Blogging for TrainMasters TV

Barry Silverthorn and I had a lot of time to talk in the truck as we drove down to Scranton PA at the end of March to cover the 2015 Finescale Model Railroader Expo for TrainMasters TV… and at some point the conversation turned to blogging.

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I think one of the most important things a blogger can do is post regularly: If readers like what you’re doing, they look forward to new content. It keeps readers reading and encourages them to comment – and that’s valuable on a hobby blog like this one because I learn so much from the comments on my posts:

– I learn about Port Rowan and St. Williams.
– I learn about the Canadian National Railway.
– I learn about the 1950s in southern Ontario.
– I learn about S scale.

All of this combines to make me a better modeller. (And thank you, yet again, to those of you who contribute regularly! Your engagement with this blog is always appreciated.)

(I must admit that while I do a great job of posting to this blog, I’m not as good about maintaining the Achievable Layouts or Adventures in Live Steam blogs that I started. Writing entries for the Layout Design blog requires time to draw up plans and a lot of prototype research – something that I enjoy doing but that takes away from the research I need to conduct for my own layout. As for the other blog – there hasn’t been much of an adventure. I’m not the gardener my mother hoped I would be – and time to devote to my live steam interest always seems to take a back seat to Port Rowan, working my border collie Mocean on sheep, and other activities.)

Barry’s website, TrainMasters TV, also has a blog, but between shooting and editing stories for the show he’s finding he hasn’t had the time he would like to devote to keeping the blog updated. And as we discussed the problem while en route to Scranton, I realized I could help with that.

So, I’m going to be posting regularly to The TrainMasters TV Blog. This blog is open to everybody – one does not need to subscribe to TrainMasters TV in order to read it, although obviously I hope that you are subscribing. (And if you’re not, then perhaps something I write on the blog will encourage you to give it a trial run.)

My first post is about Streamliners at Spencer – a remarkable event that took place in North Carolina about a year ago. Barry produced a three-part report for TrainMasters TV on this gathering of vintage cab units – plus one streamlined steam locomotive. Knowing that some hobbyists would prefer a hard copy, that others do not have the bandwidth required to watch an HD video online, and that still others may enjoy seeing the event on a larger screen (or even in their home theatre), Streamliners at Spencer has now been reformatted as a documentary and will soon be available on DVD. Click on the image, below, to read more about this and find out how to pre-order:

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I have more posts in the pipeline, and plenty of ideas. Some will be related to stories that have been covered on TrainMasters TV in the past. Others will take readers behind-the-scenes, to shed light on what goes into making a professionally-produced show about our wonderful hobby. And while we’re not yet sure of the frequency, I’m hoping that as I get into the groove of writing for for the blog I’ll offer up one post per week at a minimum.

Enjoy if you visit, and I hope you’ll bookmark The TrainMasters TV Blog.

The Roadshow, at the show – on TrainMasters TV

For most of us, there’s a point in the hobby that we approach with anticipation and – it must be said – some anxiety. It comes after the track is laid and the layout is wired, and it’s time to turn on the power and run the first train.

Is the track work good enough, or will the train derail?

Will it even run at all? Maybe there’s a short, or a bad solder joint, or something else?

The anxiety is even more acute when the first attempt at running a train takes place in a public venue – like a train show. And, for a real case of the jitters, there’s nothing like testing modules, for the first time, in public… while the whole thing is being recorded for an Internet TV show.

Naturally, that’s exactly what I did with the two modules I built as my contribution to the S Scale Workshop Free-mo style exhibition layout. As regular readers know, I took these two modules to the inaugural North Shore Train Show in the Montréal, Canada area last October – and yes, they did work as advertised.

But the full story – from unpacking to set-up to running at the show – is the subject of this week’s episode of “The Roadshow” on TrainMasters TV:

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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.

As always, a tip of the hat to TrainMasters TV brass hat Barry Silverthorn for making me look like I know what I’m doing.

Enjoy if you watch: I did!

Cooking show scenery

Yesterday, I visited Barry Silverthorn at the TrainMasters TV studios in Belleville to record another instalment of The Roadshow series. I was joined by my friend Chris Abbott, and we spent a delightful few hours in front of the cameras to craft a video on creating a meadow.

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(Barry and Chris look on as I lay out four work-in-progress boards, finished to various stages. Note the backlight on the cabinet, and the camera mounted on the ceiling)

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(Barry ponders a helicopter shot as Christian Cantarutti looks on. The monitor between them allows those on-camera to see what the ceiling-mounted camera is shooting. It takes a lot of people – and equipment – to make great TV)

To prepare for shooting day, I created four 12″ by 12″ demonstration pieces out of foam board insulation. These, I finished to various stages, each building on the previous stage:

1 – Plain foam, roughed up on one surface.
2 – Sculpta-mold applied to create some rolling terrain.
3 – Base coat of paint, plus various scatter materials, glued in place with dilute Weld-Bond.
4 – Static grass applied and airbrushed.

Chris and I used these as our starting points to demonstrate various techniques. (For example, we added scatter material to board number 2 and static grass to board #3.) On a layout, this work can take several days – mostly spent waiting for the previous step to dry. But when doing this on camera, it needs to be done in hours, not days. So the approach is similar to a cooking show, where recipes are prepared to various stages. Rather than wait for the glue to dry on a scenery board (or for the chicken to roast in the oven), we can simply move to the board that represents the next stage, and demonstrate what happens next.

Also like a cooking show, where recipes are tested and perfected before the camera rolls, doing the scenery boards ahead of time allowed me to think through what I wanted to demonstrate, what tools and materials I’d need for each step, and so on.

The result is that shooting the segment went smoothly and the final board looked really good. It received flowers, weeds and bushes on top of grass and basic ground cover, and I think TrainMasters TV subscribers will enjoy the process and like the results, when this segment airs this summer.

We even had a couple of great meals as part of the day. Chris and I started with breakfast at Fran’s – a Toronto institution since 1940. For lunch, Barry took us to The Boathouse for fish and chips: Yum!

Thanks, Chris, for coming along – always fun! And thanks as always, Barry, for allowing me to be a part of your awesome show!

Cardigan Bay and Green Mountain shout-outs

A couple of notes from the blogosphere…

Congratulations to my friend Don Janes, who has just driven the last spike on his HO scale Green Mountain Division layout. Finishing the mainline is always a big event for us, isn’t it? It deserves to be celebrated. Well done, Don!

Click on the image, below, to read more and see photos of the inaugural run of the Ambassador:

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Thanks to my friend Simon Dunkley at The Erratic and Wandering Journey, I’ve been introduced to the wonderful work of Martin Welberg. The photo below says it all – and clicking on it will take you to Martin’s blog about his On30 Cardigan Bay Coastal Railroad:

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Two very different layouts, but two modellers who are obviously talented and enjoying their chosen subjects. Enjoy if you visit either – or both!

Photos in context :: A visit with Fredrick

Sometimes, things just fall into place…

Last Thursday, my friend and fellow member of the S Scale Workshop, Fredrick Adlhoch emailed with a last-minute request. He and his partner were going to be in town Friday morning – could they drop by, briefly, to see the layout?

As it turned out, I had a 9:00 am meeting at home on Friday, and needed to leave by 11:30 for a lunchtime appointment – but I had a 90-minute window and it dovetailed nicely with Fredrick’s free time.

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(Readers will recognize many of my favourite mini-scenes in this overview of Port Rowan)

I’m glad it worked out, because it was Fredrick’s first opportunity to see the layout in person. One of his comments that stuck with me was the observation that seeing the layout in person helped him put into context the many vignettes that I’ve shared via photos on this blog.

In the above overview photo of Port Rowan, one can see the apple orchards, the elevated coal delivery track, the section house and its oil shack, the turntable, the barn at the team track and – near the end of the peninsula – the mockups for the station and feed mill. When I photograph the layout, I tend to focus on these areas.

I have favourite compositions, which I have discovered while peering through the viewfinder on my camera. These are the combinations of scenery, trains, lighting and camera position that tell a compelling story. And I tend to photograph variations of those favourite compositions. It’s not that I ignore others – I’m always looking for new ways to view, photograph and share the layout – but that they are the ones that I find most convincing.

As such, I rarely take overview photographs. The exceptions tend to be photos used to illustrate something related to ergonomics or lighting. I also share overview photos on the anniversary of starting the layout, because they help document my progress from year to year.

But I should try to take more context photos in the future…

Great to see you, Fredrick – come back when you have more time and we’ll run some trains!

Spot order and small layouts :: A visit with Gord and Andy

Late last month, I ran into Gord Ross at one of the local hobby shops. Gord’s a regular reader and after talking with him a while, I invited him to visit. Well, we had that visit on Thursday.

I also invited my friend Andy Malette to join us, because I know Gord has put his toe into the water in S scale, and Andy knows just about anything one could want to know about building a layout in 1:64. Andy was able to provide Gord with lots of information about sources for equipment and other stuff one needs for a satisfying S scale layout.

We started with lunch at Harbord House, then headed to the layout room to run a freight extra to Port Rowan behind 10-wheeler number 1532:

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The layout ran well and the work took about two hours to complete. The three of us had a great time.

Gord is considering an S scale layout for a small space, and noted that having a chance to run my layout answered several questions for him about whether a modest layout can be entertaining. I’m convinced they can be, as I’ve written about this on this blog and on my Achievable Layouts blog. But it’s one thing to read something – quite another to experience it for oneself.

We discussed the advantage of choosing industries that support a variety of car types with specific spotting rules. I think this is particularly important for smaller layouts.

For example, a furniture factory might require the same layout space as a grain elevator, but it would require more switching.

That’s because the furniture factory could receive inbound loads of lumber, fabric, leather, glass, hardware, adhesives, finishes, solvents, and the occasional delivery of machinery. Finished furniture could fill outbound cars. What’s more, these inbound and outbound carloads would likely need to be spotted in specific order along the factory’s siding – and some cars spotted at the factory might not be ready for pick-up.

By contrast, a grain elevator might receive several cars for loading, but if they’re all going to be loaded with the same commodity, spot order doesn’t matter.

If we assume six cars will be switched at our furniture factory, that could require a fair amount of back-and-forth shuttling to lift cars that are outbound, then sort inbound cars and cars that are staying put into correct spot order. A grain elevator – even one with a 12-car capacity – would require much less switching.

For an example of a prototype for an Achievable Layout with not one, but two furniture factories on it, have a look at the CNR Southampton Sub. Click on the image for more:

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(Lance Mindheim has written a fair bit about the philosophy of choosing industries for their spotting locations, as opposed to their car capacity. Here’s a good example on Lance’s blog, using an article by Jim Lincoln on a corn syrup facility as his example.)

Even a team track – the easiest and most space efficient industry to model – can offer this sort of play value. In fact, team tracks account for the majority of the spotting locations on my layout. I make this work by dividing the team track into several spotting locations and then assigning specific spots to specific customers. For example, Potter Motors in Port Rowan receives the occasional flat car load of tractors.

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This car must be spotted at the very end of the team track, so that Potter can set up a ramp to drive the tractors off the end of the flat car. On my layout, I’ve designated four spots on the Port Rowan team track and labelled them “T1-T4”, counting from the wheel stops. Then, on the waybill for the flat car with tractor load, I have noted it must be spotted in “T1”.

Gord and I also talked about small, prototype examples. My go-to example is the CNR Waterloo Sub to Galt, Ontario. I’ve given this example to several friends and know at least one person who is building a version of it in HO. I’ve also written it up on my Achievable Layouts blog: Click on the image, below, to read more about this subdivision.

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Andy, Gord: Great to see you both and I’m looking forward to more operating sessions!

Pelicans and Presentations

As mentioned earlier, I’ll be attending the 2015 New England / Northeast Railroad Prototype Modelers Meet later this month. While many things happen at an RPM, these events thrive on two things: presentations and displays. I’ve been working on both.

I’ve taken locomotives and rolling stock on the road before but I’ve never been happy about my arrangements for secure transport. Since many people at this upcoming RPM have probably never encountered scale modelling in 1:64, I wanted to take a good cross section of things to display. I also wanted my displayed equipment to tie into my layout, so that meant – at a minimum – I would have to display a 1:64 version of the daily mixed train to Port Rowan:

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My solution is not cheap – but definitely effective: I bought a Pelican case. These come in many sizes but I opted for the 1510 because it’s a rugged case that’s also carry-on compliant in case I ever decide to attend an RPM or other event that requires flying. The case was about $200, which sounds like a lot but it’s a fraction of the cost of the equipment that I’ll pack into it so I feel it’s justified. (This is not the answer for everyone: We all have different priorities in the hobby.)

I was pleased that I will be able to get two layers of equipment into the Pelican – in fact, the pluck-foam provided comes in two pieces, like a layer cake, which made it easy for me to create slots for equipment.

For the top layer, I created openings in the foam to accommodate long equipment. I can hold two passenger cars plus a locomotive here:

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I’ve separated the two levels with a thin layer of acoustic foam – the same stuff I used to line the layout’s equipment storage drawers. The bottom level has spaces for five cars. Four slots will accommodate cars up to 50 feet long. The lowermost slot is smaller because the case has indents here to accommodate its wheels. But it can hold a caboose or hopper car:

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With secure transport figured out, I will be able to display eight models at the NERPM. And I’m ready for other meets or gatherings, too!

This week, I also put the finishing touches on a slide deck for a clinic about being a prototype modeller in 1:64. I was late to register for the NERPM (entirely my fault), and at this time the clinic schedule is fully booked. But the organizers asked if I could bring along a presentation in case they have a last-minute cancellation. What’s more, I now have a presentation in the can, ready for other conventions, so the effort hasn’t been wasted.

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As the title slide suggests, I’ve drafted a clinic about the opportunities and challenges of modelling a specific prototype in 1:64 – using my layout as an example. I’ll cover why I ended up in S scale, why I picked the Port Rowan branch and things to research and ponder to determine whether S is a viable scale in which to work. I’ll also explain why I write this blog and now consider it as essential to building a layout as having a good supply of ties and rail. And I’ll wrap up with a quick tour of the line – because everybody likes pretty pictures.

All of this information is available in the 1000+ postings on this blog, for those who care to sift through it. But I’ve added some fresh photos – including several of earlier layouts in other scales and gauges. And, of course, I’ve boiled down the story to what I hope is an entertaining and informative 45 minutes.

I’m looking forward to giving this presentation – if not at this month’s NERPM, then at future conventions and prototype meets. Hmm… time to check the events calendar, I think…

Fighting Dirty Rails

The May, 2015 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine is now online and ready for reading – including an article I submitted on how I use graphite on the rails to improve electrical performance.

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While I certainly didn’t come up with this solution, I’ve been using it for many years and am an enthusiastic advocate. It’s made a huge difference to how well my layout runs.

Click on the image, above to start reading the feature online. To complement this feature, I also produced a short video* to show how I apply the graphite to the rails. Enjoy if you watch!

(*I’m not sure I would’ve called this solution a “miracle”: It’s science, really…)