Author: Chris Mears

CBNS Hopewell Subdivision

My friend Andrew has been building a wonderful home layout based on the Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia Railway’s operations in New Glasgow. It’s so exciting to follow along on the development of this project. Until recently, he’d shared updates via Facebook but has launched a blog and I’m thrilled to post a link here:

You should check it out.

I’ll add a proper link to Andrew’s blog for easy reference. I’m starting to realise that some parts of Prince Street are showing their age and I have started to get some of those things fixed. Sorry that I haven’t kept these bits as current as they deserve to be.

My current favourite track plan

I tend to repeat certain track plans or layout designs. I get fixated on a particular arrangement or a line. Above is what I’ve been drawing and redrawing over the last few weeks.

It’s based on three turnouts.

Cars enter from “interchange” to “loop” and from there are delivered to “customer” (most of the time) or “team track” (every so often).

The scenario is based on those industries you already know I favour where our focus is feeding cars in a conveyor fashion like at a grain elevator, salt unloader, or maybe a new propane dealer.

The plan is a thin, linear design as I always favour. It’s size is determined by these simple geometric principles: the turnouts are equal in length to the lead on the far right (so, in HO this might be around 11”). Multiple that length by three and subtract that from the available shelf length. Then divide that by three.

“Customize an MLW S-4 Switcher in N Scale”

I’m looking forward to buying a copy of the July RMC to read Mike Pagano’s article. RMC have posted a teaser from the article on their website and the resulting model looks superb.

RMC shared this image. Click on it to see the article. Alco in Multimark, that looks terrific!

Enjoy their preview of the article here:

Better still buy a copy of the magazine at your local newsagent. If you’re in Nova Scotia then buy a copy at Atlantic News as I plan to. (If you don’t live here you should. Atlantic News is just one good reason!)

Another great handlaid track tutorial

The Modular Railroading channel on YouTube is a constant source of high quality and genuinely good tutorials. Two days ago, they uploaded this new video sharing their tips on how to handlay N scale track. Subjects like N scale and handlaid track are always attractive to me – the sum of both represents some of the most fun I have in the hobby.

Like all of the tutorials on this page the presentation is exemplary of “doing it right”: tailored script, smooth narration, and a focussed and accessible message. Further, it’s neat to see familiar Fast Tracks tools and parts in use!

For years, I have shared Henk Oversloot’s tutorials as some of the finest guides to handlay track and I’ll now also be sharing the above tutorial. Fast Tracks say “You don’t have to, you get to.” With resources like these I’ll add: “You’ll want to. Welcome to the right party.”

Henk Oversloot’s tutorial as well as his superbly inspirational website:

Fast Tracks make some of the highest quality tools in our hobby and their handlaid track supplies are unequalled in quality:

The eBay time machine

Sometimes eBay is the most enjoyable nostalgia trip. Life Like models in their blue boxes! Not only that but I had one of these blue Santa Fe searchlight cars. Of course, like anyone around my age, I had a Life Like F7 too but mine was CN (which we corrected by painted into CP colours using spray cans of auto paint and CDS dry transfers). It’s funny how, as we grow older, our definition or priorities change. A complicated model like that searchlight car felt like a real milestone for me for many, many years. I also had some of the Life Like circus cars and one of their passenger cars (mine was a “combine”).

All of those models are gone now.

I still feel the design work on the Life Like forty foot flat car, like their twin hoppers, was really nicely done and I still keep an eye out for these at the train shows.

I’m writing quickly because I don’t want to waste this nostalgia-fueled joy. I’d forgotten about these models until an eBay search for HO scale locomotives for sale in Canada returned it in today’s suggestions. Thanks chaos!

I have no connection to this auction. Check it out here:

One and one and one more to watch

I’ve been watching a lot of videos on Delay in Block’s channel on YouTube. The videos are beautifully composed and the narration (sound and script) is a real joy. This is the sort of content that’s a real joy to share.

Click on the photo above or any of the links. They’ll all open YouTube and Delay in Block’s enjoyable update on the West Michigan Railroad.

The store is gone

A couple weeks ago I summarized the status of the Prince Street store on Shapeways simply:

I deleted it

Most of the artwork survives. It is unlikely it will return to Shapeways. I remain so proud of what we accomplished together. Those parts in the store were really cool. There’s no “but”.

What there is, is a massive thank you to Taylor and Krista. You were both the most incredible supporters of that project. The pride I describe when I talk about the models is never about 3D printed parts but the collaboration with two damned good people that are always an exciting privilege to work with.

Thank you

There’s never enough space

In the last few years I’ve really pared down the collection of model train stuff to “important” and “special” models. Most of it is stored in four or five big storage tubs but a few models venture onto shelves like this one above my workbench. I find that stuff creates a kind of noise that’s distracting so in my life I try to limit this to help me focus on what’s important. I suppose I could just keep the stuff in storage but what’s the point really? To be honest, even in those storage tubs I can still hear these things whisper their distraction.

I feel like it’s time to get rid of all of it.

I’m no less interested in model railways or having a hobby but these models are not necessarily an investment in the future like money saved in a retirement fund. Some represent things that are harder to buy these days and I’d rather a modeller who can use them had it than me hoarding it for someday.

Dear eBay…

Current musical playlist

There’s never enough Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Curtis Harding’s Face Your Fears is the best new album I’ve heard this year, and there’s always Philip Glass and Lenny Kravitz nearby.

Why is?

Why is the backdrop attached to the layout?


I feel like it’s one of those assumptions we have just carried without question. At best we have either “no backdrop” or “backdrop”.

  • The forms that three dimensional scenery is composed of will never fade, blend, or “whatever” into the two dimensional form of the backdrop.
  • The way we render a scene within the layout’s plane is not like how we treat equal elements on the backdrop.
  • There’s always a seam where the two meet and eventually reality casts an impossible to ignore shadow on the sky.

The role of the backdrop is to extend the three dimensional model beyond its physical boundaries. Not only softening that hard edge where the plywood ends but also shadowing in a little more aesthetic context to inform the viewer in ways such as the season, the weather, or how we’re only occupying one plateau in a vast mountain range.

When I saw this image on Instagram yesterday I immediately wondered if we could physically separate the layout from the backdrop. A divorce for the better, to offer each partner a chance to be reconnected to their strength and actually make them both individually stronger and, having done that, make their redefined relationship stronger?

Common choices on materials and the way the scene is composed relate the physical form of the bench to the painting. (Translating the image: imagine the bench is the model railway “layout”).

Choices we make on the environment we present the layout in help us communicate to the viewer the story we are attempting to tell. I don’t question the need to use some sort of backdrop just the question of how it relates to the layout and why we needed to screw them together?

I have paintings and photographs in my living room that provide the same very important sense on context and story to the space. Screwing a painting onto the back of the couch won’t make it more effective. Likely, doing this makes the couch less comfortable and the painting unattractive. In my living room we’ve made decisions so the couch and the painting “go together” but creating space between them so we can relate to them as we should and having done so, created an environment in the room that makes it enjoyable to be in and no less about us.