Saturday, February 28, 2015

Update on Conrail 6408 Big Blue

There are no prizes for finishing fast in model railroading. So I take my time getting things done. Like adding details to Conrail 6408, an Athearn SD40-2.

I've had the unit for a number of years, but just never got around to adding the pilot, numberboards (using my simple word processing method) and weathering. But I had some time and inclination this week.

Now it looks like the other units on the layout--toned down and well-used.

How the unit used to look. That blue sure is bright!

This old blue box locomotive will never stand up against the newer offerings. But it does the job on the M & M Sub. And now it does it while looking even better.

Find more info about Conrail 6408 on the M & M Sub., and the end of big blue on Norfolk Southern, by clicking here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Great Canadian Photo Site: Your Railway Pictures

There are a lot of great websites out there that have great photos of Canadian trains. But one I really like is

The site, which has been created by John MacDonald, is old school. But that's no big deal; the photos are superb. 

On the site, John notes that "like most Canadians over 50, I have a fascination with railways and steam locomotives in particular."

He's turned that fascination into quite a collection of photos of older and newer trains, with a number of historical shots from across Canada.

There are sections about CNR and CPR steam, Canadian railway artifacts, RDCs, old Canadian rolling stock (freight and passenger), Canadian train stations, cabooses, Canadian streetcars and grain elevators.

There are also pages about bridges, trestles and tunnels (with a detailed look at the CPR Spiral Tunnels), old Canadian logging equipment, CP Rail robot cars, more CN, CPR and VIA locomotives, the Newfoundland Railway, Canadian rail yards and more.

I've never seen a photo of CNR steam at
Churchill, Manitoba before.

The photos are mostly submitted and all are captioned; John intersperses comments about the photos, providing information about time and place.

Be warned that the pages are very large; you have to scroll a long way to get to the bottom of most pages. But that just makes it more enjoyable--sort of like a treasure hunt. (What will I find next?) 

Also be warned that John has brief train sounds embedded on the home page and other pages, in case you open it up at work. (Turn the sound off!)

If you have the time, or even if you don't, is well worth a visit.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Friends Visit the CP Rail M & M Sub.

It's Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, a Monday off to celebrate the man who is considered the founder of the province--and the man who was hanged by the government of Canada in 1885 as a rebel.

Who says we don't have a colourful history in this country?

It was also a day to welcome some friends to the CP Rail M & M Sub. The gathering was occasioned by the visit of Rapido Trains founder and owner Jason Shron to Winnipeg.

(Maybe one day Canadian model railroaders can designate a day to celebrate the founding of this unique company. I wonder what day would be best? What would we call it? And how would we celebrate it? Jason would have an idea or two . . . .)

Anyway, eight of us ran trains and talked about the state and future of the hobby, and a few things in between.

We even managed to pick up a wayfaring stranger from Toronto who was supposed to be headed back to that city today on VIA; a derailment forced him to fly home. Somewhere along the way he met Jason, and was invited to come along.

In the photo above are Ray Goy, yours truly, Jason (the VIA T-shirt is a give-away), Canadian Railway Modeller founder and editor Morgan Turney, Walter Pankratz, Matt Soknacki (the wayfaring visitor from Toronto), Christopher Robinson and Ed Pankratz.

Even though there are a number of lone wolf model railroaders, ours is also a social hobby. I enjoy sharing it with friends.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Visiting Power on the CP Rail M & M Sub.

Being a DC layout, the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. doesn't get much in the way of visiting power.

But it did a week ago when my friend Rick Ritchie (after whom the town of Ritchie is named) brought over an Aurora & Portland SW1500 (I think that's what it is) made by his friend Jerome Wheeler.

The neat little unit, which was painted and detailed by Jerome, handled the switching duties at the Peace River Mill that evening.

And it looked good doing it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Rotary Snow Plow: A Canadian Invention

So it turns out that the rotary snowplow was invented by a Canadian. Who knew?

I didn't.

It goes back to 1870 when a Toronto dentist name J.W. Elliot patented a plan to make "An Improvement on a Machine for Removing Snow from Railway Tracks," or a spinning snow shovel.(Patent number 3991871.)

Unfortunately, Elliot couldn't find anyone interested in actually manufacturing his new type of plow, so he went back to being a dentist (and inventing new dentist tools).

One of Orange Jull's early designs.

That's when Orange Jull of Orangeville, Ontario, enters the picture, prompting the eternal question: Who names their kid "Orange?"

Jull expanded on Elliot's design, building working models he tested with sand. He contracted with the Leslie Brothers of Toronto to build a full-size prototype that proved successful.

Jull later sold his design rights to Leslie Brothers, who formed the Rotary Steam Shovel Manufacturing Company in Paterson, New Jersey.

The first railway to buy and use one was the Chicago Northwestern, in the winter of 1883-84 in Iowa.

The rest, as they say, is history. In 2001, the Rotary Snowplow was inducted into the North America Railway Hall of Fame. It was inducted into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame in 2002.

The CPR bought its first rotary snow plows in 1888 for use in B.C.'s Selkirk Mountains.

By the winter of 1889 it had a fleet of them throughout  the Prairies, in northern Ontario, and elsewhere in eastern Canada. They were replaced by other ways of clearing snow in the 1950s.

The only railway that still uses rotary snow plows, as far as I can tell, is the Union Pacific, in California's Donner Pass. Click here to watch a video that shows them in action. (Thanks to Greg who posted a comment below that BNSF still has a few in the midwest.)

Now that I think of it, it makes perfect sense that a Canadian invented the rotary snow plow--this is, after all, the land of ice and snow.

For more information, visit Library and Archives Canada here and here.

Top photo by Jim Cunningham from Northeast Rails, which has a good selection of photos of various rotary snow plows. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Team Track on the CP Rail M & M Sub.

As model railroaders know, a team track is one of the most versatile industries on a layout.

A team track is a spur for businesses that do not have rail service. It got its name from the teams of horses that pulled wagons to the tracks before trucks were used. For some reason, the name stuck.

An team of horses puts the "team" in team
track in Duluth, MN.

There is a two-track team track in Fort Frances on the CP Rail M & M Sub. One of the tracks features a ramp for unloading truck trailers from piggy-back flat cars.

Cars which find their way to the team tracks include flat cars, box cars, covered hoppers and bulkhead flats.

Making the team track area was simple. I simply painted the upside-down ceiling tile I used for subroadbed black. I used cinders for ballast for the track, scattering some ground foam around to simulate weeds.

A black magic marker pen was used to simulate cracks in the asphalt.

Click here for an interesting look at team tracks in Duluth, MN from Zenith City Online. Old-time photo above from that website. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Murphy's Law and Model Railroading

A friend came over last night to run some trains with me. The last time I operated the layout, about two weeks earlier, everything ran flawlessly.

An hour before he arrived, I ran a test train. Darned if it didn't keep derailing at the same spot on the swinging gate that spanned the entrance to the layout room.

After a bit of fiddling, I got it fixed. As I did, I thought: Murphy strikes again!

Yes, good old Murphy's Law: If anything can go wrong, it will, and at the worst time posible.

Murphy's Law is one of those things that helps us make sense of this crazy, weird world. 

The law of gravity explains why a heavy object falls to the floor, but Murphy's Law explains why it always hits your foot on the way down and then rolls to the most inaccessible part of the room.

Or, to put it in model railroad terms, gravity is why a locomotive falls to the floor if there is a derailment near the edge of the layout. 

Murphy explains why it is always your most expensive locomotive--the one you superdetailed--and not that old Blue Box Athearn you no longer care about.

As a corollary, Murphy also explains why such an accident never happens when you are alone, but only when there is a crowd of visitors from the local model railroad club.

As it turns out, there is an official Murphy's Law for model railroading. Called Bye's First Law of Model Railroading, it goes like this:

"Anytime you wish to demonstrate something, the number of faults is proportional to the number of viewers.

Bye also has a Second Law of Model Railroading:

"The desire for modeling a prototype is inversely proportional to the decline of the prototype."

I found a number of other unofficial laws on the Web, which many of us will recognize.

"Soon after you scratchbuild or kitbash a model that has never been produced before, a manufacturer will announce a run of it."

"The number of derailments on your layout varies as the square of the number of visitors."

"The chances of losing something are inversely proportional to the a) size, b) importance of the thing that can be lost."

"Parts fit perfectly together until you add glue."

"If you lose a part to a model, you will not find it until you order a new part to replace it."

"The chances of losing a part are inversely proportional to the ease with which you can replace said part." (To which the poster added this mathematical formula: Pl - Pr/Pr + Pl = Dammit!!!)

"If a kit comes with several of the same part, you will never lose one. If it comes with only one, the probability of it falling off the work bench and disappearing forever are magnified."

"The most inaccessible place on your layout is the place where most of your derailments will occur."

"After saving up your money to purchase a brass model you've been waiting for, somebody will offer it in plastic at a fraction  of the price."

Any other laws to add?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

New Product from Rapido: Budd RDCs

Growing up in southern Ontario, I recall seeing CN Budd RDCs making their way through my hometown of St. Catharines, on their way between Toronto and Niagara Falls.

Those sliver, black and red units are stuck in my mind, a permanent memory of being a kid who liked trains.

For a long time, the only way to get an RDC was to buy one from Athearn, with the rubber band drive. It was quite a ways from being prototypical.

Later, in the 1990s, Proto 1000 came out with an RDC—much better in all regards.

Now Rapido Trains has come out with the Absolute RDC. With their legendary attention to prototype fidelity and detail, there will likely never be another model that can best it.

Aiming at creating a low operating cost alternative to a conventional passenger train, Budd introduced its RDC models starting in 1949. Nearly 400 units were built over the next thirteen years, entering service with railroads worldwide.

Budd offered its RDC in five major variations. The RDC-1 contained coach seating only. The  RDC-2 was a combination coach-baggage. The RDC-3 was a combination baggage-mail-coach. The RDC-9 was a trailing coach unit with no cab and only one motor. And the RDC-4 was a shorty RPO/baggage only.

Rapido is offering the RDC-1, RDC-2 and RDC-3, each in both Phase 1 and Phase 2 configurations in the following Canadian schemes: VIA Rail, CN, CPR, CP Rail, PGE, BCR and Dominion & Atlantic.

It is offering them in the following U.S. schemes: B & M, B & O, CNJ, CJE, Long Island, MBTA, New Haven, NYC, PC, Reading, SP, and Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines.

Click here for info about the Canadian models.

Click here for info about the U.S. versions.

The CP Rail M & M Sub. never got around to buying an RDC for one reason or another. I might have a reason now.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Great Canadian Model Railroad in Northern Ireland: The Killigan Valley Sub.

So far, I’ve featured two Great Canadian Model Railroads in Australia (Andreas Keller's Fergus Sub., and the Thompson River Canyon down under) and one in the United Kingdom (Chris Round's Stoney Hill). 

Now here’s one in Northern Ireland: Gareth McLaughlin's Killigan Valley Sub.

The 17 by 12 foot around-the-walls layout is named after the area where Gareth lives. 

It features CP, SOO, CN and VIA, although BC Rail, Grant Trunk, GO Transit and Cape Breton & Nova Scotia units, along with locomotives and rolling stock from Irish railways, also make appearances.

Freight cars come from many manufacturers, but the main source of locomotives are Rapido, Bowser and Intermountain.

Gareth's favourite train is Rapido's "The Canadian" in Via Rail. He uses Lenz DCC to run the trains.

The layout can be run as a loop, if Gareth just wants to relax and watch the trains, or he can do switching in the yard as trains drop off or pick up cars from or to local customers.

The entire layout is scenicked. Gareth says he’s not that good at scenery, but I think he’s done a good job.

Gareth got hooked on Canadian railways during a visit to relatives Vancouver in 1996. He tries to get back to Canada every five years or so to see a few trains and keep motivated.

He also built a 17 by 2 foot O scale layout he can take to shows. Called Avonlea, it takes its name from a visit he made to Prince Edward Island. It is based on the classic John Allen timesaver plan.

I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland; now I have another reason to go—the Killigan Valley Sub.!

You can see more photos of Gareth's Killigan Valley Sub. on his Flickr page.