Dinner Train with Robinson and Ilana, and Bernard and Holly

Train M238 - St. Williams west
CNR M238 emerges from the Lynn Valley as it rolls eastbound into St. Williams

Last night, Mairi and I hosted a dinner party for a couple of couples. An old friend from university, Robinson Kelly and his girlfriend Ilana curious to see my model railway – and because we thought they would make a great addition to the evening, we invited fellow railway modelling enthusiast Bernard Hellen and his wife Holly to join us.

Robinson is not a member of our fine hobby – but he really enjoyed his introduction to it and jumped at the offer to come over sometime to experience an operating session. I will have to think about how to introduce that to someone who is brand new to the hobby, especially since I have developed a lot of operations procedures, materials, paperwork etc. I don’t want to scare him off! Robinson would be an ideal addition to our hobby: He’s smart, curious about the world around him, and has the time and the resources to consider building a layout. We’ll see. I’m not going to push him, though: He’s more than welcome to enjoy the hobby through me and the Simcoe Sub to Port Rowan.

As I noted, Bernard is a fellow hobbyist. He models the Québec Gatineau – a modern G&W-owned short line running between Montréal and Québec City – in HO scale. Bernard’s layout is not as far along as mine, although he has started some scenery and the work he’s done is excellent. I think he enjoyed showing my layout to Holly – it was her first visit – because it gave her an example of what he’s planning to achieve. Holly and Ilana both enjoyed the tour.

Bernard lives relatively close by (at least in Toronto terms): I can walk a half block south of my house, hop on a streetcar, and be in his layout room with no transfers in about 20 minutes. In addition the interest in trains that Bernard and I share, the four of us get along really well – so we need to see more of each other. A lot more.

We had an amazing evening – so amazing, I forgot to take photos while giving the tour. (Thanks to Bernard for sharing the image that leads off this post.)

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I don’t build layouts for the trains: I build them for the friendships they foster. As a “social lubricant”, Port Rowan was a huge success last night and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of these friends!

Ops and dinner with Stephen

Cornfield meet: Oct 2019 Ops

Recently, at a gathering chez Harbord House of like-minded modellers, I lamented that I don’t get enough opportunities to operate my layout. More on that in a moment – but my friend Stephen Gardiner, who was part of the group, said, “Let’s pick a date and do it!”

So we did – yesterday. I prepped the layout in the morning and when Stephen arrived after work we were ready to go.

The first order of the day was to run a short work extra eastbound out of Port Rowan. This was hauled by CNR 1 – a 44-Tonner. I have equipped this model with a decoder and electronic flywheel, but it did experience a few pick-up problems regardless. I will have to look into that. Fortunately, it was not the main event and soon cleared the line.

Extra 1 East met Extra 80 West at St. Williams. Extra 80 West was the day’s local freight, with cars for St. Williams and Port Rowan. With the exception of a few missed couplings – caused by not having the knuckles properly aligned – the session proceeded flawlessly. It’s a testament to the beautiful locomotives designed and built by my friend Simon Parent, as well as to the power of rubbing the rails with a graphite stick.

Stephen took on the dual role of conductor/brakeman, planning our moves, tracking the paperwork and operating the track switches. I perched in the engineer’s seat. The session lasted just over an hour, by which time we were ready to head for Harbord House for pints and a meal.

Stephen at St. Williams
(Stephen collects the waybills for cars in St. Williams from the bill box, which represents the station. He’ll then use the desk behind him to plan our moves in this small community)

Trevor at Lynn Valley
(Stephen caught me as I ran our train through the Lynn Valley and past the water tank. I look pensive. I’m probably not…)

Mocean at Port Rowan
(Mocean – one of my three border collies – keeps us company during the session. It’s not an ops session in my layout room without a dog under foot!)

Stephen at Port Rowan
(We’ve recently arrived in Port Rowan, and Stephen is planing our moves at the slide out desk opposite the not-yet-built station)

As I said off the top, I don’t get that many opportunities to run the layout. Of course, I could run it by myself – and for the first few years, I did that – a lot. It is well-suited for one-person operations. But once one has mastered the operating scheme, it becomes fairly repetitive. Any layout will do that – but it’s especially true of a layout designed for solo ops.

But that’s okay, because I don’t build layouts for the trains – I build them for the friendships. I enjoy the relaxed ops sessions that my layout enables, because it gives my friends and I breathing space to talk – about the hobby, about other things going on in our lives, and so on.

From a purely practical perspective, I’m grateful that the layout performs as well as it does, given the infrequency with which it gets operated. The layout’s simplicity sure helps here – with a minimal number of switches and no other fancy track work or wiring, there’s relatively little on it to go wrong. And the aforementioned graphite stick is really the bees knees for track conductivity. It’s been more than six years since I so treated the rails and I have yet to clean the track, other than after I’ve worked on something messy in the area.

It was great to run a train or two – and the session reminded me of many of the things I like about the layout – from its relaxed pace of operations to the scenery:track ratio I’ve achieved, which really places the trains in the scene instead of overwhelming it. That’s such a compelling argument for me.

The answer, for me, is not to run the layout more often – but to make opportunities to run it more often because I’m hosting one or two of my friends in the hobby. I’ll work on that.