Sunday, September 30, 2012

Doing What Comes Naturally: CN Experiments with Natural Gas-Powered Locomotives

Canadian National is doing what comes naturally when it comes to powering its locomotives: Natural gas, that is.

In late September Canadian Press reported that CN is exploring the feasibility of using cheap and relatively clean natural gas to power its trains.

Two locomotives have been retrofitted by the railway to run on natural gas; they are being tested along with a specialized tank car along the stretch of track between Edmonton, Alta. and the key energy processing and pipeline hub of Fort McMurray.

Energy Conversion Inc., the U.S. company that's supplying the conversion kits to CN, says the move will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 70 per cent over a locomotive duty cycle.

According to CN, natural gas is currently cheap and plentiful in North America, so there are likely cost benefits to the railway as well.

The experiment reminds me of what Burlington Northern did back in the 1980s, when it used fuel tenders in helper service in Wyoming. Tank cars served as auxiliary fuel tanks for the locomotives; fuel was transferred through fuel lines spliced between two or more units. They typical helper set was two SD40-2s spliced by a fuel tender.

According to the website Mountain West Rail, the fuel tenders were introduced because there were no refueling facilities in any of the yard facilities in the area, and because they allowed the railroad to purchase fuel at the least expensive location in the region and ship it to the helper district.

With a fuel tender in each helper set, the locomotives could continue to run without a stop for refueling between their 92-day inspection dates. Once a fuel tender was emptied, it wass switched out of the helper consist and a loaded fuel tender was replaced between the locomotives.

More info and photos on the BN fuel tenders can be found at Jim’s Junction.

The CN press release about the natural gas experiment can be found here.

Photo at the top of the page by Don Smith via OK the PK.  The other CN photo from Canadian Press. BN photo from Mountain West Rail.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Not Enough Space for a Layout? Didn't Stop This Modeller!

One thing many model railroaders want is more space. What they mean by that, of course, is horizontal space—a longer or wider room.

That’s not the challenge facing Dennis Rietze. The Winnipeg modeller would like more space, too. But the kind of space he’d like is vertical—as in more headroom.

Dennis lives in a split-level house. The part underneath the raised part contains the rec room; no room for a layout there. There’s a basement underneath the large living, dining room and kitchen area, but here's the thing: It’s just 52 inches high.

For many modellers, that would be a problem. But not for Dennis. He went ahead and built his HO scale Silver Springs Railway & Transportation Co. in that unique space.

Dennis adjusts a throttle. Got to look out
for that duct work!

Having a ceiling that low does mean some changes from normal layout building. For one thing, the benchwork is just 30 inches off the floor.

For another, the only way to easily get from one end of the layout to the other is on wheeled stools—the kind that mechanics use. The adjustable stools feature a tray above the wheels for tools. (Got to look out for that lower duct work while wheeling through the layout room, though!)

To run or work on the trains, Dennis scoots around the layout. Interestingly, one of his main helpers is Ian Plett, who also found a unique place for his layout—in his truck cab.

What Dennis has done goes to show that a layout can be built almost anywhere, if you’re up for the challenge—and he's built a Great Canadian Model Railroad, at that!

Dennis having fun running trains.

For another layout operated while seated, see Doug Tagsold's Terminal of Toledo model railroad.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Of Lone Wolves and a Great Canadian Model Railroad

I once was a lone wolf model railroader.

When I started back in the hobby, in 1987, I was so unsure of my abilities that I didn’t tell anyone I was building a layout. It was about three years before I invited anyone over to see it. I still remember the anxiety: Was it good enough? What would he say?

That memory came back to me recently when I met another lone wolf modeler—two of them actually, brothers Walter and Ed Pankratz who are building a fantastic layout in Walter's basements.

The two have created a great Canadian model railroad based on CPR passenger operations in the 1950s. (Although some freights also show up, as does a bit of CN. An occasional modern CP Rail freight also makes an appearance.)

The layout, a folded dogbone with a yard in the middle peninsula, features code 83 track, dozens of expertly made kitbashed and kit built buildings, good-looking scenery, working signals, and fine models of transition and stainless steel passenger cars (many made from kits). A highlight is the new Canadian from Rapido.

As on many layouts, there is still work to be done on this one—ballasting and painting track, for instance, and more scenery. But in the six years since they started creating it, the two brothers have come a long way.

There are lots of modellers like the two brothers—people who are not members of local model railroad clubs or who otherwise keep mostly to themselves.

That's OK; not everyone has to be part of a club, and a local hobby shop can often be a great source of inspiration. (In this case, the brothers seem to get a lot of ideas and inspiration at Warehouse Hobbies.)

What amazes me is how many modellers like them there are in my city; I'm just glad I had a chance to meet Walter and Ed and see their Great Canadian Model Railroad.

Speaking of which, how I met the brothers is a story in itself. I was out a local park walking my dog when I came across a guy flying a model airplane.

I went over to talk, and compliment him on his model, saying that I once considered flying model planes but chose a hobby where I was unlikely to crash my investment—model railroading.

“If you like trains, you should go talk to the guy over there,” he said, pointing to a man who was watching him fly that day.

That guy turned out to be Ed. I introduced myself, and we had an enjoyable conversation. I invited the him and Walter over to see my layout, and they reciprocated by inviting me to see theirs. And that, as Bob Harvey would say, “is the rest of the story.”

See more photos of Ed and Walter's layout here, here and here. 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Neil Young and Model Railroading: “I am the Wizard of Oz”

If you like Neil Young, and you like model railroading, you’ll like two recent articles in the New York Times.

The articles, by Times media reporter David Carr, cover a wide variety of topics related the Canadian singer-songwriter’s life, including his interest in O scale trains. One of the articles—a blog post titled Well Hello, Mr. Soul—contains two photos of Young’s layout.

From that post:

“Just in case I was too wound up about making sure I was getting all I needed for a big rock-star profile, we stopped at the train barn for about an hour. This is a place where Young is supremely comfortable, a miniworld he built with his own two hands, where he controls everything with technology that he helped make. 

“I found the layout baffling and thrilling—there were rocks and chunks of redwood from all over the ranch and he had let some of the verdant moss go dry to ‘model the drought’ that was going on in the world at large. 

“There were at least six different trains on hundreds of feet of track and when Young, with a little urging on my part, set everything to motion, we weren’t so much a journalist and subject as a couple of grown men on a caper, playing with a massive train set in the middle of the day. It was sort of magical in there and the fact that the guy who made it and ran it also wrote some of the most important songs in the rock canon seemed a little beside the point. It was hard not be charmed by the remarkable execution of a deep obsession.”

In Carr’s longer print piece in the Times Magazine, titled Neil Young Comes Clean, he writes the following:

“For no reason other than it pleases Young, the model-train barn near his home is framed by two actual rail cars. Back in the day, he and his pals used to snort coke and drink wine and tinker with the model layout until it grew into 3,000 square feet of track and trains.

“Young picked up a controller that appeared to be capable of landing a rocket on an asteroid and reminded me that, as an investor in Lionel Trains, he invented Train Master Command Control (which allows you to run multiple trains at once), as well as RailSounds (which provides realistic railroad audio). Young lost a lot of money on his investment, but he’s still a board member at Lionel and ended up with a lot of cool gear, so it all sort of worked out.

"As different trains began to move slowly, Young choreographed and narrated. ‘There’s all different buttons I can press to make them go fast or slow, but they’re all going the same speed, so they’re not going to run into each other except at a crossover,’ he said. “I am the Wizard of Oz in here. I can make anything happen because I know how it all works. Music is math.”

Bonus factoid: Neil Young grew up in Winnipeg, where I live. His old house, on Grosvenor Ave., is a must-see for many fans; in 2008, when Bob Dylan was in town, he surprised the home’s owners by showing up unannounced and asking for a tour.

Click here to read quotes about model railroading from Young's new book, Waging Heavy Peace.

Caboose outside Young's train barn.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The CPR Company Photographer

Canadian Pacific Railway has a long tradition of commissioning photographers to take pictures of its trains and Canadian scenery. The best known is Nicholas Morant, who spent 50 years crossing the country taking photos of CPR trains. 
Although best-known, Morant wasn't the only company photographer—or the first. According to the January, 1987 edition of CP Rail News, the railway's involvement with photography dates back to the 1880s when the railway was still under construction. 
The first photographer to be hired by the company was Alexander Henderson, in the 1890s. The railway provided him with regular use of a photographic car, and the co-operation of the entire railway system—wouldn't that be a great job to have!
In addition to hiring photographers, the CPR also granted travel passes to a number of independent photographers, whose work was purchased for advertising purposes. 
The actual photographic department was created in 1914. In addition to taking photos, the railway became involved with Associated Screen News, producers of motion pictures, which added greatly to the company's photographic coverage. By the early 1940s, a suite of eleven rooms at Windsor Station in was devoted to the photography department.

Today, the CPR’s historic photographic collection is held in the company archives. Some of the photos are available online on the CPR website. The Vancouver Public Library has a collection of historic photos taken by the railway in B.C. on its website.

The railway’s commitment to great photography continues today, as seen in the photos from the railway on this page. Unlike in the past, when the photographers were well known, photos issued to the media today by the CPR appear without credits. We don't know who took these great photos.

We may not know their names, but it's clear that the CPR is still utilizing some good photographers. Enjoy the photos!




Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Visit to CN's Symington Yard

As noted before on this blog, Winnipeg is a great railway town. Both of Canada’s transcontinental railways travel through the city—at one point, just a few hundred yards from each other as they cross the Red River.

Both railways have major yards in Winnipeg. The CPR yard is located downtown, where it has been since the 1880s, and is once again the subject of debate in the media about whether it should be moved. The CN Symington yard is located outside the city.

Symington yard receives trains from Rivers Sub to the west, Reddit Sub to the east, and the Sprague Sub to the southeast (towards the U.S.). Built in 1962, it replaced three other yards in the city, including the East Yards, now the location of a popular tourist destination called The Forks.

Although Symington, like most yards, is off limits to railfans, it is quite easy to see from public roads. A bridge crosses over the Sprague Sub and the yard’s southern leads, providing great views of the hump’s action—as seen in the photos on this page, taken earlier this summer when I visited the yard.

For more about Symington yard, check out Trackside Treasure Symington Yard Part 1 and Part 2.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

All Aboard the Grey Cup Express

The NFL’s Super Bowl is better known, but the Grey Cup—the trophy awarded to the champion of the Canadian Football League—is older. And now it has its very own train!

This year the Grey Cup is marking its 100th anniversary with a cross-Canada train tour called the Grey Cup Express. The train, which left Vancouver September 9, will visit 100 communities across the country, including stops in all eight CFL cities.

The Grey Cup Express features a locomotive and three cars, all wrapped in football images. One car holds the Cup, a second features a traveling museum about the league, and the third contains a replica locker room and information about the league’s teams.

As for the Grey Cup itself, it was commissioned by the fourth Earl Grey, Canada’s Governor General from 1904-1911 (hence the name of the trophy). It is awarded every November at the Grey Cup game—also known as the “grand national drunk”—which pits a team from the east against a team from the west.

The Grey Cup is the second oldest trophy in North American professional sport after the Stanley Cup. It has been broken on several occasions, stolen twice and held for ransom once.

For my American readers who may not be familiar with the CFL, there are differences between it and the NFL. For starters, the field is larger: 110 yards long by 65 yards wide and the end zones are ten yards deeper.

Other differences: CFL teams have 12 players on each side; teams only get three downs to go ten yards; the offence only gets 20 seconds between plays; all offensive backfield players, except the quarterback, may be in motion at the snap; and the football is slightly larger. (Leading to the infamous marketing slogan: “Our balls are bigger.”)

Plus, the CFL now has its very own (real) train.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Railway Artistry of Max Jacquiard

Howard Fogg is one of America’s best-known railroad artists. In Canada, Max Jacquiard is the Canadian Howard Fogg.

Jacquiard, who was born in Manitoba, but now lives in B.C., specializes in painting images of steam-era trains. He’s a member of the Society of Steam Era Artists of America, and his paintings can be found on the walls of many North American homes and corporate offices. He is a member of the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame.




Now railway author Barrie Sanford has teamed with Jacquiard to produce Train Master: The Railway Art of Max Jacquiard (National Railway Historical Society). The book contains 100 of his finest paintings, selected from the almost 400 paintings he has made over the years.

In addition to the paintings, the book contains information about the paintings, most of which feature trains from the CPR, CNR, PGE and GN in the mountains of Alberta and B.C.
Train Master: The Railway Art of Max Jacquiard can be ordered from many bookstores, including Indigo. His prints can be ordered from Banman Publishing.