Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bomb Squad Called About Model Train


Yes, you heard that right--a bomb squad was called to investigate a "suspicious device" found on a road near Bechtelsville, PA on Oct. 30.
The story was published by the Reading Eagle, under the header "Device found on Bechtelsville street was model train,"
Here's the complete story:
"A state police bomb squad determined that a suspicious device found this morning on a street near Bechtelsville was a model train locomotive that apparently fell from a truck and was flattened by other vehicles.

"A Colebrookdale Township police officer spotted the device and some batteries about 9 a.m. in the middle of Mill Street between South Main Street and Route 100 in Washington Township, near the Colebrookdale line, said Trooper David C. Beohm, a state police spokesman.

"The officer called for state police, who cover Washington Township. Troopers called their bomb squad. A state police fire marshal and a agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also investigated.

"Mill Street has been reopened.

"Beohm said it appeared to be a larger size locomotive from a model train set. Troopers haven’t identified who it belonged to."
At first, I thought it was a joke. But a check of the paper's website and Facebook page show it was real.
The story prompted on person to write on the paper's Facebook page: "Clearly Al Qaeda is probing for weaknesses."
Part of me sympathizes with the trooper--all those wires and metal and, if it had a decoder, some computer-like looking stuff on top.
I know that I have taken extra precautions whenever I carried a locomotive with me while travelling by plane. 

Since I almost always only use carry-on luggage, I take the unit out of the suitcase before it goes through the X-ray machine. I have no interest in being taken to a small room and being strip searched because someone saw metal and wires and a computer chip on the scanner.
But what I'm thinking about the Reading Eagle story is this: Did it really fall off a truck, or did some model railroader have the misfortune of putting his locomotive on the roof of his (or her) car while he/she put other things away, then drove off forgetting all about it?

If that's the case, that modeler knows where it is now.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Changes at Ritchie: New Prairie Sentinel

One person's loss is another person's gain. Or, in this case, one person's sale at a train show provided a treasure for the CP Rail M & M Sub.

Earlier, I shared photos of Arnold Walker's great Northland Route. Soon after taking those photos, Arnold began to dismantle the layout. At the recent Winnipeg train show, he was selling various bits and pieces, including his gorgeous scratchbuilt orange and yellow Pioneer grain elevator.

The elevator on Arnold's layout.

As soon as I saw it at his sales table, I knew I had to have it.

Where it once drew oohs and ahs at Arnold's layout, now it has pride of place on mine. To make room, I removed the Manitoba Pool and P & H elevators that formerly were in the town of Ritchie. And while Arnie had it serving two tracks on his layout, it services only one on mine.

After a bit of landscaping and adding the ramps to the unloading shed, it was ready to go.

View from the other side.

It's actually better to have only one elevator in the town--the spur isn't that long, and the town isn't that big. (On the prairies, you knew how big and important a town was by how many elevators it had.)

As for Arnold, he's happy that a part of his former layout has found a home on mine. I am, too.

Overview of the new town.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Nuns on a Train (and in an Amtrak ad)

This past summer the U.S. media was captivated by Nuns on The Bus, a cross-country tour by 44 Catholic nuns to urge the U.S. Congress to pass immigration reform.

Now there's Nuns on a Train, as the photo on the Amtrak blog of sisters Selway, Raphael, Jognes and Marie shows (above).

The sisters were photographed at the start of their journey from New York to California by Brandon Stanton, the photographer behind Humans of New York. 

Amtrak challenged Stanton to leave New York and capture Amtrak Stories from across the country. For 31 days, he is sharing one new portrait and story each day on the blog in celebration of people who ride on Amtrak.

Amtrak later turned the photo into an ad.

The four American nuns presumably had a more comfortable ride than the sisters napping on India's Vivek Express (photo below), the tenth longest passenger train journey in the world at 4,273 kilometres.

The longest journey, by-the-way, is the ride from Moscow to Vladivostok in Russia, at 9,259 kilometres. The Canadian, from Toronto to Vancouver, is the sixth longest at 4,466 kilometres. 

Click here for a full listing of the longest train journeys.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Friendship Train and the Case of the Missing Mennonite Central Committee Boxcar

It's back . . .

In an earlier post, I wrote about the 1947 Friendship Train and how I had managed to collect almost all of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) boxcars that were inspired by it.

To re-cap: There never were any real MCC boxcars. The first custom decals were made by a Pennsylvania hobby shop in the 1960s after a paper cut-out was made for a children's fundraiser.

Later, Train Miniature made a version of this car as part of its popular HO scale billboard series, based on that paper cutout.

After that, other manufacturers got on board. Life-Like and Athearn offered models in HO, Con-Cor made one in N scale and Williams made one in O scale. I have managed to collect all the models except the Con-Cor version in N scale.

In 1995, when I was working for MCC, I collaborated with others to make new models of the car in HO and N to commemorate the agency's 75th anniversary. This included a new version with MCC's modern logo. 

Later, another model railroader in Washington state made a Great Northern version of the original car.

Some of MCC boxcar collection.

One other version of the car was made—by me. It was a one-off; I made for a fundraising auction in Winnipeg. I never knew who bought it, or what happened to it.

Until now. 

I now work for a different international relief and development agency. Recently, while a colleague was cleaning out a recently-vacated office, he discovered the car in the photo at top. Since he knew I liked trains, he asked me if I would like it. 

I was dumbfounded; after 18 years, the car I had made so many years ago was back in my hands (albeit a bit worse for wear).

The story behind the missing car is that someone who worked for my present employer bought it at that 1995 auction. When he left to work somewhere else a number of years ago, he left the car behind. 

It languished in a hidden corner of his old office until now. I guess that nobody who used that office after him knew what to do with it, so they just left it alone.

But now it is back with me, and in my collection. Life sure is weird, sometimes . . . .

A car from the original Friendship Train

P.S. About that Friendship Train; two years after the end of World War II, France and Italy were still suffering from the effects of the fighting. Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson suggested that Americans should help people in those countries through something he called a Friendship Train—a train of aid donated by ordinary people.

In the end, 270 boxcars of relief supplies were donated to help people in Europe. In gratitude, the French created the Merci Train, which traveled across the U.S. to say thanks in 1949. The MCC boxcar was inspired by the 1947 Friendship Train.

A car from the Merci Train

You can read more about the Friendship Train and the Merci Train, and get links to other websites, in my original post. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Train Show!

This is what it's all about at a train show!

What would our hobby be like without train shows?

Here in Winnipeg, the annual fall Winnipeg Model Railroad Club train show marks the beginning of the train season--the weather is turning colder, and now is the time to start thinking about working on the layout.

Good modelling is also on display.

This year the Club combined its show with VecTor Gardens for Manitoba Mega Train. In addition to the vendors, the show featured layouts in various scales--Z, N, HO, O, G and Lego, along with a riding railway.

Paul Ullrich, aka "the giraffe man," always
has a good time.

I didn't expect to buy anything, but you know how it goes--there's always something that calls your name.

One vendor was sitting behind his table putting together older rolling stock kits. "Nobody wants to buy anything that's not ready-to-run," he said. Other vendors confirmed that to be the case.

One sad feature of the show--as it is of many train shows across North America, I expect--was that there were vendors selling off estates. In this case, it was three model railroaders who had died and one entering a nursing home. In three of the four cases, the former owners had never got around to actually building a layout.

One had said about his hobby just two days before he died: "I wish I had ten more years."

Win-N-trak was there . . . 

That comment reminded me about the old adage about the best time to plant a tree: 20 years ago, or now. The same holds true for building a layout.

And so was the #1 Northern Division Free-Mo.

At some estate tables, items were still in the original boxes, unopened and unused. Some of those boxes were 40 to 50 years or more old. (People who loved old wood kits were in luck.) See a few examples below.

When my stuff goes up for sale at a train show, it will have some kilometres on it, or show that it has been enjoyed. Will your stuff look that way, too?

A train show is also a great place to work on a layout.

 . .

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fall, Thanksgiving, Trains and Train Shows

Agawa Canyon fall foliage tour train.

It's Thanksgiving in Canada. It's a time for turkey, family, and getting ready for winter.

I like fall, and I like Thanksgiving, too. Canadian Thanksgiving, being tied to the end of Canada’s harvest, takes place in mid-October. Unlike in the U.S., it’s a more relaxed holiday—football, yes, but no major travel and Black Friday sales. Most people spend it cleaning up the garden, raking leaves, or closing the cottage.

(By-the-way, the first Thanksgiving celebration on the North American continent was not—sorry, my American friends—in 1621 with the Pilgrims. It was in 1578 in Canada’s eastern Arctic region, when explorer Martin Frobisher held a celebration of Thanksgiving for a safe journey from England. But I digress.)

More fall action in the Agawa Canyon.

In addition to getting things ready for winter, Thanksgiving in Manitoba also means it’s almost time for the annual train show. I helped organize the show for many years, but haven’t been involved for a while, now. But I’ll be there next weekend at the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club/Manitoba Mega Train Show, Oct. 19-20 at that CanLan Sports Plex, 1871 Ellice Avenue. The show is open from 9-5 both days. More info here.

Since I don’t need anything, I’ll probably just browse, talk to friends, watch the layouts. But maybe I’ll find a treasure, a unique piece of rolling stock or locomotive. Even if I don’t, how can spending time at a train show be anything but a good time?

Anyway, I'm glad it's fall. Fall means winter, winter means spending time in the basement, and basement means trains. Now if only I could take a fall trip on the Agawa Canyon Railway one of these days . . . .

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Free Rides on VIA Rail (or Have Guitar, Will Travel)

A musician entertains passengers on VIA Rail in 2011.

Do you play guitar? Like to ride passenger trains? Want to ride VIA Rail for free?

If you answered yes to all those questions, you're in luck!

Canada's national passenger rail carrier has offered the Artists on Board program since 2009. Through it, musicians can get free travel, accommodation and meals on long-distance trains from Toronto to Vancouver or Montreal to Halifax.

The program is also open to artists who can give workshops and spin entertaining tales about their craft.

Participants in the program need to be adaptable; audiences may vary from a few to a car full, not to mention people being distracted by the scenery outside the train.

There is a catch (you knew there would be); you have to be Canadian to participate in the program. 

Maybe VIA Rail will extend the program to model railroaders; this past summer Canadian model railroader Dave Gunn was asked unofficially by VIA Rail's Atlantic Manager to give a model building workshop on the train from Halifax to Montreal. 

Dave did some work on three wood cabooses in the Park car, explaining and demonstrating how to build kits and about model railroading in general.

He reports that the experience went well, with a group of about 20 British railfans enjoying what came to be called "trains on a train." Applying small detail parts was a bit of challenge on a moving train, though.

Learn more about the Artists on Board program on the VIA Rail website. Read a story and watch a video about the program in the Globe and Mail. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Switching Layouts on the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

Overhead view of Nance. That's the Fort Frances
engine yard on the lower level on the right.

In an earlier post, I noted that if I had to do it all over again, I might just build a small switching layout.

In fact, the CP Rail M & M Sub. contains three "switching layouts." By that I mean there are three areas on the layout that, by themselves, are like small switching layouts. Each of them can be operated as if they are not part of a larger model railroad.

One is the Peace River paper mill in Fort Frances, Ont. (five spots, plus a two-track yard).

Nance on the top, Peace River mill below.

The others are in Fort Frances itself (10 spots) and at Nance (four spots, with a two track yard).

A view in the other direction.

In this post, we'll look at Nance. It occupies a one foot by 17-foot section on the upper deck of the layout.

The interesting thing about Nance is that it is the interchange point with the Peace River Northern, a shortline that, on the layout, doesn't go anywhere.

If I want, I can use a wayfreight to switch the industries in Nance, or I can operate as if all the trackage in the town belongs to the PNR--just drop off and pick up cars, and then go on my way.

Two spots in Nance. The area behind
the feed mill isn't normally visible--
hence, no ground foam.

Nance also features an industry that isn't there. It's a paper mill (quite literally--it's made of paper) off in the distance that receives empty cars for shipping out paper and cars of chemicals.

Cars for the mill are dropped off in the interchange yard. Between sessions, they go to the mill and back again--in my imagination, at least. (They could also sneak off behind the scenery on a tail track, if I was so disposed.)

The industry that isn't there.

The next time a train stops by, the formerly empty cars are filled, and the formerly filled cars are empty. All are ready to head to Fort Frances.

Depending on how I decide to operate Nance, it can take a few minutes to drop off and pick up cars, or 10 minutes of switching. Either way, this small switching layout helps provide a bit of operational interest when I grow tired of running mainline freights.

Look--a caboose! What's that doing here in
in the early 1990s?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Caboose Art, or "ordinary, yet impossible realities"

A piece from Kim Adams' new installation, Caboose.

Earlier I wrote about how Canadian installation artist Kim Adams used models from Rapido Trains and other manufacturers to create Artist's Colony (Gardens).

Artist's Colony (Gardens)

As you can see in the photo, he piled rolling stock on top of each other and arranged them in various ways to create sculptures that “resemble fictional worlds and imaginary landscapes.”

Adams is at it once again with model railroad rolling stock, this time using cabooses from Rapido Trains.

Titled--naturally--Caboose, he continues his "exploration of miniature worlds and exemplifies his long-term fascination with model building," according to the Diaz Gallery website in Toronto, where his work is being displayed.

In this latest installation, he re-imagines train cabooses "in ordinary, yet impossible realities." They are set into buildings, gardens and parking lots.

Weirdly, they also have cranes attached to their roofs, as if to "they were the sites of new condominium developments." 

Yet, the website goes on to say, "people depicted in these curious worlds are occupied in mundane activities such as yard work or cycling and seem unaware that such strange occurrences surround them."

For a long time, model railroaders have argued that our hobby is art. Seeing works by Kim Adams, I think we can now officially say the answer is yes--although in an unusual sort of way.

It also answers a question I never thought to ask: What would it look like if I put a crane on top of a Rapido caboose? Now I know.

(It may also provide an answer for why you can't find Rapido cabooses in your hobby shop--Adams bought them up.)

As for Adams, I have no opinions one way or the other about his art. All I can is good on him for making a living displaying and selling what most of us do as a hobby for our own private enjoyment.

Meantime, I think I'll go explore my parts and junk boxes. If I glue various pieces together in interesting ways, maybe I can make and sell some art, too.

Learn more about Kim Adams and see more of his caboose and other art here. You can also visit his Facebook page.

Adams has also found a creative use for containers.