Sunday, January 31, 2016

Train-Watching at the Third St. Bridge

I had some time the other day, so drove over to the Third St. bridge to see if there was any action in the For Frances yard on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

Lucky for me, there was; a little, anyway.

No mainline action, but the yard switcher was on its way back from the Peace River paper mill, and another unit was making a few yard moves.

There's an old saying that time spent fishing is better than time spent working. I think the same can be said of train watching.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

More on the Proposed CP-Norfolk Southern Merger: CP Touts Benefits of By-Passing Chicago

Canadian Pacific hasn’t given up hope of merging with Norfolk Southern. In January it issued a white paper outlining the reasons why it still thinks it’s a good idea.

The white paper, titled "The Opportunity to Alleviate Congestion in Chicago," was sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In it the railway argues that its proposed merger with NS will alleviate congestion in the key rail hub of Chicago, "where gridlock in the winter of 2013-14 hobbled the industry for months and threatened to hinder the U.S. economic recovery."

According to the paper, a CP-NS merger would reduce congestion and create capacity in Chicago by providing options to shift traffic to alternative routings, which would also serve to relieve pressure across the network.

It would also make operational improvements by moving interchanges now in Chicago to underutilized hubs outside the city.

The paper notes that Chicago is the most critical freight hub within North America's rail system, with about 25 percent of all U.S. rail freight traffic travelling through the city.

“Today, this hub is a chokepoint for rail freight and passenger traffic as capacity in the region is constrained,” the paper states.

“On a good day, it takes a train on average 30 hours to get through Chicago, about the same amount of time it takes the same train to travel from Chicago to the East Coast."

With freight volumes expected to double by 2025, “this is a problem that must be addressed now. Otherwise, the next Chicago rail crisis is inevitable."

A CP-NS combination would “provide both the flexibility to avoid Chicago and the ability to improve operations in Chicago, which will be of enormous benefit to CP and NS customers,” the paper states, and also for customers of other railroads.

The result would be “a stronger and more resilient rail network better able to avoid and recover from future service disruptions.”

Read the full white paper here.

Click here for more on the proposed merger on this blog, including a Q & A.

Photo credit: Nick Suydam. Check out his website for more great Chicago and area photos.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Twin City Railroad Museum in St. Paul Saved

The Twin City Model Railroad Museum has been saved.

The Museum, located in St. Paul, Minn., was told last year it had to leave its long-time home at Bandana Square, where it had been for 31 years.

Now it has found a new home in the city; it will remain open in its current location until Feb. 28.

“We’re really excited to continue our legacy in St. Paul,” museum spokesman Brandon Jutz said Friday.

Once word spread that the museum could close, financial support poured in; more than $70,000 was donated to help with the move.

The challenge now is moving the huge layout.

This is the second time the museum has moved since its founding in 1934. It moved from the Union Depot to Bandana Square in 1984.

More information can be found on the Museum’s website. 

Read more about the saga of the Museum's relocation. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

First Drawings of Bowser SD40-2F Red Barn

Great news on the Bowser front for Canadian modellers! First, Bowser's new SD40-2 units are shipping, and the early reviews are great.

Second, Lee English of Bowser has released the first drawings of the upcoming SD40-2F Red Barn. He gave me permission to share them on this blog.

In a note, Lee said that "the only item not shown is the three front no-window, round window and square window. I do not plan to make a front without class lights."

I can't wait until my new SD40-2s show up, and until the Red Barns are released!

Read more about the Bowser Red Barn.

Update from Bowser about the Red Barn.
Red Barn Model Variations 
Bowser Announces Red Barn!
About CP Rail's Red Barns

Sunday, January 17, 2016

One Million Views

To mark 1 million views on this blog, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the layout that inspired it, and the blog itself.

The CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. is my second layout. The first layout was the CP Rail Grimm Valley Sub., a freelance layout set in southeastern B.C.

That first layout lasted from 1988-94 in a former house. The 12 by 18 foot around-the-walls model railroad was a test-bed for the current layout.

First layout.

It’s where I made my first mistakes, and learned important things like making sure I had a long yard lead, no #4 turnouts on the mainline, no 18 inch radius curves and keeping grades to 1.5 percent.

Those things are obvious now, but they weren’t so clear to a newbie starting out in the hobby.

The current double-deck layout was started in 1994. It fills a 17 by 21 foot room, with tracks circling the room and on a centre peninsula. A helix in an adjoining storage room links the two levels.

Originally, the centre peninsula was home to three levels of the layout. A few years ago, when the layout was essentially finished, I dismantled the two of the levels in order to have something new to do. (I was bored!)

One thing that takes some people aback about the M & M Sub. is that it is still DC. (Or, as I call it, Dinosaur Control.) 

A total of four trains can be operated at one time, using rotary switches on the yardmaster and dispatcher panels to control the trains.

Four trains can be operated, but that rarely happens. I mostly operate the trains by myself, using a sequence schedule. It can take two days, two weeks or two months to run the schedule, depending on how often I run trains.

In terms of era, the layout is set in the early 1990s. This is a time when my favorite locomotive, the SD40-2, was the most common form of power. 

Setting the layout in that time period also allows me to run a variety of liveries: Multimark, no multimark, Twin Flags and various SOO Line schemes, along with various other kinds of unique paint jobs on CP Rail at that time.

(What’s startling to me, after all these years, is that when I started the layout I was modeling the current scene. Now I am modeling the past!)

Geographically, the layout is a cross between freelance and proto-lance: It is based on the real-life CN (ex-Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific) line from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay and Duluth through Fort Frances, Ontario.

Operationally, the layout is “dark”—no signals. In this, it follows the way prototype CP Rail Weyrburn Sub. in Saskatchewan (another favorite line).  

Scenically, my objective for the layout has never been realism; I’m not a good enough modeller for that! What I have sought to achieve is plausibility, using the C-P-R principle;  I’d like viewers to see the layout and think: That looks believable.

My scenery is almost exclusively made from Styrofoam, as is the upper deck itself. I find Styrofoam easy to work with, and easy to make believable landforms from.

Unlike many, I don’t use anything else for landscaping—no plaster or goop. I just paint it brown or grey and sprinkle on ground foam. It works for me!

One unique scenery technique that I haven’t seen on other layouts is using tree bark for rocks. This technique was featured in Model Railroader in 2014. 

Motive power is constantly being upgraded, but I still have a number of Athearn blue box units to go along with power from Kato, Atlas and Proto 2000. (And soon some SD40-2s from Bowser!)

Rolling stock is also all over the map, with cars from Athearn, Roundhouse/MDC, Accurail, Walthers, TLT—and Tyco, Lionel and other “toy” trains that I have upgraded and improved.

Trees are mostly made from natural weeds and plants like Sedum, Spirea and Yarrow. Ballast is a mix of grey, brown and cinders to match the type of ballast used by the prototype in this area.

The layout has been featured twice in Railroad Model Craftsman, once in Model Railroader, and in Canadian Railway Modeller.

In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube channel with layout and prototype videos. Videos on that channel have been viewed 353,189 times.

Over the past 21 years, the M & M Sub. has given me many hours of enjoyment—both in the layout room, and also through this blog.

In fact, the blog has turned out to be an extension of the hobby for me, giving me a fun and creative outlet.

Since I am by profession an editor and writer, I have also seen the blog more like a magazine than just a place for me to share my reflections and ruminations. 

And one of the more enjoyable aspects of that approach has been sharing the great modelling of others through my Great Canadian Layouts series, and also writing about the prototype.

Anyway, 1 million views is quite a milestone. I don’t know if the blog will be around for 2 million views, but so far it’s been a good experience. Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Death and the Model Railroader: R.I.P. Niagara Central Hobbies

When a hobby shop closes, it’s like losing a friend. Even if you haven’t seen that friend for a long time, you still feel the loss.

That’s the way I felt last August when I heard that Niagara Central Hobbies in St. Catharines, Ont. had gone out of business.

Founded in 1947 by the family of Ray Lounsbury and his wife, Marie, Niagara Central Hobbies—known locally simply as “the hobby shop”—was where I developed my interest in and love for model railroading.

Over its history, it had three locations. I started visiting at its second location, on St. Paul St., opened in 1954. That’s where I got my first train stuff as a kid, then later as a teenager: Tri-Ang, then HO, and finally N scale.   

I didn’t have much money as a child; our family was poor. Many times a visit to the hobby shop was just for looking and dreaming. And oh—how I dreamed!

One of my favorite things to do was to watch the trains go around on the little layout in the store. One day, I told myself, I’m going to have a layout like that.

Niagara Central moved to its final location in 1974, two years before I moved away from St. Catharines. I never lived there again. Later, when business or visits to family brought me back, I always made sure to stop at the hobby shop.

For decades, Niagara Central was one of the best train-focused hobby shops in Canada.

It was it well-stocked with locomotives and rolling stock from all scales (although the N scale section was small), and included a large brass collection. There was also a good selection of building kits and detail parts.

The trolley bar.

Best of all, a large area of the store was dedicated to used items; I purchased a lot of pre-owned rolling stock during my many visits over the years.

Staff, being model railroaders themselves, were knowledgeable and friendly (although Ray could be intimidating at times).

At one time, Niagara Central also hosted a model railroad club in an unused apartment above the store.

Why did the store close? The same reason so many others have shut their doors: The Internet. Many (most?) model railroaders today buy online. Local hobby shops simply can’t compete. (Although some say the retirement of Ray contributed to its decline.)

In 2013, I lost my Winnipeg hobby shop when Elmwood Hobby Works closed. That is still terribly sad; whenever I pass by the old store front, I feel a pang of loss.

I feel the same way about the death of Niagara Central Hobbies, even though I don't live in Ontario any more. It contained more than just trains; it also contained so many of my early model railroading memories. 

Fortunately, some of the iconic items associated with the store have been saved by the Niagara Railroad Museum. This includes the ex-CNR baggage cart (that was used to display products), the store’s layout and the replica trolley coffee bar. The Museum hopes to have them ready for display this year.

Maybe the next time I am in St. Catharines I will go see them and re-live old times.

Read another reflection about the closing of Niagara Central by Trevor Marshall. 

Thanks to Ken Jones of the Niagara Railroad Museum for some of the photos.