Backing into Port Rowan

I’ve mentioned Achievable Layouts a few times on this blog. It’s a term I’ve picked up while talking with layout designer and author Lance Mindheim – best known for his two layouts depicting modern era industrial spur railroading in Miami, “East Rail” and “The Downtown Spur”.

Lance Mindheim - Downtown Spur

I highly recommend Lance’s series of books (available through his website) – especially How To Design A Small Switching Layout. I reviewed this book in the August 2010 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, and what most impressed me about Lance’s approach was the emphasis he placed on what he calls Strategic Planning. This is the stuff that surrounds the layout planning process – the things that are not directly related to our hobby but are very influential on how we enjoy it. They include one’s hobby budget, one’s hobby time, the number of people one can realistically expect to help build and help operate the layout, and so on.

As hobbyists, we’re often aware of these but we don’t appreciate just how much they influence our ability to enjoy model railroading. To paraphrase Lance, if we only focus on layout design issues such as turnout size and curve radii – if we do not take these Strategic Planning factors into account at the layout design stage – we may correctly design the wrong layout.

The “wrong layout”? You bet. There are many reasons this could be the case, but here’s one example that relates to my decision to model Port Rowan.

It could be the layout design fits one’s space perfectly but the appropriate equipment is not available. Or perhaps the equipment is available, but there’s another issue:
– The equipment may be rare and therefore too rich for one’s hobby budget, if one can find it at all
– The equipment is in the form of complex, craftsman kits that will take considerable time to build, perhaps far more time than one feels one can devote to the hobby

This can be an issue in any scale, but it can become a real problem in a niche scale such as S.

I actually backed into modelling Port Rowan. I’ve written about this before – check out the links on my “First Time Here?” page to review my thought process. But what may not have been clear in those postings is this:

If I had not already owned most of the appropriate S scale equipment it’s unlikely I would be building this layout.

Having that equipment already to hand – namely, the two CNR 10-wheelers and CNR caboose I had acquired for use with the S Scale Workshop exhibition layout – is what prompted me to consider building a CNR-themed layout in S. If I had not already owned it, and I went looking for it today, I might have decided that the CNR in S was not for me. What’s more, even though I had the equipment on hand, I picked as my modelling subject a very small segment of a modest branchline – a pin-prick on the Canadian National map – because I recognized that I would be building almost everything myself:

I’m handlaying all my track:
Number 10 photo 10Turnout-03.jpg

I will be scratch-building almost all of my structures, including the very complex Port Rowan station:
Port Rowan station - 1965 - Dick Otto photo PortRowan-DO-1.jpg

Many of my key pieces of equipment are either limited-run custom-builds or craftsman kits (and I’ve farmed out some of this work to my friend Pierre Oliver at Elgin Car Shops*, because he builds rolling stock for others for a living – and between my layout-building goals and various other commitments to family, other interests and work I would not have time). And much of the rest is modified from rolling stock that is now out of production, such as CNR boxcars converted from kits from the late, lamented Pacific Rail Shops*. There’s very little equipment on my layout that will be out of the box, or built from stock kits without fiddling and fettling.

Setting goals for an Achievable Layout – in this case, two towns totalling just eight turnouts and roughly a dozen structures, served by a single, short train a day – means I will have the time to build all the required track and structures plus some of the rolling stock, such as my CNR baggage-mail car (a project I really, really enjoyed):

CNR 7792.

At the same time, I’ll have the hobby budget to pay professionals to do some of the other stuff, like building brass locomotives and combines:

CNR 10-wheeler.

CNR 7176.

Port Rowan in S is ideal if “building everything myself” is one’s goal, and one is willing to be patient – to spend years, perhaps, hunting for a key piece of equipment. But if you want to build a larger, more complex layout with higher traffic volumes and greater equipment variety – say, the CNR in Collingwood or Simcoe – I think you would find S to be frustrating.

This is not meant to discourage anyone – and it must be noted that each modeller brings unique abilities, patience and resources to the hobby so what wouldn’t work for me might work for you. But it’s important for every modeller to ask the right questions at the idea stage: Even a small layout – in any scale or gauge, and of any theme – is a significant investment of one’s time and, likely, one’s money.

That’s why I recommend that anybody considering a new layout – of whatever theme, in whatever scale, gauge or era – start with a copy of Lance’s book, How To Design A Small Switching Layout. Read the first chapter on Strategic Planning and draft an honest list of one’s abilities, interests, time, money and other issues that are not related directly to what trains will run where, but are related to whether your dream layout is really the right one for you to build.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

A new NMRA SIG for scale modelling in 1:64

I think the title says it all…

S Scale SIG Logo photo s-scale-sig-logo_zps881ddb6b.jpg

Some talented modellers have joined forces to establish a Special Interest Group (SIG) – a group affiliated with the National Model Railroad Association – to promote fine model-building and layout-building in S scale.

The S Scale SIG* intends to serve as a single, reliable source for information about S scale for hobbyists and manufacturers. It also intends to promote the scale to the wider world of scale model railway enthusiasts.

Best wishes to the founders of the S Scale SIG. I look forward to watching this Special Interest Group grow and flourish.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

Combine construction underway

My friend Pierre Oliver at Elgin Car Shops* has two S scale CNR combines to build for me using the kit offered a couple of years ago by another friend, Andy Malette at MLW Services*.

Pierre has started work on the cars (huzzah!), and has posted an entry about his progress on his blog. I recommend you find the blog via his web site (check my “Links” list on the home page) so you can see what else he’s working on. Or you can go directly to the first entry on the combines, called Something Old, Something New.

I’m very excited about these cars, as they are the final piece of the puzzle for building my S scale version of the M233 and M238 – the mixed trains to and from Port Rowan. (In truth, I only need one combine, but will have Pierre finish the combines in two different paint schemes so I can run mixed trains from different eras.)

The mixed train, from the tail end.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)


First cows, now bullfrogs:

Bullfrogs, from Fast Tracks.

I spent an evening at the workbench assembling Bullfrogs. These are mechanical linkages for controlling turnouts, designed and manufactured by Tim Warris at Fast Tracks*. They’re quick and easy to build – and inexpensive, too.

As the photo shows, I’ve done all eight that I’ll need for my layout, spending about 15 minutes on each one.

I will be using Hex Frog Juicers from Tam Valley Depot to control polarity of the turnout frogs so I did not bother mounting the control switch included with each kit. I also did not bother installing the steel ball and spring that provides a positive locking action since I plan to use a control on the fascia that includes a positive locking mechanism.

I’ll give the excess gear back to Tim next time I see him, so he can sell it to somebody else.

(Thanks for another great product, Tim!)

Achievable Layout: CNR Waterloo Sub to Galt

No, I’m not abandoning Port Rowan. (I say that because when those who know me see a title like that they start to break out the saws.)

But I was looking through To Stratford Under Steam by Ian Wilson and the Waterloo Subdivision – specifically the section south of Kitchener to Galt – caught my eye.

I’ve written more about the Waterloo Sub on my layout design blog. Click on the image below to read more – and enjoy if you visit:

CNR at Galt

A very lucky Friday the 13th

It snowed here on Friday – the first snow to stick around more than 24 hours this year (although the forecast calls for warmer temperatures this week). By coincidence, it was also a recording date for The Model Railway Show – the podcast I produce and co-host with another S scale enthusiast, Jim Martin.

Jim drives in from his home, which is about two hours away by highway. So lately, we’ve been turning the recording sessions into a social event as well by inviting a couple of friends – fellow S scalers, all – to join us for lunch at Harbord House. This time, Jim and I were joined by Daniel McConnachie. Dan brought along some brick sheets from Model Builders Supply to look at and we had an excellent lunch.

Our publican, John Oakes, had good news for us as well:

Harbord House always has a guest tap and last month it was Conductor’s Craft Ale from Junction Craft Brewing. We enjoyed this and were sorry that it was only available for a limited time. Well, it seems others felt the same way because John has added Conductor’s Craft Ale to his impressive selection of permanent taps. Well done, John, and who says Friday the 13th is unlucky?

It’s great to have such a pub as my local. Harbord House serves real food: Unlike many other establishments, John believes in “cooking” (not “heating”) and the menu is excellent. Equally refreshing is the pub’s commitment to offering an interesting selection of craft brews covering all tastes. There’s no industrial dreck on tap – just real beer from and for people who love the drink. I couldn’t ask for anything better. (In fact, writing this has made me crave a pint!)

After lunch on Friday, we retreated to my place for a quick look at the layout in progress. It was Dan’s first visit and I think he went away inspired. I look forward to having the S Scale gang back again soon and will have to push on with projects so I have fresh things to show them.

As an aside, the current edition of The Model Railway Show – Episode 30 – features Jim’s interview with Ed Loizeaux. Ed is a well-known personality in the S Scale world and a very personable interview. He joins Jim to talk about how he got into S, how it’s often (wrongly) confused with American Flyer, what he loves about working in 1:64, and where he thinks the scale is headed.

It’s a good introduction to S Scale: Have a listen.

10 minutes for #89

I’m fascinated by small steam power. I love the stuff.

Years ago (it seems), I built an HO scale layout based on the Boston and Maine Railroad’s Claremont Branch, which was the stomping ground for B15-class 2-6-0s:

B&M 1483 and 1437 double-head a railfan extra at Warner NH.

I then switched to Maine two-foot modelling, where my 2-4-4T Forneys were large engines – for a Maine two-footer – but pretty darned small. Smaller than the smallest standard gauge power I’d encountered, that’s for sure:


Now that I’m working in S, I picked the Port Rowan line in part because it was worked until the end of steam by pint-sized power: 2-6-0s and, later, 4-6-0s:

A CNR 2-6-0 on M233.

A CNR 4-6-0 on M233.

CN modellers and light steam enthusiasts are lucky that not every mogul met the scrapper’s torch. In fact, one of the most popular excursion locomotives in North America is a CN Mogul.

Number 89 delights railfans at the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania.

If you have 10 minutes, have a look at this well-shot video of 89 at work on the Strasburg line in May, 2010.

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

A visit from Bill Kerr

My friend Bill Kerr from Alberta was in town last night, and dropped in to see my new layout.

Bill and I have known each other for several years now, having met through a mutual interest in the Maine two-footers. Bill, Terry Smith and I were moderators on the MaineOn2 Yahoo Group for some time, and we still talk regularly about the hobby and other things.

This was Bill’s first visit since I tore down my On2 layout. I know he’s sad to see the On2 layout has gone, but is adult enough to recognize that interests change. And as a fellow modeller in On2, he appreciates first-hand the various frustrations (too numerous to document here) that I experienced modelling those lines in that scale and gauge combination.

My Maine two-footer.

My Maine two-footer.

Anyway, Bill enjoyed seeing the new layout and likes the cows.

Cows in the Lynn Valley.

I gave him a couple to take home to see if he can use them for forced perspective in O scale.

We discussed various things, including scenery treatments – something Bill is particularly good at. I have some fresh ideas as a result.

I showed Bill my CN Mogul kit, which builds into one of these:

S Scale Workshop - Cover photo SScaleWorkshop-CoverImage_zps884a9f05.jpg
(Photo taken on the S Scale Workshop modular layout. Click on the image to visit the Workshop online*)

The kit was created by Simon Parent and Bill said he might have cut up brass into small pieces to feed into the pot to cast the domes for this model, during a visit to Simon’s workshop many years ago. It’s a small world.

After the layout tour, we retired to The Caledonian to split a Taste of Scotland (Scotch egg, haggis fritters, sausage rolls), a couple of steak pies with mash, and pints of 80/-. A delightful evening!

My only regret? Bill doesn’t live closer. He would be a great addition to my regular construction crew.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

Send in the cows. There ought to be cows.

Don’t bother: They’re here!*

Have you herd?

As mentioned previously on this blog, when I visited the Lynn Valley I discovered cows wading in the Lynn River next to the twin-span deck girder bridge. I even took a picture of the herd, through the trees, and decided I would have to include this as a scene on my layout:

Pennington Bridge.

Bathing beauties.

Before going too far with this idea, though, I decided I should look for and secure the required figures.

No cows, no scene.

Well, my order of 1:64 cows arrived today from Action Farm Toys, and they’re exactly what I wanted. Great service from Action as well – I placed the order December 29, which means it took just 11 days to cross the continent and an international border. If you’re looking for S scale cattle I suggest you give Action a call.

I ordered a few packages and have ended up with more cows than I’ll need on this layout, although I’ll be able to share these with other members in the S Scale Workshop.

The lead photo shows about one-third of the cows that came in today’s mail.

A small grouping of the animals in the water will recreate the scene from my visit to the Lynn Valley:

Cows beyond the bridge.

The cows will actually not be that easy to see from a normal viewing level when the scene is finished. If I do things right, they will appear as a mottled black and white pattern through the tree canopy. But they will be clearly visible to anybody who bends down and looks under the bridge – a reward for careful observation:

A reward for careful observation.

(*With apologies to Stephen Sondheim)

Work on track begins in earnest

Number 10 turnout.

Last night, my friends Chris Abbott and Mark Zagrodney came over for dinner and a work session. We decided to start building the turnouts I’ll need for the Port Rowan branch.

Mark has never used the Fast Tracks* system and it’s been a little while since Chris has used it. Me? I’ve been using parts of it to build turnouts for the HO scale Wabash layout taking shape in the basement of my friend Pierre Oliver, but Pierre is using laser-cut tie strips under his turnouts whereas I’m using individual ties with a few printed circuit board ties in the turnouts. It’s been a while since I built a PC board-equipped turnout.

That’s a long way of saying that we only managed to finish two-and-a-bit turnouts last night, as Chris and I jogged our memories and brought Mark up to speed. However, I was able to finish the third – and build a fourth – after lunch today.

What this means is I now have half of the required turnouts in hand. Four down, four to go: One of the joys of designing a relatively simple track plan.

Now that's a long turnout!

The most impressive turnout that we built was the Number 10 for next to the station at St. Williams (shown above). This is short by real railroad standards, but more generous than what’s commonly used on model railways. A Number 10 turnout is long – there’s no question about that. Just the area around the frog is about as long as a caboose. At 1 in 10, the frog angle is wonderfully shallow. Despite this, wheel sets glide through both routes of the frog with ease.

The frog in a Number 10 turnout.

I’m not yet ready to set the turnouts in place permanently, although I have test fit them and I’m pleased. They still need head rods and back rods, and those will take a little while since I realized today that I need more PC ties. The order has been placed with Fast Tracks. It’ll be a couple of weeks. Meantime, I have lots to do.

Dinner for our work session was a Hungarian beef stew from the November, 2008 issue of Cook’s Illustrated* magazine.

Loads of braised beef, sliced onions and carrots, and a roasted red pepper/sweet paprika paste made for a hearty one-pot dinner, served over egg noodles and with sour cream on the side.

Paired with a salad and blueberry pie, it was a fine way to feed the crew. And I have left-overs for tonight!

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)