Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Installing a FRED in a Well Car

The FRED in action on the CP Rail M & M Sub.
Since I model the mid-1990s, I can’t have cabooses at the end of trains. In the era I model, the last car in a train carries a Flashing Rear End Device, or FRED.

A FRED relays information to the locomotive about things like air brake pressure. It also carries a flashing red light to let other trains know there is a train up ahead.

I don’t have FREDs on all of my trains. This is because the consists of the trains change from session to session—I can’t always have the same FRED-equipped car at the end of every train. But that’s not the case for my doublestack train, which never varies. For that train, I installed a FRED in one car that always brings up the rear.

My FRED came from Circuitron. It is a completely self-contained unit, with battery and on-off switch.

Installing the FRED in a well car is dead easy—no drilling required. The double-sided tape makes it easy to affix to the bottom. The hardest thing was cutting a hole in the bottom of one container to cover up the FRED. And even that wasn’t difficult—a few holes made with a drill, followed by an X-acto blade, did the job.

To activate the FRED, I simply lift off the container and press the on-off switch—the process is the same to turn it off.

Now when the doublestack train rolls across the layout, it looks like it belongs in the mid-1990s.

You can see the doublestack train in action on the CP Rail Manitoba and Minnesota Sub. on YouTube, and see a bit of the FRED in action, at

A photo showing how easy it is
to install a FRED in a well car.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Railfanning in Southwest Pennsylvania, Part I

They make railfans feel welcome along
the Norfolk Southern Pittsburgh Division.

In mid-September, this prairie boy got to go railfanning in southwest Pennsylvania--Horseshoe Curve, to be precise, along with places like Altoona and the Galliztin Tunnels.

A few observations: First, when you come from the prairies, where you can see trains for miles, it's a bit of a suprise to be able to see only a short bit of track while you are waiting for a train. No lights in the distance to let you know a train is coming--it just appears from around a curve.

Second, the communities in that area along the Norfolk Southern Pittsburgh Division sure know how to reach out to railfans! They've created a railfan trail, with well-marked signs, to help you drive from one place to another. That, plus building comfortable overlooks and places to watch trains, makes it a very enjoyable experience.

Last, the trains are very accessible. You can easily get close for some great train-watching and photography without ever leaving public property. The tracks run right through towns, or alongside main roads.

The day I went was supposed to be fine, but it turned out to be overcast and rainy. This made photography harder but, then again, I'm not a great photographer, so who am I trying to kid? Below find a few photos from the trip; a photo diary of the Norfolk Southern portion of my visit can be found on YouTube at

A Norfolk Southern train traverses
Horseshoe Curve.

A freight train exits Altoona.

About to pass under the overlook at Cassandra.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Unique Locomotives on the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision

Modelling the mid-1990s gives me a chance to model a varied assortment of power on the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision. This includes three unique units of U.S. ancestry that found their way to CP Rail.

First up is SD40-2 5417, (ex-KCS 672) which was acquired by the railway in 1992. To make it, I followed the example of the prototype. I bought a KCS unit (Athearn blue box), and proceeded to remove the KCS lettering and numbers.

I then masked the area below the cab windows and gave it a patch of primer, after which I added the numbers. CP Rail lettering was also applied to the body. Photos of the prototype can be found at

Next up is SD40-2 5422 (ex-MP 3164, ex-UP 4164). Once again, I followed the prototype by purchasing an Union Pacific unit (once again, an Athearn blue box).

I removed the Union Pacific lettering and numbers and replaced it with CP Rail lettering and numbers. Photos of the prototype can be found at

Finally, we have SD40-2 5480. This unit was built as Southern 3249 in 1975, then became NS 3249, then GATX 3249 before being sold to CP Rail in 1992. In this case, I didn't do any of the work on this unit.

I bought it from friend Marty Weeks, who added the high nose to the unit; it was painted and decaled by another model railroad friend, David Enns. Prototype photos can be found at

I'm nothing special when it comes to modelling. But having these three units on the roster adds a bit of variety to the layout, and often prompts visitors to ask whether there really was a prototype. Plus, they were fun to make.