Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign . . . on the layout, that is

Signs on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.” That’s what the Canadian group Five Man Electrical Band sang in their big hit in 1971.

There are also signs everywhere on the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision. But, unlike in the song, my songs aren’t “blocking out the scenery” or “breaking my mind.” My signs do the opposite—they inform and, hopefully, enlighten visitors.

One thing I have found during layout tours is that a) I can’t keep an eye on the trains and answer everyone’s questions when there are so many people in the room and b) I have to answer the same questions over and over again. (How did you make your trees? What is the height of your levels? How did you make those rocks?”)

I like talking to people, but I just can’t keep up. That’s where the signs come in.

Prior to a layout tour, like the one happening May 30 during the NMRA Thousand Lakes Region convention here in Winnipeg, I tape signs to the fascia around the layout. The signs tell people about scenery techniques, how I made buildings, what's behind those windows, the length of the mainline run, the concept behind the layout, how to find a mirror, etc.

It’s a simple and easy way to help people get the information they need—and keep me from going crazy.

Like a work of art, a layout is supposed to speak for itself. With all my signs, the M & M Sub. really does!

Another sign on the layout.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rapido Trains CP Rail Angus Vans Arrive!

A newly-arrived CP Rail Angus Van.
When Jason Shron started Rapido Trains, I told him I was sorry—sorry I couldn't support him.

Of course, I supported his desire to build one of Canada’s finest model railroad companies, and to bring out the most prototypical rolling stock and locomotives. I just couldn’t support him financially.

Since my layout is set in the mid-1990s in the Canadian prairies, I don’t need the kinds of things that Rapido is best known for—VIA and CN smooth side passenger cars, LRCs, steam gennies or F units.

But, I told him, if you ever bring out a prototypical CP Rail Angus caboose (or van, as they are called in Canada), I’m in.

Well, as most people know, Jason did just that, and today I am the proud owner of two of these fine vans. They arrived just in time for the May 28-30 NMRA Thousand Lakes Region convention; they will have pride of place in the engine yard on the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision when visitors come to see the layout—and maybe also get out on the road for a few mainline runs, too!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Easy Coal Loads From Foam

A foam coal load.

Looking for an easy way to make good-looking coal loads? You might be sleeping on it. At least, that's what I was doing. For a long time we used a foam mattress topper—a piece of foam that went on top of the regular mattress.

The foam mattress topper and a load. Loaded
cars in the background.
Eventually, like most things, it wore out. I was going to throw it out when I thought: I could make coal loads out of this!

Of course, I wasn’t the first person to think of using foam to make coal loads. Locally, my friend and fellow modeler Ron Einarson had written about making coal out of foam. When I saw the mattress topper, I thought of his article and knew I could do the same thing.

Unpainted and painted coal loads.
To make the loads, I cut the foam to fit my MDC bathtub gondolas. (I know these aren’t prototypical; the InterMountain coal cars would be much better. I just haven’t been able to persuade myself to spring for the string of 20 hoppers I’d need for my unit train.) Since I model the modern era, my coal loads needed to be flat, which makes this process even easier.

After cutting out the loads, I spray painted them glossy black. When dry, I popped them into the cars. Done!

I used mattress foam, but any piece of one-inch thick foam would do.

Unpainted and painted loads in cars.

As a bonus, these loads are easily removable. On the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub., I run them loaded from B.C. to power plants in the east and empty going back.

A final look at a foam coal load.