Thursday, July 29, 2010

Do You Model Graffiti?

Do you model graffiti?

That simple question on the Atlas HO forum turned into a loud, boisterous and nasty discussion that eventually led to the thread being locked. When it comes to this form of urban "art," people sure have lots of opinions!

No matter what you think about graffiti, the fact is that if you want to plausibly model the modern scene, your rolling stock has to be tagged. Actually, tagging is just one form of graffiti, and the lowest form, at that. Other forms include "pieces" (as in "masterpieces), signatures and stencils.

(In some cities, there are graffiti "crews"—a group of "artists" who will tag a number of cars together.)

Since I model the early to mid-1990s, I need to have graffiti on some of my cars. Some of my cars have factory-applied decals, and others have after-market decals. But most I did myself with gel pens.

Gel pens are pens that allow large amounts of ink to flow freely when the tip is depressed on a writing surface. They can be bought at any office supply store.

Using gel pens is sort of like painting, but with a pen. I use it to create words, shapes, characters and squiggles—anything that looks like the prototype.

I also use a silver gel pen to simulate aluminum windows on locomotive side windows.

Many people would sooner give up the hobby than deface their rolling stock. Not me; I want my layout to look gritty and weathered, just like the real thing.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Model Railroading A Mental Disorder?

Is model railroading a mental disorder? That was the topic of a part serious, part tongue-in-cheek clinic at the recent NMRA 75th anniversary convention in Milwaukee.

Presented by Dr. Ron Mihordin, a model railroader and a psychiatrist, the clinic was described as “a classification of the psychological sub-types seen among model railroaders.”

It was also intended to “clarify and confirm what model railroaders and those who live with us have known, or suspected, by may not have put into words.”

I wasn’t there, but “Jim from Valencia, California” posted a prĂ©cis of the eight categories on the Atlas HO forum.

The “Toy Railroader.” Can say: “I play with trains” without embarrassment. Can lash up a UP Big Boy with a CSX SD70Ace diesel to pull a train of Amtrak Superliner coaches with a PRR caboose and still sleep at night.

The Rivet Counter. Would rather eat a bug than own a boxcar with a non-prototypical road number Never leaves home without his pocket size magnifier or scale ruler.

The Kitbasher. His motto: “Modify or Die.” Has yet to find a model railroad manufacturer who accurately copies the prototype. Is often hard to distinguish from a Rivet Counter.

The Set Designer. The white stuff on his nose is hydrocal—not cocaine. Structure siding is done the prototypical way—one board at a time. Tracks and trains are OK as long as they don’t detract from the scenery.

The Operator. Considers development of the fast clock a technological breakthrough on par with penicillin. Prepares an annual report of the passenger train on time arrivals and departures and number of ton-miles of freight hauled on his layout in the previous year.

The collector. Seldom purchases only one item if a "complete set" or "complete series" is available. Shares the Ikea ideology that you don't have too much stuff—you have too little storage. Visits local hobbyshops semi-weekly. Has current orders, back orders and future orders with at least three on line hobby shops.

The planner. He thinks mantra of Model Railroader is "Dream it, Plan it.” Will build his layout when the kids leave home; he moves into a new house; he retires; he goes to one more workshop; the weather gets a little warmer; the weather gets a little cooler; etc.

The Socializer. Is a member of the NMRA, TCA, a modular layout club and nine historical societies. His favorite activity is talking about model railroading. His favorite railroad sound: His own voice.

According to Jim, "this was very tongue in cheek. The parts I presented are taken out of context. The whole audience was roaring with laughter throughout the clinic."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Responses To Are You Embarrassed For Others To Know You Are A Model Railroader?

I posted the question above on Model Railroad Forums and received a number of responses. Below find some samples; you can see all the posts at

"I'm happy to tell anyone that I participate in the model railroading hobby. If they are inquisitive, I'm happy to tell them about it and show them some of my work . . . if they are dismissive, they aren't worth worrying about . . . I think we do a greater disservice to ourselves when we are afraid to be who we are; there's enough dishonesty in the world as it is."

"I rarely give it a second thought. I have train and depot photos in my office at work, I have one of the Hallmark Great American Locomotives in a case on my desk, so most of my co workers know that I am interested in Trains and models. When an opportunity to discuss MR comes up lI am more than ready to show my interest, though I don't go around pushing it on others."

"I never hesitate to mention I'm into model railroading if the occasion occurs."

"A few of my friends think my modeling is sort of stupid, but I think the same about them still playing pokemon, so it's all good."

"I don't know if I'd bring it up on a first date , but I don't go out of my way to hide it."

"Like you, I don't go out of my way to announce it; just like I don't about my other interests and hobbies."

"While I don't walk around town wearing a sandwich board with I'M A MODEL RAILROADER! painted on it I'm not ashamed of it either."

"I learned a long time ago that trying to explain it (or almost any hobby) was pointless. Those who think it strange aren't worth bothering with; and my true friends are more than accepting."

"It seems like competitive hobbies are more 'acceptable' for guys - golf, tennis, sailing, martial arts, hunting, fishing. People (usually) don't blink an eye if you tell them you're going deepsea fishing in the Keys or you just dropped $1,000 on a new set of clubs. Try telling somebody you dropped $500 on a brass steam engine."

"I'm not ashamed necessarily, it just isn't something people are use to hearing. It requires some explanation in order for them to grasp what it is that I do. Besides, I really am just playing with trains."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Are You Embarrassed For Others To Know You Are A Model Railroader?

Gary Coleman: A forlorn model railroader?

Are you embarrassed for others to know you are a model railroader?

That question came up on the Canadian Model Trains forum on Yahoo! following the death of actor Gary Coleman.

Coleman, as many know, was a model railroader (his layout appeared in the September, 1990 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman; see above). After his death, a number of writers noted his involvement in the hobby, a few in a smirking kind of manner.

The worst was Lynn Crosbie of Canada’sw national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. After noting aspects of Coleman’s tragic and difficult life, she wrote: “There is not much glamour or intrigue available in Coleman's story—in working stiff jobs, stunt-cast acting work, or isolation (like forlorn men everywhere Coleman had an abiding interest in model trains).”

That comment sparked a lot of discussion on the forum, with most dismissing the writer’s lack of knowledge about model railroading and the people who enjoy it. (“Whatchu talkin’ about forlorn, Crosbie?”) But it also raised some interesting observations about how others see our hobby—and how some of us prefer not to talk about being model railroaders in the “outside” world.

I know that’s true for me. I’m not embarrassed to be a model railroader—heck, look at this blog. But I’m also careful who I tell about it; and in what circumstances.

As a semi-public figure—I’m a columnist for my local newspaper, writing about religion and international relief and development issues—I wonder if people might dismiss my writing about these serious subjects if they thought I “played with trains.”

And that is how many see it. And they’re not wrong, in one sense; it is “play,” insofar as it isn’t work. We know it’s more than that, of course: It’s research and construction and modeling and creativity and imagination.

But, for many, trains are things you played with as a kid. Once you grow up, you play with “real” toys like boats, snow machines, motorcycles and SUVs, to name a few.

Then there’s the media; when the subject of hobbies and collecting comes up, it often is about people who cross the line from healthy pastime to ruinous compulsion or obsession—think of a movie like Vinyl, about obsessive record collectors.

It’s apparently worse in England, as one British journalist—and a model railroader—noted in a humorous way.

“You can see them in the newsagent's—shifty, furtive, eyes glancing to the left and to the right, in case anyone they know might see them,” he wrote.

“These men—and they are nearly always men—then slither over to the specialist magazine stands.

“With a quick movement, the required publication is grabbed and the till approached.

“Sometimes, the shame is too great; a disguise is needed. So another magazine is taken, something wholesome and respectable - anything will do - into the pages of which the offending publication can be slid.

"Then, at the till, the final hurdle, the hope that the cashier will not, as in that Woody Allen film, bark out the name of the publication across the shop floor.

“’Railway Modeller? Does anyone have a price for Railway Modeller?’ For then, the shame would be complete, the humiliation absolute.

“‘Hobby’, ‘Railways’ and ‘models’—are there any three more shameful words in the English language?”

American story teller Garrison Keillor also used humour to illustrate the challenge in a telling way:

"I, for example, would dearly love to receive a model train layout similar to the one of my childhood, which rusted and decayed," he wrote in an essay on the dangers of Christmas.

"I remind myself every year not to want it too much, but I do, and I never get it. A man my age can't simply walk into a store and buy a model train set for himself; people would talk, people would chuckle behind his back, and one day he'd come home to find an attorney sitting smiling in the living room, who would explain to him in easy-to-understand terms, using simple declarative sentences, why his financial affairs will hereafter be managed by his nephew Vince."

Again, I’m not embarrassed to be a model railroader. I will talk about it with others, if it’s appropriate to do so. But I usually wait to see if something like the topic of hobbies or interests comes up before mentioning it.

What about you: Are you careful who you tell about being a model railroader? Or don't you care who knows you “play with trains”?

Index Updated

The index to the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision blog has been updated. It's something I should do regularly, but you know how it is: It's so easy to say I'll do it later. The problem is that when later comes, there are sometimes half a dozen or more posts to add.

You can find a link to the index on the right hand side of the page, in the About Me section, or you can click here to go to it.

The index is loosely organized by The Layout; Tips & Tricks; Railfanning the Prototype; Other Layouts & Things; and General Ruminations & Reflections.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Great Places To Eat, Grab A Coffee And Watch Trains

I was at a conference in Goshen, IN in July. Before and after the meetings, I'd stop at the Starbucks on US 33 between Goshen and Elkhart to grab a coffee, check e-mail and watch trains on the busy NS Chicago mainline across the street. (There was a train about every 10-15 minutes.)

I also stopped for lunch one day at nearby Panera Bread--another great view of the action.

It got me to wondering: Where are other great places to grab a coffee, or other liquid refreshment, or a meal, and watch trains?

I posted that query on the Atlas HO forum. Here are some of the responses:

"The Steaming Tender in Palmer, MA is great and has good food to boot. I also like the Voorheesville Diner in Voorheesville, NY - right on the main CSX line into Selkirk Yard."

"C.O.D. Seafood on 37th Avenue,NW in Miami. 'High Horsepower' cuban coffee in a small cup. Right next to the East Rail industrial park."

"Silver Beach Pizza in St Joseph MI. It is right there by the tracks. The tracks are used by CSX and Amtrak."

"Crown Railroad Cafe in Flagstaff, AZ is a diner that's right across the street from the BNSF (ex-ATSF) mainline."

"In Fort Collins, CO, try either Avogadro's Number (on Mason Street) or Washingtons to see the BNSF (ex-C&S) street running mainline traffic roll through town while savoring great deli sandwiches, beer, etc. Washingtons's is more like a pub and on my last visit had a deck where you could view the action as well as that on the UP branch that comes up from (I think) Greeley."

"The Shovel" in Marion Ohio. Seating outside right next to the NW north/south line, and within site of the CSXT/CR/EL east west line. Just 50 yards away. Look around the building, and the CSXT/C&O north south main is just 25-30 yards away. Shares a parking lot with the depot museum!"

"Wiscasset, Maine offers Sarah's, Red's Eats and two other establishments I can't think of the names where you can enjoy fresh hearty Maine seafood either picnic style or indoors with excellent views of the Maine Eastern (ex MEC) Rockland line skimming along the edge of the very photogenic harbor."

"My favorite spot is Einstein's Bagels in Glen Ellyn, IL. They have outdoor seating in the warm weather months and the UP West line is literally about 100ft. to the north. Freights go by at least every 10-15 minutes and the bagels and coffee are great!"

"On the CN line in Mundelein, IL The Caboose, is a nice little sandwich shop with a bar facing the grade crossing at Hawley. In Northbrook, IL on the CP line, My Pie is wonderful little pizza place that looks at the Shermer Road grad crossing in downtown. Seriously a must stop for really good pizza!"

"In Deerfield, there's Trax, which has an open air eating area on the roof looking down on the Deerfield train station. Pretty good food, and a decent beer selection."

"MacGregor's, Rochester, NY. Sits right on the busy, former NYC Waterlevel route now used by CSX. It's an old station to boot."

"Tinucci's restaurant parking lot has long (at least since the early sixties) a popular spot for watching trains. It's just off of Hwy 10/61 southeast of St.Paul. The BNSF and CP mainlines to Chicago (formerly CB&Q and Milwaukee) run parallel to each other the other side of the service road from the parking lot."

Anyone have anything to add to that list?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Racing Trains: An Unusual Sight

I was railfanning in Mishawaka, IN in July, along the Norfolk Southern Chicago mainline, when I spotted a headlight in the distance—always a good sign.

No, wait—it's two headlights. Could it be? I had never seen one train overtake another before, but was happening in front of my eyes. I zoomed in and saw that there were two trains traveling side-by-side.

When I realized that the train on the north side of the tracks was overtaking the one on the south, I switched over to the south side for a better shot of the action. (I was at a controlled crossing). Darn it, though, my camera was still set on zoom, and I couldn't adjust in time before the train was right there—which is why I only got this partial frame.

Then came the mixed freight, moving at a leisurely pace.

And then the units were past me, with the intermodal racing way out ahead.

We see this kind of thing on modular layouts all the time. But does it happen in real life other places, too?

I posted that query on the Atlas Model Railroad Forum. Places where trains are permitted to pass each other on a double-track main include on the CN main line near Kingston, Ont.; Butler St. Jct. in Hamilton, OH (where the NS and CSX lines converge), and on the CSX in the Westland/Plymouth/Canton area of Michigan.

Amyone else seen something like this? It was a first time for me.

Friday, July 9, 2010

An Old Story Often Told: The Gateway Western In Storage

Larry Leavens and Gino Kost enjoy the action on
the Gateway Western.

It's an old story, often told: Model railroad club gets great, free space, model railroad club loses space, model railroad club looks for space.

It happened last month here in Winnipeg, when the Gateway Western, the layout that belongs to the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club, had to vacate its space in the basement of Gooch's Hobby Shop.

The reason? Gooch's is moving, and the new store won't have enough space for the Club's HO scale layout. The N-Trak layout also needs to find a new home.

The Gateway was in Gooch's for six years. It was a great location, and a great run.

Luckily, the 12 x 24 Gateway is sectional; Club members took it apart and moved it out of Gooch's basement in June. It is in storage while members look for a new home.

The Gateway itself has an interesting history. The original Gateway Western resided in the CN station on Main St. here in Winnipeg for many years. When the station was renovated in the 1990s, the layout was dismantled. It was resurrected as a portable layout by several Club members, including Jim Iredale, former owner of Ware House Hobbies in the city.

When Jim died, the others carried on, but it proved too much for the small group. The layout was sold to a local modeller, who never actually put it back together. When I discovered it was still in sections in his basement, I initiated a process for the Club to buy it back. It's been a great focal point for Club activity ever since.

But now it sits in storage, looking for new space. Let's hope it doesn't languish too long . . . .

Jeff Keddy watches the Northlander pass the engine house.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Model Railroad Lessons Learned #6: Enjoy Each Stage of the Journey

The CP Rail M & M Sub. under construction.

Some people can’t wait to get a layout done. They work as fast as they can to complete it. It’s as if it isn’t any good until it is finished.

I also looked forward to the day when the CP Rail M & M Sub. would be “done.” But I found enjoyment at each step of the process. (OK, except for wiring.) Whether it was making buildings, creating scenery, laying track, weathering cars or any of the other myriad of things that go into creating a layout, I enjoyed each facet and step along the way.

Now that my layout is done, I find that I miss all those things. I miss the feelings of satisfaction that resulted from completing a new scene. I miss the excitement of discovering a new piece of rolling stock for the roster. I even feel nostalgic for the days when my layout room was empty, except for the promise of what was to come.

In this time of instant gratification, when almost everything in the hobby comes ready-to-run out of the box, it's tempting to want to have it all right now. But model railroading, done right, is a process. It takes time to develop the needed skills and abilities that will eventually lead to a dream layout. Each step along the way is important for the next one, and for the one after that. And each one, in its own way, can be savoured and appreciated.

Maybe it’s true: Maybe the trip really is better than reaching the final destination.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Model Railroad Lessons Learned #5: Don't Wait Until Tomorrow

When's the best time to start a layout? Ten years ago, or now.

When a model railroad friend retired a few years ago, I commented that he now must be getting lots done on his layout—now that he had so much time.

“Actually, I’m getting less done now than when I was working,” he said.

He went on to explain that, when he was younger and still working, each moment on the layout was precious. When he got a few minutes, an hour or longer, he quickly got to work on a task—you never know how long it would be before another bit of free time might come along.

But now that he was retired, there was no sense of urgency; if he didn’t work on a project today, he could always do it tomorrow—or the day after, or the day after that. The result? Things never got done.

A number of people I know plan to build a layout when they retire. Then, they say, they’ll finally have time. But my friend’s experience suggests that might not be the best plan.

Plus, who’s to say that any of us will live long enough to retire? And if good grace and good genes allows us to live until retirement age, there’s still no guarantee we’ll continue to have good health or ample resources.

Bottom line? If you are able, the right time to start building a layout is now. You never know what tomorrow may bring.

They say that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago or today. The same could be said about model railroads.