Monday, June 19, 2017

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Charlie Ellis' CNR/CPR/BAR Operations in New Brunswick and Maine

When I asked a friend in the Kitchener-Waterloo area which model railroads I should see during this year’s Doubleheaders tour, he said: “Make sure you visit Charlie Ellis’ layout!”

I took his advice, and I’m glad I did. Charlie has a great Canadian model railroad.

Charlie models CNR/CPR and BAR operations in the 1950s in the St. Leonard, New Brunswick/Van Buren, Maine area.

Scenery on the point-to-point layout is 95% complete; all the track is handlaid. Charlie uses Digitrax to control the trains.

I asked Charlie a few questions about the layout.

Why did you choose that era?

“The era reflects the railroad activity I experienced in my childhood. It didn't start out that way; I discovered HO model railroading in the 1960s and amassed collection of contemporary CN and CP models over the years, culminating in the construction of my model railroad starting in the mid 80s.

“At that time my two sons showed a keen interest in trains (I think it is in the blood) and we modeled the modern era along with a car card system for operations. When they grew up and left home, my interest in the modern railroad scene waned, as did operation of the layout.

“Then a friend in the hobby introduced me to DCC, and about the same time I realized that my real interest in railroads harped back to the good old days of the 1950s.

“So I sold off my modern railroad models (most of the stuff went to my sons) and started collecting models suited to the 1950's era and typical operations in the New Brunswick area that we model.

Why did you choose that part of Canada to model?

“Our model railroad operations centre on the town of St.Leonard, New Brunswick, as the Bangor & Aroostook interchanged with the CNR there and the CPR ran on the CNR through there via trackage rights. Presto: Three of my favorite railroads all in one place.”

How do you operate the layout?

“My oldest son, while in university in the co-op program, had several work terms with CP, and being a computer and math whiz, wrote a computer program for the operation of our layout based on real railroad practices along with the basics of the car card system. We are still using that program.

“Currently, I am part of a group of 5 or 6 other modelers, most of which have home layouts, and we rotate visits to each other's layouts on a weekly basis, focusing on operations.

2017 was Charlie’s 10th year on the tour; if he’s on again next year, make sure you visit his layout if you are in town for Doubleheaders.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Death and the Model Railroader: Mike McGrattan Memorial Train

I never met or knew Mike McGrattan. But what I hear, he was a real “mensch”—a stand-up guy.

Mike, who died May 16, 2016 at the age of 52, was especially much-loved and appreciated in the North American N scale community.

He was remembered as a talented and prolific modeler, but mostly for being a friend.

After he died, some friends on the Railwire Forum created the Michael McGrattan memorial train a collection of four passenger cars—including one lettered in his memory—that travelled across North America visiting N scale layouts.

The train started its journey in July, last year. It has visited many different layouts since that time, in Canada and the U.S. 

The last visit noted on the forum was in May, this year, when it ran on the layout of Mark Dance.

The memorial train is a great way to honour Mike, who also worked at Rapido Trains. I’m sorry I never got to know him.

You can see the whole journey, and read comments, on the Mike MxGrattan memorial train thread on Railwire.

Click here to read more in my Death and the Model Railroader series.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The CPR Celebrates Canada's 150th Anniversary with Special Train

In 2013, in a post about the Confederation Train, I wondered if any railway would step up with a special train to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The answer is yes. The CPR will mark the occasion this summer with a cross-country trip by its iconic Heritage Train.

The train, which begins its trip July 28 in Port Moody, B.C. will finish its run on August 13 in Montreal.

The train will be led by F-units 1401 (built in 1958) and will include 10 Royal Canadian Pacific heritage cars.

It will also feature the Spirit of Tomorrow car. Children will be invited to write their hopes for the Canada of tomorrow on a commemorative card; each card will be affixed the the car as it makes its way across Canada.

The train will also include a stage car for performances along the way.

The train will be in Winnipeg August 4.

This is the second time a special train has crossed Canada like this in the past 50 years.

In 1967 the Confederation Train visited 60 communities on the cross-country run to mark Canada’s centennial as a nation.

And in 1978-80 the Discovery Train, sponsored by the National Museum of Canada, traveled across the country as a mobile museum.

Also this year, VIA Rail has decorated some locomotives and cars in a special 150th anniversary scheme.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Ottertail Canyon: A Great Canadian Model Railroad in Australia

So here’s a great Canadian model railroad: The Ottertail Canyon.

I don’t know much about it, except that it was created by Steve Pettit of Australia.

Steve is best known for his interest in narrow gauge, a scale in which he is a consummate craftsman (craftsperson?) as can be seen from his model of an engine shed and of a sawmill.

The Ottertail Canyon is a portable layout he built on the side. I wish I had the same kind of skills for a side project like this,  or any project.

I attempted to contact Steve for more information, but didn’t hear back.(So Steve, if you read this, send me a note!)

So I’ll just present photos of this amazing layout so you, like me, can say: Wow!

For other Great Canadian Model Railroads "down under" in Australia, check out the Thompson River Canyon and Andreas Keller's unique three-level CN Fergus Sub.

Update: Via the Canadian Railway Modellers Facebook page, I heard from a modeler in Australia about the Ottertail Canyon.

Said the modeler: “This was an exhibition layout in Sydney. It was exhibited quite a few years ago. I complimented the owner in his modelling as I told him it certainly captured the feel of the area between Golden and Field.

“Considering there was very little true Canadian prototype at the time (no Bowser SD40-2s and no Rapido), he did very well to represent an area I was familiar with. I saw the layout around 2000 and it was available for sale. I do not know what became of it since.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

When it Comes to Building a Layout, Do the Math

A math professor came by to see my layout today.

The professor, who is 65, has been collecting track, locos, cars and other model railroad stuff for years for that “someday” layout.

I wished him well, and said I hoped he could realize his dream.

But I also said, appropriately for someone who teaches mathematics: “Do the math. It took me 20 years to build my layout. Where will you be in 20 years?”

Of course, if he retires, he may have more time to build that dream layout—it might not take him that long.

But still: Life is unpredictable. We can’t take our health for granted. We hope to be capable, able and independent in our 80s, but there are no guarantees.

There are many people like that math professor who plan to build that layout one of these days.

Buy like I have said before on this blog, the best time to build a layout is just like the best time to plant a tree: 20 years ago, or now.

Or to put it another way: Do the math.