Ontario Narrow Gauge Show

Today I attended the Ontario Narrow Gauge show for the first time.  It’s a show I’ve heard about for a number of years, but have only had a passing interest in narrow gauge until I decided to leap into it last year with my OO9 Talyllyn project and the HO Scale 40.5inch gauge Porter I’ve built.  The show is a reasonably small show, and very specialized.  No tables full of junk, just lots of high quality modelling by people really interested in what they are doing, as most niche areas of the hobby are.

IMGP8098RawConv.jpgOverview of the upstairs room of the show.

The show was well attended, with a mix of a few vendors, several layouts, static displays, and a contests area.  Narrow Gauge lends itself to lots of different things, and that was on show today.  Prototype narrow gauge to completely whimsical free lance was there.  My interests are definitely more in the prototypical end of narrow gauge (i apparently lack whimsy in my modelling! Crazy things from my mind just don’t seem to translate to successful projects).

Collection of layout and diorama photographs from the show.

While I normally don’t enter into or consider competition to necessarily be a good part of the hobby, in certain circumstances, it can be ok.  I brought my two locomotives to enter into the competition, not because I have any desire to see them judged, but because the awards here are voted on by those in attendance.  It’s not a competition to meet some created standard of quality or impress a judge, but a vote of those in attendance as to what they liked best.  There were some amazing models, and the winners all deserve recognition for their work.  Unlike many competitions, it didn’t feel like one where people were being pitted against each other, but where it was mostly an opportunity for very talented modellers to show off their work.

“Critters” and Locomotives from the Contest Tables.  Narrow Gauge has prototypes and inspiration both in the real world and the crazy freelance world.

On top of the modelling on display, they show had three very well done clinics.  One I skipped (I’ve seen it given before) by Jeff Young and Peter Foley on their book project on the original Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway, and two I hadn’t seen.  One by Ron Guttman on tools and the right tools for some different modelling tasks.  The third was the most interesting to me.  A clinic, including hands on with Pan Pastels.  I’ve never used them, but some of my friends swear by them for weathering models.  The session was presented by Gerry Cornwell from Mt Albert Scale Lumber.  I learned a lot in it, and now understand a lot more about how Pan Pastels work, and see lots of opportunity for me to apply them to future projects.  I will most definitely be picking some up at some point down the road.  When that is, who knows, but I’ll no doubt write about it!  Pan Pastels are available at many art stores, apparently at Michael’s (though I’ve never seen them there), and at Curry’s in the Toronto area.  Gerry recommended a vendor in the US who puts together packages specifically targeted at Model Railroaders, Stoney Creek Designs.

Painting and Weathering with Pan Pastels clinic.  Hands on with something I’ve heard a lot about, but never seen being used or had any idea how they worked before today.

It was an enjoyable day out.  Hopefully in the future I will have a narrow gauge layout worthy of showing off at the show.  I am certainly looking forward to attending again in the future.

Tuesday Train #51

IMGP7922RawConv.jpgBacking up to the Toronto Maintenance Centre.  A VIA Rail train recently arrived at Union Station where it went out of service reverses down the Oakville Subdivision at Exhibition GO Station to the Toronto Maintenance Centre for servicing.  You can just see the crew member in the high vis vest in the coach door on the radio to the engineer calling signals for the unsighted move.

Hitting the Ton

So, some real-world railway news this week that piqued my interest, “New Build” A1 type Pacific locomotive Tornado (completed in 2008) hit the Ton (100mph) in a secret test on Wednesday night/Thursday morning.  Since the “End of Steam” on British Railways in 1968, main line steam locomotives in the UK have been limited to 75mph top speed aside from a couple of rumoured unauthorized speed runs, and a special series of 90mph runs in 2013 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mallard’s 126mph world speed record for a steam locomotive.  I know that speeds of 112mph have been achieved in recent years in Germany by the worlds fastest operating steam locomotive, but I personally just don’t have much knowledge of or interest in German railways.

6222981202_da62171fed_oTornado “racing” up the Severn Valley in 2011.  It’s actually slowing to the station at Highley from the gentle 25pmh pace permitted on preserved railways.

The run was part of obtaining permission for regular 90mph running so that mainline tours can better fit in on an ever faster and busier rail network.  To obtain that permission, they had to be able to demonstrate safe operation at a 10% safety buffer, allowing the locomotive to hit the 100mph mark. According to the articles, it was at or over 100mph for a total of 48 seconds.  Not long, but long enough to check the box that it can run safely at that speed if needed.

This is something that catches my interest, as almost all the travel behind steam locomotives I have done is on preserved lines, where the maximum speed is 25mph, and you can hear locomotives like Tornado being held back to keep to that speed, rather than being turned loose as they want to be.  The only “mainline” tours I have been on have been on lines with speed limits of 50mph (Nickel Plate Road 765 on the “southern tier line” in New York), same or less on the Scranton-Moscow PA with Steamtown; same or less on BC Rail with the Royal Hudson from North Vancouver to Squamish; and the Jacobite from Fort William to Mallaig, which is also a slow run.  I’ve never been on a mainline excursion with a locomotive really stretching its legs at high speed for a long period of time.  Its something that I definitely have on my list of things to do on a future trip to the UK.

The link below has a short BBC news video of the 100mph run:


I may break out the loop of track on the kitchen table this weekend and give my OO Gauge model of Tornado a run in circles around the table to celebrate the real world one’s speed run!

Taking it in Small Chunks

We’ve recently made a big decision in our life, that we are going to stay in our apartment for a while longer.  Some of that, is driven by the cost of real estate in Toronto, some of that, by the fact we really love the neighbourhood we are in, and came to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with our rental apartment that some new furniture, paint, and re-decorating couldn’t fix for a few more years.  Come July we’ll have been in the same apartment for 6 years, not an eternity, but long enough that when we moved in we were just dating and now we’re approaching our 3rd wedding anniversary.  We both brought a lot of hand me down and well used furniture to the apartment, and frankly, it was tired.  We’ve mostly focused on our living room, as this was all started by the acknowledgement that our sofa was life expired.  We’ve now gotten rid of some big entertainment centre cabinets that dominated the room and made it feel small, have a new sofa in place, a new rug coming, painted an accent wall, and moved about all our art and pictures to make the space feel fresh.  Its made a huge difference and now we’re looking forward to having friends over again!

So what does this have to do with model trains?  Well, it has a lot to do with it strangely, as it means I’m continuing my drive to move on from the dream of building a “big” layout, and looking for things that can keep me going in small spaces.  This is the first “Small Chunk” from the post title.  One of the things I’ve written about, and that I’m becoming more and more focused on is modelling in small spaces, like apartments or condominiums.  You can totally do it (I’d like to think on some small level my work to date is proof of that), but it means being smart and recognizing that you probably are not going to build a large layout. If I’m generous, I’ve built three layouts in my life (and if I’m realistic, one!!).

Three layouts? My 4’x8′ Plywood Central in Halifax/Waterloo; my IKEA shelf topper that still lives in a semi-sceniced state in Toronto; and my one real attempt at layout building in my parents former house in Georgetown.

Being in a small space doesn’t mean you can’t have any layout, it means you must have realistic goals and expectations and targets.  Modelling miles of mainline railway isn’t going to work in a 750 square foot two bedroom apartment with two people and a cat living there, but a highly detailed shelf switching layout will, and that can be designed so it can come and go so it doesn’t take up space when not being worked on or operated.  There are lots of examples of this.  The whole concept of a large layout is an anathema to most in the United Kingdom where many of my railway interests lie.  Even in houses there, without basements and in small homes they don’t have “empire building” room.  They build small layouts, and as often as not, they build many small layouts in a lifetime with different eras or railways being modelled.

I’ve written a couple of times about building layouts or dioramas on IKEA shelves that are easy to store in an apartment, and even mused last year on looking at ways of integrating it into a display layout for shows/operations.

“Small Chunks” – Layouts or Dioramas in a couple of square feet that fit in IKEA bookcases.  From top left clockwise my 009 Switching puzzle in process; the TRM Railway Village; John Street Stall 15-16; and, a freelance Metropolitan Railway/London Underground station diorama.

Where my small chunks to date have fallen down is operations, they aren’t big enough except maybe in narrow gauge to actually operate in any meaningful way.  They really are dioramas, great for display and learning different techniques, but useless to actually run a train on.  That means, in HO/OO at least, they are too small a chunk.  The larger shelf I built several years ago as a test track has more potential for some limited switching/operations.  One of the problems is that frankly, North American equipment, even from the 1950s can be too big for small layouts.  You’ve covered the length of the layout in seconds before you even do anything.  I see why small layouts work so well in the UK when you are dealing with small locomotives and 2 axle freight wagons.  You can do a lot with small equipment.  I think as much as there are several things I want to model in Canada, when I clear some projects off the workbench and look at building something plausibly layouty, it will be a British BLT (a Branch Line Terminal, not a Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato sandwich!).

Some in Canada have taken this kind of small layout building to heart, and solved the operations issue.  While I haven’t had the chance to see it in person, a fellow Toronto area modeller, Rick De Candido has applied this concept to his “Filmore Avenue Roundhouse” layout in his condo.  It’s a tightly focused model of a locomotive depot and roundhouse in Buffalo New York.  It’s been written up in several magazines, and he has a great blog on his work. It also has lots of operations with locomotives in and out, bringing in supplies for the roundhouse, some coaching stock movements.  Rick can run a lot of trains without them really going anywhere!  On top of that, he’s written about his incredibly detailed operating scheme to ensure interest for operators on a small layout.  It’s the perfect conceptual match for what I need to be thinking.

The Filmore Avenue Roundhouse layout of Rick De Candido (Rick De Candido photograph)

Part of what made me think about this topic was a recent post Rick made on a concept of even further compressing what he’s achieved for even smaller spaces, the “Engine Terminal in Eight Feet (ETEF).  I’m looking at the two small “diorama layouts” I’m currently working on , and wondering where there may be opportunities to take these kinds of small layouts that have some operational potential to the next level like Rick has done.  Between the the Narrow Gauge switching puzzle, and the HO/OO “test track” layout I built some years ago in my last apartment, these both offer some limited switching puzzle type operations.  The Narrow Gauge shelf will give me a place to run my Talyllyn model, and the HO/OO one gives me a few feet for testing locomotives off rollers, but is slowly turning into a free-lanced colliery yard based on the railways of the National Coal Board in the UK.

My friend Trevor Marshall writes regularly about “Achievable Layouts” on his Port Rowan in 1:64 blog.  This is where I am heading with the first small chunk.  As much as I like building models of structures, or individual vehicles, at the end of the day, I want to be able to do that and run some trains!!!  Circling back to the top, the decision to stay in a 750 square foot apartment means making decisions on layout building based on limited space, and making anything I do work in the available space, and not mess up the rest of our lives.  This drives back to the small module/small layout idea.  With the right prototype and the right design, you can do a lot in a very small space, and this is where I see my mindset going in the near future.  With the stack of individual structure/car projects I have on the go, I suspect a modular/small layout of some sort will be a 2018 project, but there is a lot I can work on designing and pre-planning in 2017 when I don’t feel like breaking out the tools.

The second small chunk I’ve been thinking about of late is scenery techniques.  This is mostly because while the next step on the narrow gauge shelf is wiring, the step after that is ballasting the track.  I have to say it, I hate ballasting.  As I haven’t built a lot of layouts, I haven’t had a lot of practice, and getting the technique right is still something I haven’t reliably done.  My ballast seems to clump or float away or do some other not helpful thing no matter what I’ve done with alcohol or detergent in the glue or sprayed over to break surface tension.  I know I’ll get it, but when you are working on a small layout, messing up the ballast can really ruin the look of the project.  I saw a technique in a Model Rail bookazine on layout building/scenery techniques a couple of years ago from Chris Nevard, and he has blogged about it as well.  The technique is to use air dry modelling clay to create the appearance of an ash/cinder ground cover.  This is perfect for the larger OO Gauge Colliery Railway yard, and trying it on that has been on my mind for a while.  I think that for the OO9 narrow gauge shelf, the technique may also be useful, but I need to bite the bullet and try the technique and actually learn how to do it.

IMGP7852RawConv.jpgColliery Diorama in progress.  The white area on the left is surplus sculptamold from another model that I used to bring the ground level closer to track height before trying the DAS clay/cinder technique of Chris Nevard.  I need to do some more sculptamold for some other parts of the yard, then try the clay.

Scenery is a “small chunk” as its something that I’ve had mixed success with.  I’ve said it before, I often analyze myself into paralysis when trying things.   I need to just go for it more, some of my best successes in terms of results are from when i’ve just gone and done it.  And if I’m serious about building a more organized small layout in the short-term (as opposed to the two I’m working on, I’ll need to get good at some scenic techniques, as there is less room to hide shoddy work in a small layout.  I built the base of the layout above and laid the track in the fall of 2010.  It’s 6-1/2 years later, and it looks at best half finished and thought out.  Some of that is changing ideas of what it would be, some of it is my paralysis in taking it down from its cat-proof location and working on it.

With a bit of thought and some effort, taking these two small chunks together, I am aiming to move myself towards being in a place later this year where I have a real focus on a layout I can build and actually start doing so.  We’ll see where time and effort takes me in the coming months.