artefacts is the original mill sign from the era I’m modelling. The Doerksens offered the sign to the Leedhams when they took over the mill. Donald has restored the sign and it hangs in his garage. It measures approximately 3’x10′ and hung on the north side of the former freight house (so it will be visible from the aisle on my layout, which is a nice bonus!). I took photos of it in segments, and stitched them together in PhotoShop to create a version of the sign that I can add to my model of the mill.

Leedham Mill - Segment of prototype sign
(A sample of the sign. I took several photos – without the flash – then stitched them together to create a suitable sign for my model. That stitched-together sign is the lead photo for this post)

Leedham’s Mill handled a variety of products. The mill received various grains by rail. These were cleaned and blended into the typical products one would expect at a mill – including seed, feed and flour. The tall building closest to the tracks was the elevator – it was torn down a few years ago. Leedham’s also shipped out wheat grown in the area – but by truck.

NK Seed sign

Speaking of trucks, Donald had one of the company signs from the trucks. These were molded out of some form of plastic and attached to the truck doors with magnets. I was able to stick it to the side of my vehicle to take a photo outdoors:

Leedham Mill - truck sign

In addition to feed and seed, Leedham’s was also a fuel dealer. Coal was delivered by rail – to the elevated coal delivery track elsewhere in the Port Rowan yard. (I did not realize that Leedham owned the coal dump – now I do!) It was then loaded into trucks using a conveyor, and trucked from the dump to a coal bin on the east side of the Leedham complex. I’ve built a small coal shed for this location but realize now I’ll have to make it a lot larger. I’ll use this coal shed elsewhere once I’ve built a replacement. There was a fair bit of coal traffic during tobacco curing season: apparently, the tobacco kilns were originally fueled with wood but Donald remembers them being switched to coal.

Coal Pamphlet
(Leedham’s Mill was an important enterprise in Port Rowan, and a major customer for the railway. This pamphlet lists many of the services the mill provided to the community)

Donald recalls that coal came from the anthracite region of Pennsylvania. It crossed the lake via car ferry to Port Burwell on the CPR, and then was forwarded to the mill by the CNR. He also recalls that an elderly trestle near Vittoria was in bad shape, and that a full car of coal was too heavy for the trestle – so he would drive to Simcoe with a truck to shovel out part of the load. The balance would be delivered by rail to Port Rowan.

Leedham’s was also a B/A Oil dealer, but this was trucked to the mill. The pumps were on the west side of the road – which puts them in the aisle in my basement, so I won’t be modelling this part of the operation.

Finally, Leedham’s sold bagged cement. Volumes were dependent on who was building what in town. The bagged cement was shipped to the mill in boxcars from St. Mary’s, and unloaded into an extension of the main mill building.

Leedham Mill - thermometer

I’ve been putting off building the mill because it’s a large project – but yesterday’s visit answered some important questions and I’m now keen to tackle Leedham’s in 1:64. Thanks to Donald, his daughter Pat Elliot (who arranged the visit and brought a delicious cake) and son Scott Leedham (who was also on hand to help out), my model of the mill more accurate, and the process of building it will be more rewarding.