2015 Finescale Model Railroader Expo

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(Barry shoots a diorama built by the late Brian Nolan)

Over the weekend, Barry Silverthorn and I drove to Scranton, Pennsylvania to attend the second half of the 2015 edition of the Finescale Model Railroader Expo.

It was the first visit to this event for both of us, and we had a lot of fun as we covered the expo for a couple of upcoming segments of TrainMasters TV.

Each Expo includes a competition, with votes submitted by many of the 350 attendees at this year’s gathering. Barry and I were gobsmacked by the incredible modelling on display in the contest room.

Everything was top calibre, but among my favourites were this bait shop …

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… this crumbling narrow gauge stock car …

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… and this San Francisco cable car (which even included the mechanism that grabs the cable):

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The event also included several clinics, a highly unorthodox (but entertaining) kit-bashing contest to raise money for charity, a well-stocked dealer hall, and a banquet dinner with awards. Plus, of course, plenty of time to enjoy the camaraderie at the hotel bar and lounge.

Another highlight at the Expo was a display of dioramas built by the late Brian Nolan, presented by the Suncoast Center for Fine Scale Modeling. While the dioramas were quite large, careful attention was paid to even the smallest details. I look at the two vignettes below and realize I have so much more I can do to improve my modelling…

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On our way out of Scranton, we stopped at the Steamtown National Historic Site for a quick tour around the collection. Steamtown has a fair number of Canadian steam locomotives on the roster – understandable since steam survived longer here than it did in the United States. In the roundhouse, we spotted a couple of ex-pats:

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(CNR 3254)

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(CPR 2317)

They’re handsome examples of the locomotive-builder’s art – although they could both use a lot of TLC. Canada sure had some nice looking steam engines…

All in all, a terrific gathering. I’m very glad I went, and Barry and I had a fun time on the road together. If you haven’t been, bookmark the Expo’s web site and consider attending next year’s gathering, to be held in the Boston area.

Look for the reports from this show in upcoming episodes of TrainMasters TV.

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(Barry shoots the Scranton skyline from the top of the hotel parking garage – and the top of my FJ!)

RS18 :: Lettered

This went much better than I thought it would – and for that, I have a couple of suppliers to thank.

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(Bottles of gloss and matte finishing coats – it’s pretty obvious which is which, isn’t it!)

First, there’s Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing. As the photo shows, I’ve added the CNR Roundels from Al’s S scale set for CNR cab units. But, given that S scale is not as well served as HO (and therefore, I can’t be as picky), I also decided that I could use other pieces from this decal set – including the cab numbers and the road name. That saved me a lot of aggravation. (Thanks, Al!)

Second, there’s Alclad II. As those in the hobby who do their own painting will know, it’s getting harder to find certain paint brands. This is forcing us to sometimes look further afield – and sometimes, with wonderful results.

One place I’m exploring more for paint and finishes is Wheels and Wings Hobbies, an area shop that caters to those modelling aircraft, armour, automobiles and so on. On a recent excursion I came across the Alclad II line of finishes.

Alclad II offers some wicked products for creating a convincing metallic finish, which I’m looking forward to trying on future projects. But for the RS18, I picked up bottles of Alclad II’s gloss and matte finishes, plus a bottle of thinner/airbrush cleaner.

Well, I’m really impressed by what came out of the airbrush. The gloss coat created a terrific surface for applying decals, while the matte finish did a superb job of blending the decals and paint to create a uniform finish. I’ll definitely be recommending these to others.

With the lettering applied, I can move on to finishing the DCC installation, which at this point consists of installing and hooking up lots of little LEDs. I have headlights, class lights, and number boards to do. This will require a trip to the hobby shop for MV Lenses plus a couple of packages of the super-tiny LEDs that are now on the market.

Beyond that, there are photo-etched grilles to weather and install, window glass to add and number boards to create. (Fortunately, I can use numbers from the CNR decal set for these.) But with the lettering applied, I feel like I’m over the hump on this project.

The finishing coat on the RS18 will get plenty of time to cure – Barry Silverthorn and I are loading up the TrainMasters TV cameras and microphones, and heading to The Fine Scale Model Railroader Expo this weekend in Scranton, PA. Maybe we’ll see some of you there!

Pints, Publications, Pickles and Pacifics :: The Social Side of the Hobby

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Longtime readers know I have a thing about mixing operating sessions or layout visits with good food, good drink and fine conversation.

There are many reasons for this but as someone who is self-employed, I often go a couple of days without seeing anybody outside of my immediate family. From a hobby perspective, weeks can go by without face-to-face contact with fellow enthusiasts. So when I get together with friends, I like to do more than talk about whether the mixed train is running on time and how we’re going to switch the Port Rowan team track.

A few months ago I decided to take this trains-and-a meal model to the next logical step.I picked a date and booked some space at my local pub (Harbord House). Then I emailed a bunch of friends and said “Let’s have dinner!”

The idea was well received so I’ve done this a few more times. Some of those who come out are friends I see all the time. Others are people I rarely see – maybe once or twice a year at shows. And some are familiar names, but new to me as my friends are starting to invite their friends. Our interests cover everything from history or rail fanning, to modelling in many combinations of scale, gauge, theme, era and so on. Regardless, we’re all connected through a mutual interest in “flanged wheels and steel rails”.

The group includes some talented members, and people are encouraged to bring along projects to share. To share three examples from last night…

Ralph Beaumont spoke about a new book he’s written with Rod Clarke, that will present the work of Joseph William Heckman, a Canadian Pacific company photographer. Click on the cover, below, for more details:

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Stephen Gardiner brought along his recently completed HO scale model of a vinegar tank car. This was built from the Sunshine Models kit to represent Reinhart Vinegars RVLX 101, used to ship vinegar to area pickling operations in southern Ontario. Stephen’s prototype is part of the freight car collection at the Toronto Railway Museum:

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Andy Malette has been working on two S scale steam locomotives, and brought them to share with us – photo below.
In the foreground is a CNR Pacific which he is building from the kit he offered a few years ago through his company, MLW Services.
Behind it, another S scale model – this time, an extensive conversion of an Omnicon Scale Models brass import of a Missouri Pacific consolidation into a CNR 2-8-0:

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What most impresses me about the dinners so far is the great discussions taking place around the table. Unlike at a show or convention, there’s no need to be somewhere else or to divide one’s attention in order to, for example, welcome new punters to your exhibit. So the talk is more relaxed and often drifts away from our central theme (trains) to other interests, current events and so on – kind of like the conversations I used to have over lunch or after work pints with colleagues the last time I worked in an office.

It’s a good format for a social gathering – one that’s easy to set up (who doesn’t like trains and food?) yet one that can also have a lasting effect on the hobby in any given area, as demonstrated by the Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders, which has been going strong for more than 50 years.

As such, it’s an experiment I encourage others to try. If you already belong to a group of like-minded modellers that meets regularly, try extending the invitation to others in your area who may be interested in different aspects of the hobby. Then put some good food and drink on the table and try to find the common ground. You may be very pleasantly surprised. I am.


Zero derailments!

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(This should never, ever happen. That’s the goal)

In response to my report on this week’s visit from Simon Parent and Hunter Hughson, it was noted that minor derailments are a fact of railroading. For evidence, one only needs to look at the re-railers hung on the tenders of my model steam locomotives:

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Yes, it’s a fair point: Derailments do happen in the real world, and sometimes with spectacular results.

But to be honest, derailments happen so infrequently on the prototype when one considers the number of trouble-free miles that locomotives and rolling stock rack up every day in North America. I have no data to support this thought but for my little branch from Simcoe to Port Rowan, it’s likely there were only a half-dozen such incidents over its entire lifespan.

Regardless of frequency, we aim for different things on a model railway.

When a minor derailment happens on the prototype, the crew gets to work re-railing the equipment – but it’s still work. The derailment is the thing they remember about the day at work, and they probably went home at the end of the day to complain about it over dinner. Then they went back to work the next day, because that’s how they made their living.

As on the prototype, when there’s a derailment on a model railway, the crews re-rail then get on with their job. And, as on the prototype, the derailment is probably one of the things they remember about their run. They might discuss it over dinner – and who wants that to be the thing that guests take away from an operating session? There’s also the question of whether they back for another operating session. They don’t have to – this isn’t a job. Maybe there’s another layout they’d rather run on, or another way they’d prefer to spend their free time. I know I’ve made that decision in the past…

However – build a layout that operates derailment-free, and guest operators definitely will remember that!

I remember the first layout I ever operated on that ran with no electrical or mechanical issues. It was the D&RGW Sonjora Branch, built in On3 by my friend Dave Burroughs:

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Chris Abbott and I spent a terrific afternoon running trains on the layout, and all we could talk about on the way home was how flawlessly it operated. We spent several hours running trains, and there was no table-thumping… no finger-poking… no re-railing. We were able to focus – entirely – upon the experience of operating a narrow gauge branch line.

(It should be said that Dave’s layout is also quite modest – one of those “Achievable Layouts” I keep yammering on about – which makes pursuing “zero derailments” a real possibility.)

Operating a trouble-free layout like Dave’s was (and is) such an unusual experience in the hobby – and it informed my thinking about establishing a “zero-derailment” goal for my own layout. But here’s the key to making it work:

Knowing it can be done – through first-hand experience of a layout where it has been done – allowed me to clear that first big hurdle of “whether” it can be achieved and focus instead on “how” to achieve it.

This is just my opinion of course, but the problem with establishing a goal of anything less than zero derailments is that it’s a slippery slope. How many derailments is okay? Is one per session fine? How about two? If two is fine, how about three?

Aiming for zero – and really meaning “I want no derailments during a session to be caused by equipment, track or other things I can control” – means that when a problem does occur, I make note of the issue and try to resolve it.

The same goes for poor electrical performance: I want no stalling or table-thumping or finger-prodding, or people asking “Was that a short?” – because it detracts from the pleasant (and, frankly, rare) experience of running a well-built and well-maintained layout.

This is why I always mention the derailments or other troubles in operating session reports. They remind me of the problem so I know where to look when trying to fix it the next day, or the day after that.

Everybody will set their own standard for reliability, but this is mine and I’m happy that I’m pursuing it. I’m also happy that I’m most of the way there. I’m confident that I’ve achieved 99% reliability and I’m shooting for 100%.

Would my layout be 99% derailment-free if I didn’t set a zero-derailments goal for myself in the first place? Definitely not.

Equipment Portraits :: 5

Here’s the fifth in a series of posts featuring portraits of the equipment that runs on my S scale model railway, with notes about each model. The equipment is presented in no particular order. Click on each image for a larger view…

CNR 1532

CNR 1532 - Portrait

CNR 1532 - Portrait

CNR 1532 - Portrait

CNR 1532 - Portrait

This model, and CNR 1560 (below) are the two models that encouraged me to try S scale – and, eventually, to model the Port Rowan branch. These two CNR 10-wheelers were designed and built by my friend Simon Parent, in collaboration with Fred Rouse at The S Scale Locomotive and Supply Company. Simon and Fred offered these as kits, and Simon built some of his kits for his friends. As I noted earlier this week, I would not be modelling the Port Rowan branch – or, indeed, in S scale – without Simon’s locomotives. They were my introduction to S scale and what could be done with it.

CNR 1560

CNR 1560 - Portrait

CNR 1560 - Portrait

CNR 1560 - Portrait

CNR 1560 - Portrait

Since these two 10-wheelers (and Simon’s moguls, previously profiled in this series) started as kits, Simon was able to modify the models as he built them to represent specific prototypes. We worked together to find adequate photos of real locomotives from which he could work, and picked 1532 and 1560 for two reasons. First, they’re both well documented in photographs. Second, they have different details – notably (but not limited to) a different coal bunker on the tender and a different location for the rear light. It’s a testament to Simon’s abilities that these steam locomotives run better than many diesels I’ve owned – in several scales.

CNR 15815

CNR 15815 - Portrait

CNR 15815 - Portrait

CNR 15815 - Portrait

At one time, the CNR had an extensive fleet of self-propelled equipment – so many, that there’s an excellent book dedicated to the subject by Anthony Clegg. I really enjoyed creating this model, even though it’s not prototypically correct for the CNR. It started as a brass import of a Northern Pacific prototype, produced by Samhongsa in 1989 for “S”cenery Unlimited. I acquired my model in October, 2014 from the estate of Oliver Clubine – one of the great gentlemen in S scale, and in the hobby. I’ve written extensively about this model on this blog – including notes on adding DCC, sound and an LED headlight, as well as painting and finishing it. Those wishing to know more should review the Gas Electric category for the full story.

Eventually, I hope to document all of my S scale equipment in this fashion. We’ll see how that goes. Meantime, see the Portraits category to find all posts in this series. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with it. I hope you enjoyed these equipment portraits and notes.

Snow fence supplies finished

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This week, I finished up my rolls of wood-and-wire snow fence for the section house scene at Port Rowan. In the end, I built five rolls – three full, fresh rolls complete with paper shipping tags, and two smaller, partial rolls that represent supplies that have been broken into:

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These rolls have a combination of orange and red stains on them, which I feel nicely achieves the look of the wood-and-wire snow fence I see near the farm where I work my dog on sheep:

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I’ll admit my 1:64 snow fence is still more orange than the prototype, but I think it adds a nice contrast to the red of the section house and oil shed. I didn’t want it to blend in with those two structures and disappear in the scene.

I’ve also added a small pile of fresh ties, and some temporarily placed some barrels in the scene. I need to weather the barrels and fabricate some more details for this vignette, including a bundle of metal stakes to be used as posts when installing snow fence along the right of way.

I will need to find a couple of places on the layout where I can install some short lengths of faded snow fence to represent pieces left over from the previous winter.

This was a time-consuming but fun little project and I’m very pleased with the results.

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…

Laying track on The Roadshow

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I’ve written many posts on this blog about how I hand-lay track. But if a picture is worth a thousand words than a 38-minute video must be worth about 68,400,000 (at 30 frames per second).

On the latest episode of The Roadshow – which documents the construction of two Free-mo style modules for use with The S Scale Workshop – I demonstrate my track-laying techniques. These are the same techniques I used for my Port Rowan layout.

Click on the image, above, to watch the episode. You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to see it, but membership is quite reasonable.

Thanks as always to Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV for letting me be a part of his show!

Bring on the miniature snow…

… because the section gang now has some miniature snow fencing!

Snow Fence  - Section House

I noticed several details in a prototype photo (in fact, the prototype photo) of the track-facing wall of the Port Rowan section house. There’s a lot of stuff on the ground next to the structure including a couple of rolls of snow fencing – that ubiquitous red-fading-towards-orange stuff made from wooden slats and twisted wire. (The orange is an under coat – I plan to add a wash of dark red over top. Since it’s easier to add than subtract paint, I’m trying to sneak up on the final colour.)

Snow Fence - Section House

(Back when I modelled the Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo Railway, I learned that a customer of the railway at Dunnville, Ontario made this stuff. Back in the early 1990s I got a tour of the by-then shut-down factory by two former workers who had been hired as security.)

Mine’s made the same way – slats of wood and twisted wire. In this case, very tiny (almost-scale) slats, and the copper wire used to wind motor armatures. (Don’t ask.)

I’m going to make more of it – including some weathered fence installed at various points where drifts might have posed a hazard to navigation the previous winter, because while it often gets installed it rarely gets removed. It just seems to rot in place.

But two rolls of it is enough for now…

Blogs, crowdsourcing, and better modelling

A new reader asked an interesting question of me, about how to find sources of information for accurately modelling rolling stock for his chosen prototype(s).

It’s a good question, but also a big one. To recommend sources, one needs to know things like the era, the region, and the railways being modelled.

While thinking about this question overnight, I had an idea, which I’m passing to him as a post here, so that others can think on it too:

Why not start your own blog about your railway interests?

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(Build it and they will come)

This blog has become a form of crowdsourcing for me. (I’ll explain how in a moment). But let’s assume you’re new to blogging, and you’ve started one about your railway interests. What next?

I would post some inquiries on relevant newsgroups. For example, if you’re interested in the Vermont Rail System – specifically, the Green Mountain Railroad – I’d look at groups such as Vermont Railroading, NERails, VRS and Rutland.

Tell the members you’re trying to collect information to help accurately model relevant car types from the GMRC. Give them your blog address so they can follow along.

Then, as the information comes in, add it to your blog. It might be a link to a prototype or modelling website, or a manufacturer. It might be a post about printed sources (books, magazine articles), or a historical society, or a photo collection. Remember, you can always go back to blog posts and edit them, so you can update them by adding more links or more information as it comes to light.

The beauty of this is that as you collect the information, you can organize it all in one spot. What’s more, you can share the info with others.

One of the things that surprised me about writing this blog on Port Rowan is how many people found it (through searches, etc.) and then started contributing answers for my questions. In some cases, they answered questions I didn’t even know I should be asking. This is a form of crowdsourcing: I got the ball rolling by creating the blog, and then people started contributing their knowledge – often with little more than a question from me, and frequently with no effort on my part. (You know who you are: Thank you!)

The result of all this is a shared body of knowledge that I hope others are finding valuable for their own hobby interests. And, more directly, better modelling on my part.

You might find the same thing happens for you…