Thursday, December 31, 2015

Coming Up on 1 Million Views



















It's in the home stretch now; earlier this week the blog passed 990,000 views. By early to mid-January, it should hit the 1 million mark.

One million! I never would have believed it when I started the blog back in 2009. I created it just for me, as an outlet for my interest in writing and a bit of photography. 

If nobody visited, no problem; I would still have fun.

I started by writing about my layout, but along the way I branched out into the prototype and various other train-related things.

One of the most satisfying has been the Great Canadian Layouts series. I've enjoyed highlighting some of the great modelling of Canadian railways being done by people across Canada and around the world.

The deaths of several modelling friends got me thinking about death and model railroading, leading to another interesting series of posts titled Death and the Model Railroader. I don't know of anyone else writing on that topic!

I also enjoyed writing about photography, and the philosophy behind it; about tips and tricks and, of course, about the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. itself.

And it's been great to follow along with the start and success of Rapido Trains, and to see all the great new Canadian products come out from other manufacturers.

It was also a pleasure to be associated with Canadian Railway Modeller, and to witness its positive impact on the hobby in Canada.

How long will I keep up with the blog? Good question. The fact it has gone on this long is already unusual; the majority of blogs die after a few months when people tire of writing for them.

I'll keep doing it as long as it's still fun. The nice thing about the blog is that there are no deadlines, no expectations, no rules to keep. It's sort of like a layout, in that regard.

Anyway, I'll keep watching the counter until that magic number rolls around. Thanks to all who helped the blog reach it.

Photo above: VIA's The Canadian somewhere in northern Ontario in 1981. My wife and I rode this train home to Winnipeg from Toronto following our after-wedding in my home town of St. Catharines. 


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Stafford Swain's CNR Whiteshell Subdivision Re-Visited



















I’ve been thinking about Stafford Swain recently.

Stafford, who has been ill for some time, was one of Canada’s premier model railroaders. His layout, the CNR Whiteshell Subdivision, was a test-bed for many of the modeling ideas and practices we take for granted today.















A Master Model Railroader and expert on CNR steam, Stafford was a friend and mentor. Through his efforts, he helped me see how high the bar could be for accuracy and fidelity in model railroading—even if I could never reach it.















Stafford’s attention to detail was not limited to trains; he brought the same high standards to buildings, trackwork and scenery on his transition-era HO scale layout.

He was one of the first modelers to pay as much attention to the geology of the area his trains ran through as to the trains themselves. It showed on his layout, which featured Canada's iconic Canadian Shield.  















Best of all, Stafford loved to share what he discovered; altogether, he published over 80 articles in every major model railroad magazine.















Those of us today who appreciate accurate and prototypical models of rolling stock or locomotives have him to thank.















As for the layout itself, Stafford started it in 1975. He set the 12 by 30 foot layout in June, 1955; it featured a line from Winnipeg into northeastern Manitoba's Canadian Shield area.

Today, many of the concepts employed by Stafford on the layout seem ordinary—walkaround control, hidden staging, lighting effects, fidelity to the prototype, highly-detailed scenery, fascia, dispatcher’s panel in another room, tracks passing through a single scene. 

In 1975, however, they weren’t so common. Stafford was among the first to pomote these advances in the hobby.















In addition to creating the layout, Stafford helped found the CN Lines SIG, served as a president of both the Winnipeg Model Railroad club and the NMRA Thousand Lakes Region.

He also chaired the committee that brought the NMRA national convention to  Winnipeg in 1983 —a convention that, in many ways, set the standard for others that followed.















"I’ve had so much fun, enjoyed so much goodwill, and developed so many good friendships through the hobby,” he told me in 2010. 

"I’m proud of my accomplishments in model railroading, but also glad that I have been able to contribute to its advancement.”















Due to ill health, Stafford had to move and dismantle the layout five years ago. I was able to visit him prior to the move, and took many of the photos on this page. 

Others were taken by Paul Ulrich that same year during Steam on the Prairies, the 2010 NMRA Thousand Lakes Region convention.















I posted an article of tributes to Stafford from people across North America in 2010. By now, it is so far down in this blog that few could find it.















For this reason, I thought I’d re-post my photos of Stafford’s layout, together with some others by Paul, so many more could appreciate Stafford’s artistry. You can read those tributes by clicking here. 

You can see more of Paul’s photos by clicking here. 



























Stafford (l), with Canadian Railway Modleller
editor Morgan Turney in 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Club Night at the WMRC


Morgan Turney demonstrates making trees.


















How many model railroad clubs are still running today?

What with so many service clubs, churches and other groups seeing declining membership, plus the challenge of finding or keeping space for a layout, I wonder how model railroad clubs are doing.

The Winnipeg Model Railroad Club (WMRC) is soldiering on. Now in its 60th year, the Club continues to meet monthly.

Aaron Woloshyn shows how to make wood hydro poles.















Unlike many other clubs, the WMRC doesn't have a layout. Never has, in fact. (Which is why, some long-timers joke, the Club has managed to stay together for so long--fewer fights!)

Monthly meetings often feature a presentation or two about the prototype or some aspect of the hobby, plus a time for socializing over coffee and a 50-50 draw.

Like many other organizations, the WMRC has seen its membership decline. That's no knock on the leadership; it's just the way things are today. And with the Internet, there's no need to go to meetings regularly to get answers to pressing hobby-related questions.

Ian Plett shows how to install decoders.















Even the library, which once was one of the most important selling points for Club membership, isn't as compelling as it once was. If you want to know how to do DCC wiring or lay track, just Google it.

But there's still something about hanging out with real human beings and having a conversation. And that is what the WMRC continues to offer.

Ron Einarson shows how to
 model with wood.




















I must confess that, after over 20 years of dedicated participation, my own attendance has slacked off of late. But I went to the most recent meeting and took these photos. It was the annual Klinic Karnival, where members demonstrate hobby techniques.

So here's to the the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club, and to all the other clubs that are still going. May you have many more years of meetings and success.

Frederik and Gerrit Braun, owners and creators of
Hamburg's Miniatur Wunderland, model WMRC 60th
anniversary T-shirts.







Monday, December 14, 2015

Update From Bowser about the SD40-2, Red Barn, M636 & RS-3



















I got the following message from Lee English of Bowser today about the new SD40-2s (and other units).

"The SD40-2s have shipped to us. They should arrive in Montoursville about 1-15-2016."

"I do not have any other news on the SD40-2F yet. It is still in the works but going slowly."

"On the M636, we are running the plastic parts now. We have most done and with the body and deck to go. I just bought another Roboshot injection molding machine so I can keep up with production."

"The RS-3 is coming along slowly. I have the chassis, trucks and a couple of fuel tanks about 90% done. The PGE, CP chop nose and the phase 3 are well along on the body. 

"I have changed my mind and will make the tooling for the RS-3 here in PA.This allows the mold to use a lot of inserts instead of making new sides for every variation."

"I am looking at the SD30 eco too. I am looking for a real one to measure. I will also will need a lot of original photos."

"Non Canadian project: The Alco C415 is 95% designed. It will go to tooling soon."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

2015 Canadian Pacific Holiday Train



















For the 17th year, the CPR Holiday Trains are making their way across Canada and the U.S. northeast and mid-west.














The trains started their journey in late November. The Canadian train ends its run Dec. 19 in B.C. The American train also ends its run in Canada, in Alberta on Dec. 18.

Along the way, both brightly-lit trains feature free concerts and accept donations for local food banks.














A great video of this train was made by Dave Hansen when the train was in the Hamilton, Ont. area on Dec. 1. Click here to view it.

Click here to view the schedule, and for more information.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Gloves are Off in CP's Battle for Norfolk Southern
















From Canadian Press.
Canadian Pacific Railway has dropped the gloves in its battle to acquire Norfolk Southern after the U.S. railway immediately rejected a revised takeover offer.
The Calgary-based company enlisted the help of activist U.S. investor Bill Ackman to challenge the qualifications of Norfolk Southern CEO James Squires and opened the door to launching a hostile bid if the board of the Virginia company continues to oppose negotiations.
"We are going to work and do everything at our disposal to get this to the shareholders and get a resolution to it," Canadian Pacific chief executive Hunter Harrison said Tuesday during a conference call. "If that calls for a proxy, so be it."
Read more at CTV News.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

President's Choice Train Sets Re-Visited












It's always interesting to check the stats for this blog to see what posts are of interest to readers. For the past month, one of the most popular posts has been the one from 2012 about President's Choice train sets.

For those of you who don't know about them, the President's Choice train sets were the brainchild of Boris Polakow, Vice President of Canadian Sales Development for Loblaws (owner of Real Canadian Superstore). 

In 1992, he decided it was time for a quality, affordable train set for kids for Christmas. His colleagues at Loblaws weren’t so sure, but Polakow proved them wrong. 

That first run of 10,000 President’s Choice/PC Express train sets sold out within days of being released before Christmas. It started a tradition that lasted until 2006.

Maybe all the recent interest in the sets is because it is Christmas; maybe people are looking for these classic train sets for kids, or maybe for themselves since the sets are now collectibles.

Whatever the reason, if you are interested in these unique Canadian train sets, click here to read more. 


Friday, December 4, 2015

Rejected: Update on Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern Proposed Merger









Norfolk Southern has rejected Canadian Pacific’s $28-billion takeover offer, saying that it is “grossly inadequate, creates substantial regulatory risks and uncertainties that are highly unlikely to be overcome, and is not in the best interest of the company and its shareholders."
The notice of rejection went on to say that “we believe that Canadian Pacific’s short-term, cut-to-the-bone strategy could cause Norfolk Southern to lose substantial revenues from our service-sensitive customer base,” and will “risks harm to vital transportation infrastructure and the communities we serve.”
Harrison replied that CP would now need to increase its offer to win Norfolk Southern’s consent. 
Of course, this is probably all negotiating bluster: Never accept the first offer, and all that. We'll see how it plays out.

Click here for my Q & A on the proposed merger.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Open House for Our Home & Miniature Land

















Our Home & Miniature Land, the new interactive model railroad exhibit in Mississauga, Ontario, held its open house in October.













The brainchild of Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer, the exhibit will showcase Canada from coast-to-coast.

When completed in 2017 (Canada’s 150th anniversary), it will feature 20 exhibits, tied together by HO scale railway tracks.














Right now, the builders are working on the Ontario sections (Toronto and Hamilton). This includes a scale replica of the CN Tower that is three metres (nine feet) high, an exact model of the Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play), Toronto’s Union Station, the Air Canada Centre (where the Leafs play), and the Toronto downtown.











The goal of Our Home & Miniature Land is to help visitors explore, experience and learn about Canadian life, geography, history and industry.

A few facts and figures:

* 370 square metres (4,000 square feet) of floor space
* 1,460 metres (4,790 feet) of track
* 385 turnouts
* 3 helixes
* 30,000 hours of labour to date
* 10,000 individual figures for ACC and Rogers Centre

Read my previous post about Our Home and Miniature Land. And thanks to Model Railroad Info Guy for some of the photos.

































Monday, November 30, 2015

Q & A on Canadian Pacific's Bid for Norfolk Southern
















The CPR made the news in November when it made an offer to buy Norfolk Southern. I’ve taken a look at various articles and analysis of the proposed merger/takeover; find a few questions and answers below.

What would a merger mean for the two railways?

A merger of the CPR and NS would mean the creation of a second transcontinental railway in North America (CN is the other one). The system would run from Canada’s west coast to the U.S. east coast, and also down to the Gulf coast.

Why does the CPR want to merge with NS?

It could simply be a vanity project for Hunter Harrison, his ambition to create a trans-continental railway. After all, he tried to buy CSX in 2014, but was rebuffed.

CP argues that customers would benefit from a seamless system; among other things, the CPR is notes that a merger of the two railway would mean cars would no longer need to be exchanged in Chicago, thereby speeding up transit times.

There’s also the question of cash—NS owns a lot of expensive real estate that the new railway could sell to recoup its investment. 

Said Harrison: “I think we’ll be able, like we did at CP, to take some of their yards that are probably not needed in my view, and convert them to maybe real estate and generate huge cash flow—huge –without having a negative impact on the railroad. It’s gravy. It could be a lot. That’s why I’m excited.” 

That would be on top of an estimated $1.8 billion in operational savings, he said.

This is the same strategy he pursued at CPR after becoming CEO in 2012, closing unneeded rail yards and intermodal terminals, and unveiling plans to sell about $1 billion of real estate.

He might also sell off some of the lines that NS owns. “They probably have got the best mile-for-mile physical plant in the U.S., but I think they’ve got too much of it,” he said.



How much is the CPR offering NS to merge?

$28 billion.

Does NS want to merge?

NS has been publicly cool to the idea, branding the offer “unsolicited, low-premium, non-binding and highly conditional.”

How many miles of track are involved?

NS has 20,000 miles in 22 eastern states. The CPR has 13,700 miles in Canada, and in the U.S. Midwest and northeast.


                                                                                
Why would NS shareholders want to merge with the CPR?

Since joining the CPR, Harrison has led a turnaround that transformed one of the North American industry’s least-efficient operators into one of its leanest carriers. NS, on the other hand, is one of the least-efficient major carriers as measured by operating ratio.

“We see no reason why we can’t do there what we’ve done at CP,” said Harrison. “It may be even easier. They have a better infrastructure than we do. They have always been well respected for having a wonderful physical plant. Some of us have teased them about being gold-plated.”

What are the hurdles?

For starters, NS has to want to do it. But it would also need the approval of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board or STB, which has been cool to the idea of railway mergers in the past. 

The last time a major one was proposed, in 1999, between CP's main rival Canadian National and BNSF, the STB blocked the move and implemented a temporary moratorium on all future Class I railroad mergers.














If the merger is successful, what might it mean for the CPR in Canada?

Some are speculating that it could mean a move of the corporate headquarters from Calgary to somewhere in the U.S. Harrison has denied this speculation.

For additional information, click here for a perspective from the CBC. For a perspective from the Globe and Mail, click here.



Friday, November 27, 2015

Update on Chris Plue's Rapido Route




















It was back in early 2014 that I first posted about Chris Plue's amazing Rapido Route.

The layout--his first--is based on Chris’ memories of taking the train from Toronto to Montreal and Quebec City as a child. 

From that he developed an interest in urban scenery, CN and VIA Rail. The Rapido Route is the result.













Since it’s been awhile, I asked Chris for an update and some new photos. Here’s his reply.

“There haven't been too many stark changes to speak of. . . . yet (more on that in a minute). 

“I did scratch-build a new overpass that I had been wanting to do for some time, and positioned it in place where the girder-style overpass existed before. That bridge ended up being moved further down towards the maintenance shop area of the layout.












“I think that the new overpass adds to the 'feel' of the metropolitan area of the layout as it just seems to fit in better than the girder style did.

“Some of the backdrop areas were changed as well. I added some backdrop images that Bill Brown from LARC Products did up for me, and I have been really happy with the depth and look that the images have added.
















“The foreground structures closest to Union Station were changed around as I built a new pedestrian walkway bridge that extends from the foreground shopping centre, over the tracks at Union Station, and into the hotel on the other side. 

"I'm also pretty happy with the newer 'grittier' look to things as well.












“One thing that is in the planning stages right now is a revamp of the trackplan. 

"Although the current track configuration is okay, it does have its flaws and I have really come to learn that hard lesson after a year or so of running trains. As a result, a new trackplan is in the works that will be quite the project in the making.









“This will mean that the layout is going to get approximately 15 more feet added to its current size. This will provide a more smooth operating layout, with the ability to run more trains at one time.

“I plan on using Fast Tracks to build handlaid turnouts for the new layout, and continue to use the PECO Code 83 flextrack for the mainline runs.














“One lesson I have learned (albeit through some frustration with turnouts and stalls) is that I'm really going to take my sweet time in ensuring that the trackwork in the new plan is nothing short of bulletproof.

"Everything from proper easements, superelevations, and smooth turnout transitions is something that I have learned a lot about (and am still learning about), so the new plan will be done right.













“The city scenes won't change all that much, save for a few areas, but that will be something that I will evaluate later on after the trackwork is down. 

"I'm hoping to start construction (again) in the spring and have the trackwork completed within a year—which I think is very achievable. From there, the Rapido Route will take on a different look with better operations and more staging.”












Chris has also created a video tour of the Rapido Route. Click here to view it.