Saturday, March 31, 2012


I’ve passed these two old boxcars hundreds of times, on my way to one place or another. I often thought: “I should take a picture.” But I never did—until now.
So on the weekend I stopped to photograph the two derelicts, sitting on the property of the Central Grain Company (alongside the CPR Emerson Sub.).

Most of the lettering is long-faded, but the number of one car can still be made out: CN 464106. It’s a Type A Series 1 outside braced boxcar, built in 1923. The lettering on the other car is completely gone. Soon, perhaps, the cars themselves will disappear.

How long have they been there? Lettering on CN 464106 indicates that the draft gear was inspected in October, 1956. Presumably, it was still on the rails and earning its keep at that time.
The two cars were among the thousands of outside braced 40-foot boxcars that carried a variety of cargos from 1909 to about 1964. In western Canada, they carried the lifeblood of the prairie economy—grain.

Today the two cars are derelicts—too much trouble for the company to even bother tearing down. But for the railfan, they are reminders of another time, when grain rode the rails in boxcars.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Doug Tagsold’s New Layout, or The Model Railroader Curse, Part II?

Doug Tagsold's old layout.

Those who read Model Railroader would have seen an article in the April issue by Doug Tagsold about changes he made to his great Denver, Front Range & Western HO scale layout.

In the article, Doug described how he had updated the layout to feature modern BNSF and UP power, along with other changes to the trackplan.

But by the time the article appeared in the magazine, it was gone—for about two years. Is this another example of the Model Railroader curse?

For those who aren't familiar with the Model Railroader curse, it's similar to the fabled Sports Illustrated cover curse. According to the curse, athletes who are featured on the cover are doomed to have bad seasons or performances. (In fact, an investigation found that it was only true 37.2 percent of the time.)

In the Model Railroader curse, people whose layouts are featured in the magazine (not just on the cover) are doomed to dismantle them. It's not ucommon to discover in the notes at the end of the article that the builder has torn down the layout since the article was published.

As I showed in my post about the curse in 2010, the explanation is quite simple: It's due to the lag between the time the magazine buys an article, and when it is published.

In Doug’s case, it appears to have been about two years since the time he wrote the piece on his upgraded layout and the publication of that article. By that time, he had moved on to build his new Terminal of Toledo layout.

Doug's new layout.

(As an aside, it’s been about two years since Model Railroader purchased an article about the CP Rail M & M Sub. from me. It hasn’t been published yet. Meanwhile, the section of the layout featured in the article is gone. The curse affects me, too!)

Doug’s new layout is completely different from the old DFR&W. This time, he’s featuring urban switching. Interestingly, he also designed the layout to be operated sitting down, using rolling chairs. (You can listen to an interview with Doug about the new layout and this unique operating method on the Model Railway Show.)

Trackplan for Doug's new layout.

Below find more photos of Doug’s layout. Some are taken from his website, Doug’s Custom Model Railroad Service, which features layout design and building, weathering and custom-made trees. Others come from someone named Larry who posted photos of a visit to Doug’s layout on his Photobucket site.  (You can find more photos on both sites.)

Doug may have changed layouts, but one thing hasn't changed: The new Terminal of Toledo is just as spectacular as his previous layout!


A photo showing the height of the layout and
the rolling chairs.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

More Backdrop Artistry: Tom Johnson's Logansport & Indiana Northern

Another master when it comes to backdrops is Tom Johnson.

Like Steven Flanigan’s Louisville & Wadley Southern, Tom’s Logansport & Indiana Northern has some of the best backdrops I’ve ever seen.

Particularly notable is the convincing way the roads on Tom’s layout meld so perfectly into foreground scenes.

Where the backdrop road meets the layout, Tom paints the modeled road the same color as the road in the backdrop.

He uses the same colors to add a bit of paint on the bottom edge of the photo, blending it as he goes up the photo.

Says Tom: “First of all, I build up a fillet where the road rises up into the photo. After making the modeled road, I paint it with acrylics to match the color in the photo. I even paint the modeled road color right onto the bottom edge of the photo to help blend it in.”

He does something similar on other areas of the layout, dry brushing the ground cover and often the bottom edges of the photo backdrops to blend the two together.

For more information about Tom’s techniques, check out the Oct. 2010 issue of Model Railroader.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Backdrop Artistry of Steve Flanigan

It's hard to tell where the layout ends and the
backdrop begins on Steve Flanigan's layout.

I don’t keep many copies of old magazines. But one I kept was the April, 2001, Model Railroader—the one that featured Steve Flanigan’s Georgia Southern.

The Georgia Southern, which represented a transition-era piney-woods shortline in the southern U.S., was about as far as you can get from modern mainline railroading on the Canadian prairies.

But that’s not why I kept it. I kept that issue because I couldn’t believe Steve’s amazing work with background trees.

As it turned out, I was using the very same method as Steve—taking photos of trees, enlarging them on a colour photocopier, trimming them along the tree line and putting them on the wall. But his effects were so much better than what I was able to do.

Unfortunately, the article didn’t say much about how he made the backdrops. So a little while ago I decided to try to contact Steve to learn more about his technique. He sent me the following tutorial and photos.

(Note: The Georgia Southern is gone, but he used the same technique on his new layout, the Louisville & Wadley Southern.)

Here’s what Steve sent to me.

“While I’ve used framed and painted backdrops on previous layouts, I’ve always encountered two challenges.

First, the scenery around Louisville and Wadley, Georgia is almost dead flat and not overly interesting. Second, I’ve never been able to effectively model or paint those distinctive Georgia pines.

“On a 1998 trip to Georgia, I took a photo of a stand of pines that I later felt would be perfect for a backdrop. I enlarged the photo on a photocopier to 8.5 x 11, and trimmed the trees on the photocopy as close as possible to the foliage line.

I make both original and mirror image copies to allow for a ‘continuous’ tree line. The photos above show the process from photo to photocopy to trimmed and ready for applying.

Above find a photo of the backdrop in process, showing the two stacks of original and mirror images of the trees. I used 3M® “Super 77®” brand spray adhesive to spray the back of the photo on a piece of scrap styrofoam, as well as a very light spray on the wall.

Starting in the corner, I aligned the original or mirror image of each piece against the previously glued piece and pressed it into place.

“It’s important to get the seams aligned as closely as possible or even with a bit of overlap to prevent the white wall from showing. Being paper, however, there is always a little bit of white visible, so I used a deep green marking pen to hide the lines.

To increase the illusion of distance while working out from the corner, I increased the height of each photo just a smidge, creating a forced perspective effect.

“Above find a photo of the finished backdrop. Notice how on the left side the trees extend some 3” beyond the end of the layout to the corner. This makes the transition from layout to bare walls not quite so abrupt.

Notice also that the amount of white at the bottom of the photos increases moving from the corner outward. This is the perspective effect noted above. The white will later be hidden using fences, foliage and structures.

“The limitation of the 'photo-on-wall' technique is that, while a great space saver, it does not create a vast scenic panorama. However, when combined with the white ‘atmospheric haze’ painted on the walls, it does successfully suggest the world beyond the layout.”

One thing that Steve doesn’t really well is mask the transition from the trees to the wall. I asked him: How did he do that?

Says Steve: “The key to achieving that feathered look at the top of the trees is to blend the painted sky from blue down to white at the horizon. When the photos are glued to the wall/backdrop, what little bit of white left on the photos blends into the white on the backdrop.”

Below find more photos of Steve’s backdrop artistry, including on a view block on the layout. For more information about his layout, Steve has posted an excellent step-by-step tutorial of how he built the Louisville & Wadley Southern on Railroad Line Forums.

Overivew of the Louisville and Wadley Southern.

Friday, March 16, 2012

New Use for Old Containers

If you’re a modern modeller with too many shipping containers, and who also has a few tight spaces in need of buildings, I have one word for you: “Cargotecture.”
Cargotecture is the word for the way some people today are recycling old shipping containers, turning them into homes, stores, kiosks and Starbucks coffee shops. In England, a whole mall (OK, it’s not a big mall), called Boxpark, has been made out of them.

Using shipping containers in unique ways may be new to Europe and North America, but handy and resourceful people in Africa have been re-purposing them for decades. In the 1990s I saw them used as offices and hospitals in Eritrea, for example.
This . . .

Turns into that.

All this to say that if there’s no shortage of imagination when it comes to finding new ways to use common objects,like containers on the prototype, there’s no reason to limit it on our (modern) layouts, either.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

At Goshen College, No More Using Trains as an Excuse for Being Late for Class

Soon students at Goshen College won't
have to race to beat the train.

In 2010 I wrote about how students at Goshen, Ind. College could use a unique excuse for being late for class: They were held up by a train.

The College, which dates back to 1903, is bisected by the Norfolk Southern Marion Branch, a busy mainline that sees between 8-10 trains a day. The tracks have defined and shaped the school since that time.

But soon students won’t be able to employ that excuse; the school is building a tunnel underneath the line. The tunnel will also address what has become a serious safety concern as students race across the tracks to beat the train—or worse, as they jump between cars on trains stopped on the tracks.

Norfolk Southern, which owns the line, will shut down traffic for only 24 hours on July 4 to allow for the construction of the tunnel. The construction company will be fined $5,000 for every hour beyond that amount of time.

As for the students, well, some may mourn the loss of a great reason for being late for class.

Click here to learn more about the tunnel and take a virtual tour.

Click here for my earlier blog post about the trains and the College.

Click here to see photos from the University of North Dakota, which has a BNSF line running through campus—but which wisely built a bridge over the line.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Great Canadian Model Railroad: Dan Crowley's Yellowhead Pass Division

Dan Crowley’s CNR N scale Yellowhead Pass Division is another Great Canadian Model Railroad.

The layout, which represents CNR operations between Edmonton and Jasper, Alberta in the late 1950s, occupies a 12 by 18 foot room. Total mainline length is 70 feet; track is a mix of handlaid and Micro Engineering code 55 flex track. The grades are relatively flat, since the line follows the Athabasca River.

Trains travel west from Edmonton to through farming country before entering the foothills and the towns of Edson and Hinton. The line then crosses the Athabasca River and follows it to Jasper, where locomotives are serviced.

From Jasper trains proceed to Lucerne Lake. From there the trains “magically” reappear as westbounds coming into Edmonton from eastern locations.

Dan uses extruded Styrofoam for a subroadbed in the rural areas. He also uses it for scenery; the background mountains are carved one-inch Styrofoam placed vertically against the wall. After carving, he sprayed it with stone texturing paint; before the paint dried he used an eraser to provide a stratified look. After that he painted it gray, followed by a thin wash of black to highlight the detail. It provides a lot of depth in a small space.

Dan makes prairie grass by pressing fake fur into wet plaster—with the backing up. When dry, he rips off the backing, leaving many individual strands of fur stuck in to the plaster. He then cuts these to length and adds ground foam. According to Dan, it’s a lot easier than planting the grass one strand at a time!

I worked with Dan in 2001 to help get his layout published in Train 10, Track 6 of Canadian Railway Modeller. Click here to see more photos on his website, along with model railroad tips. More photos of Dan's layout are below.