Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Obituary for a Model Railroad

If an obituary was written for a model railroad, like it is for a person, what might it look like? Maybe like this.

CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision, 1994-2015

After a long and healthy life, the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision passed away on July 19, 2019. It was 25 years-old.

Born in 1994, the double-deck layout filled a 17 by 21-foot room in a Winnipeg, Manitoba basement.

Basically complete by 2010, it was then significantly altered when the central peninsula—which featured three-levels of tracks—was dismantled and reduced to a single level.

It remained in that state until this year, when plans to move in a year or two resulted in it being taken apart. 

During its lifetime, the M & M Sub. was honoured by being featured in Canadian Railway Modeller (several times), Railroad Model Craftsman (twice) and once in Model Railroader (about its unique use of tree bark for rocks).

Information and photos about it was also included in two Kalmbach how-to books by Tony Koester: Model Railroading from Prototype to Layout and Designing and Building Multi-Deck Layouts.

In addition to being part of many open houses sponsored by the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club (WMRC), the layout was also on the tour schedule for the 2000 NMRA Thousand Lakes Region Millennium Express, the 2005 Golden Rails national convention (marking the fiftieth anniversary of the WMRC), and the 2010 NMRA Thousand Lakes Region Steam on the Prairies convention.

It was also featured on a blog of the same name, and is featured on a YouTube channel with dozens of videos about the layout.

The layout was not without its eccentricities. At a time when most everyone else is using DCC, it remained committed—some might say stuck in the past—to DC (Dinosaur Control).

It also wasn’t embarrassed to use Athearn “blue box” locomotives, even if it was more likely in recent times to find units from Kato, Rapido, Atlas and more modern Athearn pulling trains.

It was similar for rolling stock. Although higher quality items from Atlas, InterMountain, Accurail and others were found in consists, so too were offerings from Athearn “Blue Box,” Roundhouse/MDC, Lionel, Tyco and Bachmann—with new wheels (if required) and weathering. 

One thing the M & M Sub. really enjoyed was having people over, especially children. Nothing beat seeing a kid’s eyes light up when he or she was handed a controller and told to run the train.

Over its lifetime, the layout provided much enjoyment and satisfaction for its owner, and hopefully for many of his friends. It will be missed.

Predeceased by the CP Rail Grimm Valley Sub. (1988-1994), the M & M Sub. is survived by a few hundred of pieces of rolling stock and locomotives, several hundred feet of track, a couple dozen structure, and over 700 trees—and lots of memories.

Tributes in its memory can be made by running a train, patronizing a local hobby shop, reading a model railroad magazine or inviting a child over to your layout to run some trains. 

That, plus raising a glass of your favorite cold beverage. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Tibetan Sand Mandalas, Model Railroading and the Transitory Nature of Life (and Layouts)

First load in the garbage bin.

Back in 2009, when I was still building the M & M Sub., I got to thinking about the impermanence of all things—like layouts.

Specifically, I wrote about Tibetan sand mandalas and model railroads, and what they have in common.

Sand mandalas come from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Monks and devotees spend weeks or months creating them, making amazingly intricate images out of millions of grains of coloured sand.

When done, the mandala is admired and then ceremonially destroyed—swept away to symbolize the transitory and impermanent nature of material life.

Just like a model railroad.

A sand mandala.

In my case, the ceremony, such as it was, was a quiet final run on the layout (after having some friends over for a final time).

And then the dismantling began.

As I wrote back then, and am living now, a model railroad will not last forever. That includes the M & M Sub., which looks so permanent.

But with time, and taking out a lot of screws, it will be gone.

And that, not to sound all eastern and mystical, is the way of all life, and of all model railroads.

And even though I knew the M & M Sub. would one day end up as a pile of lumber on the floor, I wasn’t deterred.

Like monks making a sand mandala, I happily and carefully laid track, ballasted, planted trees, erected buildings and so many other things that gave me joy and a sense of accomplishment.

And now, the layout will soon be completely gone. I will mourn its loss. But I will also remember the times spent building it, and running trains.

And learning anew a lesson or two about the transitory nature of life.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

New Home for Former Virginia Central (ex-CPR) 4-6-2 Locomotives: Winnipeg!

In 2015 I reported that two former CPR G5 4-6-2s, belonging to the defunct Virginia Central, had made their way to Winnipeg.

At the time, the future of the units was uncertain. Now I can report that they have been purchased by Manitoba’s Vintage Locomotive Society, which runs the popular Prairie Dog Central steam excursion train.

The two units, numbered 1238 (built in 1946) and 1286 (built in 1948), spent over 40 years in Virginia before coming back home to Canada.

On their way to Winnipeg. Jeff Keddy photo.

They were part of Jack Showalter’s Virginia Central tourist railroad in Covington, Va., from the 1970s to 1990s.

After Showalter’s death in 2014, the locomotives were purchased by an anonymous buyer from Alberta.

They made their way to Winnipeg on the CPR's Emerson Sub. for storage at the Prairie Dog Central.

Being unloaded in Winnipeg. Morgan Turney photo.

And there they sat for the longest time, with no news about their disposition.

But now I’ve learned the Vintage Locomotive Society bought the units back in 2017.

According to Paul Newsome, General Manager of the Vintage Locomotive Society, there are no firm plans for the units at this time.

The reason for that, he says, is “because as a practical matter it is not yet possible to work on them the way we had to for seven years when we rebuilt No. 3.” (The Society’s vintage 4-4-0 unit.)

Also, he says, “there are a few other matters that we need to deal with before we make any firm decisions.”

I asked Paul what would need to be done to bring the two locomotives back up to running condition.

“The engines were put away running and were well maintained in storage,” he says.

“However, there would still be a fair bit of work to fully inspect them and renew whatever parts need renewing. Most definitely they would be completely re-tubed. Beyond that, though, a thorough inspection would reveal what work would need to be done.”

In other words, stay tuned! Maybe one day you can come to Winnipeg and ride behind a restored CPR 4-6-2.

Monday, July 22, 2019

End of the Line for the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

It’s the end of the line for the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

Not this blog; I hope to keep it going for awhile yet! I’m talking about the layout which the blog is based on.

In a year or two, we expect to move to a smaller place. The kids are grown up and moved out, and we don’t need such a large house. (As nice as it is.)

So rather than rush to tear down the layout, I’m taking my time this summer to take it apart.

I hope to leave up a section of the upper level along two walls to build a small industrial shelf layout; got to have something to work on!

This isn’t the first time I’ve dismantled a layout; I did it in 1994 in our previous house, when I tool down my 12 x 18 CP Rail Grimm Valley Sub.

(Interestingly, as the photo above shows, it was almost 25 years ago to the week that my first layout had its last run.)

And in 2010 I tore down the three-level centre peninsula of my current layout, a several-year process to create a single level portion in the middle of the room.

But now, after 25 years, the whole layout is disappearing. It’s sad, but it’s also time.

Before . . . 

During . .  . 

Truth is, I’ve been spending less and less time in the layout room of late. I always enjoyed running trains from time to time. But those times had become less frequent.

So I’ve been preparing myself psychologically for this day for a number of months. Doesn’t make it any easier, but it helps with the resolve.

In preparation for the tear-down, I had some friends over for a last time. Then, on July 19, I did a final run—just me and my memories as I watched a train traverse the layout for the last time.

Then, a day later, the dismantling began.

Over the next few posts, I’ll talk a bit about what it’s like to dismantle a layout, and what the layout has meant to me.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos of the last run.