Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ghost Train of St. Louis, Saskatchewan

Just in time for Halloween: The Ghost Train of St. Louis, Sask.

St. Louis is located 122 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. The legend of the Ghost Train dates back to the 1920s, when a brakeman either fell on the tracks, or was searching underneath a railway car, when the train moved and he was decapitated.

According to the legend, ever since that tragic event the poor brakeman has wandered the track every night with his lantern looking for his lost head, or the train has come down the line looking for the brakeman's body.

Either way, people claim that the light of that lantern or the train can still be seen—even though the tracks were pulled up in 1983.

Those who have seen the light say it moves up and down along the old abandoned rail line, changing colours and varying in brightness.

Les Rancourt, Mayor of St. Louis, is one of them. 

"It basically looks like a street light from a distance that's a little brighter and gets a little dimmer," he told the Western Producer. "There's a little red light that's sometimes seen on either side of it."

The Ghost Train has also been featured on TV's Unsolved Mysteries, and on a Canadian stamp.

While the legend of a headless brakeman or ghost train is more fun, especially around Halloween, skeptics say the light is nothing more than headlights from passing cars some distance away. 

Even though the tracks no longer run through St. Louis, it seems that a train still  does—the Ghost Train, that is.

The village of St. Louis with the
abandoned railway bridge.

More information about the Ghost Train here (with photos and video of the lights), here and here.

The abandoned rail bed in daylight.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nov. 1 Hamilton, Ont. & District Layout Tour

If you live in southern Ontario, you may want to take in the 14th annual Hamilton & District Layout Tour on Nov. 1.

Cost of the tour of local layouts is $5; guide books are available at the following local hobby shops: Dundas Valley (Dundas), Modellers’ Choice (Hamilton), Just Train Crazy (Beamsville), Credit Valley (Mississauga), Paris Junction (Paris), Broughdale Hobby (London), and Otter Valley Railroad (Aylmer).

A total of 17 layouts will be on display in Burlington, Caledonia, Beamsville and Hamilton. Included are the HOMES and Burlington club layouts, in addition to the home layouts.

More information on the HOMES club website. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Great Canadian Layout: A Last Look at the Cougar River Subdivision

While writing about the Oct. 14 death of my brother-in-law, Ken Epp, and his layout--the cougar River Sub.--I realized that I hadn't ever actually created a post of photos about the layout. Until now, that is; enjoy a tour of the layout, which existed from the mid-1980s until 2009.

The Cougar River Sub. (named after Ken’s cat) was one of the largest layouts in Winnipeg. Started in the mid-1980s, it grew from a single level layout in the back part of Ken’s basement to become a four-level layout that encircled his entire basement.

Ken never intended to build a huge layout. “I just started and it grew,” he told me.

Scenically, the layout featured mountain, prairie and Canadian Shield scenes, including a concrete snow shed inspired by the Skoonka Tunnels in the Thompson River Canyon. It featured trains from both CN and CP Rail, with classic CPR maroon and grey running beside CN white, orange and black.

The mainline was over 500 feet long, and train lengths were 25-30 cars. Four trains could be run at a time on the DC-controlled layout; it took about 25 minutes for a train to run unimpeded between the lower and upper staging yards. 

The lower and upper staging yards and two middle
levels are visible in this scene.

And by upper level staging, I mean upper—the staging yard was suspended about a foot below the ceiling joists in the furnace and laundry room area.

All four levels are in view here, including the
upper level staging just below the ceiling.

All train movements were controlled by a dispatcher, who was located in a small specially-built room that featured a seat from a real CN SD40-2; 40 operating signals and radios helped operators move their trains along the line.

Ken was a musician, so naturally the
layout had to have a bandstand.

The Cougar River Sub. was a great canadian model railroad. It is is gone now, and so is its maker. But both can live on on this blog. And you can find links to videos of the Cougar River Sub. here.

The layout circled the rec. room on two levels.

Another view of the rec. room scenes.

It also went through his son's bedroom.

Ken loved the Thompson River Canyon, and
modelled the Skoonka Tunnels.

Not too many layouts feature a baseball diamond.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

CPR-CSX Merger Talks Off

The CPR-CSX merger talks are officially off.

CPR CEO Hunter Harrison confirmed that discussions between the two railways have ended.

Even though the CPR failed in its bid to merge with CSX, it continues to be interested in merging with another railway. KCS has been cited as a potential partner, or maybe Norfolk Southern. And the CPR itself might be open to being taken over by one of the other large railways, Harrison said.

Whatever happens to the CPR, Harrison believes that that the North American railway industry needs to find ways to address the growing gridlock caused by rising freight volumes--especially oil.

More information about the CPR-CSX failed merger, and other news related to the CPR, can be found in the Globe and Mail here and here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Death and the Model Railroader IX: Commemorative Cars

One way I remember model railroad friends who have died is by making patched cars.

The cars--all covered hoppers, so far--carry their initials, age at death and the year of their passing.

I just made the newest addition to my commemorative fleet. It's one that I wished I didn't have to make. It recalls my brother-in-law, Ken Epp, who passed away Oct. 14, 2014. 

The car is lettered with the initials of his name: Kenneth John Epp. Its number is 5914.

It joins the car I made for David R. Dyck, the other member of our model railroad trio. Its number is 7104.

I also made a car for my dad. He wasn't a model railroader, but he helped me get started in the hobby. For that, I am grateful.

I have no desire to add more patched commemorative cars to the layout, though. As the Sargeant said at the beginning of each episode of Hill St. Blues: "Let's be careful out there."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Death and the Model Railroader VIII: R.I.P. Ken Epp and the Cougar River Subdivision

Ken in the cab of a CPR unit at Portage la Prairie, Man.

Nothing lasts forever—not model railroads, or the people who built them.

In 2009, my brother-in-law, Ken Epp dismantled his HO scale Cougar River Subdivision, due to a planned move to a condo. On Oct. 14, Ken passed away, due to cancer.

The Cougar River Sub. was one of the largest layouts in Winnipeg—maybe the largest at that time. Ken hosted many open houses, and the layout was open for several conventions. It was also featured on local and national TV.

A scene from the Cougar River Sub.

Together, we also organized the annual Winnipeg Model Railroad Club's annual train show, starting in the early 1990s. Our first show was in our church's  basement; thereafter, it was held at a local high school. I worked with Ken on the show until about five years ago, and he let it go three years ago.

Before Ken died, I had a chance to talk with him about his interest in trains. I asked him where that interest came from.

One of Ken's favorite places wa the Skoonka tunnels in
B.C.'s Thompson River Canyon. He modelled it on the
Cougar River Sub.

“Maybe it started when I was a child," he said. "I remember standing up in my crib in Coldwater, Ont. when the 12:30 mail train came along. But how does it grow and take hold? I don’t know. My love for trains just grew somehow.”

Ken never intended to build a huge layout. “I just started and it grew.” Taking it down wasn’t easy. “I took it down slowly, in pieces. It took me three years to tear down the canyon scene.”

Taking down the layout was similar to how Ken approached the end of his life. “Nothing is permanent, including me,” he said. “That is reality of life.”

Ken and me in my layout room, two weeks
before he died.

Looking back, Ken fondly recalled his many train trips on VIA and Amtrak—over 180,000 miles by train in all. (Yes, he kept a record of each and every one.)

His many times taking the train made him a bit of an informal expert, and he frequently found himself telling other passengers about the terrain they were riding through or providing information about railroading in Canada.

His favorite place: In the dome car on
The Canadian.

Ken’s favorite place to ride a train was in the dome car of The Canadian.

“I have to say that sitting in the dome car at night as the train goes across the Canadian Shield, watching the signals get knocked down, seeing the northern lights and the snow on the trees—I don’t know if what heaven is like, but for me, that’s heaven,” he said.

As for me, I was lucky to have a model railroader for a brother-in-law. In fact, my wife joked that I only married her because her brother liked trains. It wasn't true; we only discovered our mutual interest after the wedding. But it was a most fortunate discovery, and we spent many happy hours trackside or working on each other's layouts.

Of his layout itself, it featured at 530-foot loop-to-loop three-level mainline that travelled through the rec room, spare bedroom, small office space, washroom and other basement areas.

Another view of the Skoonka tunnels.

Scenically, the layout featured mountain, prairie and Canadian shield scenes, including a concrete snow shed from the Thompson River Canyon.

In terms of era and railway, it featured both CN and CP Rail, with classic CPR maroon and grey running beside CN white, orange and black.

Train lengths were 25-30 cars, and four trains could be run at a time. It took about 25 minutes for a train to run between the lower and upper staging yards.

All train movements were controlled by a dispatcher, who was located in a small specially-built room that featured a seat from a real CN SD40-2; 40 operating signals and radios helped operators move their trains along the line.

In 2004 another friend, David R. Dyck, succumbed to cancer. Ken, Dave and I were church and model railroad friends, and took some railfan trips together. After Dave learned that his cancer was terminal, we took one last railfan trip; the photo below is from that trip. Now both Dave and Ken are gone.

To remember them, I have made special commemorative patched cars carrying their initials, age and date of death.

Rest in Peace, Ken. It's hard to believe you aren't with us any longer.

Find links to videos of the Cougar River Sub. here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

CSX and CPR Merger?

If CSX and the CPR merged, what would it be called? CPSX? CPCSX? CSCPX?

It's fun to speculate, but we may never have to deal with a new name. According to the Wall Street Journal, CSX rebuffed the CPR last week when it made an approach about a merger.

The reason behind the merger talk is that both railways are under pressure to cope with traffic backlogs created by surging shipments of oil from the Bakken region of North Dakota.

No reason was given for why CSX said no, or if the CPR will try again. If the merger occurred, it would create a new transcontinental railway, reaching from the U.S. east coast to the Pacific ocean in B.C.
Of course, just because the media says CSX turned the offer down, that doesn't mean something might not be happening. 
Canadian Pacific is the second-largest rail shipper of Bakken crude after BNSF Railway Co. According to sources, it has been seeking to partner with a railway that can extend its reach from the West to deliver the crude to eastern-based refineries.
More than one million barrels of crude are shipped daily on the rails from the Bakken region.
Read more about the merger talks in the Globe and Mail.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

VIA Rail and CP Rail Team Up To Pull Freight on the M & M Sub.

What--a VIA Rail FP40PH-2D pulling freight on CP Rail? Yes, and not just on my layout. In 1994-95 (the years I model), CP Rail leased a number of VIA units to haul freight trains. 

(See the John Reay photo of a leased VIA Rail unit leading a CP Rail eastbound at Newtonville, Ontario on for proof.)

So I thought I'd replicate that on the M & M Sub., using a couple of Athearn GP-38 units and a Spectrum unit. (Sorry, Jason; no Rapido Trains FP40PH-2 on my layout. At least, not yet.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone, er, Model Railroader

(I took this photo back in July at a book store in Montreal. I meant to post it earlier. Better late than never, I suppose.)

It's not like being on the cover of the Rolling Stone, something finally achieved by the group Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show back in 1973.(After sarcastically begging for it in a song of the same name.)

But I did get on the cover of Model Railroader this past August. Well, a line about the article I wrote made it to the cover, at least. There it is, at the bottom: "Use tree bark to model rock walls."

Who cares about the Rolling Stone if you can be on the cover of one of North America's leading model railroad magazines?

Read about how I use tree bark for rocks here. 

Addendum: In the article, I noted how I don't use tree bark with moss on it, and how I put the bark in the freezer to kill any bugs that might come alone for the ride. A couple of letter writers in the September issue of Model Railroader said that the best way to kill bugs is with heat. They may be right, but after 15 years or so I have never had any trouble with bugs of any kind.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

20th Anniversary of the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision

October, 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision.

It was 1994 when we moved into our present house. The layout didn't start that month, of course. But the groundwork was laid for its creation as I began to doodle trackplans for the new space.

Before any benchwork was built, the room was painted sky blue, and a wall was taken out. Construction started late in 1994. By September, 1995, the lower level was completed and the first train was running.

Over the past 20 years, the layout has undergone changes. The triple deck in the middle of the room is gone, replaced by a single level. (See Before and After and  Going, going, gone.)

A fun fact: The layout is set in the early 1990s, with a cut-off date of 1995. In other words, when I started I was modelling the contemporary scene. Now I am modelling history, or what used to be!

At 20 years, it's one of the older layouts in the city, but not the oldest. The oldest two layouts were started in 1968; compared to them, the CP Rail M & M Sub. is a youngster. But at a time when people are so mobile, and things don't last very long, it's still a fair achievement.

And it's feels good to know that many others have been able to enjoy the layout through this blog. There have been over 23,000 views of my post that gives an overview of the layout--by far the most views of any post on the blog.

I've also been able to share it via magazines. The layout, or parts of it, have appeared in Railroad Model Craftsman twice, in Model Railroader once, and a couple of times in Canadian Railway Modeller.

It's been a good run. The layout has given me focus, escape from the pressures of daily and work life, and something to share with friends in Winnipeg--and across Canada and around the world through this blog.

So--happy anniversary to the CP Rail M & M Sub.!