Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Canadian Pacificana

As readers of this blog know, the CP Rail M & M Sub. is set in the early to mid-90s—mostly MultiMark, with very little CPR script or block lettering here.

But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the old CPR, with it's iconic maroon and grey livery, beaver herald and "spans the world" logo.

A website that is keeping that unique history alive is Canadian Pacificana.

The website, created by Peter Marshall, pays tribute to the history of the Canadian Pacific’s passenger divisions—trains, ships and planes. On it visitors will find ads from the 1890s through to the 1950s, logos from 1886-1967 and postcard scenes of some of the CPR’s stations and hotels.

The site also contains railway timetables, menus, brochures and a system map from 1935.

Marshall readily admits that the website is a work in progress (a few of the links don’t work). For now, however, it serves as a repository for his growing collection of CP ephemera.

You can check it out by clicking here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Any serious Canadian railfan knows that this photo was taken at Morant’s Curve. The area was named after famed CPR photographer Nicholas Morant, who took pictures of that railway’s trains from 1929-81. He like taking photos at this location near Banff, Alberta so much that it was named after him.

So there’s your first clue; the answer should be easy to guess. That’s a CN train on CPR tracks at Morant’s Curve!

I don’t know how often this has ever happened, but Grant Bailey was lucky enough to catch it on July 7, 1996. He was driving through Field, B.C. when he spotted an eastbound CN freight train leaving the yard.

Says Grant: “Obviously, CN had some sort of problem because they were detouring trains over the CP. Now this would warrant a stop at Morant's curve, the famous viewpoint between Banff and Lake Louise where world-renowned company photographer Nicholas Morant captured so many breathtaking images of CP trains snaking their way through the 'S' curves along the Bow River.”

After a brief wait, the CN train appeared around the corner and he got the photo.

What is Morant's Curve supposed to look like? Like this:


Or this:

But maybe not this!


(On the other hand, this mirror image sort of looks like a Valentine; it might make a great gift for that special someone in your life.)
Morant's Mirror photo courtesy of Rob Berdan of Canadiannaturephotographer.com.

Monday, February 20, 2012

America in the 1940s-50s in Colour: The Charles Cushman Collection

Everybody knows that the world prior to the 1960s was black and white—at least, that’s what the photographic evidence suggests.
No longer, now that Charles Cushman’s photos are available online. Cushman, who lived from 1896 to1972, was an amateur photographer who photographed the U.S. (and some other countries) of the 1940s-60s in living color. 

During his vacation travels across the U.S., Cushman took Kodachrome colour slides. His photos show America during that time in vivid colour.
Why mention it on this blog? Anyone who models the transition era, and who wonders what buildings and cities looked like back then, will appreciate the 14,500 slides that have been digitized and made available for free on the Indiana University website.

Take the photo of buildings in a Pennsylvania coal and industrial town (above). What colour are the boards on the building in the foreground? Black, basically. The soot and smoke in the air put grime on everything. Cushman’s photo reveals that in all its reality. (At the same time, the building beside it looks freshly painted, showing that you could have a deeply weathered building and like-new building side-by-side and be prototyptical.)

The collection includes scenes of everyday life in places like New York, New Orleans, Chicago and San Francisco, and everywhere in between. It’s a snapshot, if you will, of a lost America before interstate highways, urban renewal, chain stores, and suburban development—a world of hand-painted signs, state fairs, ramshackle shops, small town living and bustling urban scenes.
He also took photos of trains!

Cushman’s remarkable collection can be found at the Charles W.Cushman Photograph Collection at Indiana University.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In Praise of Hobby Shops

A poster on the Atlas HO Forum has a problem: An Athearn locomotive he recently purchased keeps derailing. Could anyone help?

As is usual on the Forum, he received a number of replies. They included disassembling the truck, removing the middle axle, filing the gears, cleaning off any burrs, filing the bearings, checking wheelset alignment, etc.

The same thing happened to me a few years ago. But my fix was much siimpler. I just took it back to the hobby shop where I bought it and got a replacement.

I'm guessing the poster in question likely bought his unit online. Otherwise, he would just take his unit back to the store where he bought it, too.

I know--when it comes to prices, online is much better than storefront. You can save a lot of money by buying things over the Internet. And most of the time, I'm sure it works out just fine. But when it doesn't, you can have a real problem.

When it comes to online purchases, there's no going back. And I use it, too, mostly for books and music. But when it comes to expensive items with lots of fine moving parts--things like locomotives--I like to buy them at the local hobby shop. Not only does this help it stay in business, it gives me a sense of security in case things go wrong.

One day, there will probably be no hobby shops. I'll miss them when they're gone.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cheap and Easy HO Scale Cork Roadbed

All the tools you need to make your own
cork roadbed.

A poster on the Atlas HO forum recently asked for advice about roadbed—what did others prefer?

Everyone responded that they used some form of commercial model railroad roadbed. Except me.

Like many in this hobby, when I started out I didn’t have lots of money. Commercial roadbed seemed too expensive. But what to do?

I found my answer in a local home improvement store—rolled sheet cork.

A small roll of sheet cork.

Rolled sheet cork is sold in home improvement stores as an underlay for flooring. But it works great for model railroads, too.

It has a few advantages, in my opinion. First, it is less costly. A quick search on the Web shows that Home Depot sells a roll of sheet cork 50 feet long by 4 feet wide for $118.00. That will provide abut 300 four-foot long pieces, or 1,200 feet of roadbed, at a cost of about 40 cents a section, or 10 cents a foot.

Contrast that with one popular commercial model railroad brand, which is sold in packages of 25 pieces three feet long (75 feet) for about $26 (online sale). That’s $1.04 per section, or 34 cents per foot.

Second, at ¼ inch thick, rolled sheet cork seems to be the right height for prototype roadbed—to me, at least. (Commercial HO scale roadbed seems too high to me.)

Unballasted sheet cork roadbed.

Finally, it’s easy to use. No need to cut it in half—it bends easily to fit curves. It also takes nails well.

I buy the cork in large sections, then cut it to size with an x-acto knife. I bevel the edges a bit, to make them rounded, then lay it down. (I use cigar box nails to hold the track and cork in place—no glue. Later, when the track is ballasted, I remove the nails.)

Like most things in this hobby, what works for me may not work for others. But when it comes to roadbed, sheet cork works for me.

The end result.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

More 3D Printing and Model Railroading (and a Printed Dress)

The E33: Coming to a printer near you?

An exhaust manifold, an artificial leg, an aircraft door-hinge, shoes—even a dress (see photo below)—these are some of the things that can now be made through 3D printing.

Earlier, I wrote how 3D printing—which works by building products up layer by layer from powdered metal, droplets of plastic or other materials—could revolutionize the hobby of model railroading.

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is being used to make all sorts of new items. But it is what it can do for model railroading that mostly concerns us.

One of the things 3D printing can is make models of unique locomotives that likely would not be made by manufacturers using conventional means, due to the low demand.

One such unit is General Electric E33 (above), which is being rendered for 3D printing in N scale by a Paul Burkitt-Gray of Claverton Engineering in Great Britain. Paul has designed it to fit on the Atlas C628 chassis.

The E33 was originally built for the Virginian Railway in 1955, then sold by its successor the Norfolk and Western to the New Haven, where they continued through Penn Central and Conrail ownership until retirement in 1981.

(There was a rumour in 2010 that Bachmann would make the E33 in N scale, but I couldn't find anything recent to substantiate it. They did make it in HO; it is sold out on their website.)

You can see more of Paul’s amazing work on Your Model Railway forum and at RMweb.co.uk.

Oh, yes—about that 3D printed dress. See it below from an article in The Economist about the 2011 3D printing conference, called Euromold, in Germany.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Adding Real Train Sounds to Videos

Can you hear those engines growling up the grade?

In 2008, I started making videos of my layout. It became sort of a hobby-within–a-hobby, and an enjoyable one at that. Others seem to agree; to date, my videos have been viewed over 260,000 times on my channel on YouTube.

In addition to providing enjoyable hours in the layout room, it also taught me about story-telling through images, and about the editing process.

At first, I let the trains themselves provide the sound—which wasn’t hard, since many of my locomotives are Athearn Blue Box! Later, I started adding music; jazz, mostly, because that’s what I like, and because it sounded railroady.

Lately, I’ve begun adding real train sounds. At first, I though this would be impossible—how would I collect real train sounds? I don’t have a good video camera or sound equipment to get them from the prototype.

I checked on the Web to see if there was a source of train sounds. There were—for a price. I wasn’t going to go there for this experimental project.

Then I realized that lots of great railroad sounds were on YouTube, in the thousands of railroad videos available on that online video sharing site.

But how to transfer those sounds to where I could use them? That’s where a bit of free software, called FreeStudio, comes in. FreeStudio lets you download YouTube videos and convert them into MP3s.

So I went to YouTube and listened to a lot of videos. I watched them, too, but I was really searching for good and appropriate sound.

Among the things I noticed is that a number of videos had a lot of wind noise, making them unusable. On some, people talked. Lots were shot at railway crossings. That’s fine if you want to match up sounds that include crossing bells, but not so good if you are matching sound to a train in a remote location with no roads.

Many also feature mainline action. That means fast trains. Since trains on the CP Rail M & M Sub. usually don’t zip by at high speeds, they aren’t all that useful. Videos featuring trains starting up were welcome, since that provided good slow speed sounds. Ditto for trains going up a grade or coming into a town.

Another thing to look for is short videos. Videos on YouTube can’t be longer than 15 minutes. But something seven minutes or longer is a long time when you are hunting for the right sound when creating a video.

When I found some videos I liked, I saved them to a YouTube playlist and later downloaded them into my computer using FreeStudio. After downloading them, I added them to a playlist in Windows Media.

I use Windows MovieMaker to make my videos; it’s about as simple a program as you can find. It comes with Microsoft XP, and maybe with other versions, too. After making your video, or inserting a finished one into the video line, you drop the sound you want to use into the audio line. Once there, you can trim it to fit.

The audio line in MovieMaker shows the strength of the signal. This is helpful in determining where it is louder and quieter. Note: To get the best result, you need to turn the video's audio off.

You can also loop the sound. If you find a good section of a train passing by, but it’s too short for your video segment, you just need to copy it and paste it into the audio line again. A bit of overlap between the two clips makes it seamless.

Windows Movie Maker also allows you to fade in and fade out the sound, which is helpful when a train is approaching or passing.

One thing I haven’t bothered with is matching diesel types. I’m sure there are those who can tell the sound of an SD70MAC from an SD40-2, but I can’t.

One thing I have been careful to do is to try to match the number of units in a train with the number of units on the model. If the real train has four units on it, and the model has two, it will sound a bit strange to hear more locomotives pass by than you can see.

Adding sound has opened up a new area of the hobby-within-a-hobby for me, and it will breathe new life into my old videos.

You can hear (and see) two of my videos with real train sounds here and here. I wrote some guidelines for making layout videos here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Final Look at the Canada Central: Video

There are lots of videos of layouts in action or under construction; I'm not aware of any showing one being dismantled.

Until now, at least. Discovery Channel's Daily Planet show had a feature about Montreal's Canada Central layout on February 8. The segment was about the loss of the layout, one of the largest (if not the largest) in Canada.

In addition to footage of final runs, the segment showed members beginning the process of taking the layout apart--prying buildings off the layout, plucking off trees, removing wiring, etc.

It's a bit sad and poignant at parts, particularly when members dismantle portions they laboured over for a long time.

Click here to see the show. The segment about the Canada Central is at about the seven-minute mark.

Below find a few more photos of this layout. You can more photos on this blog by clicking here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sun Dogs and Trains

Along with the Northern Lights, up here in the Great White North we also get sun dogs.

Sun dogs typically appear as bright bursts of light when the sun is low on the horizon. They are formed when sunlight passes through ice crystals.

The photo above appeared today in our local newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press. It shows sun dogs and the CPR rail yard.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

So That's How They Ballast Track in Norway

Or, at least, that’s what the photo above might make you believe.

Actually, it’s a creative photo by a Norwegian modeler who goes by the name of “Jevistad.” I was made aware of his great layout by a poster on Railroad Line Forums.

The caption on the photo says: “Er ikke helt fornøyd med fargen på ballasten, så nå blir det lagt på usmusset."

All I understand is the word “ballast.” A Norwegian to English translator tells me it says: “Aren't absolutely satisfied along with color at the ballast, saw now becomes facts stuck at usmusset.”

No matter; in any language, it’s a great layout, as the photos below attest.

Jevistad also has a channel on YouTube; click here to see the layout in action. You can see more photos at http://forum.mjf.no/forum_posts.asp?TID=1502&title=fra-togkjelleren.

According to the poster on Railroad Line Forums, the layout is called Indre Stambane, which in English means the Inner Mainline. It’s a fictitious “what if” layout, but he says “it has all the typical Norwegian details . . . the scenes are like the real thing and the scenery is typical in Norway.”

Maybe it’s time for Great Norwegian Layouts!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Model Railroad News Back from the Dead

Here's something unexpected--Model Railroad News is back.

In an earlier post, I noted that the publication, whose goal is to “provide quality news and content to help modelers of all scales and backgrounds," had closed.

These days, it's pretty rare for a print publication to return from the dead. But that's what's happening; MRN has been purchased by the White River Productions, which publishes 21 historical society magazines, plus calendars, books, and other railroad-related items.

The delayed Nov/Dec 2011 issue of MRN will soon be on its way to subscribers, followed by future issues.

Good on MRN, and on White River Productions, I say. That said, if I was a subscriber, I might hedge my bets by renewing for only one year at a time--just in case.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Forty-Foot Boxcars on the M & M Sub.

One of the unique trains on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. is made up entirely of 40-foot boxcars.

Hold on, you might say—isn’t the M & M Sub. set in the early to mid-1990s? Aren’t 40-foot boxcars mostly gone from the railways by that time?

Yes—and no. Yes, by that time 40-footers were mostly a thing of the past. But you could still find them on Canada’s prairies, being used in grain service.

Although covered hoppers had supplanted boxcars for grain service by that time, there were still a number of light-rail branchlines on the prairies where those cars couldn’t go.

Since it was cheaper and easier for the railways to repair boxcars for use on lightweight branchlines than to upgrade the roadbed, ties and rails to support the heavier covered hopper cars, CN and CP Rail decided to go with the less expensive option. Money from the Federal government helped them with their decision.

Cars used in this service were marked with a wheat sheaf chevron, to indicate their purpose and lading. CP Rail’s cars came in various versions—boxcar red with script and block lettering, and red with the MultiMark.

Both railways sent boxcars loaded with grain from the prairies to Vancouver and Thunder Bay. Additionally, CN used them on its former lightweight line to the Arctic port of Churchill, Manitoba.

Over time, the need for grain boxcars fell as branchlines were upgraded or abandoned.

Eric Gagnon, on his Trackside Treasure blog, notes that CN and CP Rail had about 13,000 40-foot grain boxcars between them in 1981. Of that total, CP Rail had 4,545; by 1985 that number had fallen to 2,972. In 1986 the railway had 1,260; there were 672 in 1990, 363 in 1992 and 209 in 1993.

My train is made up of cars from various manufacturers, in boxcar red and red with the MultiMark. The wheat sheaf chevrons are dry transfers from CDS.

All except one or two of the cars were bought used; a few were repainted and re-lettered. It was enjoyable to scour used bins and trains shows to find cars suitable for the train.

Before putting the cars into service, all I needed to do was remove the roof walks, plug the holes and add the chevrons; that, plus weather them up a bit.

(To be accurate, the cars should have six-foot doors. Since my goal is plausibility, not realism, I didn’t worry about this discrepancy while creating my consist.)

Even though I model the modern era, I find I have an affinity for these shorter cars. Plus, it’s quite something to see a 27-car train of boxcars snake its way around the layout.

I’ve made a couple of videos featuring this train; the most recent features real train sounds—my first effort at adding the sounds of real trains to my layout videos. You can see it here.

(Thanks to Eric Gagnon for the proto photos.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Free Vintage Signs

One way to help set a layout’s location and era is signs—on buildings and billboards. But where to get them, especially if you are looking for vintage signage?

One good place is a business that sells old metal signs—a business like Tin Sign City. The company, which sells metal signs for use as home décor, posts photos of the signs it sells on its website. A sampling of the signs it carries is posted here.

No 1950s layout should be
without one of these!

All a modeler needs to do is copy them, insert the pictures into a Word document, re-size them and print them. That, plus add them to the layout.

Signs on the website include old advertising, gas stations and automotive, businesses, aviation, bars, beer, baseball, cigarettes, coffee, agricultural, road signs and railroad logos and signs. There are hundreds to choose from.

Those were the days . . .

You can visit the website by clicking here.