Seeing without filters

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Over at the Model Railroad Design blog, guest author Gerard J Fitzgerald has written another terrific blog post about historical modelling and the role that photographs play in that. In his conclusion, he notes:

History makes less sense if one cherry picks or filters culture through a cheesecloth.

I read this last night, and it’s still resonating with me this morning.

As prototype modellers, the value of what we do increases when we move away from re-creating what we think was, or what might have been, to replicating simply what was.

Making that transition requires training oneself to make careful observations. Modellers I know who have trained as artists talk about “learning to see” – it’s a recurring theme expressed by Mike Cougill in his series of electronic publications called The Missing Conversation, but others have also discussed it at length.

Photographers do this too: My friend Don Spiro often describes his craft to me not in terms of subject matter but in terms of seeing light – and this is evident in the images he captures. As a result, I’m trying to train myself to see my layout in terms of light, too…
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I’m neither a painter nor a professional photographer, so my ability to “see” is not as finely honed. But I’m working on it – and when my eye tells me that I’ve failed to capture what was, I’m not afraid to tear out and re-work parts of my railway or start over on a modelling project, regardless of the amount of work that has gone into it.

In fact, I relish such opportunities to do things better the next time around because the hobby is not only about finishing the project, but also enjoying and learning from the process.

Thanks again, Gerard, for making me think about this hobby in a new way…

What makes Gerard’s blog post doubly delightful is that he brought to my attention the term Digital Humanities – as well a new online resource for period photographs. Photogrammer is a tool for searching some 170,000 images captured for the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information in the 1935-45 time frame.

Even though I model a Canadian railroad set approximately a decade later, I’m certain to find interesting visual details that – if nothing else – will prompt me to ponder how these items appeared in the geographical and temporal location I’m modelling.

At the very least, I’ll be able to spend several pleasant hours looking at wonderful old photographs.

Take a bow, Kevin EuDaly

The rumour has proven true: White River Productions has now added Railroad Model Craftsman magazine and Railfan and Railroad magazine to its catalogue.

Unless you’ve been living in a railway tunnel, you’ll already know that these two well-regarded magazines were published by Carstens Publications until last Friday, when Carstens shut the lights.

Their acquisition is more than just good news because White River Productions is an excellent publisher with a solid stable of magazines. In addition to RMC and Railfan, it recently acquired The Railroad Press.

These three magazines join White River’s already diverse line-up, which currently includes Railroads Illustrated (the one-time CTC Board), Passenger Train Journal, Model Railroad News and a number of magazines published on behalf of historical societies.

In addition to magazines, White River Productions has published a number of excellent railroad books. These typically mainly on a single railroad or system, and are often filled to bursting with beautiful photography. I have a number of the titles in my library and each is inspirational. It’s good to see that this week’s acquisition also includes Carstens railroad book titles.

WRP President Kevin EuDaly can take a well-deserved bow for saving these magazines – and will be a hero to many for promising to honour existing Carstens subscriptions.

I’m sure EuDaly will make some improvements as well. With the addition of these three titles, he will oversee six commercial magazines plus the historical society publications – all related to railroading. That gives him some great opportunities for cross-pollination, bundling of titles, specialization of coverage, and more – all factors that I think will make WRP a serious challenger to Kalmbach’s long-time domination of the North American railway hobby publishing business.

I’ve included the news release from White River Publishing below – click on the image for a larger version. You can read more in the announcement on WRP’s website.

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I’m excited by this and I look forward to seeing how it develops. And even before seeing the first issue of RMC under new management, I know I’ll be renewing my subscription.

Heading for home


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

My friends Pierre Oliver and Jeff Young visited on Thursday night for an operating session and dinner.

The layout had not been run since my last operating session – with Jeff Smith at the end of July – so I was worried that there might be a lot of problems. But fortunately, the problems were relatively few.

Our freight extra had fairly light duties, which was just fine at the end of a summer’s day. CNR mogul Number 80 left Port Rowan with just two cars and a van and looked smart as it rolled sedately through the southern Ontario countryside.

I had a great time – not spoiled by a couple of derailments on the team track switch in Port Rowan (what is it about team track switches?) and a couple of sticky couplers. I will investigate both.

Afterwards, the three of us headed to Harbord House (now with a revamped website) for pints, a meal and a chance to solve the world’s problems – in several scales.

It was interesting to put Pierre (HO scale, freight car enthusiast, operations enthusiast) and Jeff (live steam enthusiast, large scale builder) in the same room and look for common ground. I think we all learned interesting things from each other’s unique perspectives on the hobby.

I need to bring together people from different facets of the hobby more often.

Great to see you both!

While Pierre was here, we took the opportunity to create a fresh drawing of his layout. It’s the first digital version of his layout design, and he’s now posted the plan to his blog.

I’m glad I could help with that. Each of us brings strengths to this hobby and Pierre has certainly helped me on many occasions.

Ooo… it’s the “leather” anniversary

Three years ago today – August 29, 2011 – I started blogging about my plans for an S scale model railway depicting the CNR branch line to Port Rowan, Ontario.

Over the past 1,000+ days, I’ve written hundreds of blog posts and – via a few thousand comments – you (and you, and also you) and I have exchanged many great ideas about my prototype, my model of it, CNR and steam-era railroading in general, the state of the hobby and more. Thank you, everyone, for being so interested, for being informative and entertaining, and for being respectful.

Rather than list a bunch of blogging stats here, I decided it would be more fun to drop some of the highlights into a video. So if you want to know more about how this blog is doing (and personally, I’m thrilled), enjoy this quick anniversary run as CNR mixed train M233 steams westbound to Port Rowan.


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

I’m looking forward to more great conversations in the year ahead!

Ties at Division Street

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(“Why yes, my wife is out of town: How did you know?”)

I’m running out of time to get my two S Scale Workshop modules prepped for the group’s next exhibition at a Montréal-area train show in October. The fact that I’m also documenting the process with Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV, while a most enjoyable experience, also complicates the process: Either I can’t work too far ahead between recording sessions, or I have to create demonstration materials to illustrate what I’ve been doing on the modules.

Laying ties will be a mix of these two options. I’ll have to show some of the initial steps in laying ties in the studio, then move to the modules – with ties already in place – to demonstrate later steps like distressing, staining and weathering.

Yesterday, I realized I needed to set up a complete multi-section module in order to properly sand the tops of the ties to ensure there are no jarring bumps. For this, I needed a space big enough for the modules, with a floor that’s more level than the one in my basement – and since my wife is currently travelling, the kitchen came to the rescue.

The main feature on this module set is a level crossing. At one time, an interurban line ran along the side of the road, but by the 1950s era of the Workshop’s modules, this has been abandoned. I’ll include a strip of extensively distressed ties in the overgrown former Right-of-Way to demonstrate a full range of tie-finishing techniques. (Meanwhile, I’ve done a test stain of the ties on the still-active route through this crossing. These will represent relatively new ties, laid when the crossing was removed. They’ll make a lovely contrast.)

While I had the module on its legs, I posed a short freight on it to get an idea of what a train will look like on the very broad radius curve through this scene. The back-lighting in the photo below emphasizes the shape of the train, rather than the details, and I really like how it’s looking:
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The ability to incorporate such broad radius curves – in this case, a radius between 33 and 34 feet – into modules is a huge advantage of Free-mo style standards. I’m very glad the S Scale Workshop adopted such a standard when they decided to build new modules.

With just over a month to go before the show, I’d better get more work one.

Magazine news

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A few interesting tidbits from the web that I thought I’d share…

Goodbye to All That
Noted modeller and historian Gerard J. Fitzgerald has penned a wonderful tribute to Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, which has been posted to the Model Railroad Design blog. Gerry provides some great context about the history of the hobby and how it developed over the 80 years that RMC was in publication. A great read.

S scale enthusiast Bill Lane has posted a note to several newsgroups today to share news of a new bi-monthly digital magazine catering to those building scale 1:64 railway models and layouts. Bill is NOT involved with the magazine – he’s just passing on the news. Here’s what Bill says:

It was quite by accident that I was one of the first to found out about this, but I just got permission to announce the O Scale Resource, known for its excellent online O Scale publication, is making a S Scale magazine in the same quality and format focusing on S SCALE modeling. It is being called “The S Scale Resource” and will be free to all subscribers. There will be a new website and emails – addresses working shortly. The first issue will be out this year, and alternating months with the O Scale version.

If you are a manufacturer or dealer and want to advertise contact Glenn Guerra: glenn (at) oscaleresource (dot) com

For those who don’t know Glenn, he’s the guy behind Mullet River Model Works. His partner on this magazine is Daniel Dawdy of Cyberspace World Railroad.

I have been reading The O Scale Resource since its first issue, just over a year ago. It started at 45 pages and has continued to grow, and does have useful information – such as techniques – for those working in other scales as well. More importantly for O scale enthusiasts, it includes meet reports and manufacturer/dealer/importer announcements.

All back issues are available for download online, and the magazine is free to the reader.

If The S Scale Resource magazine follows a similar format, it should be a useful resource for those of us working in 1:64 – if only to keep abreast of vendor news.

Bob Nalbone at RLN Publishing has posted to a few S scale newsgroups, floating the idea of an annual or twice-yearly publication catering to the scale.

Bob’s post is included below, FYI. For more information or to provide feedback on the idea, get in touch with Bob directly via his website…

Several people active on the scale side of S have asked me privately (via e-mail or in person) if I would consider putting out a new S scale magazine on an annual or twice-yearly basis. So, in the wake of Carstens’ demise, I am putting this question out to the various S scale groups I belong to.

Would there be an interest in such a publication? My thoughts are to do an annual – possibly in time for the holidays this year – if there is enough support for it, and then see where it goes from there (yes, it would be a new brand – NOT a 1:64MG special issue). Some other parameters:

Digital publication, 50-60 pages, full color, with print being a possibility IF the cost can be justified and IF enough firm orders (deposits) for that format come in. Subject to further number crunching.

Advertising would accepted. Rates would be reasonable but I’m can’t give the store away. Prices TBD.

Standard and narrow gauge modeling covered, including layouts planned but not yet built, layouts under construction, dioramas, etc.

No payment for submissions (complimentary copy of publication being the only compensation). After all, for 50 years S Gaugian seems to be doing just fine with this business model!

This is just to gauge (no pun intended) interest. Let’s talk!

Bob Nalbone
RLN Publishing

As alluded to in his note, Bob used to publish the 1:64 Modeling Guide, a quarterly publication which I first encountered in 2012 as a digital publication. I quite enjoyed the few issues I received as part of my subscription. Unfortunately, it was later retired.

“Doctor”?


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may enjoy it in larger formats)

My copy of the CNR Employee Time Table lists, among other things, the contact information for local doctors along the line in case there’s an emergency.

But on my model of the Port Rowan branch, there’s a very special Doctor on call.

He lands today.

(Welcome, Peter Capaldi: You’re already my favourite Doctor!)

Railroad Model Coyote

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(RMC has run off the cliff, as Carstens shuts off the lights today)

From the Railroad Model Craftsman Facebook page:

It is with regret that Carstens Publicatons, Inc. will be closing permanently at close of business on Friday, August 22, 2014. Carstens Publications, Inc. has been a leading publisher of leading hobby magazines for over 50 years. Unfortunately the current economic climate has placed us in this position. Discussion is continuing with several parties who expressed desire to take on the continuance of the magazines. At this point there is still hope that all three titles will remain in existence. But I can offer no guarantees. We thank you for your patronage over the years, and wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.
–Henry R. Carstens, President
Carstens Publications, Inc.

A huge shout-out to the editors and authors of RMC, who created such a wonderful magazine. You will be missed. Back in 2002, you were a friendly place for a new author to find a home and you gave me remarkable freedom to develop my voice. In the process, I developed many great friendships in the hobby that will outlive the publication. I’m grateful for that.

I published several dozen features, book reviews, and product reviews in RMC over a decade or so of contributing to the magazine – right up until Henry stopped paying the authors. I would’ve submitted more just to help out the editorial staff, but I am a professional writer and it was a business relationship.

I don’t hold with the “current economic climate” argument, however. I think Henry would be better off blaming the “current technology climate”. All magazines – including those serving our hobby – have had to adapt to this.

As an example, look at the “other” print-based, general interest publication about North American railroading: Model Railroader has done well, I think, offering digital editions and creating an online presence for its readers. More recently, MR has introduced MR Video Plus, which I think is being tested as a path to migrate all subscribers to as younger modellers look for online, video-based sources of information. It certainly makes sense: This is a visual hobby with models that move, and video is better than print in showing how-to techniques – from benchwork to operation.

Even more significantly, the current digital climate allowed Joe Fugate to create Model Railroad Hobbyist – a digital-only magazine 100 percent supported by advertising. Joe has built this up from nothing into a leading magazine with a huge following. MRH has its own video offering through a partnership with Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV and I expect we’ll see more cross-pollination of content from Joe and Barry as this relationship matures.

I think it’s telling that as Henry alienated RMC authors, many of them fled to MRH where they are now regular contributors. (Including me: I’ve contributed to MRH and overall, I am impressed by the experience so I expect I’ll contribute more. I’m also working on a video series with Barry about building modules, as I’ve noted on this blog.)

Perhaps, as Henry suggests in his Facebook announcement, another publisher will pick up the RMC title – although based on the stories about unfulfilled subscriptions and unpaid authors, the financial troubles have persisted at Carstens for years and at this point it might be wiser to simply start a new magazine if one were so inclined.

What would be attractive in an RMC purchase, assuming it’s still intact, is the incredible back catalogue – eight decades at last count! Hopefully, this will be saved and shared in an electronic format, either online (as TrainLife has done with other titles) or in DVD form (as Kalmbach has done with Model Railroader and Trains magazines). It would be a shame to see so much knowledge disappear from our hobby.

We can – and probably will – debate the causes of RMC’s troubles for years to come. (Hopefully not on this blog! If you’re looking for a place to join the discussion, I suggest this thread on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum as opposed to here.)

For my part, I’m going to raise an adult beverage to the editors and the other people who supported them and allowed them to put out a great publication under the most trying of circumstances.

My thoughts go out to everyone involved. It’s not a surprise, but it’s a sad day in the hobby nonetheless.

PS: There’s no truth to the rumour that the photos of my Port Rowan layout, which appeared in the June 2014 Editor’s Notebook, were the final nail in the coffin.

“That’s when the trouble started”

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I was already a life-long railway enthusiast when my mother shot this photo of me in the cab of Canadian National Railways 4-8-2 6060 – taken during a steam excursion between Toronto and Niagara Falls*. (I can’t remember the year – but it’s sometime in the mid-1970s.)

But I’m pretty sure this was my first exposure to mainline steam. And I’ve been a fan of steam ever since.

Now, I’m not a snob about steam: I won’t refer to diesels as “diseasels” and I have several examples in my collection. But I do enjoy the raw power of steam-powered prototypes and the physicality of model steam locomotives. (That’s when the trouble started: Steam models have been problematic for me in the past, since their performance would range from finicky to cranky. Today’s commercial models are much, much better – and the 1:64 models I run on Port Rowan, built by Simon Parent, are exquisite.)

In addition to the above photo, I have two more of 6060 – taken during a water stop in the Burlington/Hamilton area. (Railway water facilities were long gone so CNR 6060 was replenished by the local fire department, which parked a pumper truck on the roadway overhead and lowered a hose into the tank.)

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I wish I had more photos from this fan trip. And it’s clear my mum was not a photographer. But I’m happy that I have these pictures. They help explain why I love steam, even though it had been retired from regular service for about a decade by the time I was born.

(*Slowly I turn…)