The way forward

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

I don’t even know if he ever really said that. I know it doesn’t matter. Someone did and it’s a good line.

Layout planning is really just a few simple questions and they fit nicely into a handy format that appeals to my way of thinking.

Where? I’ve got this corner of a room…

Needs benchwork…bordered by windows at either end so the length is pre-determined since I don’t want to block either. All that’s left is to make the shelf and since I have benchwork from a previous project that can be easily recycled…done.

That’s the form done. Photos will follow.

Manchester Central – just layers of “Wow!”

I’ve been following this thread on RMWeb for some time now: Manchester Central, CLC & GN Warehouses & Castlefield Viaducts. The thread itself started around 2011 and by page six construction is really underway:

When you start at page six, the builder is working on a bridge. Looking at the first prototype photo the real thing appears simple enough but as each component is modeled you start to notice more detail that was lost when looking at the overall. In this way, the work of the modeler is an education in how things are made, both in miniature and “in real life” and that’s a dimension that enriches the long before it’s complete. The work is clean and well executed and results in layers of beautiful models of individual components, themselves to become richly detailed and greater compositions. The thread has already reached 128 pages in length. Accordingly, it’s not a quick read but it shouldn’t be either. This is work to be savoured and enjoyed and spread across 128 pages you have just enough time to start doing just that.

Adjustable cabinet legs

A friend of mine, from England, is working on a portable N scale layout. In a recent email, to update on his progress, he mentioned a set of legs he’d attached to the bottom of his layout – something normally intended for use under kitchen base cabinets.


I thought that what he was doing was brilliant. Reading the email, I had that “gonna do this” feeling. A quick search online shows my local Home Depot carried something similar and I picked up a set. I still have that initial feeling but it’s now joined by a “this is really brilliant!” one.


The leg is adjustable from four to five inches. It does come apart so, in theory, one could replace the centre section with a longer length of tubing (threaded of course) to raise the layout higher. I’m okay with this shorter length as I intend to have my layout rest on top of things like bookcases or tables. Compared to some of the other contraptions I’ve employed on traditional layout legs, I sure wish they were as easy to adjust as these. Instead of some finicky nut threaded onto the bottom of the leg, this is easy to grab and adjust. Further, no trying to find the right wrench to spin that nut in the first place.

I bought mine at Home Depot for $11. I’m sure most home improvement stores would have something similar in stock. This isn’t any kind of endorsement of the store, but here’s a link to their web page for the legs I bought in case you’d like to learn more:


Vantage points

4a22364a-previewIn between fooling around with different benchwork ideas, I’ve been working through some concepts for the layout. So much of what I have in mind is illustrated in the above image from the website. This blog post isn’t about discussing a particular layout concept. It’s an observation I thought about while studying the above image and questioning why my interpretation doesn’t feel right. Perhaps a big part of the problem is that I’m not facing the scene from the same vantage point?

AMT July 22 20000029

A second example of this problem is illustrated in my photo above as well. Again, I’m very drawn to the scene but it’s one I only relate to from this perspective. Despite how many times I’ve visited this station and stood on these platforms, I only know what it’s like to see trains moving toward or away from me.

The above photos might be a more literal interpretation of the theatre metaphor we cling to in model railroad design:

  1. Train enters from the wings at the outer sides of the stage
  2. Train performs action at centre stage
  3. Train leaves scene by exiting to the side

What I’m thinking about here is more about the arrangement of the layout in terms of how it presents the operating trains to the audience and not the scene as a static diorama where this thought about orientation and vantage points might be of less relevance.

As a quick footnote, re-reading this post this morning it occurred to me that this also isn’t an observation about layout height. In the opening photo, the photographer is looking down to the trains where in the latter ones I’m on the same plain. So, not about layout height so much as working with a scene that runs transverse in orientation instead of toward the viewer.

Tape “clamps” and tea drinker’s dreams

What the world needs now is…


Some Gorilla Glue to bond the 1/8″ MDF strips to the long sides of these two layout boards. Despite what the world really needs, I could use some proper clamps to aid in this type of work. In lieu of the correct tools, I am improvising with a tight band of tape wound ’round the work and a prayer that as the glue sets up it doesn’t expand with much force.

“All will go well” I tell myself.

For now, ladies and gentlemen, back to Mr. Bacharach.

Not the most exciting model railway construction photo ever posted but then, maybe we need a few more of what the work looks like when it’s in progress; over some plastic bags being used to protect the surface of our long-suffering dining room table – where the magic happens.

Weekend Update


Nothing here would happen without tea. Luckily I am ready. I realise that in grabbing this quick photo, I’ve inadvertently taken my second (ever) selfie.


Not a photo of a rather dubious looking ice cream sandwich but the first of two module sections I’ve been working on for the model railway. Previously, I built a test section with a foam core and clad in light plywood. Since building that I was curious how well a light MDF might work and these sections were made up that way. Each panel is 10×48″ overall. The core is 1-1/2″ thick foam and it’s clad in 1/8″ MDF. The resulting sections are even lighter than before and feel every bit as rigid. They will absolutely require some method of sealing and I’ll need to wrap the edges too. That’s next on the agenda for the weekend.

Some turnouts made up. Both are in N scale. There’s a back story that makes these particular two something to celebrate but that story is Krista’s and not mine.

Luckily there are always things to do, like paint the hall, shingle a wall, or start working on the gardens to ready them for fall.


So, with some module bases made up and some track being built I guess I should figure out exactly what I’m doing. While trying to figure that out, I dug out the saw and cut some sheets of MDF apart into two groups: 1″ wide to make up a spline-style of subroadbed and some 2″ wide ones that I’ll use to clad the edges of those modules.

Sculpey for passenger cars

I just read this little how-to idea on The Railwire forum (

Written for use in N scale, the idea is centred around a homemade extruder, crafted from a kitchen garlic press and some Sculpey clay. With a custom form tool, out pops some really neat looking seats for N scale passenger cars.

Sometimes you see something to brilliant…

Wiscasset. Wiscasset. Wiscasset.

I don’t know where to begin this blog post. Luckily, knowing stuff like that isn’t important. Something else I don’t know is what drives the energy, enthusiasm, and almost overwhelmingly positive attitude that drives the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum. This place has assumed the status of legend in my mind. They’re not just restoring a collection of narrow gauge equipment, they are restoring a railroad. What they’ve accomplished is impressive, but it’s their attitude that impresses me most. Everywhere there is a sense of “We can. We will. Wanna help?”


I’m standing in the car park and this is one of my first views of the Museum grounds. A couple of vintage Ford trucks, the car shop in the background, and the pit for the new turntable they’re building. Yup, it probably always looks like paradise everyday.

Work on the new turntable pit is progressing nicely. Alongside, work continues on the bridge. Perched high in the air, supported on a trailer frame, the turntable bridge is simply massive. It would be neat to visit when its time to install the bridge.


Inside the shop, there was just so much to take in. As I wandered around, I remembered a thought I’d had earlier at the Sandy River and again at the Boothbay museums: these are not collections of shop equipment in some patchwork still life exhibit. This is a working shop consumed with the work of building and maintaining a railroad. This is something real, current, and relevant.

Back outside and a walk across the tracks to the station. Inside, time to buy tickets for train rides and look through their gift shop. The shop was well stocked with interesting things. I really should have stocked up on genuine Kennebec Central spikes and, ooh, what’s that? A copy of Linwood Moody’s book?! This book is so important to me. I can just about always pick it up to re-read again.


Meanwhile, #9 arrives. There’s time sort through gift shop stuff later. Right now is a time for action. Action of the kind that gets tickets for train rides. Yup, lots of tickets.

As at Boothbay, each service is actually a pair of trains. Leaving first is number 9 with a set of coaches and following is the Museum’s Ford railcar. Number 9 leads the train, bunker-first, to the current end of track. The Ford waits outside the loop while the engine completes a runaround move. While the engine ties onto its train, the Ford moves into the loop opening up the main for the run home.

Midway, on the return trip, the Museum planned a photo run by. Everyone off the train. Then the railcar arrives and is parked in the loop. With the line safe and clear, time to back the train off stage while we all find our places in a photo line. While all this is going on, photos like this one just seem to happen. Doesn’t it all look like a perfect scene?


So many recollections of Maine narrow gauge railroading recall the sight of a Forney in command of its train and only moments later, we were treated with just that sort of spectacle:


This is not quaint and sleepy railroading. This is the communication of purpose.

Now, imagine a couple of gondolas of coal for the Veterans Home in Togus tucked into that consist…

Stepping off the train and time for more exploration. Steve and I wander off to check out the newly built car shed. The building is massive and is a tremendous investment toward providing shelter for the Museum’s collection, protecting it from the weather. Every piece of equipment on the railroad is the product of the work of the Museum’s amazing team of volunteers. Buildings like this are doing more than just housing a collection but in providing this shelter, they are protecting the commitment of those who make it all possible.

As we wandered around the site the crews were busily working with a small diesel to move a caboose out of the shed and onto a waiting train for the next round. We’re a part of this. Steve and I have tickets to ride in the Ford railcar this time!


This time, it was fun to chase the train up the line as riders in the railcar. I can’t imagine a better place to sit and watch #9 running around its train than from a seat in this car. The machine itself looks like an absolute pile of fun to operate.

The Ford has a really neat turntable built into its frame to make turning it easy. Having watched this process on a previous run I could barely contain my enthusiasm. “Can I try?” I asked and I was thrilled to be given the chance. The whole process is quite simple and really fun. Since I was busy with the work, I don’t have a photo of me in action but I did find this Youtube video:

High on the experience of learning to turn this fascinating machine earlier, I enthusiastically asked if I could push my luck further: “Need a hand with that switch?” I asked and “Go ahead” was all the encouragement I needed. First the stub turnout up in the loop at the top of the line and again as we left the loop, departing from the second photo run by. I’m so grateful t have had a chance to help out and immerse, deeper, in this moment.

On our return trip we were treated to a very special photo op featuring the Ford on a run by across the Humason Brook Trestle. What a special treat to enjoy, during an afternoon filled with non-stop and seemingly never-ending great moments.

I just can’t stop smiling. Thankfully places like this exist.

I can’t wait so long to go back. I’ve got this membership to the WW&F now burning a hole in my imagination and I’m keen to spend more time helping out. It’s something I want to be a part of. It just all feels so good.

The Museum maintain a terrific web site to chronicle their work and update on coming events. Their gift shop is also online and well worth supporting. You can also buy a membership and learn more about how to get involved:


On to Boothbay


Feeling for a moment like we’ve stepped into a story from Thomas the Tank Engine, we arrive at the Boothbay Railway Museum. Only seconds later, one of their charming German tank engines rushes up to greet us. Nice touch. This great morning just keeps getting better.

As a special opportunity during the Convention, Boothbay is offering driver training programs. For a fee, you spend a morning learning to care for and drive one of these engines. Sure, leading up to the Convention I had a pile of reasons not to do this but I wasn’t long on the site before I started to regret not signing up for this. I really like these little German engines and a day with one would be superb. I didn’t do myself any favours talking myself out of this experience. Argh. Next time…

A wander through the car shed and toward the shops. Again, more invitations to come inside and look around. So much to see and so many welcoming volunteers eager to share what they’re working on. The head lamp on Henschel #6 is pretty cool eh?

Everyone, at every Convention event, was so keen to do as much as they could to really indulge in narrow gauge madness. I still feel like the folks at Boothbay were in with what might be the most ambitious plan of the day: their track is a small, but hilly, loop circling their property. They decided to run two sets of two trains around their loop. Leading will be a steam-hauled train of coaches and trailing each will be one of the railcars. One set staged at the top of the loop and the other, the opposite side. It was so well orchestrated and a tribute to more superb planning on the part of the Museum’s volunteers and their commitment to creating a truly memorable experience. Everywhere I turned here, there was something moving. Even inside the car shed, you could try your hand at operating a genuine two foot gauge hand car.

Thank you to everyone here. What a superb morning. I could spend a lot of time sitting on the station platform and watching the parade of narrow gauge trains roll past. It might be the busiest railroad service I’ve witnessed anywhere. Yup, with a bottle of Capt’n Eli’s root beer in my hand and the sound of narrow gauge steam. Does it get any better?

Boothbay Railway Museum is one of those hidden gems of a railway museum. It might be easy to overlook it and think it more a roadside attraction that a serious museum but doing so you’d be making a terrific mistake. Their restoration shop is superb and capable of very serious work. Furthermore, they’re intent reaches beyond the rails to record so much of Maine’s transportation history. Further still, they regularly host events to celebrate Maine’s maker and craft history. It’s a site that is a real credit to the State and I left, once again, wishing we had something like it here on the Island.

Learn more about the Museum on their website:

Maine Narrow Gauge Museum

Fresh from watching the Downeaster, we made our way downtown to the Maine Narrow Gauge Museum.

A train staged on the mainline and waiting for the day’s visitors. With so much outside, on display, it was fun to wander through the yard.


Of course, outside can take its toll. I’d love to devote some volunteer time to documenting items like this if it helps.

Hidden among the Museum’s collection are some real gems from other narrow gauge lines such as this string of Magor flat cars.


These little GE diesels are such neat machines. My Dad has had the pleasure of a cab ride – I can only imagine how cosy that ride must have been!

The Museum’s track is recycled, former standard gauge track. I thought the self-guarding frog on this stub switch was a neat touch. The derail was cool too!

I remember articles in magazines, like Model Railroader, describing how to cut apart and reassemble standard gauge turnouts to suite narrow gauge use. There’s a prototype for everything as this turnout shows.


With the sun making its way through the clouds, it’s time to make our way to Boothbay and our next stop for the day.

The Maine Narrow Gauge Museum operates a wonderful length of track along Portland’s waterfront. Not only by location, but also in terms of community, I am proud of how well integrated the Museum is in Portland life. Events seem well-attended and the Museum does a fine job of promoting their site well beyond the narrow gauge fan community. They are currently planning the next phase of their life and a massive move of the entire Museum to a new location. Follow along with events at the Museum, find out how to get involved, and receive updates at their website: