Sunday, August 31, 2014

America in Colour, 1939-43

What colour was America (and Canada) in the 1940s?

On the one hand, the question seems obvious--colour is colour, after all. But few colour photos from that era actually exist; it's hard for those who model that period to know what it really looked like.

What colour were the bricks? The wood sides of buildings? The signs? Railroad cars and locomotives?

But a new collection of colour photos of the U.S. from 1939-43 has been posted on the Web. Taken by photographers working for the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, they are some of the only photos of small-town America during the depression and early war years.

Click here to see more of those photos.

These photos are a great addition to those taken by Charles W. Cushman, an amateur photographer who took colour photos of America in the 1940s-60s. Click here to learn more about his collection and see some photos.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Railroad Model Craftsman bought by White River Productions

Good news! White River Productions (WRP) has acquired Railroad Model Craftsman and Railfan & Railroad from Carstens, effective Sept. 1.

According to a press release posted by WRP, the deal was concluded August 28.

Carstens Publications’ final issues of the two titles are the June issues; future issues will be produced by WRP. Staff assignments for the two publications have not yet been finalized.

Existing subscriptions to the two magazines will be honored and fulfilled by WRP.

Included in the agreement is the Books Division of Carstens Publications, which will continue under WRP.

Other magazines produced by WRP include Passenger Train Journal, Railroads Illustrated, Model Railroad News and The Railroad Press.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Business Trip on VIA Rail's The Canadian

Getting ready to leave Winnipeg.

Like many other people in business, I travel a lot for my work. About once a month, usually. And almost always by plane.

But not for my last business trip. For that one, from Winnipeg to Vancouver, I took the train. 

View from the dome car.

Why the train? Not just because I like traveling by train, but because it would afford me some much-needed time to work, think and plan.

Like many other people in management, my work can rapidly pile up. One reason why is all the interruptions; one study found that managers are interrupted, on average, every eight minutes. No wonder it’s so hard to get things done!

Stopover in Melville, SK.

With my to-do list growing, and a trip to B.C. on the schedule for mid-August, I decided to find grab some quiet time for work by taking the two-day, two-night trip on VIA Rail’s The Canadian from Winnipeg to Vancouver.

My mobile "office" in the dome car.

For some, that’s a lot of time to be away from the office. But I had my “office” with me on my laptop, and the train provided great office space with wonderful views from the dome or Panorama cars. 

My other mobile "office," in the Panorama car.

Meals provided a welcome break, and a chance to get to know other travelers. I was able to enjoy meals with people from Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy, as well as from other parts of Canada

The dining car.

Along with good food, we were offered champagne and hor d’ouveres when leaving Jasper, beer tasting of local craft beers, movies and presentations by knowledgeable VIA Rail staff about points of interest along the way.

Hale & Hearty in the Jasper station.

My trip also featured live music, in this case Rachel Capon and Eli Bender of the folk duo Hale & Hearty.

The two string players were taking part in VIA’s Artists Onboard program, which offers free or reduced-cost travel for musicians. In return, they played three times each day on the train, and once each in the Winnipeg and Jasper stations.

Watching the sunset.

By the time we arrived in Edmonton, we were about three hours late due to a procession of freight trains from the other direction. But we made up most of the time west of the city, especially once we hit the directional-running west of Kamloops.

Stopover in Jasper.

CNR 6015 U-1-a on display in Jasper.

We arrived in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station only an hour behind the scheduled 9:42 AM arrival.

Arrival in Vancouver.

As we rolled into Vancouver, I could look back on time well spent. I had caught up on lots of work, and was also able to prepare for upcoming meetings.

On-board activities.

Best of all, I arrived relaxed, rested and well-fed, and with a heightened appreciation for the size and beauty of this country.

A full article about my business trip on VIA Rail was published in the Sept. 13 issue of the Winnipeg Free Press. Click here to read it.

To book your travel on VIA Rail, go to

There is a tunnel or two.

Stopover in Edmonton.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Carstens Closes: No Man, or Model Railroader, is an Island

UPDATE: On Aug. 28, Railroad Model Craftsman and Railfan & Railroad were purchased by White River Productions. Click here to read more.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

That poem, by English poet John Donne (1572-1631), came to mind when I heard that Carstens Publications is closing.

Carstens is publishers of Railroad Model Craftsman and Railroad & Railfan, two publications I have come to enjoy. (I am proud to say that my layout has been published twice in RMC.)

Already, online forums are replete with comments from those who say: "Who cares? I get everything I need on the Web." And it's true; many of us do get lots of information about model railroading online.

But not all; there are many who still prefer a paper publication, even if that number is declining. I hope, especially for their sakes, that a buyer for RMC can be found to keep it going.

But even apart from that, the loss of RMC is a loss for the whole hobby. Just as "any man's death diminishes me," so to the loss of a publication like RMC makes the whole hobby poorer and less vibrant.

It's true that there are lots of websites and videos that can show you how to do just about anything in model railroading these days. 

But, as with most things, you get what you pay for; with RMC, and with other publications, you could at least be assured that someone had vetted and edited the article, and made sure it was worthy of passing on to readers.

So even if you didn't read it, we all should acknowledge the contribution RMC made to model railroading, and acknowledge the hole its passing will leave for all of us--subscribers or not.

The last report I heard is that there are people who are interested in buying RMC; let's hope that happens. We will all be better for it being around.

Click here to read another reflection on model railroad magazines from an earlier posting on this blog.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

More Drone Railfan Videos and Drone Railroad News

In an earlier post, I wrote about how drones are poised to change railfanning photography--take it to a new level.

Since then I've discovered other drone videos of trains on the Web. Like this one, taken in Memphis, TN.

And here's a very short drone clip by Norfolk Southern at its Atlanta yard.

And another one, shot by someone who goes by the name of B LPHOTO, of CSX and KCS action in Ohio.

There are other drone railfan videos on YouTube, but it's clear that taking good drone video, like any other kind of video, takes practice. Some of them haven't yet mastered the slow scan or zoom. Of course, adding the need to fly your camera introduces a whole new level of complexity.

Meantime, Union Pacific is exploring using drones to inspect track and bridges along its system.

And the Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national railway, would like to use drones to prevent vandalism and graffiti in its yards.

Personally, I'm looking forward to when some enterprising railfan photographer uses a drone to video hard to reach places like B.C.'s Fraser Canyon or the CPR spiral tunnels. That will be something to see!

For a drone railfan video update, click here. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Railroad Fonts, or Fonts Made of Railroads?

Most of us know what a railroad font is. It's the style of lettering chosen by our favorite prototype for its name.

One of the most common old time railroad fonts is Railroad Roman. Others are named after the railroad that popularized them.

But what if a railroad font wasn't made of actual letters, but of actual railroads? Or a model railroad, in this case.

That's what Ludvig Bruneau Rossow, a graphic designer from Oslo, Norway, did. After finding an old model train in his grandmother’s basement, he decided to recreate every letter of the alphabet. 

I don't know about you, but I don't think it will catch on. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Infamous Model Railroaders

Type “famous model railroaders” into Google and you get over 22,000 results.

A number of the links lead to model railroad forums, where people talk about all the famous people who share our hobby.

The most recent celebrity discussion was set off when Rod Stewart visited Central Hobbies in Vancouver after a concert in August. 

As model railroaders, we really seem to like it when famous people share our hobby. Somehow, it seems to validate our enthusiasm for model trains. If they like it, too, it must be OK!

But what about infamous model railroaders? A Google search doesn’t turn up anything. Which is probably a good thing. Who’d like to know that criminals or scandal-ridden politicians like trains?

I can think of one infamous model railroader—very infamous: Hermann Goering.

Goering's attic layout at Carinhall.

Yes, that Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe in World War Two and heir-apparent to Hitler at the end of the War.

IMPORTANT CAVEAT: In no way does this blog post condone or promote Nazi Germany, Goering or anything related to Nazism. I am simply reflecting on his interest in model railroading.

Goering owned two layouts in his East Prussian country estate, called Carinhall. One was located in the attic, one was in the basement. Both were destroyed when he blew up the building before its capture by the advancing Russian forces.

Showing his layout to guests.

Only a few items seem to have survived; a few buildings that date from between 1933-45. Click here to read an article from Bloomberg news about them. 

One person who has done a lot of research into Goering’s fascination with model trains is Paul Deardorff of Marklin Stop. 

The basement layout. 

According to Deardorff, Goering's two layouts were by Marklin. Apparently, one of the layouts had a miniature airplane that “flew” over the layout and dropped wooden bombs.

Again, no promotion of or apology for Goering or the Nazis is intended—just a note about what might be a little-known and more infamous aspect of our hobby.

Operating one of his layouts.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Restored Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway 4-6-2 #701

A great photo of Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway (later Ontario Northland Railway) 4-6-2 #701 in Englehart, Ont. by my friend Chris Paxton.

The locomotive, which was built in 1921, was retired from service in 1957. It was cosmetically restored in 2012 by the town of Englehart.

The 701 operated in passenger service between Timmins and North Bay, and from North Bay to Toronto. 

Click here for a list of surviving steam locomotives in Canada.

Below find a photo of #701 in the snow, provided by Eric Gagnon. I think I like the photo set in summer better!

Monday, August 11, 2014

More iPhone Photos of the M & M Sub.

Some more iPhone shots of the layout. Click here to see the first batch.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Drones: Taking Railfanning to a Whole New Level

A drone's-eye view of the Cumbres & Toltec RR.

Talk about taking railfanning to a whole new level! Like about a quarter mile in the air, using a drone.

It used to be that if you wanted an aerial view of trains, you needed to use an airplane. Even then, you needed a good telephoto lens since you couldn’t come too low to the ground.

No more; now you can buy your own personal drone, like the DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter, which comes equipped with its own video camera.

The DJI Phantom 2

In 2013, Daniel Luke Fitch was the pilot and aerial cinematographer was the DJI Phantom Grand Prize video contest winner with his drone’s-eye view of the historic Cumbres & Toltec Railroad. Check it out here. 

Meantime, someone who goes by the name CSX600 posted a drone video of NS action in Tennessee and Kentucky. Check out that video here. 

The advantages of drones are many; they can go where normal photography isn’t possible, and get photos and video that would otherwise be impossible to get. 

We modellers have been taking drone’s-eye photos of our layouts forever; now those who are primarily interested in the prototype can do the same. 

For a drone railfan video update, click here.