Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Are The Chances?

What are the chances of finding two of CP Rail’s ugliest units—the 5449 and 5447—together on the same train? I was out railfanning the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision, waiting for trains at Peace River tunnel #1, when out they popped. I managed to take a couple photos of them coming and going before the train disappeared into tunnel #2.

(Of course, on a model railroad, the chances of something like this happening are pretty good!)

A bit about the two units: CP Rail 5447 started life in 1975 as CNW 6910 before being sold to NRE (National Railway Equipment Company) in 1986. NRE rebuilt it and leased it to CP Rail in 1993, and sold it to that railway in 1994. It plied the rails in primer as CP Rail 5447 until 1998, when it was re-lettered for the St. Lawrence & Hudson Railway (a division of CP Rail). It was sold in 1999 and today is FURX 3012. It was never painted in any CP Rail livery.

To make it, I spray painted an ex-CNW unit and hand painted the “CP” on the side, using the prototype as a guide. You can read about how I did it at

The 5449 started as DRGW 5402. It was wrecked and sold to NRE, then rebuilt and leased to CP Rail as NRE 5402. CP Rail bought it in 1994 and re-numbered it to 5449. It was re-lettered for CP Rail's subsidiary STLH in 1998. It was never painted into any CP Rail scheme—it also stayed in primer.

To make it, I spray painted an old CP Rail shell, then added the numbers and letters on the side of the cab—very easy to do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Layout For Sale: Comes With House

Are you looking for a layout with a house attached?

In 1988, I tried to sell my first layout. I posted an advertisement in local hobby shops: “Layout for sale: $80,000. P.S. Comes with house.”

I was reminded of that experience when someone posted a note on about a model railroader in Texas who is trying to sell his house, complete with an outdoor riding layout.

You can see it at (Photo of layout above.)

My layout, with attached house, didn’t sell. I wasn’t surprised. I think it’s pretty rare for something like that to occur.

First off, there are a very small number of potential buyers.

Second, a layout is the personal expression of its creator—it’s hard someone else to take it over.

Third, very few people are searching for a complete layout. (They may want pieces of it, but not the whole thing.)

In the end, I dismantled my old layout. I wonder if the owner of this house will have to do that to his layout, too?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Styrofoam: Not Just for Sandwiches

A piece of Styrofoam on its edge during
construction on the M & M Sub.

Many people who use Styrofoam for scenery usually do it sandwich style—putting one layer of foam on top of another, and then carving landforms out of it. That method works, but it’s not the only way to use Styrofoam.

Another way to use this versatile material is by standing it on edge, as seen in the photo above. Not ony is this an excellent way to cover large areas, it also allows you to create sharply inclined hillsides in areas where space is at a premium. Plus, there's no need to worry about hiding cracks between the layers, if they show up.

For this way of making scenery, I used two-inch thick Styrofoam. You need to begin by cutting an angle on the bottom, matching the angle you want to achieve with the hillside or cliff you want to create. At the top, you can also cut an angle, matching the wall or area the Styrofoam leans against. (Depending on the angle of the hillside.)

To hold the Styrofoam in place, I used white glue and screws. I put glue on the bottom and top surfaces, and then screwed the Styrofoam to the benchwork. (The screws can be removed later, after the glue dries). Gaps between the sheets were filled with cheap spackling paste, then sanded. After that, I carved it, then added rock faces, paint and ground foam.

You can also use the Styrofoam standing straight up, as in the photo at the bottom of this page. In this case, I needed to create a view block on a narrow ledge to hide where the Peace River Northern shortline sneaks off behind the scenery. I simply carved the Styrofoam to the needed contour, glued it to the subroadbed, then painted it and added gound foam.

Unlike the sandwich method, which requires you to glue a number of sheets on top of each other to reach the desired height, this method enables you to cover a lot of area with less work.

The same area, after the scenery is finished.

The vertical viewblock on the upper level.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tributes To Stafford Swain

A scene from Stafford's CNR Whiteshell
Subdivision; other photos on this page are
also from his layout.

The most recent issue of Canadian Railway Modeller carries tributes by various people about Stafford Swain, one of Canada's, and North America's, foremost modellers. Many of the things we take for granted today—things like fidelity to the prototype, walk-around control, hidden staging, lighting effects, highly-detailed scenery, a dispatcher's panel in another room, tracks passing through a single scene—were created and popularized by people like Stafford.

The article features his CNR Whiteshell Subdivision layout, along with comments about his impact on the hobby from people like Tony Koester, Al Lill, Les Kozma, John Morris and others. Due to space restrictions, it was impossible to carry their full remarks. Below find longer versions of their comments about this remarkable individual.

Made His Mark On The Hobby

By Tony Koester, former editor, Railroad Model Craftsman

When I joined the Railroad Model Craftsman staff in 1969, it was apparent that the magazine had a faithful following and a lot of potential, but the talented folks at Model Railroader and their large editorial and art staff meant that RMC had to be more than a one-person "show" to have any chance at succeeding. I therefore needed to find and encourage the finest talent the hobby had to offer. Fortunately, Hal Carstens had already built a fine relationship with Dave Frary and Bob Hayden as well as Allen McClelland, among a few other headliners, but more talent was needed.

I have always seen model railroading as a way to enjoy full-size railroading in a limited space. I therefore looked not only to the creative interpreters of the 12"-scale world, like Frary and Hayden, McClelland, John Olson, and others, but also those who modeled a specific prototype with a depth of knowledge that was obvious in their work. One of the first of the true prototype modelers to attract my attention was Stafford. I have long been an ardent student of geology, so when he described his depiction of the rocks of the ancient, metamorphic Canadian Shield, I knew I had met someone who was on my wavelength.

I featured Stafford's HO railroad on the cover and inside RMC, and reader reaction was as expected—wow! While other talented modelers were showing us how to model specific prototype buildings, locomotives, and rolling stock, Stafford was one of the few who extended that degree of excellence down to the bedrock of the layout. I have always wondered why modelers spend so much time on the structures and equipment yet do not pay equal homage to the much more visible and expansive scenery that surrounds the railroad and puts it in context. Stafford didn't miss a bet in that regard.

When I began to work closely with Kalmbach beginning in 1985—first with Model Railroader and then as founding editor of Model Railroad Planning a decade later—I had hoped to again have the chance to work with Stafford and share additional information about his work and the motivation behind it. That was not to be, as various physical concerns got in our way. No matter; he had already made his mark on the hobby, and I'm honored to have played a small part in sharing his work with the hobby.

A Layout That Looks and Feels Like the Canadian Shield

Frank Gerry, former NMRA Canada President

I had heard of Stafford, and seen his work in the model railroading press, leading up to the National Model Railroad Association national convention in Winnipeg in 1983, so his layout was high on my list of ones that were a must see for me. I was of course not disappointed when I finally got to see it. Up to this convention my experiences with ‘completed’ or near ‘completed’ model railroads had been limited to an older one here in Thunder Bay, so all of the home layout tours were a real eye-opening experience for me. But it was meeting Stafford, and seeing his layout, that helped me most to realize that a layout could look good.

In my attempts at scenery modeling, I have always wanted my layout to be as detailed and realistic as Stafford’s. I am afraid that so far it falls far short of that goal, but it is something to strive and work towards—having seen his layout, I know it can be done. It looks and feels like the Canadian Shield; you have the feeling of having seen those places in real life.

Raising The Bar

By John Morris, friend and CPR modeller

As a man whose profession was accounting, Stafford carried that discipline of accuracy and attention to detail to the hobby. He raised the bar from 'good enough' to 'historically accurate' and shared his findings with both individuals and the hobby industry. His meticulous files and information were always available to all . . . I for one can say I and the hobby of Canadian prototype modelling would not be at the level we are today without his efforts."

Done More For Canadian Modellers Than Anyone

By Al Lill, editor, CN Lines Magazine
I consider Stafford to be one of my closest friends. I visited Stafford and his wife, Karen, last year and helped them organize his files for shipment to our various CN LINES editorial team members. If you had a chance to see his files, I think you would have received an even greater impression of the depth of his contribution to the hobby—especially to those interested in 1950s-era freight cars, and especially CNR modellers.

I would say his contributions could mainly be divided into eras. The first would be up to, and including, the Railway Jamboree in Winnipeg in 1983. That was followed by a lot of very well researched articles in the model press, and encouraging the production of CNR models (which continued through his time as Freight Car Editor for CN LINES SIG).

In summer 1989 he invited me to be Passenger car Editor for the CN Lines SIG. Over the years, when the SIG began to falter, I agreed to be a Editor “for a couple of issues.” I knew I would burn out if I didn’t have a bigger team; Stafford, being the talented organizer/persuader that he is, agreed to be Chair if I would stay on as Editor. That led to a new era for the SIG, with our book project Across the Canadian Shield and real growth of the SIG (with Stafford as Chair and “Designated Dreamer”). More great CNR products came about as a result of the SIG, and many model manufacturers got their products “right” on account of Stafford's efforts.

I may be biased but I think Stafford has done more for Canadian model railroaders than anyone. He has inspired all of us to model more accurately by example. He has put in incredible effort in accumulating information and in advising manufacturers to do products that would be accurate for CNR and preferably good for CPR and other Canadian railways where possible.

His Accomplishments Are Many
By Les Kozma, CN Lines SIG

Stafford made a positive contribution to the history of Canadian prototype railways through his tireless efforts of research and modeling. The latter shows his skill and craftsmanship, but also highlights his meticulous approach and an understanding of context. His focus on detail is legendary (nothing gets by "the auditor"), but it is tempered by his friendliness and a positive demeanor.

Stafford is a genuine human being who is willing to share, whether it is a photograph, an incidental detail or a modeling tidbit. His accomplishments are many and his reputation is well-deserved. Everyone should be grateful that Stafford is part of our wonderful hobby, and I am honoured to call him a friend.

Generous With Time And Knowledge

By Fred Holzapfel, NMRA Thousand Lakes Region

I met Stafford back in the late 1970's at a Thousand Lakes Region meet in Winona, MN. He was judging the model contest. We had a long discussion about the process of accurately judging as well as accurately building models. He gave his time freely and was more than willing to discuss techniques and ideas with this new, young (weren't we all back then) TLR member. I was impressed by his openness and willingness to share.

The best things I've gained from this hobby of model railroading are the long time relationships and very strong friendships with people all over the world. I'd have to say that Stafford is almost like a brother today. My modeling greatly improved from the guidance and conversations with him. I grew to appreciate the need for prototype accuracy when attempting to miniaturize the world around us. He really helped me put my hobby in context.

Stafford has been generous with his knowledge and time. He has helped me learn by pushing the envelope and making learning interesting . . . Stafford was in the forefront of prototype modeling. He used research, photographs and builders plans to get a model correct, and he worked with a small group of others to have a set of prototype colored paints produced. He contributed through clinics and written articles. He raised the bar for all modelers.

When you ask about his contributions, the answer is: Where does it stop? Prototype modeling, accurate paint colors, general awareness of how to build a quality model, master patterns used by commercial companies for prototypical accurate freight cars, more accurate brass models and—once again—those paints. He gave time, dedication, and great organizational skills to the Thousand Lakes Region, the NMRA and other groups.

The “Designated Dreamer”

By Nick Andrusiak, CN Lines SIG and friend
I have worked with Stafford on numerous model railroad oriented enterprises. We have served together on the WMRC, the Thousand Lakes Region of the NMRA, several conventions hosted by Winnipeg model railroaders and, more recently, we have spent over twelve years in the organization of CN Lines Special Interest Group dedicated to the history of Canadian National Railways.

On most committees Stafford becomes the chairman and then invites me to be one of his right hand persons. I have been treasurer and/or public relations person for regional conventions and was one of three vice-chairmen of the NMRA National Convention, Railway Jamboree ’83, headed by Stafford.

Stafford was always able to produce and transmit the vision of the conventions and recently of the activities of CN Lines, so much so that I once described him as the “designated dreamer” of our committees. He replied that this was a complement to my nature which was that of a “designated worrier,” who always wanted to tie down all the loose ends.

I leave to others to describe his expertise in designs of outside braced boxcars and CN cabooses. However, in the organizational end of the hobby, we introduced innovations that resonate even a quarter century later. Our convention guidebook in 1983 was the first to fit in a man’s shirt pocket and we were the first to use daily graphs of simultaneous events. Instead of tickets for individual tours, we used coloured ribbons that attached to your convention badge with the current trip on top. Our convention was the first to have lapel pins to remember the event. It became a milestone to compare later conventions.

Our greatest affliction in most activities was that people wanted to join. The CN SIG had 390 members when Stafford became chair in 1995-96. It has grown to 1,350 members with sales of 1,000 magazines to hobby shops and newsstands.

But Stafford also steered the CN SIG in other directions. As a master model railroader, he was frustrated by the lack of accurate paint colours, brass number boards and decals for CN modeling. In a few years the SIG had developed a catalog of 24 colours of Scalecoat I paint accurate for several Canadian railways, 15 sets of decals for CN cars, and a set of number boards containing every number CNR steam locomotives ever carried as well as raised cab numerals for the steamers.

Stafford and Morgan Turney.
Unparalled "willingness to share"

By Morgan Turney, editor, CRM

Stafford's seemingly tireless efforts to promote our hobby has helped lead it to where it is today in Canada. His knowledge, although mostly concerning Canadian National, extended far beyond that railway and his willingness to share with others has always been aunparalled. Being invited to an operating session on Stafford's layout was always an honour, and something I looked forward to.

Stafford's layout will be on display for a final time at Steam on the Prairies, the May 28-30 NMRA Thousand Lakes Region Convention in Winnipeg. For more information, or to register, go to

Friday, March 12, 2010

How'd You Like To Live There?

Wouldn't you like to live there?

I grew up near a lightly-used CN branchline in St. Catharines, Ontario. The tracks ran at the end of my street, about ten houses away. I considered myself very lucky to have tracks so close to where I lived; I have memories of trains rumbling by on their way to the nearby Port Weller Drydocks.

I may have lived close to the tracks, but not as close as the folks who live in the house in the photo above!

That house is perched beside the locomotive shop in Altoona, PA. Wouldn't you like to have your bedroom window look out over the scene below?

The view from the house.

Like many model railroaders, I have placed a house near the tracks on my layout—the kind of place I'd like to live, if I could. See photo below.

"My" house on the M & M Sub.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Stick It To Them! Or, An Easy Way To Do Layout Crowd Control

The Fort Frances yard is crowded—just like the
layout room during a tour.

In a few months, the CP Rail M & M Sub. will be on tour as part of the May 28-30 NMRA Thousand Lakes Region convention here in Winnipeg. Between 100-200 people will visit the layout in a few hours on Sunday afternoon.

Since the layout room can accommodate only about 8-10 people at at time, this could pose a problem. But it doesn’t, thanks to my stick method of crowd control.

There are two ways to control crowds during a layout tour. One way is to post someone at the entrance, and ask them to let people in. The problem with this method is that a) it requires someone to do a really boring job and b) it can be hard for them to keep count—are there eight in the room now, or ten, or more?

The way I like to do it is to let visitors regulate themselves. All it requires is a stick.

The way it works is like this: The first eight people into the layout room get a stick. (It can be any kind of stick, large or small; a popsicle stick will do.) When they leave, they hand the stick to the next person in line, who can now come in. When that person, leaves, he gives it to the next in line, and so on.

The rule is simple: If you don't have a stick, you can' t come in.

Of course, other things can be used in place of sticks—an actual “ticket” or pass, or another object of some kind.

To keep traffic flowing, I encourage people to be mindful of the line-ups, and not to stay so long that they prevent others from getting a look.

I’ve used this method to "stick it to them" for two conventions. It has worked flawlessly so far.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pull A Tony?

Will I "pull a Tony" and dismantle the layout?

The other week I had a friend over to run trains. He is just starting his layout. He commented about how much I must be enjoying mine, now that it is done.

I told him I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I told him, I was proud of what I had accomplished over the past 16 years. On the other, I had to admit that I wasn’t as excited now about the layout as when it was still under construction.

His eyes grew wide. “You're not going to pull a Tony, are you?” he asked.

What he was asking—as I instantly understood—was whether I was planning to tear down the CP Rail M & M Sub., just like Tony Koester did with his Allegheny Midland layout, and begin again.

I had to admit to him that, yes, the thought had occurred to me, especially since I’ve discovered that I seem to actually enjoy building a layout more than running one.

Later, I sent Tony an e-mail about the conversation. “I get that a lot,” he replied, noting that he wasn't the first to dismantle a completed layout to build another one. “I blame McClelland, Hitchcock, Barrow (numerous times) and others for starting this trend!”

Will I tear down the M & M Sub. and start again? Anything is possible, I suppose. It would be a huge decision, and I don't think I have the courage to do it. At least, not right now . . .

Has anyone else got to this point with their layout, and then decided to start over?