Friday, April 30, 2010

Model Railroader Magazine Curse?

The Roanoke & Southern: Victim of a curse?

Is there a Model Railroader curse?

That’s what some are wondering now that Jeff Kraker, owner of the Roanoke and Southern, has announced that he will dismantle his layout and start over in O scale. Check it out on Railroad Forums.

The specter of a “curse” was raised because Kraker’s layout was featured on the cover of Model Railroader magazine. It brings to mind the famed Sports Illustrated curse—the one that suggests that any athlete who is on the cover will subsequently suffer some kind of misfortune.

In the case of Model Railroader (or Railroad Model Craftsman or Canadian Railway Modeller, for that matter), the curse means that the modeler who is fortunate enough to have his or her layout featured in the magazine will soon be taking it down.

Like most curses, there is an element of truth to it.

Take the SI curse, for example. Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Eddie Matthews, the first person to ever appear on the cover of that magazine, in 1954, later broke his hand and missed seven games.

And now Jeff Kraker announces that his layout is coming down.

But, also like most curses, there is a more prosaic explanation to the Model Railroader “curse”—something I can attest to, since I am a very part-time editor of Canadian Railway Modeller.

It’s mostly about timing; most layout owners only submit articles when their model railroads are complete (or nearly so). By the time that occurs, after many years of work, the owner may well be ready to move on to a new challenge—like Kraker.

Unrelated to the “curse,” but in the same vein, people sometimes ask why it is that some layouts featured in model railroad magazines have been dismantled by the time an article about them is published.

Again, it’s mostly about timing; owners usually only submit articles when their layouts are done (or nearly so). Since magazines can have lead times of six months to a year (or more), by the time the article appears the layout could have been taken down.

Hmmm . . . since my layout has been featured in Railroad Model Craftsman (twice), in Canadian Railway Modeller several times (on various aspects), and an article about one of my scenery-making methods is slated to appear in Model Railroader this year, I wonder: Will the "curse" apply to the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision?

Read more about the "curse" and Doug Tagsold's old Denver & Front Range Western layout.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Update on the Save the LRC Campaign

Good news! After just over a week, about $10,000 has come in for the Save the LRC campaign. Still lots more needed, but the ball is rolling.

You can read a story about the campaign in the Toronto Sun at

Here’s a link to a video of the Toronto Railway Historical Association and the LRC on the Sun site: Bonus: You get to see Jason Shron of Rapido Trains!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vestiges of the Past On The M & M Sub., Or How To Make A Filled-In Turntable Pit

Gp38-2 3002 crosses the old turntable pit in the
Fort Frances engine terminal.

Although the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision is set in the early to mid-1990s, there is a vestige from the past in the Fort Frances engine terminal area—the old turntable pit.

The pit is filled in now, of course, and tracks are laid across it. But you can still see the outline of the concrete foundation; if you close your eyes you might even be able to imagine the days when steam locomotives ruled these rails, stopping on the turntable to be turned and then head off to their next assignment.

The filled-in pit was easy to make. I took a large pizza pan and traced an outline on to a thin piece of cardboard, cut out the cardboard outline, painted it grey and then glued it to the subroadbed. When the glue was dry, I laid track over it, applied ballast and added "grass" to the old pit area to simulate how it had been filled in with earth.

(Only half of the "pit" is actually represented; it runs up to the edge of the layout, allowing me to imagine that any evidence of the old roundhouse is out there somewhere, too.)

Now, when visitors view the engine terminal, they don't just see the line-up of diesel power; they get a sense of history—there was a time when it looked very different than it does today.

Another shot of the "filled-in" turntable pit, showing
how it runs off the edge of the layout.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Saving Our More Recent Railway Past

When steam began to disappear from North American railways, a previous generation did what they could to preserve some of the old units. They didn’t save as many as they hoped, but they did a pretty good job, and we owe them a a deep sense of gratitude.

Today something similar is happening. This time it’s the diesels that we, the younger (boomer) generation, grew up with—locomotives like the venerable SD40-2 and others. It is becoming increasingly rare to see this once ubiquitous unit on a train in the U.S. or Canada. Who will save them, and units like them, for future generations?

One group that is trying to do its part to save North America's more recent railway history is the Toronto Railway Historical Association. The Association is trying to preserve a unique piece of Canadian railway history: LRC locomotive #6917.

Over the last six months the group has been negotiating with VIA Rail Canada to preserve the 6917, one of the last remaining LRC locomotives. They finally came to an agreement with VIA earlier this year, and placed a deposit to purchase the engine. But they need to find the balance of the purchase price by the beginning of August or they lose the deposit and the locomotive. And that's where my generation comes in.

The TRHA, a registered charity, is inviting people to make a donation to help save the 6917. If you want to help, go to the Save the LRC website at to read more about the campaign and make a donation. As a thank-you, the Association is offering a limited number of $100 gift cards from VIA (for every donation of $500 or more), and Rapido Trains is donating LRC models as further incentives.

If the Association is unable to save this locomotive, it will be scrapped along with all of the other LRCs on VIA property.

About the LRC: The LRC (Light, Rapid, Comfortable) was a higher-speed train developed by Bombardier (MLW) in the 1970s for passenger operation in North America. It was one of the last locomotives in North America built with an Alco 251 prime mover, and the LRC concept was the grandfather of Bombardier's high speed train program.

The model being offered by Rapido Trains
for donating to save the LRC.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Making Water on the Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision

A photo of the Rushing River, which was made
the old-fashioned way.
With an open house for the NMRA Thousand Lakes Region annual convention coming up, I have begun to spruce up the layout—fix a bit of scenery here, re-patch a crack between the layout and the fascia there, re-ballast a bit of track here and there.

I'm also re-finishing the water by giving it a fresh coat of Gloss Medium. There isn't a lot of water, but what there is helps define the layout's setting along the rugged Canadian shield. One signature area which seems to draw a lot of attention is on the upper level, where a bridge crosses the Rushing River.

When it comes to making water, I made mine the old-fashioned way: With paint and gloss medium.

First off, it goes without saying that water isn't blue, at least not in the northern part of the U.S. and Canada. It is various shades of green, brown, gray and anything in between, depending on the geological conditions and weather.

To make the water on the CP Rail Manitoba and Minnesota Subdivision, I start with either a piece of plywood or hardboard. After giving it a base coat of cheap green paint, I then apply Delta Ceramcoat Black Green and Deep River Green acrylic paints—the Black Creen in the middle and the Deep River Green on the edges where it is shallower.

When dry, I brush on a coat of Liquitex Gloss Medium & Varnish to make it shiny. The results look pretty good to me.

There are a lot of great products on the market today to make great-looking water, but for my purposes, the old way was once again best.

Another shot of the Rushing River.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Oldest Home Layout

The CP Rail M & M Sub. is a very young layout,
compared to others in Winnipeg.

What's the oldest home layout where you live?

Before going further, a word of explanation: By oldest, I mean a layout that has been in the same location from the time it was started until today. It could have been expanded and updated, but some part of it has to date back to when it was begun.

Using that definition, the oldest layout in Winnipeg, where I live, was started in 1950. That makes it 60 years old!

The next three oldest layouts were begun in 1968. Another one was started in 1969. Stafford Swain's CNR Whiteshell Subdivision dates back to 1975.

Compared to them, my 16 year-old layout is a mere child.

Considering how frequently people move today, I doubt we'll see layouts as old as these ever again.

P.S. When I asked the owner of the oldest layout in Winnipeg what era he modelled, he said "the transition era—but it was the modern era when I started!"

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Little Bit Of Kitbashing, Or, Making Changes To The Rico Station

I turned this . . .

Into this . . .

And ended up with this.

Many years ago, when I was building my first layout, I was lucky to buy a beautiful, put-together and painted model of the classic Rico station. It fit perfectly on that layout, and I intended to use it on my next layout.

When I built my present layout, the station found a home against the back wall in the Fort Frances yard. It looked great. Then I decided I needed a fourth passing track in the yard. But in order to add another track, I needed to get rid of the station—it was in the way. I was very reluctant to let it go.

Or did I really need to get rid of it? The station could stay—if it was half the size. But that meant cutting it in half, down the middle. Could I do that?

I decided to try. With some trepidation, I took my X-acto blade and hobby saw to the structure, cutting down the middle (along the roof line). I also cut the end walls in half. I then reassembled it against the wall.

Now, everything fits—the station and the extra track. Not only that: I have a unique structure, pretty-much guaranteed not to be found on any other layout (unless there's another brave soul like me). Plus, the station is also more imposing, given its new length.

As for the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub., the route doesn’t actually see passenger service any longer, except for the occasional private owner’s train or VIA’s The Canadian, when it is forced to take a more southerly detour. On those occasions, the station is able to re-live its glory days. In the meantime, it provides a focal point for the yard, it’s also a bit of a conversation starter. (“Hey, what did you do that station?”)

Another shot of the completed station.