Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Great Canadian Model Railroad: Brian Elchlepp’s BC Rail Dawson Creek Sub.

M420 640 rounds a big curve on
Brian Elchlepp's Dawson Creek Sub.

During my time as Associate Editor of Canadian Railway Modeller, I’ve been able to work with many authors to help them publish articles about their layouts. There have been a lot of impressive layouts over that time, including Brian Elchlepp’s BC Rail Dawson Creek Sub. (Featured in Train 11, Track 1).

A-B-B-B M420's work a grade. 

The prototype Dawson Creek Subdivision is a 61-mile branch line in the northern part of B.C. It features a rolling profile, stretches of 2.2% grade and a 1,100 foot long bridge spanning the Pine River. Until the mid 90s, power was all Alco, while rolling stock was a mix of pig flats, box cars, petroleum and grain.

A C630M leads an M420 towards Dawson Creek.

At the time Brian was modeling the line, the railway serviced a number of grain elevators and local industries in Dawson Creek and interchanged with CN (which now owns BC Rail).

Switching in Dawson Creek.

Brian’s HO scale representation of the Dawson Creek Subdivision was a point-to-loop plan about 9.5 by 21 feet. It featured a double-decked portion along one wall, with the lower level representing the town of Chetwynd while the upper level was Dawson Creek. There was also a staging yard reached via a three-turn helix.

Brian's helix.

For Brian, the combination of traffic, grades, operation and exotic motive power made the line the perfect prototype for a model railroad.

Overview of the Dawson Creek Sub. layout.

As you may have noticed, I have been using the past tense to describe Brian’s layout—it’s gone now, the result of a change in personal circumstances in his life. Brian dismantled it in 2006.

The layout plan.

Gone, too, is a website he created about the layout and the prototype; using the magic of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I went back and grabbed some photos from his old site to post here as a tribute to Brian’s fantastic modeling.

M630 #719 leads an M420B and a C630 past a meet.

In a note, Brian told me he has stepped away from the hobby for a while, although he has recently begun to do a little modeling again. This time, though, it’s a little Washington branch line.

If you’re interested in learning more about BC Rail, Brian co-authored two books about the railway; you can find more information about them here.

More photos of Brian's gone, but not forgotten, layout are below.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Last Week to Order The Canadian

There's only a week left for those who want to order The Canadian, the gorgeous new offering from Rapido Trains. All orders must be in by August 5, 2011.

I've seen the train, and I can say that it is one of the most detailed and impressive HO scale models I've ever viewed.

And lest you think I am a Rapido Trains company shill (OK, maybe I am a bit), as impressed as I am with the set I'm not even going to buy one--it doesn't fit my era. That doesn't mean I can't admire it, though.

(On the other hand, being a friend of Rapido Trains ovner Jason Shron, it's been great to watch his company grow from a dream to the incredible reality is has become; you can read about the origins of the company here.)

And another thing: After taking The Canadian on a cross-Canada tour, Jason discovered a pent-up demand for the model in CP Rail Action Red. The result? He decided to make it in that version, too; see a sample below.

You can read more about The Canadian, and find order information, in the latest Rapido Telegraph.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Canada Central Closure Update

As has been widely reported, including on this blog, Montreal's Canada Central HO scale club layout—one of the largest in Canada—lost its home of 38 years in March. The final open house will be held October 29-30, after which the layout will be dismantled.

Club members are searching for a new home, but have been unable to find one—finding affordable and suitable space isn't easy.

But, as with other situations like this, the loss of space might be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is sad to lose a layout, especially as one as old and lauded as the Canada Central. A lot of memories are packed into every square inch of scenery.

On the other hand, it gives club members a chance to start afresh, should they find a new space—they could do things like eliminate duckunders, get rid of too-steep grades and operational bottlenecks, and use updated scenery and other techniques, among other things.

If you can't get to the layout before it disappears, here are a few more photos. Enjoy!

(A reflection on the demise of Canada Central, along with a Buddhist-like reflection on the transitory nature of model railroad layouts, can be found here.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Amazing Automated Staging Yard

Staging yards on the CP Rail M & M Sub., like the rest of the layout, are pretty simple--nothing at all like the amazing automated and computer operated staging yards built by "ModelbaanSiebwalde," a model railroader in the Netherlands. Click here or click on the photo below to see it for yourself!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Great Canadian Model Railroad: The Bonaventure et Chambly

Here’s another great Canadian layout—the Bonaventure et Chambly.

The HO scale layout, which is owned by Sylvain Duclos, was featured in Canadian Railway Modeller (Train 15, Track 6). It is proto-freelanced, featuring CN in the Montreal, Quebec area in the late 1980s to mid-1990s, plus a fictitious shortline called the Saint-Lambert et Chambly.

Not only has Sylvain built a fabulous layout, he takes great photographs of it. He is also a master at weathering, as the photos attest.

Click here to visit the BOeC. For those of you who speak French, or want to brush up on the language, Sylvain’s website is in both of Canada’s official languages. (A Mostly French version of the website, with more and different photos, can be found here.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Get Paid to Play With Trains?

Want to get paid to play with trains?

The Great Train Story at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is looking for someone who can work full-time on the layout. Model railroad repair experience is a definite plus, and you need to be a people person. You also need to have no qualms about only seeing the BNSF swoosh exclusively on trains all day. (BNSF is the major sponsor.) Living in the immediate Chicago metro region is neccessary, too.

For more information, visit the Atlas HO Forum. (Forum link: Most Wonderfulest Job in the World.)

But before you drop everything, quit your job and move to Chicago, a cautionary note: Be careful what you wish for. Like anything else in  life, too much of a good thing can seem like drudgery--even trains.

I learned that lesson many years ago, when I started scratchbuilding wooden grain elevators ("prairie giants"). I made one for myself, then one for a friend as a gift. Others saw them, and asked me to make them some for money.

Foolishly, I agreed.

Why foolishly? What had previously been a pleasant diversion now became a job, loaded with expectations and timelines. ("Is it ready yet?) Instead of looking forward to budiling elevators, it became a chore--one I would rather avoid.

After finishing my last elevator for cash, I closed the business.

A friend who started a model railroad magazine has a similar story. Before he created the publication, he had a layout in his basement. Now he has no layout (the magazine took over all the available space), and no time for modelling. And, somedays, no interest either. (It's hard to think of playing with trains after working with trains all day.)

All the same, being part of the Great Train Story would be cool--at least for a little while.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Radio Control For HO Scale Model Trains: A Pipe Dream or Coming Reality?

Regular readers know that the CP Rail M & M Sub. is so 20th century. By that I mean that it uses DC (Dinosaur Control) to operate the trains.

It's not that I have anything against DCC; I enjoy operating layouts that use it. It's just that it makes no sense for the M & M Sub., which is mostly operated by one person (me).

But as much as I admire DCC, and how progressive it is, it's still kind of 20th century itself. You can run multiple units, ring the bell, make engine sounds and all other sorts of fancy things, but you still are running trains exactly the same way I am or, for that matter, the same way the first model railroader did when he hooked up a battery and a couple of wires: Through the track.

And when you run through the track, you have to deal with dirty track, just like those model railroaders of yore.

For this reason, I've developed an interest in radio control--powering trains through batteries in the locomotive (or tender), just like model airplane enthusiasts control their models.

For a long time, the main barrier to effective radio control was battery size--there just wasn't one that was small enough and powerful enough to power an HO scale locomotive. (Unlike the G scale modellers, who have been using this technology--and bigger batteries--for a long time.)

But now some modellers are experimenting with RC control for HO scale.  An active and interesting discussion is occurring on Free Rails, titled RC Control . . . the future . . . now . . .if you desire (A new idea for Radio Control from Australia, Maybe).

The equivacation revolves around the practicability of the concept, but these guys, like experimenters of old, are giving it their best try.

Meanwhile, a blogger who goes by the name Gardenville has started a blog called Radio Control for Small Trains. It hasn't been updated since 2010, but he's also trying to move this idea forward.

Meanwhile, Northwest Shortline showed what might be the first really practical HO-scale battery-powered wireless DCC system at the National Train Show in Sacramento, CA last week. Below find a photo of the system.

According to Joe Fugate in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the system uses a 3V lithium battery which is then stepped up the voltage to 12V. One of the keys to the system is the Stanton Power Trucks (previously known as the PDT power truck). The Stanton Power Trucks are DCC ready, coming with black, red, gray, and orange leads all set to wire to a decoder.

Says Joe: "NWSL is coming out with a 6 wheel truck version of the Stanton drive this fall, which when combined with the Battery Powered Wireless DCC throttle system, makes for one of the first really practical commercial battery powered DCC systems.

"The system shown above is for an Interurban car, and is built to leave the windows area with a clear view so the car has no obvious mechanism obscuring the view. This system will also fit inside an HO diesel loco hood (with room to spare) if you use the Stanton trucks to power the loco. There should also be plenty of room for sound speakers if you want to add sound to your loco.

"NWSL said you can just power yard tracks and passing sidings, and otherwise leave all the complex trackwork dead. The NWSL battery system automatically recharges the battery from the track power, so they recommend you simply power the simple trackwork where equipment typically just sits when not running."

All-in-all, he says, it's "a pretty cool system. MRH will be following the developments of this system as it comes to market and will be keeping you informed on how it works."

Twenty years ago, commercially-available and easy-to-use DCC was a dream. Today, radio control of HO scale model trains seems the same way. But who knows? Maybe one day DCC will be viewed the same way DC is today--as Dinosaur Command Control.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

CSX Dixie Line: A Great N Scale Layout & Blog

Every now and then I check the stats on my blog. In particular, I’m interested in knowing how people found it.
Some visitors arrive via a Google search on keywords like “CP Rail,” “VIA,” or “coal loads.” Others come from blogs like Trackside Treasure and Confessions of a Train Geek.
One blog that sends a lot of traffic my way is CSX Dixie Line, a blog about a fabulous N scale layout being built by Jamie in Lilburn, GA.
The CSX Dixie Line is a three-level layout that occupies 18 x 9 room. It represents a small section of two CSX subdivisions that run between Atlanta and Nashville via Chattanooga.
According to Jamie, he chose that area because the amount and variety of traffic along the route; the lush scenery in the hills and mountains of northwest Georgia and south central Tennessee; and because “southeastern railroads seem to be severely underrepresented in the world of model railroads.”
The lower level.

Visitors to the blog can follow Jamie’s progress as he builds the layout, learn about the prototype, and pick up tips on hand-carving rocks, how to use a static grass applicator, build a modern highway, ballast track and solder track feeders (so they can’t be seen).
I find myself visiting the blog on a regular basis, always finding something new to read and admire. Check it out for yourself!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Railfan Hotels

View from the Hyatt Regency in downtown
Dallas, Texas.

A recent stay in Hammond, Indiana, near to some great train-watching sites, made me wonder about other great places to stay and watch trains.

Hotels and motels, that is.

The best place I ever stayed when it comes to trains is the Swiss Chalet Motel in Revelstoke, B.C., alongside the CPR mainline.

All through the night we could hear the rumble of passing trains, just across the road. I loved it; my family, not so much.

That memory made me think about other great places for railfans to stay.

A Google search brought up lots of places, but the most comprehensive listings can be found at, Chris Hash's Trackside Hotels & Railfan Lodging, Motels for Trainwatchers, and

Together they contain links to hundreds of places to stay with trackside views.

With vacation-time upon us, these websites will come in handy for those looking for a unique place to stay where trains can also be seen (or heard).

After all, as Railfan Motels puts it: "Why should railfanning stop when it's time to head for the motel?"

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hammond, Indiana Railroad Junctions

More confirmation, as if I needed it, that volunteering is a good thing: The guesthouse where I am staying is very close to two northwest Indiana railroad hotspots: Osborn and Calumet junctions.

At Osborn junction, the busy Norfolk Southern mainline to Chicago crosses the Indiana Harbor Belt. At Calumet, its CSX that crosses the IHB. I saw two trains at Osborn, but light and my time ran out before I could see a train cross at Calumet.

Last night, after supper, I drove up nearby Kennedy Ave. for a bit of train-watching at these two locations. Unfortunately, it was already evening, and the light was fading, so the photography was iffy. But I managed to catch three trains in the hour I had available; see photos below.

For more information about these two junctions, and other railfan sites in Indiana, check out Chicago Area Rail Junctions.

IHB SW1500 1501 at Osborn Junction.

An NS double stacker approaches Osborn Junction.

Calumet Junction Tower.

Calumet Junction, with a CSX train waiting for
clearance in the background.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Volunteering, and the South Shore Line in Northwest Indiana

I'm in Gary, Indiana, doing some volunteer work with my denomination's domestic disaster response arm, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). We're repairing homes damaged by flooding in September, 2008. (Yes, it can take that long to help everyone affected by a disaster; MDS is still working on homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.)

As it turns out, the house I am working at is located a block from the South Shore Line, the electric interurban that runs from Elkhart, Ind. to Chicago. At regular intervals throughout the day I hear the train as it crosses streets near the Gary/Chicago Airport stop. Yesterday, after work, I made my way down to the station to see the 4:38 to Chicago.

Volunteering to help others is its own reward; being able to see a unique train is a bonus!

(You can learn more about the MDS work in Gary here.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

CN Letellier Sub., Coming and Going

While returning home from Grand Forks in June, we saw the lights of an oncoming train coming down CN's Letellier Sub. So we (well, I) just had to stop--luckily by a nice bridge, where I caught the scene above before catching a shot of the train as it headed south towards the U.S.

The Letellier Sub. runs from Portage Junction in Winnipeg to Emerson, Man., where it connects with the BNSF Noyes Sub.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Riding VIA Rail's The Canadian

Inside the dome car: The best way to travel!

For someone who likes trains, I sure don't travel on them as much as I would like.

One reason is the time it takes to get anywhere by train in this big country--two days to Toronto or Vancouver from where I live in Winnipeg, three days to the east coast. It's hard to explain to your boss why being away from the office for two or three days is a good idea, no matter how much work you think you'll get done on the train.

Another reason is that VIA Rail doesn't go to all the places you might want to get to in Canada--like Calgary, for instance.

So, it's the plane for me almost all the time when I travel for work, which I do at least once or twice a month.

Train No. 2 arrives in Saskatoon.

But that changed in June, when I took VIA Rail's The Canadian home from a business trip to Saskatoon. As I expected, and remembered from train trips taken long ago, it was a delightful and civilized way to travel.

Since it was it was a daytime trip, I travelled in coach 8116 (formerly CPR 116), built by the Budd Car Company between 1946-55 for the original CPR The Canadian. It was acquired by VIA Rail in 1978, and is one of 43 coaches in the VIA Rail fleet (numbered 8100-8147).

Interior of coach #8116. Note the HO models
in the display cases.

For a car built 56 years ago or more, it’s in pretty good shape. Perhaps uniquely, it has two HO scale models mid-car, in glass cases: A CN F unit and an Atlantic Coast Line GP35 (both by Athearn). I didn’t see similar displays in other coaches on the train.
Not that it mattered; I didn't spend much time in the coach, anyway. As soon as the train left the Saskatoon station, I made my way to the dome car-- in this case, #8515 (originally CPR 515), also built by Budd in 1954-1955.
Skyline No. 8515 in Melville, SK.

The car, one of 16 in the fleet (numbered 8500-8517), is what makes The Canadian so special; there were four on the 21-car train I travelled on, including the unique Park dome car at the end.
(According to VIA, the word "skyline" comes from "Skyline Trail Hikers of the Canadian Rockies", a group of amateur mountaineers that travelled to the peaks of the Rockies in 1933.)
VIA Rail 6414, aka "the turd"

The train was pulled by F40PH 6414, "resplendent" in it's Lotto Quebec scheme (some people unkindly have nicknamed it the "turd"--I can see their point) and F40PH 6453. 
The Saskatoon station was OK, if out of the way and hard to find (it was the first time my taxi driver had ever taken anyone to the station; he needed to use his GPS). The stationmaster (if that's what they're called these days) was a world-weary VIA veteran--a situation not helped by the fact the train was almost two hours late.
(The cause of the delay was traffic on CN--the line VIA uses out west. "CN can be pernicious" about VIA, was the stationmaster's resigned explanation.)
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer . . . .
Note the real linen, glassware and cutlery!

Unlike on an airplane, where one is expected not to talk to other passengers, train travel seems to encourage conversation, especially in the diner, where you are seated with strangers. Well, strangers at the beginning of the meal, but acquaintances by the end.

(Also unlike an airplane, you can watch the weather change on a train. I started in Saskatoon in the rain, but ended up in bright sunshine the closer I got to Manitoba.)
Another unique feature on VIA is it's onboard music program, where Canadian musicians can get free travel and meals in exchange for performing on the trip. Try that on an airplane!
Onboard entertainment.

Overall, the trip was an excellent experience--one I would happily take again, if the opportunity presents itself. Plus, trains have a much smaller carbon footprint than airplanes, an important consideration for those of us concerned about climate change and the effect of our transportation choices on the planet. (That might impress my boss!)
I also shot some video while in the dome car; you can watch the short clip by clicking here.
Finally, since I took many more photos, here are a few gratutitous VIA Rail pics. Enjoy!

A look back . . .
The stainless steel side of coach #8116.

Ain't that a grand view?
The end.