Five years of blogging

Five years ago today, I started this blog. Wow – five years.

While I’d like to thank everybody who reads regularly, I’d especially like to thank those who have been following from the very beginning, and those who have been sharing my blog with others – through adding a link to their own blog, by referring to my blog when posting to newsgroups, and so on.

I’m still enjoying writing this blog – and would do so even if I had no readers. But it’s nice to know others are getting something from my work, too.


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Canadian National Santa Fe

No, that’s not a new, merged railway à la BNSF. Rather, it’s CNR 4204 – a T-3-a 2-10-2 (Santa Fe type) beast of a locomotive:

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While visiting Exporail with the S Scale Workshop this past weekend, I was able to collect CNR 4204, built for me by my friend Simon Parent. Simon truly is one of the top builders in our hobby, in any scale. His work is impeccable.

I did not buy this to run on the Port Rowan layout. Such a locomotive would’ve collapsed the bridge at Caledonia and busted all the rails in the two towns I model. For the time being, this one is primarily for running on the S Scale Workshop modular layout.

That said, I’ll want to be able to test it on my own layout from time to time. Even though it won’t fit on the turntable at Port Rowan, it will need to turn a wheel now and then to keep it in good working order.

I was pleased that Simon designed this massive machine to negotiate a 40″ radius, even if it looks a bit pinched in the process. Here it is on the 42″ radius leading into Port Rowan:

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And just how big is a T-3-a? Well, it hulks over a Mogul:

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CNR 2-10-2s were used in the Toronto area to help shove eastbound trains up the Don Valley. But the trains on the line I model also needed help – not 2-10-2s, but 2-8-2s – to scale the Niagara Escarpment as they headed south (railway west) out of Hamilton. Those helpers would be cut in behind the road power, as suggested in the above photos. I guess in this case, the crews forgot to cut out the helper at Glanford and just got lucky with the bridge…

Thanks, Simon: Great work as always!

S Scale Workshop – Exporail 2016 is in the books

I joined several of my friends in the S Scale Workshop this past weekend, to exhibit our free-mo style modular layout at Exporail – Canada’s national railway museum.
I’ve added a full report – with lots of photos – to the S Scale Workshop blog. Click on either photo, below, to visit that blog and read the report. Enjoy if you visit!

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(Fredrick Adlhoch runs a double-headed coal drag across “Division Street” – one of two modules I built for The Roadshow on TrainMasters TV. To his right, Andy Malette is preparing to leave the junction after meeting Fredrick’s train.)

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(This is what two scratch-built CNR T-3-a 2-10-2s look like in S scale. Locomotives by Simon Parent. The one in the front is now wondering how it ended up in Port Rowan. But that’s a story for another post…)

Turning the Tonner

Just because you don’t have to, doesn’t mean you can’t…

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CNR Number 1 – a GE 44-Tonner – takes a spin on the Port Rowan turntable. While the 44-Tonner is a centre-cab unit, the diesel does have a front and a rear. On long runs, the engineer prefers to have the control stand in front of him: It’s more comfortable. So the trip back to Hamilton warrants a trip to the turntable.

Ops with Bernard and Greg

My friend Greg Stubbings was in town this week from the Ottawa area and we got together last night for dinner and an operations session. I thought it would be great to add a third person to the evening, so I invited my friend Bernard Hellen to join us. We had a great time.

I’ve known Greg since the mid-1990s, but it has been well over two years since his last visit. He and I always have a lot to talk about – from the CNR in the steam era (he models Lindsay, Ontario in the late 1950s) to working border collies on sheep (Greg is a fellow border collie owner – with two, who until recently worked a couple hundred Rideau Arcott on his farm) to our mutual friends in the Ottawa area.

By contrast, I met Bernard at this year’s Copetown Train Show and it was his first visit to the layout. (I’ve yet to see Bernard’s layout, based on the Quebec Gatineau Railway – but he and I are planning a reciprocal visit.) Naturally, this called for an ops session. I threw Bernard into the deep end, making him conductor on a freight extra behind CNR 1532, while Greg commanded the engineer’s seat.

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It was a fairly busy day for the Simcoe Sub, with a four-car train (plus the van) in each direction. Our session ran a solid two hours, with pauses to discuss various aspects of the layout and the operations, plus interruptions from at least two of our three dogs.

(Fortunately, all three of us are dog fans. As I mentioned, Greg has two border collies, while Bernard has had many dogs in his lifetime and currently shares his walks and snacks with a high-energy field spaniel.)

The ops session went smoothly, and the layout performed well. I always like when that happens, because it allows everybody to simply enjoy running the trains.

Just as on a real railway, when things are going well the conversation flows freely and we covered a wide range of subjects. These included updates on layout projects, philosophy towards layout design and construction, the challenges of prototype modelling and porto-freelanced modelling, and ways in which a layout operating experience can be enhanced beyond the trains.

One of my favourites is the ability of environmental audio to set the scene for operators. Everybody who has experienced this has remarked on how effective it is. The ambient audio system I use provides a very simple background soundtrack of bird songs, with the occasional insect buzz thrown in for good measure. It’s the sound one would hear while standing in a southern Ontario meadow in the summertime.

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The audio tends to fade out of consciousness once one is running a train. It’s there the way that bird song is there when one is outside. We filter it out of our perceptions automatically and only hear it if we’re listening for it. And yet, if we went outside on a summer’s day and the birds were not singing, we’d definitely notice that.

We gathered at my place around 6:00 pm so before our ops session, the three of us (plus my wife) made the short walk up the street to Harbord House for dinner and pints.

I have to say I love having a gastropub just five minutes away – and I love combining ops sessions with the more relaxed atmosphere of sharing a meal with friends. Unlike many hobbies that are either solo pursuits or involve competing against other enthusiasts, our hobby is at its best when friends get together. Model railroading is a very social way to spend a few hours with friends, and pausing for a meal and a drink together just makes it that much better.

Greg: Thanks for getting in touch. It was great to see you! Any time you’re in town…

Bernard: I know the invite came at the last minute and I’m so glad you were able to join us. I’m looking forward to more ops sessions and meals together!

What a wonderful surprise!

I had no idea I was even in the running…

… but my friends in the S Scale Workshop emailed me this evening from the National Association of S Gaugers (NASG) annual convention in Novi, Michigan with news that I’ve received the 2016 Josh Seltzer Award for my Port Rowan ramblings:

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(That’s a smiling Andy Malette holding the award: LLAP, Andy!)

What a wonderful surprise!

I’m not sure who to thank – the award is based on nominations form NASG members and selected by the Board of Trustees. So I’ll start by thanking the NASG Board, and the person or persons who nominated this site. Also, all of you who have shared information and ideas through the comments on my posts – the blog, and my layout, are better because of your contributions.


Workshop: Studio lighting rig

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(I’ve installed four light bars on the ceiling, from which I can mount my Fiilex P360 photo/video lights using a KUPO Max Arm and KUPO Convi Clamp, as shown here. I have three of these so I can do proper “key, fill, and back lighting”, although I’ve only mounted one for the purpose of illustrating this post. With lights up out of the way, the workshop doubles as a studio for photography and video work. And yes: I have a plan to eliminate the dangling cord…)

Good lighting is essential to good work. It’s equally important for shooting images and video. So from the start, I planned that my workshop would also be suitable as a photo studio and as a set for shooting “how-to” video segments. (In particular, I’d like to expand what I can do for Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV.)

That would require light – lots of it. As well, I wanted to eliminate cords and light stands from the work space as much as possible, because they’re a) tripping hazards, b) always in the way, and c) ugly.

The solution was to add a lighting rig suspended from the ceiling. My workshop already has a bulkhead running up the middle of it, containing ductwork, so I was able to tuck my rig into the shadow of this bulkhead so it wouldn’t also become a scalp-gouging system. (I think of this as turning a short-coming of the space into an advantage…)

Barry suggested using pipe hangers, brackets, and 3/8″ threaded rod. This was a great idea, as they were easy to install and I could use a hack saw to easily cut the rod to the ideal length for my application (in this case, 5.25 inches).

Rather than use pipe for the rig, which would be heavy and hard to cut, I investigated whether I could use dowels. My local DIY store stocked 1.25″ (o.d.) hardwood dowels in 48″ lengths (otherwise known as the “inch an’ a quatah quatah-staff”). These fit quite nicely into split-ring brackets designed for 1″ (i.d.) pipe. I decided to use four rods in my lighting rig – two on each side of the bulkhead:

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(The lighting rig on the front (south) side of the workshop)

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(The lighting rig on the back (north) side of the workshop. The rig was hung to easily clear the 24-outlet power strip mounted on the bulkhead.)

The one issue I had to solve was how to keep the dowels from spinning inside the pipe brackets. The dowels are a loose fit, but if they spun in the brackets I would not be able to hang lights properly on the rig. I decided I could use the threaded rod to keep the dowels from spinning. I would install the pipe brackets so that about 0.75″ of the threaded rod protruded through the inside of the ring that holds the dowel, and would drill pocket in each dowel to accept this.

For this to work, I needed to locate two holes in line with each other, one at each end of the dowel, and they needed to run straight through the centre of the dowel. Some Google-Fu turned up instructions for doing this.

I started by clamping a dowel to my work surface, such that both ends were on the surface. (Only one end is shown in the image below.) I then placed a scrap board against the dowel and drew a line where the board and dowel met. Then, without disturbing the dowel, I moved the board to the other end and marked it as well.

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Since the two lines are exactly the same distance off the work surface, they’re also in line with each other. I then measured in five inches from each end and marked my lines to indicate where I needed to drill my rod pockets.

Before drilling, I had to make sure the lines I’d marked were at the very top of the dowel, so that the hole would go straight to the centre of the dowel. So, I used a centre-finding head on my combination square and a striking knife (more accurate than a pencil) to mark each end of the dowel. I then highlighted the mark with a pencil:

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These marks would help when setting up the drill press:

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I lined up the first hole by eye, using a block of wood that I knew to be square against the end of the dowel, to check that the line I struck was vertical. When I was happy with the position of the dowel, I clamped a scrap of board to the table as a fence. It’s tight against the dowel (to the left of the bit in the above image). I then used a hold-down clamp on the dowel itself (to the right of the bit). I held the dowel securely against the alignment board and set the depth stop so I would only penetrate the dowel by 0.75″. Once the fence was set up, drilling the eight holes required went very quickly.

Since I was using 3/8″ threaded rod, I drilled with a 7/16″ bit for a loose fit.

With this done, I could turn to hanging the rig. Since I was going into a drywall ceiling, I decided to use butterfly bolts in the ceiling hangers:

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I marked and installed all the ceiling hangers, then threaded the rods into them with a smear of breakable Loktite on the threads. I then spun the top half of the split ring bracket onto each threaded rod and introduced the dowel. The projecting rod inside the ring keeps the dowel from spinning, as planned. At this point, I used a small level and spun the split rings up and down the rod until the dowel was level. Finally, I installed the bottom half of the split ring bracket.

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Short articulated arms with clamp heads make mounting lights quick, easy and secure. For extra protection, I can add chains to the lights, locked to the rig. I’ll have to add a bracket near each rig, against the bulkhead, to hold the power brick for each of my Fiilex lights and come up with a cable management system to allow me to plug everything into the power strip.

The good news is that in addition to holding my studio lighting, I can also use a carabiner to hang my Flex-Shaft motor tool on the rig when using it at the bench. I’m sure I’ll come up with many other uses for this rig as I start using the workshop.

(Thanks, Barry, for helping me design this rig!)

Workshop in the workshop

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I’m still setting up my new workshop, but I’ve already had a chance to put it to good use as I prep my S Scale Workshop modules for an upcoming appearance. I thought I’d share this photo because it illustrates how I plan to work in the new space.

The central work table – a Festool MFT-3 – is at a good height for working, and allows me to get around all four sides of a larger project like this. For now, I’ve covered the MFT-3 in cardboard to protect the surface from glue – but I’m planning to build a proper, removable cover.

Meantime, the cabinets at the back provide a handy place to hold all the tools and materials I need. In this case, I’m punching up the scenery on my Workshop modules so I have my static grass applicator, static grass and other tools and materials laid out.

This is also a good opportunity to remind you that I’ll be joining my friends in the S Scale Workshop at Exporail: The Canadian Railway Museum on August 20-21 for the museum’s annual celebration of model trains. The Workshop exhibited at the museum for the first time last year, and it was very well received.

Click on the image, below, to see photos and videos from last year’s exhibit, and I hope to see some of you at Exporail in a couple of weeks!

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The red hook

When I use my Flex-Shaft Tool (a sort of Dremel Tool on steroids), I’ll hang it over my work table and plug it into the conveniently located overhead power strip. But most of the time, it would simply be in the way there.

I wanted a place to store the Flex Shaft when not in use. It would have to be handy, and the storage would also have to let the shaft remain straight. It’s been lying on the counter in my workshop for the past week or so, taking up a lot of space – so I had to deal with this, pronto.

I solved the storage problem by mounting a hook in the ceiling near the right-hand end of the workshop cabinets:

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The hook is sold for hanging bicycles. I picked up one at the local hardware store. I like that the hook is coated in rubber.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing solid in the drywall ceiling at this location, so I had to make up a mounting block from some pine board – left over from building the test track shelf. Some drywall plugs and four screws will make sure it doesn’t come out of the ceiling. Next time I have the paint out, I’ll apply a coat to the mounting block and it should all but disappear.