A visit from Michel

This week, I had a special guest as my friend Michel Boucher visited for a couple of days.

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(Michel checks the track ahead as he runs a freight extra into Port Rowan)

Michel took the train down from Ottawa Monday morning. I met him at Union Station and we took the subway and streetcar back to my place. (As a train enthusiast, taking three modes of rail-based transport in one day is sure to put a smile on one’s face.) At home, we were met by Chris Abbott – and my wife joined the three of us as we headed to Bar Italia for lunch. This is a great spot for steak sandwiches and a robust red.

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(Chris and Michel plan their switching work at Port Rowan)

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(Michel tests a 10-wheeler as I explain some of the workings of the layout. Despite being a long-time hobbyist who takes great pains to build nice scenery, I’ve been caught here leaning on the layout. What was I thinking? At least it’s just the sector plate…)

After lunch, we returned home, where another friend, Pierre Oliver, joined us for an operating session. Chris and Michel teamed up on a freight extra, while Pierre ran the gas-electric on the mixed train’s schedule. The layout ran very well with no derailments, and it was fun to see the two crews co-ordinate their work in Port Rowan. That said, I had a couple of problems with two of my three Lenz throttles. (I’ve already started to address the issues, as I’ll elaborate in a separate post.)

Monday evening, Michel, Chris, Pierre and I headed to Harbord House, where I’d booked the upstairs for a gathering of fellow modellers. (I’ve written about these previously, and I timed Michel’s visit so he could attend one.) We had 27 people for dinner and it was another great evening of conversation and food.

Michel stayed over Monday night. On Tuesday, we headed to The Credit Valley Railroad Company for a bit of retail therapy. Chris lives in the area so he joined us, and I was pleased to meet Gord Ross at the shop. Gord has been reading and commenting on this blog for a while now, and it was wonderful to put a face to the name. I’m looking forward to getting together with Gord sometime soon.

Chris, Michel and I grabbed lunch near the store, then Michel and I headed home – and then back onto The Better Way to Union Station and Michel’s train home.

What an awesome couple of days. My laugh muscles are sore from having too much fun.

I met Michel in the 1990s when I lived in the Ottawa area, and we became fast friends. I attended regular operating sessions on his home layout. Initially, this was the Ontario Central Railway – a freelanced line connecting Picton and Marmora. Later on, an interest in the Delaware and Hudson Railroad prompted Michel to reconfigure the layout as the D&H Adirondack Branch from Saratoga Springs, through Corinth, Warrensburg, North Creek and Sanford Lake to the mins at Tahawus.

I learned a lot about layout operations at Michel’s sessions – including one of the most important lessons, which is that a layout has to run well when company comes. Michel takes great care to make sure this happens – and the result is an enjoyable operating session for everybody (including the host). Thanks for that lesson, Michel: It has definitely influenced my Port Rowan layout.

It was great to see Michel – and it’s been too long. I’m looking forward to visiting his place later this year.

13 thoughts on “A visit from Michel

  1. I appreciate seeing photos of people and the layout. They give me a greater sense of the size of things and the relationship of the layout to the room space. Sounds like everyone had a great time.


  2. My God man you realize the importance of a pub and a pint and you DO NOT have armrests along the entire edge of the layout?!?!?!



    • Hi Don:
      While you’re joking, I’ve certainly thought about it. The problem is, my main aisle (running between the sector plate and Port Rowan) is already pretty narrow. People must already turn sideways (to face the layout) to pass each other – which is fine, because they tend to be facing the layout anyway. Adding a leaning rail would make it really tight for two people to pass.
      In the wider aisle space through the Lynn Valley area, the fascia is mostly curved – and foot-tall wire-armature trees come right up to the front edge of the layout so there’s no worry about people leaning.

      • I should add that I have not had any problems – zero – with people leaning on the layout. Three dimensional scenery tends to do that – and the combination of static grass plus tall meadow plants comes across as very three dimensional even on “flat” areas of the layout, in contrast to ground foam, which is flat enough that people will put a hand on it. The only place people lean is on the flat base on which the sector plate rides – and I’m okay with that.

  3. Michel has lots of prototype expertise switching as for several years he was a conductor on the Hull, Chelsea, Wakefield, steam tourist railway, running over CP’s former Maniwaki Subdivision.

    • That’s right – and he put that experience to good use on my layout. (He was happy that I didn’t make him crawl under the layout to hook up full-size air hoses.)

      • Funny, I worked there as a fireman and all the time, he would be doing the signalling while I was between the cars hooking up the turnbuckle couplings and attaching the air hoses and related parephanelia. Something about not getting his uniform dirty!

  4. Fascinating to actually SEE your layout and with operators! But I was surprised at how low it is…somehow thought that it would be higher! Ian

    • Hi Ian:
      You’re not the first to wonder about the layout height. The railhead is 48″ above the floor, and the reason for that is detailed in this blog post.
      I haven’t generally posted photos of the layout in the room because it’s difficult to light and photograph properly: I’ve put the light on the layout, and left the aisles generally dark – like a museum exhibit.

  5. I certainly had a good time. No better way to spend a vacation day than to get trains, friends, and food involved. Great to finally meet Michel in person! His real-life experience has modified my way of thinking about certain train moves (I’ll probably still make mistakes, though).

    I see I’m taking up a lot of aisleway…

  6. Trevor
    I have been wondering for some time if you know of other modelers who are building their version of Port Rowan in S or another scale.

    Your simple concept that seems to yields a great deal of enjoyment has influenced many I suspect. My approach to designing and building a layout was changed as I started to follow your Blog.


    • Great question, Gene – thanks for asking.

      Before he passed on, my friend Richard Chrysler was building a version in HO as an exhibition layout. There’s a photo of him working on the layout in my blog post about his passing.

      Beyond that, I don’t know of anybody who is building Port Rowan – although a few readers have mentioned that they like the terminal and may adapt it for their own use. (Anybody doing this? Let me know: I’d love to see some of your work!)

      I do have friends in the S Scale Workshop who are building other portions of the Simcoe Subdivision. Jim Martin has built Port Dover – the other end of the subdivision. He used to bring it to exhibitions, but it’s now been retired from the show circuit and is used as the terminal on his home layout. Meantime, David Clubine is planning his S scale layout, which will feature Simcoe as its main yard. Simcoe is the junction for the two branches to Port Rowan and Port Dover (which together form the Simcoe Sub). I know that he plans to have both branches active, but I’m not sure if they will end up in staging or in one or two modelled terminals.


    • I managed to start Port Rowan in my previous home about 6 or 7 years ago in S. It was part of a very much under planned over ambitious layout. I got Port Rowan to the point of running, then we started to look for a farm to relocate our business and home, and it all came down.

      As Trevor says I have now started planning and early construction of Simcoe Ontario which with Trevor’s help, is much better planned than previous attempts at layouts. I plan to eventually include Port Rowan (and Port Dover) and have even saved the modules my original start was built on. I have yet to decide if I will use these or start fresh on Port Rowan. David Clubine

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