Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Railfanning the M & M Sub.

Leaving Fort Frances.

I had a chance to do a little railfanning the other day. I caught TBWPGMX (Thunder Bay-Winnipeg Mixed) leaving Fort Frances and followed it a ways along the line.

Come along for the ride . . . .

A view from the bridge.

Trackside view.

Entering the town of Ritchie.

Curving around the town.

On the way to Nance.

View from the hilltop.

Entering the town of Nance.

Passing Peace River RR #6.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bob Fallowfield's CP Rail Galt Sub.: A Great Canadian Model Railroad

When Bob Fallowfield was a kid, he enjoyed nothing better than going down the CP Rail tracks in his hometown of Woodstock, Ont. to watch trains.

Bob isn’t a kid anymore (he’s 39), and he doesn’t live in Woodstock. But he can still relive those memories through his Great Canadian Model Railroad—the CP Rail Galt Sub.

On Bob’s layout, it is always October, 1980. He chose that date not only because of childhood memories, but also because that was a good time for CP Rail.

Traffic was high, and there was a mix of newer and older power—leased units from the U.S., different paint schemes and wooden and modern vans.

The Layout

Located in a 12 x 30 foot basement room, the layout is centred on the city of Woodstock and the CP Rail Galt Sub. line that runs between Toronto and the U.S. border at Windsor.

It also includes branchlines to St. Marys, St. Thomas and Tillsonburg/Port Burwell (represented by staging).

All track on the layout is handlaid, including the switches (using jigs from FasTracks). Mainline track is code 83; the rest is code 70 and 55.

Train lengths are 15-20 cars, and the locomotives a mix of Bowser, Kato, Overland, Atlas, and Proto.

Bob uses DCC from Digitrax to control the trains. The scenery base is extruded foam and plywood. Static grass and ground foam are used for ground cover. The structures are all sratchbuilt or kitbashed.

Signature structures on the layout include the Canada Cement LaFarge plant at Zorra and Highway 59 over the tracks and the Thames River at Woodstock.

The bridge is a special place for Bob.

“As a kid I took many trips to my dad's shop on evenings and weekends, which meant two trips over that bridge,” he says.

“Given my love of trains, Dad would often detour through the yard so I could take it all in.”


The idea behind the layout for Bob is to replicate the railfan experience. All photos of his layout are taken as if they were taken trackside. No drone shots allowed!

To operate the layout, Bob uses prototype CP Rail forms from 1980 to govern train movements and switching. Four operators can be kept busy during a session.

Operations are fed by two ten-track staging yards for east and westbound traffic beneath the layout.

There are also four staging tracks representing St. Marys, St. Thomas and Tillsonburg/Port Burwell, although part of the St. Thomas Sub. is modelled behind the backdrop along one side of the layout.

Trains begin their journeys in staging, climb to appear on the layout itself, and then disappear into staging again after travelling once around the room.

Many trains roar right on through Woodstock, but some stop to drop off cars for nearby Zorra and the branchlines to St. Thomas, St. Marys and Tillsonburg/Port Burwell. There is also switching to be done in Woodstock itself.

No Longer a Lone Wolf

What’s truly amazing, considering the quality and completion of the layout, is that Bob did it all by himself—in just five years.

For inspiration and information, he relied on magazines, websites and how-to books.

“I’m a sponger for information and enjoy research,” he says. “I'm also not afraid to dive in and botch it up and try again.”

Although he built the layout himself, now he is happy to share it with others, mostly through the Canadian Railway Modellers page on Facebook.

“Sharing photos of the layout is a way I can give back the hobby,” he says. “I’ve been a taker for a long time. Now it’s time to give something back. I really want to be a contributor . . . . I am more than willing to share my techniques, successes and failures.”

The Future

As for the future, Bob has more details to add, and he wants to finish the backdrop. That, and enjoy operating the layout, either alone or with friends.

That, and take more photos to share with others.

“I’m like a chef. I don’t want any other cooks in my kitchen,” he says of his modelling philosophy. “But once the food is ready, I am happy to share it with anyone.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Zen of Railfanning

Practicing mindfulness in North Dakota.

When I watch trains, I always feel relaxed. It's like the cares of the world are washing away. There's something about being trackside on a nice day that makes everything seem peaceful and serene. 

I didn't realize it, but I when I railfan I am actually practicing mindfulness. At least, that’s what an article in The Telegraph in February contends.

According to the article in that British newspaper, new research shows that trainspotting—what the Brits call railfanning—can be used as a mindfulness technique.

Mindfulness is "a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment.” It is commonly associated with Yoga.

It is also related to the idea of Zen, which comes from Buddhism. Zen is described as  “a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind.

For Clinical psychologist, Dr Saima Latif, trainspotting can be a way to practice mindfulness since it is a de-stresser and helps to organize one’s thoughts.

"Most people associate mindfulness with yoga,” she says. “However taking up trainspotting can also be a really successful way to embrace this therapeutic process.

"By involving yourself in a pastime that has a clear goal, you help to focus the mind on the present task in hand, which in turn helps to focus your thoughts and relieve stress.”

Dr Latif notes there are other benefits of trainspotting. It gets people outdoors, it can involve walking and it might disconnect you from the world—especially if you railfan a remote location in Canada!

"In these modern times, it’s rare to ever be truly disconnected,” she said. “The constant bombardment of information, from mobile phones to the internet, often hinders mindful thinking as your mind is distracted.”

By removing as many distractions as possible, "you’re then able to reach the ultimate goal of mindfulness—focusing on the present moment,” she adds.

(I can often get something similar with my layout, unless trains derail regularly at a new spot, I have an electrical problem or I try to put one of those tiny springs on to a Kadee coupler. Then my mindfulness goes out the window.)

Anyway, I always thought that watching trains was a near-religious experience. Now I know it’s true.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Bowser SD40-2 Units on the M & M Sub.

Finally! Long after everyone else seems to have posted photos of Bowser's new SD40-2 unit, I received mine--and had some time between business trips to run them.

They run and look great, although I found them to be a bit finicky with my trackwork.

I will admit to not having the best trackwork, but it rarely gives me a problem.

But the two Bowser units seem to have more limited flexibility in their trucks than my other locomotives.

Places where one side of the track was lower than the other caused them to derail. A few shims fixed the problem.

Otherwise, they are great! And it was a real privilege to provide some very limited assistance to Lee English of Bowser along the way.

I ran my two units with a Kato and Athearn since I want to enjoy the great looking Bowser units at the head of trains, what with their working ditchlights and headlights.

Of course, they need a run through the weathering shop; but that will come later.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Port Rowan in S Scale

Trevor Marshall was looking for a change. After modelling in various scales over 40 years, he was ready for a new challenge.

He found it in S scale, and the result is the Port Rowan Sub.—a Great Canadian model railroad.

“This is my first foray into S scale,” he says, adding he was inspired to choose that scale by his friends in the S Scale Workshop.

For many, the lack of variety of equipment, structures and details, compared to the more popular gauges, is a drawback to choosing S scale. But Trevor found it to be an advantage.

For one thing, “it forced me to pick a modest piece of reality to recreate in my layout room,” he says of his modest-sized layout.

For another, it pushed him to do more scratchbuilding and kitbashing.

The layout represents a lightly-trafficked Canadian National Railway's branch in Ontario’s Norfolk County in the 1950s. It is centred on two towns, St. Williams and Port Rowan, that are at the end of the branch.

He picked this line for a few reasons.

First, he had maps of the track arrangements for both towns, and they would fit into his 15 x 35 layout room without too much compression.

Second, he could acquire the key pieces of equipment needed to replicate the prototype, including locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, and vans.

Third, he had photos of many of the key structures he would need to build, including two stations.

As well, after years of modelling U.S. railroads, he wanted to model something closer to home in Ontario.

By choosing to model such a small slice of a modest prototype—the two towns have a total of eight switches—“I knew I could invest time and resources into scratch-building everything from buildings to details,” he says.

He started planning for the move to S in early 2011; the first benchwork went up in October of that year.

There are still a few structures to build, and details to add, but he considers the layout about 75% finished now, with all track in and wired, most of the structures done, and a first pass made on the scenery.

The layout is designed to be operated by one or two people.

“It’s relaxed, but prototypical,” he says, noting that in the 1950s—the era is he modelling—the line to Port Rowan hosted just a single round-trip per day: A mixed train that started in Hamilton and worked south across the Hagersville, Cayuga and Simcoe Subdivisions to reach both Port Rowan and nearby Port Dover.

During operations, Trevor runs either a mixed or a freight extra during a session, depending on how much switching he wants to do.

“Using prototype rules and procedures, it takes 75-90 minutes to run a train from staging to Port Rowan and back, with work to do in both towns,” he says.

While S scale is not for everyone, Trevor has found it to be an ideal choice.

“My previous layouts have all been important learning experiences, but they’ve also failed me for one reason or another, often related to an overly-ambitious design,” he says.

“This time out, I’ve hit on the right balance for me. The result is a layout that I’m finding challenging to build while being easy to fit into the other demands on my time. It’s also a layout that I enjoy operating by myself or with one or two friends.”

When he switched to S scale, Trevor also started keeping an online journal, called Port Rowan in 1:64. If you visit, Trevor says the best place to start is First time here? 

Through the Port Rowan Sub., Trevor has not only shown his modelling talent, and the merits and possibilities of S Scale. He has also demonstrated that you don’t need a complicated track plan to have a great model railroad experience—and a great Canadian model railroad.