New doors for the CNR express car

My friend Joe Smith – himself a superb modeller – correctly guessed that I would build the new doors for my CNR express car from styrene:

New doors for the CNR baggage car

I framed the openings with styrene strip of various sizes, including quarter round for the vertical jambs. I then built up the doors from various widths of .010″ styrene strip. I sized the windows based on photographs of the 8775-8799 series that I’m trying to represent with this car.

For the eight-foot opening, I built two doors and when I installed them I left a very slight gap between the two so they don’t look like one very big door with odd window spacing.

Time to figure out roof vents, and to order some decals from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing.

CNR express car: Nibbled

Well, that’s an unusual headline, but that’s exactly what I did.

As previously noted, I’m turning a model of an SP baggage car into a reasonable stand-in model of a CNR express car, in the 8775-8799 series. The most noticeable difference – and therefore the one I simply must address – is the doors. The SP car has two 5′ doors on each side, whereas the CNR car has a 6′ door and a pair of doors in an 8′ opening. The doors on the CNR car are also taller, reaching almost to the roof. (I provided more detail about the doors in a previous posting.)

I disassembled my SP model, and opened up new spaces for the doors:

CNR baggage car - door openings
(Modified car, with new door openings)

Southern Pacific SP brass baggage car
(Stock SP car from South Wind Models)

The brass walls are fairly thin on this car, so to do this work I simply marked the size of the new openings, then removed material with a “nibbler” – a tool used in electronics:

(Check your local electronics supplier, or even your hobby shop, for one of these)

As the name implies, it nibbles away thin brass, PC board materials, styrene, you name it. (It’s a great tool for making openings in walls for window castings.) I’m really glad I have one in my toolbox. Using the nibbler is like playing The Price Is Right: I tried to get as close to the line as I could without going over. I then finished the openings with a good mill file.

The other big change I have to make is the roof vents. As the photos above suggest, I’ve removed the SP vents and will be replacing them. Here’s a close-up of the roof, with vents gone:

CNR baggage car - roof vents removed

Removing them was easy: I held the car body shell with an oven mitt, and used a micro-torch to melt the solder from the inside of the roof. A few passes with the torch was all it took. I would heat a post, set down the torch, then grab the vent with a pair of pliers and pull it out of the roof. I still have to fill the holes, and add new, longer rain strips to the roof over the larger openings.

I guess I’m committed to the project now.

Next up: I’ll build some new doors for the express car.

Express car mods via Photoshop

As noted in a previous post, I ordered a model of an SP baggage car with the intent of creating a stand-in for a CNR express car in the 8775-8799 number range. These CNR cars had a “turtle roof”, plus six-foot and eight-foot doors.

CNR baggage car - prototype photo
(Click on the image to read more about why I decided to model this series of cars)

The car arrived this week, and – for my purposes – it’s an excellent start. The discrepancies that are most immediately apparent are the vents on the roof and the baggage doors. There should be fewer vents, of a different style, and the doors should be larger and taller – almost touching the roof line.

I did a quick bit of Photoshop work to see if I could get the SP car to look more like the CNR series I’m trying to represent. I built each image out of several photographs so I could take close-up pictures of the car to capture the detail:

Stock Southern Pacific baggage car
(Stock SP car)

SP baggage car - modified in photoshop
(Photoshop modifications)

Based on this virtual kit bash, I think the modifications will be worth the effort.

Modifying the doors should be fairly easy: I can simply cut larger openings, square them with a file, add some strip to the interior if needed, and build new doors. They don’t even need to be built out of brass – I’m happy to use styrene for the doors. (The larger of the two openings should have two equal-sized doors with two lights each – not the 3+2 arrangement shown in the photo.)

The vents will be a little trickier – only in that I’ll have a lot to remove, and then a lot of holes to fill in a very visible part of the car. I will think about the vents issue some more before I start unsoldering castings.

Trailers for CNR D-1

In other passenger-carrying news, Shapeways has delivered my 3D Printed shells for C-1 and C-2 – the two trailers that completed the train set hauled by D-1:

CNR C-1 and C-2

These were designed by my friend Stephen Gardiner. Regular readers will recall that he’s done these for himself in HO – and has kindly re-sized and tweaked the plans for printing in S scale. (You can find all of my posts about this project in the CNR D-1 category.)

Like the power unit, the trailers are a great start but will need a fair bit of finishing to complete. First up, I’ll have to wash the bodies to remove the waxes used in the printing process, glue the roofs in place, then spray everything with an automotive filler/primer so that I can see what work needs to be done. I’ll also need to cut some floors for the two trailers.

Meantime, I’ve ordered NWSL wheels and bearings for the 6′-6″ truck kits I picked up from William Flatt.

I’m also looking to order a Helicoils starter kit for 2-56 machine screws: I borrowed one from a friend to mount the D-1 body to the frame and this is a marvellous system to use in 3D Printed materials when one expects to fasten and unfasten parts regularly. (I’ll write more about Helicoils in a future post.) As the photo below shows, Stephen designed in mounting posts with pilot holes, designed so that I could use Helicoils and 2-56 machine screws:

CNR C-1 and C-2

I continue to gather the parts I need for this project, but once I have what I need I suspect the assembly will go quite quickly.

Stand-in CNR express car

Mixed train - missing baggage car
(This mixed train is missing something: a CNR express car. The proper one is not available, but I’ve found a suitable, temporary stand-in)

Good things come to those who wait. But in the meantime, “close enough” is better than “none at all”…

I’ve decided I need to compromise – at least, temporarily – in order to fill out my 1957 version of the mixed train to Port Rowan. There are two significant differences in this train, when compared to its 1953 version: CNR 10-wheelers had replaced the Moguls on the head end and – with the demise of the postal contract – the baggage-mail car had disappeared, to be replaced with a simple express (baggage) car.

My 1953 train accurately reflects its consist…

M233-CNR867-Port Rowan

… but my attempts to model the 1957 version have been stymied by the lack of an accurate CNR express car in S scale. Fellow S scale enthusiast David Clubine and I have badgered our mutual friend Andy Malette at MLW Services to fill this gap, preferably with a four-axle NSC steel car – like this:

CNR 9269
(Jim Parker photo from the Canadian Freight Car Gallery. Click on the image to learn more.)

Andy has “expressed” interest (see what I did there?), and he’s done a great job on some other CNR passenger car kits in S scale, including the combines that bring up the rear of my mixed trains. But I also appreciate that Andy has other projects he wants to tackle, and that a market of “Dave and Me” isn’t a very good reason to devote the best part of a year to developing a kit. So while the NSC car is on his “someday” list, I’ll content myself with being thrilled when (or even if) he does this car.

In the meantime, however, my modern mixed train falls short. It doesn’t look right, and operating sessions with this train suffer without the express car and its associated activity. My choices are either to build my own NSC four-axle express car or find a suitable stand-in.

Building my own isn’t beyond consideration, but I have other projects that are more of a priority. For starters, there are still a number of structures to build and trees to create. If I decide to build the NSC car, it will be a few (several?) years before I can tackle the project – and that leaves me with the same unsatisfying situation I’m in today.

So, I prefer the second option – the suitable stand-in. The next task was to determine whether any such model exists.

For this, I combined two sources.

First, the National Association of S Gaugers has an online Product Gallery, in which the organization is trying to collect and share information about every locomotive and piece of rolling stock ever produced for 1:64. It’s a tall order, but the Product Gallery is remarkably complete – and most of the entries include photographs of the models.

(Click on the logo to visit the NASG, where you’ll find the product gallery)

I searched through the gallery’s “baggage car” section, and compared the photographs to pictures in the Canadian National Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment Volume 1, written by John Riddell and published by Morning Sun Books. And, I found a match – or, at least, a model that’s a close-enough stand in for my purposes:

CNR Baggage Car - Proto Photo
(Click on the image to visit Morning Sun Books)

The prototype is a series of 25 cars built by National Steel Car in 1940. They’re almost 65 feet long and have a distinctive “turtle roof”. And, while they’re not dead-on matches, they sure look close to the Southern Pacific baggage cars imported by SouthWind Models – an example of which is shown below:

Southern Pacific brass baggage car - Southwind Models

Yes, there are discrepancies – some pretty big ones. Notably, the baggage doors on the CNR cars extend almost to the roof, whereas they stop at the letter board on the SP cars. Also, the roof vents are all wrong. But for a stand-in car, until Andy produces (or I build) the NSC baggage car that should be on my 1957 mixed train? I can live with that – or try my hand at some simple brass-bashing. Dan Navarre at River Raisin Models had an unpainted example in stock, which is current en route to me.

I’m looking forward to having a more accurate mixed train: More accurate, because “wrong express car” is better than “no express car”…

Telegraph article in June 2016 RMC

St. Williams - Trackside View
(The station at St. Williams includes a sign for the CNR’s telegraph service)

The June 2016 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine includes “Dots and Dashes”, a feature I wrote about the working telegraph network I’ve installed on my layout. Railway telegraph systems are rarely modelled, but were in use throughout the steam era. They were long-lived on lightly-trafficked lines such as my one-train-per-day operation to Port Rowan.

This article details how I set up the network, where I found the telegraphy equipment, and how I have created “cheat sheets” for operators to use when OS-ing their trains. It should provide any reader with enough information to set up such a system on their own layout.

I’ve seen a proof of this four-page article, and I’m really pleased with how the team at RMC has presented the work. (Thanks, guys!) If you get a chance to read the feature, I hope you’ll agree…

Click on the cover, below, to visit the RMC website:

RMC Cover - June 2016 - Telegraph feature

Hand Signals: Lunch and Ops with Steve

Brakeman hand signals
(Doesn’t he look like he’s having fun? Figure 100 is like an ice dancing move. We did not do this – but we did something similar…)

On Thursday, I was fortunate to entertain Steve Lucas, a modeller from Ingersol, Ontario who also happens to make his living on the rails as a locomotive engineer.

It’s always interesting to see how those who work on the real railways react to my little slice of the long gone Simcoe Sub. As such, I’ve wanted to have Steve over for a while to show him the layout – and this week, work and other commitments allowed us to do just that.

Steve and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Harbord House, then worked a freight extra along the line. Steve opted to wear the conductor’s hat, and took the opportunity to give me some lessons on switching using hand signals. Steve did NOT wear a jaunty conductor’s uniform or sport a handlebar moustache like the gentleman in the lead image – and the signals were not quite what’s illustrated either.

Instead, a lot of our discussion was about the hand signals used to convey distances (e.g. “Six cars”… “Four cars”… and so on). I only remember a few of these, as it was a lot to take in, but I certainly appreciated how elegant they were to use while switching.

Steve and I also talked about sight lines from engineer to brakeman – important because if the engineer cannot see the brakeman he’s required to stop moving.

Ops aid - scale brakeman
(Having scale brakemen to position on the layout helps to understand where the people need to be when switching cars. To read about the ones I use, click on the image.)

And I learned that one reason all the prototype photos at Port Rowan show the locomotive facing westbound (towards the end of track) is that this would allow the engineer to switch the sidings without having to look over his shoulder – a consideration that had never occurred to me.

So, lessons big and little. I have that much more to think about, and more information to make my layout come alive. Thanks Steve: We’ll do this again when our schedules allow!

I’ve been able to give back something, too:

At this year’s Toronto RPM, I did a presentation on my layout and as part of that I discussed the benefits of blogging. (I’ve summarized that information in a separate post, for those who are interested.)

I’m pleased that Steve has taken some of that presentation to heart and has started a blog about his layout, the Midland Railway. Drop by and have a look around…

“CN Lines” back issues on DVD

The latest issues of CN Lines magazine arrived last week, and it included a notice that the CNR Historical Association is now offering a a set of all previous back issues, as PDFs, on DVD. This disc includes 65 issues of CN Lines – from Volume 1 Number 1 to Volume 17 Number 4.

I didn’t start reading CN Lines until just a few years ago, so I’ve ordered my copy and I look forward to exploring more about The People’s Railway.

For more information about this collection, click on the cover of CN Lines 18-1, below. It’ll send you to the relevant page on the CNRHA website:

CN Lines - V18-1

In related news, my copy of the complete collection of Mainline Modeler on DVD also arrived last week. I ordered this at the end of April, and service was prompt. I must confess I haven’t had a chance to load it on my computer and look through it. Maybe I’ll do that now…

(Small update: I’ve just done that, and it’s wonderful. It does require “Acrobat” to view – it doesn’t appear to work with other PDF readers such as “Preview” on a Mac. I’ve looked through the very first issue. Now, it’s time to go back and read it in more detail. I was also able to successfully copy the entire DVD to my hard drive – for my personal use! This has greatly improved the time to navigate the menus and turn the pages.)

It has never been easier to get quality information about prototypes and how to model them. I’m grateful to the organizations that are compiling and distributing DVDs such as these!

What’s Next? The Millennial Makers

What's Next PPT - Screen Grab

Saturday night, I was the guest speaker at the banquet for Algonquin Turn 2016 – the convention for members of the Niagara Frontier Region NMRA. This was held in Ottawa – a place I lived for much of the 1990s – and it was great to reconnect with a number of fellow hobbyists that I hadn’t seen in many years. Ottawa is only 4.5-5 hours away by highway, but it seems like another world sometimes, and I haven’t been to the nation’s capital in many years.

When I was asked to speak, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to say. A banquet speech needs to be special. I wasn’t going to stand in front of the crowd and give a how-to clinic, and I certainly didn’t want to make it “all about me” (and boy am I glad that I did not, as I’ll relate*). Fortunately, I have done many things in this hobby. I have worked in several scale/gauge combinations, attended conventions, operations weekends, RPM meets, narrow gauge gatherings, SIG events, train shows, exhibitions in which trains are displayed to the general public, and more. I’ve given speeches, written articles, produced and co-hosted a podcast, and been both a guest and a host on TrainMasters TV. And, of course, I’ve blogged.

But most of all, because of this exposure, I’ve had brilliant conversations with many, many people about our hobby. That includes people who have been railway modelling enthusiasts for decades… those who have just started… and those who have never heard of the hobby.

Man using Ear Trumpet

And one thing that I’ve learned is that for many of us in the hobby, this is more than a way to kill some time. It’s been a lifelong journey of friendships and learning. We love this hobby – and many of us wonder how we encourage more people to join us as railway modelling enthusiasts. In particular, we wonder how we’re going to reach young people.

I run into similar questions in my professional life as a speech writer. I’ve worked with many clients who are trying to connect their businesses – and the products and services they provide – with customers, and one demographic that everybody is trying to figure out is the Millennials. Broadly described, the Millennials are the cohort of young people born in the 1990s or later.

One of the biggest factors that sets Millennials apart from the rest of us is that this is a group that has never known a world in which the Internet did not exist. That has had a huge influence on how the Millennials think and act.

I won’t get into detail here – I had an hour for my speech, and I filled it – but I shared a number of insights about the Millennials, including:

1 – The world in which they’re living. Millennials gravitate to urban cores for a variety of reasons related to lifestyle and employment. And those are expensive places to live. That means dedicated space for a layout is limited, or non-existent.

2 – The economic reality they face: For a variety of reasons related to cost of living and the changing nature of employment, it’s expected that the members of this generation will be the first who are financially worse off than their parents.

3 – The relevance – or, more to the point, irrelevance – of real railroads in their daily lives.

Those are challenges, but there are some positive things to be said, too. Specifically, there’s a group of Millennials – call them The Makers – who love to build things. They are the future of our hobby.

4 – The Makers are building battle bots, steampunk accessories, LEGO machines, and more. They speak Arduino and Raspberry Pi. They’re comfortable with designing on computer, to run a machine (such as a 3D Printer) that does the construction. They develop apps to integrate their smart phones with their devices. And so on. Our challenge is not “How do we get young people to build things?” but “How do we identify those who do – and convince them to give our hobby a try?”

5 – Our hobby embodies many characteristics that appeal to Millennial Makers – including the collaborative nature of the “operations” game that we play, in which there are no winners or losers.

6 – I’ve run into many examples in our hobby where our interests, and those of The Makers – overlap. So we’re not as far apart as we think.

However, to engage with The Millenial Makers, we have to take a different approach. For them, trains are not the gateway into our hobby. I believe we need to back them into becoming railway modellers by emphasizing those things that appeal to the Millennial Makers – such as electronics, interactivity, collaborative work, and social media. For example:

7 – If a Millennial is doing something with servos and controllers, ask them how they would tackle a semaphore signalling system or train order boards.
8 – If they’re doing something with RFID, ask how they’d apply it to tracking freight cars on a layout.

9 – If they’re creating designs for a 3D Printer, ask how they would replicate a diesel control stand, in miniature, to hold the electronics found in a DCC throttle.
10 – If they’re interested in APP development, ask how they would create an APP to turn a smart watch into a fast clock.

And yes, these are ideas that are already being tackled by hobbyists, but so what? These are the places where our hobbies meet. Let’s take advantage of that. And let’s recognize that there are many ways to approach a problem – a fresh, non-hobby set of eyes may be just what we need.

That said, reaching Millennial Makers will require changes to how many of us do things in the hobby. For example:

11 – We can’t do this if we’re preaching to younger people, because that will just drive them away. To encourage more people to join our hobby, we need to do more listening – to find out what fires a person’s interests, and then relate that to what we do. We enjoy a hobby unlike any other in terms of the depth and breadth of what can be done in it. No matter what a person says they’re interested in, I am confident we can find examples in our hobby to which they can relate. But we have to know what they like, first – and I’m as guilty of that as anyone else.

12 – We also can’t engage Millennial Makers – or anybody else for that matter – if our only public presence is the Train Show. That’s because at train shows, we’re mostly talking to ourselves. Say the words “Train Show” and an image comes to mind that, frankly, many people outside of the hobby would not consider interesting. To reach Millennial Makers, I think we need to do more to take our hobby to where they are – to events such as Maker Faires, and meetings at Maker Spaces. (If you’re not sure what those are, Google them.) And we need to do more to put our efforts online where younger, connected people can find them. Starting a blog is a good example of how we can do that, and in a previous post I’ve offered some thoughts on doing that, as well as some reasons why your hobby might benefit from one.

I hope I left the banquet attendees – about 80 people, I’m told – with some useful information and some ideas for further discussions. If you were in the room, thanks for letting me speak – and do share your thoughts on this via the comments section on this post (or start your own blog!), because it would be great to hear from you.

Unfortunately, other commitments prevented me from attending anything beyond the banquet portion of the convention. But I did get to take a quick spin through the convention’s contest room and model display area. The photos below show off some of the creative and accomplished work on display:

Algonquin Turn - Display

Algonquin Turn - Display

Algonquin Turn - Display

Algonquin Turn - Display

Algonquin Turn - Display

I also treated myself to a nice room overnight – at the Chateau Laurier. This is one of Canada’s legendary “Railway Hotels”. Originally owned by Canadian Pacific, they are located in major cities, near the station (or, as is the case in Ottawa, where the station used to be). I always enjoy the rooms and the lobbies, which are from a different era. And the Sunday morning brunch was a terrific way to start my journey home.

Chateau Laurier
(The view from my room of the interior of the U-shaped hotel)

Chateau Laurier Mailbox
(Mailbox in the lobby)

Chateau Laurier Mail Chute
(Mail chute in the elevator lobby)

Chateau Laurier Mail Chute
(Close up of the mail chute)

*On a technical note, I had a moment of panic when my PowerPoint presentation refused to launch on the NMRA’s laptop. In the end, I gave my speech without the support of pretty pictures. Fortunately, I was delivering a philosophical talk – a subject that does not rely upon visuals.

I had joked with a couple of friends before dinner about how PowerPoint presentations can be deadly dull and that instead of subjecting everyone to a slide show, I was going to describe my layout via an Interpretive Dance. Little did I know it almost came to that…

Dancing without a script

When the CNR built “Iron Man”

CNR D1 Shell on Frame
(It sure looks like Tony Stark in a suit, doesn’t it? Not a beautiful example of streamlined self-propelled railway equipment…)

The CNR D-1 project is coming together nicely. My friend Stephen Gardiner did a terrific job of resizing his HO scale 3D print files for the body and roof to S scale, and the print I ordered arrived late last month from Shapeways. Last week, I visited my friend Ryan Mendell, who cut the brass frame for me, and we modified the frame to make it fit into the body:

CNR D1 Shell on Frame - V2

Thanks, guys!

My next step will be to wash the shell, then apply a coat of primer. I’m finding that the translucent material in which it’s printed is almost impossible to see properly, because of how light passes through it and reflects about. I certainly can’t do any work on detailing the shell until I can see the thing. A coat of primer will – I hope – smooth the already mostly-smooth finish on the print. If not, it will show me where I have to sand.

Based on the success of this print, Stephen has released – and I have ordered – the S scale prints for D-1’s two trailers. Those should arrive by the end of the month. Stay tuned…