Category Archives: The Social Life

The Pindal Electric Tram

I’d heard about the Pindal Electric Tram for many years, and even seen a few videos. But nothing quite prepared me for the experience…

Earlier this month, some friends and I visited Kaj and Annie Pindal to spend a few hours in the afternoon riding the delightful 15-inch gauge, ride-in electric trolley line that runs in their back yard in Oakville, Ontario.

While I could go on at length about how Kaj built his own equipment, powered mainly by motors liberated from electric lawn mowers, made his track from fence rails, switched from trolley poles to bow-collectors which he fabricated himself, and can use the railway to take the household garbage and recycling to the curb… I think a video is the best way to express the magic that is the Pindal Electric Tram.

So here it is: enjoy if you watch…


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

Thanks, Kaj & Annie: What a wonderful day out!

Steam up at Tom’s

On Saturday, some friends were headed to a live steam meet about an hour outside of Buffalo, New York, and invited me along. Our host was Tom Bowdler, who has a lovely outdoor track with both 32mm and 45mm gauges represented. The weather was beautiful – sunny enough to be comfortable but with just enough chill in the air that we were comfortable in jackets. The cool air gave the locomotives lovely plumes of condensed steam, too!

My friend Jeff Young brought along “Ursula”:


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

“Ursula” is a 1/12th scale model of the 15″ gauge locomotive built by Sir Arthur Heywood in 1916 for the Duke of Westminster’s Eaton Railway in Cheshire. The model is a bespoke construction designed by Peter Angus and built by Mike Lax. It uses Roundhouse Hackworth valve gear to replicate the unusual Heywood valve gear, and runs on a single flue gas-fired boiler. A batch of three were built – one for Peter Angus, one for Jeff, and one for the fellow who owns the full-size replica Ursula.

Carl Berg ran some terrific, but unusual, live steam locomotives of his own design:


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

Carl built the locomotives seen in this video using vintage Marx “Commodore Vanderbuilt” O gauge tinplate models. They’re powered by a single cylinder oscillator in the cab and a butane boiler in the tender. And as the video shows, they are pocket rockets. I’ve never seen anything faster on 32mm track: any faster and the railway right of way would need to be built with banked curves. These were a delight to watch.

Many other fine examples of the Live Steam hobby had a chance to polish the rails, either on Tom’s permanent garden railway or on his portable exhibition track, which was also set up for the occasion. Here’s a sampling:


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

In addition to several hours of running trains and socializing, the steam-up featured a gathering of three examples of the new 7/8″ scale (1:13.7) Decauville locomotives from Accucraft. These are beautiful models, although they come with bad news and good news. The bad news is, they’re poor runners as delivered. The good news is, the live steam community has been working to solve the issues and it appears there’s a fix. So, with some work, they should turn out to be lovely models that also run well, and offer modellers a perfect locomotive for a 7/8″ estate railway.

Three Decauville engines - Tom's

Decauville - Tom's

Decauville - Tom's

Decauville - Tom's

Tom was a wonderful host – I had a great time. He also has a terrific sense of humour. I was pleased to find this wonderful piece of rolling stock on display in his living room:

Hoser Car

It made me feel right at home. Thanks for hosting us, Tom!

McCarthy - Banner

We ended the day with a trip to Gene McCarthy’s – a brew-pub in the Old First Ward in Buffalo. Here, Jeff demonstrates an interesting, historical feature of our table:

McCarthy - Table

A small shelf under each corner provided space to securely stow one’s pint while playing cards. This would keep condensation on the glasses from getting the table wet (and of course prevent one from accidentally tipping a pint onto the cards or any money involved).

McCarthy - Table

Following a nice meal and a pint or two of craft brew, we headed home – and I captured this glimpse of Toronto across the lake from the tall bridge over the Welland Canal in St. Catharines:

Toronto from Garden City Skyway

Thanks to Peter Foley, Jeff Young, and Mike Walton for a grand day out: I’m looking forward to the next one!

Water Boilers display track

Doors Open 2008 - Display Track

I’m an occasional member of the Wednesday Night Water Boilers – a talented group of live steam enthusiasts who, as the name suggests, gather on Wednesday evenings to run trains on their garden railways. As the photo below above, the group also has a portable display track, which they can set up at exhibitions.

This picture was taken in the event hall at Steam Whistle Brewing, which is located in the historic John Street Roundhouse. The above photo was shot during one of the many appearance by the Water Boilers as part of the annual Doors Open Toronto event.

The great thing about doing this type of event is that most of the visiting public are not members of the model railway community. As such, the demographic range is much broader and – frankly – I find that the interest level on the part of the public is much greater and more respectful than that of people who have found their niche in the hobby and are simply not that interested in what happens beyond their chosen scale/gauge/prototype and so on. The questions asked tend to be very insightful – the nit-picking is non-existent – and everybody has a good time.

Live steam is particularly popular with the public at large:

Doors Open 2010 - Display Track
(That’s me in the blue shirt, explaining something about my Accucraft Garratt to visitors at Doors Open Toronto 2010, as Water Boilers Jeff Young (left), Peter Foley (seated) and Bill Shipp (right) look dubious)

Doors Open 2008 - Display Track

(Jeff Young adds water to his coal-fired locomotive “SWMBO” as visitors and other exhibitors watch closely during Doors Open Toronto 2008)

While this track is used primarily for exhibitions, I think such a track would be an ideal home track for someone, like me, who has a small garden in the downtown of a major city. It could be set up for a few days at a time when the forecast called for a stretch of nice weather, then stored safely in the garage to allow the garden to be put to other uses.

I hope, some day, to build such a track – especially since I find it increasingly difficult to get to Water Boiler events so my locomotives and rolling stock tend to slumber away in their storage boxes. Maybe I’ll get one built in time for the 2015 steaming season…

A visit from Jeff and Dawn

Last Saturday our friends Jeff Young and Dawn Brightwell visited.

Jeff and Dawn are both live steam enthusiasts, but they enjoyed looking at the electric mice that run on my S scale Port Rowan layout.

Jeff in particular admitted that he sometimes pines for operation – something that is possible with live steam, but not as easy as it is in the smaller, indoor scales. So I’ve invited him to attend an operating session at some point.

After the tour, we retired to The Caledonian for excellent food and drink, finished with a whiskey and a stop at The Big Chill. Great fun!

Jeff, Dawn: Thanks for visiting – what an excellent evening! We’ll do it again soon…