My friend, Bill Kerr

Bill Kerr

That’s him, laughing at his birthday party a couple of years ago. And it’s how I remember Bill Kerr – a fellow hobbyist, Maine two-foot enthusiast and talented scenery modeller who passed away Sunday after a long battle with cancer.

Bill lived in Calgary and I’m in Toronto, so there were a couple thousand miles of Canada between us. But we exchanged thousands of emails over the past decade, and did have the opportunity to meet each other a few times when business or family brought him east. Bill and I – along with Terry Smith, another modeller of Maine two-footers in On2 – co-moderated the MaineOn2 Yahoo Group for a number of years, and ran a separate group called Two Foot Projects (no longer active) to lead online classes in building freight cars, water cranes, and other Maine two-foot essentials.

Bill was also the driving force behind the Maine Two-Foot FAQ – a tremendous resource for those trying to model these unique narrow gauge lines. This was originally hosted on his own web site but in recent months Terry, Matt Mathews and I had been working with Bill to transfer his data to a blog format.

Visits from Bill were always a treat because he had a wonderful talent for scenery, and my layouts – On2 and now S – always benefitted from his discerning eye and constructive suggestions. It was from Bill that I learned the lesson that convincing scenery needs space to breathe. For example, if you’re planting a field, make it a big one. And embrace negative space between vignettes.

I put Bill in league with UK modeller Gordon Gravett for building scenery that makes you say “WOW!” and, like Gordon, he was always generous with sharing his techniques. I’ll miss that – a lot.

Mostly, though, I’ll miss his positive attitude. Few hobbyists in the Maine two-foot community knew that he was fighting cancer. That’s because he preferred to focus on enjoying the time he had on this earth. Many people dealing with a life-threatening disease – or even a relatively minor setback – take every opportunity to moan about their condition. Not Bill. The last time I spoke with him he was still determined to beat the Big C. I will seriously miss his willingness to live – and will try to live my life that way in his honour.

I’ve included a few photos of Bill’s O scale, two-foot gauge Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes layout below. The scenery is, well, inspiring. At least, I think so. Enjoy.

I’ll miss you Bill – but I’m very glad I knew you.

Bill Kerr's SR&RL On2 layout.

Bill Kerr's SR&RL On2 layout.

Bill Kerr's SR&RL On2 layout.

Bill Kerr's SR&RL On2 layout.

UPDATE: July 19, 2013 – Here’s a link to Bill’s obituary at the Calgary Herald.

In recent years, Bill was also proprietor of Selkirk Scenery, which offered some of the best leaf material I’ve ever encountered. I understand from conversations with Bill before he died that arrangements were made to transfer the business (including tools and inventory) to another modeller. When I know more, I will share via this blog.

UPDATE (August 20, 2013):

Nigel Knight has taken over Bill’s scenery business. It’s now called Selkirk Leaf Company, and you can read more about it here.

12 thoughts on “My friend, Bill Kerr

  1. Bill and I corresponded several times — a real gentleman who will be missed. Losing too many friends and acquaintances these days — some a function of my age (66), others to disease. Either way it is sad.

  2. I feel lucky to have visited Bill in Calgary and experienced his scenery firsthand. I certainly “got” his vision of space and countryside – a beautiful thing. Very sorry to hear of his passing.

  3. Trevor,

    I will miss Bill. Never had a chance to meet him, but we had been talking via e-mail these past few months. Yes, his scenery talents rival Gordon’s for sure. I always loved the one beautifully made tree along the edge of the layout.


  4. Trevor
    It is sad to read of the loss of a fellow modeller and talented artist. He pioneered a scenery material that elevated the art of tree making to a higher level.

    Gene Deimling

  5. Very sorry to hear of the passing of your friend. His scenery efforts are inspirational, and I can clearly see his influence on Port Rowan.

    Mike Cougill

  6. Sorry to hear the loss of Bill. He was a superb modeler. One of the best for scenery. Bill had a chance to see my shop and some of my modeling work and machinery. He was thrilled to some of my brass casting. Never did find out if he ever had a chance to use them. I was hoping he would make it back to visit
    California. He will be missed.
    Doug MacLeod

  7. Our ranks are dwindling. Bill’s scenery is part of what got me to go for On2.
    This is a sad day.

    John Rogers

  8. Bill was a gracious and engaging host during my visit to Calgary for Supertrain 2012. He showed me and my friend Dean around several layouts while talking about scenery techniques & materials. His diorama entry for the exhibition, featuring fall colours, raised the visual bar for me.

    When Bill visited the Toronto area several years ago, I was treated to a hands-on tutorial for application of fine braches and leaf material to natural trunk armatures – he made it look so easy but I still have much practice ahead of me; a memorable evening.

  9. I only met Bill once, about a decade ago, but we immediately hit it off and maintained a long-distance friendship ever since. We were spending a few days with Bob and Sandy Schlechter when they still lived in California. That’s when we got to visit the shops of Doug MacLeod and Russ Simpson.
    Since we were both early risers, we would take walks each morning. During those walks Bill told me stories of growing up as an Air Force brat, and of his visits to my home area of Massachusetts when he worked for Motorola. He also taught me valuable lessons about computer security, at a time when few of us were aware of the threats. Bill was a truly decent guy, and he will be missed.

  10. It has been my pleasure to have known Bill for more than 10 years through our common interests of the Maine Two Footers and modelling them in On2. I joined the MaineOn2 Yahoo! Group and Bill was effectively the sole Moderator at that time. A few postings and some off-board offers of photographs for the FAQ’s developed into becoming a Moderator of the Yahoo! Group and a Trustee of the FAQ’s, among other things as noted by Trevor above.

    A few years back, when Bill decided to resign as a Moderator to concentrate on the Selkirk Scenery business, I wrote “I will certainly miss his wry and perceptive observations and good common sense as a fellow co-moderator.” An example of these was his use of the word “passionate” to describe a couple of group members whose actions caused some concerns amongst us Moderators. Trevor and I had been using far more colloquial and anatomical words up till then, but we could see that Bill’s euphemism was useful in creating a calmer and more productive atmosphere.

    For me, Bill’s most defining feature was his generosity, whether that was financial in supporting various group activities at his own cost (like hosting the FAQ sites), in spirit, such as coining the euphemism “passionate”, or simply helping others improve their modelling or knowledge.

    With Bill’s passing, the various groups have not only lost a fine modeller and Two Foot Enthusiast, but an even finer human being.

  11. Hello all,

    I tripped apon this site while searching for information about Selkirk Scenery Co. to see if it had been purchased and was going to resurected. Bill was a friend of mine and I feel he would want some of the things said here set straight.
    Firstly, Bill did not pioneer the Selkirk foliage material, I did. Bill purchased the company from me many years ago. It’s a shame that his illness prevented him from doing the company justice.

    Secondly the pictures above are not of his work but mostly of mine. They were taken on his On2 layout, to be sure, but most things on the layout were a group effort. we all had our specialties, mine was scenery. We all loved Bill, but I don’t think any of us would refer to him as “artistic”. He would joke about that himself.
    I hope this doesn’t come across as sour grapes. I’m merely correcting a few misconceptions. We miss Bill, and I hope Nigel does well with the Selkirk Line.

    Rick Reimer

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