From Maine On2 to Port Rowan in 1:64

This morning, I received an email from a reader who had discovered some of my On2 work online and had some questions. He wrote:

I just watched a video of your old On2 layout and loved the models, scenery, and music. It is rare for me to sit through many model rail vids but you got me. Thanks.

My pleasure! I’m glad you enjoyed the video. For those who haven’t seen it, I’m pretty sure this is the one to which he refers:


(You can also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

The reader continued…

As much as I like your S scale layout it makes me wonder a couple of things like, “How long have your been building layouts?” and, “Why the switch?”

I’ve written about how I got started in 1:64 in a series of posts at the very beginning of this blog. The links have been gathered into the “First Time Here?” page and if you haven’t read them, that’s a good place to start. Go ahead – I’ll wait here…

 photo Me-BigBigTrain_zpshrxpkmtw.jpg
(The railway’s General Manager, surveying the line…)

To answer the first question, I’ve been building layouts off and on – mostly on – for 40 years. I started young, and then had the usual break for part of high school before coming back to the hobby in university. At a guess, I’ve built about a dozen layouts over that time, to various states of completion. The early ones were horribly conceived and executed – a product of ambition over understanding – but they were valuable learning exercises and I don’t regret undertaking them.

In my current home, I’ve built four layouts based on three prototypes/themes:

– An HO scale layout based on the Boston & Maine Railroad’s Claremont branch in New Hampshire. I described that layout in the March and April, 2002 issues of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.

– Two iterations of a freelanced Maine two-footer layout in On2 (not On30), inspired by the slate-hauling Monson Railroad. I built the first, smaller version in the space now occupied by my workshop. The second version is the one shown in the video above. It was in the space currently occupied by my Port Rowan layout and was to incorporate the slate mill from the first layout, but I abandoned that project before the mainline reached the quarries.

– The current, S scale layout featuring the last three miles of the CNR Simcoe Sub to Port Rowan.

In addition to these, I have explored a few other ideas for my layout space. Some were merely planning exercises, while others were themes I wanted to build but abandoned when I decided I didn’t like the layouts I designed for my space. (The problem of, “If I only had five more feet…”)

The answer to the second question is more complex. Part of the answer is in those first posts about Port Rowan in 1:64.

Primarily, I found that living in southern Ontario it was pretty lonely to model a Maine two-footer. A few of my hobby friends in the area understood what I was doing – but it was just too foreign for most. My hobby is primarily a social one, and I got tired of having a layout that was difficult for others to appreciate. That’s not their problem – they simply didn’t have the reference.

Coupled with this, and equally important, is that because few people in my region knew about the Maine two-footers, I had very few local sources of information about any aspect of them. I couldn’t draw on local knowledge for very much. By switching to the CNR, my local support group got a whole lot better – for everything from equipment to operations. I was spending more and more time with terrific, fun modellers who knew a lot about Canadian railways running in southern Ontario – and nothing about Maine two-footers. Why is that important? Well, working on a layout to which others can relate is important if you’re in the hobby for the social aspects of it.

It’s also important if you want to build skills.

For example, I’m learning to modify brass locomotives with the CNR 3737 project. This is happening because another hobbyist in the area, who knows a lot about doing this kind of thing, also has a brass 2-8-2 to modify into a CNR prototype. Nobody I know in the Toronto area is doing a major modification on a brass SR&RL Forney to convert it to a Monson Railroad prototype. So, if I was still working in On2, I would be figuring that out by myself. I could do that, I’m sure – but the work sessions on the CNR 2-8-2s have become a great social event for me, too.

In the same way that the best advice to anybody considering their first DCC system is, “Buy what your friends use, because you’re going to need help and no feature on any system beats the benefit of local knowledge”, I’ve benefitted enormously from local hobbyists now that we’re moving in the same circles.

With the Maine two-footers, my local knowledge was at least 12 hours away by highway, and across an international border. (And, it has to be said, that border has only gotten more onerous to cross in the years since I modelled the Maine two-footers.) That meant my research trips were expensive, in terms of time and money. They involved at least two days on the road, plus at least two nights in a hotel. So I could only do occasional trips. It’s hard to find the answers to questions when that much travel is involved. Yes, the Internet is wonderful, but there’s nothing like going and seeing for oneself to really get an understanding.

By contrast, Port Rowan is two to three hours away, depending on traffic. I can make a day trip, any time I like.

 photo PtRowan-Yard-Proto-01_zps6dqambz8.jpg
(I can even take along my wife and dogs, and make an outing of it.)

It’s much easier to be inspired when I can walk the Lynn Valley hiking trail to see the bridges, or visit with the person who ran the feed mill in Port Rowan – and do the round trip in a day.

As well, I’ve pursued both prototype and proto-freelance modelling, and I definitely prefer the prototype approach. Railway Prototype Modelling meets are among my favourite hobby events, and I never felt comfortable displaying my On2 models at them – even though they were prototype models in everything but the lettering. (And I can tell you, my displays got blank stares at RPMs in the Toronto area.) Again, it’s about how one engages with the hobby. I like Port Rowan in 1:64 because my local community can relate to the prototype, even if they’re more used to seeing the CNR modelled in HO. The difference in scale is a conversation starter – not a killer.

There are more reasons, but those are the main ones.

To the person who got in touch – those were great questions. Thanks for asking!

4 thoughts on “From Maine On2 to Port Rowan in 1:64

  1. I bet part of the attraction to that video was the music! Most unusual to hear with model railroading.
    The branch consist of mixed trains is really addictive – I guess that is why I am modelling what is close to me – the Walkerton Sub – only a half hour away!

  2. Very lovely nice running railroad. Quite a treat to see, love your choice in music for the video. Thank you for a bit of the looking glass into your history and thinking about your love of railroad modeling and explorations. I can relate to being in a group/circle of friends with the same or similar interest. (Western Maryland Rwy.) Nothing beats being able to to have “hands on” face to face transfer of knowledge from one to another. Also having a relationship, common interest in a similar modeling aspect. An example of that is one prototype I’ve though of doing is the Punk Nasty and Rotten Railroad. Blank stairs are garnered at the mention of it. So few know of it and it becomes what I refer to as “Hermit” modeling. I have learned a lot from your contributions to this hobby. Thank you for your sharing of and insights into this great hobby of model railroading.

    Leonard Lee Davis

  3. Thank you for revisiting the subject of your progression through prototypes. I find it interesting to learn about how one modeler’s feeds subsequent efforts. Do you find you see or feel much evidence of previous layouts in today’s Port Rowan?

    Such close proximity to your prototype would be useful in strengthening your bond with your prototype. Research is easier but being so close you can more easily spend more time visiting Port Rowan and strengthening your personal relationship with the place.

    I completely agree regarding the importance of having a common language or theme as an agent for participating in the local model train crowd. It would feel nice to have a prototype, scale, etc. that feels relatable. There’s a language borne of these elements and I can see how CN in Ontario is easier to relate than slate from Maine.

    I wanted to ask: do you find that sometimes your prototype is too close to home? That the closer the prototype is the more “experts” there are readily available to offer insights and corrections to your work – if the prototype itself was is so well known it leaves little room for interpretation. Again, not digging for something and I don’t believe it’s an issue. Just a thought I had wanted to mention while I had this open anyway.

    Cheers

    Chris

    • Chris, there is always an expert wherever you are!
      Having modeled both German and US railroads (but living in the UK), I can vouch for that.
      However, it can be a natural thing to do, it just needs to be put over as helping and not criticizing! Easier said than done for many model railroaders social skills….

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