Sunday, May 22, 2016

Facebook is Eating the (Model Railroad) World

"Facebook is Eating the World."

That was the headline in an article in Columbia Journalism Review that went viral earlier this year.

In it, author Emily Bell said that Facebook (and other forms of social media), hasn't just "swallowed journalism, it has swallowed everything. It has swallowed political campaigns, banking systems, personal histories, the leisure industry, retail, even government and security. The phone in our pocket is our portal to the world."

To that list I would add model railroading.

There was a time not so long ago when the only way to get model railroad information was in print: Magazines like Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman, Canadian Railway Modeller and (the long departed) Model Railroading and Rail Model Journal. (Along with a few other specialty publications.)

Slowly, as the Internet took hold, the model railroad conversation began to move online to the Atlas Forum (now gone), Railroad Line Forums, Model Railroader’s various forums, Yahoo groups, and others.

Today, however, I think the conversation is moving to Facebook.

I recently joined Canadian Railway Modellers on Facebook. Being a member of the group is like being at a local hobby shop (remember those?) where people bring their questions, show off their modelling, and generally discuss the hobby.

When someone has a question about DCC, a certain kind of rolling stock, a trackplan, or anything else, they post it and—very quickly—there are answers.

Sometimes people just want to post photos of their layouts or their modelling for people to enjoy.

It’s quite unlike a printed magazine, which only comes out monthly (or bi-monthly), has limited space, and which requires people to write exhaustive how-to instructions or detailed text for a modelling or layout article.

(I  include Model Railroad Hobbyist in that list. Even though it's online, it operates like a print magazine on the Web.) 

It’s also easier than a blog, like this one, which needs to be regularly updated, fact-checked and have fresh content to be relevant to readers.

On Facebook, people just post stuff—details and schedules be darned.

As a former editor of a model railroad magazine, I can appreciate the benefits of this new way of sharing about the hobby.

Few people have the time, patience or skill to write a long article that is suitable for publication.

And only a few have the ability to take publication-ready photos.

Facebook is a great leveler. It doesn’t care about grammar or the quality of photos. People whose modelling would never be good enough for a model railroad publication can still post on Facebook and get lots of likes and encouragement.

Now, there are downsides to Facebook. It isn’t searchable, for one thing. A great photo or modelling tip can quickly disappear and be hard (or impossible) to find again.

Then there are a few people who like to post too much . . . enough said about that.

But in the main, it’s a boon for the hobby—although maybe not for model railroad publications. But that’s true for all print media, big or small.

What’s your experience with model railroading on Facebook?

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Model Railroad Club of Ontario: Back to Life!

When I last wrote about the Model Railroad Club of Toronto, it was 2013 and the club had held its final run before having to move to new premises.

"With brave faces, they did their final runs, then symbolically, they cut the mainline,"  was how a reporter chronicled the end of the O scale layout, which had been in the same location since 1946.

Well, that was then and this is now: Next weekend, May 28-29, the club has its first public open house to show off progress on the new layout, called the Central Ontario Railway.

And what a magnificent layout it is! Even though it isn't nearly done, and much of it is in benchwork, you can see the promise and potential.

Not all of the layout is new; club members incorporated elements of the old layout, including the major yards with their hundreds of switches and thousands of feet of handlaid track.

As they say on their Facebook page, "with a bit of year of room prep, benchwork, trackwork, electrical, DCC integration and lots of effort, the 'patient' is now off life support and is slowly coming back."

Unfortunately, living in Winnipeg means I can't be there for the open house. But I wish them well in this, and all future endeavours.

The photos on this page are from the club's Facebook page, where they are posting about their progress.

To watch a video on YouTube of the club's first operating session, click here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Malcolm Anderson's Big Trees Layout

A show stopper at a model train show doesn’t have to be big. Sometimes it can be very small, like Malcolm Anderson’s Big Trees narrow gauge layout.

A model railroader since the early '70s, Malcolm was a teenage member of the Vancouver Model Railroad Club in the top floor of the CN Station. Today he lives in Regina, after living in various parts of Canada.

Until about five years ago, he had a small HO scale layout that he took to shows. Then he was inspired to try an On30 layout.

Making a small narrow gauge layout fit Malcolm for a couple of reasons. First, he has always lived in smaller spaces, so he has never had a large layout. 

Second, he has always been more interested in structures and scenery more that operations, so a small layout that features those things was a natural thing for him to do.

The layout is only 60 by 66 inches—he says many people can’t believe how small it is, considering all the detail it contains.

It’s made of six 18 by 30 inch modules made from 3/8th inch baltic birch cabinet grade plywood. The sub-roadbed is 1/2 inch plywood. The modules connect together with hinges with removable pins which ensures complete alignment every time.

The scenery is made of extruded Styrofoam to keep the weight down. There is minimal rock work; most of the layout is covered in forest undergrowth. 

Bushes in the undergrowth are made from furnace filter material, pulled in half and painted flat black. Malcolm then sprays on adhesive and adds ground foam, along with twigs left over from tree making.

This, he says, provides a “flexible thick ground cover.”

The locomotives and rolling stock are made by Bachmann. “They are affordable and dependable,” he says, adding “my loco's have logged about 100 hours and are still going.”

Malcolm finds working in a larger scale easier on the eyes when detailing the layout; the small size of the modules makes for easy handling. “I can work on a module in front of the TV upstairs instead of being a basement troll,” he says.

As for the name? The layout has about 50 trees, between 80-100 scale feet high with the tallest one 200 scale feet. 

Malcolm uses various mediums to make trees, but the most success comes from using 2 x 2 straight grained cedar boards. He cuts the wood to a rough conical shape on the band saw, then finishes them on a belt sander with 60 grit paper.

Next, he carves the trunk bark detail with a saw blade, using it like a scraper. Cut-offs from the cedar boards are used to add root detail to the base of the tree. The branches are made from caspia, which is used for floral displays.

When done, Malcolm stains the trunks with an india ink/water stain mix, then sprays the finished trees with dark brown acrylic paint. 

After that, he uses spray glue to affix ground foam to the branches. When done, he uses artist spray fixative to make sure the trees don't shed too much.

Malcolm says it takes about five hours to make each tree, but he doesn’t mind—it takes his mind off work.

All but one of the structures are scratchbuilt. The station is all styrene and is patterned after Woodland Scenics HO scale kit. The general store is a much-modified Banta kit. Other buildings are made by using foam core covered with coffee stir sticks.

Malcolm has shown the Big Trees layout in Regina, Moose Jaw, Edmonton and Calgary. 

People often ask him how the trees survive travelling from show to show; they do need occasional re-flocking and repair, he says, but “it is surprising how resilient they are.”

For Malcolm, making the portable display layout is a way to share his love for model railroading—and show off the possibilities of narrow gauge. 

“The layout is designed as a show layout,” he says, with the two separate loops of track on two levels keeping viewers interested.

The vertical scenery makes it easier for tall and short people to view the layout, he says, and the trees make the viewer have to look into the layout to see the details and trains.

“It was a lot of fun building the layout and I keep adding and tweaking the scenes I time goes along,” he says.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Death and the Model Railroader: R.I.P. Selkirk Model Railroad Association

After 22 years, the Selkirk Model Railroad Association is no more.

The club, located in the city of Selkirk, just north of Winnipeg, traces its origins back to 1993. That’s when two copies of a model railroad magazine were stuck together and delivered to the same mailbox—prompting the recipient to learn there was another model railroader in the town.

That led to a meeting, which led to more meetings with more model railroaders, and then to the formation of the club. In 1995 the club found a home in the Selkirk Journal building.

Since that time the club has been home to two HO layouts, along with two N and one O scale layout.

But now the club, and the layouts, are gone. Falling membership meant the club could no longer afford the rent.

That’s too bad. The Selkirk Model Railroad Association was a great part of the model railroad scene in Manitoba.

I’m sorry to see it gone.

Visit the club's website. (Still up as of May 7, 2016.)

See more photos of the Selkirk Model Railroad club HO layout.

Read about the interesting cenotaph/war memorial scene on the old HO layout.

Watch a video of the Turbo Train on the HO layout.