Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Ten Pounds of Layout in a Five Pound Room"

Last train on Lee Weldon's layout.

"Ten pounds of layout into a five pound room"—that's  how Lee Weldon described the challenges he faced trying to build his Western Maryland Western Lines N scale layout.

"It would have been far more prudent, and probably in the end more satisfactory, to acknowledge the limitations of the space available, and design something that was more manageable," he wrote on his blog.

"That would include time and budget, as well as construction and ops."

I'm sure Weldon, who is also a columnist at N Scale Magazine, isn't the only one who has had this experience, although few have said it so well.

End of the line for parts of Lee's layout.

Lots of people have tried to cram too much layout into too little space, with the same results.

Instead of providing satisfaction, and the sense of a job well done, it ends up leaving the owner frustrated and unhappy--and often the layout unfinished.

In a brave and honest post, Weldon described the process of deciding to dismantle his layout, and the impact his hobby had on his family life and relationships.

He was proud of the layout, the work that went into it, and all the recognition it had received, he said.

But over time he became “more and more aware of the downside of having such a complex design. Time spent on maintenance began to outstrip time spent enjoying the layout.”

He had enjoyed building parts of it, but they “had become a bit dusty and tired, and it got to be harder to find the energy to commit to renewing things and putting right the things I knew were wrong."

Before the event that forced him to take the layout down, he had already been "thinking seriously about giving up on it for some time, and seeking out something a little simpler and more satisfying."

There was, he added "a life metaphor in there somewhere.”

Weldon went on to say that in the future he intended to try to not fit ten pounds of anything into five pounds of space--layout or life.

"I need to streamline my own life, scale it back, and make sure that I'm working as hard at making my life, and the lives of those I love, as satisfying as my experience with the layout was.

For an update on how Weldon is doing now, check out his November, 2013 blog post.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Biggest Model Railroad Yard?

If I filled every inch of the CP Rail M & M Sub. yard in Fort Frances, Ont., I could squeeze in maybe 50 cars.

That's nothing compared to what Todd Treaster's yard can hold. His yard holds 3,200 cars.

That's right: Over 3,000.

Of course, his layout is N scale, and my yard is HO. But still--that is one big yard!

Todd, an engineer for Norfolk Southern, has built a large layout in his basement (called the New York, Susquehanna & Allegheny Pittsburgh Division). His yard is 54 feet long and 40 tracks wide.

Altogether, Todd owns 1,500 locomotives and and nearly 15,000 cars--no wonder he needs such a big yard! (Although most are in display cases in his basement.)

More photos of Todd's layout are below.

Read more about Todd's layout on  There's also more info on this website. Also check out Todd's Facebook page and on this Facebook page. You also find a video of the layout on YouTube.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Best Snow Scene Ever?


It snowed in Manitoba last week, and now it's white on the ground. That means it's time for snow pictures, like the ones on this page.
I don't know about you, but I think this model snow scene is the best I have ever seen. That it also features Canadian railways is a bonus.


It was was created by Stefan Foerg, a modeller and diorama creator who lives in Germany. It was photographed by Jürg Rüedi of Switzerland, a Z-scaler who also collects weathered locomotives, cars and dioramas. He photographed the scene outdoors in natural light.
What makes the scene so great and so believeable is also the locomotives and rolling stock; the CP Rail units were detailed and weathered by Rodney Walker and the cars by Gary Christensen. Both are regulars at The Weathering Shop. 
Jürg says that he had always wanted a snow diorama to photograph some winter action.  He gave Stefan a prototype photo and asked him to replicate that scene.


Stefan made the realistic-looking snow from baking soda; he used a mix of  water, glue and liquid soap to fix it in place.

You can see more photos of this scene, including photos of how the diorama was made, on the Model Railroad Hobbyist website.

You can see more of Rodney's great models here and here. You can see more of Gary's fine work here. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

(Late) Update on the Goshen College Train Tunnel

Students at Goshen College don't
have to do this any more.

Back in 2010 I wrote about how students at Goshen (Ind.) College had a unique excuse for being late for class--they had to wait for a train.

No more; last year the College built a tunnel underneath the Norfolk Southern Marion Branch, a busy line (8-10 trains a day) that bisects the campus.

The new tunnel.

The tunnel was installed in a single day in July, 2102. It was officially opened in November. And now, a year later, I finally got around to noting it on this blog.

Even with the tunnel, Goshen College is the kind of place I'd want to study (if I had a chance to go back and be a student again). Who wouldn't like to be at a school where trains run through the campus?

Click here to read more about the construction of the Goshen College tunnel, and to see more photos.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Bridges on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

New bridge at the west end of the Fort Frances yard.

Ever since I started dreaming about, designing and then building the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub., I wanted to have a bridge or two spanning the yard in the town of Fort Frances.

In the very early days, before any scenery was applied, I put long pieces of balsa on wood "abutments" to simulate bridges--just to see what it looked like.

Bridge at the east end.

The idea behind the bridges was that they would help break the town scene into discrete sections, a way of breaking up the long expanse of town and yard.

Over the last number of years, I accumulated Rix bridge kits, with the idea that I would, one day, get around to building those bridges.

Well, almost 20 years have gone by, and I never got around to building those kits.

But then my friend Arnold Walker began to take down his amazing Northland Route layout. In October, I was able to get his fantastic Pioneer grain elevator for the M & M Sub. This month, I was able to get two of his bridges.

(I told him that, piece-by-piece, the Northland Route is moving north to my layout from his.)

The bridges needed to be cut to fit my space; a hacksaw took care of that easily enough.

After using a bit of glue to fix them in place, and then I finally had those bridges I've wanted for so long.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

First Look At Bowser's New Canadian SD40-2 Locomotives

UPDATE: Bowser posted info and drawings of its new SD40-2 units on Nov. 14. Check them out here.

Bowser is also looking for feedback, to make sure they got the models right. See their website for more info.


Earlier, I reported the great news that Bowser was planning on bringing out an SD40-2 in a number of Canadian variants for the CPR, CN and B.C. Rail.

Well, the models are getting closer to reality; on Friday, Nov. 15, Bowser will post information and drawings  about the models on its website. 

Lee English of Bowser sent me a few drawings of a CP Rail unit to share with readers of this blog in anticipation of the announcement. I look forward to seeing the real things . . . .

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Trains, Money and the New Canadian $10 Bill

The new Canadian $10 bill.

Canada has a new $10 bill, and it has a train on it.

The new polymer bill, which was officially released Nov. 8 by the Bank of Canada, features a VIA Rail F40PH-2 leading The Canadian in the Rockies.

It was released at the same time as the new$5 bill, which features Canada’s contribution to space exploration through the Canadarm.

Polymer versions of the $100, $50 and $20 bills have already been released.

The new bills, which have a plastic-type feel, are meant to last longer and be harder to counterfeit.

While doing a bit of research for this post, I wondered if other countries also have put railways on their money. I was able to find a few.



Sri Lanka

In the 19th century, trains also appeared on banknotes in the U.S., especially in states that belonged to the Confederacy. 

Sometimes railroads themselves issued currency. This was during what was called the "Free Banking Era," which lasted from 1837 to 1866. During that time an estimated 8,000 different currencies were available, issued by banks, insurance companies, railroads and many other businesses.

Of course, if an issuer went bankrupt, closed, left town, or otherwise went out of business, the note would be worthless.

For many more examples of U.S. railroad currency, go to the Railroad, Currency and Scrip Collection website.

Tornadoes and Trains: Who Knew They Were So Popular?

Tornado on a layout at the 2008 World's
Greatest Hobby Show in Louisville, Kentucky

I was idly Googling for storm cloud backdrop photos when I discovered them: Model Railroads that incorporate tornadoes not just into backdrops, but as moving, lighted 3D fixtures on layouts.

I have to admit I had no idea they were so popular. But a search turned up four examples, all on NTrak layouts.

Like the one at the top of the page from the 2008 World's Greatest Hobby show in Louisville, KY. I don't know which club owns it, but you can see a video of it here. Yes, the funnel cloud actually moves.

The United Northwest Model Railroad Club of Seattle, Washington also has a tornado on its layout.

So does the NTrak of Bloomington, IL.

And so does the Frankfort, NY FunTrak. See a video of it in action here. The sound effects are real; there was a thunderstorm passing overhead when the video was taken.

I'm not sure about this; I understand the appeal of having something animated on a layout, like a tornado. But given their destructive power, they don't seem like the kinds of things I'd want to put on a model railroad.

Then again, someone out there has an NTrak module with a volcano on it . . . who knows where this could end? 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Goodbye Big Blue (Conrail, That Is)

The last unit in Conrail blue on NS is gone.

Eastern railfans may have ambivalent feelings about Conrail, but I have always liked the blue units that led its trains.

So I was a little sad to learn that the last Conrail unit on the Norfolk Southern in that old blue paint scheme has gone out of service.

In July, SD50 5424 was sent to Altoona, PA to be converted into an SD40E. When it emerges, it will sport the NS black livery.

In 2011, it was reported there were still ten units in blue on CSX; I don't know how many, or if any, are left today.

As someone who models CP Rail in western Canada in the early 1990s, there wouldn't be much reason to have Conrail units leading trains.

But this is my railway, so you'll understand if at least one of the units found its way out west to the Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision, maybe paying off horsepower hours.

I need to add number boards and other details (like a pilot) to the classic Athearn blue box unit on the layout, and some weathering is in order, but from time-to-time SD40-2 6408 makes an appearance.

If nothing else, it helps set the time frame--a time before Conrail was broken up and sold, a time when big blue rode the rails.

A bigger question for me is: How long before I publish a post about the last run of a CP Rail SD40-2? Or any SD40-2s, for that matter?

Click here to see a video of 5424's last run in blue.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Week of Remembrance II: A War Memorial on a Model Railroad Layout

Joe Laroche's cenotaph scene, with roof of
waiting room removed for viewing.

Earlier, I posted about the CPR's "Angel of Victory" memorial, for the 2013 Week of Remembrance. Now for a look at how one modeller has added a cenotaph to a model railroad.

Joe Laroche is a skilled modeller and a member of the Selkirk, Man. model railroad club. He built the station for the club's layout, and added the cenotaph scene outside the station.

His station scene is similar to what the CPR did with its memorial outside of its stations in Vancouver and Winnipeg, and inside its station in Montreal.

Joe used the Walther's Union Station kit to make his flat-style station for the Selkirk club. For the memorial, he used military figures mounted on a plinth.

I have not been able to find examples of other model railroads with war memorials. At least two British manufacturers sell war memorial kits, though.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Canadian Pacific Railway's "Angel of Victory" Memorials

When the Great War ended, towns and cities across Canada began building memorials to honour the over 60,000 Canadians killed in that conflict.

In addition to the national, provincial and other civic memorials, there were a number of private memorials created by companies to honour fallen employees.

Angel of Victory in Vancouver.

Among then was the Canadian Pacific Railway, which created the "Angel of Victory" (sometimes called "Winged Victory"), a monument to the 1,115 CPR staff killed in that war.

Three copies were made of the monument, created by Montreal sculptor Coeur de Lion McCarthy. They were placed outside CPR stations in Vancouver in 1921, Winnipeg in 1922 and Montreal in 1923.

Despite its name, there is nothing especially victorious about the monument, which shows a sad and stoic angel carrying away a limp, dead soldier.

It's a subtle statement about the waste of war, a lament for the loss of so many lives.

In Winnipeg. 

In this regard, it is similar to Canada's greatest World War One memorial at Vimy Ridge in France, which is more a monument to sacrifice than a celebration of victory.

(The Vimy Ridge memorial was said to have been Hitler's favorite World War One memorial, and he went to great lengths to ensure its safety after the Nazis captured France in the Second World War. Read that fascinating story in the Toronto Star.)

Of the three CPR memorials, the one in Montreal has fared the best since it is inside the station. The copies in Vancouver and Winnipeg are beginning to show the wear of the decades.

(The Vancouver version made that city's list of top 10 endangered historical sites in 2009.)

In Montreal. Note this version still has
the original crown in the angel's hand.

Of the ones in Vancouver and Winnipeg, only the one in Vancouver is still in its original location. Both are missing the original crown, which the Montreal version still has in the angel's hand.

The Winnipeg version was moved after the CPR sold its station; it now is outside Deer Lodge Hospital (which serves veterans).

The tablet on the monuments says:

"To commemorate those in the service of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company whom at the call of King and Country left all that was dear to them, endured hardship, faced danger and finally passed out of sight of men by the path of duty and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others may live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that their names are not forgotten."

Click here to see how modeller Joe Laroche incorporated a war memorial into the Selkirk, Man. Model Railroad Club layout.

Read about Canadian Railway Troops in World War One here.

Original location in Winnipeg.
with the crown.

Thanks to Montreal in Pictures, West End Dumplings, Vancouver Sun and others.

Canadian troops sit under the Angel of
Victory in Montreal during WW 2.

A close-up view.