Friday, June 23, 2017

Canadian Railway Coins

When I heard the Royal Canadian Mint had made a special railway coin to mark the 150th anniversary of Canada, I thought I’d check it out.

Naively, I thought that might be the only railway coin the Mint has made. Boy, was I wrong!

Turns out the Mint has made a number of railway-themed coins over the years to commemorate achievements, specific railways and even locomotives.

(It also made a $10 bill featuring a VIA Rail locomotive.)

But back to the anniversary edition; the Mint had a competition to create its new 2017 Canada 150 circulation coin series featuring the work of five Canadians selected by popular vote.

Each coin had to be designed according to a theme. The two-dollar coin's theme was Our Wonders, the one-dollar theme was Our Achievements, the 25-cent coin theme was Canada's Future, the 10-cent coin theme was Our Character and the five-cent coin theme was Our Passions.

The winner of the competition for the $1 coin was Wesley Klassen  of St. Catharines, Ont. (photo above).

Klassen had two inspirations for his design; A love of trains, and Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister and a father of confederation.

“The coin got me to thinking about how Macdonald created the national railway,” he said of his design, which he called Connecting Canada. “Then I added in scenes from my boyhood vacations.”

The design shows two trains, and landmarks such as Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Bridge, a prairie grain elevator, the CN Tower, Quebec City’s Chateau Frontenac, and an East Coast lighthouse.

Which is cool—but that’s not the only train-themed coin the Mint has made over the past 30 or so years.

Also this year it made a three-coin series called Locomotives Across Canada. It features an
4-4-0 steam locomotive, an RS 20 (I can’t tell if that’s true or not, but someone reading this blog can confirm it); and an ES44AC.

Another coin, made in 2011, commemorates the creation of the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railway in 1836.

Another coin was issued in 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Trunk Railway.

In 1986 the Mint issues a coin to celebrate the Steam Expo at the Vancouver World’s Fair.

In 2018-11 it issued a set to commemorate the creation of the CPR, featuring a D-10, a Royal Hudson, a Jubilee and a Selkirk.

It also commemorated the Countess of Dufferin, on display here in my hometown, the first locomotive in western Canada.

The building of the CPR received a coin in 2015.

The contributions of the railways to the winning of World War 1 was marked in 2015.

In other words, there are lots of train-related coins! So if you are a model railroader and coin collector, you are in luck in Canada. There's even one for those who like a train around the Christmas tree!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Charlie Ellis' CNR/CPR/BAR Operations in New Brunswick and Maine

When I asked a friend in the Kitchener-Waterloo area which model railroads I should see during this year’s Doubleheaders tour, he said: “Make sure you visit Charlie Ellis’ layout!”

I took his advice, and I’m glad I did. Charlie has a great Canadian model railroad.

Charlie models CNR/CPR and BAR operations in the 1950s in the St. Leonard, New Brunswick/Van Buren, Maine area.

Scenery on the point-to-point layout is 95% complete; all the track is handlaid. Charlie uses Digitrax to control the trains.

I asked Charlie a few questions about the layout.

Why did you choose that era?

“The era reflects the railroad activity I experienced in my childhood. It didn't start out that way; I discovered HO model railroading in the 1960s and amassed collection of contemporary CN and CP models over the years, culminating in the construction of my model railroad starting in the mid 80s.

“At that time my two sons showed a keen interest in trains (I think it is in the blood) and we modeled the modern era along with a car card system for operations. When they grew up and left home, my interest in the modern railroad scene waned, as did operation of the layout.

“Then a friend in the hobby introduced me to DCC, and about the same time I realized that my real interest in railroads harped back to the good old days of the 1950s.

“So I sold off my modern railroad models (most of the stuff went to my sons) and started collecting models suited to the 1950's era and typical operations in the New Brunswick area that we model.

Why did you choose that part of Canada to model?

“Our model railroad operations centre on the town of St.Leonard, New Brunswick, as the Bangor & Aroostook interchanged with the CNR there and the CPR ran on the CNR through there via trackage rights. Presto: Three of my favorite railroads all in one place.”

How do you operate the layout?

“My oldest son, while in university in the co-op program, had several work terms with CP, and being a computer and math whiz, wrote a computer program for the operation of our layout based on real railroad practices along with the basics of the car card system. We are still using that program.

“Currently, I am part of a group of 5 or 6 other modelers, most of which have home layouts, and we rotate visits to each other's layouts on a weekly basis, focusing on operations.

2017 was Charlie’s 10th year on the tour; if he’s on again next year, make sure you visit his layout if you are in town for Doubleheaders.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Death and the Model Railroader: Mike McGrattan Memorial Train

I never met or knew Mike McGrattan. But what I hear, he was a real “mensch”—a stand-up guy.

Mike, who died May 16, 2016 at the age of 52, was especially much-loved and appreciated in the North American N scale community.

He was remembered as a talented and prolific modeler, but mostly for being a friend.

After he died, some friends on the Railwire Forum created the Michael McGrattan memorial train a collection of four passenger cars—including one lettered in his memory—that travelled across North America visiting N scale layouts.

The train started its journey in July, last year. It has visited many different layouts since that time, in Canada and the U.S. 

The last visit noted on the forum was in May, this year, when it ran on the layout of Mark Dance.

The memorial train is a great way to honour Mike, who also worked at Rapido Trains. I’m sorry I never got to know him.

You can see the whole journey, and read comments, on the Mike MxGrattan memorial train thread on Railwire.

Click here to read more in my Death and the Model Railroader series.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The CPR Celebrates Canada's 150th Anniversary with Special Train

In 2013, in a post about the Confederation Train, I wondered if any railway would step up with a special train to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The answer is yes. The CPR will mark the occasion this summer with a cross-country trip by its iconic Heritage Train.

The train, which begins its trip July 28 in Port Moody, B.C. will finish its run on August 13 in Montreal.

The train will be led by F-units 1401 (built in 1958) and will include 10 Royal Canadian Pacific heritage cars.

It will also feature the Spirit of Tomorrow car. Children will be invited to write their hopes for the Canada of tomorrow on a commemorative card; each card will be affixed the the car as it makes its way across Canada.

The train will also include a stage car for performances along the way.

The train will be in Winnipeg August 4.

This is the second time a special train has crossed Canada like this in the past 50 years.

In 1967 the Confederation Train visited 60 communities on the cross-country run to mark Canada’s centennial as a nation.

And in 1978-80 the Discovery Train, sponsored by the National Museum of Canada, traveled across the country as a mobile museum.

Also this year, VIA Rail has decorated some locomotives and cars in a special 150th anniversary scheme.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Ottertail Canyon: A Great Canadian Model Railroad in Australia

So here’s a great Canadian model railroad: The Ottertail Canyon.

I don’t know much about it, except that it was created by Steve Pettit of Australia.

Steve is best known for his interest in narrow gauge, a scale in which he is a consummate craftsman (craftsperson?) as can be seen from his model of an engine shed and of a sawmill.

The Ottertail Canyon is a portable layout he built on the side. I wish I had the same kind of skills for a side project like this,  or any project.

I attempted to contact Steve for more information, but didn’t hear back.(So Steve, if you read this, send me a note!)

So I’ll just present photos of this amazing layout so you, like me, can say: Wow!

For other Great Canadian Model Railroads "down under" in Australia, check out the Thompson River Canyon and Andreas Keller's unique three-level CN Fergus Sub.

Update: Via the Canadian Railway Modellers Facebook page, I heard from a modeler in Australia about the Ottertail Canyon.

Said the modeler: “This was an exhibition layout in Sydney. It was exhibited quite a few years ago. I complimented the owner in his modelling as I told him it certainly captured the feel of the area between Golden and Field.

“Considering there was very little true Canadian prototype at the time (no Bowser SD40-2s and no Rapido), he did very well to represent an area I was familiar with. I saw the layout around 2000 and it was available for sale. I do not know what became of it since.”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

When it Comes to Building a Layout, Do the Math

A math professor came by to see my layout today.

The professor, who is 65, has been collecting track, locos, cars and other model railroad stuff for years for that “someday” layout.

I wished him well, and said I hoped he could realize his dream.

But I also said, appropriately for someone who teaches mathematics: “Do the math. It took me 20 years to build my layout. Where will you be in 20 years?”

Of course, if he retires, he may have more time to build that dream layout—it might not take him that long.

But still: Life is unpredictable. We can’t take our health for granted. We hope to be capable, able and independent in our 80s, but there are no guarantees.

There are many people like that math professor who plan to build that layout one of these days.

Buy like I have said before on this blog, the best time to build a layout is just like the best time to plant a tree: 20 years ago, or now.

Or to put it another way: Do the math.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

N Scale Model Railroad in a (Molson) Canadian Bar

Earlier, I posted about beer and trains, about how brands of beer have been featured on trains, about beer tasting trains ("Rails to Ales"), and a bar that brings beer to its customers using G Scale trains. 

I also wrote about Zientek's, a model railroad store in Chicago that once was a combination tavern and hobby shop. 

Now I can add another post to this topic: Jeff Andrew's N Scale in a Bar.

Since Jeff has always loved woodworking, miniatures, aquariums and trying to recreate something realistic-looking in small scale, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Or, as he put it, “all of these interests came together in this layout.”

He started building the bar about five years ago. Today, the layout is very close to completion.

The next challenge is the bar itself, he says—there is lots finish work and cabinets to be done. “It will be good work for next winter since the nice weather is here and I love the outdoors,” he adds.

Jeff posted photos and videos to the Canadian Railway Modellers page on Facebook, which is where I first saw it.

“The response has been astonishing,” he says. “I thought people might like something different, but it's been truly incredible.”

He hastens to add “I'm not a pro at model railroading by any means. This is just a simple single line. No switches, yards, crossings, etc. 

"But I think the fact that it's different and I've concentrated my efforts on detailing the scenery as best as I can has let people enjoy something that they can themselves do on a relatively limited budget.”

As for the bar itself, “I must say that the fact that you can sit at the bar, have a Molson Canadian (or two) and watch a train pass by under your sleeves is pretty cool,” he says.

“The glass provides dust and spill protection, views from both the sides and above and keeps wee fingers from derailing the train.”

I don't know about you, but that looks to me like a great place to enjoy a cold one, and watch trains at the same time!

Click here to visit Jeff’s YouTube page with videos of his model train in a bar. You can also see more photos on his Facebook page, Northern N Scale in a Bar.