Friday, December 30, 2016

New Grain Hopper Cars for Canadian Railways

According to a report in the December 29 Western Producer, National Steel Car has been selected to provide the new grain hoppers that will replace Canada’s aging cylindrical hopper fleet.

The new cars are 55 feet, eight inches long, have a volume of 5,431 cubic feet, and weigh 60,000 pounds.

Current hopper cars are 60 feet long and have a volume of 4,550 cubic feet. They weigh 62,000 pounds.

The new cars are able to carry 20 percent more grain, or ten tonnes, than the older cars.

Also, because they are shorter, there can be more cars on each train.

Today there are 22,400 of the older cylindrical grain hoppers in service. Of that total, 8,400 are owned by the Canadian government and 3,100 by the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The rest are former Canadian Wheat Board cars.

All the cars will reach the end of their service lives between 2022 and 2027.

In other grain hopper car news, CPR president Keith Creel says that current unit grain hopper train length will be increased from 112 cars to 134 cars.

Read more about the new cars at the NSC website.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas and Model Trains: Eastern U.S. Firehouse Christmas Train Gardens

(Time for the annual Christmas and model trains post! This time, a repeat from a year ago.) 

Trains and Christmas have gone together for a long time, whether it’s a model train around the Christmas tree or a department store Christmas display.

But model trains, Christmas gardens and fire departments also go together in some U.S. east coast communities, as I recently discovered.

Ellicott City, MD

It goes back to the 19th century, when Moravian immigrants that settled in Pennsylvania and Maryland brought along with them the custom of creating an indoor miniature garden to tell the story of the Nativity.

Thesse gardens, called a “putz” (pronounced “pootz”), would include people, animals, buildings, and landscaping.

Wise Ave. train garden

Locals who saw the Moravian gardens began putting them under their Christmas trees. Later, they added trains to the scenes.

Since not everyone was rich enough to afford a garden in their home, firehouses began creating and displaying train gardens so everyone in the community could experience them—a tradition that is still practiced in some firehouses in those states.

Baltimore Fire Museum

One city where the trains gardens are likely to be found is Baltimore, where they can be found in homes, firehouses and businesses. Other communities also have them.

Read more about the train gardens here.  Check out this Christmas train garden at the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company in Dundalk, Maryland. Also check out this one in Highlandtown. 

Read more in the Christmas and Model Trains series.

Jarrettsville, MD

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Operations Versus Running with a Purpose

Switching the Fort Frances yard.

I have a confession to make: I really don’t like operations.

I don’t know if you are allowed to say that out loud. But it’s true.

For some reason, the idea of creating car cards or implementing a software program to govern the movement of every piece of rolling stock on the layout just never took hold with me.

I tried it. On my first layout, I conscientiously created cards for every car I owned. I labelled every industry and spur.

I gave it a valiant effort, but it just didn’t take. (I actually recycled all the old cards this year.)

With the M & M Sub., my second layout, I didn’t even bother trying.

But even though I didn’t want to do operations, I still wanted to run trains on the layout with a purpose.

That is, I wanted trains to run realistically, as if they were going somewhere. I also wanted a plausible reason for them to drop off and pick up cars in the main yard at Fort Frances.

At first, I tried the wheel report method, popularized by Jim Hediger. It worked fine, but even that proved to be more paperwork than I was interested in.

Since that time I have tried other simple methods, but lately have settled on a simple scheme where trains do pick-ups and set-outs in the yard.

That is, trains headed east and west drop off cars for destinations that originate I Fort Frances (Peace River, International Falls, the Peace River Mill, local), and pick up cars headed east or west.

The beauty of this scheme is that cars in the set-off/pick-up track don’t actually have to be delivered to a different destination.

When a train arrives, it can be assumed the cars in the pick-up track are ready to go, even if they were dropped off earlier and never delivered anywhere.

If I want, I can assemble them into trains for various locations and deliver them. Upon return, I can then put cars for set outs into place after doing some switching.

Switching the Peace River RR interchange.

Not prototypical, but it gives me a sense of purpose, and permits some action in the yard.

As for governing train movements, I do that on my easy-to-make dispatcher’s panel, which is located in the storage room above the dispatcher’s mainline panel.

In keeping with the theme of simplicity, I use it to govern a sequence schedule. All trains in the upper staging yard need to move to the bottom, and vice versa.

(In a sequence schedule, trains run in sequence. It can take two days, two weeks or two months to run them all sequentially.)

Or, to put it another way, the blue tags need to move to the bottom and the red tags to the top (or the other way around).

Again, the purists might have a heart attack. But it works for me.

Monday, December 5, 2016

You've Heard About CP Rail Red Barns, But What About Blue Barns? (Plus an Update From Bowser)

If you are a CP Rail fan, or even if you aren’t, you know about that railway’s famous CP Rail SD40-2F Red Barns.

But did you know about the Blue Barns?

Yes, indeed, that’s the name given to these unique units now that they have been purchased and repainted by the Central Maine & Quebec Railway.

The shortline railway, which was formed in 2014, operates in the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and in the Canadian province of Quebec.

The CM&Q bought ten of the former CP Rail Red Barns in 2015 (numbers 9004, 9010, 9011, 9014, 9017 and 9020-24). And now they sport the great new liveries!

And here’s good news for HO scale modelers: Lee English tells me that the handsome units will be made by Bowser, including in the BAR heritage scheme.

As for other news from Bowser, Lee says that the second batch of SD40-2 samples are due this week. A new body sample for the SD49-2F is also due anytime.

Click here to read my previous update about the arrival date for Bowser's CP Rail Red Barns.

Top photo by Julian Berard; middle photo by Richard Deuso; bottom photo by Kevin Burkholder.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmastime and President's Choice (PC Express) Train Sets

The Mehano/IHC Mogul from the second
PC Express train set.

Christmas and trains--they still go together for many people.

For lots of model railroaders, that's where their interest in the hobby started: With a train set under the tree.

But good train sets were hard to find in the 1990s when Boris Polakow, Vice President of Canadian Sales Development for Loblaws (owner of Real Canadian Superstore), decided it was time for a quality, affordable train set.

Polakow, who had been fascinated by trains since a child, was distressed to see families bring low-quality train sets that broke “a day after Christmas,” as he told me in an interview in 2001.

He thought that if someone sold a high-quality train set at an affordable price, people would buy them. His colleagues at Loblaws weren’t so sure.

In 1992, Polakow proved them wrong.

The first run of 10,000 President’s Choice/PC Express (named after the line of Loblaw’s food products) train sets sold out within days of being released before Christmas, that year—and a tradition was started.

The first set, 1992.

Between 1992 and 2006, a total of 11 sets were released (they skipped 1996, 2000, 2003 and 2004).

Sold only in Canada, they had names like the PC Express, PC Insider’s Express, the Mountain Express, Camelback Express, Pacific Express, 6060 Bullet Nose Express, Yard Bull Express, Mini Chef’s Express and Big Ten Express.

The rolling stock was toy-like—the cars had truck-mounted horn-hook couplers, and many featured President’s Choice products like cookies, cola, juice, pizza and detergent, among other things.

The locomotives, on the other hand, were pretty good—especially the steamers. (All but two of the sets featured steam locomotives.)

Manufactured by Mehano in the former Yugoslavia, the units weren't always true to the prototype (e.g. a CPR Camelback, or the wrong tenders), and had only basic details.

And yet, they were smooth runners; some modelers bought the sets, priced at between $80-$100, just for the locomotives.

A few used them as starting points for super-detailing and kitbashing projects (see Canadian Railway Modeller Train 6, Track 6 and Train 7, Track 1.)

Of note was the company's model of the CNR's 6060-series U-1-f 4-8-2. It was not an exact replica of that famous bullet nose unit, but it was notable for being the first-ever attempt by a manufacturer to reproduce that locomotive's conical nose in plastic.

The PC Express Bullet Nose 6060

One thing that Polakow didn’t expect was that the sets would become collectors items; many people who bought them never took them out of the box, keeping them as collectibles.

Sets can still be found advertised as unopened on online auction sites.

The best source of information about President’s Choice train sets is Ragnar Torfason’s President’s Choice train set web page. 

On it you can find everything you want to know about each set.

The 5th set in the series.

I never bought a President's Choice train set. But in 2012 Canadian Railway Modeller editor Morgan Turney brought a 2-6-0 Mogul locomotive from set #2 over to run on the M & M Sub.

He had recently acquired the unit, and wanted to see it run. I gladly obliged—I rarely run steam on my early-1990s layout. It ran great, and looked good, too, as the photos at top and below attest.

So, at Christmastime, we can remember a tradition now sadly gone, and acknowledge and thank Boris for his contribution to the hobby--for his dream of making quality, affordable train sets for Canadian families.