Who is this, really?

I’m back – sort of:

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After a week and a half with no home office, I spent the morning restoring a sense of normalcy to command central. It looks better than it ever has. I know friends are going to look at the above photo and experience a common reaction – which can be summed up by the following two questions:

1 – Who is this?
2 – What have you done with Trevor?

It’ll be a while before I add more posts to the blog, as I have 11 days of deferred work to address. But I did get a couple of small things done, hobby-wise, during my period of enforced idleness – so I’ll have something to share soon.


Enforced idleness

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I wish it involved a beach, but no…

This weekend, I’m clearing my home office so the floors can be refinished and walls painted. I should be out of the office for a week – maybe more, as there’s a fair bit of prep to do, too.

As a consequence, my computer and home Internet access will also be out of commission, so I’ll be on a vacation of sorts.

While I will still read any comments that come into the blog via my smart phone – and may be able to provide short answers through same – I won’t be making new posts until my office has been restored and I may not be responding to all comments (because I’m not a fan of one-finger typing).

Have a good one, everyone – see you later!

A visit from Jim and John

Earlier this week, my friend (and fellow host of The Model Railway Show) Jim Martin visited, along with a long-time friend of his, John Morris. It’s been a while since I’ve seen them – John lives in Manitoba and visits Jim regularly but it’s been a few years since we got together, and Jim’s been pretty busy with things that have prevented him from coming into the city.

We had a great couple of hours in the layout room. It was John’s first visit to Port Rowan in 1:64, so I gave him the quick tour. And it’s been a while since Jim saw the layout, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

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We talked about many things – among them, my use of mock-ups as stand-ins for structures. I like mock-ups not only as place holders but also as a way to test my plans for a structure. Since I’m modelling a specific place and time, most of my structures are based on real building and it’s important to make sure I’ve properly captured proportions, roof angles, and so on. It’s far easier (and cheaper) to modify cardboard than it is to re-work a model in styrene and strip wood. And because I know that some of these mock-ups will stay on the layout for some time before I get around to building the structures that they represent, I feel it’s worthwhile to invest a little bit of coin and build them using good-quality artist’s board in appropriate colours. Some of the mock-ups on my layout have been in place now for about three years, and they still look good.

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Of course, we ran a train – although I did not haul out waybills and put the guys to work. John has built and painted many HO scale steam locomotives for Canadian prototypes – he’s well-known in the community for his excellent work – and I knew he’d enjoy seeing these larger models of tiny prototypes put through their paces.

The layout really came through for me too, with no derailments or stalling. Other than one or two missed couplings, it was a perfect session. We talked about that, too – and agreed that flawless operation is a goal worthy of pursuing. It’s also achievable when one focuses on a smaller, easier to manage layout like mine – and I think that any perceived trade-off in pursuing a simpler-is-better approach is more than made up for by the enjoyment of realistic and reliable operation.

(I remember causing a tempest in a teapot on a newsgroup one time by declaring that this was my goal. I was told “It can’t be done”, and “Real railroads have derailments too”, and other such excuses. But having experienced flawless operating sessions the On3 layout built by my friend Dave Burroughs I knew it could, in fact, be done – and I’m determined to achieve that in my own layout room.)

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Smaller, simpler layouts also free up hobby time to pursue special projects that may require a significant investment in modelling time. An example is the “Someday Spreader” I wrote about previously on this blog:

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(Click on the image to read about the “Someday Spreader”)

My visit from Jim and John occurred the evening before I stumbled across the model that inspired that post. I admire John’s work in brass and I realized, while talking with him, that the biggest hurdle to tackling such a project is convincing oneself that one can do it. I suspect that our conversation the night before tipped my hand to purchase the Jordan Spreader and commit myself to building one in 1:64. Thanks for that, John!

When my wife finished work, she joined us as we retired to The Caledonian – a terrific Scottish pub in my neighbourhood – to wind up the evening with more great conversation over good food, and a promise from Jim that he’d come for a visit more often. (John – you’re welcome too of course, whenever you’re in the area!)

“S” is for “Someday Spreader”

While out and about this week, I stopped into a local hobby shop and came out poorer – yet richer – because of this little gem:

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I’m a fan of non-revenue equipment and have acquired a few pieces for my layout. For example, I’ve built a CNR wooden snow plough from a much-modified, vintage Ambroid craftsman kit, and kit bashed a (static) model of an MoW gang’s speeder. I’ve painted and finished a Burro crane, including DCC, and painted and finished a scale test car.

These are all fine examples of non-revenue equipment, but none of them is as versatile as a Jordan Spreader. Sadly, nobody makes one in 1:64 – the Model A Jordan Spreader pictured above is an HO scale model imported by Overland.

I’ve actually been collecting data and photos of the Model A Jordan Spreader since seeing photos of one in an article in Issue 60 of CN Lines, the magazine published by the Canadian National Railways Historical Association. The article features the HO scale models of CNR non-revenue equipment built by the late Ron Keith and included both prototype and model photos of a Model A Jordan Spreader in CNR livery. (Coincidentally, this was the same issue in which I introduced my layout to the magazine’s readers.) When I saw that tiny, cab-less Spreader, I knew I’d have to build one.

This HO scale example will make an excellent study model as I tackle that project. The HO model is tiny – less than five inches long – but my digital photos are revealing many details not readily visible to the naked eye:

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I’m not yet ready to start this project because scratch-building any piece of equipment is a huge undertaking and I have other, more pressing things on my to-do list right now. But the lack of a good reference from which to work was a major stumbling block to getting started – and now that I have one, that barrier has been removed. Between the model, the data, and the photos I’ve collected, I’m confident I can proceed. And when I’m finished the S scale model, I can either sell off the HO version (it won’t be harmed in its role as a study model), or paint it up for the CNR and display it on a shelf.

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CP Rail in Woodstock, circa 1980

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Last week, Ryan Mendell, Hunter Hughson and I visited Bob Fallowfield and his terrific HO scale layout, based on the CP Rail operations in and around Woodstock, Ontario in the autumn of 1980.

I’ve written about our visit on my Achievable Layouts blog, because Bob’s layout is a great example of a prototype-based model railway that can support a mainline parade of trains plus interesting yard and local switching for a small group of friends, while still being manageable by one builder.

In fact, Bob started his layout – which occupies a space about the size of two bedrooms – less than five years ago and he’s well on the way to finishing it, with convincing scenery and prototype fidelity. His progress over such a short time should provide inspiration to anybody who is still struggling with getting past the dreaming stage to start building.

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(Click on the image to read my report)

Thanks Bob – I look forward to our next operating session!

Mentor Texts

Here’s a great post from Mike Cougill. It’s called Mentor Texts, and as Mike writes, these are “works that you return to time after time because of the influence they have had on your life”. In this case, Mike’s looking at publications (books and articles) that have influenced his approach to our hobby.

I’ve added some of my mentor texts to the comments section of Mike’s blog. Rather than post here, I encourage you to read Mike’s blog entry and add your mentor texts there. That way, we’ll have them all in the same place. I’m always interested in learning about new sources of inspiration – so be sure to explain why and how these texts have influenced your hobby. I look forward to the list that we develop.

(Thanks, Mike, for starting this conversation!)

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Keeping the Minions under control

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One of the things I’m pleased about is that – despite the plaster dust and disorder kicked up by an extensive home renovation – the layout is running well. That’s not by accident, of course…

Layouts, like Gru, come with thousands of Minions. They’re all the little things that can go wrong, and keeping them on a short leash is one of the biggest tasks for a layout owner. It’s also one of the most important.

I was reminded of this earlier in the summer while re-watching the “End of the Line” segment on TrainMasters TV, in which three layout owners tear out large portions (or all) of their creations.

Two of the lessons I took from that segment were:

– How important it is to stay on top of the many little maintenance tasks any layout requires, and

– To be vigilant against the phenomenon of “Creeping Normality”.

Of course, there are many positive reasons to tear out some (or all) of a layout, as the “End of the Line” segment also makes clear. But if left unchecked, Minions will take over one’s layout – at which point a dumpster (and a good pesticide*) may be the only option.

As I prepared to show off the layout to visitors earlier this week, I gave the track and equipment a quick dusting with a soft brush. I also tested all track switches and loosened up the mechanical turnout controls by operating each of them back and forth about a half-dozen times. And I test-ran the locomotives that would be in service during the session.

It took perhaps 10 minutes to do this, but it made all the difference. If there were Minions about, I was able to keep them under control, and prevent them from creating havoc…

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(*No Minions were harmed in the writing of this post)

Operational flexibility

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(The doodlebug provides added play value when a crowd shows up, while a flexible operating scheme allows the layout to adjust to the number of guests)

On the prototype, the line to Port Rowan was served by a single mixed train, six days per week. That’s it. That’s fine when I’m running by myself, but it’s not terribly exciting when I have guests over. What to do?

If I have one or two guests visiting, we usually annul the mixed train and run a freight extra. If I have one guest, we’ll split the conductor/engineer duties. If I have two guests, they can share those roles while I hover to answer questions. (Frequently, I’ll also assume one of the duties of a brakeman and take care of uncoupling cars, since I know some people are uncomfortable reaching between two pieces of detailed rolling stock with an uncoupling tool to perform this function.)

I rarely have more than two guests – but it happens on occasion, as it did earlier this week when four friends Regan Johnson, Dave Burroughs, Robin Talukdar and Bob Fallowfield – showed up to see the layout before meeting up with some other hobbyists for dinner. When the numbers go up, I find it useful to add a second train to the ops session – but the mixed train, or even another freight, would seriously snarl the terminal at Port Rowan.

The answer lies in CNR 15815 – an EMC Gas Electric I acquired about a year ago.

This model is not accurate for my prototype, but the CNR did have an extensive fleet of self-propelled cars detailed in an excellent book by Anthony Clegg), and I painted and finished this model following typical CNR practice.

When I acquired this model, I planned to use it on the S Scale Workshop Free-mo style exhibition layout – and I still will, because it’s an easy model to pack and transport, and it’s a reliable runner. I didn’t really plan to use it on Port Rowan, because – frankly – the prototype never ran a self-propelled car on this branch.

Since putting it into service, however, it has proven to be a great asset for enhancing operations with a second train:

As a passenger train, it follows a schedule, which requires the freight extra’s crew to keep an eye on the clock.

It also takes priority over the freight train, so the freight has to keep clear of the main track when the doodlebug is due.

At the same time, it’s a one-unit train, so it requires no reshuffling of cars or run-around moves upon arrival in Port Rowan, so as a second train it doesn’t overwhelm the small terminal.

After the station stop, the doodlebug operator will turn the unit on the turntable, then stay on the turntable lead – out of the way of the freight extra’s switching duties – until it’s time to head to the station and ready for its scheduled departure.

Looking for ways to break from the prototype’s practice, in order to entertain additional guests, it’s one of the things I’m exploring with this layout. It’s a fine line to walk, however. It’s easy to deviate so much that the essence of one’s prototype is lost – at which point, one wonders why the prototype was chosen in the first place…

In this case, a second train – on those rare instances when I have a crowd in the layout room – justifies the departure. And even though the gas electric is fictional, I think it’s a handsome unit and I’m pleased by the job I did finishing it, so I’m happy to run it to Port Rowan and back.

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