ProtoThrottle set-up

Proto Throttle - Port Rowan

I’m pleased to report that my ProtoThottle is up and running on my layout, and I’ve been enjoying using it to run CNR #1 – my GE 44-Tonner.

I’m also pleased to report that set-up went very smoothly and as advertised in the instructions. Well done, ProtoThrottle team!

I’m embarrassed to report that it took me three days to set up the throttle – which was entirely my fault. Here’s why:

I’ve been using wireless cabs for a while now, starting with the TouchCab application on my smart phone, which interfaced with my Lenz DCC system through a dedicated Apple Airport Express wireless router.

When I switched DCC systems to my ESU ECoS 50200, the unit came with its own WiFi Wireless Access Point to connect ESU’s Mobile Control II wireless throttles. These throttles are customized Android-powered tablet devices, so to connect one simply enters the ID and password for the WiFi network (which one sets in the ECoS 50200).

When interfacing the ProtoThrottle to an ESU system, one essentially treats it like a Mobile Control II. To enter the ID and password for the network, one edits a Text File housed on a micro SD card that slots into the ProtoThrottle’s receiver. So that’s what I did – and it failed to connect. I tried making several other adjustments to the ProtoThrottle, with no luck.

Stymied, I got in touch with Matt Herman at ESU. I know he had set up a ProtoThrottle to work with an ECoS system, so I asked if there was something I missed.

That’s when I realized I was using the ID and password for the old Apple Airport Express – NOT the ID and password for the ECoS 50200.

I edited the file, and the ProtoThrottle connected flawlessly. And I’ve updated my logbook of passwords for the layout.

Boy is my face red…

WiFi WiFi

The ProtoThrottle has landed

ProtoThrottle

One of the advantages of having a modest layout is I can afford to indulge in cool model railway products even if they don’t fit my primary modelling interests.

An example of this is the ProtoThrottle – a wireless DCC throttle designed to mimic the look and feel of a diesel control stand. Mine arrived this week and while Port Rowan is firmly set in the steam era, I do have a few CNR-liveried internal combustion engines on the roster – including a GE 44-tonner, an RS-18, and a self-propelled passenger car. All of these will be more fun to run with the ProtoThrottle. (In fact, I’ve been meaning to upgrade the decoder in my RS-18 for a while now – and this might just be the reason to get on with that project.)

Once I get mine set up on Port Rowan, I’ll share my thoughts on its performance via this blog. But I think the ProtoThottle is set to become a game-changer for diesel-equipped layouts running on DCC – and as I’ve written on my Achievable Layouts blog, it might even influence layout design choices for some modellers. You can read by by clicking on the ProtoThrottle, above, or by following this link.

Enjoy if you visit!

My friend Mike Cougill test-drove a ProtoThrottle at the RPM in St. Louis this month, and shares his thoughts on his blog. It’s definitely worth a visit:

ProtoThrottle: ProtoThinking

Meantime, a couple of my friends in my area have also acquired ProtoThrottles of their own – we bundled our orders to make it easier to ship to Canada, and I have now delivered the throttles to them. I expect they will blog about their new throttle too, and I’ll update this post with links to their blogs if they do.

“Cue the train…”

Joy W - Film Shoot
(Setting up for a scene – one of more than two dozen shot during a 13-hour day in my basement)

In 1968, artist Andy Warhol wrote in an exhibition programme, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Yesterday, I was fortunate to experience a bit of what that feels like, when my Port Rowan layout was used as a location for a short drama directed by Toronto filmmaker Joy Webster.

Joy checking storyboard
(Joy reviews her storyboard prior to shooting a scene)

Joy contacted me in April via this blog. She’d found my layout online and wrote (in part)…

I’ve been on the hunt for a model railroad setup in a residential home (ideally in a basement) to use as a location for a short film that I am directing this summer … I’d love to get in touch with you and chat about seeing more of your train room and work. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Well, that was pretty much all it took. We arranged a site visit, and she decided almost immediately that the layout worked for her story. (I won’t give away details now – but will update this post when the film is released.)

What’s more, Joy was very accommodating with a couple of important technical requirements on my part.

First, I would be the only person touching the trains or adjusting scenic elements on the layout – I’d be happy to move things about, but of course I know best how to pick them up.

Second, we arranged a meeting with her lighting person to find a lighting solution that would not generate any heat (because aiming traditional film lights at the layout would quickly melt things). In the end, the lighting person found some awesome LED lights that look like a fluorescent tube, but run off a self-contained battery pack, are dimmable, colour-tunable (not only through various colour temperatures of “white” such as indoor and daylight, but also through the full RGB spectrum), and controlled via Bluetooth and an app on a smart phone.

Layout lighting
(Setting up lights on the fascia to create the look of actors being illuminated by the layout lighting. It was very effective!)

Joy and her producer Lucas Ford appreciated the time, effort and money that I’ve invested in my hobby, and they were terrific about making sure I felt comfortable having a film crew of approximately 20 people in the layout room and workshop for the day. For my part, I was thrilled to be able to take part: I studied television in university and while many of the details differ between TV and film, there were enough similarities that I appreciated what was going on (and knew when to shut the heck up), even as it reminded me of what I’m missing as someone who abandoned a career in media and who now works largely by himself.

What’s more, it was an easy decision to welcome this film project in our home. Joy’s work is stunning: Two previous films “Game” (2017) and “In The Weeds” (2015) have garnered multiple film festival awards, and it’s easy to see why. I feel privileged to have worked with her.

Here are some more pictures from the shoot, with permission from Joy to share them:

Reviewing script.
(Joy and one of the actors discuss a scene in my workshop)

Actor and machine tools
(Framed by machine tools, an actor delivers her performance on the basement stairs)

Sound and makeup
(Capturing audio for a shoot on the basement stairs, while the makeup department takes a break in the kitchen)

Backyard
(The baggage wagon in the backyard was an ideal staging area for equipment. That’s Lucas checking his phone at left)

Monitor
(Joy and her crew in my workshop, watching on a monitor as a scene unfolds in the layout room next door. My comfortable workshop chairs were most welcome by the end of the day…)

Final scene
(The actors have been released and Joy’s cinematographer is shooting the final scene of the day. “Cue the train…”)

Thanks, Joy and Lucas, for inviting me to take part in your project. I loved every minute of it – everyone on set was fantastic, professional, and respectful of my work and our home. I look forward to seeing the film when it’s released!

Austin Eagle: Layout tours

My trip to Texas to take part in The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s annual convention – included a terrific self-guided tour of area layouts. On the Saturday, a bunch of us hopped into my rental vehicle (a Toyota 4Runner, which had plenty of space for a crew) and hit the highway.

A highlight for me was a visit to the Proto:48 layout being built by master craftsman Jim Zwernemann. I’ve written about this on my Achievable Layouts blog, and you can read that story by clicking on Jim’s GE 70-Tonner, below:

Jim Z - SP 70 Tonner

Another key stop on the layout tour, for me, was the HO scale Santa Fe layout built by noted designer David Barrow. Again, you can read more about that experience on my Achievable Layouts blog, by clicking on the image below:

Barrow - layout tour

In addition to these two layouts, we visited a nice HOn3 layout built by Ben Sargent. Ben’s Santa Fe & San Juan Railroad models the D&RGW’s narrow gauge Chili Line in New Mexico.

Ben Sargent

Ben Sargent
(I liked the false front stock pen – what a neat idea for a minimum-space model!)

Ben Sargent

Sargent Press
(Ben is a retired political cartoonist whose layout shares space with his speciality printing business, run with this 1905-era press. Ben’s press and his collection of type for it garnered as much interest at the layout did!)

We also visited the HO scale MKT Sedalia Division being built by Steve Nelson – covering the line between Franklin Missouri and Parsons, Kansas in the autumn of 1966. Steve is a modeller I can really relate to: he shows restraint in the composition of his scenes, but not trying to crowd too many ideas into a given space. Instead, he devotes proper space to each idea.

For example, note how much space is devoted to these harvest scenes – and how Steve has created vignettes in the fields:

Steve Nelson - Harvest

Steve Nelson - Harvest

Steve Nelson - Harvest

Steve Nelson - Harvest

I was also impressed by this large soybean processing operation. I didn’t realize how many different car types are required to process soybeans and ship various finished products – it’s almost as complex as a paper mill, and would make an excellent subject for a one-industry layout:

Steve Nelson - Soybeans

Steve Nelson - Soybeans

Finally, Steve had a simple but clever homemade device for laying out parallel track. It’s pretty self explanatory:

Steve Nelson - Parallel Track

Thanks to everyone who hosted layout tours. I really enjoyed seeing your work!

Austin Eagle: operating sessions

My trip to Texas to take part in The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s annual convention – included a really fun day of operating on local layouts – starting with a session on the HO scale Port of New York Railroad being built by Riley Triggs. You can read about Riley’s layout on my Achievable Layouts blog by clicking on the following image:

PoNY Herald

Later the same day, I took part in a large operating session on the HO scale D&RGW Moffat Route built by David Nicastro and his son, Sam Nicastro. Sam is a millennial who is already passionate about, and accomplished in, our hobby. He’s a modeller, a railfan, and a member of several groups including the Operations Special Interest Group. More than anything I can do, guys like Sam will help keep the hobby strong and viable in the future.

Their layout features a number of advanced electronics applications, including a dispatcher’s desk complete with virtual CTC machine linked into the DCC system and phone system. What’s most remarkable about this is it’s Internet-enabled, so the Nicastros can call upon a friend out of town (or anywhere in the world) to direct traffic during an operating session.

Nicastro DRGW - Dispatchers Office

David’s goal with this layout was to give one the feeling of running a train through the mountains, and he is certainly achieving that. I signed up to run a manifest freight as it would take me the length of the mainline – from terminal to terminal – and it took almost two hours to make the trip, with several pauses along the way to meet opposing trains.

DRGW

DRGW

DRGW - through the mountains

Moffat tunnel

Lift gate

While this is not the sort of layout I would build for myself, I really enjoyed running on it and would be happy to contribute to building and operating the Moffat Route if I lived in the area. Thanks, David and Sam – and your crew – for hosting us!

The Austin Eagle is in the books!

In mid-June, I spent four days in and around Austin, Texas to attend The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s annual convention. I had an amazing time! Everyone I met in the region was incredibly friendly and even though they knew each other much better than they knew me, they immediately made me feel right at home.

I packed a lot into the four days – including two operating sessions, a day of touring layouts, a clinic presentation, speaking at the Saturday night banquet, and a whole bunch of great food, craft beer and engaging conversation. It’s hard to know where to begin.

But I’ll start with the banquet. I was the guest speaker, and whenever I do one of these I’m cognizant that there’s a wide range of interests in the room. Speaking at the banquet is not the time to present a tour of your home layout, no matter how well known you are (and I’ve seen that done by some people in the hobby who are much better known than I am). That’s fodder for a clinic (and I did discuss my layout in my Friday morning time slot).

As with other such engagements – including the Algonquin Turn 2016 in Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and the Ontario Manifest (Ontario, California) last September – I used the keynote opportunity to share some thoughts about where the hobby is going, where we’ll find the next generation of serious hobbyists, and what we can do to foster them.

I have done many things in this hobby. I have worked in several scale/gauge combinations, attended conventions, operations weekends, RPM meets, narrow gauge gatherings, SIG events, train shows, exhibitions in which trains are displayed to the general public, and more. I’ve given speeches, written articles, produced and co-hosted a podcast, and been both a guest and a host on TrainMasters TV. And, of course, I’ve blogged.

While that reads a bit like a brag, I feel I need to mention it because as a result of this exposure, I’ve had brilliant conversations with many, many people about our hobby. That includes people who have been railway modelling enthusiasts for decades… those who have just started… and even those who have never heard of the hobby.

Man using Ear Trumpet

One thing that I’ve learned from all of those conversations is that for many of us in the hobby, this is more than a way to kill some time. It’s been a lifelong journey of friendships and learning. We love this hobby – and many of us wonder how we encourage more people to join us as railway modelling enthusiasts. In particular, we wonder how we’re going to reach young people.

I run into similar questions in my professional life as a speech writer. I’ve worked with many clients who are trying to connect their businesses – and the products and services they provide – with customers, and one demographic that everybody is trying to figure out is the Millennials. Broadly described, the Millennials are the cohort of young people born in the 1990s or later.

One of the biggest factors that sets Millennials apart from the rest of us is that this is a group that has never known a world in which the Internet did not exist. That has had a huge influence on how the Millennials think and act.

I won’t get into detail here – I had an hour for my speech, and I filled it – but I shared a number of insights about the Millennials, including:

1 – The world in which they’re living. Millennials gravitate to urban cores for a variety of reasons related to lifestyle and employment. And those are expensive places to live. That means dedicated space for a layout is limited, or non-existent.

2 – The economic reality they face: For a variety of reasons related to cost of living and the changing nature of employment, it’s expected that the members of this generation will be the first who are financially worse off than their parents.

3 – The relevance – or, more to the point, irrelevance – of real railroads in their daily lives.

Those are challenges, but there are some positive things to be said, too. Specifically, there’s a group of Millennials – call them The Makers – who love to build things. They are the future of our hobby.

4 – The Makers are building battle bots, steampunk accessories, LEGO machines, and more. They speak Arduino and Raspberry Pi. They’re comfortable with designing on computer, to run a machine (such as a 3D Printer) that does the construction. They develop apps to integrate their smart phones with their devices. And so on. Our challenge is not “How do we get young people to build things?” but “How do we identify those who do – and convince them to give our hobby a try?”

5 – Our hobby embodies many characteristics that appeal to Millennial Makers – including the collaborative nature of the “operations” game that we play, in which there are no winners or losers.

6 – I’ve run into many examples in our hobby where our interests and those of The Makers overlap. So we’re not as far apart as we think.

However, to engage with The Millenial Makers, we have to take a different approach. For them, trains are not the gateway into our hobby. I believe we need to back them into becoming railway modellers by emphasizing those things that appeal to the Millennial Makers – such as electronics, interactivity, collaborative work, and social media. For example:

7 – If a Millennial is doing something with servos and controllers, ask them how they would tackle a semaphore signalling system or train order boards.
 
8 – If they’re doing something with RFID, ask how they’d apply it to tracking freight cars on a layout.

9 – If they’re creating designs for a 3D Printer, ask how they would replicate a diesel control stand, in miniature, to hold the electronics found in a DCC throttle.
 
10 – If they’re interested in APP development, ask how they would create an APP to turn a smart watch into a fast clock.

And yes, these are ideas that are already being tackled by hobbyists, but so what? These are the places where our hobbies meet. Let’s take advantage of that. And let’s recognize that there are many ways to approach a problem – a fresh, non-hobby set of eyes may be just what we need.

That said, reaching Millennial Makers will require changes to how many of us do things in the hobby. For example:

11 – We can’t do this if we’re preaching to younger people, because that will just drive them away. To encourage more people to join our hobby, we need to do more listening – to find out what fires a person’s interests, and then relate that to what we do. We enjoy a hobby unlike any other in terms of the depth and breadth of what can be done in it. No matter what a person says they’re interested in, I am confident we can find examples in our hobby to which they can relate. But we have to know what they like, first – so shut up and listen. And yes, I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to not listening. I think we fall into this because we are so keen to tell people about our great hobby. We want to share it. And sometimes we smother others.

12 – We also can’t engage Millennial Makers – or anybody else for that matter – if our only public presence is the Train Show. That’s because at train shows, we’re mostly talking to ourselves. Say the words “Train Show” and an image comes to mind that, frankly, many people outside of the hobby would not consider interesting. To reach Millennial Makers, I think we need to do more to take our hobby to where they are – to events such as Maker Faires, and meetings at Maker Spaces. (If you’re not sure what those are, Google them.) And we need to do more to put our efforts online where younger, connected people can find them. Starting a blog is a good example of how we can do that, and in a previous post I’ve offered some thoughts on doing that, as well as some reasons why your hobby might benefit from one.

I hope I left the banquet attendees with some useful information and some ideas for further discussions. If you were in the room, thanks for letting me speak – and do share your thoughts on this via the comments section on this post (or start your own blog!), because it would be great to hear from you.

In fact, I’m already receiving a great deal of interesting (and positive) feedback from the banquet speech. A number of attendees approached me afterwards, to run ideas past me or offer up suggestions on how they intend to incorporate some of my ideas into their local activities as a way to encourage more people outside the hobby to consider railway modelling as a worthwhile, rewarding, lifetime hobby. What was especially notable about my presentation this time around is that the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – rather than fret that the hobby may be changing, the members of the Lone Star Region of the NMRA seem, to a person, to be ready to grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it. It convinces me that the hobby will remain strong in the Lone Star Region.

As an aside, The Austin Eagle was the final regional convention for Charlie Getz in his role as NMRA President. I was pleased that he was in the room for my address. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to talk to him afterwards – so I didn’t get any immediate feedback. But I was pleased to read Charlie’s thoughts in the July/August 2018 NMRA eBulletin:

Getz-eBulletin

(Thanks for the kind words, Charlie. And you’re right – this hobby is robust enough that it has a bright future!)

I also took part in a couple of operating sessions and a self-guided layout tour, which I’ve covered in separate posts.

Finally, I ate some superb food in Texas. The greater Austin area has a vibrant food and craft beer culture. A highlight on the trip included Jack Allen’s Kitchen, a small chain of farm-to-table restaurants. I liked it so much I bought the cookbook on the way out the door and my wife and I have been enjoying a taste of Texas ever since.

And it wouldn’t be a trip to Texas without barbecue – including Green Mesquite and The Salt Lick.

Thanks to the organizing committee for putting on the terrific event – and a special thanks to Riley Triggs for reaching out to me and asking me to speak at the banquet. I had an awesome time (despite picking up a nasty cold on the plane trip home) and I look forward to returning to Austin in the future!

A fresh look at the terminal in Port Rowan

A fellow hobbyist got in touch yesterday to ask if he could use an overall photo of my layout in a presentation he’s doing at a convention in his area – and I was happy to oblige. But I realized that I didn’t have a suitable, current photograph. So off to Port Rowan I went, to shoot a few options for him.

Those are now on the way to him via email, but since I haven’t shared photos of the layout in a while, I thought I’d post them here too.

This photo provides a nice overview of the terminal at Port Rowan. I’ve shot this vantage point before, but not since adding trees to both the left (backdrop) and right (fascia) sides of the yard:

Port Rowan overview

This is another shot I’ve taken before, looking along the turntable lead towards the yard entrance. I like it better now that I have those two large trees in place to the left of the track:

Port Rowan turntable

Here’s a photo of Port Rowan taken from across the aisle at St. Williams. It’s a good overview that emphasizes the spread-out nature of this small branchline terminal:

Port Rowan overview

This next photo is another shot I frequently take – looking up the line from end of track in Port Rowan, at track level. I’ve always liked this shot, but it’s even better with extra trees to frame the scene – including additional trees across the aisle in St. Williams:

Port Rowan - along the track

This final photo is probably the best one to illustrate how the layout fits into the room, but it’s also the weakest in terms of composition – in no small part because the end of the peninsula (closest to the camera) is so unfinished compared to the rest of the layout. The Lynn Valley is out of view to the upper right.

Port Rowan - from end of peninsula

Every so often, I need to photograph the layout to make a record of the progress that I’ve made on it. But I haven’t been doing that lately as other things have taken priority. So I’m grateful that I was approached about sharing some images – and flattered that someone would want to use my layout to illustrate a point in their clinic.

See you at The Austin Eagle!

Austin Eagle Banner

I’m putting the finishing touches on the presentations I’ll be delivering at The Austin Eagle – the NMRA Lone Star Region’s 2018 convention being held June 13-17 in Austin, Texas. If you’re in the area and want to attend, click on the banner, above, to head straight to the convention website.

I’ll be delivering two presentations…

For the Saturday night banquet, I’ll be offering up some thoughts about where the hobby is going, where we’ll find the next generation of serious hobbyists, and what we can do to foster them.

For many of us, the hobby is more than a way to kill time. It’s a lifelong journey of friendships and learning. We love this hobby ‐ and many of us wonder how we can encourage more people to join us as railway modeling enthusiasts. In particular, we wonder how we’re going to reach younger people. Based on my experience in my professional life as a corporate speech writer, I’ve garnered some insights into the demographic known as The Millennials. I’m going to share some thoughts on how we connect with a cohort that has never known a world in which the Internet did not exist, and who many dismiss ‐ wrongly ‐ as being “more interested in playing games on their phones than in building things”. I’ll also offer some suggestions about how we make our hobby relevant to more people ‐ especially these Millennials ‐ at a time when few people encounter real trains on a daily basis.

Since I’m making the trip for the banquet anyway, I’ve also offered to speak about my layout – but recognizing that an S scale Canadian-themed branch line will be of little interest to many at a regional convention in Texas, I’m using my layout as a jumping off point to talk about working in a minority scale.

In my clinic, I’ll share the opportunities and challenges of modeling a specific prototype in a minority scale. I’ll cover how I ended up in a less popular scale and how that influenced my decision when choosing a prototype. I’ll offer suggestions for others to research and ponder to determine whether a niche scale is a viable one in which to work. Anybody who has ever considered switching scales or who is interested in working in a second scale can benefit from this clinic.

I’ve never been to Texas. I’m looking forward to visiting Austin and putting some faces to some names at the convention: maybe yours will be one of them!

No NERPM for me this year

Well, nuts.

Things did not work out. Something has come up and I won’t be able to attend the New England / Northeast RPM June 1-2 in Enfield, Connecticut.

I was really looking forward to it, but life sometimes gets in the way of trains.

No need to send best wishes, etc. It’s all good. But if you want to take my place, there’s a clinic slot open at 9am on the Friday…

South Paris Switcher

My friend Ryan Mendell is embarking on a new layout project. Having freelanced for many years, building his delightful Algonquin Railway, Ryan has now been bitten by the prototype bug and is going to build an HO layout based on the Grand Trunk Railway in Maine.

Click on the image, below, to visit his new blog and have a look around. It’s worth the trip!

South Paris Switcher - Header

(I’ve disabled comments on this post, because any comments about Ryan’s new project should really go on his blog.)