Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse on the M & M Sub.

Anyone else catch the total solar eclipse on their layout yesterday? 

(Not going to pretend this is anything special; I just printed out a couple photos of the Aug. 21 eclipse and used tape to hold them against the wall or balanced them in the trees. Throw on a van or a loco or two and—there you go.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

On the cover of the Rolling Stone, er, Canadian Railway Modeller

Back in 1972, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show released a song asking to get on the “cover of the Rolling Stone.”

In 1973, they made it—in caricature, at least.

I have no aspirations for the cover of that magazine, but I was interested in getting the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. on the cover of a model railroad magazine one day—and now it’s happened.

This summer the layout made the cover of Canadian Railway Modeller. It had appeared in the magazine before, but not on the cover.

The article inside describes the layout—its construction, background and operation.

In this Internet age, magazines are becoming old technology. But there is still something satisfying about getting in a printed publication—especially on the cover.

If you don’t believe me, ask Canada’s Prime Minister. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Original Founding Document of the M & M Sub. Found

England has the Magna Carta (1215).

America has the Declaration of Independence (1776).

France has the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

And the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision has the bill of sale from Bobbye Hall’s Hobby House in Dallas, TX (1987).

I know this, because I found it the other day.

I wasn't looking for it; I was going through a filing cabinet looking for an old warranty when I came across an archive file.

There were a number of keepsakes in there—bills of sale for our first few cars, our first house, things like that.

Also in the file—thanks to my wife, who hangs on to these things—was the handwritten bill of sale for the first model railroad equipment I bought 30 years ago when I got back into the hobby.

Dated May 25, 1987, it was just before we left Dallas after living there for two years to head back to Manitoba.

Before we left, I went to Bobbye Hall’s, a legendary Dallas model railroad store, and bought six pieces of rolling stock and a locomotive for $39.64.

(You heard that right, young people—you could do that back.)

As I have written before, I had been into trains since a young child but sold my N scale stuff in 1976 before leaving for college.

It was 11 years before I got back into the hobby, with a trip to Bobbye Hall’s.

And now, 30 years and two layouts later, here is the founding document of my model railroad journey.

All but one of those original items are long gone now. But through this old bill of sale, I can remember when it all began.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bowser Red Barn Finally on the M & M Sub.

Finally! My SD40-2F Red Barn from Bowser is on the layout and racking up miles.

The unit arrived a week ago, while I was out of town. It had its first run two days ago.

Like my other Bowser SD40-2 units, it looks great and runs like a dream.

A great looking and great running Red Barn has been on my wish list for years.

Until now, the only way to get this model was to buy brass, kitbash or use the old Associated Model Makers (AMM) resin kit.

I’ve actually had an AMM Red Barn for about 15 years. I bought it used from a local hobby shop.

The Bowser unit (l) next to the old AMM unit.

It’s a crude effort (someone called it a “bar of soap”), and apparently very hard to work with.

My model is on an Athearn Blue Box chassis. It runs OK. Considering the lack of alternatives, it was great for its time.

So when Bowser announced its Red Barn models, I was ecstatic. And now I finally have one!

With the addition of the Red Barn, I can’t think of any more locomotives that the M & M Sub. would need.

Of course, there’s always the GP9u chop nose that Bowser plans to bring out . . . yes, I could always appreciate one of those.

Click here to read more about the history of  this unique unit.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ode to the Meadows, Man. Wood Elevator: The Only Things Left Are the Memories

At one time, there were over 5,700 wooden elevators in Canada's prairie provinces.

Called prairie giants or sentinels on the prairies, they handled the grain that helped make Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta a bread basket for the world.

And not only that; the elevators were the social hubs for the area’s farmers, a place to not only take a load of grain, but also to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on the local news.

For residents of those town, the loss of the elevator was more than just economics—it was a real punch in the gut.

It said the town was dying, or soon would be.

Or, as one person said to me: “First it’s the elevator, then the post office, then the school, then the churches. Then what’s left?”

Those classic old elevators have mostly been replaced by modern concrete throughput elevators—giant facilities that can handle large strings of hopper cars and hold many more bushels of grain.

Today there are only 500-600 left, by one estimation, and only half of those are in operation.

The most recent one to be destroyed was at Meadows, just to the west of Winnipeg on the CPR mainline.

For Canadian Railway Modeller Morgan Turney, its destruction is yet another sign of changing times. He wrote to following ode to the Meadows elevator.

Remembering Meadows

I don't know what it is about the name 'Meadows;’ perhaps it conjures up memories of a very peaceful place.

There isn't much there. A few farms nearby and a homestead just across the street from the Meadows road sign.

But it had a Paterson wooden grain elevator, the first one you came across driving westward down Rosser Road.

Rounding a gentle curve just past Rosser, there were two things you could count on seeing. One was an African-type tree (it looks like it's from the plains of the Serengeti) in the field on the right hand side of
the road.

And in the distance straight ahead, the Meadows elevator.

It served as a familiar landmark to anyone taking the back roads and following the CPR's Carberry subdivision on a railfan adventure toward Portage la Prairie.

Sadly after July 20, 2017, that 'African' tree is all that's left.

Many of us will miss the Meadows elevator. It was the last one standing on that route after Marquette (another Paterson elevator) was pulled down on September 3rd, 2013.

How sad is it that we destroy our iconic history so willfully. So thoughtlessly.

Meadows is gone—forever. All that's left are the photographs.

And the memories.

Photos: Morgan Turney. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

News from Bowser: Canadian GP38-2 and GP9u Chopnose Locomotives Planned

As Canadians, we aren’t used to Americans noticing us.

We’re like the nice people in the apartment upstairs who are quiet and never make a fuss—easy for the people downstairs to ignore.

So when Americans do take note of us, we are both proud but also little embarrassed by the attention. 

We’re Canadians, after all—saying “sorry” is our national pastime!

One place where Canada has been getting some attention from the U.S. recently is in the model railroad world.

In HO scale, American manufacturers Athearn, Atlas, Bowser and InterMountain have all been making Canadian prototypes.

It’s an embarrassment, alright; an embarrassment of riches.

Of the four, it is Bowser which has taken the deepest plunge into the Canadian market with its HO scale Canadian locomotives.

In 2015, I asked Bowser rep Scott Davis why that was. 

Back then, he said it was partly because the Canadian economy was doing much stronger than the U.S. economy at that time—so why not take advantage of it?

Things have evened out since then, and still Bowser is making Canadian models such as the C-630M, M636, RS3, SD40-2, SD40-2F (Red Barn), and the SD40.

And now Bowser is planning to make the CN and CP GP38-2 and GP9u chop nose. (Yes, you heard that correct!)

Bowser owner Lee English confirmed the GP38-2 and GP9u in an e-mail this past week.

Lee English of Bowser.

The CP version of the GP38-2 will be measured this month, he said; Bowser has already measured the CN version.

The unit will go to the designer by the end of the summer.

As for the GP9u, it was also measured recently. There is no date yet set for when it will go to the designer. Bowser also plans to make a slug.

As for release dates for the new models, “I hope it can go fast,” Lee says, but adds, as a joke, that he has to be careful not to go too fast or he might “run Canadian model railroaders out of money!”

Intrigued by all this emphasis on Canadian prototypes, I asked Lee what causes him to continue to make models for this market.

A main reason, he said, was the great support from Canadian model railroaders—both in offering advice and ideas during the design stage, but also in buying the products.

When designing a model, Lee sends out an e-mail to Canadian modellers for help.

“The response is great,” he says. “The guys that want to help have been great.  I cannot ask for more. The info flooded in.”

As for sales, “the SD40-2 has been a very good project,” he says, and it has led him to consider other Canadian models.

It also helps that he employs, or has employed, staff who like Canadian railways.

“Matt Herman worked for me and pushed to make the C630M,” he said. “He loves Canadian railroading and knew the differences between the Alco and MLW.”

As for the Canadian GP38-2, for that “you have to blame Rich Cox,” his store manager and researcher, he says. “He loves Canadian railroading, too.”

Rich's job is to research potential models that Bowser could make—models not being made by others. 

Knowing that a lot of Canadian model railroaders would likely want a 4-axle locomotive made the decision easier.

Plus, Lee says, “the GMD version has not been done.

I finished my questions by asking Lee what it he wished model railroaders knew about the life of a small model railroad manufacturer.

We need help,” he says. “The modelers need to know we do not know everything about every road name.They need to let us know what they know before the locos goes into final production.”

If they see a new announcement, “offer to provide info,” he says, adding they should be sure to provide photos or other documentation.

As for the future, Lee says “I will continue to make Canadian locomotives.”

Those of us who are Canadian, or who model Canadian railways, are glad he will.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chris Round's Atherley Narrows: Another Great Canadian Model Railroad in England

In 2013 I wrote about a Great Canadian Model Railroad in England—Chris Round’s Stoney Hill Yard.

Chris is at it again. He has built another portable layout based on a Canadian prototype: The Atherley Narrows.

Like Stoney Hill Yard, Atherley Narrows is also HO Scale and also features CP Rail in the 1990s.

Although Chris’ previous layouts successful and well-received at exhibitions, he wanted to build a better layout and remove some of the irritations with previous plans.

This included how operations on Stoney Hill were limited since all the industries were accessed off the main line—through trains could not be operated at the same time as industries were being switched.

The track plan allows for the seven industries on the layout to be served from loops off the main.

For inspiration for the new layout, Chris used a photo he had taken in 1994 of a swing bridge at Atherley, Ontario, at the confluence of Lake Simoce and Lake Couchiching near Orillia.

The bridge was already out of use when he took the picture, and was a CN line, not CP Rail. Not being a stickler for absolute authenticity, Chris was willing to pretend CP Rail owned it.

His initial thought was to build a simple diorama of the bridge and its approach piers, but he then decided to build something grander.

The layout is 20 feet long and 8 feet wide when set up. Individual modules are 4 feet by 18 inches wide. The modules (which the British call “baseboards”) are made of plywood.

Track is Peco code 75 rail and all switches and crossovers are handlaid. The switches are hand operated by rods attached to electrical switches at the rear of the layout.

Control is old fashioned DC. “I’ve too many old locos to convert to DCC and I can’t afford the cost of the better sound equipped new locos which are available,” says Chris.

“Much of my rolling stock is second hand, and all of the buildings and main scenery elements are scratchbuilt.”

As for the swing bridge itself, the base is a metal shelving bracket and the bridge is constructed from plastic. And, yes, it pivots!

The layout is not yet complete, Chris says; the edges of the boards need painting, details need to be added and a lighting unit and upper fascia needs to be built.  

Even then, it looks great to me—it surely is already another Great Canadian Model Railroad!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Alpha and Omega on the M & M Sub.

2017 marks 30 years since I got back into model railroading.

I had liked trains my whole life up to that point, starting with Lionel as a kid before moving to Tri-Ang, HO, and then N scale.

I sold my N scale stuff in 1976 before heading off to university and a more unsettled life that took me to Manitoba, B.C., Europe and Texas.

It was in Texas, in 1987, 11 years later, when I got back into the hobby. I had $50 to spend on some trains before returning to Manitoba.

I went to the late and great Bobbye Hall's model railroad store in Dallas, where I lived. (It was described in 2001 by the Dallas Observer as "the best hobby house owned by a 92-year-old woman who still comes to work every morning at 9.") 

I bought a locomotive and eight or nine freight cars—yes, for only $50 (you could do that back then).

Of those items, only one piece of rolling stock remains on the M & M Sub.: SHPX 60751—Stauffer Chemical Company. The others were sold or "scrapped."

In the Greek alphabet, alpha is the first letter, and omega is the last one. So SHPX 6071 was among the first of my current model railroad possessions, and also the last from that time. And it is also the last in line on DUL-WPG MX (Duluth-Winnipeg Mixed) on this July day, 30 years later.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Little Bit of July Railfanning

Getting ready to leave the yard

Sometimes I want to write a post; other times, I just want to share some photos. This is one of those times—a bit of railfanning on the M & M Sub.

Come along as I follow a train from Fort Frances, Ont. to Nance, Minn.

And arrived at Nance.

Thanks for coming along for the trip . . . .

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Canada 150: The 1967 Confederation Train, Prototype and Model

The Confederation Train; photo by Jim Brown.

I originally published this post in 2013. On the occasion of Canada's 150th anniversary, it seems appropriate to post it anew.

Forty-six years ago, in 1967, a special train crossed Canada--the Confederation Train.

The train, made up of two FP9A locomotives (numbers 1867 and 1967) and eight colourful cars, was a travelling exhibit about Canadian history.

The lead locomotive had the Centennial symbol emblazoned on its nose under the headlight, and its horn sounded the first four notes of O Canada. (Hear it here)

The train made its public debut in Victoria, B.C. on January 9, 1967. It arrived in Atlantic Canada in October, and ended its journey in Montreal in December of that year.

During its tour, it stopped at 60 cities and towns, and was visited hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

In Swift Current, Sask.; Scott Dunsire collection.

Modeller Fred Barkhouse was so enamoured of the train that he decided to make a model of it--something he described in Canadian Railway Modeller.

Fred's inspiration for the project came from a Lionel HO scale train set called the Confederation Flyer that was owned by his father. The train set had a locomotive, ten 50-foot boxcars and a caboose; each boxcar was painted for a province with their flag and the date they joined Canada.

Lionel's Confederation Flyer.

Since Fred made his train before InterMountain brought out its units in Confederation Train colours, he used Highliner F9 shells on Athearn Genesis drives for the project. The cars were made from Rapido Super Continental passenger cars.

(Eleven years later, in 1978, the National Museum of Canada created the Discovery Train, which crossed Canada for two years as a mobile museum. That train showcased the landscape of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific.)

The 1978-80 Discovery Train.

2017 is the 150th birthday for Canada. I wonder if there will even be a passenger train left on the rails in this country to make into a similar travelling exhibit? (Update: Yes. The CPR has a special Canada 150 Train, and CN ran a short Father's of Confederation Train from Montreal to Ottawa.)

See videos of Fred's Confederation Train on YouTube here and here. Read more about the prototype train and see more photos here.

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!