Saturday, October 15, 2016

Another Fine Visit to the Prairie Dog Central (and Virginia Central RR 4-6-2 update)

In August I paid another visit to the Prairie Dog Central, Winnipeg's great tourist railway and preservation society. 

The Prairie Dog Central (PDC) is owned by the Vintage Locomotive Society. The Society runs regular passenger excursions that are often led by #3, a 4-4-0  steam locomotive built in 1882.

It might be the oldest operating steam locomotive in North America.

It was a great day to wander around the grounds, taking photos of #3 and other trains on display.

This included the two ex-CPR 4-6-2 locomotives formerly owned by the Virginia Central Railroad.

The two units were sold to an anonymous Albertan, who planned to start a new excursion service.

They came to the PDC in Winnipeg last year for storage to await the development of those plans.

But word is that those plans have fallen through, and the locomotives are once again up for sale. I wonder if one or both of them might end up staying in Winnipeg?

In addition to offering passenger excursions, the PDC is a real railway with real railway services though its Prairie Rail Solutions arm.

Those services include railcar storage, transload, cleaning and light maintenance, stenciling and switching, among other things.

The PDC is also home to the Winnipeg N-Trak club, which is housed in a building beside the tracks.

All-in-all, it's a great place to hang out on a fine summer day.

Click here to read about a previous visit to the PDC.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Update on the Kicking Horse Pass Layout

A couple people have asked for updates on the great HO scale Kicking Horse Pass layout (featured on this blog in 2010; see the post below.)

I tried contacting owner Jered Hoskins, but was unsuccessful. Fortunately, his friend Adam Meeks, who also worked on the layout, replied to queries about what has happened to it. 

As Adam reports, the layout was dismantled when Jered's business moved to a new location. As for Jered himself, Adam reports that he isn't very active in model railroading at this time; there are currently no plans to bring the layout back out on tour.

As for online information about the layout, Adam notes that this is the only place to read about it, other than an article in a 2005 issue of Canadian Railway Modeller (Train 13, Track 6).

As for the future, Adam says he isn’t sure what the future holds; there was some talk of selling it a while back, but for the time being Jered has chosen to hang on to it.

Meanwhile, enjoy this trip back in time . . . .

One of the best layouts I have ever seen is currently stored in a trailer in Calgary.

Called the Kicking Horse Pass, the portable layout was the brainchild of Jered Hoskins, who created it with several friends.

The 24 by 42 foot HO scale layout features big, modern power, long trains, and the same jaw-dropping scenery of the prototype, including the world-famous Spiral Tunnels.

The layout premiered in November, 2002 at Calgary's annual Supertrain show; in 2005 it was part of Golden Rails in Winnipeg, a convention celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club.

As Associate Editor of Canadian Railway Modeller, I was also able to work with Jered on an article about the layout that appeared in the magazine that year.

In addition to the Spiral Tunnels, the layout features a 12-foot high mountain, working signals, CTC dispatching, over 700 feet of track, real water in the river, a two foot-elevation gain, sound, and a double-tracked helix to enabled trains to complete the circuit behind the scenes.

Train length ranges anywhere between 25 and 50 feet, and the longer trains can be surprisingly heavy—some even require mid-train power.

Putting all this in a basement would be challenging enough, but making the layout moveable was an added challenge—it pushed the limits of modular layout construction.

Weight was a concern, of course, yet the layout needed to be durable. This was resolved by constructing each module out of Styrofoam encased with acrylic stucco—the stucco provided a textured, neutral base for the scenery, and dried to the hardness of concrete.

The modules sit on wooden frames that are secured with carriage bolts to help lock them in place.

Perfect alignment is critical; for example, the module containing the upper spiral tunnel requires smooth track joints in three different places, at three different angles and on three different levels.

It takes a minimum of eight hours for three people to assemble, level, and prepare the layout for operation.

Whether operating or just watching trains roll by, the Kicking Horse Pass layout offers an experience unlike any other.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Last Look at the Thompson River Canyon

Now that the Thompson River Canyon layout is done, and the Manitoba Mega Train Show where it was on display for the final time is over, this is a good chance to take a look back at the layout.

After bringing it home from the show, and before I sold it to a friend, I took it outside on the deck for some photos in the sunlight. The results are on this page.

As for thoughts about the making of the layout itself, it was a great project and a great way to remember my brother-in-law.

Finishing it not only meant the end of construction, but also saying a final goodbye to Ken: Letting him go, almost two years after his death from cancer.

I also enjoyed this foray into N Scale, over 40 years since I last was involved with that scale. Back then, locomotives had two speeds: Stop and fast. Today, they can crawl so slowly and realistically. And there is a great and wide variety of rolling stock.

N Scale also has a great scenery-to-trains ratio, something I tried to use for good effect on the Thompson River Canyon.

This is something that is so often and unfortunately overlooked by many N-Trak groups, in my opinion. For some reason, they feel compelled to cram as much track into a 2 by 4 foot module as humanly possible--something that I think detracts from the power and strength of this scale.

The layout also showed, I hope, that you don't need a huge room to have a satisfying model railroad experience. In this case, all it took was a 2 by 7 foot door.

And so it is over. Now there are only photos to remember it by. I hope you enjoyed the trip. I know I did!

You can find more photos and info about the Thompson River Canyon layout by clicking on the label on the right, or by visiting my Flickr page.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fowler Boxcar, Inside and Out

While at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum in Austin, MB this summer, I explored CPR Fowler boxcar 119462. 

The 36-foot car was built in 1914 as part of an order of 3,000 Fowler boxcars placed by the CPR with the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.

Altogether, the CPR owned a total of 33,000 Fowler boxcars, built between 1909 and 1915. The CNR also owned 33,000 Fowler boxcars; Fowlers were also built for U.S. railroads. 

Fowler boxcars carried various goods, but in Canada were best-known for carrying wheat and other grains to market. 

Some of these cars lasted in service into the 1960s and even the early 1970s when they, and most other grain-carrying boxcars, were replaced by the still-running “Trudeau” cylindrical hoppers.

Designed by CPR master car builder W. E. Fowler, these wood single-sheathed steel frame boxcars had a capacity of 40 tons and a tare weight of 20 tons and 2,448 cubic feet of space. They were outfitted with archbar Simplex trucks. 

Prior to the Fowler design, boxcars typically had wooden structural members sandwiched between an interior and exterior wooden skin. The Fowler car eliminated the exterior layer, producing a cheaper, lighter car that could carry a greater payload.

This design also prevented grain leakage at the seam between the floor and the side of the car. 

The cars were loaded through the door of the car, which was “coopered” with wood planks; a pipe was inserted through the top to fill the car.

Later, the in 1950s, cardboard was used to replace the wood planks.

Since different crops have different weights, lines and the names of the various grains are stenciled on the inside of the car at the Museum—and I assume on all of the Fowler cars.

For unloading, the planks or cardboard sheets were removed so the grain could run out. Men with shovels scooped the remaining grain out of the cars.

The first cars built had wooden roofs and doors, but later cars had stamped steel roofs and corrugated steel doors. Cars were often rebuilt so early cars could appear with steel roofs and doors or any other combinations.

The Museum’s car was donated by the CPR in 1977.

As the Museum puts it on its website: “Doubtlessly, 119462 is a veteran of many a fall grain ‘rush’ with countless trips to the Lakehead, the Pacific, Montreal and into the U.S.”

The car, it adds, has “earned its place at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum” and is “an interesting part of the story” of agriculture in Manitoba.

With information from the Manitoba Agricultural Museum, and the Toronto Historical Railway Society.  Also see OKthePK.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What a Difference a Year Makes

What a difference a year makes!

The first photo shows what the N scale Thompson River Canyon layout looks like today. The second photo (below) is what it looked like last August.

Last year, I was able to complete one side of the layout before displaying it at the annual Manitoba Mega Train show.

This year, both sides are completed—again, in time for this year’s Mega Train show, Sept. 24-25 here in Winnipeg.

It’s been a fun journey, and a meaningful way to remember my brother-in-law, who died in 2014 before he could build his own version of the Canyon (his favourite railfan location).

If you are in Manitoba, see you at the show!