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.
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.
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!