A visit from Jim and John

Earlier this week, my friend (and fellow host of The Model Railway Show) Jim Martin visited, along with a long-time friend of his, John Morris. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them – John lives in Manitoba and visits Jim regularly but it’s been a few years since we got together, and Jim’s been pretty busy with things that have prevented him from coming into the city.

We had a great couple of hours in the layout room. It was John’s first visit to Port Rowan in 1:64, so I gave him the quick tour. And it’s been a while since Jim saw the layout, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

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We talked about many things – among them, my use of mock-ups as stand-ins for structures. I like mock-ups not only as place holders but also as a way to test my plans for a structure. Since I’m modelling a specific place and time, most of my structures are based on real building and it’s important to make sure I’ve properly captured proportions, roof angles, and so on. It’s far easier (and cheaper) to modify cardboard than it is to re-work a model in styrene and strip wood. And because I know that some of these mock-ups will stay on the layout for some time before I get around to building the structures that they represent, I feel it’s worthwhile to invest a little bit of coin and build them using good-quality artist’s board in appropriate colours. Some of the mock-ups on my layout have been in place now for about three years, and they still look good.

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Of course, we ran a train – although I did not haul out waybills and put the guys to work. John has built and painted many HO scale steam locomotives for Canadian prototypes – he’s well-known in the community for his excellent work – and I knew he’d enjoy seeing these larger models of tiny prototypes put through their paces.

The layout really came through for me too, with no derailments or stalling. Other than one or two missed couplings, it was a perfect session. We talked about that, too – and agreed that flawless operation is a goal worthy of pursuing. It’s also achievable when one focuses on a smaller, easier to manage layout like mine – and I think that any perceived trade-off in pursuing a simpler-is-better approach is more than made up for by the enjoyment of realistic and reliable operation.

(I remember causing a tempest in a teapot on a newsgroup one time by declaring that this was my goal. I was told “It can’t be done”, and “Real railroads have derailments too”, and other such excuses. But having experienced flawless operating sessions the On3 layout built by my friend Dave Burroughs I knew it could, in fact, be done – and I’m determined to achieve that in my own layout room.)

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Smaller, simpler layouts also free up hobby time to pursue special projects that may require a significant investment in modelling time. An example is the “Someday Spreader” I wrote about previously on this blog:

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(Click on the image to read about the “Someday Spreader”)

My visit from Jim and John occurred the evening before I stumbled across the model that inspired that post. I admire John’s work in brass and I realized, while talking with him, that the biggest hurdle to tackling such a project is convincing oneself that one can do it. I suspect that our conversation the night before tipped my hand to purchase the Jordan Spreader and commit myself to building one in 1:64. Thanks for that, John!

When my wife finished work, she joined us as we retired to The Caledonian – a terrific Scottish pub in my neighbourhood – to wind up the evening with more great conversation over good food, and a promise from Jim that he’d come for a visit more often. (John – you’re welcome too of course, whenever you’re in the area!)

Chance meeting with Brian and Dennis

I was pretty busy with work on Monday so Jack and Mocean did not get their morning walk until mid-day. Eventually, guilt set in and I took them for a quick spin around the neighbourhood. We have a short walk we do when I have things to do – basically, around a long block – because it only takes 15 minutes:

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(Jack and Mocean: Judged by the tension on the leads, we’re making good time – which is not always the case…)

Timing is everything, however – and when we reached the half-way point I passed two guys who looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place them. (This happens when people are out of context: I remember seeing a woman at a neighbourhood party and having this same problem. I solved it by asking her and as we worked through our various possible connections we discovered we both have dogs: Problem solved! “Oh – you’re Obie’s mum!” But I digress…)

The two gentlemen were having the same problem – I looked familiar, but I was out of context.

Of course, the context is train-related: Specifically, the annual S Scale Social organized by Jim Martin – because that’s where I’ve met both Brian Walsh and Dennis Rowe.

Brian and Dennis were in the neighbourhood to visit a friend and were just heading back to their car when we met on the sidewalk. We got talking and since my place was just a block away, I invited them in to see the layout:

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(A flagman protects Charlotteville Street as Extra 80 West creeps through St. Williams)

Dennis makes some really nice trees – and had these samples on display at last year’s S Scale Social…

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… so we had a good chat about the ins and outs of building convincing trees in 1:64.

The visit wasn’t long – Brian and Dennis had to rescue their car before their parking expired, and I had to get back to work. But it was a lovely break in the day and I’m really glad we ran into each other.

Great to see you both – and I hope to see you at this year’s S Scale Social in a couple of months!

Photos in context :: A visit with Fredrick

Sometimes, things just fall into place…

Last Thursday, my friend and fellow member of the S Scale Workshop, Fredrick Adlhoch emailed with a last-minute request. He and his partner were going to be in town Friday morning – could they drop by, briefly, to see the layout?

As it turned out, I had a 9:00 am meeting at home on Friday, and needed to leave by 11:30 for a lunchtime appointment – but I had a 90-minute window and it dovetailed nicely with Fredrick’s free time.

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(Readers will recognize many of my favourite mini-scenes in this overview of Port Rowan)

I’m glad it worked out, because it was Fredrick’s first opportunity to see the layout in person. One of his comments that stuck with me was the observation that seeing the layout in person helped him put into context the many vignettes that I’ve shared via photos on this blog.

In the above overview photo of Port Rowan, one can see the apple orchards, the elevated coal delivery track, the section house and its oil shack, the turntable, the barn at the team track and – near the end of the peninsula – the mockups for the station and feed mill. When I photograph the layout, I tend to focus on these areas.

I have favourite compositions, which I have discovered while peering through the viewfinder on my camera. These are the combinations of scenery, trains, lighting and camera position that tell a compelling story. And I tend to photograph variations of those favourite compositions. It’s not that I ignore others – I’m always looking for new ways to view, photograph and share the layout – but that they are the ones that I find most convincing.

As such, I rarely take overview photographs. The exceptions tend to be photos used to illustrate something related to ergonomics or lighting. I also share overview photos on the anniversary of starting the layout, because they help document my progress from year to year.

But I should try to take more context photos in the future…

Great to see you, Fredrick – come back when you have more time and we’ll run some trains!

A visit from Simon and Hunter

Last night was an important night for me and my hobby. That’s because my friend Simon Parent was in town for work – which gave him his first chance to see my layout.

Longtime readers and fans of S scale will know Simon’s name. He’s the designer and builder of the CNR 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s that are the backbone of my roster. Like this one:

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In fact, it’s fair to say that without his fine work I would not be modelling the Port Rowan branch – or, even, modelling in S scale. The story of how I ended up in S scale was one of the first posts I wrote on this blog, and a pair of Simon’s beautiful CNR 10-Wheelers plays a pivotal role in that tale.

So, it was with some excitement that I was finally – after so much time and progress – going to be able to give Simon a tour of the layout that he inspired.

Since three is always more fun than two and since Hunter Hughson and I had planned to get together this week, I suggested that he join us. The three of us had a great time and for the most part the layout did not let me down. That said, there were a couple of issues, including this …

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… and this …

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We also experienced a couple of DCC system gremlins:

One of my Lenz throttles, which had a cord replaced on it a while back, refused to respond. I suspect I should just bite the bullet and buy a new throttle.

No worries, I thought: I’ll deploy the TouchCab App and an iPod – a nifty solution I’ve written about on this blog several times in the past, and one that I know Hunter really enjoys. Unfortunately, I got an error message and while I was able to select an existing locomotive in the throttle stack I was not able to add a new locomotive address to the app. I’ll have to investigate what’s going on with that.

The lesson – one I’ve mentioned many times here in the past – is “run the layout more often”. Frequent running often keeps things flowing as they should, I find. Frequent running also allows one to stay on top of issues as they arise, rather than have a whole bunch of them to address as happened last night.

That said, we had a lot of fun and I enjoyed showing Simon and Hunter some of the little details on the layout.

After our operating session, I introduced Simon to the tradition that is Harbord House, where I enjoyed a much needed pint or two.

Simon, Hunter – great to see you both! And I hope you both come back soon. Meantime, I have a “to-do” list to start working through…

A visit from Paul and Linda

On Tuesday night, our friends Paul and Linda Dolkos came over. They live in Virginia, but took a detour to get here – arriving via Vancouver on board The Canadian. It was a short stop in Toronto – Paul and Linda were flying home the next morning – so I’m flattered they made time to visit and it was great to see them both.

Paul was quite enthusiastic about my layout It’s always nice when someone as accomplished as he is in the hobby says nice things about my efforts – and to its credit (and my relief), the layout performed flawlessly.

I’m really glad I did all of the new trees, too. (In case you missed it, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve finished 49 wire armature trees. Yes – I counted the trunks.) They made a huge difference to the layout’s presentation, and helped convey to Paul the story of steam-era railroading in southern Ontario…

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Paul was very interested in the various operations aids that I’ve employed on the layout – including my large-scale handbrakes and air hoses, the large-scale switch stands for turnout control, and the pull-out work desks for conductors.

Paul is well-known in the hobby. I first met him in the late 1990s, when we were both modellers of the Boston and Maine Railroad. He’s now modelling several railroads in the Baltimore area and like his old B&M layout, this new one has been used to illustrate several stories in the Model Railroad Planning annuals. He’s also a regular feature writer for Model Railroader and one of the company’s go-to guys for layout photography.

I too moved on from the B&M – first, in 2003, to model the Maine two-footers in On2, then to a flirtation with Proto:48 before embarking on my current project (well documented on this blog) in 2011. But Paul and I have kept in touch through the changes and see each other occasionally – with or without our wonderful wives.

It’s always a great time when we get together and swap tales of layouts that we’ve visited and hobbyists that we’ve known. (I’ve been a huge beneficiary in this regard. It was through Paul that I had a chance to run trains on the On3 Denver South Park and Pacific layout built by Andrew Dodge. That session, in 2007, introduced me to the idea of using a working telegraph network to OS trains – something I’ve finally been able to incorporate into a layout. And I’ll forever be in Paul’s debt for arranging an operating session, back in 2002, with John Armstrong on his legendary Canandaigua Southern layout. It was John’s many superb features and books that fostered in me a lifelong interest in layout design, so that was an unforgettable day.)

We toured the layout while waiting for my wife to get home from work, Then the four of us walked up the street to enjoy a lovely dinner at The Boulevard Cafe – a nearby restaurant that’s become a neighbourhood institution over the past 35 years.

Thanks for visiting, Paul and Linda – I look forward to visiting your new layout at some point!

Layout feature in “The S Scale Resource”

I’ve written a feature on my layout layout – and it’s the cover story in the February-March 2015 issue of The S Scale Resource magazine. This is a free, digital publication. Click on the cover, below, to visit the magazine online:

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You’ll find February-March 2015 issue under the “current issue” tab – if you’ve visited the page before you may have to refresh your browser.

Once you’ve opened the magazine online, you can download it too: Look for a set of buttons near the top of the screen. There, you’ll find one with a PDF symbol, and options to download individual pages or the entire magazine.

This article was tremendous fun to write and shoot – the result of a most enjoyable visit with co-editor Daniel S. Dawdy late last year.

I hope you enjoy this look at my layout – I think it’s a great introduction to what I’m doing and I plan to use it as such. Feel free to share the URL with others who may be interested.

Eggs and ops with David and David

It was a beautiful day yesterday – cold but dry and sunny – so what better way to spend it than on a mini layout tour?

My friends David Woodhead and David Reilly dropped in to see my layout. It’s been a few months while since David Woodhead last visited, and more than a year since David Reilly was here, so there was a lot of new stuff for both of them to see.

We ran a few trains and discussed various aspects of the layout – including my newly-installed TCS WOWSound decoders and how I build my trees. Somehow, two hours flew past.

I’m always interested in what others see in my layout, and Woodhead and Reilly both brought their cameras. Here are some of the shots they took:

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(A busy afternoon at Port Rowan. The doodlebug was a fantrip special. David digitally added some trees from elsewhere on the layout into the background here – what a pretty neat effect! It gives me some idea of what I hope this area will look like. I’ll need to twist up a lot more tree armatures…)

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(Speaking of trees, this is an interesting shot that has nothing to do with trains. It’s one I’ve never thought of taking but I really like how it turned out.)

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(M238 leaves Port Rowan. I like taking photos on this curve, too…)

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(A freight extra crosses the Stone Church Road bridge.)

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(The doodlebug at the steel deck girder bridge in the Lynn Valley. I’m pleased that others are taking advantage of these little vantage points, which I worked into the scenery as a reward for careful viewing.)

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(A busy day in St. Williams)

After running trains on Port Rowan, the three of us retired to Harbord House for a late brunch (the pub does some great variants on Eggs Benedict) and pints. And then – since David Woodhead lives just a few blocks from me – we finished the day at his place to run some trains on his On3 Madoc and North Hastings Railroad.

All in all, a great day: Thanks guys! We need to do this more often…

New views

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(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.)

First visit to the Algonquin Railway

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On Sunday, I hopped the 506 Carlton streetcar and headed east for an operating session on the Algonquin Railway – a terrific HO scale shelf layout in a spare room that’s being built by Ryan Mendell. (Ryan recently visited my layout for the first time and was keen to return the favour.)

Ryan is doing a terrific job. He has a great eye for detail, and is obviously an accomplished modeller. What’s particularly impressive is that he’s only been back in the hobby for a few years after a long time away from it for all the usual reasons. From his layout design, to the equipment, to the structures and scenery, everything looks like the product of a modeller with decades of experience under his belt. Well done!

I’ve recently been working on trees for the St. Williams area of my layout, so I was particularly interested in Ryan’s tree-building efforts. Click on the image, below, to visit his blog and learn how he makes those terrific Eastern White Pines:

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The afternoon gave me some great ideas for filling in the space under my taller trees with saplings and other plantings to give my forested areas more bulk. I predict another visit to the craft store in the near future to pick up some craft brooms and other materials. And I’m going to build a few of those pines, just because they look great.

The Algonquin Railway runs very nicely and we spent a most satisfying hour or so switching out typical railway customers in northern Ontario, aided for part of the session by Ryan’s young son – who will one day make a fine railway modelling enthusiast, I expect.

After our session, we retired to The Feathers for lamb and ale stews, pints, and more conversation, and I had much to think about on the streetcar ride home.

Thanks for the great afternoon, Ryan! I’m looking forward to our next get-together…

A visit from Daniel and Amy

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(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!

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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.

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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!