Sunday, March 30, 2014

Great Canadian Model Railroad: William Flatt's Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto

Coming from St. Catharines, Ontario, I have a fond spot in my heart for the old Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway.

By the time I was old enough to appreciate trains (in the 1960s), the NS&T was owned by CN and was completely dieselized. Today most of the tracks that were in operation in my boyhood are gone—turned into trails, torn up or paved and built over.

The old NS&T Lakeshore line near my boyhood home.

It’s rare to find someone who models the NS&T in its electric or diesel incarnations; earlier this year I posted photos of Tom Wright’s layout (now dismantled).

Now I’m pleased to share another layout that models this railway—William Flatt’s S scale NS&T.

William models the railway as it existed in the mid-1950s. The layout is in a U-shape, with Merritton, where it interchanged with the CNR, occupying the majority of one leg.

The connection between the two sides of the U is the transition from Merritton to Thorold, and the other leg represents Thorold. William plans another extension to represent Fonthill.

Track is code 100; turnouts are constructed using the Fast Tracks method. Digitrax DCC is used to control the trains. William has mounted trolley poles, but they are for cosmetic use only.

“I discovered that on my previous layouts, both HO and O scale, that the most frustrating aspect of trolley operation was dirty wire, with the consequence being erratic operation,” he says.

Rolling stock is mostly ready-to-run, with the modified kits and scratchbuilt. All the trolleys are scratchbuilt from brass, wood and styrene,  while two CNR diesels were assembled from kits and detailed with a blend of commercial parts and some cast from William’s own patterns. 

A third steeple cab, NST #17, is under construction. William credits Dave Browning for many of the paint jobs.

There aren’t many people who model the NS&T, the last operating interurban railway in Canada. I'm glad I learned about William's great layout.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Great Modelling and Weathering

One of the great things about the Internet is getting connected with modellers in other parts of the world. 

One person I have become acquainted with is Edgar Romero Roldán of Mexico. Edgar does great modelling and weathering, as seen in the photos in this post.

Also check out Edgar's modelling of the Kansas City Southern de Mexico Christmas Train.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Great Canadian Model Railroad: West Toronto Junction

A model railroad doesn’t have to big to be great. It doesn’t even have to be finished, as the West Toronto Junction shows.

This HO scale switching layout, being created by a new online acquaintance, seeks to replicate railway activity by the CPR in the West Toronto area.

The layout--the first "real" one attempted by the builder (after building the usual 4 x 8 as a youth)--is the result of his desire to return to the hobby.

The decision to build a switching layout was influenced by the amount of space available in his basement—about 12 by 10 feet.

His list of givens & druthers included a small yard with capacity for some light switching; at least one runaround track; and a few spurs.

The next step was deciding what area to model. The builder settled on an area near where he lived. He found three sites to model—Lambton yard, the H industrial spur (with six industries) and a major industry with four spurs.

His goal is to create a switching-heavy urban layout that mimics, as close as possible, the freight operations in a small yard with sidings that serve a few light industrial clients. 

A key influence for this layout is Lance Mindheim, an expert on building small switching layouts (among other things). Mindheim gave the builder of the West Toronto Junction a mental “framework” for his layout.

As I’ve said before, if I ever build another layout it will likely be a switching layout like the West Toronto Junction—something with a few industries and a small yard.

The double-deck CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub., which fills a 17 by 21 foot room, satisfied my desire to build a large layout. I can’t ever see myself building anything that large again.

The West Toronto Junction is a great Canadian model railroad because of the thoughtfulness the builder has brought to the enterprise. Even though it's nowhere near finished, it's possible to see the potential in the design and construction. 

As for the builder, he says this about his effort: "As I make a re-entry into the MR world, I hope to build on the skills I learned years ago while acquiring new ones. 

"As I learn, my hope is that you will too. I’m sure to make mistakes, and do things that will make for plenty of  eye-rolling from other model railroaders. 

"This layout is a journey and this blog will allow readers to make it with me."

You can follow progress on the West Toronto Junction by visiting its blog.  It’s a great source of information about how to model a prototype location in a small space, along with various tips and ideas. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hypnotizing Helixes, Spellbinding Spirals and Captivating Curves

Someone had a lot of time on their hands . . . enough time to build this amazing eight-loop helix-style track arrangement out of Bachman EZ track, add 141 cars and nine locomotives, and then make a video of it.

I don't know about you, but I find the whole thing sort of mesmerizing. And admirable, in a way; unlike building a layout, this set up is temporary. That's a lot of work for something that had to be dismantled later!

According to the builder, James Risner, the radius of the curves are 15, 18, 22, 26, 28, 33 and 35 inches.

If clicking on the photo above doesn't work for you, click here to watch the video. If you want a engineer's eye view of the set up, click here. Warning! It may cause dizziness. (It made me feel a little unsteady.)

But that's not the only unique track arrangement James created; nine months earlier he made this unique dogbone-style layout and ran three locomotives and 144 cars on it. He used Knex pieces to create the supports.

Again, if the video doesn't open for you above, click here.

He also ran a 206 car train on a different track arrangement; click here to see that set up.

When I was a kid, I set up my Lionel and later my Tri-Ang trains on the living room floor of my childhood home; never in a million years could I have dreamed of something like this. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

More Progress on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.: Getting Close to Done

Things are moving along on the new section of the CP Rail M & M sub.

It's gone from this:

To this:

To This:

Over the past few weeks I've been adding "grass," ballasting and, finally, planting trees.

Of course, there's more to do--add ground cover and switch throws, and I could use about 20-30 more trees. But that will have to wait until after the snow leaves, and I can harvest more weeds for trees.

I still have a bit more ballasting to do, together with some ground cover. But the process of taking down the three-level section of the layout and replacing it with this one level scene is getting close to done. Which is a scary thought: When that happens, what will I have left to do on the layout?

I'll worry about that later. Meantime, below find a few more photos of the newly completed scenery.

For more about this rebuild and redesign process, including photos when it was just benchwork and Styrofoam, click here, click here and click here.

But first, what it looked like at the beginning.

What it looks like now.

And a few more photos.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Amtrak Writer's Residency: A Great Idea!

I’m a writer. I like trains. The new Amtrak writer’s residency program is made for me.

Unfortunately, it’s just available to Americans. But, still—what a great idea! 

It's similar to what VIA Rail does for musicians, offering them a free ride in return for playing music along the way.

The difference is that Amtrak's program focuses on helping the writer writenot just get from one city to another as cheaply as possible.

It all started when Jessica Gross tweeted about wishing Amtrak had a program for writers. She said it would be a great way for writers who want to get away for a time of uninterrupted creativity (and window gazing).

Amtrak loved the idea. The contacted Jessica, and sent her on a free trip from New York to Chicago.

When she got back home, they asked her what she liked about writing on a train.

“I think it’s a combination of the set deadline—the end of the train ride—the calming movement, and the company of stranger,” she said.

As for advice for other writers, she said: “Don’t be too ambitious with what you plan to get done: Allow for time spent gazing out the window, letting ideas work themselves out in your mind. 

"It’s that kind of deep thinking that the train is particularly good for, and that can be more difficult to achieve in the interstices of busy day-to-day life.”

Click here to find out more about the Amtrak writer’s residency program, and to fill out an application form.

Click here to read about Jessica’s Amtrak writing experience in the Paris Review.

Click here to read about a similar program on VIA Rail for musicians, which offers free rides for those who play music as they travel.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Great News: Pte. St. Charles Van (Finally) Coming Out in Plastic

Great news for those who model CN: The Pointe St. Charles van (caboose) is finally coming out in plastic in HO scale.

The announcement by True LineTrains will be welcome news for many after the roller coaster ride of the past few years that was caused by the company-that-cannot-be-named (CTCBN).

(For those who don’t know, the CTCBN was a Canadian business that promised to bring out this unique Canadian model in plastic, took deposits for pre-orders, then went out of business. The owner disappeared, as did all the pre-order money.)

Since that time, there have been fervent hopes that another manufacturer might pick up this project. Well, today those wishes have come true.

The most information about this project can be found on the Pacific Western Rail Systems website.  

According to PWRS, the van will be brought out in a variety of schemes: CN, Alaska, Central Manitoba, 
New Bunswick Southern, Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia—and even Greater Winnipeg Water District.

The Pte. St. Charles van is named after the CN shop that built them between 1970-77.

The vans were built from old 40-foot boxcars. The boxcars were stripped down to the frame and trucks, and then built back up from there. In addition to CN, they were acquired by various other railways.

The cost of the vans is advertised as $84.99.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Wye Not? Or, You Won't Believe Your Wyes, er, Eyes

Everyone knows what a railroad wye looks like. Right?

Well, you did--until you saw this unique effort in Carbonia, Sardinia.

Unlike a traditional wye, which is shaped like a triangle, this wye looks more like a star.

Altogether, it has five switches and four crossovers. 

It looks like they selected that arrangement due to space restrictions.

All I can say after seeing it is: Wye not?

Another view.

Credit Chris Webster on the Narrow Gauge Discussion Forum for bringing this to my attention. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New Model Railroad Magazine: Trackside Model Railroading

A new model railroad magazine—there’s a sentence you don’t get to write much these days.

Called Trackside Model Railroading, the new monthly digital magazine aims to bring “the very best in layout coverage without cutting into your hobby funds.”

According to publishers Ross and Jennifer Waters, Trackside Model Railroading will feature at least two layouts each month, with a focus on photography.

Say the Waters: “The photographs will be dominant, as we believe they are vital to conveying the quality and feel of a layout.”

The magazine will also include how-to articles, current events in the world of railroading and new products.

As for cost, the Waters are charging $1.89 an issue, or $14.99 per year. They accept major credit cards and PayPal. 

Once purchased, the magazine can be read online or downloaded, and viewed on desktop computers, tablets or smartphones.

There is a bit of advertising; there were two advertisers in the first issue: Athearn and BLMA Models.

As for why they started a magazine at all, in the premier issue (available free online) the couple says that it grows out of their interest in trains and photography. 

I have to give the Waters credit for being brave enough to start this venture. Whether digital or print, publishing a magazine is not for the faint of heart.

As for the magazine itself, to me it resembles the old Rail Model Journal (in terms of production values and layout). The photography in the issue is first-rate.

But don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself.