Eight feet and twenty years

Toward the end of the 1980’s a group of us had formed the Prince Edward Island Railway Society. We were a great blend of railfans and model train guys. Fast-forward a few more years to 1993 and the owner of the Charlottetown Leisure World hobby shop thought it might be fun if he rented an empty store, across from his store’s location, so we could show off the first modules for a HO scale portable railway. I had a lot of interest in this idea, but almost no money. I am eternally grateful for the gracious offer of a module frame that I could use. With the little money I had, I bought a few yards of flex track for the main running tracks and then “made do” for the rest.

I had been fascinated by an E.L.Moore article in a back issue of Model Railroader describing a station he’d built to suit a junction location, at a diamond (track) crossing. Available real estate on my small HO scale home layout was scarce but in good supply on the blank module. The station in the article was clad in brick and I think Mr. Moore used Faller brick paper but that sort of product just wasn’t available. I had discovered the Pendon-style of building and had already attempted a Pendon-inspired scribed brick technique but doubted I could complete as much as I would need so I opted to go with a wood siding instead. Those clapboards were individually applied after being cut from heavy paper and the core of the station was made from cardboard from recycled cereal and similar boxes. Each window was double-hung with separate sashes (jambs and trims from index card with thread mullions). The finished model was painted with carefully thinned Humbrol enamel (thinned to both absorb and hopefully protect the paper walls).

Since the model was designed to sit at the intersection of tracks, I needed that ninety degree diamond to cross the two mainline tracks. By this time I was still trying to figure out how to make a switch but I figured a ninety degree diamond was in reach. I studied a photo in an old Atlas catalogue and copied what I saw. It actually worked perfectly and remains a favourite piece of trackwork. All roadbed was made from balsa sheet stock. Ballast was sieved kitty litter.

I added lineside fencing along all the track. Posts were tooth picks inserted into the layout and cut to length.

Trees were a mix of twisted wire for the “hardwoods” and for the “pine” trees I used carved balsa trunks.

Roads were more recycled cardboard coloured with layers and layers of water colour washes and to this day I still thank my lucky stars that it never warped as badly as it should have.

I’ve had the good fortune to work on a lot of models over a lifetime of model railways and in those years I’m blessed to have had a few models really work out well. This little HO scale module is one of those that I remain very proud of. Everything was made by hand from the most primitive of materials and using the most primitive of tools. I remain very pleased with even colour tone across the module and how the built elements bed into the natural ones. This module visited several Maritime shows. Eventually I removed the station and sold it. The house and garage stayed with me for a while longer. They followed me to Hamilton but remained there when my life brought me back to the Island.

I don’t take a lot of photos of my models, mostly because I’m a terrible photographer. That said, I’m grateful that I have a few photos of things I’ve done to inspire myself to do new work. It always feels a little easier to try something again when you can remind yourself that you’ve been there already once.



  1. Nice post and a reminder to when ‘we’ were starting out. I build some rather ropey layouts when I first started but it helped me learn valuable lessons and in the process improve (hopefully) But goes to show that you don’t need to buy every thing out of the box to make things look good. Also it opens up the possibilities of less supported scales such as TT and S, two of which I have been itching to try but am steering clear of at the moment as trying hard to avoid the distractotron :) I never joined clubs until I got much older and consequently improved no end as a modeller. Always remember sage words from a very talented guy who said ‘rip it up if your not 100% happy with it’ and thats always stuck with me.

    1. Thanks, Tom

      That module in the photos is closing in on its twentieth anniversary, I found some photos of a layout I started work on thirty years ago this summer. I’m looking forward to finishing off that blog post and sharing it too.

      Your comment, my blog post, and a copy of Mike Bryant’s Introduction to TT Scale Modelling (book) converge at exactly the sentiment you expressed with regard to S and TT. I think you and I share a mutual fascination with these scales. I think it’s interesting that the few models I’ve actually finished in the past ten years have been largely in either of these two scales, excepting a few Gn15 distractions along the way. In fact, I’ve built a lot in TT and 3mm over the years and often wonder if that was me knowing full well what I “should” be working on?!

      That TT scale handbook was terrifically refreshing. It covered how to make just about anything the TT scale modeller might need. Most of it was in cardstock, wire, and paper. Again, really simple materials but yielding great results. Each project was achievable and designed in a way that spoke of a certain measure of built-in, planned, successful outcomes for the reader and modeller. Mr. Bryant included some photos of a little 2×4′ layout he’d built to illustrate the techniques described in the book and I couldn’t help but think of how much of a terrific layout he’d constructed. I’ve built many models and won a few contests with them and can fully attest to the results that can be achieved.

      I find I’m at a point where I’ve never been more interested in the hobby and have honed a worthwhile comfort level with each of the skills demanded of the craft yet really in need of a focussed direction. I can’t imagine not having a model railway or building model trains but could really use a hand on settling on a prototype and a scale in which to model it. If someone could just lock me into those two steps, I’d be fine again. Left to my own devices I just wander. The current layout is arranged with N scale track and a plan that I’ve really come to enjoy running trains on. I really don’t have a prototype in mind and am nearly terminally stalled at this step. I’m proud of the design election to have built a base that supports work in several scales and themes so if I were to re-direct myself, at least the risk is only a bit of track. I’d like to settle on this soon since I’m starting to find all this “starting over” a little deflating and I’m starting to wonder if I’d just be better off buying a Land Rover to restore instead.

      I agree with the “100% happy” comment you’d made. I’m in this hobby because it makes me so happy. I don’t think I should perpetuate a project that isn’t delivering on that satisfaction. I’ll never forget the sage words of a close friend of mine with regard to bread. I had said to him something about how sometimes that all this kneading was a good way to calm down after a lousy day. He commented that I needed to be careful, that the bread “knew” how I felt. That if I was impatient or not fully absorbed into my work that the result wouldn’t be as good. I think the same applies to model railways, that I do great work but really only when I enjoy it.

      By the way, thanks to you and Andy, I’ve been looking at those Kato Glacier Express sets. Thanks…I think!

      1. Your welcome Chris ;) as you may see I have been bitten hard on this one.. I totally agree about enjoying your modelling and I am now in a point where I am really enjoying it again. I think once i have got something to a point where I am happy I am going to look into other options ;) but deliberately keeping the blinkers on. On Landrovers are just the tip of the iceberg and the modelling takes up way less space and is a lot cleaner ;) Hope to see you on another OSC.

      2. “…another OSC.”

        I had been thinking that it might be fun to try and arrange something like that again sometime. Now that I’ve figured out how to Skype from the world’s oldest iPod Touch.

        Let me know what works for you.

  2. Dreaming about trains….I recently had a dream about visiting a Leisure World store at a mall. Fully stocked with all sorts of models and trains. Must have been a dream! But what a selection…

    I just read John Longhurst’s latest blog post about a real live hobby shop down in Chicago. Not too many left like that anymore, but more of them than Leisure World outlets. All I have left from the latter (besides the items we bought there) is a newspaper flyer colour catalogue from LW.

    Ah, wallowing in nostalgia, are we?
    Oh, and an Irish Creme Keurig after dinner with cookies.

    1. Good morning, Eric

      I’ve been to Chicago a couple of times and on my last trip (too many years ago!) I had a chance to visit a couple of Chicago hobby shops. Each one was terrific and well worth the visit. Chicagoland Hobbies alone was worth it. I took a look at John’s blog to learn about what he had visited and see that I really must make a better effort to get back to the city and to see this tavern and hobby shop. Krista and I joke about a little store that is exclusively N scale trains and any scale traction, with fine coffee, knitting supplies, and books. Basically our house with an “Open” sign on the front door!

      Our Leisure World was run by Gerry Cranford. He ran a terrific store and if I remember correctly had a fairly strong handle on the Leisure World brand itself (that somehow the Charlottetown store was tighter into the fold than just a franchise). Gerry more than patiently welcomed me every Saturday morning and I left a lot of my allowance in his store. I sure miss the place. He was a terrific supporter of model railroading on Prince Edward Island too. The show I mentioned was the first one we attended as a club with our layout. He sponsored several other shows, invited members to host clinics in the store, and listened closely to our advice on inventory matters.

      The store is still around though Gerry has retired from it and sold it on to new owners and sadly what’s left is well-intentioned but a shell of it’s former self.

      A little nostalgia and a little looking backward in search of historical inertia that could fuel better work, forward.

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