Sunday, June 16, 2019

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Mike Lisowski's N Scale CN in Neepawa, Manitoba

Some people like mainline running. Others like industrial switching. For Mike Lisowski, it’s prairie branchlines that captured his interest.

In particular, Mike is modelling CN operations in summer, 1980 in the Manitoba town of Neepawa, located about two hours northwest of Winnipeg.

Mike’s N scale layout, which he started in 2016, is a loop-type diorama-style model railroad that measures 2 feet wide by 17 feet long.

The layout is centred on the rural agricultural town of Neepawa, with its yard, grain elevators and trestle south of town.

The layout doesn’t have staging, but a train can disappear into a hidden trench behind the scenery, reappearing as coming from the opposite direction.

Mike uses DCC to operate the layout. For now, he says, he just runs trains, but is in the process of making up several hundred cards to cover simulated typewritten orders governing trains and switch lists.

Scenery is made from extruded polystyrene foam, topped by ground foam, real sand and gravel and actual concrete for roads. 

Trees are a mix of commercial kits for foreground trees and Woodland Scenics clump foliage for background trees.

Ninety percent of the buildings are scratchbuilt, including both elevators and their annexes/sheds, the big coal dealer’s shed, Sherritt Fertilizers, and the biggest feature on the layout, the scratchbuilt trestle.

The trestle, which lasted until 1981 on the prototype, contains 528 individually cut pieces of strip styrene. It is finished with a five-step painting process to look like wood (a mix of treated and untreated timbers).

Right now, the layout is supported by a standard wood frame. Mike’s plan is for it to eventually be supported by built-in cabinetry.

For track, Mike uses a mix of Atlas and Micorengineering code 55 flextrack and Microengineering code 55 #6 turnouts. Seventy-five percent of the track is laid.

Locomotives and power are appropriate for the time and place Mike is modelling. As a result, there are few Canadian government cylindrical grain hoppers since they could not run beyond Neepawa in 1980 (due to light rail restrictions).

On the layout, Mike uses GMD-1 locomotives from Rapido. The rolling stock is mostly Intermountain 40-foot grain boxcars, and a few covered hoppers, along with Microtrains and Roundhouse  boxcars and Microtrains bulkhead flats.

The Pointe St. Charlies cabooses are from Prairie Shadows.

Mike did two years of research and planning before beginning construction. This included amassing aerial photos taken during the modelled timeline, research of photos of the rail yard and talking with retired train crews. 

This is not the first N scale layout Mike has built. He used to have a large 21 by 26 foot layout that started out as the Union Pacific between Cheyenne and Laramie WY before he converted it to the Saskatchewan prairies (the CN Central Butte Sub. west of Moose Jaw).

This included scratchbuilding a GMD-1 in N scale, 20 years before Rapido made one commercially. It required parts from five units, so Mike is happy Rapido came along!

When he moved, the layout—which was almost complete—was dismantled and most of the equipment sold off.

Although that layout was gone, the seeds were sown for modelling the prairies, and the present Great Canadian Model Railroad is the result.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Jeopardy for Model Railroaders, or Name That Layout!

And tonight on Jeopardy for model railroaders, it’s name that layout!

This layout has a devoted Facebook group with over 1,600 members created not by the layout owner, but by its fans.

Its used locomotives sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars on eBay.

A major manufacturer made rolling stock featuring its logo.

Answer: What is special about the Utah Belt?

Did you guess right?

If there ever was a Jeopardy for model railroaders, those could be some of the challenges posed by the host about Eric Brooman’s Utah Belt.

Many people are familiar with UB, as it is known. For those of you who aren’t, a bit of background.

Set in the U.S. southwest, the HO scale UB is a gorgeous freelance bridge line built by Eric.

The 165-foot long mainline runs around the walls and a centre peninsula, connecting two staging yards stacked over each other.

Now in its second iteration, it is known for a unusual feature—it is always set in the present. Eric constantly updates the line, per prototypical practice.

This means that older power is sold off, allowing him to purchase newer locomotives.

These older units end up on eBay, where they sometimes sell for over $2,500.

As for that Facebook group, called the Utah Belt Historical Society, it is “dedicated to preserving the history of Utah Belt Railroad created by Eric Brooman  . . . the group is set up to be a place to enjoy the models and history of this fantastic model railroad.”

The group features posts where people write and ask questions about the layout, show photos of the actual UB (as it is known), and photos of locomotives and rolling stock they’ve painted into that scheme.

What is sometimes surprising is the questions sound like they are about a real railway—a testament to Eric’s abilities as a modeller.

Like this question, for example.

“Before the more modern era of late-90s early-2000s did the Utah Belt ever operate any unit coal trains or were they just coal drags made up of loads from multiple mines?” (Answer: “This photo shows unit coal trains were part of the UB back in 1978.”)

Another common question has to do with making your own UB locomotives and rolling stock. (Something made possible by the availability of commercial decals.)

The answer is yes, you can do it—"as long as you don't try to pass it off as an original Belt engine or car, he [Eric] is fine with it.”

As for me, I’ve long been admirer of the UB, and Eric’s unique approach to staying current. I'm not alone, as the Facebook group attests.

But Eric's not a member. According to someone who knows him, he’s not on social media at all. And why would he need to be? He's got his own wonderful world in his basement!

Click here for a collection of photos of the UB by Mike Sosalla. Click here for a video of the layout by the good folks at Model Railroader.

Click here for a collection of photos and articles on the Georgia Transportation Facebook page.

And click here for more photos and text from the Gateway NMRA.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

His First (and Maybe Last) Byline in Trains Magazine

It only took seven years (or more).

That was my first thought after reading the end of an article by William S. Kuba in the January, 2019 issue of Trains Magazine.

The article was about the time Kuba went AWOL from the army while watching trains.

At the end of the article, it was noted that Kuba, a railroad photographer and historian known for his photos of Iowa railroading, had died Nov. 23, 2012 at the age of 75.

It also said this was his first Trains byline.

That means it took at least seven years before his article was published.

So congratulations to Kuba—it isn’t easy to get published in Trains.

Too bad he isn’t alive to see it.

Cover of the January issue with
William Kuba's article.

Now, before anyone jumps up and down on the staff at Trains, as I have written about before (about the Model Railroader cover “curse”) there’s a perfectly good explanation for this.

Magazines like Trains, Model Railroader, Railroad Model Craftsman and others can receive dozens of unsolicited submissions each year.

With just 12 issues per year, limited space in print, and commitments to columnist, regular departments and assigned articles, they can use only a fraction of them.

And so they sit—until there’s room, it fits a theme, there’s a page or space to fill, or an expected article drops out for some reason.

I have some experience with this as an author. An article I wrote about a scenery method for Model Railroader waited four years before being published.

On the plus side, it was paid for right away when the magazine accepted it.

In that time, anything could have happened to me or my layout. (Leading to speculation about the “curse.”)

I also know this from the other side, when I was Associate Editor at Canadian Railway Modeller. 

Since CRM was bi-monthly, that magazine had an even bigger challenge when it came to space. Articles could wait a long time before being published. (Although never seven years!)

Of course, that’s no consolation for poor William S. Kuba. (Although he at least got his payment before he died.)

Who knows? Maybe Trains has another article or two from him, waiting to be used. Maybe he will be published posthumously again.

At least he made it into Trains Magazine. And that’s not something most of us can say—dead or alive.