“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…

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

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

What? Why re they packing up early?!?
(What are they doing over there?!?)

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

What gives with that?

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

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

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

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

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

Not cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trolls

 photo Troll-Bridge_zps3890f054.jpg
(They belong under bridges, but have NO place in this hobby)

Unfortunately, Trolls exist – and Jim Gore of Florida was recently on the receiving end of their wrath. His “crime”? He enjoys his hobby and built a layout.

Jim’s On30 Jemez and Rio Grande is featured in the December, 2014 issue of Model Railroader:

 photo JGore-ChiliLine_zpsbca4dd2b.jpg

As the MR article notes, Jim envisioned his layout as a freelanced branch line of a famous three-foot gauge railroad through New Mexico known as “The Chili Line” because many of the locals would hang bunches of hot peppers outside their houses to dry.

While enjoying dinner with Chris Abbott this week, I was distressed to learn that after Jim’s feature appeared, he received insulting emails and – worse – phone calls from idiots who complained that he did not model the Chili Line “correctly”. Chris learned about this from Jim himself – via the Model Rail Radio mailing list. Here’s Jim’s post to that list, in its entirety:

Dear All,

First, I want to thank so many of you who have said nice things about my layout feature in Model Railroader. Never intended that to be one of my goals in model railroading – it just happened because a friend of a friend talked with Lou Sassi who needed some place to visit in Florida during the winter.

I have always believed that this hobby of ours is exactly that … a hobby. It is something that gives us individual satisfaction and a certain amount of contentment. Ultimately, there is only one person that has to be satisfied, the owner of the model railroad; the rest being “gravy”.

It seems that my fictionalized railroad, as a branch-line of the Chili Lines, has sparked outright hatred and animosity among a group of prototype modelers, presumably who are strict Chili Line adherents. If you know any of these persons, can you tell them to stop sending me nasty emails and phone calls. Good gravy … it’s a hobby !!!!

Jim

To start, what a gentleman. I would’ve been much angrier. Jim: The Canadian in me feels compelled to apologize for the trolls. Nobody should have to put up with this type of abuse – for any reason, but especially not for a choice they’ve made in the hobby. Period.

I know that I have strong opinions on what constitutes a “successful” layout and when I share that philosophy on this blog and elsewhere, I know that not everybody agrees with me. I consider debate in the hobby to be a positive thing – and I’ve enjoyed the discussions that my posts have generated, even when we haven’t all seen eye to eye.

In three years of writing this blog, I’ve only ever had one person be a dunderhead. He’s been banned from commenting here – and I’m pleased to see that whenever he raises his head over the parapet to snipe at others (on newsgroups, other blogs and so on), he’s quickly and forcefully slapped.

With that one exception, the tone has always been civil and respectful. I’m grateful that I don’t have be heavy handed about policing this blog. Thank you – all of you – for that.

I know trolls exist in the hobby – and that it’s easy, with the pseudonyms and avatars of forums, to say things that we would never, ever say to another person’s face. But I can’t even begin to imagine what “right” somebody feels they have to directly attack another person for their approach to railway modelling.

The idea of emailing somebody to tell them they’re “doing it wrong” offends me.

The idea of phoning someone to deliver such abuse? Words fail me.

I have posted to the Model Railroader Facebook page to let the editorial team know that such abuse makes me angry, and that it should not be tolerated. I’ve encouraged MR to address this in a future issue – I think it’s an important editorial for editor Neil Besougloff to write. It’s disrespectful to hobbyists, and bad for the hobby as a whole.

What a great way to encourage people to never share their work with others.

What a great way to encourage people to abandon railway modelling in favour of a different hobby.

To those who engaged in this behaviour, I have three words:

“Well done, idiots.”

If you agree with me, I encourage you to get in touch with Model Railroader and let the editorial team know how you feel.

And you blog, or run a forum, or otherwise engage with the hobby community online, I encourage you to share information about this incident.

Together, maybe we can publicly shame the trolls and encourage them to go back under their bridges.

Two square feet?

If you’re like me – and if you build things in this hobby, then you probably are – you start with a clear workbench and then as you get into a project the tools, materials and waste start to pile up – literally. At some point, you find yourself working in a fraction of the space. A well-known hobbyist once called it something like the “two square feet rule”.

I’d love to have two square feet!

 photo 2SquareFeet_zps85a6f754.jpg

I’ve tried, repeatedly, to be a neater modeller. It doesn’t happen. The muse grabs hold… I start creating… and I end up with stuff everywhere.

The good news is, I’m back to working on my tobacco kilns for St. Williams – and have been for a couple of days now. The last time I made any significant progress on these, it was early April. What can I say? I got distracted.

The less-good news (there’s no bad news – it’s a hobby) is that I’m down to about eight square inches of work space. Time to take time – and clean up. Then, back to building kilns – which I hope to have finished and on the layout by the end of the year…

Experts and asking questions

 photo ExpertOpinion_zps79e64ceb.jpg

This is a follow up to The lesson of Bendy Elm – my post about asking questions instead of doing one’s own experiments.

As I noted in that post, giving advice to others about the hobby is difficult because each person’s layout is unique – even if built from identical plans. From the physical environment of the layout room to our own idea of what is right, there are too many variables to provide the “right” or “best” answer.

That doesn’t stop many people from trying, though, does it? Just as I see many people asking questions that are best answered by doing some first-hand experimentation, I also see many people delivering sermons on how things should be done. From layout design… to scenery techniques… to hosting operating sessions… to how to share progress with others via the Internet… these folks seem to think that the way that works best for them is the only way to do things.

On this blog, I try to keep that in mind and temper my advice. Fortunately, I’m not often asked for advice – because I’d be hard-pressed to offer anything useful. I’m not an expert and don’t present myself as one.

Instead, I try to describe what I’m doing and why I’ve made the choices I have. While it’s a way to share my hobby with like-minded people, it’s also a record of my own progress in the hobby – so that in a year or two, I can ask myself, “Why did I do that?” and find the answer. If others get something useful out of this exercise, that’s great.

Regular readers Simon Dunkley and Mike Cougill engaged in a great exchange of ideas on my Bendy Elm post. See the comments section of that post for the full exchange, but Simon wrote, in part:

A genuine expert would share the thought process(es) which led to their personal solution, rather than necessarily peddling a now out of date technique, material or product.

I think this is the most valuable information one can share. If someone tells me, “Here’s why I did it this way”, I can then apply that thinking to my own layout to decide whether it’s appropriate to my circumstances.

Layout height is a good example of this. People often want to know what the best height is for a layout. Reader Brian Termunde once asked about the height of my layout – not “What height should my layout be?” but rather, “What height is your layout?”

I could’ve answered “48 inches” and left it at that. But instead, I explained how I arrived at that figure. I think that’s a more useful answer.

I like to ask questions to encourage people to ask – then answer – their own questions. It helps me to think of the questions to ask by framing them so the answers will take into consideration all three of these factors:
 photo Venn-PPP_zps764227fb.jpg

Prototype: Regardless of whether one models a real railroad or a freelanced line, elements added to a layout that respect the way things are in the real world will be more convincing. For example, lines running between utility poles sag. Modelling them pulled tight will be less convincing.
Telegraph Road-Port Rowan photo TelegraphRoad-01_zps71f6caf9.jpg

Observing the real world – taking notes of what one sees, and determining why something is the way it is – is critical to getting it right on a model, regardless of whether one faithfully models a specific place and time.

Practical: This is where the real world hits the layout world. It’s rare that we can model a real place exactly to scale. We need to work within the confines of the space we have.

Even Port Rowan – a pocket-sized prototype yard – was too big for me to model full-size.
 photo PortRowan-Plot-Web_zpsli8hidhh.jpg

I did manage to model it about two-thirds full size – and had to make decisions about where to trim the one-third away from the prototype in order to do so.

An example of such decision-making is the location of the section house. On the prototype, it’s located adjacent to the main track, as shown here:
 photo PtR-YardThroat-SectionHouse-Labelled_zpsce05e5ef.jpg

This didn’t work on my layout – I needed that space for the run-around track – so I shifted the section house to the run-around, as shown here:
In the yard (Port Rowan section house) photo SectionHouse-03_zps12b88b69.jpg

It was a reasonable compromise, given my space constraints, since it still put the section house as close as practical to its prototype location. And moving the section house was a better choice than shortening the run-around or shifting the run-around to the right, which would’ve created bigger problems visually and operationally.

Another practical deviation from reality is the location of my lights. For practical purposes, they’re near the front of the layout so that scenes are lit from the side from which they’re viewed. But putting the sun in this location means my Port Rowan branch appears to head southeast out of Simcoe – whereas on the prototype, it headed southwest. The alternatives were:

To backlight the entire layout – not a great way to view it. Or,

To put the staging area on the peninsula and tuck Port Rowan into the corner – again, not a great way to view the layout.

I’m happy with both of these decisions – and the other choices I’ve made – in part because they were informed choices. Understanding where I was deviating from my prototype – and why – was essential to arriving at these decisions.

Perception: This is where we deviate from reality to influence the story that people take away from the layout – the perception we want to leave with visitors. It’s the artistic portion of the equation.

For example, having Googled the site of the long-gone St. Williams station – in both satellite and street view – I’m pretty confident there was no tobacco field across the road from it, or tobacco kilns kitty-corner to it. However, I do know that such signature elements from the region bordered the tracks in Vittoria – the next station up the line – because I have a photo in my collection that shows them.

Knowing this, I made an artistic decision to move this scene to St. Williams, because I felt that the kilns tell an important story about life in the region and era that I’m modelling:
 photo Kilns-S-09_zps3c97c786.jpg

Kiln Test - 3 (Set-up) photo KilnTest-3-02_zps68ce2fb6.jpg

Beginners in the hobby – or even experienced hands who are new to a certain aspect of the hobby – might be looking for a straight-forward answer to their questions. And “the experts” will provide – either online, or in hobby publications aimed at getting people out of the armchair and into the layout room (not to mention, into the nearest hobby shop that stocks their advertisers’ products).

The answers tend to be in a form that a friend calls “The Rain Dance”:

I did a dance and it rained. If you do the same dance, it’ll rain.

The hobby equivalent is a set of instructions to build a kit. “Do as I did, and your kit will look like the one on the box”.

That’s excellent for a rolling stock kit, where the point is to create an accurate model of a specific prototype. It’s also very good for a structure kit – although unless one is building a kit based on a specific prototype in order to model the same prototype scene, one runs the risk of creating a layout that looks the same as everybody else’s. And certainly, getting people out of the armchair is important.

But for most things in the hobby, I think the better approach is to encourage the hobbyist with the question to explore possible answers, then arrive at their own solution.

After all, there’s only one expert on your hobby – and that’s you.

The lesson of Bendy Elm

“What colour should I paint my sky?”

I’m amazed this question still gets asked – but it does, and it’s an example of the wrong way to do the hobby.

(“Wrong” way? Here we go…)

This isn’t a rant about those who comment on this blog: With very few exceptions, your questions have been worthy of my time to answer them. Your questions often make me think – because your questions tend to be “Why did you do something this way?” or “How did you do this?” rather than “What should I do?”

As an example of great questions, at one of our recent operating sessions my friend Hunter Hughson asked me if he could look at my airbrush and compressor. He was in the market for one.

Hunter did not ask, “What airbrush do you use?” – because my choice might not be his choice. Rather, he asked, “What do you like about your airbrush?” and “How well does it spray acrylics?” and “How easy is it to clean?”

I’m sure he asked others in his circles the same sorts of questions. I’m sure he did other research. Then he made up his own mind, and bought the airbrush he thinks will work best for him.

Well done, Hunter – and well done, to those of you who have asked great questions. We’ve had some wonderful discussions as a result and I’ve often changed my approach to something on the layout – for the better – because of the questions you’ve asked.

But I see an attitude of helplessness on many newsgroups and forums and it’s time for all of us to fight back.

There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, but this is a hobby of doing things. Those who experiment – and fail a few times – will learn something. I’ve done it a lot – and learned a lot.

I’ve learned how to build trees, for example. Today, I do a decent job of them:
 photo LynnValley-West-Trees-09_zps80f1e592.jpg

But that wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, I built one that became known as the Bendy Elm, for reasons that should be obvious:
 photo BendyElm_zps1015d1c1.jpg

The lesson? Don’t do it that way!

The lesson wasn’t expensive – it cost about $2.50 in materials and an evening of work. But in the process of doing and failing, I added to my knowledge base.

The Gordon Gravett tree-building books have helped a lot, but I don’t follow Gordon’s method step-by-step. Rather, I adopted some of his techniques and materials, but married those to my own techniques and materials. I even carried forward some of the techniques I used to build the Bendy Elm to my current tree-building method.
 photo LynnValley-West-Trees-13_zpsb9875dfd.jpg

Take that sky-painting issue: How can anybody answer that?

Only the layout owner knows how he or she perceives colour.

Only the layout owner knows what mood they want to convey with their backdrop.

Only the layout owner knows what lighting they’re using for their layout.

The answer is simple: Buy some blue paint that you think will work, and paint some sky. If you don’t like it, determine why you don’t like it: Is it too light? Too dark? The wrong tone? Then buy some different paint to correct for this.

For another example, look at couplers. It’s not such a problem in S scale, because we only have a couple of them from which to choose – but there’s a coupler cornucopia in HO. What coupler works for a specific model?

Rather than getting online to ask, buy an assortment of couplers and try them out. Create a set of test couplers and coupler boxes – like a socket set. Since couplers typically come in four-packs, find three like-minded friends, buy a pack of each of the couplers you’re most likely to use, and split the packs four ways.

By doing this, you’ve added a tool – a coupler test kit – to your toolbox. You’ve also added to your knowledge base about the hobby.

UPDATE: A friend who read this after I posted it emailed me with some further comments about couplers. I’m sharing his thoughts here – edited slightly:

My own experience is that after testing you really need to standardize on one brand of couplers for reliable operations. Having tried McHenry and Accurail, half a dozen cars each over a several year period mixed into my fleet of Kadee #5’s (and cousins), I came to the conclusion that either the other couplers were not truly compatible (Accurail) or would not work reliably over a period of time (McHenry plastic springs). Operations suffered. Both types have been replaced. With Kadees.

I’m not sharing this as an endorsement of one brand of coupler over another – that’s an individual choice (and a good opportunity for experimenting, as my friend did). Rather, I realized my example needs clarification. My response to my friend, edited slightly, is as follows:

My thought about couplers was not to have several types from different manufacturers, but have several examples to test in cars. For example – standard shank, long shank, short shank. Center shank, offset high, offset low. Make up a set of these, maybe without springs or trip pins, and keep them handy so that when you buy a new car – say, one with McHenrys in it – you can use your test kit to figure out what Kadee works. Obviously, one can simply fiddle about with what’s in stock at home – but the point is, “figure it out yourself” rather than getting on a newsgroup and saying, “I just bought such-and-such a model: what coupler should I use?” Chances are, the answer won’t be that helpful: One person might recommend a Kadee, while another recommends an Accurail or a McHenry, and a third suggests Sergents.

Is that really so wrong? Consider this: What if the “expert” who makes the recommendation is wrong – either because there’s a better choice (which you could discover by doing your own experiment) or because of another factor that means what worked best for them is not the best choice for you?

Yes, we can learn from what others do – but it’s important to remember that each person’s layout is unique, even if they’re built from identical plans.

The variables can be givens, such as layout environment: temperature, humidity, lighting, ceiling height, access requirements for utilities or closets – all will change what works for each of us.

The variables can also be druthers: We have our own ideas of what is right – especially when it comes to subjective things like the colour of the sky.

Above all, remember two things:

First, this is a hobby. With the exception of a few safety rules (such as, “Always wear eye protection when using a Dremel tool”), there is nothing wrong with trying and failing.

Second, this hobby is a great learning opportunity – so use it. This is not a hobby in which one advances by slavishly following the lead of others. We do our best work when we experiment… fail… learn… experiment… fail… learn…

Are you serious?

It’s Friday and I’m angry:
Anger Mgt - St Williams photo AngerMgt-StW_zpse7bb95a0.jpg

I’m expecting a package today from a hobby shop in Florida, and I’m angry because it’s a product I should’ve been able to buy locally – or, at the very least, directly from the manufacturer. The product itself is not important, but here’s what happened.

I ran out of a product while working on a project. Knowing that I’d seen the product at one of my local train stores – which is likely the biggest store in Canada that caters to the model railway hobby – I called to see if they had it in stock. Not only were they out of it, but they told me the manufacturer had gone out of business.

This is not, in any way, the hobby shop’s fault.

Well, I found the manufacturer online, and emailed them. Guess what? They’re still in business – and they confirmed that my local store was one of their dealers. I pointed out that the store was not listed as a dealer on their website – they said, “Oh, yeah, we should do that”. I also pointed out that the store – did I mention the largest train shop in Canada? – thinks they’re out of business. The manufacturer was not forthcoming with a “Thanks for letting us know – we’ll get in touch with them right away” – instead, they seemed somewhat put out that I’d made extra work for them.

As I’ve noted, this is not the hobby shop’s fault. They provide excellent service and the onus is on all manufacturers to maintain a healthy and active relationship with their dealers.

Having settled the hobby shop issue, I next told the manufacturer – based in New England – that I wanted to order three packages of their product. I asked for a price, including shipping. Despite their web site noting that they ship internationally, I was told they would only ship to Canada for a minimum order of 20 packages.

From this, I assume three things:

– First, the manufacturer doesn’t understand the “handling” part of “shipping and handling costs”. I know it’s going to cost more to ship across a border. I’m used to that. I didn’t ask if it was going to be expensive or a pain to deal with customs. I know it means they have to make a trip to the post office to get a price for shipping and to fill out a customs declaration, and that I might have to pay taxes on my shipment when it’s imported. I asked, “How much for three packages, plus shipping, and how can I pay you?” In fact, shipping from the Florida hobby shop accounts for 40 percent of the total cost of my order – and I expected that.

– Second, the manufacturer isn’t serious about being in business. Canada has 10 percent of the population of the United States, and we’re darned easy to get along with. Shipping across the border is routine. Payment forms – from PayPal to credit cards – handle the exchange automatically and for those who are wary of merchant fees, there are bank drafts and postal money orders. For hobby stuff, shipped to individuals, there are very few hoops. At the same time, it’s fair to assume that catering to the Canadian market will add 10 percent to an American company’s revenue. Even if it’s half that – five percent – that’s an awesome addition to the bottom line for very little additional effort – especially when the current economy is so tough on small companies that cater to non-essential markets like “people who play with trains”. In tight economies, discretionary spending goes over the side – so manufacturers of stuff like model railway supplies need to work harder to keep their existing customers and attract new ones.

– Third, the manufacturer doesn’t understand the power of the Internet to boost their business – or, conversely, to destroy it. I’m not going to publicly identify the company that’s being so damned stupid about this. But others will. And their outdated website with no easy means for people – even within the United States – to order product means people will go elsewhere. My order from a hobby shop instead of direct likely cost this company 40 percent of the sale, in the form of the retail markup. Failing that, I could’ve substituted a different product – or done without. Finally, I will give them credit for at least knowing how to use email. I’ve had dealings with a number of companies with websites that have never returned email inquiries. Or, rather, I’ve tried to have dealings with them…

As I said, I won’t name and shame the manufacturer. They have enough problems, apparently.

Instead, I will continue to use my blog to recommend companies that have provided excellent service. It’s not hard to do – many companies do it very well, even the single proprietors who manufacture, package, ship, market and handle all customer service, solo. Even companies that have no web presence, in fact. Several times on this blog, I’ve mentioned the excellent service from Wild Swan Publications – a company that does things the old fashioned way: by telephone or snail-mail. I would rather deal with them than the company that’s online, but clueless.

As for the company that has so frustrated me: Are you serious? Are you serious about being a hobby supplier? If you are, then smarten up. If you’re not, then sell your intellectual property to someone who is, and go away.

Thanks, everybody – I just needed to get that off my chest. Please don’t ask me to name the manufacturer, and please do not share your own horror stories in the comments – I’ll just delete them. But do let manufacturers know when they fail to serve!

Ain’t no cure…

… for the summertime blues. Except, perhaps, dehumidifiers.

Whether it was the minor flooding earlier this month, last week’s super-hot weather, a combination of the two, or some other factor – the layout is not running well.

I’ve had a few derailments over the past couple of days, which is way more than normal (which is “none at all”). And yes, I’ve noticed the irony that as soon as I install a working derail on the layout…

In addition, one of my moguls obviously has a dirty sound cam so that sometimes it sounds like it’s beating out a military tattoo. Instead of a “chuff-chuff-chuff-chuff”, I get a “chuff-chuffity-ch-chuff-chuffity-chuff”. You get the idea.

I suspect a spike in humidity in the layout room is to blame. I have a vintage dehumidifier but it’s time to go looking for a new one – hopefully quieter!

Maybe I should add a car ferry operation in Port Rowan…

… because when I went to the layout room this evening, I found a lake.

The city had a nasty thunderstorm this evening – 100 mm (about 4″) of rain in about an hour. (To put that in perspective, that’s not only a record-breaker – our previous one-day rainfall record was about 29mm – but it’s also more than the 70mm average rainfall we receive for the entire month of July.)

300,000 people without power, flooding everywhere, people stranded in their cars. Even our local commuter system, GO Transit, had issues:
 photo GO-Train-2013-07-08_zps3da93239.jpg
(Winston Neutel/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Another view of a flooded GO Train photo GO-Train-2013-07-0802_zpsc16c49df.jpg
(Mark Blinch/REUTERS)

So, I was lucky – I had puddles, although most of the (old and undulating) basement floor was submerged to some degree or another.

Fortunately, it was storm water – not sewage. The water slowly drained away, hurried along by my wife and I deploying mops and buckets. We worked for about 3 hours and emptied several buckets worth in the laneway behind our house, where it won’t beat us back indoors.

Most of the water has been taken care of and a dehumidifier is working to pull away the rest.

Before I started this layout, I put down a modular rubber floor system. It’s interlocking tiles, but designed for garages – so it’s perforated instead of having a solid surface. This is a good thing, because it profiles path for air to circulate under items on the floor.

As well, almost everything stored under the layout is in waterproof tubs. Not everything – but almost everything. A few things got wet – but nothing of consequence. Mostly, some lumber I had in the layout room, ready to use to frame the valance. It’s up off the floor now and when I get a chance in the morning, I’ll set it out to dry in the garage.

Glad I had everything in tubs. Glad I’ve been working to get stuff – like scenery materials – out of tubs and onto the layout. It could’ve been much worse, but all is okay now and while more rain is forecast, it’s not supposed to hit like it did tonight.

Time to rest.

Not a silly rant at all

My friend Hunter Hughson has written a very sensible rant about how hard it is to find scale figures that are doing “normal” things, in “normal” clothing. Hunter is writing specifically about HO scale, but my experience is that this is a problem regardless of the scale in which we work.

Want a circus on your layout? Fill your boots with clowns, jugglers, ringmasters, and more. But, if you want typical people going about their business in, say, 1950s attire (as I do), well… good luck.

If I had the talent, I would sculpt my own line of figures. I’d start with fashion books or websites – such as Fashion Era, which documents style in the UK… or Vintage Toronto, which documents just about everything related to Canada’s largest city. Or, just Google “1950s summer fashion” (or whatever era and season you’re modelling) and check out the images.

From this, I would create era-specific and season-specific sets of figures featuring men, women and children. I’d work on the premise that what we really need are people at rest – standing, leaning or sitting – and doing the normal things we do through the day.

Imagine being able to order a set of figures called “Summer – 1950s – professionals waiting for a train (commuters)”? Such as set would include standing men in suits, standing women in dresses, and everybody in hats. But what if you model November? Well, pick up the “Winter – 1950s – professionals waiting for a train (commuters)” set, featuring standing men and women wearing hats, coats, boots and possibly gloves.

Imagine how these figures would be different if you era was the 1940s or 1960s. Imagine how they’d be different if it was blue-collar workers waiting for a train – or people on the weekend, wearing more casual attire – but still readily identifiable as being era and season appropriate?

But, I’m not that talented sculptor.

Perhaps when 3D scanning and printing technology improves to do a better job of small items (a 6-foot figure in S is just 1-1/8 inches tall, after all), we can scan ourselves wearing era and seasonally appropriate clothing and reproduce ourselves as figures, in the poses that we want.

(Good rant, Hunter! Not silly at all!)