Wanted :: A few good trucks

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To my readers who also work in 1:64…

I’m looking to buy some trucks for a few freight car projects. Here’s what’s on my list:

1 pair – PRR 2D (S Helper Service)

3 pair – either 50T Bettendorf (preferred – PRS) or Andrews (second choice – S Helper Service), or a combination of these.

If you have any of these in your Home Hobby Shop, and they are superfluous to your requirements, can you get in touch, please?

Thanks in advance!


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(Like the driver on Emett’s “Sun God”, I’m having trouble raising steam…)

It’s a temporary situation, I know… but a bunch of other commitments that require priority mean that work on Port Rowan has stalled.

In fact, if I look back through my blog I realize that I’ve hosted a few operating sessions over the summer – but the last project I finished for the layout was painting and lettering some truck models – way back on July 3rd. That’s a month and a half – that’s a long time for me.

That said, I’m still doing stuff related to the hobby: I’m working on a set of modules for the S Scale Workshop and I’m pondering a live steam garden railway. But that’s come at the expense of Port Rowan.

I’m also taking advantage of the fantastic summer we’re having in this part of the world to get stuff done around the house. So I’m busy, most of the time. And when I’m not – when work, home and other commitments have been taken care of – all I want to do enjoy some time on the deck with books and adult beverages. I have no interest in going to the basement to work on the railway.

(This explains, in part, the various philosophical pieces I’ve been writing. When I get in these moods, I feel the need to explore “Why” I model railways. It helps get me through the dry spells.)

It’ll pass. As colder weather arrives – in, what, a month or two? – I’ll feel more like engaging in indoor pursuits. Also, the commitments on my list all have imminent deadlines, so as I clear the decks I’ll have more time and enthusiasm for working on Port Rowan.

That’s fine. This is a hobby. And when I’m ready, I know those partly-finished tobacco kilns will be waiting for me…

(UPDATE: No sooner had I published this, than Chris Adams posted on his excellent blog about a similar issue – how progress does not always equal accomplishment. Thanks Chris – for some reason, this helped me feel better about being stalled!)

A Different Conversation

I’m on a philosophical tear, lately – prompted in part by posts from friends on their blogs.

I’m sure that these posts turn off some readers, who just want to follow along as I build my layout. Well… I can’t please everyone, and blogs are a form of public diary (the name itself is a contraction of “web log”), so I won’t apologize. This is free content – the like-minded will plough on through while those who don’t agree can always move on.

That said, I encourage readers who haven’t yet done so to also subscribe to the RSS feed for the blog penned (keyed?) by Mike Cougill. Mike and I think along similar lines about this hobby and while I agree with almost everything he says, even the points where we differ make me think about my own engagement with railway modelling – so it’s always a good read.

What prompts this posting is a new post on Mike’s blog called A Different Conversation, in which Mike discusses how the prototype is a classroom of his modelling, how the workbench becomes his studio, and how his model railway is the canvas on which he expresses his craft. As he notes:

The craft is an ongoing conversation between my understanding of full-size railroading and its creative expression in miniature.

That’s a great way to sum up what he does – and what I too am attempting to do. I wish I’d thought of that.

Give it a read by clicking on the banner, below – then join the conversation on Mike’s blog.

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Claremont Mill photo essay (For Philip)

A couple of weeks ago, reader Philip Jago commented on an earlier post, asking about additional photos of the mill in Claremont, Ontario. I didn’t have any at the time, but as I told Philip the mill is near where my Border Collie and I work on sheep, so grabbing more pictures would be easy.

I’ve had a chance to do that now, so here they are.

First, a satellite view. This mill is no longer served by the railway, but sits adjacent to the tracks of the CP Rail line (former Ontario and Quebec Railway) that connects Toronto, Peterborough and Havelock. The track shown here is from an earlier era – today, there’s only a single track mainline through this community. The numbers with arrows correspond to the file numbers of the subsequent photos. (Not all photos are plotted on this image – but there are enough to help orient the viewer.)
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Now, the mill photos. (I think the photos speak for themselves and are offered purely as inspiration, so I won’t bother adding captions. If there’s anything that’s confusing, ask in the comments and I’ll try to clarify.)

As Philip noted, this mill is indeed an interesting candidate for modelling!

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Lifelong Learning (Cringe Alert!)

If pressed, I’ll admit that yes, I’m an accomplished railway modeller. There’s still a lot I have not yet mastered, but for the most part I’m pleased with the results of my efforts. I’ve created scenes on the layout that I’m proud of – like this…
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… and this:
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However, it was not always thus. Here’s what my layout looked like 30-something years ago:
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This was my under-construction, never-finished layout – built when I was a pre-teen. I found this picture while sifting through some old photographs, and thought it would be interesting to share as inspiration to anybody who looks at what I do (and share on this blog) and thinks, “I’ll never be able to do that”.

If you have those feelings, compare your current layout to my early effort, shown here. If I could learn to do better over the past 30-something years, you can too. The point is to keep trying: Never say never.

I used to doubt my abilities – seriously doubt them. I would look at my layout and compare it to what I saw being produced by the experienced modellers of the day. And I’d think, “I’ll never build anything that nice”. Truth be told, thanks to advances in everything from benchwork to scenery, the layout I’m building today is a lot nicer that those built by my inspirations back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The above layout (or layout section, because it was supposed to continue off to the right but never did) might be considered awful by many. I think the thing that makes me cringe the most is the gondola car used as a roadbed support on the high line (seen just to the left of the lower-level station).

But before you judge, consider this: I was a pre-teen and…

I was learning to use tools*

I was learning to build benchwork and roadbed

I was learning to lay cork and track

I was learning to solder

I was learning to build structures (like the Suydam coal mine at right)

I was learning to kit bash rolling stock (like the doodlebug** on the switch back in the middle distance, which IIRC was kitbashed from an Athearn Hustler cab and an MDC/Roundhouse shorty combine)

… and more.

My parents let me have space for the hobby (in a low-ceilinged rec-room with ghastly wood panelling and almost non-existent lighting), but neither of them was a model railway enthusiast. As a consequence, I was forced to teach myself these things.

I would’ve loved to have had a mentor. Think on that next time you encounter an enthusiastic 10 or 12 year old – or even an older person who is just starting finding their way in the hobby. What will you do to help them?

(*I still have some of those tools…)

Garden thoughts

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(All stocked up and no place to run. Well, maybe someday…)

It’s summer – and every year at this time my thoughts turn to gardening. Or, at least, garden railways.

I don’t have one – yet. But I’d like one. I’m even doodling plans.

If you’re interested, here’s my live steam page.

Enjoy if you visit!

Module progress :: Roadbed with Chris

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(Barry and Chris ponder weighty matters at the end of the day. That’s the CNR mainline between Toronto and Belleville in the background)

Chris Abbott joined me last weekend to make some progress on the modules I’m building for the S Scale Workshop, and documenting with Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV.

We spent Saturday in the studio, laying out the location of the broad radius curves and installing subroadbed and roadbed on the two module sets. Bricks left over from Barry’s 1:1 structure-building effort made for handy weights to hold things in place while the No More Nails got a grip.
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(Chris, shooting me, shooting Chris)

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(A visit from Mr. and Mrs. Caulkup: Chris experiments with gluing his finger to his eye after a bubble burst in the caulking tube)

In order to install all of the subroadbed and roadbed, we had to cut a gap in the terra foama and install my scratch-built concrete overpass. This is the first bit of terrain shaping on the modules – and it’s good to get rid of the “aircraft carrier look”:
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Two days after our work session, I returned to TrainMasters TV World HQ to collect the modules so I could do some work at home in preparation for my next studio shoot. Barry loves to do scenery work, so before we packed up the modules we finished shaping the terrain on the first module set:
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(I also noticed a couple of humps in the roadbed: I’ll level the cork with The Edmund Fitzsander before gluing down ties)

In order to get an early start, Chris stayed at my place the Friday night before our studio session. That gave my wife and I a chance to introduce Chris to Harvest Kitchen – a new restaurant in our area that’s fast becoming a favourite. Excellent burgers were washed down with pints from Hogtown Brewers:
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(Click on the piggy to visit the brewery online)

Including a stop for dinner on the way home from TrainMasters TV, it was a long day – my longest session yet in the studio. It was almost midnight by the time I dropped Chris at his vehicle, which he’d left overnight in his employer’s parking lot:
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(“It’s WHAT O’Clock?”)

But, we got a lot done on the modules – and had a great time doing it. Chris has agreed to return when it’s time to wire the modules and I’m already looking forward to that. Thanks for all the help, my friend!

Port Rowan in RMC :: Thanks, Chris!

Railroad Model Craftsman editor Chris D’Amato asked me for a few photos for his column in the June 2014 issue. He wanted to write some thoughts to go with a special supplement on S Scale, produced by RMC and the NASG. Click on the cover to read an excerpt of that supplement at the RMC website:
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Chris ended up writing some very nice words about my layout. Thanks! I appreciate the shout-out, and I’m glad I could help illustrate your column.

If you’re here because you read the piece in the June RMC, then welcome! I hope you look around and enjoy what you see.

As for RMC itself…

There’s been a lot of discussion online in recent weeks about the magazine’s imminent demise. It’s a pretty open secret that the magazine has been late shipping to subscribers and newsstands and that authors – even regular contributors – have had to wait a long time and repeatedly pester the publisher to be paid for their work.

I was a regular contributor for about a decade – from 2002 to 2012 or so. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had over those ten years to share so much of my passion for the hobby through a magazine that always attempted to inspire readers to do better and never, ever talked down to its audience. In particular, I’m thankful that then-editor Bill Schaumburg took a chance on an unknown writer from Canada – and pleased that our business relationship quickly grew into a great friendship.

On a broader note, I would argue that the success of the prototype modeller’s movement is due, in part, to the awareness generated by the regular reports on RPM meets from Bill and various contributors. That, in itself, is a great legacy.

Like so many others, I hope the rumours are false. But if true, I hope magazine continues in some form. Either way, my thoughts are with the Carstens staff: It must be tough to find the enthusiasm to come into work when such rumours are swirling about – regardless of how closely they are to the truth.

I frequently get emails from people asking, “What’s up with Carstens Publications?” The short answer is, I don’t know – I was a contributor, not a member of the staff. But I think everybody can review the evidence and draw their own conclusions. And I’ll be sure to post something to my blog on this if and when I hear something official.

The “Model Trains” big umbrella problem

While reading through the comments on my post about the problem with marketing the hobby as fun, it occurred to me that one of the challenges this hobby faces is the definition of “model railway enthusiast” (or “railway modeller”, or “model railroader” – although I really don’t like this last term as it sounds like a professional railroader who is setting an example for others).

Many of us in the hobby define ourselves pretty tightly: We describe our hobby as “Railroad operations enthusiast”, or “Freight car historian”, or “Scale modeller building a prototype-based layout in 1:64”. But in the broader public’s mind, anything involving flanged wheels running on rails is covered by the same big umbrella:

Model Trains

Before I continue, I must stress that I am not making a judgement on how people spend their time. That’s not the point of this post. Rather, it’s to point out that – to my mind, at least – the various activities encompassed by that big “Model Trains” umbrella actually have very little to do with each other.

So, with that out of the way, let’s look at some examples. Again – I’m not judging. I’m just pointing out that the pursuits represented in the following images have almost nothing in common with what I do, yet they can become synonymous in the minds of people not in the hobby.

First, there are the toy trains, like Thomas…
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… and Lego:
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It’s debatable whether kids who play with these grow up to embrace the hobby as I practice it (and indeed, there are many adults who continue to enjoy Thomas and Lego).

But if the objective is to encourage adults to join the scale railway modelling community, then if we say “Model Trains” or any of the synonyms and our audience hears “Thomas” or “Lego”, we’ve probably failed.

Even within the hobby, there’s a lot of confusion. I regularly hear even experienced modellers referring to “S gauge” or “O gauge” when what they mean is “S scale” and “O scale”. (“Scale” being the size ratio between the model and the prototype – versus “Gauge”, which is the distance between the rails).

As someone working in S, I’ve started referring to my layout and models as “built in 1:64” – just to differentiate them from American Flyer:
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Again, I’m not judging: Those who enjoy collecting and running American Flyer equipment have a hobby that’s just as valid as mine. But it’s also not my hobby – not even close. I’m sure that scale railway enthusiasts working in Proto:48 feel the same way about Lionel 3-Rail, too.

In fact, compared to the above examples of wheels-on-rails pursuits, I feel my hobby has more in common with other scale modelling hobbies, like armour…
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… and aircraft…
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… and Sci-Fi:
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Despite this, the modelling hobbies seem to be firmly divided into two camps. There’s the “model trains” community, and then there’s everybody else – for example, the International Plastic Modellers Society. (We even have a chapter here, called IMPS Canada).

This division is reflected in the make-up of local events. For example, the largest annual train show in my area usually takes place in November and it attracts a lot of non-hobbyists who are looking for a way to kill some time with the kids on a weekend. And they see the full range of wheels-on-rails: Thomas, Lego, scale modelling, toy train collecting and so on. Shows like this are usually the only exposure the general public gets to the hobby – and with so many mixed messages being broadcast, it’s difficult to communicate to the punters what scale modelling is all about.

Meantime, the shows where the scale modelling subset of the “model trains” hobby congregates are often smaller affairs that cater only to those in the hobby. And some events – like the excellent meets put on by various Railway Prototype Modellers groups – are not open to the public at all.

So… what to do about this? I think it’s a problem and I’m sure some others will agree, to various degrees, while others will feel it’s a non-issue.

But as a professional writer, it seems to me that better language is needed to describe what scale railway modellers do – and that if we’re to recruit more enthusiasts to our particular subset under the “model trains” umbrella, we need to come up with better ways to do that.

I’m not sure that members of the IMPS are going to embrace railway modelling but maybe that’s a place to start?

I’m certain that many IMPS members build only one genre of model – that the aircraft fan has no interest in building a tank, and that the tank enthusiast could care less about hot-rods.

But I’m equally confident that other IMPS members work across the silos, and might be interested in tackling railway subjects – if we can get them to look past the Thomas and the Lego…
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“Fun”, Railway Modelling, and 9-Ball

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(Me shooting stick at The Clocktower Brewpub in Ottawa, Canada circa 1997. There’s a connection between this and railway modelling: read on…)

There’s a great discussion taking place on a number of blogs I follow, as people reblog and add their thoughts to counter the concept of selling the railway modelling hobby as “fun”.

I encourage you to read the complete blog posts (links below) and join the discussion. I have lifted some excerpts and posted them here, however – then offered some thoughts of my own.

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Mike Cougill promoted this discussion via the blog he writes as part of his business, OST Publications. Mike posed 20 Questions around the premise “Model Railroading is not fun”. Several days later, he provided his own answers – as they relate to his personal enjoyment of the hobby – in a post called Putting My Money Where My Mouth Has Been. In discussing some setbacks he’s experienced while detailing a locomotive, Mike writes:

All my blabbering on about craftsmanship and excellence is really aimed at myself because when it comes to modeling rolling stock, I’m not competent at all. I have a learning curve to navigate and more mistakes to endure before the outcomes on the bench reflect what I see in my mind, if indeed they ever do.

The standard advice is chill out, lower my standards and just have f_n. (Hey, have you heard, it’s a hobby!) It would’ve been easy to give up after a few crappy turnouts but I pressed on even when it looked hopeless, which was often. I’ll keep after the GP9 too, even though I’ve botched two different paint jobs and it’s reaching the point where the shell won’t tolerate the abuse from stripping them off without suffering damage to the details. It isn’t fun now but it will lead to a good place eventually. As the old saw goes, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

I think there are some great lessons in Mike’s post – particularly about self-awareness. We cannot improve our skills until we admit to ourselves that they need improving.

Mike also introduces the notion that treating the hobby as “fun” makes it easy for us to ignore the need to improve – and that, in turn, denies us the even greater feeling of “satisfaction” when our skills improve and we create a great model, or scene, or layout.

Well said!

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Simon Dunkley picked up the ball from Mike and ran with it his blog, The Erratic and Wandering Journey. In his post, Railway modelling is not fun, he writes (in part):

Do we really need to patronise our audience and ourselves by bringing things down to the lowest common denominator? I think the famous phrase “Model Railroading Is Fun” is glib, and ultimately misleading.

Simon even makes a great connection between “fun” and “lowest common denominator”. That resonates well with me.

When I read that, it reminded me of how frequently people dismiss an accomplished, driven modeller as “elitist” when what’s really going on is they envy that person’s skills and drive – but won’t bother making the effort to attain the same level of expertise. This attitude – like “fun” – sells the hobby short, because it suggests that hobbyists should be happy with being mediocre.

Nowhere else in my life do I hear that sentiment.

For example, I work my Border Collies on sheep, and through that experience I’ve met lots of other Border Collie owners who work sheep. I’ve never, ever heard any of these people say “Well, I went to a trial and only lost 20 points on my run – that’s good enough for me!” The same can be said for just about any competitive activity – from golf to darts. Participants are always looking for ways to improve their game.

But in our hobby? We have the “three-foot rule” and the “good enough” principle. And “fun”. Surely, we can come up with better – more challenging, but ultimately more rewarding – attitudes. How about, “the close-up photograph” rule, the “great” principle, and “satisfying”?

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Chris Mears follows both Mike and Simon, and did a great job of summing up his feelings about the subject on his blog, Prince Street Terminal. As he notes in his post – also titled Railway modelling is not fun

These models we build are amazing works of engineering and of art. They are something to be proud of and the time invested in them was wisely spent not just for the satisfaction of a model’s completion but for the growth we triggered in ourselves as we honed the craft of the hobby and our mastery of its skills.

This, too, resonates with me. In building my layout, I’m not just engaged in the hobby as a way to waste a few hours when I have nothing better to do. I’m learning skills that I can use in other aspects of my life. For example, in wiring my layout I’ve learned enough about electricity to feel confident doing small jobs around the house – and I’ve also learned to respect electricity, so I know when I need to call a pro.

While learning skills is important, the hobby also teaches me a lot about myself – particularly when I’m trying to push beyond my comfort zone to do better and the going gets tough. To name but one example, if I’m hungry I know I should not build models (or attempt other challenging tasks – in or out of the layout room). I’m just too distracted, and mistakes occur.

The strategies I use to overcome those tough situations are often strategies that translate to other aspects of my life. The mindset I need to embrace in order to build a challenging model or learn about a new technique is equally useful outside the layout room.

Overall, I’m struck how each of these talented, thoughtful modellers feels the great potential of this hobby is diminished when it’s described with a trivial word like “fun”. Because the concept of “fun” includes the proviso that if it becomes “not fun”, then one should just give up.

That attitude is great for branding ice-cream…
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… but terrible for building a model railway. Because as soon as the layout-builder runs into something that isn’t fun – like learning to wire, or learning to scratch-build a bridge for a specific location – they’ll compromise on an easier solution or look for something else to do.

I’m reminded of a time, several years ago, when I shot a lot of 9-Ball Pool in a friendly bar league. I knew the basic skills of lining up a shot, but I frequently missed shots by a very small margin: The object ball would just kiss the edge of the pocket by enough that it would rebound away instead of dropping in.

Losing all the time might have lost its appeal if I was there for “fun”. But even though it was a friendly league, we were all there for the “satisfaction” of winning (and the occasional shirt or other prize that came with that).

So one day, fed up with my consistently poor showing, I rented a table for a couple of hours and practised shots. But instead of just lining up shot after shot, I made careful observations of my technique. I would line up what I thought was a good shot and if I missed the pocket, I’d make a mental note of which side the object ball hit, and by how much I missed the pocket. Sure enough, I was missing to the same side every time, and by roughly the same amount.

Once I realized this, I would line up what I thought was a good shot – then adjust the cue to compensate for the error. From my perspective, the new cue position looked wrong – but I’d take the shot and the ball would land in the pocket. After a couple of hours of this, I was lining up the shot correctly, every time.

In short, I retrained my eye to see the angles properly – and I even won a few games at the bar.
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(Not exactly as shown)

My skill improvement on the pool table was due to observation and practice. Both are skill-based. Anybody can observe and practice, and learn to shoot a pool ball into a pocket, reliably. And the same techniques – observation and practice – can be applied to the hobby to make ourselves better modellers.

But it was also due to wanting to do better – to working through the problem even when I was not having “fun”.

It’s something to think about. Thanks to Mike, Simon and Chris for getting me thinking about it!