Thursday, January 30, 2014

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Chris Plue’s Rapido Route

Calling Chris Plue’s layout “great” doesn't do it justice. A word like “amazing” might be better. Or “magnificent.” “Take your breath away” might also apply.

Even more remarkable is that this is his first layout—how many of us could have done this our first time around?

Chris started the HO scale Rapido Route in 2009. Set in the late 1970s to late 80s, it occupies a 32 by 11 foot room in his basement.

The freelanced layout is based on Chris’ memories of taking the train from Toronto to Montreal and Quebec City as a child. From that he developed an interest in urban scenery, CN and VIA Rail.

While there are some freight trains on the layout, most of the action is passenger trains—and all of the passenger trains and locomotives come from Rapido Trains.

“I find that Jason and his crew have really gone to the ends of the earth to recreate the prototypes as closely as possible in miniature form,” says Chris. “Their stuff is all of the great stuff I like, so I'm glad that their company is feverishly recreating incredible products with so much attention to detail.”

The layout itself is a continuous loop, with a Union Station on the North side of the room and Central Station on the South side. One of the layout, is heavily urbanized, serving as a view block between the two “cities.”

Says Chris: “Some of my fondest memories of riding the trains as a kid was the slow crawl through the urban sprawls of the cities leading into Union and Central Stations. Essentially I have wanted to recreate that slow crawl through the elevated mainline into the massive sheds of the two stations on the layout. 

"As I built the structures and scenery, I did so while envisioning what I remembered seeing out the windows of the trains in relation to building positions, and general scenery.”

Chris takes inspiration from Geroge Selios’ Franklin & South Manchester and Rod Stewart's gorgeous urban-themed layout. The buildings on the Rapido Route are a combination of kits, kitbashed and scratchbuilt structures. 

He elevated the mainlines through the city so he could run roads underneath the tracks and to ensure that foreground buildings didn’t block the view of the trains. Signs on the buildings help set the time and place.

Of the layout, Chris says it “has been a fun and exciting way to build something creative.” As far the future, there’s that train shed to build, and then he wants to get into the super-detailing stage.

As for me, I am in awe of what Chris has created. In the near future Canadian Railway Modeller will carry an article about his layout, including more information about how he built his amazing buildings.

For more photos of the Rapido Route, click here.

The Rapido Route is truly a great Great Canadian Model Railroad! 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Richard Wakefield's Late, but Great Canadian Model Railroad: The CPR Bruce Subdivision

Here’s a late, but still great, Great Canadian Model Railroad: Richard Wakefield’s HO scale CPR Bruce Subdivision. 

Richard started the CPR Bruce Subdivision in 2000, when he moved into a new home. Since he had always been interested in the CPR branchlines in the Bruce County area of Southwestern Ontario, he chose to model that area. And since he was also interested in preserving the area's railroad history (now mostly gone), he decided to model it as it was in 1945-47.  

Plus, as he notes, “the trackage in many of the towns is more bizarre than one could come up with freelance.”

His goal was to get as much of the area into a 36 by 34 foot space as possible, and as close to scale as possible. His efforts were helped by a 1947 CPR listing of towns, structures and industries that not only lists the industries on the line at that time, but also the commodities that were shipped. 

Richard planned to build the layout in three phases. He was partway along that path, including the creation of some scenery, when life intervened. He moved to a new and smaller house in 2005. Since that time, the layout has been in storage. He hopes to rebuild it “one day.”

In the meantime, you can read about the layout, and view documents on his website such as an operations manual, industry list and shipment list. 

The latter two are of special interest to anyone who models the 1940s or early 1950s; even if you don’t model that part of Canada, it will give you valuable information about the kinds of industries that existed during that time, along with the kinds of things they shipped by rail.

The CPR Bruce Subdivision may not exist any more (not in one piece, at least), but you can read about it, how it was to be operated, and about Richard’s vision for it, on his website. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

And You Thought You Had a Lot of Snow

The caption accompanying this photo says that it was taken in Rogers Pass, B.C. after a metre (three feet) of snow had fallen in three days in January, 2014.

Another website, with the same photo, said the train was moving through the result of an avalanche.

Either way, that's a lot of snow!

The photo was taken by Sylvain Hebert of Storm Mountain Technical Services, the company that does avalanche control for the CPR. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Neil Young, Oil Sands, Waging Heavy Peace and Lionel Trains

Former Winnipegger Neil Young has been in the news again in Canada, this time over his new "Honour the Treaties" tour that blasts Alberta's oil sands.

Rock singers taking political stands is nothing new. What is different about Young is that he isn't shy about his model railroad hobby.

In his book, Waging Heavy Peace, he recounts how he got involved in model railroading, his experience with Lionel, and the reaction of some of his friends to his hobby. Here's a few snippets from the book.

"It all started with Ben Young [his son, who has cerebral palsy]. I was just getting back into trains at the time, reintroducing myself to a pastime I enjoyed as a child. Sharing the building of the layout together was one of our happiest times."

Young devised a control system to allow Ben to operate trains. "It took a lot of effort, but it was very rewarding for him to see the cause and effect in action. Ben was empowered by this."

(Watch a video of Ben and Neil operating the layout.)

Neil Young's layout.

“I remember one day David Crosby and Graham Nash were visiting me at the train barn during the recording of American Dream . . . I saw David looking at one of my train rooms full of rolling stock and stealing a glance at Graham that said, This guy is cuckoo. He’s gone nuts. Look at this obsession. I shrugged it off. I need it. For me it is a road back."

"Not that anybody ever comes here [into the layout room].You could count the visitors on your hand. Which is unfortunate, considering the amount that has gone into the display. The display and layout create a zen experience. They allow me to sift through the chaos, the songs, the people, and the feelings from my upbringing that still haunt me today. Not in a bad way, but not in an entirely good way, either."

And Young is just like the rest of us model railroaders, who ignore our layouts for stretches of time. "Months go by with boxes piled everywhere and trains derailed with dust gathering on them. Then, miraculously, I reappear and clean and organize, working with every little detail for hours on end, making it all run perfectly again. This seems to coincide with the creative process."

Young's wife always gives him Lionel collectibles for Christmas. Now he has a very extensive collection of rarities, all "proudly displayed behind glass" in his layout room.

But back to the oil sands. This isn't the first time that Young has taken on the oil industry. In 2004 Lionel announced a limited edition Greendale train set, named in honour of Young's album, movie and graphic novel on the themes of corruption, environmentalism and mass media consolidation.

The set includes "BIG OIL tank car" (capital letters in the advertising copy), a "Devil animated gondola" and presidential election campaign observation car--all items that "tells the story of modern day issues that besiege all of us on a daily basis."

For more about Neil Young and model railroading, read two of my other posts: Neil Young and Clyde Coil: A Model Railroad Team and Neil Young and Model Railroading: "I am the Wizard of Oz."

See also an interview of Neil Young with David Letterman, where they discuss their mutual interest in Lionel trains.

Photo of Neil Young at top from the CBC.

Great Canadian Model Railroads: S Scale Drumheller, Alberta Grain Elevator (Diorama Division)

Here’s another member of the Great Canadian ModelRailroads, Diorama Division: Philippe Coquet’s S Scale Drumheller, AB elevators.

Phillipe, who lives in France, started the diorama in 2008 and finished it in 2011. He based it on photos sent to him by a Canadian friend.

Drumheller is located about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Calgary. It once had three elevators. The United Grain Growers elevator was demolished in 2001. The other elevator in the diorama was not found on the prototype.

Philippe made the elevators out of 1/16" basswood clapboard, laminated over a core made of MDF. The other wooden elements were made from scale lumber. The roof was made using very wood shingles.

Click here and click here to read more about how Philippe made the elevator. More photos can be found on Philippe’s Flickr page. Click here to see Philippe’s construction photos.

By now you may be wondering what someone in France is doing modelling Canadian railways. As it turns out, there are other who like North American railways in that country—as you will discover if you visit TraiN’ternet, a website for French model railroaders who model North American railways.

Their goal is to let other French model railroaders know about North American railways, and let North American model railroaders know about some of the fine modelling being done on the other side of the ocean.

Click here to visit the TraiN'ternet website.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Don't Drop That Locomotive! (Or, Don't You Just Hate It When This Happens?)

A video shot of the unit hitting the dock. Ouch!

Have you ever watched as one of your locomotives took a nose-dive to the floor? It happened to me once. But it was nothing like what happened to dock workers in the West African country of Gabon.

While unloading an Australian-built EMD GT46C-Ace at Port Owendo in 2012, the cables snapped, dropping the 132-ton unit on to the dock. The result wasn't pretty, as this video of the incident shows.

What the unit looks like when it hasn't been dropped.

Comilog is a French mining company that transports manganese from Franceville and Libreville in Gabon’s interior to Port Owendo.

You can read more about this incident, and other shipping-related accidents, at, a website about accidents involving ships and cargo. (Motto: Ship happens!)

Speaking of accidents, closer to home the CN locomotive below got into a bit of a tight squeeze at the coal unloading facility at Westshore Terminals on B.C.’s west coast. According to a newspaper report, this is the second time someone tilted the locomotive, instead of the coal cars, at the terminal.


Thanks to West Toronto Junction for alerting me to the video of the dropped locomotive.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Calgary's Grain Academy Museum

Next time you are in Calgary, check out the Grain Academy Museum—not because you are interested in Canada’s grain industry (although you may be), but because they have a great model railroad display. Plus, it’s free! (Admission on a donation basis.)

The Grain Academy Museum describes itself as “an interactive celebration of the grain industry in Western Canada.” It is located at Stampede Park, home of the world-renowned Calgary Stampede. 

In addition to the layout, it has many artefacts and exhibits about the history of the Canadian grain industry.

The layout, which depicts the movement of grain by rail from the Canadian prairies to port on Canada's west coast, was built by the Fine Arts and Engineering faculties of the University of Calgary in 1981. 

The current operating system was installed by Hartmann Technica in 1991. Annual maintenance is performed by Chinook/Hobby West. 

Click here to visit the Grain Academy Museum website. Click here to watch a video of the layout in action.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hiding Another Hole on the M & M Sub., Part 2

The hole is starting to be hidden.

Earlier, I wrote about the need to hide the new hole on the lower level of the CP Rail M & M Sub.

The new hole is the result of changes to the layout (eliminating the three-level peninsula and replacing it with a single level).

Time off over Christmas gave me an opportunity to get working on this new challenge.

How it looked before . . . .

An easy fix would be a tunnel, but that would be an unlikely thing to find on the prairies (the tracks heading into the hole come from a prairie town).

The solution I decided on was to hide it with a bridge--a time-honoured way of hiding transitions between scenes on model railroads.

Early in the effort . . . .

Since the layout at this point is narrow, and tracks from the town of Fort Frances are on the other side, I needed to run the bridge across what are, in fact, two scenes that are supposed to be kilometres apart.

By creating a high hill between the tracks, I hope to obscure the fact that road and bridges are so close to each other.

From the other side.

In the end, I know that this is an imperfect solution--the way I hid the hole on the upper level is much better. But you have to work with what you have, so I will make the best of it.

As for my methods, I am once again using pieces of Styrofoam. I am building them up and carving them to suggest a narrow hill. I use small pieces of Styrofoam cut from the larger pieces to fill in the gaps; spackling paste is used to fill in and cover up the cracks.

Until it is painted and grass and trees are added, I won't know how successful this is. We'll see how it turns out . . . .

Saturday, January 4, 2014

R.I.P Earl Smallshaw

I was saddened to learn today that Earl Smallshaw passed away on January 3, 2014.

Smallshaw, 80, was a noted author of 32 articles on model railroading. He was one of the many who inspired me when I was starting out in the hobby.

Although his layout, the Middletown & Mystic Mines, was a coal hauler set in a time that didn't especially interest me--1925--I appreciated his modelling.

And who can forget his Miracle Chair Company? (Slogan: If it's a good chair, it's a miracle.) 

Smallshaw was also part of the Hartford Workshop, a small group of model railroaders who helped each other with their layouts. 

In his obituary, his involvement in the hobby was remembered this way: "Earl was best known for his love of model railroading. A skilled craftsman with painstaking attention to detail, he earned an international reputation as a master modeller whose work was the subject of numerous magazine articles and clinics on the art of model railroading. A life member of the National Model Railroad Association, Earl's layout drew visitors from around the country and overseas."

You can learn more about Smallshaw, and see more photos of his layout, on his website. See a video of the layout here. 

Photos from Earl Smallshaw's website.