Thursday, July 28, 2016

Death and the Model Railroader: Ashes to Ashes

Before he died in 2014, my brother-in-law, Ken Epp, asked his family to scatter his ashes in his favorite place: The Thompson River Canyon in B.C., near the railway tracks.

His wife and kids are doing that this week. Before they left for B.C., they asked if anyone would want some of Ken’s ashes for a memorial.

I asked for a small amount, which I placed inside a sealed bag in a boxcar. Not just any boxcar, but one I bought at the last train show we attended together (just a few weeks before he died).

After placing the ashes in the car, I gave it a trip around the layout. 

Before, whenever I saw that car on the layout, it reminded me of him. Now it carries more than just a memory; it literally carries a bit of him as well.

Some might find it ghoulish, but for me it’s a way to remember Ken. Not only that—and I know this would make him smile—it’s a way he can “ride” trains on my layout!

(I am also making a small N scale layout in honour of Ken, inspired by the Thompson River Canyon area. Click here to see it.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Update to VIA Rail Moving The Canadian to Lake Superior

In a previous post I shared a report from the July issue of Trains magazine by columnist Don Phillips about the possibility of moving The Canadian to the CPR’s more southerly route through northern Ontario along Lake Superior.

In the August issue of Trains author Bob Johnston has a multipage article on the future of VIA Rail, including a short bit on this possibility.

In the article, Johnston quotes VIA Rail President Yves Desjardins-Siciliano as saying: “We have not approached them (the CPR) formally on that because it is not a service defining component, but it’s a better route, so that is always a possibility.”

In the article Johnston also notes that VIA Rail pays CN, the railway on which tracks it runs for most of its trip from Toronto to Vancouver, less than $20,000 per trip.

Johnston also notes that if The Canadian was moved to the CPR tracks from CN in northern Ontario, “the Sudbury-White River Rail Diesel Cars that currently run on the route would presumably move to the CN, filling the transportation void over a much longer stretch of otherwise inaccessible settlements and First Nation commerce centres.”

So—no confirmation of the change, but no rejection yet, either. As before, we can only hope.

Photo of VIA's The Canadian along Lake Superior in 1984 by Steve Danko on Railpictures.caFor more photos of VIA in the 1980s visit James Jensen's page on Pinterest.

Monday, July 25, 2016

VIA Rail Returning to CPR Tracks Along Lake Superior? Trains Columnist Says it Could Happen

Wouldn't it be great if this postcard view could happen again?

In the report, I cited an article in Railway Age which indicated that VIA Rail CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano was open to the idea.

I heard nothing more about it until today, when I read Don Phillips’ column in the July, 2016 issue of Trains.

According to Phillips, it has a chance of happening.

“A spectacular re-route of the Vancouver-Toronto Canadian may take place in the next year,” he wrote.

The reason? That stretch of CPR trackage along Lake Superior—the former and traditional route of the Canadianis under-utilized since the railway is now sending most of its trains through Chicago.

“With little hope for traffic growth,” said Phillips, "[Hunter] Harrison has approved switching the Canadian to the route.”

VIA Rail in Thunder Bay.

Added Phillips: "Harrison would likely gain a lot of revenue from VIA, which is the reason he approved the plan in the first place."

Such a move would not only take VIA Rail off the more heavily-used CN route to the north, it would also permit VIA Rail to serve more communities, including Thunder Bay—not to mention providing passengers which a much more scenic journey along the lake.

“The re-route is not yet a solid agreement,” said Phillips. “But it seems to have a better than even chance.”

I searched the Web for additional verification for the re-routing, but could only find an item from a Q & A at VIA Rail’s annual meeting in March, 2015.

In the meeting, the question was asked if VIA Rail would ever return to the Lake Superior route. The answer wasn’t no.

VIA Rail is currently considering this route,” came the reply. “Track availability and track state are some of the operational considerations that are being reviewed prior to making a final decision.”

It's been 26 years since VIA Rail ran that route along the lake. Maybe, just maybe, it will happen again. 

One can only hope!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ottawa to Kitchener On VIA Rail (with a Trip Back in Time to the Old Ottawa Union Station)

Vacation took me to Ottawa this summer. One of the places I often walked by was the old Union Station, soon to be home for the Canadian Senate while its chambers are being renovated.

Walking hear the station, I often wished I could travel back in time to see what it was like when it was the main railway hub for the city, with trains from the CNR and CPR coming and going..

Current view of the old station.

The station was completed in 1912 by the Grand Trunk Railway. It served as a railway station until 1966, when the tracks were torn up.

After that time it was supposed to be a government conference centre, but it has been mostly under-used.

A similar view, many years earlier.

Today, the area is a beautiful walkway for residents and visitors alike—much cleaner and comfortable than when smoky steam engines were running back and forth.

But still, it would have been something to see back then.

Another view, from the 1960s. 

Mid-way through the vacation, we took the train from Ottawa to Kitchener.

The Ottawa station is a busy place, and quite comfortable (if not as majestic as the classic old Union Station).

When we arrived, the train from Toronto was just arriving; it would later depart back to Toronto (with us on board).

It pulled in behind a train that later headed east to Montreal.

The trip to Toronto was great; in Brockville we passed a grandfather and grandson train-watching at the station.

(The little boy was much more excited that his grandfather, running back and forth along the platform.)

We passed a GO Transit train that had just arrived in Oshawa.

Unfortunately, due to traffic, our train arrived late in Toronto and we missed our connection to Kitchener. (Something that happened regularly, the on-board staff told us.)

VIA arranged for a shuttle to take us there, but it wasn't the same.

At the Kitchener station a couple of Goderich and Exeter units were at rest.

All-in-all, a great experience on the train, although VIA could provide more time between trains from Ottawa to Kitchener in anticipation of delays.

While waiting at Pearson airport for our flight home I caught the Union Express at its station. It's a great (and inexpensive) way to get to downtown Toronto. And it's a train!

Photos on this page of the old Union Station are from the Canadian Science and Technology Museum. For more information, see the Beachburg Sub blog. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Rewind: The Miller Creek Forestry Museum

It’s summertime, so it’s a perfect time for re-runs and my rewind series of postslike this one from 2012. It came to mind after I bumped into Geoff Brown recently; Geoff is the owner of this Great Canadian Model Railroad. The layout is in storage now; I hope it can be made available to the public again one day. In the meantime, you can enjoy it again here!

This great Canadian model railroad is a little different than most.

For starters, it’s over 1,900 kilometres (over 1,100 miles) from home. Second, I don’t know very much about its creators. Third, although it represents logging in B.C., it’s now on display on the Canadian prairies.

Here’s the story: A local modeler, Geoff Brown, decided he wanted an ON30 layout. While talking about it with a friend in B.C., he was told that just such a layout was for sale in the city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Geoff bought it, and had it transported to Winnipeg, where it has been set up at Elmwood Hobby Works—which is where I took photos of it.

Overview of left side of layout.

The 3 foot wide by 16 foot long layout—called the Miller Creek Forestry Museum—was started by Dave Quissy and Ed Lewis.

From what Geoff told me, it took them just over a year to build. The layout, which is in four four-foot sections, uses a frame made from 3/8th square steel; the sub base is made of 3/8th inch plywood.

Looking to the right side of the layout.

The scenery is made from 2 inch Styrofoam, the track is handlaid code 100 and the turnouts were built by Wayne Paulson and Dan Rossell.

The trees were made from wire and sisal rope, painted and then detailed with Woodland Scenics ground foam. The bigger trees were made by Dave Tomljenovich. The backdrop is hand-painted.

A mirror makes the engine house look bigger.

All the buildings were scratchbuilt from styrene and wood. The water tank is a replica of a real tank that was used on Vancouver Island.

The layout won best of show at a regional meet in Nanaimo, B.C.—it’s easy to see why!

According to Geoff, the layout became available when one of the owners needed to move out of his house. I’m sorry he had to give it up, but happy for those of us who live in Winnipeg!

I don't have space on this blog post for all the photos I shot; you can find more pictures of the Miller Creek Forestry Museum on my Flickr page.

A great place to be when nature calls!


Friday, July 8, 2016

Rewind: Amazing 4,000 Square Foot Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Layout

Back in 2012 I came across this amazing Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific O scale layout being constructed by a custom layout builder by the name of Scale Art Model Services. On the company's website (now called Scale Art Parts), they note that the layout was unfinished as of 2015, although progress was still slowly being made. Finished or not, it is still a magnificent layout and undertaking. A link to more photos and info is below. Enjoy!

There’s only one word for this layout: “Wow!”

OK—maybe two: “Holy cow!”

This custom made O scale two-rail layout fills a 4,000 square foot room. It is based on the Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific. a short 167-mile line owned by Canadian National that runs from Fort Frances, Ont. to Duluth, Minn. (But nowhere near the Pacific, unless you count CN’s connection to the west coast.)

The layout, which is reportedly in Nebraska, is being built by Scale Model Services of Colorado. It is housed in a 100 by 59 foot building and features nearly 3,000 feet of track and 150 turnouts.

Each of the three yards on the layout can hold upwards of 150 cars, and each yard features a six-stall roundhouse. Many of the structures are unique and will be scratch-built, with depots built to Canadian National standard designs.

The layout represents the 1950s. The majority of the steam locos are re-detailed Weaver 2-8-0 Consolidations. The RS-11s are also Weaver. Construction has been going on for two-and-a-half years.

Says the builder: “This is truly a labor of love for all involved. We are building this layout as if it is in our own basement, with great attention to detail and deliberate planning and model work . . . The final railroad will be a fine example of 2 rail O scale modeling that reflects both the owners’ and my own vision.”

I have a soft spot in my heart for the DW&P, since my CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota is inspired by it. Like this layout, the M & M Sub. runs from Winnipeg (staging) through Fort Francis to Duluth (also staging). My effort is more freelanced, however—starting with the idea that the line is owned by CP Rail—and much, much smaller.

Wouldn't it be great to see this layout in person, and operate on it?

Click here to visit the CN Lines web page about the DW&P.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Tunnel of Trees

There are many ways to hide trains on a layout and obscure the fact they are moving around corners or between towns—buildings, hills and actual tunnels themselves.

Or you can use a tunnel of trees.

That’s what I did on a section of the M & M Sub. on the upper level. As the tracks leave Nance, they curve behind a hill and emerge in a tree tunnel.

From a normal vantage point, you can see the trains moving through the trees. Or you can move down the tracks a bit and watch them come through the foliage with a more head-on view.

This isn’t the only place I’ve used this technique, but it is the place with the most trees.

As for the trees themselves, they are all handmade from various garden shrubs such as spirea and yarrow. Click here to learn more about how I made them.