A visit from Michel

This week, I had a special guest as my friend Michel Boucher visited for a couple of days.

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(Michel checks the track ahead as he runs a freight extra into Port Rowan)

Michel took the train down from Ottawa Monday morning. I met him at Union Station and we took the subway and streetcar back to my place. (As a train enthusiast, taking three modes of rail-based transport in one day is sure to put a smile on one’s face.) At home, we were met by Chris Abbott – and my wife joined the three of us as we headed to Bar Italia for lunch. This is a great spot for steak sandwiches and a robust red.

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(Chris and Michel plan their switching work at Port Rowan)

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(Michel tests a 10-wheeler as I explain some of the workings of the layout. Despite being a long-time hobbyist who takes great pains to build nice scenery, I’ve been caught here leaning on the layout. What was I thinking? At least it’s just the sector plate…)

After lunch, we returned home, where another friend, Pierre Oliver, joined us for an operating session. Chris and Michel teamed up on a freight extra, while Pierre ran the gas-electric on the mixed train’s schedule. The layout ran very well with no derailments, and it was fun to see the two crews co-ordinate their work in Port Rowan. That said, I had a couple of problems with two of my three Lenz throttles. (I’ve already started to address the issues, as I’ll elaborate in a separate post.)

Monday evening, Michel, Chris, Pierre and I headed to Harbord House, where I’d booked the upstairs for a gathering of fellow modellers. (I’ve written about these previously, and I timed Michel’s visit so he could attend one.) We had 27 people for dinner and it was another great evening of conversation and food.

Michel stayed over Monday night. On Tuesday, we headed to The Credit Valley Railroad Company for a bit of retail therapy. Chris lives in the area so he joined us, and I was pleased to meet Gord Ross at the shop. Gord has been reading and commenting on this blog for a while now, and it was wonderful to put a face to the name. I’m looking forward to getting together with Gord sometime soon.

Chris, Michel and I grabbed lunch near the store, then Michel and I headed home – and then back onto The Better Way to Union Station and Michel’s train home.

What an awesome couple of days. My laugh muscles are sore from having too much fun.

I met Michel in the 1990s when I lived in the Ottawa area, and we became fast friends. I attended regular operating sessions on his home layout. Initially, this was the Ontario Central Railway – a freelanced line connecting Picton and Marmora. Later on, an interest in the Delaware and Hudson Railroad prompted Michel to reconfigure the layout as the D&H Adirondack Branch from Saratoga Springs, through Corinth, Warrensburg, North Creek and Sanford Lake to the mins at Tahawus.

I learned a lot about layout operations at Michel’s sessions – including one of the most important lessons, which is that a layout has to run well when company comes. Michel takes great care to make sure this happens – and the result is an enjoyable operating session for everybody (including the host). Thanks for that lesson, Michel: It has definitely influenced my Port Rowan layout.

It was great to see Michel – and it’s been too long. I’m looking forward to visiting his place later this year.

Wiring the Roadshow modules

Grab a coffee or cold beverage and join Chris Abbott and myself as we wire up my S Scale Workshop modules on this week’s episode of “The RoadShow” on TrainMasters TV.

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Chris knows more about wiring than anybody I’ve ever met. He’s explored many options, and he’s come up with some great answers to make the wiring of modules (or stand-alone exhibition layouts) stand up to the rigours of transport and storage, as well as some tricks to minimize the chances of error when the pressure is on and you’re trying to set up and test a layout before the train show opens.

Not just a “here’s what we did” video – but also a lot of information on why we did things and some of the things to definitely avoid. The segment runs just over an hour and there’s a lot of information conveyed.

Click on the image above – or follow this link – to start watching. You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to see it, but membership is quite reasonable.

Thanks, Chris, for coming out and helping with this: the wiring worked out beautifully as a result, and it was a grand day out at the TrainMasters TV studios!

Hinder, or help?

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(A reader asks if progress in St. Williams makes me less likely to change the track arrangement. Click on the image to read more about this favourite train-photographing spot, and to assess the progress made here over the past two years)

Following a recent post on the above location on my layout, reader Craig Townsend asked:

You’ve mentioned in the past about possibility redoing St. Williams to better replicate the prototype, so does looking at the progress you’ve made hinder or help your decision to keep St. Williams the way it is?

It’s a great question – thanks for asking!

It’s true, I’ve pondered this a lot, including a couple of times in previous blog postings. A big driver behind this train of thought was the discovery of this photo of the Hammond Mill in St. Williams, shared by my friend Monte Reeves:

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(Click on the image to read more about this picture)

And I definitely would like to model this mill and all the adjacent structures more accurately – someday. But I’m still not sure re-building this portion of the layout would be a good idea.

To recap, here’s a drawing of the St. Williams portion of the layout, as built:

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(Click on the plan to view a larger version)

And here’s a quick drawing of St. Williams in the same space, but more accurately representing the prototype:

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(Click on the plan to view a larger version)

In pondering these two designs, I have determined that reworking St. Williams to be more faithful to the prototype would require some changes that I’m not willing to make:

– I would have to lose the Stone Church Road overpass – a scene I really enjoy – because it would interfere with the Hammond Mill, the mill spur, and the Queen Street level crossing.

– I would have to bump out the benchwork to accommodate the mill, which would affect my ability to maintain (and enjoy) the track through the east end of the Lynn Valley scene – which starts immediately to the west of Stone Church Road.

– I would have to move the station to the aisle side of the track, so that it would be viewed from the back. Since the only picture I have of this station is taken from the front and since this is the image that inspired me to model this station, I’m not prepared to lose that view on the layout.

There are several alternatives, of course. I could flip the station/team track portion 180 degrees, so that the station was to the left of the team track, and the first scene a train encounters upon leaving the sector plate. Or I could flip the entire St. Williams scene end for end – so that I’d build the “correct” track arrangement, but trains heading to Port Rowan would encounter the mill before arriving at the station.

I’m still pondering these ideas.

Meantime, I don’t have to do anything: I have a lot of projects to work on to finish the layout, including some big structure projects – specifically, the station and Leedham’s Mill in Port Rowan. I can do those, and then revisit the Hammond Mill / St. Williams question.

As for the original question – does the progress I’ve made make me more or less likely to redo this area? – the answer is that it doesn’t affect the decision either way. I will continue to ponder the prototype and my space, and if I come up with a satisfying arrangement that is closer to reality, I’ll gladly tear out the St. Williams that I’ve built (but I’ll finish those Port Rowan structures first).

Having built the St. Williams scene that I have, I know I could do it again, if desired. And of course I can save and re-use the structures, trees, fences, telegraph poles and other elements that have gone into this scene.

In fact, I’m sure I’d do an even better job on a second attempt, because I’ve learned things while building St. Williams the first time around.

But that’s in the future. In the meantime, I can enjoy the scene as-built…

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A favourite photo, updated

Some places on the layout naturally lend themselves to nice photographs. The east end of the St. Williams storage track is one of my favourites, because I can pose two locomotives beside each other here and get a camera right into the scene.

As the copyright notice on the image below indicates, I first “discovered” the location in 2013. I used it to compare my then newly-acquired moguls to my 10-wheelers:

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Later in the year, I revisited the photo location while writing up a report on a layout visit from a friend (a post that also shows the rig I use to take this image):

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It’s been a while since I’ve taken a photo at this location, and a lot has been added to the scene. So today I restaged the shot:

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It turned out well, I think!

Ops with Nelson

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(The crew of CNR 2-6-0 Number 80 lifts a couple of boxcars off the storage track in St. Williams)

Due to a scheduling SNAFU, Nelson Allison from Aberdeen Car Shops found himself at loose ends in my neighbourhood last night. He emailed and as it happened, I too had an evening to myself. So I met Nelson for a beer, then we headed to my layout room for an operating session.

It was Nelson’s first visit to the layout, so there was a lot to cover. We discussed layout lighting, ambient audio, decal manufacturing (through Aberdeen Car Shops, Nelson offers some terrific decals for modellers of the Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo Railway, as well as other goodies), Sergent couplers, WOW Sound decoders, and more.

I was also pleased that the layout operated really well – the best it has all year. Nelson took the throttle on a freight extra while I hopped in the van, and we safely and smoothly switched seven cars over the course of a few hours. (We took our time.) No derailments (phew!) and only one false coupling. My kind of operating session!

Thanks for getting in touch, Nelson – I’m glad that serendipity was on our side. I had a great time!

In the days after an operating session, I usually take a few photos of the layout to illustrate my post on the get-together. Having added more trees to St. Williams earlier this year, some new views have presented themselves. The small cluster of trees on the inside of the curve at St. Williams frame the scene nicely…

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Don’t get stuck behind the Burro

Reader Ian Maynard asked for a video of the River Raisin Models Model 40 Burro crane in action, now that I’ve added a TCS M1-KA decoder plus KA2 Keep Alive module.

I realized I haven’t posted any videos of the Burro to date – probably because it didn’t run as well as I wanted it to. Since I’ve now improved the performance, it’s time:


(This video may also be watched directly on YouTube, where you may be able to view it in larger formats)

Enjoy if you watch – but be advised: the video runs 2:49, but it’s not what I’d call “action packed”. But then again, neither is conducting maintenance along an almost-gone branch line.

Just be glad you’re not stuck behind the Burro…

Extra 3640 West :: St. Williams


(This video may also be watched directly on YouTube, where you may be able to view it in larger formats)

I’ve written a lot about my RS18 project to describe the modifications, the painting, and the installation of DCC, sound and lighting. This short video pulls it all together, to provide an idea of how this beast performs and sounds on the layout.

Enjoy if you watch it…

More backup for the Burro

While taking photos for yesterday’s post on the CNR GS gondola project, I had the opportunity to run my Burro crane through the Lynn Valley:

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And frankly, I was underwhelmed by its performance. The problem is the Burro’s short, stiff wheelbase, which makes it unreliable when picking up power.

I thought I had adequately addressed the issue when I worked on the crane back in September, 2012. Originally, I installed a Lenz Gold decoder with Power-1 module. But it has proven less than satisfactory, because it just doesn’t hold enough power in reserve to deal with things like grass-covered track or the long (but powered) frogs in my turnouts.

Since doing the initial Burro project, DCC manufacturers have introduced better power storage devices. My favourite these days is the KA-2 – a storage module from Train Control Systems that will hold up to 15 seconds of reserve power.

Would it fit?

Turns out, the answer is “you bet”:

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(The wires are tucked through the window to keep them out of the way for this photograph)

I disassembled the Burro and replaced the Lenz decoder and power storage module with a TCS decoder and KA-2. The KA-2 is held in place with a strip of double-sided tape. The new decoder (not shown) is the M1-KA. It’s tiny, and I ended up taping it to the inside of the back wall of the cab with some more double-sided tape.

The retrofit took less than an hour – from collecting the tools and materials… to disassembly, replacement and reassembly… to reprogramming. And the performance is a lot better. There’s no more stalling – even through the four-turnout yard throat in Port Rowan.

As a bonus, the decoder is better concealed within the cab, so it’s not visible through that rear window.

I’m really glad I did the upgrade.

Road trip to the New England / Northeast RPM

Pierre Oliver and I will attend this year’s New England / Northeast Railroad Prototype Modelers Meet – May 29/30 in Collinsville CT:

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(Click on the image to visit the RPM’s web site)

I’ve never been to this meet but it’s been on my hobby “to do” list for a while. Photos from previous meets (accessible through the RPM’s website) show a healthy dose of expert modelling on display, including many examples of New England and Canadian prototypes. Almost all of my layout-building efforts have been either New England or Canadian in origin, so I know I’m going to have a great time.

Naturally, I’ll contribute to the display table: I wonder if it’ll be the first example of “S scale Canadian” at the event?

I’ve also offered to do a clinic, although I’m a bit late to that party and the schedule is full. At the organizer’s request I’ll prep one anyway in case there’s a last-minute cancellation.

If you’re in the area – or can be – why not register and find out? I’ll see you there!

The CNR GS gon project :: Reservations still needed

In his emails to me about the 3-dome tank car project, Jim King at Smoky Mountain Model Works mentioned that he’s still looking for reservations for the GS gon – particularly for the Canadian National Railways variant, which I’ve written about previously on this blog.

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(Click on the image to read more)

The (drop) bottom line is, numbers for a CNR-specific version need to be a lot higher than they are.

That’s unfortunate because these cars were real workhorses on the CNR. On my modest layout, I can think of several uses for them.

For example, GS gons were popular for hauling ballast for the railway. Gravel pits at Hagersville were just up the line from Port Rowan, so I could have a car or two in-train – picked up at Hagersville on the way down but headed for Hamilton and points beyond.

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(Map of the line, including the Hagersville Sub (Hamilton to Jarvis), Cayuga Sub (Jarvis to Simcoe) and the Simcoe Sub (Port Dover to Port Rowan))

Or, I could hook a load to my Burro crane and conduct MoW activities along my branch:

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(A NYC gondola stands in for a CNR GS gon as the Burro clears ditches in the Lynn Valley)

The GS gons would also have been used for hauling aggregates for construction projects – including highways and other public infrastructure undertakings. I can easily justify a few loads of gravel spotted at the team track in either St. Williams or Port Rowan.

And while I have three customers for coal on the branch, only one of those has an elevated deliver track to make use of hopper cars. The feed mill in Port Rowan, and the coal dealer in St. Williams, would rely on flat-bottomed gondolas so guys with shovels and strong backs could unload the coal by hand:

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(Once again, a NYC gondola stands in for a CNR GS gon, at the coal shed in St. Williams)

Given all of their uses – and the fact that different loads would weather the insides of the cars differently – I can easily justify eight to 10 models of these essential freight cars. If you can come up with uses for GS gons on your Canadian-based S scale layout, make sure you place a reservation with Jim.