CNR express car: Nibbled

Well, that’s an unusual headline, but that’s exactly what I did.

As previously noted, I’m turning a model of an SP baggage car into a reasonable stand-in model of a CNR express car, in the 8775-8799 series. The most noticeable difference – and therefore the one I simply must address – is the doors. The SP car has two 5′ doors on each side, whereas the CNR car has a 6′ door and a pair of doors in an 8′ opening. The doors on the CNR car are also taller, reaching almost to the roof. (I provided more detail about the doors in a previous posting.)

I disassembled my SP model, and opened up new spaces for the doors:

CNR baggage car - door openings
(Modified car, with new door openings)

Southern Pacific SP brass baggage car
(Stock SP car from South Wind Models)

The brass walls are fairly thin on this car, so to do this work I simply marked the size of the new openings, then removed material with a “nibbler” – a tool used in electronics:

(Check your local electronics supplier, or even your hobby shop, for one of these)

As the name implies, it nibbles away thin brass, PC board materials, styrene, you name it. (It’s a great tool for making openings in walls for window castings.) I’m really glad I have one in my toolbox. Using the nibbler is like playing The Price Is Right: I tried to get as close to the line as I could without going over. I then finished the openings with a good mill file.

The other big change I have to make is the roof vents. As the photos above suggest, I’ve removed the SP vents and will be replacing them. Here’s a close-up of the roof, with vents gone:

CNR baggage car - roof vents removed

Removing them was easy: I held the car body shell with an oven mitt, and used a micro-torch to melt the solder from the inside of the roof. A few passes with the torch was all it took. I would heat a post, set down the torch, then grab the vent with a pair of pliers and pull it out of the roof. I still have to fill the holes, and add new, longer rain strips to the roof over the larger openings.

I guess I’m committed to the project now.

Next up: I’ll build some new doors for the express car.

Stand-in CNR express car

Mixed train - missing baggage car
(This mixed train is missing something: a CNR express car. The proper one is not available, but I’ve found a suitable, temporary stand-in)

Good things come to those who wait. But in the meantime, “close enough” is better than “none at all”…

I’ve decided I need to compromise – at least, temporarily – in order to fill out my 1957 version of the mixed train to Port Rowan. There are two significant differences in this train, when compared to its 1953 version: CNR 10-wheelers had replaced the Moguls on the head end and – with the demise of the postal contract – the baggage-mail car had disappeared, to be replaced with a simple express (baggage) car.

My 1953 train accurately reflects its consist…

M233-CNR867-Port Rowan

… but my attempts to model the 1957 version have been stymied by the lack of an accurate CNR express car in S scale. Fellow S scale enthusiast David Clubine and I have badgered our mutual friend Andy Malette at MLW Services to fill this gap, preferably with a four-axle NSC steel car – like this:

CNR 9269
(Jim Parker photo from the Canadian Freight Car Gallery. Click on the image to learn more.)

Andy has “expressed” interest (see what I did there?), and he’s done a great job on some other CNR passenger car kits in S scale, including the combines that bring up the rear of my mixed trains. But I also appreciate that Andy has other projects he wants to tackle, and that a market of “Dave and Me” isn’t a very good reason to devote the best part of a year to developing a kit. So while the NSC car is on his “someday” list, I’ll content myself with being thrilled when (or even if) he does this car.

In the meantime, however, my modern mixed train falls short. It doesn’t look right, and operating sessions with this train suffer without the express car and its associated activity. My choices are either to build my own NSC four-axle express car or find a suitable stand-in.

Building my own isn’t beyond consideration, but I have other projects that are more of a priority. For starters, there are still a number of structures to build and trees to create. If I decide to build the NSC car, it will be a few (several?) years before I can tackle the project – and that leaves me with the same unsatisfying situation I’m in today.

So, I prefer the second option – the suitable stand-in. The next task was to determine whether any such model exists.

For this, I combined two sources.

First, the National Association of S Gaugers has an online Product Gallery, in which the organization is trying to collect and share information about every locomotive and piece of rolling stock ever produced for 1:64. It’s a tall order, but the Product Gallery is remarkably complete – and most of the entries include photographs of the models.

(Click on the logo to visit the NASG, where you’ll find the product gallery)

I searched through the gallery’s “baggage car” section, and compared the photographs to pictures in the Canadian National Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment Volume 1, written by John Riddell and published by Morning Sun Books. And, I found a match – or, at least, a model that’s a close-enough stand in for my purposes:

CNR Baggage Car - Proto Photo
(Click on the image to visit Morning Sun Books)

The prototype is a series of 25 cars built by National Steel Car in 1940. They’re almost 65 feet long and have a distinctive “turtle roof”. And, while they’re not dead-on matches, they sure look close to the Southern Pacific baggage cars imported by SouthWind Models – an example of which is shown below:

Southern Pacific brass baggage car - Southwind Models

Yes, there are discrepancies – some pretty big ones. Notably, the baggage doors on the CNR cars extend almost to the roof, whereas they stop at the letter board on the SP cars. Also, the roof vents are all wrong. But for a stand-in car, until Andy produces (or I build) the NSC baggage car that should be on my 1957 mixed train? I can live with that – or try my hand at some simple brass-bashing. Dan Navarre at River Raisin Models had an unpainted example in stock, which is current en route to me.

I’m looking forward to having a more accurate mixed train: More accurate, because “wrong express car” is better than “no express car”…

Bob Barlow : 1950-2015

 photo BobBarlow_zpsbk98klkp.jpg

Sadly, I just learned via Issue 240 of Model Railway Journal that Bob Barlow, publisher of Finescale Railway Modelling Review, passed away in May after a brief illness. (I wrote about FRMR previously on this blog.)

Just three issues of FRMR have been produced, and it’s been decided that the magazine – excellent though it is – is just not well enough established to be sold as a going concern. Therefore, the magazine has ceased publication.

Bob had also taken over publication of the Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railway Modelling Review from Roy C. Link, in March of 2012. That publication is well established, and with Bob’s passing it has reverted to Roy’s excellent stewardship. Finally, Bob’s company, Greystar Publications, handled the books that Roy produced under the RCL Publications imprint and those have also reverted to Roy.

I’m sorry to hear that Bob has passed. I didn’t know him, and therefore did not realize just how much of an influence he has been on my hobby – not least of all, as part of the original editorial team at MRJ. But I do have a story about Bob.

When I learned about FRMR, I subscribed online – and then waited for my first issue. And waited. And waited. After a reasonable period (long enough that even the overseas mail should have delivered), I got in touch. It turns out that Greystar had experienced a computer glitch and a number of subs disappeared. Bob was not only apologetic – he also extended my subscription by an issue as a thank you for my patience. Truly a class act.

MRJ 240 has an excellent tribute to Bob from several people who knew him. Well worth finding a copy.

Finescale Expo on TrainMasters TV :: Part 1

As I reported previously, Barry Silverthorn and I attended the 2015 Finescale Model Railroader Expo a week ago in Scranton, Pennsylvania to cover the show for TrainMasters TV. We’re doing a two-part report.

TrainMasters TV subscribers can now view the first part of our coverage, in which Barry and I tour the contest room and the trade show.

I was really inspired by the work on display and I think the weekend spent at the Expo will encourage me to do better as I start to add more vignettes to my layout. Who knows – down the road, I might even enter a structure or two in the contest. My Port Rowan section house might be a candidate. Or maybe a tobacco kiln from St. Williams. Both structures will need more work to bring them up to Expo contest quality, but that’s a good goal to have in mind.

Click on the image, below, to start watching Part One of our report – and I hope you enjoy this virtual visit to the Finescale Model Railroader Expo:

 photo TMTV-Finescale-Pt1_zpscokpryb2.jpg

There’s more to come in Part Two, in which we share the story of an extraordinary modeller who, while no longer with us, continues to inspire structure and diorama builders. We also cover a highly unusual kit-bashing contest.

You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to watch this report, but membership is quite reasonable.

Blogs, crowdsourcing, and better modelling

A new reader asked an interesting question of me, about how to find sources of information for accurately modelling rolling stock for his chosen prototype(s).

It’s a good question, but also a big one. To recommend sources, one needs to know things like the era, the region, and the railways being modelled.

While thinking about this question overnight, I had an idea, which I’m passing to him as a post here, so that others can think on it too:

Why not start your own blog about your railway interests?

 photo crowdsourcing_zpszrazvv5u.jpg
(Build it and they will come)

This blog has become a form of crowdsourcing for me. (I’ll explain how in a moment). But let’s assume you’re new to blogging, and you’ve started one about your railway interests. What next?

I would post some inquiries on relevant newsgroups. For example, if you’re interested in the Vermont Rail System – specifically, the Green Mountain Railroad – I’d look at groups such as Vermont Railroading, NERails, VRS and Rutland.

Tell the members you’re trying to collect information to help accurately model relevant car types from the GMRC. Give them your blog address so they can follow along.

Then, as the information comes in, add it to your blog. It might be a link to a prototype or modelling website, or a manufacturer. It might be a post about printed sources (books, magazine articles), or a historical society, or a photo collection. Remember, you can always go back to blog posts and edit them, so you can update them by adding more links or more information as it comes to light.

The beauty of this is that as you collect the information, you can organize it all in one spot. What’s more, you can share the info with others.

One of the things that surprised me about writing this blog on Port Rowan is how many people found it (through searches, etc.) and then started contributing answers for my questions. In some cases, they answered questions I didn’t even know I should be asking. This is a form of crowdsourcing: I got the ball rolling by creating the blog, and then people started contributing their knowledge – often with little more than a question from me, and frequently with no effort on my part. (You know who you are: Thank you!)

The result of all this is a shared body of knowledge that I hope others are finding valuable for their own hobby interests. And, more directly, better modelling on my part.

You might find the same thing happens for you…

Thoughts on the new RMC and FRMR

While the hobby publishing industry continues to exist in a state of flux, there’s good news in the form of two magazines – one rescued from oblivion, the other brand new.

 photo RMC-2015-01_zpse7ee4064.jpg
(The new RMC: Much-needed improvements)

I’ve now had a chance to do a couple of read-throughs of the January, 2015 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine. And in general, I like what I see.

There’s no question that the design is superior to the old magazine, with: larger, glossy pages; cleaner layout; more readable fonts; better graphics; and improved colour.

As for content, the first issue of the “new” RMC has four features – which may sound light, but they’re all fairly long. For example, editor Stephen Priest has devoted nine pages for a diesel painting and weathering article (by Efram Ellenbogen). Even with the more relaxed text, that’s a meaty article.

I like that: I would frankly prefer to see fewer articles in each issu, with more depth to each article, instead of a larger number of shorter features (as some other popular magazines have done). Over time, consistent presentation of meatier features will create a powerful title for craftsman modellers.

I’m also encouraged by Stephen’s first editorial, in which he lays out his plans for the magazine. Stephen’s saying the right things, to my mind. For example:

“Our focus will be on the craftsman: a person who makes beautiful objects by hand: a person who is very skilled at doing something.”

“RMC will concentrate on articles and features that support learning and sharing myriad model-building skills.”

At my stage in the hobby, exposure to new techniques and skills is exactly what I want – and need – from a hobby publication.

Finally (and this relates to yesterday’s post about focus), I’ve heard privately from a few friends and fellow RMC authors who have reported that the new owners are once again paying for features – and paying promptly. I’m also told that problems with subscriptions purchased from the previous owners but never fulfilled are now being resolved.

Fulfilling subscriptions and paying the authors (if payment has been promised as part of the author-magazine relationship) are two essential steps for running a successful publication. I know for a fact that the previous publisher’s reluctance to pay made it difficult for the editorial team to attract and retain contributors.

Some big names and accomplished modellers in the hobby – exactly the types that RMC needed to provide content – were burned and refused to write for RMC under the former publisher. Others, hearing the tales of non-payment, shied away from submitting their work.

Resolving this issue was critical – and it appears to be fixed. Hopefully, former authors and those who considered it but did not contribute will give the new RMC a chance. I know I will, as soon as I have a project worthy of print.

 photo FRMR-2015-01_zps52adbd1a.jpg
(Techniques, presented well)

I’ve also had a chance to read not one, but two issues of Finescale Railway Modelling Review – the new craftsman magazine out of the UK. This magazine was announced back in September, and I immediately took a one-year trial subscription. I’m very glad I did.

(I should mention that my first issue did not show up in a timely manner. I emailed the publisher and learned that my subscription had fallen into a computer-glick black hole. That said, the publisher apologized and extended my subscription by one issue to compensate me for my inconvenience: a class act!)

FSMR appears to fall somewhere between the very high-end craftsmanship typically presented in Model Railway Journal, and the bog-standard ready-to-run layouts and simple projects often featured in more general interest UK magazines.

And that’s a neat place to be. For example, in the first two issues I’ve read articles about: retrofitting finer-scale wheels to an RTR steam locomotive; working with white metal kits, including soldering techniques; weathering locomotives and rolling stock; scratch-building brick structures; scratch-building gas pipe fittings; and more.

The content is UK-focused, but techniques tend to be universal and as a Canadian who has been exposed to British railway modelling all his life I’m well-versed in terms like “splashers” and “tumblehome”.

The design of this magazine is exquisite, which is no surprise since the presentation is done by Roy C. Link. I have several of the books designed and published by Roy – including the now out-of-print book on the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway – and they are, to my mind, the gold standard of railway publishing.

With these two publications to look forward to, 2015 is looking like a great year to be in the hobby.

New views

 photo StW-Trackside_zps8c19ec9d.jpg
(Extra 1532 West :: St. Williams, Ontario, 1957)

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been photographing the layout for an upcoming feature in The S Scale Resource magazine. This feature is a follow up to a visit by Daniel and Amy Dawdy late last month.

Since I’ve taken a lot of photographs of the layout already, I challenged myself to find some new views for the article.

In all, I shot 75-80 photographs, which I then pared down to roughly three dozen to submit with the feature. I don’t expect all of my photos to be used – a few are slightly different compositions of the same scene, to offer Daniel and his co-editor Glenn Guerra some choices – but given that The S Scale Resource is a digital magazine the editors won’t be constrained by a page count.

For now, I won’t share many of the new views here: You’ll just have to wait for the article to come out*. But I liked how the photo at the top of this post turned out and I’m surprised it has taken me this long to shoot the St. Williams depot from this perspective.

I thought I had worked out the best locations for photography, but I found several new views. The lesson is that digital film is cheap and it pays to experiment.

(*The good news is the magazine is free to readers, so there’ll be nothing stopping you from getting a copy – and of course I’ll post to the blog when the issue is published.)

“The great emancipator”

 photo MRJ-235_zps1897596a.jpeg

That’s the title of the editorial in the current issue of the excellent UK publication, Model Railway Journal. The piece, by guest editor Jerry Clifford, is a beautifully written argument in favour of learning to build from scratch.

Clifford writes, in part:

“There is no doubt that the quality and range of what is available from the trade far outstrips that of just a few years ago. However, the downside of this undoubted bounty of goodies is a creeping sameness in what can be seen in the model press and at exhibitions. Too often, I would suggest, projects are planned and executed with what is available being the driving force rather than the other way round, the quality and quantity of RTR in particular, becoming a straightjacket rather than a liberator.”

Very, very well said – and something I often remark upon after visiting public train shows here in Canada. I see layouts with different names on the fascia – but a sameness in the modelling: The same out-of-the-box locomotives and rolling stock running past kit-built or ready-made stations, industries and other structures, and often past ready-to-plant scenery items such as trees, fences and so on.

This is not to say that RTR is killing the hobby – or that it has no place on an advanced modeller’s layout. Used with restraint, RTR can give a modeller time to focus on items that help make the layout unique. To provide two examples from my own experience:

I have several RTR models on my own layout, and many of them receive little beyond a coat of weathering and new wheel sets before being pressed into service. This frees up time to build more accurate models of more important rolling stock, such as my CNR baggage-mail car and my CNR boxcars.

I have a couple of houses built from laser-cut kits. However, structures from kits are definitely in the minority on my layout – and those I’ve used are heavily modified. Using kits as starting points for a couple of off-line structures freed up time that I could devote to scratch-building more important structures, such as the St. Williams depot, the tobacco kilns, and the Port Rowan section house.

The important point is, I temper the presence of RTR equipment and kit-built structures on my layout with a healthy dose of scratch-built structures and other details, plus heavily-modified kits for signature pieces of equipment. In the end, most of the elements that comprise my layout will be unique.

It helps that I’m working in S scale, for a couple of reasons. First, 1:64 is a larger scale so it’s easier to scratch build stuff. Second, when compared to more popular scales 1:64 is poorly supported with “ready to use” product – so one is forced to create more from basic materials. (Some may see that as a disadvantage – but I find it liberating.)

If you’re already scratch-building for your layout, then this post isn’t really directed at you. Well done – and keep it up!

However, if you’re new to the hobby and relying mostly on “ready to use” rolling stock, structures and other items, consider how you can kit bash some of them to make them unique – or consider how you can improve your layout with some scratch-built pieces. There are plenty of resources to help you succeed, if you’re willing to give it a try.

Before you know it, you’ll be what Clifford describes as “an original thinker who tends to give convention a cheery wave as he passes it by on the other side of the street.”

A visit from Daniel and Amy

 photo M233-Kilns-StW_zps3f78a090.jpg
(It’s always nice to have something new to show off when out-of-town visitors arrive. This time, it was my tobacco kilns)

On Thursday, I got a call from an area modeller: Daniel and Amy Dawdy were in town – would they be able to visit my layout on Friday?

Of course!

While it was the first time we’ve met, I’ve known of Daniel for years. Back in the mid-1990s, Daniel started a website called The Cyberspace World Railroad, and that website was my first exposure to the concept of sharing the hobby online. Look where that has taken us today!

 photo SScaleResource-Masthead_zpsab8b3d6c.jpg

Daniel’s latest project is The S Scale Resource, a free digital magazine about scale railway modelling in 1:64. The S Scale Resource has just published its second issue, and follows the successful launch of The O Scale Resource in September of 2013.

 photo OScaleResource-Masthead_zpsb4c91dce.jpg

Daniel shares the editing duties on both magazines with Glenn Guerra of Mullet River Model Works, while Amy serves as the all important second set of eyes, to catch typos and other copy editing errors. Each magazine is published six times per year on alternating months.

Daniel was quick to point out that while each magazine showcases its namesake scale, many of the articles are not scale-specific so will be of interest to a broader audience. As an example, the December 2014/January 2015 issue of the S Scale Resource includes a feature on modern, midwest grain elevators that will be useful to anybody trying to model these important industries. If you get nothing else out of the issue, the photo of a Case tractor fitted with knuckle coupler for moving cars at an elevator in Forrest, Illinois is worth the download time. (You’ll find it on page 18. You’re welcome.)

Daniel and Amy really enjoyed seeing the line to Port Rowan, and we talked about a wide range of subjects – from ambient audio to tobacco kilns. They were particularly impressed by the many things I’ve incorporated into the layout in order to make a simple design more challenging to operate, without resorting to gimmickry such as unrealistically complex track arrangements. This is an important issue for anybody building a modest-sized railway – but especially so in larger scales, where “modest-sized” is often the only option. I’ve agreed to work up an article on this for a future issue of The S Scale Resource – so stay tuned.

Daniel, Amy: It was great to meet you both. Thanks for taking the time to visit – and for picking up lunch at Harbord House (Reuben Sandwich for me; Fish and Chips for Daniel and Amy; Washed down with pints of Conductor’s Craft).

I hope you enjoyed the rest of your weekend in Toronto!

The new RMC

 photo RMC-2014-0710_zps71902e70.jpg

My copy of the back-from-the-dead Railroad Model Craftsman arrived in my mailbox yesterday – and what a return to life!

The first thing I noticed was the better paper. The magazine is heavy now, with terrific glossy stock that feels wonderful in the hand and makes photos look great. Regular features have also received design nudges – from the addition of colour to the column headers to a fresher look for reviews and new product announcements.

These are definitely steps in the right direction, and editor Chris D’Amato notes in his column that there will be additional tweaks in coming issues.

What I find really exciting, however, is an interesting bit of data in the letter from publisher Kevin Eudaly, who notes that White River Productions now produces 22 magazines – including publications for specific railway historical societies, the NRHS Bulletin, and the NMRA Magazine, plus of course Passenger Train Journal, Railroads Illustrated, Model Railroad News and The Railroad Press.

This represents a terrific base of knowledge upon which RMC can draw, as well as a great source for material. As an example of the types of synergies this enables…

If someone writes an eight-page modelling feature for their favourite historical society publication (for free, no less), White River could easily approach them to do a four-page version for RMC (and be paid for it). And of course the RMC feature could refer back to the historical society publication for those who wish to explore the subject in more detail.

I’m looking forward to seeing how RMC develops and grows in the coming months. And I’ll have to pitch some features to Chris…