Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Winnipeg's CN Downtown East Yard, Then and Now

I had an occasion to be on the 17th floor of Winnipeg's downtown Fairmont Hotel in fall. I was at a meeting, but I had a hard time paying attention, what with the view of the CN mainline and VIA station to the south.

When the meeting was over, I took a few photos of the scene below the hotel of the former CN East Yard--now known as The Forks.

The history of the East Yard dates back to 1888, when the Northern Pacific & Manitoba Railway was chartered.

The line, which ran south to the U.S. border (connecting with the Northern Pacific), terminated in downtown Winnipeg where the railway built a station, yard and engine facilities.

The East Yard in 1956.

The NP & M was purchased by the Canadian Northern in 1901; that railway became part of Canadian National in 1918. But the East Yard remained, as did the old NP & M engine house, nestled behind the Union Station (built in 1911).

CN built up and enlarged the former NP & M yard, adding freight sheds and team tracks.

After CN built its new SymingtonYard in 1962, the East Yard was relegated to mostly freight and passenger car storage.

A 1970s view.

In the late 1980s the site was converted to a public space, known locally at The Forks.

It is the site of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, along with the Forks Market, Children's Museum (located in the old NP & M engine facility), outdoor concert venue and a theatre for young people.

The station, now known as the VIA station, is home to the Winnipeg Railway Museum, which also hosts the Gateway Western, the layout of the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club.

From the air in the 1960s.


A few years ago, when the Museum for Human
Rights was under construction.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thoughts on Staging Yards

Upper staging yard on the M & M Sub.

The old adage holds that you can never have enough staging.

In the most recent issue of Great Model Railroads, Sam Powell disputes that. On his Penn Creek Valley layout he has four short staging tracks. He says it's enough for his layout.

The M & M Sub. has 12 staging tracks, each capable of holding a 20-car train. I'm about two tracks short of what I need.

(This is partly due to the removal of two passing tracks when I reduced the size of the layout. They functioned as open staging.)

Lower level staging yard.

One option would be to reduce the size of the fleet. I don't feel a deep need to do that; cars not on the layout are on shelves in the staging room.

At least I'm not adding rolling stock; I stopped most of my buying of model train items a few years ago.

My staging yards operate pretty simply: One train out, another in. The goal of an operating session (which can take days or weeks) is to move trains from the bottom staging yard to the top, and vice versa.

A simple dispatcher's panel that uses magnets to represent trains help me keep track of the traffic.

Best of all, the staging yards are out in the open, in a storage room beside the layout room. This room also contains the dispatcher's panels for all mainline movements.

Looking left, Thunder Bay/Duluth on bottom,
Winnipeg on top.

When mixed freights arrive in Fort Frances, they have cars taken off and added by the yard switcher. Unit trains (coal, intermodal, grain, forest products) just change crews.

Anyway, over the  Christmas break I've been running trains. I completed one session, or cycle, and then set the layout up for a new one. That meant putting locomotives at the heads of trains so they are ready for their next trips.

When that was done, I decided to take a few photos.

Now, if I could just figure out where to put two more staging tracks . . . .

Looking right. The "helix" that connects the
levels is between the two yards.

Click here to read more about staging yards on the M & M Sub.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Doug Tagsold's Terminal of Toledo: Gone!

It’s a Christmas tradition at my house—getting a copy of Great Model Railroads.

The issue is usually available earlier in December, but I avoid sneaking a peek. I don’t want to ruin my Christmas “surprise.”

So it wasn’t until a few days ago that I had a chance to read about Doug Tagsold’s HO scale Terminal of Toledo layout in the most recent GMR. (Featured earlier on this blog here and here.)

I sent Doug a congratulatory e-mail. When he replied, I was surprised to learn that the layout is no more.

That’s right: The Terminal of Toledo is gone. It is being replaced by a new 1/72 scale layout based on the narrow gauge Colorado & Southern.

Doug started the 39 by 39 foot layout in 2010, after moving into a new house. Even then, he says, he knew that the Terminal of Toledo was a “temporary layout to keep me occupied while I decided what Colorado themed layout to do next.”

He expected the Terminal of Toledo layout to last 10 years or so. But then he received an offer to buy it from the Toledo Zoo. 

At first, the Zoo wanted the whole layout, but ended up purchasing only a portion of it for a display. The remainder was sold off piece by piece, with parts of the layout now in places like New Jersey, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

Doug is now working on a layout based on the C&S line up Clear Creek from Denver to Idaho Springs, Georgetown (Georgetown Loop), Silver Plume, Black Hawk, and Central City. 

It will be a double deck layout with 600 ft of mainline, “and enough mountain scenery to work on to keep my busy for many years,” he says.  

The new layout will use HO standard gauge locos and rolling stock as narrow gauge equipment.  

“Some buildings will need to be scratchbuilt, but HO structures work fine in the background,” he says, adding that “1/72 scale is a popular military modelers scale, so vehicles and figures are not an issue.”

Operation on the layout will be by Timetable and Train Orders. 

“I'm sure many modellers think I am nuts, maybe they are right,” he says of the decision to dismantle the Terminal of Toledo. “ But all that matters is that I am enjoying myself, so I continue on.”

As it turns out, Doug and I have something in common—we both like building layouts. (Although Doug’s layouts are way better than my efforts.)

“The layout was basically ‘finished,’ which for me meant time to start planning the next layout,” he says. 

“I love operation, but I guess my first love is designing and building. In my mind I have a list of a dozen or so future model railroads to design and build.”

To build all the layouts in his mind, Doug says he would “need to live to be about 150 years old.” 

But he has come to realize that Colorado railroads “are my favorite, as much for the scenery as for the trains. The next C&S layout will have a tremendous amount of rock carving mountain scenery to keep me busy for many years.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Last Drone Railfan Video Round-Up

This past summer, I wrote a couple of posts about what was then a very new aspect of the hobby: Drone railfanning. (See Drone Railfanning and More Drone Railfanning.)

Back then, there were a few drone railfan videos on YouTube. Today, about five months later, there are dozens. 

Soon, there were will be hundreds as more people buy and learn to use this new technology.

In other words, after this post, there will be little point in writing about drone railfanning on this blog.

It won't be long before these types of videos will be so ubiquitous and easy to find they will hardly be worth mentioning. (Unless they are of exceptional quality or from a previously-inaccessible location.)

Watching drone railfan videos does prompt a few observations.

First, just like with still photography and other videos of trains, they vary in quality. 

Second, some drone videographers are forgetting the rule of videos on YouTube: Shorter is better. Two to three minutes is all most people will watch.

Finally, there’s the business of sound. There’s a reason almost all the drone videos I’ve seen have a music track: Drones are not yet equipped for sound. If they are, the engine noise drowns out the train sounds. 

At least one drone railfan videographer is mixing in real train sounds, to good effect. (See link below.)

Anyway, here are a few drone railfan videos I enjoyed watching, starting with two sent to me by Camerajumper1. The first is an amazing look at Tehachapi Loop from drone’s-eye perspective. 

As for others, do you like Amtrak? This one features Amtrak and NS in Jackson, Michigan. 

Do you like steam locomotives from the air? Then you’ll like this drone video of Pere Marquette 1225. 

How about drone video of bridges, rivers and trains? One thing drones allow us to do is see railroad action from the middle of the river.

Here’s that drone video that combines trains sounds and video. It sounds pretty good to me.

Drone videos like this one in Tennessee  remind us that trains spend a lot of time amidst trees and out of normal sight (until drones came along, that is).

Not all drone railfan videos feature mainline action. If you like bucolic locals, this one is for you. Bonus: An NS unit running long hood forward.

Finally, an interesting view of the CPR HolidayTrain at night. 

So, that’s it—what may be my last drone railfan video round-up. (Unless something spectacular comes along.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas and Trains 4: A Train Fit for A (Future) King

Prince George with his parents, the Duchess of
Cambridge and Prince William.

Well, it sounds like Prince George is starting out in the right direction—he got a train for Christmas.

The 17 month-old heir to the British throne got a wooden train set at Santa’s Magical Journey, a winter wonderland in Thursford, Norfolk last week.

The Prince went there with his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

It is reported that Prince George loves his “choo-choos” – although maybe it is really his father and grandfather (and maybe his great-grandfather) who really like trains.

Good for him, I say; for years, the only thing I ever wanted for Christmas was trains.

Who knows? Since the royals are trend-setters in many countries (including the neighbour to the south, despite it’s avowed anti-royalist tendencies), maybe this means that the hobby will get a pick-up in the near future when young George asks for more and more trains. 

Maybe one day there will even be a layout at Buckingham Palace.

Of course, unlike most young boys, Prince George also has a real train: The Royal Train. Wonder if he can put a layout in there, too?

Anyway, read all about it in The Telegraph, or in The Mail. 

Other Christmas posts in this series:

Trains Under the Christmas Tree

Lionel Trains on Christmas Morning 
Merry Christmas Boxcar

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Plugged Yard on the M & M Sub.

WPGTB (Winnipeg-Thunder Bay) departs as DULWPG
(Duluth-Winnipeg) enters a plugged yard.

This ever happen to you? Too many trains and too few tracks. That's what happened on the M & M Sub. the other week.

All three main and passing tracks in Fort Frances were filled, as was the station track with a private owner's train on a rare mileage run.

A view in the other direction.

That's when a mixed freight from Duluth to Winnipeg came in. Luckily, there is a back track in the yard which is used by switchers to run from on end to the other.

The yardmaster directed the new arrival to that track. Once it had cleared the main, the mixed freight from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay left., where it also had cars switched out.

After that, the train was sent on its way to Winnipeg.

Looking from the west end of the yard.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Oldest Operating Piece of Rolling Stock on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

The mixed freight from Duluth to Winnipeg was rolling by between Nance and Turney when I spotted it: SHPX 60751--Stauffer Chemical Company.

It took me back to 1987, the year I returned to the hobby after an 11-year absence. That's when I bought this car.

I was living in Dallas, TX at the time, where my wife was at grad school. Since I couldn't work in the U.S. (being a Canadian), I volunteered.

We didn't have much money, in other words.

Some friends gave me some cash as a parting gift before we returned home to Canada. I knew exactly what to do with it. I headed to the late and great Bobbye Hall's (described in 2001 by the Dallas Observer as "the best hobby house owned by a 92-year-old woman who still comes to work every morning at 9.")

I bought a locomotive and eight or nine freight cars. Of those items, only the Stauffer car remains on the layout. The others were sold or "scrapped."

The car looks like it's been around for awhile, with graffiti and weathering. No matter; when I see it, it takes me back to a time when I was younger and just starting back in the hobby.

What's the oldest piece of rolling stock operating on your layout?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Scatchbuilding and Kitbashing on the M & M Sub.

My first scratchbuilt building.

One of the things I enjoyed doing a lot when I started in this hobby was scratchbuilding.

My early efforts were terrible. And my later efforts weren’t prize winners, either. But it felt good to make something uniquely mine.

My very first effort was the warehouse in the photos above and below. It was made out of balsa wood. I scribed the siding with an X-acto knife. (It looks terrible.)

The roof is made out of cardboard, and the skylight features some of the opaque packing material that used to come with Athearn Blue Box locomotives.

It was designed to fit a particular place on my first layout. It never found a home on my new one, for a few reasons: First, it’s too small to be served by rail in the era I model (1990s). Second, it's footprint doesn't fit the new space.

But, most importantly, my skills have advanced to the point that it no longer is appropriate for use.  

Even thought I have no use for it, I haven't been able to throw it away. Every now and then I think I might like to resurrect it—put on new styrene siding and see if I can’t make it shine again. 

My second scratchbuilt building was the mine in the photo above. It also occupied a prominent place on my old layout.

When I built my new layout, it too was without a home. I gave it to my brother-in-law for his layout; he later sold it. I wonder where it is now?

I also made some wood crib elevators—prairie skyscrapers. The biggest one was made for a friend who wanted one for his layout. I posed it on my layout before he took possession.

That is the real Pioneer orange, by-the-way. I went to their head office and got a jar of it.

I've made other grain elevators, like this one, at Turney.

My biggest scratchbuilding project is the Peace River paper mill. It’s amazing what you can do with sheet styrene and foam core.

In addition to scratchbuilding, I also enjoy kitbashing. Sometimes I combine scratchbuilding and kitbashingscratchbashing? Kitscratching?

None of my buildings are contest winners—those built early, or those built later. But they do the job, and building them provided many hours of enjoyment.

Since the M & M Sub. is basically done, I haven’t built any buildings—scratchbuilt or kitbash—for some time now. But every now and then I think it might be fun to build something again.

I still have lots of styrene, after all . . . .

Sunday, December 7, 2014

New Aberfoyle Junction in Model Railroad Hobbyist

One of Canada’s signature public layouts is the Aberfoyle Junction. I was fortunate enough to visit it in its former Quonset home. I haven’t been able to see it in St. Jacob’s yet, but it’s on my to-do list.

In the meantime, I enjoyed reading about the layout in the latest issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist. Click here to read it.

If you want to check out other posts on this blog about the Aberfoyle Junction, follow the links below. (Photos from the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.)

Since the layout was reassembled exactly as it was in its own location, the photos and video below will show pretty-much what it looks like today.

Friday, December 5, 2014

More Best Snow Scene Ever

Last year I asked the question: Is this the best model snow scene ever? I think it is.

I found some more photos of that snow scene by Stefan Foerg, a modeller and diorama maker from Germany. The photos were taken by Jürg Rüedi of Switzerland; the locomotives and rolling stock are by folks who hang out at The Weathering Shop. 

Now that winter is officially here in much of Canada, I thought it would be good to share some more of Stefan's great modelling.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Amazing HO Scale Lake Superior Ore Dock

The word “amazing” is greatly over-used these days, especially on the Internet.

That’s why I’m careful about using that adjective. After all, if everything is amazing, one day we may wake up and find that nothing is.

But when it comes to Tom Cox’s Lake Superior-style ore dock and model of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the word is totally appropriate.

It is simply amazing.

Tom’s ore ore dock, which is still under construction, is modelled after those found in Duluth, MN. The dock is 18 feet long. It resides on his HO scale layout, set in the 1960s-70s in Minnesota and northwestern Ontario.

The double-track ore dock, which is made out of wood, took Tom 1,600 hours to build. It features scratchbuilt bridgework leading up to the ore dock. 

It can handle ore trains of 70 cars in length; the trains reach the dock on a 45-foot long approach with a four percent grade.

To get to the top, the cars are pulled up a four percent grade by a trio of brass SD9s. Just before the dock, they uncouple and run around the train and shove it on to the dock.

The elevated portion leading the dock is about 30 feet long. All the bridge girders that make up the approach are a scale 60 feet long. There are a total of four girders that make up each section.  Only the exposed end girders are super detailed.

Below the dock is a model of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the famous laker that sank in Lake Superior November 10, 1975. 

Tom took a resin kit of the ship, manufactured in limited quantities a number of years ago, and lengthened it from the original 5 1/2 feet to a more realistic eight feet, four inches long. (A scale 729 feet.)

The dock is also lit, with 87 lights, and includes a 38 foot-long scratchbuilt catwalk (which took almost 1200 hours to 

This is the second ore dock that Tom has built; the first was on a previous layout which he dismantled in 2000. That dock took 950 hours to build.

Tom's first ore dock.

Tom's current 22 by 40 foot layout is based on the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific line from Winnipeg to Duluth. It features operations by a number of railroads, including GN, NP, DWP, DMIR, MILW, CNW, SOO-CPR.

The layout also features one of Tom's favorite areas—Sioux Lookout, Ontario. "I used to go fishing there, and I fell in love with the place," he says.

When he isn't working on the layout, Tom is a professional custom builder and weathering specialist at Red Pine Precision Modeling.

The prototype.

Below find a few photos of Tom's first layout. Once his current layout is scenicked like that one, it won't just be amazing--it will be spectacular.