Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Power for the CP Rail M & M Sub.

New power on the M & M Sub.

The worst thing about a finished model railroad is not needing anything new.

I passed the acquisition stage some time ago. For a long time, I have owned all the motive power and rolling stock I need.

It sort of puts a damper on visiting the hobby shop or going to a train show.

But I recently did aquire some used locomotives. For a while now, I've been interested in upgrading my fleet of SD40-2 locomotives--the bulk of which is Atheran blue box. Despite the fact that the venerable and much-lauded SD40-2 was one of North American railroading's most ubiquitous locomotives, and that CP Rail had one of the largest fleets, there really aren't many CP Rail units available in model form.

For my money, the best units were made by Kato. But not only aren't they making many HO items anymore, the CP Rail SD40-2 units they did produce had terrible lettering (too skinny). I have one, but I still wince everytime it passes by.

Athearn did produce an upgraded SD40-2 in CP Rail in the late 1990s, but try finding one now. (There is a high nose version coming out this year that might tempt me.)

And Atlas? Well, that would be the best thing, in my books--I love their GP 38-2 units. But they don't make any SD40-2 units in HO at all.

That's why I was glad to find buy some new Kato power from my friend Rob Sarna recently--two SD40-2 units in SOO and a Kato CP Rail SD45. They are beautifully detailed and weathered; Rob did a great job. They look good pulling freight on the M & M Sub.

Meanwhile, I'm still in the hunt for some new CP Rail SD40-2 locomotives--upgraded Athearns or Kato (without the skinny logo).

And Atlas, you can make my day by making an SD40-2 in CP Rail.

The SD45 looks great . . .

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Around the World and Close to Home (or, It's a Small World)

It's a small world . . .

One neat thing about the Internet is that we are able to be in communication with people around the world. But sometimes it also helps us get into contact with people close to home. That's what happened to me recently.

I was at a local hobby shop, and saw someone who looked familiar. He looked at me, and thought the same thing. It turned out he was a neighbour's son--someone I had not seen much of in the past few years.

At first, I was just delighted to find that someone who lived on my street was also interested in model railroading. Then I told him about my blog.

"No way," he said. "That's your blog? I've been following that blog for a while now."

So there he was, in his house, three doors away from my home, learning about a model railroad in my basement--with no idea it was so close.

And not only that, he also models CP Rail in a similar time period--the reason he was drawn to the blog in the first place.

It is a small world, after all!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Prototypical Plausibility, or the C-P-R Principle

Would a CP Rail SD40-2 ever lead a VIA
passenger train? The C-P-R principle says yes.

The C-P-R principle--that's what my friend Eric Gagnon suggests to help modellers determine prototypical plausibility.

The subject came up on the Candian Model Trains group on Yahoo! during a discussion about whether it might have been possible to find CN and CP Rail F-units mixed together on VIA Rail passenger trains during VIA's early years.

The issue got Eric thinking. "It would be useful to have some sort of an index, matrix or principle to determine whether a given practice ever happened," he wrote.

It's too easy and not really meaningful to just say yes, it happened, because someone saw it in a magazine once, read it online or heard it from a friend, he added.

Besides, that's not the real question, Eric wrote. The real question is: "Can I realistically model it as a practice that exceeds one-off status?" And: "Is there proof that I can rely on, to assist me in my modelling?

For Eric, there are at least three factors that need to be addressed. He calls this the C-P-R principle: Context, Probability and Records (C-P-R).

Context: When and where? Which specific era? Which location or area?

Probability: What likelihood was there, day in and day out, that the practice could be seen by a trackside observer during the era in question?

Records: Are there photographic or other first-person observations to illustrate the practice? If it did happen, how relevant is it to realistic modelling, if that's the questioner's aim?

In answer to the question that started it all--if CN and CP Rail F-units might have ever been seen together at the head of a passenger train during VIA's early years--Eric says yes. The probability is excellent, and there are photographic records.

On the CP Rail M & M Sub., my goal is plausibility--is it likely that a certain locomotive or piece of rolling stock might be found in Manitoba and Minnesota during the early 1990s? Up until now, I've gone mostly with my gut, and the little bit of knowledge I have of that era and locale. But now I might also be able to use C-P-R, too.

Thanks, Eric.

(Photo from Trackside Treasure.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Nice Scene

Here's a nice scene on the M & M Sub., aided greatly by one of Rapido Train's great-looking CP Rail Angus Vans.

The scene itself is just about 8 inches wide and maybe a foot long, running from the entryway to a short wall (which the tracks punch through).

Another view.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

O Scale Fall in Pennsylvania (in Manitoba)

It's always fall on Ron's layout.

One of Ron  Loewen's favorite places is Pennsylvania in the fall. So when it came time for the Manitoban to build a layout, that state and time of year were natural choices.

Ron's three-rail layout fills the second floor of his two-car garage; Ron uses MTH DCS to run four trains at time. He like nothing better after a day of work than sitting back and watching trains run around the layout.

Other features include a six-foot long bridge, tunnels, smoke, sound and a camera on a flatcar that allows visitors to view trains from an engineer's perspective on a TV screen in the layout room.

Ron doesn't specialize in any railroad--whatever looks good is fine with him. He does have a fondness for billboard reefers, though.

I visited Ron just before an open house, when he was getting the layout ready for visitors; see photos below. A video of the layout can be found on my CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota YouTube channel by clicking here.

Click here to see more photos from a follow-up visit to Ron's layout, including more fall foliage.

Ron in his layout room.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Grand Forks, North Dakota: A Great Railfan Getaway

When you live in Winnipeg, in the centre of Canada, there's not many places to go for a weekend away. Two favorite places for Manitobans for many decades are Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota.

For shoppers, there are bargains galore--aided, these days, by the fact that the Canadian dollar is once again worth more than the U.S. greenback. (The last time was the 1970s.)

For railfans, there are lots of trains. Both Grand Forks and Fargo sit astride busy east-west BNSF main lines. As a bonus, both communities provide easy and public access to yard and engine facilities--and the local BNSF employees are usually OK with Canadian railfans on the property proper, provided we don't go too close to the tracks.

(East Grand Forks, MN is also home to the Northern Lights Model Railroad Club; click here to see photos of their layout.)

The first railroad to reach Grand Forks was the Great Northern, in 1880. In 1887, the Northern Pacific extended a line from Fargo to Grand Forks.

Below find a few photos from a recent visit to Grand Forks.

2573 works the west end of the yard.

The yard schematic.

Line up at the "roundhouse." It was late in the evening,
and the sun was in the wrong place . . . .

Getting ready to leave the yard.

Wouldn't You Like to Study There? II

Students wait for a train to pass
at Goshen College.

Last fall I wrote about how the Norfolk Southern Marion branch bisects the campus of Goshen College in Goshen, Ind. Something similar occurs on the campus of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND.

The difference in Grand Forks is that students cross over the tracks (in this case, the BNSF Glasston Sub.), in the so-called "Hamster Tunnel," while students at Goshen cross the tracks on foot.

How UND solves the track crossing problem. 

Of course, the only time I ever saw a train go under the tunnel was when I didn't have a camera; Mitch Walsten, a student at UND, took the great photo below.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rapido's The Canadian in Winnipeg

Jason points out the details of the FP9A.

At 1 p.m. on Sunday 24 April, 1955, a legend was born when the sleek stainless steel passenger cars of Canadian Pacific's The Canadian departed Montreal's Windsor Station for the inaugural run across Canada to Vancouver.

On June 16, 2011 another legend arrived in Winnipeg. This time it was the HO scale version of The Canadian, which made its inaugural visit to this prairie city. The visit was part of the cross-Canada tour by Rapido founder and CEO Jason Shron, now on the western leg of his trip. The stop on this night was Ware House Hobbies, where the models were seen by an appreciative group of about 30 people.

Part of the crowd taking in the presentation.

What makes this train unique is that it is the first complete model of The Canadian ever produced in ready-to-run plastic, including the first-ever accurate model of the CPR's FP9A locomotive. The ten car set, which features two sound-equipped FP9A locomotives, a B unit and ten Budd passenger cars, is available in classic CPR Maroon, CP Rail and VIA. The production run is limited to 2,000 sets.

For more info about The Canadian, click here. To read Jason's blog about his The Canadian tour, click here. To read an interview I did with Jason in 2009 about his company, click here.

All the units and cars on the counter.

The Park Car

VIA FP9A units.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Demise of the Montreal Model Railroad Club, Tibetan Sand Mandalas and a Bottle of the Finest Spirits

The demise of the Canada Central, the fantastic layout owned by the Montreal Model Railroad Association, is in the news these days. An article about the club losing its home of 38 years was carried by Canadian Press, and appeared in many newspapers in Canada.

I wrote a post about the Club losing its home in March; you can read it here.

I channelled my inner Buddha in 2009 when I wrote a reflection about the transitory (trainsitory?) nature of all of our model railroads. You can read Of Tibetan Sand Mandalas and Model Railroading here.

Last, I posted a poignant story about the death of a local model railroader, the friends who dismantled his layout, a bottle of the finest spirits hidden in a mountain--and a toast to a dear, departed friend. You can read I'll Drink to That here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Place With No Trains

Prince Edward Island is a wonderful place. The only thing that would make it better would be trains.

It used to have trains. The first rails of the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were laid in 1886. The line was eventually absorbed into Canadian National Railways; the last CN train left the Island in December, 1989, ending over 100 years of railway activity in the province.

All that’s left of that storied railway history today are a few stations, one former locomotive and a few pieces of rolling stock, such as the ex-CNR caboose at the railway museum in Borden, near the foot of the Confederation Bridge. The right of way itself is now a pedestrian trail.

On my way home from PEI (on the amazing Confederation Bridge--a 12.9 kilometre (8 mile) long bridge connecting PEI with the mainland of Canada), I stopped at the old CN Borden station and photographed the caboose. (Located at the foot of the bridge.)

According to Michael Taylor, the caboose was built in October, 1912 as Grand Trunk boxcar 23368, renumbered as CN 343568, then rebuilt in 1941 as a caboose CN 78301. It ended its days in Riverview, New Brunswick (across the Northumberland Strait) and was donated to the museum in 2003.

More info about the railway in PEI, especially about its diesels, can be found at A history of railways on the island can be found at PEI Railways.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

French Fry Capital of the World (and a Railway Museum)

Florenceville, New Brunswick--also known as the "French Fry Capital of the World"--is the corporate home of the McCain Food Empire. It's also just up the road from Bristol, home to the Shogomoc Railway Museum.

I'm in Florenceville on business, and took some time to visit the museum. (Whenever I travel, I try to take in at least one railway-related site.) The museum is housed in the former Florenceville station, built in 1914 and moved to the Bristol site in 1988. (It's identical to the station formerly located in Bristol, and the only one of its type east of Montreal.) It sits alongside an abandoned former CPR line.

Unfortunately, the museum was closed, but I was able to take a look at three former CPR passenger cars outside.They are: 4490 baggage/sleeper; Assiniboine, sleeper; and Grenfell, sleeper.

One car is home to Fresh Fine Dining. I considered eating there, but the prices were a bit above my range. But it looked very nice inside, and seems like it would be well worth the visit.

You can find out more about the musuem here. Information about Fresh Fine Dining can be found here.

Thanks to Steve Boyko of Train Geek for the info on the cars.


A former ATSF car patched and re-lettered
for my late friend David R. Dyck

A look at almost any train these days shows a lot of patched rolling stock--cars whose original owner's names and reporting marks have been painted over by the new owner.

While planning the M & M Sub., I knew I'd need a number of patched cars to reflect the prototype. I especially knew I'd need a good number of patched grain cars for my unit grain trains. Luckily, that was easy to do; all I had to do was buy a grain car of any road and get to work.

I rubbed off the letters just enough so it would look
like an old car that had been re-lettered and numbered.

Also lucky for those who want to do patching, the prototype isn't particularly fussy about how it paints out old names and reporting marks--no need to worry about straight lines or colour matches!

I patched my cars in various ways--spray paint or rubbing off old letters using a piece of brillo pad. (Click here to learn more about that weathering method.) In both cases, I created masking tape masks to define the edges of the patches.

I re-lettered some cars for real private car owners, and some were re-lettered for family and friends. Since there seems to be a prototype private car owner for almost any roadname you can think of, any combination of letters you use ending with an "X" would work.

I deliberately made this patch crooked and off-centre. It's
re-lettered in memory of my dad, Edward John Longhurst.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"Why else would a grown man play with trains?"

If you are of a certain age, like I am, you may remember the original Addams Family show on TV. If you are also a model railroader, you may remember the scene where Gomez Addams blows up his Lionel Trains.

For some strange reason, I got to thinking about that show recently, and about the scene (repeated a number of times throughout the series) where Gomez blew up his trains.

In the original scene, a visitor is ushered into Gomez's train room, where he witnesses the collision.

"They're going to crash!" he warns Gomez, watching two trains head towards each other at speed.

"Beautiful, beautiful," says Gomez after the explosion.

"You meant to blow them up?" the visitor asks.

"Of course," replies Gomez. "Why else would a grown man play with trains?"

Looking at the scene again, I wonder how they arranged for two trains to run into each other on the same track going in opposite directions. This was pre-DCC, after all.

To watch the scene, click on the video above, or click here to enjoy the explosion, er, trains!

(Click here for the train crash scene from the re-make.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Book About VIA Rail Published

Tracksidewith VIA: The First 35 Years is Eric Gagnon's account of VIA's unique mix of trains from 1976 to 2011. Eric visited coach yards, station trainsheds, rode VIA trains and spent time trackside, noting over 2,700 of VIA's varied trains. Train consist information is presented in six chapters, with each representing a different era of VIA equipment and operations. A concise history, rosters, photos, and CN/CP to VIA paint transition data for cars, locomotives and RDC's complete the book.

Of Trackside with VIA: The First 35 Years, Jason Shron, President of Rapido Trains, says: “VIA has a little bit of everything for the railfan and historian, and thanks to people like Eric Gagnon, the memories of VIA’s unique and varied history will be preserved for future generations . . . For those who haven’t been on a VIA train during the transition era or later, this book will show you what you missed. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into VIA’s history. I know I will.”

A medical laboratory technologist who is married with two children, Eric is also an HO scale modeller, musician, avid reader and blogger, having launched his Canadian railfan blog TracksideTreasure in 2008. I interviewed Eric about his new book on June 1.

Why did you write Trackside with VIA: The First 35 Years?

A few years ago I was contacted by Jakob Mueller, a VIAphile of the highest order, who was working on CN/CP-VIA paint transition data. He was interested in various VIA consists and car information I was posting in Yahoo groups. Unfortunately, my information consisted of an assortment of notepads, binders, and loose leaf pages I'd been amassing since I started railfanning in 1976.

The more I thought about Jakob's request, the more it made sense to me to collate my VIA data, and if I could share it with others, so much the better.

What sparked your interest in VIA?

My railfanning career mirrored VIA's formation and growth. It seemed like a natural fit for such a book. Having grown up along CN's Kingston Sub, VIA trains were a familiar sight to me, and the transition into the blue & yellow paint occurred before my eyes.

I really can't explain the compulsive note-taking, which is more prevalent in England with train-spotters hanging out on station platforms. I began noting VIA locomotive and car numbers at the young age of 12, as well as freight trains.

What are some things readers will be surprised to learn about VIA from Trackside with VIA?

I think they'll be surprised to see the variety of equipment used, and the actual trains that were passing by through the years.

How will Trackside with VIA help people who model VIA Rail?

My book will give them a wealth of data about the trains of VIA: Consists, paint information, rosters, car types, and photographs. (For this I must credit Jakob Mueller, for contributing his paint transition data.) Dates, locations, equipment in use, and the incredible variety of VIA's trains are all in the book. The book will serve as a resource for modellers trying to build prototype consists using Rapido or other models, including the Canadian.

How will it help railfans?

Many railfans enjoy the passing trains, and photograph them, perhaps making some notes. I did that in the reverse order—I made notes, took some photographs, and then enjoyed the passing train as I accomplished the first two. Through the book, I hope to help railfans recall some of the VIA trains they saw throughout the decades, some of their numbers and the context in which these trains operated.

From classic GM and MLW motive power, through RDC's and Tempo trains, the Turbo, LRC, and Renaissance equipment—there’s something in my book for all railfans.

How about those who just love passenger trains—what will they find in the book?

Lovers of passenger trains will find a nice mix of prototype information, photography and a railfan's experiences with VIA. I made notes and took photographs on every VIA trip I rode. Whether they love classic heavyweight equipment, Budd's Canadian equipment (which is still in use), or VIA's updated LRC equipment, they will enjoy some of the trip accounts I've included.

How many trips have you taken on VIA, and over how many years?

I have travelled west from Kingston as far as Winnipeg, Vancouver and Prince Rupert in the 1970s and 1980s, taking notes along the way. My first western trip was in 1978 aboard a Dayniter on the Super Continental on CN's line through northern Ontario. I've also travelled in the Corridor, and continue to do so today, whenever I get the chance. My most recent trip was to Toronto in March, pulling into Union Station aboard a VIA1 car.

Any final thoughts?

Through Trackside with VIA, I would like readers to share my experience of watching VIA grow and mature into the corporate entity it represents today. Anyone who wants to learn more about VIA's trains, and find out what equipment operated when, will want this book in their library.

Trackside with VIA: The First 35 Year is published by Trackside Treasure Publications, 415 Glen Castle Road, Kingston, Ontario K7M 5V. Cost is $25 including shipping to Canadian addresses, $29 including shipping to U.S addresses. Click here for more information.