Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dome Car Index

One of my jobs as Associate Editor of Canadian Railway Modeller is writing Web Reviews, a short column about websites of interest to model railroaders. Below find a website profiled in a previous column.

Dome Car Index

When the dome car above showed up in Winnipeg’s BNSF Manitoba yard a few years ago, local railfans wanted to know where it had come from, and where it was going. All that information was available on the Dome Car Index on WebLurkersDOMEmain, a website dedicated to dome cars on North American railways.

On the site you can find information about the 237 original dome cars built in North America, broken out by full and short domes, secondary ownership, charters, dinner trains and tourist trains.

Click here to visit the site.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fantasy Scheme is Fantastic!

If you have one of these . . .

Wouldn't you like to have one of these?
The N-scale CPR fantasy unit above was painted in the Saskatchewan scheme by Jeff King, a detailer and painter who operates Milwaukee Road Train Shop. Jeff also painted another unit in a more "conventional" scheme for the province, as below.
See more of Jeff's fantasy models here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

After 38 Years, Montreal Railroad Modeller's Association Loses its Home

A portion of the Canada Central . . . soon to be gone.

Ever since the first model railroad club rented space for a layout, there have been evictions. Years of effort and energy come to a sad end when the landlord asks the club to leave, a building changes ownership or there is another change to the venue.

That’s what’s happening in Montreal, where the Montreal Railroad Modeler’s Association has been asked to vacate its home of 38 years.

At 123 feet long and 37 feet wide, and with 4,900 feet of track and 527 switches, the Association’s layout—called the Canada Central—is one of the biggest in Canada. But by November it is supposed to be gone; it has to make way for new and better-paying tenants.

What makes this model railroad eviction story more compelling is the landlord: CN. This has prompted some people to heap abuse on the railway, while others have noted that it should at least be credited with giving the club almost four decades of inexpensive accommodation.

While it’s tempting to divide people in the story into villains and victims, the safest conclusion is the simplest: Nothing is forever, life moves on, things change. (See Of Tibetan Sand Mandalas and Model Railroads.)

That doesn’t make the loss of this great layout any less sad; here’s hoping the club can find a new home, maybe rescue some of the key scenes, and make a new layout that’s bigger and better.

It also gives one a great reason to plan a trip to Montreal this year, to see it one more time—or maybe for the first (and last) time.

A few photos from the club, and a trackplan, are below. More information about the club can be found on its website. You can also get more information about the eviction from CTV Montreal, including a link to a video of the layout.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


A strike at CP Rail has filled the small engine facility in Fort Frances to capacity. When negotiations failed, trains were pulled off the lines and the locomotives moved to storage—wherever space could be found.

At least, that’s one way to explain the many locomotives sitting where one would usually only find a couple of SW9s and two GP38s.

Actually, work on the upper staging yard of the layout has required me to move the units for safety—and the engine facility seemed like a perfect place for some temporary storage.

But it does look impressive, all those units lined up in a row!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday, CN Wet Noodle!

I may be a CP Rail modeller, but I'm also a Canadian—and I appreciate excellence when I see it.

Things like the now-classic CN logo, or “wet noodle,” which celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

And so I say: Happy birthday, wet noodle!

The well known CN logo was designed by Canadian graphic designer Allan Fleming, who famously sketched it on a napkin while waiting in a plane for takeoff from New York.

According to designKULTUR, this is the napkin that
Fleming sketched the CN logo on.

"I think this symbol will last for 50 years at least,” he said. “I don't think it will need any revision, simply because it is designed with the future in mind. It’s very simplicity guarantees its durability."

He was right. The logo (also called “the lazy three” because of how it looks tilted on its side), outlasted the Conrail can opener, the Penn Central “mating worms,” the Chessie Cat and the CP Rail Multimark.

Today it is one of the most recognized corporate identities in the North American business world—a testament to Allen’s design. Even Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan called it "an icon."

Getting closer . . .
According to Canadian pollster Angus Reid, 99 percent of all Canadians recognize the logo and associate it with CN. (I wonder how many Americans do?)

How did the logo come to be? According to CN, the story began in 1959 when the railway surveyed Canadians attitude about the company.

The findings came as a great shock; when people thought of CN, they pictured an old-fashioned and backward organization, hostile to innovation—the very opposite of what the company was trying to achieve.

According to people who were surveyed, CN’s traditional livery was viewed as drab, and the company was seen as staid and obsolete.

CN concluded it needed a fresh new trademark and visual image so people would think of it as more technologically advanced—from locomotive paint schemes and building exteriors right down to the sugar packets used on passenger trains.

Allan Fleming, left, at the unveiling of the new logo.
A new logo was at the heart of the redesign program. The challenge was assigned to Allan Fleming, a young and highly-regarded Canadian graphic designer. After experimenting with countless possibilities, Fleming hit on his simple and inspired design while sitting on a New York-bound airplane.

It was a dramatic contrast to the existing image. Out went the maple leaf and wafer, the green and gold livery. In came the new logo and a bright red, black and white image, which is still being used today.

So, once again: Happy birthday to the CN logo!

Some photos and info from designKULTUR. Check it out for more images and info.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The World Isn't Flat, and Neither Should be Model Railroads

Undulating terrain is found in the real world,
so why not on our model railroads, too?

How do keep our model railroads from having that billiard table look? That was the question raised recently on the Canadian Model Trains forum on Yahoo!

The earth, as we know, isn’t flat. Even the prairies, where I live, isn’t flat like a table top. The ground rolls, rises and falls. But this is hard to replicate on a model railroad, especially if our tracks are laid on plywood, homosote or some other flat surface.

The "ground" on the CP Rail M & M Sub. rises and
falls, just like on the prototype.

Sure, hills and mountains that rise above the tracks are easy to make. More challenging is making things like ditches, hollows or undulating terrain below track level—the kind of thing we normally see when we look over a piece of ground.

My solution was to use a layer of two inch Styrofoam on top of the plywood subroadbed. After laying the roadbed and tracks, I used a Stanley surform to carve the Styrofoam, making the terrain rise and fall just like in the real world.

Carving the edges of the Styrofoam makes it easier
to take realistic pictures.

I also carved the edges of the Styrofoam, so it fell away from the tracks. This is a great aid in photography—you can shoot photos from below the tracks, or straight on, just like in real life. If the edge of the table was ruler-straight, you could only take photos from slightly above, so as to not spoil the illusion.

A gap between two sheets of Styrofoam results in a river.

For the Rushing River, a scenic highlight on the layout, I simply created a gap between two sheets of Styrofoam. A piece of Masonite (or hardboard, as it is also called) was used to make the river.

As a bonus, Styrofoam makes it easy to plant trees—simply poke a nail into the Styrofoam to make a hole, then plunk in the tree. The Styrofoam naturally closes around the tree trunk, holding it in place.

Styrofoam can also be used above track grade to
create uneven terrain.

In 1492, Columbus proved the world isn’t flat. Today, we should be able to do the same thing on our model railroads.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Chaleur & Restigouche: Another Great Canadian Model Railroad

The Chaleur & Restigouche is another great Canadian model railroad.

The layout, created by Ronald Grandmaison, depicts CN in the late 1970s in Campbellton, Bay of Chaleur and Chatham, New Brunswick. Staging areas represent Montreal (west) and Saint John and Halifax (east).

The point-to-point layout measures 16 feet by 23 feet, and depicts summer in one area, early fall in another. Grades are around two percent, and the layout height varies from 47 to 53 inches.

The majority of the structures are modeled after prototypes in the area, including Fraser Pulp Mill, Cornerstone Tire Plant, Northeast Pine, Pelletier Welding, Vulcan Steel, Chaleur Meat Packers, Repap Mill and the CIL Plant.

Regrettably, I haven't been able to visit the Chaleur & Restigouche in person. But I was able to work with Ronald to feature it in Canadian Railway Modeller, Train 17, Track 1 (July-August, 2009).

You can visit the Chaleur & Restigouche at

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Layout for Sale: Only $16.75 Million

Want to buy a finished layout? Have I got a deal for you! Only costs $16.75 million.

Oh, it comes with a house, too.

Not just any house, mind you. This is more like a palace: 47,000 square feet, seven bedrooms, nine full baths, 11 half baths, 10 fireplaces and two elevators. The home took three years to build and was completed in 2006. It sits on 72 acres and includes a four acre lake. It cost nearly $50 million to build.

In addition to a two-lane bowling alley, theatre, virtual golf simulator, and a '50s diner, it has a layout that the realtor says is worth $75,000 to $100,000.

You can find out more at

I'd buy it, but I already have a layout.