Tigers are mean! Tigers are fierce!

Ahoy!

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(The Tree Fort is occupied!)

A big shout-out to my friend Stephen Gardiner, who surprised me with a wonderful gift during last night’s meeting of our monthly supper club.

Stephen remembered that a couple of years ago, I had written on this blog about building a tree fort for St. Williams. My model included a copy of the hand-made sign that graced the tree fort in Calvin and Hobbes and at the end of the post, I asked,

“And where can I find an anthropomorphic tiger?”

Well Stephen – being the talented sort of guy that he is – made me an S scale Hobbes:

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Stephen crafted Hobbes as the stuffed toy that adults see, and hand-painted him. Thank you, Stephen: he’s wonderful! And he looks right at home in the tree fort:

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I’m sure I can find and kit-bash a suitable Calvin to stand at the base of the tree, singing the password…

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If I was a tiger, that would be neat!

Furnace Fixed

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(That’s more like it!)

As reported here earlier this month, our furnace recently quit. The new one was installed on Friday – and there are several bits of good news.

In addition to all the positive home-owner related advantages (such as being more energy efficient and, um, actually working), it’s a whole lot quieter than the previous furnace. That’s a good thing, since the furnace is located in a closet in the aisle behind Port Rowan. With the previous model, whenever I hosted operating sessions in the colder months I would turn off the furnace during the session so that we could hear the layout’s ambient audio, the sound-equipped locomotives – and even each other. As an operating session on Saturday night demonstrated, the new furnace purrs in the background and is no bother at all. Yay!

The second bit of good news is that the installers were able to feed the new air intake and exhaust pipes through the ceiling without having to cut into it. I had visions of power sawing above Port Rowan – and had taped plastic sheeting to the valance to protect the layout against the dust. In the end, I didn’t have to worry about it. It did make for a somewhat naff haunted house effect, though…

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A second scale test car

In doing my research while preparing to finish my first scale test car, I learned that these important pieces of equipment were often used in pairs to properly calibrate a track scale. That means, also, that they would often travel in pairs. I mentioned last week that I was looking for a second model and within hours I had a lead on one. (Thanks to Sam McCoy for the lead!)

I placed the order and the model arrived today:

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When I did my first scale test car, I bought extra decal sets for it – so I have everything I need to tackle this project as soon as I can unpack my tools and rebuild my workshop.

The 2015 S Scale Can-Am Social

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(The group photo: It’s a lot like one of those grade school class pictures, isn’t it?)

On Sunday, I joined two dozen fellow hobbyists at the annual S Scale Can-Am Social, organized by my friend Jim Martin and held at a community centre in Lowbanks, Ontario – on the north shore of Lake Erie. This meeting brings together a number of S scale enthusiasts (plus some friends who work in other scales). Most of us are from southern Ontario, but as the “Am” part of the name suggests, the event also attracts many American friends from western New York.

Others come from farther afield. I’ve known Alex Binkley from Ottawa for many years and it’s always good to see him at the meet. And it was a real treat to host an operating session the night before with Brian Nicholson from the Montreal area and my friend Andy Malette, followed by a dinner at Harbord House.

This is a small gathering and it’s mostly a social event, although Jim does try to organize a few short clinics for after lunch. Many people bring along things to display. I always make an effort to do this because see what others are doing in 1:64 is one of the things I enjoy most about this gathering. This year, I exhibited the four “enjoyable diversions” that highlighted my fourth year of building Port Rowan:

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(Enjoyable diversions: Click on the picture for more info)

One of the most enjoyable displays was a collection of steam locomotives in 1:64. Most of these were built by Paul Raham for his 1919-era Moira Valley Lines layout. (Paul was profiled in the NASG Dispatch in 2003, and a copy of that is available online as part of the S Scale Workshop’s collection of publications.) This display included contributions from Andy and Jim as well:

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Andy always surprises me with his projects. He’s a talented modeller with wide-ranging interests. This year, his display included two GEPX milk cars that had been used by Labatt’s – then a major Canadian brewery – to haul beer. Andy worked with Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing to create the artwork for these terrific cars:

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In addition to the people and the displays, the event is also an opportunity for attendees to find better homes for stuff they no longer want. Every year I attend this meet, I think, “Oh, I’m not going to buy anything because I have everything I need” – and every year I’m glad I’ve taken my chequebook because I always come home with goodies. Last year, it was the EMC Gas Electric: This year, tools made up most of my purchases.

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Dan Kirlin was selling some tools from a friend who had passed away recently, and I picked up two lovely additions for my workshop. The first is a Starrett dial caliper. The second is a Flex Shaft tool. Both are in excellent condition and were offered at a very good price. I look forward to putting them to good use.

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And then there was the tool that got away:

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I don’t really need one, but I’ve never before seen the infamous Kadee Spiker and I was sorely tempted to buy it anyway. But, I dithered – and it went home with somebody else.

It wasn’t all tools, however. I also found a like-new example of the Ridgehill Scale Models coal dealer at a good price. I’ll build this – with or without modifications as I see fit – and then decide whether it’ll go in St. Williams or replace the existing coal shed in Port Rowan (which would then move up the line):

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Finally, a special thank you to Dan Kirlin who showed up with a fat envelope full of information to help with a project I’m planning. Very much appreciated, Dan: Cheers!

Thanks too – as always – to Jim for organizing this gathering. It’s always a fun day out, and I’m looking forward to the 2016 meet!

Reflections on Year 4

I’m pleased with how much I’ve managed to accomplish in four years: On this date (October 13) in 2011, my friend Pierre Oliver visited and we assembled the benchwork for my Port Rowan layout – marking the official start of construction.

As I look back over the past 12 months, I see that the layout is maturing. I’m doing fewer big projects and fewer essential pieces. Instead, I’m enjoying tackling more esoteric projects – things that the layout does not need, but that I want because they’re neat.

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(Enjoyable diversions)

The most obvious examples can be found in my equipment roster. I’ve enjoyed working on a number of S scale items that are not required for the layout – including some things that, frankly, would never show up in Port Rowan. These include CNR 44 Tonner Number 1CNR RS18 3640CNR gas electric 15815… and CNR scale test car 52274*.

Beyond working on new equipment, I also tuned up some existing stock. For example, I upgraded my steam fleet with WOWSound decoders and Keep-Alive modules. And a trip to the New England Northeast RPM prompted me to check my fleet for damaged or missing parts and perform all those little repairs that can otherwise build up.

Layout-wise, the biggest change over the past year was building and installing approximately 50 new trees in St. Williams:

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(Click on the photo to see a before and after comparison)

This has made a huge difference to the appearance of this part of the layout and will inspire me to continue to add more trees in the coming year – especially in Port Rowan.

Finally, it was an important year for getting out of the layout room.

For starters, over the past 12 months I’ve done a lot of work with Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV. I graduated from a radio and TV program a quarter century ago and many of the skills I learned at school are finally being put to some use. I’m learning something new – about the hobby and about myself – every time I do a show with Barry, and I’m looking forward to doing more in the coming year.

Also significant, a year ago I organized a monthly supper club for some fellow railway enthusiasts in the region. This has been a great success and I encourage others to do it, too: It’s easy to organize and very rewarding. Unless you’re brand new to this blog, you’ll know I’m an advocate for combining the hobby with more social elements. Ops sessions almost always involve a meal, and I have an entire blog category devoted to “eat, drink and be merry“.

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No matter how seriously we take the hobby, it is still a hobby – it’s supposed to be fun (and if it isn’t, you’re doing something wrong). It’s time with friends, doing something we all enjoy. So make the most of it!

Whether you’re new to the blog or have been following since the beginning, thanks for reading. And a special thanks to those of you who have contributed through the comments function – from information to “attaboys”. I enjoy the exchanges.

The house renovations continue and my tools and projects remain packed away. But I still have access to the layout (as the lead photo suggests) and I’m enjoying running the Daily Mixed, or a Freight Extra, to Port Rowan and back as time allows. As the renovations wind down, I’ll return to the workbench and have more to write about here.

Stay tuned!

(*By the way, I’m looking for a second model of the scale test car. This was imported by South Wind Models. If you have one you would like to turn into hobby dollars, please visit my About the Author page and use the form at the bottom of the page to get in touch.)

(UPDATE: It only took a few hours. Thanks to Sam for pointing me at a scale test car. I have purchased it and eagerly await its arrival. S scale is cool: There’s a lot of stuff available, but unlike in other scales in which I’ve worked, you have to ask for it to find out about it…)

When life gives you lemons…

… do not make furnaces out of them!

Somebody did when they made our furnace, which was installed eight or nine years ago and has been nothing but trouble.

The good news: It has finally bitten the dust and will be replaced.

More good news: The replacement should not affect the layout, although I will have to hang some plastic off the valance in a couple of places, as the guys will have to cut a hole in the ceiling – over the operator’s aisle fortunately! – to install a new direct vent to the outside. The current one is no longer up to code.

Still more good news: I left a generous access aisle behind Port Rowan to give service techs a clear path to the furnace – and this will now pay off because they have a clear path to remove the old unit and install the new one without damaging the layout. Think of the people who also have to occupy your layout space and life’s lemon-giving habits won’t be a disaster.

Planning pays off.

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