Why I blog

I’ve mentioned this several times before, but I’ll repeat it:

One of the best reasons to blog is the great information one can gather from readers by putting one’s thoughts online. Have a look at the comments section for Friday’s post about PRR hoppers appearing on the Port Rowan branch.

Steve Lucas and Jeffrey Smith have provided fantastic information about foreign-road cars on the branch, and in Canada in general. (Thanks guys!)

I’ve been fortunate to have so many readers become valuable contributors to this blog – and, by extension, to the layout and models I’m building.

If you have questions related to your own goals in the hobby, why not start a blog? You’ll be surprised at the answers you receive…

Protecting the Nuclear Codes

Dear President of the United States:

I know that among your many duties, you carry the huge – I would even bet terrifying – responsibility of the codes to launch America’s nuclear arsenal. Obviously, they need to be readily accessible in times of emergency, but they also need to be kept safe from the world’s ne’er-do-wells. Fortunately, an answer is at hand.

First, become a model railway enthusiast. I bet the White House bowling alley would make an awesome layout room, once you levelled the floor. What’s more, this is a hugely rewarding hobby and before you know it, you’ll be up to your elbows in wiring and plaster and the problems of the world will be put into their proper perspective. Mideast peace… domestic terrorism… Bo’s dog-breath and Sunny’s leg-humping issue… all that stuff will share head space, as it should, with decisions about turnout size and brand of DCC.

“You’ve convinced me,” I hear you say, “but how does his help with the nuclear codes issue?”

Good question.

Since you’re a modern kinda guy, you’ll want to model a modern-era prototype. And I suggest S scale. Yeah, I know: S doesn’t have the same selection of goodies that the other scales have. But those other scales don’t have this:
Mini photo Mini-01_zps961db43f.jpg

This little Mini Cooper is not quite S scale – it’s 1:68 – but close enough, right? And while the Detroit automakers may bridle at this modern interpretation of a British icon appearing on your layout, nobody will give it a second glance.

But you’ll know better – because this is no ordinary die-cast vehicle:
Mini-USB photo Mini-02_zps7d0f52be.jpg

That’s right: It has a retractable USB interface. It’s actually a flash drive – and with 8Gb capacity there’s plenty of room for those nuclear codes.

Not only that, but the headlamps light up when it’s plugged into your computer, which is handy for finding it when you’re working in the dark – and, frankly, cool:
Mini-Lights photo Mini-03_zpsb049272f.jpg

I found my Mini USB drive at an office supply store here in Canada – but I’m sure you can find them in the United States, too.

As for the codes, I’m sure you see how this works:

First, you build an S scale layout. (And, by the way, have a great time doing it. Think about the possibilities: You can invite world leaders over for ops sessions – and you’ll be surprised how much that will move diplomacy forward. Unlike hosting games of Battleship or Risk – which foster a competitive, combative attitude – running a layout is all about working together. That can only be good for international relations!)

Second, instead of squirrelling away the nuclear codes in a safe (everybody’s going to look for a safe, after all) or in a briefcase locked to somebody’s wrist (which is darned inconvenient at dinner parties), you keep ’em safe and sound – and, most importantly, handy – in plain sight on your model railway. I ask you: How clever is that?

Just remember where you parked – and don’t model a Mini dealership.

Thanks for your time and as the Brits say, “Cheers!”

Exception to the rules: PRR hoppers

In recent posts (like this one), I’ve written about the dominance of home road (in this case, CNR) rolling stock on branch line trains in Canada. This makes a lot of sense when one considers the rules for car handling. Here are a couple of the rules, roughly put, that apply to this posting:

– An empty car from any railway is to be returned directly to its home railway, retracing the route that it took while loaded. This makes sense when you consider that empty cars earn no revenue. So, each railway that earned money to move the load shares the cost to move the empty.

– Anywhere along its journey home, an empty car from any railway may be grabbed and used for a load providing the load is heading in the general direction of home. So, a Maine Central car could be loaded in Port Rowan and sent to Toronto (or Kingston or Ottawa or Montreal) since it’s likely the MEC car was routed from the MEC to St. Johnsbury VT, then via the CPR to Montreal. But that MEC car could not be loaded in Port Rowan and sent to Detroit, or Winnipeg, or Vancouver, or even Halifax, since that would take it too far off its route home.

But sometimes, those car handling rules are bent. I suspect that the photo below illustrates an example of this:
Two PRR hoppers of gravel photo PtR-PRR-Hoppers_zps65d9e8a3.jpg

It’s September of 1955 and The Daily Effort has arrived in Port Rowan. In the consist is a Pennsylvania Railroad hopper car loaded with gravel. What’s it doing there?

Hopper cars from American railroads were not uncommon in southern Ontario. Most of them were carrying coal to Canada’s industrial heartland – either for factory boilers, steel making, or to coal dealers. Even locomotive coal came from the United States.

But this car is not carrying coal. It’s carrying gravel. Ontario is full of gravel – who would import it?

As Ian Wilson‘s excellent book about the line from Hamilton to Port Rowan and Port Dover points out, there are large gravel pits at Hagersville, Ontario. For those unfamiliar with the railway, this map should help:
The line between the lakes photo ProtoMap.jpg

As should be clear by how I’ve modelled it, Port Rowan has the word “Port” in its name but the railway terminal is nowhere near the water. It’s at the north end of town – well away from Lake Erie – and obviously there’s no railway/marine intermodal stuff happening here. That PRR car isn’t going to get loaded onto a ferry to cross the lake.

It’s also unlikely that the PRR car was loaded in Hagersville, and then picked up by The Daily Effort and hauled to Port Rowan, just so it could be hauled back to Hamilton and then head towards home. Not only would that be a fair bit of back hauling, but the CNR time tables for the era note that in addition to the mixed train, a freight extra runs six days per week from Hamilton to Simcoe and back. In addition, Ian’s book notes a Jarvis Turn (freight extra from Hamilton to Calendonia and back, with a run to Jarvis as needed), and two Hagersville Turns (running Hamilton to Hagersville and back – one in the day, one at night). It’s far more likely that a freight extra would handle gravel loads out of Hagersville – and in any case, that any loads would be picked up on the return trip north.

So it’s safe, I think, to assume that this load is destined for Port Rowan – and Ian’s book notes that the coal dealer allowed his elevated track to be used to unload crushed stone.

My best guess – complete speculation at this point – is that two loads’ worth of gravel was needed in Port Rowan, and the PRR car was one of two available so the CNR sent it to be loaded.

Will I actually model a PRR car carrying gravel to Port Rowan? Probably not, although I do have a PRR hopper weathered for coal service that makes an appearance:
Coal hoppers photo CoalHoppers-Finished.jpg

I find it’s better to model the typical and the plausible – the things that do not have to be dissected and explained with speculation to make sense. So any crushed stone loads for Port Rowan will arrive in CNR cars…
CNR hoppers in stone service photo CNR-StoneHoppers-Finished.jpg

Return of the Giant Hogw… er, Fern

Turn and run!
Nothing can stop them:
Around every river and canal their power is growing!

I recently wrote about finding scale fern plants from two suppliers. I decided to give the ferns sold by Scenic Express a try so I ordered a bunch and they arrived today. (Well, sort of: More on that in a moment.)

They are invincible:
They seem immune to all our herbicidal battering!

I opened a package and put four clusters of them – one package worth – under some in-progress trees in the Lynn Valley to see how they look:
Ferns photo GiantFerns-01_zps047e7247.jpg

Well, they’re very good looking, but…

As I noted in my previous posting, Scenic Express did not give a scale for these plants. Their website described them as approximately a half-inch tall.

They’re actually considerably taller.

Botanical creature stirs – seeking revenge
Royal beast did not forget.
Soon they escaped – spreading their seed
Preparing for an onslaught – threatening the human race!

Giant Ferns! Run! photo GiantFerns-02_zpsefdba853.jpg
(Poor guy: He doesn’t stand a chance.)

I definitely can use these plants. But as they stand, they’re about twice as high as the ferns in my back garden (which grow slightly taller than the deck of the baggage wagon). To make them work, I will snip apart the clusters into individual fronds and glue the pieces into the terrain as I detail this area. That’ll reduce their height to something realistic. As a bonus, I expect the finished scene will look much better with the fronds spread out more.

Experimenting with products and techniques isn’t confined to 70s prog-rock…

Heracleum mantegazziani!

One of the great things about ordering from Scenic Express is they always – without asking – provide a parcel tracking number. This makes it easy to track shipments online through either the USPS or Canada Post websites, or even via the Canada Post smart phone app. That helps me plan my day – I know whether I’m expecting an international package so I try to be home when the mail arrives in case there are taxes to pay.

Checking the app this morning, I saw that my ferns were to arrive today (“out for delivery” the app reported). The letter carrier arrived and had packages for both my wife and me – but no ferns. I didn’t think anything of it – maybe the package didn’t make it onto the truck.

So imagine my surprise when I checked the app about a half-hour later and the app reported “Package successfully delivered”! I checked the porch again: No package.

I suspected the box went to the wrong house. So I whistled for the dogs and they got another walk as we went around the neighbourhood looking for the letter carrier. Fortunately, I spotted the Canada Post delivery van a couple of blocks from home and caught up with the carrier.

We talked about it and I showed her the tracking info. I don’t think she’d ever seen the app. She told me that she’d delivered three packages to one other house on our street, and that someone had received them at the house. But she wouldn’t go back to check with them. So I did.

I rang the doorbell and explained the situation, and sure enough – my package had been delivered to the wrong address.

Bugs-FacePalm photo BugsFacePalm_zps5e999ba3.jpg
“Well, it says here that I delivered it somewhere, so I guess that’s been successfully delivered…”

Road Work

Charlotteville St. - painted photo RoadPainted-01_zpsb58d9a19.jpg

My copy of Volume 3 of the scenery series by Gordon Gravett arrived this week, and it includes a section on modelling roads. As it happens, I had a couple of roads that needed painting, so I read through Gordon’s approach and it inspired me to tackle my own.

I brushed the roads with a medium-dark grey I found at the local art supply store and left it to dry. Today, while heading to the farm where I work my border collie on sheep, I paid close attention to the colour of the roads and took a few reference photos. When I got back from our lesson, I grabbed a brush and my set of weathering powders and went to work.

Charlotteville St. - painted photo RoadPainted-02_zps76d1fbda.jpg

The roads I saw today were in various states of repair, but unless they were new they were a faded black – lighter than the paint I’d used. Lanes were darker – the result, I’m guessing – of tires shedding a little bit of rubber which then gets ground into the road surface. The centre of the road was paler, and the edges had some brown in them. So that’s how I weathered my roads.

In addition, I added patches of brown where cinder drives and dirt roads meet the main road, to show that some of the dirt has been tracked onto the road by vehicles pulling out.

Also, I laid down a narrow line of dark rust on either side of each rail in my crossing, and then blended that into the roadway. I think this picks up the colours of the roadbed quite effectively and shows where the trains have spread dirt, rust, etc., onto the road surface.

I like the effect I’ve achieved, which is the most important thing…

GATX 480 – Weathered

 photo GATX-480-03_zps4fa434c5.jpg

While weathering my latest batch of CNR boxcars, I also aimed the airbrush at the GATX two-dome tank car I recently acquired. I’m pleased with how this one turned out. It’s not apparent in the above photo, but a coat of road dust along the frame and bottom of the tank really does bring out the details on this model.

I still haven’t decided whether to leave it in the Flying A paint scheme. The weathering job doesn’t make the prospect of repainting any easier, frankly…

Three more CNR steel boxcars finished

 photo CNR-4811472-Finished_zps23cdabc2.jpg

I’ve upgraded wheels and couplers, added air hoses, and weathered my three newest editions to the CNR boxcar fleet.

My previous posting on this set of cars generated a lot of discussion after Jared Harper asked why I plan to have so many CNR boxcars on my layout. It’s a good question. The full discussion can be found in the comments section on that previous post, but here’s a quick recap:

In the 1950s, as today, the Canadian railway scene was dominated by two nation-spanning systems. The CNR and CPR went virtually everywhere, from coast to coast. This is quite different from the situation in the United States, where railroads were confined to specific regions. Even the mightiest stopped at the Mississippi, and hauling freight across country required interchange with one or more partners.

In Canada, most freight would have been carried by a single road, without interchange. One reliable source suggests 75% of the boxcars on a mid-century Canadian layout should be home road boxcars. A distant second would be traffic exchanged between the two major railways. A distant third is cars from American roads.

Most traffic would’ve been domestic. And in the 1950s, Canada did more trade with the UK and other members of the Commonwealth than it would have with the United States. For the most part, that foreign traffic would’ve arrived in Canada at Canadian ports such as Halifax and Vancouver. Or, it would’ve landed in North America at an American port and forwarded, in sealed cars, to Canada. (Marty McGuirk pointed out that half of the cars carried by the Central Vermont through White River Junction VT were CNR cars. That makes sense when one considers the CV was owned by the CNR and linked Canada to the port at New London, CT.)

What’s more, I’m modelling a tiny backwater on the CNR’s system. Therefore, every car that arrives on my branch is there because it’s delivering something to St. Williams or Port Rowan – or picking up a load from these places. If delivering, chances are slim that the load came from anywhere other than a place where it could’ve been loaded into a CNR boxcar. If it’s a load originating on my branch, it’s likely to be packed into a CNR car. (This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s a good guideline.) There’s no bridge traffic, so I can’t run many American cars – or even specialized Canadian ones – and say, “Well, that’s just using this line to get from Point A to Point B”.

(There were exceptions, of course – and I’ll deal with those in a future posting.)

Finally, the reality of S scale is there’s limited choice for rolling stock. One reason I will have so many CNR 10′-0″ steel 1937 AAR cars on the layout is that Pacific Rail Shops made a suitable plastic kit for this prototype, and decals are available from Black Cat Publishing. That said, I’ve done quite well in adding variety to the CNR fleet. I have examples of the following on the layout or in the planning stages:

– CNR 36′ Dominion boxcar (the Fowler Patent): One on the layout, one in kit form. I’d like a couple more. This is a Ridgehill Scale Models resin kit.
– CNR 40′ single sheathed car: 3 suitable stand-ins on the layout. This is an S Helper Service RTR car that I’ve detailed and painted.
– CNR 40′ AAR 1937 steel boxcars (10′-0″): Like the cars in this post. With these three, I have five on the layout – plus two more in kit form.
– CNR 40′ double-door box: I have one on the bench. It’s an extensive modification of a PRS kit.
– CNR 10′-6″ steel boxcars: I have one kit to build and am in the process of acquiring a second one. Like the double-door boxcar, these will require extensive modifications to a PRS kit.

So, that’s 15 cars in five varieties. Not too bad a representation of the CNR’s vast fleet. And since I think I have four to six boxcars in paint schemes other than CNR, my ratio of home road house cars is about right…

Three more CNR boxcars – lettered

 photo CNR-4811472-Lettered_zpsda8aeec0.jpg

Over the weekend, my most recent batch of CNR boxcar builds took a step closer to entering service on the layout. I lettered the three cars using decals from Black Cat Publishing.

Still to do:

– A coat of clear gloss to protect the lettering and blend the decals into the paint.

– Replace the wheel sets: I leave the kit-supplied sets in the trucks while painting to protect the bearing surfaces and give me something to rest the car on, then substitute NWSL wheels before the cars go into service.

– Replace the couplers: These kits came to me pre-built although I re-detailed them. Two of the three had couplers in place, but I prefer to start with fresh couplers in situations like this.

– Add BTS air hoses/glad hands.

– Weather.

– Create waybills.

That’s not a daunting list and it shouldn’t take me too long to complete – at which point I’ll have five of these boxcars in service on the layout. And that will really change the appearance of operating sessions.

Plus, I have two more of these kits to add to the CNR fleet…

One for Simon (GATX 480)

I mentioned in the comments on my post about my recently-acquired two-dome tank car that I had upgraded my model with BTS air hoses and NWSL wheelsets. Simon Dunkley asked,

Can we have a picture of the results of the upgrade, please?

Simon: Of course – although there’s not much to see. I don’t have a “before” photo to compare this too, but the wheel profile is thinner and there are air hoses instead of Kadee uncoupling pins:
GATX-480-02 photo GATX-480-02_zps8b254349.jpg

Obviously, I have yet to weather the car. And I may still repaint it into a scheme more likely to be seen on a Canadian railway. (Maybe something like this?)

I really like the air hoses from BTS – part number 02302. These come four to a pack (enough for two cars) and consist of two brass castings (the glad hand, and the valve assembly) and a piece of flexible tubing.

I removed the brass air hoses that came on the tank car, cleaned out the mounting hole, and glued the BTS valve in place. Before mounting, I bent the post on which the tubing will fit so that when I put the tubing on it drops down almost vertical and angles in below the coupler a bit. I then fit the tubing and measure the drop for the hose – clip it off – and fit the glad hand. I double check that the glad hand is high enough that it will clear the rails – just – and then a drop of CA on each mounting post holds everything securely.

I brush-painted the brass pieces black and the flexible tubing black-grey, using Acrylicos Vallejo paints. Weathering will blend everything together nicely.

Canadian National Steam! is here

Canadian National Steam

Today’s mail brought my copy of Canadian National Steam! – the first in a series of books on the subject by Donald McQueen, and published by Railfare*DC Books.

I ordered my copy almost a year ago – and promptly forgot about it. So it was a very pleasant surprise. I’m pleased to report it was also well worth the wait.

This first volume is a text ‘n’ table-heavy tome. From the Railfare*DC website:

The book contains 43 tables and an extensive series of appendices – 47 in all – covering across-the-classes items such as livery, sales, leases, appliance application, (including compounding, gearing, superheating, feedwater heating, smoke deflectors, stokers, oil burners, cab and tender designs). There’s also a guide to the individual locomotive roster volumes.

Subsequent volumes – seven of them – will come next year. Here’s what the publisher has to say about these roster volumes:

They will contain the individual locomotive rosters by CNR classes according to similar or related wheel arrangements (including Newfoundland Railway and the Central Vermont Railway). Every steam locomotive will be listed, and the roster will provide all the information historians, rail enthusiasts and transportation buffs would ever want to know (and then some), including build data, ownership history, appliance history, class notes.

More than 1200 photographs, with informative captions, will appear in the roster volumes, which will feature sturdy wire binding, permitting the roster book pages to open completely flat.

My cheque for the roster volumes is already in the mail. While I wait, I have some intensive reading to do. What a treat for those interested in CN steam power!

(I have nothing to do with the publication of this – just an excited book buyer, and thought I’d share.)