Sunday, June 10, 2018

Trains & Grains: New books About Western Railways and the Grain Industry

After writing four books about VIA Rail—Trackside with VIA: The First 35 Years and Trackside with VIA: Cross-Canada Compendium, Trackside with VIA: Consist Companion and Trackside with VIA: Research & Recollection, Eric Gagnon has branched out on a different Canadian railway topic: Trains & Grains, Volumes 1 & 2.

In Volume 1, subtitled Trackside Observations in Manitoba 1976-1986, readers can see photos, data and text showcasing the observations Eric made on several trips to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

Volume 2, subtitled Grain Elevators in Manitoba and Saskatchewan 1976-1986, covers the traditional wood grain elevators that were railway-served in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Many of them are now long gone.

I posed some questions to Eric about this new series.

Why did you write these books?

For a few reasons. I really enjoy the creative process, be it publishing a blog post weekly or these more infrequent projects on paper.  And I needed a fall and winter project that I could work on.  I decided to create Trains & Grains on the very day that my fourth book on VIA Rail was launched.

What motivated me to do this project was I had several years' worth of photos taken in Western Canada that I hadn't scanned nor shared yet on my Trackside Treasure blog. The Trains & Grains project would force me to finally get all these photo prints scanned and digitized.

This process was not only a pleasant diversion from the wintry weather, it also led me down memory lane reliving my railfanning days in Portage la Prairie.

Why that time period?

From the age of 12 to 22, I got hooked on visiting Western Canada. My aunt and uncle in Portage made a habit of hosting me and my siblings for vacations. While there, I was able to take many photos of trains.

In retrospect, it was a great time to be there. Those were years of great change to not only railway operations, but also grain industry operations ; the two are inextricably linked in the West.

After a long period of no change, the railways rehabilitated many branchlines and invested, along with the government, to keep grain moving. And even bigger changes were on the horizon, such as unit trains loaded at one high-throughput concrete elevators.

Did you have any help with the books?

In each of my book projects, I've made a point of bringing others into the fold—contributors whose expertise I respect and value. Each contributor adds more to a topic than I could alone.

For Trains & Grains, Mark Perry and Chuck Bohi provided photos to accompany the text pieces they contributed.

I'm also proud to include a foreword for each book from Winnipeg blogger and photographer Steve Boyko, and Randy O'Brien, who is modelling Portage la Prairie and doing some amazing modelling (although he lives in Niagara Falls).

How many photos are in the books?

I haven't counted the photos in the printed, finished product, but if anyone does care to count, there should be over 700 photos total!

Who are the books for?

For me, for a start. Like my blog, I am preserving photos and data in a form that I can easily access. If others can (and I hope they will) get something valuable from my efforts, so much the better!

For Trains & Grains, I set the bar rather low, anticipating ten such folks across Canada might be interested in owning a copy. For the most part, my early surveys indicated that readers who are interested in trains are indeed interested in grains, too.

What things might people surprising about trains and grains?

The linkage between railways and grain farming and marketing is a tight one. When I conceived this project, I naively thought that one book could contain all that I wanted to share. Though the material fit together well, I realized early on that the content was about to burst the covers.

As a result, I had to divide one book into two. There is no overlap between the two volumes, though I believe they complement each other. (Especially as they were intended to be only one book!)

How can this help someone who models the Canadian prairies?

There is not that much cohesive information available about what rolling stock was used on what train in the 1970s and 1980s. There are lots of stock photos available online, but specific details such as sample car numbers, and what type of train operated in what years, is not easy to find.

My books trace the transition from grain boxcars to the colourful cylindrical covered hoppers that are often called iconic items indicative of Canadian railroading. 

Though not a social history, my grain elevator photos place these purpose-built buildings in context with stations, other railway structures, towns, branchlines and yards. There is lots of material for modellers to mull over.

How have your previous books about VIA done?

They've done well! They are sold in Europe, the U.S. and across Canada. Over 1,200 copies have been purchased, all told. I am most proud that my books on VIA Rail have found their way into the hands of VIAphiles and VIA modellers, and that they help manufacturers such as Rapido Trains Inc. to make Canadian railway modelling achievable. 

Of course, much credit for this entire marketplace has to be given to Canadian Railway Modeller magazine for showing the world what we already knew: Canadian railroading is cool!

How much are the books? And how can they be ordered?

Each volume is available for $35, including shipping in a padded mailer to Canadian addresses. I'm committed to keeping pricing reasonable. For full ordering information, please see:

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Imitation is the Highest Compliment: Brad Burtnick's N-Scale Door-Size Layout

Every now and then, I check out the local (Winnipeg) Kijiji website to see what might be available.

Not that I need anything, but you never know: Something special or rare just might show up and call my name.

Earlier this month, while scanning through Kijiji, I came across an N scale layout on a door—a layout similar to the one I had made a few years ago based on the Thompson River Canyon.

I sent the seller a note. I wanted to know: What inspired him to make it?

The answer surprised me: My own Thompson River Canyon layout.

My Thompson River Canyon layout.

In a note sent back by Brad Burtnick, builder and owner of the layout I saw on Kijiji, I learned he saw my door-sized layout on display at the Winnipeg Mega-Train show and decided to make something like it himself.

“I liked it so much that I modeled this layout from your design with a few changes,” he told me. “I liked the compact design, and how a simple oval didn't look like an oval at all.” 

“So  you actually motivated me to build this layout.”

Brad's layout is different than mine—it’s only scenicked on one side, for starters, it's built on a piece of half-inch plywood, for another, and the cliff face and vegetation are not the same. (More like along Lake Superior than B.C.'s Thompson Canyon.)

But otherwise, the concept is similar: An oval with scenery to disguise the fact that it is, in fact, an oval.

I asked him more about the layout.

“I like large rock faces, so I incorporated that into my layout, and I also only modeled one side so the layout can be placed on a shelf or against a wall on a cabinet,” he said.

He explained that the scenery is built on a box-like structure of two-inch thick Styrofoam. To make it less square, and make it look more like a mountain, “I then used crumpled-up newspaper to round out the mountain on the top and the sides above the tunnels.”

Once the newspaper was in a shape that he liked, Brad used Woodland Scenics plaster cloth on top of the newspaper to seal the paper and make it hard. He then painted the plaster cloth a green color.

The rock was made from hydrocal plaster. Brad used two different castings to make the rocks. He then sprayed thinned paint on them to provide the colour. 

The deciduous trees are from Woodland Scenics, and the pine trees are from Heki.

As for me, I was flattered by what Brad had done, and why he did it; imitation is the highest compliment.

And since I was reading about Brad's layout on Kijiji, that means it was up for sale. Brad tells me it hasn’t been sold yet; if you are interested, check it out on Kijiji.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Update from Bowser: SD40, GP9, RS3

Since I’ve been talking about manufacturers, here’s an update from Bowser.

Lee English sent a note saying that the SD40 tooling is finishing this month (May).

The GP9 tooling is ordered for delivery of the molds later this year. The announcement of road numbers will be made at the NMRA convention this summer. 

Lee says he is making the making CN version first, followed by CP followed and then CN with slug.

He says “a lot of research has been done on the SD30c ECO. This is for next year.”

The American RS3 project is still be tooled, he says, adding “I will be happy when this is done.”

Once the U.S. version of the RS3 is out, “I will be working on other versions,” he says. “I hope to do a CP chop nose, but it will be two years.”

He adds that “I have to make some stuff for the U.S. market. I am hitting your [Canadian] pocket books very hard.”

He concludes by saying “I really appreciate your support for my toys.”

New Canadian Model Railroad Manufacturer

There’s a new manufacturer of Canadian model railroad locomotives pulling into the station: Shira Trains.

And it's first model is the CPR's venerable D-10 steam locomotive.

Since I'm always happy to see another manufacturer of Canadian model railroad items—especially one located in Canada—I contacted them to learn more.

I discovered the company is owned by Stanley Butler and two silent partners. It was started two years ago. 

I asked him about the name. Where did it come from?

The name is taken from Shiraichi, he says, a Japanese train station he visited when very young. He still has fond memories of it.

I asked about the business itself; when did it start?

Stanley told me although Shira Trains was conceived two years ago, the main business of the company, which is located in Ontario, is steel manufacturing. It  has been running since 1984.

I then asked about its first model: An HO scale CPR D-10. Why make that one?

The first reason, Stanley, says, is because he wanted one.

“This project was originally for myself, so if they sell great, if not, that's okay too,” he says of the model.

The other reason is potential demand; he says there has never been a good plastic model of a D-10.

"That was also an indicator that it may be needed in the industry,” he says of the model, which they are planning to release this year.

I pointed out that Rapido is also planning to bring out a D-10 next year. Did he think it was wise to bring out a similar model about the same time?

“I am sure that Rapido’s [model] will be a masterpiece, but I don't need all the fiddly bits,” he says.

As for Shira’s model, according to the company’s Facebook page the bottom of the boiler will be solid die-cast, placing the weight evenly over the drive gears. Altogether, the unit will weigh over 16 ounces.

The locomotive will be available in DC and DCC with sound. The cost will be $349 is for DC/DCC/sound models. 

As for other models, Stanley says “while we have acquired tooling from another vendor, I think it best to stick with one at a time.”

When does he expect it to be available?

The order to make the units “has already been placed,” he says, adding “as soon as we get the running samples we will concentrate on sales. We are only making are limited amount of them.”

The model will be offered in three variants.

D-10h #1057, includes short light. Optional parts include smoke deflector, pilot step, extra sand dome, grease, extra gear, operating tender coupler, instructions, bell wire.

D-10h #1095, includes long light and smoke deflector. Optional parts include pilot step, extra sand dome, grease, extra gear, operating tender coupler, instructions, bell wire.

D-10h #1100, includes short light and front step. Optional parts include: smoke deflector, extra sand dome, grease, extra gear, operating tender coupler, instructions, bell wire.

All units are now available for pre-order on the company's Facebook page. 

About the D-10: The CPR made over 500 of these classic 4-6-0 ten-wheelers between 1905-13.  They served all over Canada until the end of steam. It was known as a sturdy, reliable and versatile locomotive suitable for both freight and passenger service.

More photos of D-10 units can be found at Old Time Trains.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum Proposed

What kind of layout could be built for $65 million?

We’re about to find out; that’s how much will be spent to create the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum in North Adams, Mass.

The museum, which is to be a celebration of notable modern architecture, will be designed by architect Frank Gehry.

The plan calls for a 83,000-square-foot museum that features model trains running past scale models of buildings by notable architects including Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Gehry.

According to an article in Architect News, the 670-foot long gallery will include 164 buildings by 71 international architects constructed at 1:48 scale (O guage). Twelve lines will run among the buildings.

Iconic structures that will be included will be the Seagram Building in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge, Fenway Park, the Empire State building and the One World Trade Center, which will be 40 feet tall. 

The trains and buildings will also be surrounded by video-projected landscaping blending the physical models into a seamless background.

It will be built on publicly-owned land overlooking a disused rail freight yard

The projected opening date is 2021. Start making your travel plans now!

Read more about the project here.