What It’s Like

Hello readers,

Many of you don’t know me personally, but I’m a guest author on Prince Street today. I’m Krista, Chris’s wife and partner. Chris has encouraged me to contribute to his blog, and I’m taking him up on his generous offer. I can actually remember way back to Prince Street’s first post. Thankfully he gave me some great ideas to write about – this post is ‘What it’s like". Our writing styles are very different, so you’re in for a treat!

I’ve been with Chris for 15 years. We have two very creative children who are encouraged to express themselves artistically as much as they can. Chris and I both have day jobs in IT, but we are both very passionate about our hobbies. Model railroading for him; knitting for me. He told me on our first date that he was a model railroader; quite honestly I didn’t know what to think. I had never met anyone that was into model trains. I really only thought of toy trains that went around the Christmas tree.

I’m a third generation knitter (at least, if not possibly fourth) but I didn’t start knitting until my late twenties. My mom is an amazing knitter, and I grew up watching my mom, her sister Ann, and their mother Dorothy knit. I started knitting at our public library, but it was a very rough start. This is where Chris comes in. I never thought of myself as a "creative person". I didn’t make things like Chris did ( he’s an amazing scratchbuilder!). I couldn’t sketch things on paper like he does, and forget about showing me a schematic or a set of blueprints to visualize something. Because of Chris’s involvement in the hobby, he was able to motivate me and encourage me when knitting a square seemed like a lost cause.Today I knit a variety of items with relative ease, blog about my knitting adventures, and teach knitting in the winter semester at City Centre Community School.

Until I started to call myself a knitter and really immerse myself in the craft, I didn’t really participate in Chris’s model train interest. I honestly didn’t think that I had anything to offer to the discussion, I thought it was going to be all technical jargon or hours watching train videos, and I don’t have a great attention span for any media over an hour (with the exception of BBC’s Sherlock). Once I started to take a mess of yarn and turn it into something useful, I started to understand more about the interest Chris has in model trains. How he could focus his time for hours creating the tiniest bricks and windows I have ever seen! And the frustration when something just doesn’t work out, even when you’ve given it your best effort.

I love to explore why people create. While I don’t usually understand a lot of the fine details about the model railroad projects that Chris works on, I love seeing the thought process when he’s creating. His commitment and contribution to the hobby for 30+ years is enviable; I certainly hope to be able to celebrate a 30 year knitting anniversary. Over the years, I’ve asked him questions and tried to learn more about the hobby that is such a fundamental part of him. We have amazing conversations about design as well as interesting points about teaching skills related to our respective hobbies. Something we talk about a lot is layout design. I like to talk with Chris about layouts and the user experience – both the creator’s experience and the operator’s experience. I’m a very outgoing person, and I enjoy knitting and creating in a group setting. For as long as I remember, Chris has been attending operating and building sessions locally and in neighbouring provinces. I understand how much he enjoys these events, and I try to make it a priority to not encroach on that time.

On our travels, I encourage Chris to seek out opportunities to see railyards or other interesting locations related to railroading. I find myself keeping an eye out the car window to see if there is a lit signal or something working in a yard or coming down a line. Even my family who are hardcore thrifters and yard sale visitors love to find PEIR or CN treasures for Chris. Myself, I’m always on the lookout for GO transit merch for him. I’ve never had the chance to go on a train, but I hope we get to take a family trip to Montreal via train to see our oldest daughter. Our youngest likes to go to operating sessions and train shows with her dad … something I have yet to do.

One of the things that I appreciate about Chris is his patience when I ask questions that may seem trivial or "stupid". He is always happy to explain to me anything I ask. I still struggle with the different gauges! I’m very fortunate to have a partner who involves me in such an important part of his being. Apparently I inspire some of his work, and he learns about the hobby from me. I know, I’m not sure how either! Maybe by teaching he’s learning?

Both of us proudly display our work and work-in-progress in the living areas of our house. We have a cozy little house downtown with a layout-in-progress in our dining room and a knitting emporium in the living room. I believe that our hobbies are such an important part of us that it would look strange if they were not visible in the house. Our visitors thankfully never bat an eye when they come over and see our projects in various states of completion.

Thanks for taking the time to read my guest post. More to come!


1, 2, 3, 4. The mockup edition.

hide-seek warehouse 2

In many ways, this is the view that excited me the most when I first started exploring this presentation style. Even as presented, I feel the border surrounding the boxcar could frame it more closely.

hide-seek overpass 3

Moving from left to right, the next scene is the view down the street. The track passes overhead, jutting out from one building before disappearing behind another. The bridge is really only inset just over an inch inside the face of the scene but it feels so much deeper. In addition to playing with the orientation of each viewing window, I believe we can play with the overall height and relative position.

In terms of colour and texture, I’d like the fascia to be treated in a muted tone not unlike older concrete. Colours very close to this should be used for the street and sidewalk, as well as the bridge sides. In this way, this scene is presented in an almost monochromatic manner that relies on form and shadow to describe the scene. Exceptions to this could apply to the inset building walls that line the sides of this scene. Perhaps two bands of lovely aged brick walls?

In my mockup and also in my vision for this scene, the bridge’s deck does not reach all the way to the back of the scene or touch the backdrop. This slim opening at the back of the scene might invite some overhead lighting to reach around behind the bridge and bounce of the street below. Though I didn’t include the form of buildings on this other side of the tracks they shouldn’t be rendered with the same level of detail as the foreground ones. Their mass and colour is their purpose and they should not detract from the detail and focus that is ultimately at the bridge area in the exact center of the layout and this scene in all planes.

hide-seek coal dealer

I love the idea of these urban coal trestles that were placed beside warehouses so that a boxcar could be unloaded into the warehouse or a hopper could be emptied into coal piles below. The coal trestle provides a chance for lots of black-grey coal dust. Little hints of stubborn vegetation peek in from the seams around the edge and perhaps even from between the ties. If possible, the detail could array back from the front of the scene to a median resolution at the track’s centreline, and fading as we move back through the scene.

hide-seek complete

The mockup is constructed of foamcore and is thirty inches in length. It is eight inches deep and I believe about twelve inches high. The stepping in the fascia is not intentional. I envision this plane to be a constant and regret that my stock of foamcore sheet didn’t provide a panel large enough to present it as I saw it being. As I mentioned in the original presentation of this idea, this is a layout I do not intend to build. That said, I had a lot of fun constructing the mockup and am excited to see my idea as a massing model. It’s fun to explore around it and test how each scene works.

I love the way the boxcar is framed in the first scene. I’d like the opening to frame the boxcar and to use that car to identify the railroad. This identity is both the railroad company and also a clue on the era and perhaps even the climate.

When I look at the layout, my attention and imagination are so drawn to the forms at the bridge scene. It feels like a classic, almost science fiction-like, view of the new urban place. Layers of transportation stacked over each over and threaded through one another. A quilt composed as much of panels of commerce as action.

That leaves only the coal yard. It’s the least expressive of the three scenes yet it depicts something that I just like and find appealing. It’s probably just me and my imagination, but even across this short distance, I feel like I’ve travelled much further on this trip, having followed the train past street-level warehouse and manufacturing lofts, breaking the silence of a busy midday street, until eventually arriving to deliver that single car at the end of the line.



Hello Krista

It’s been almost eight years now and I have probably written at least a thousand posts. Given that I periodically delete content, I’ll never really know for sure. Regardless of the exact count, it represents a mile marker and certainly something to celebrate. Most importantly, I am so humbled by the number of friends I’ve made along the way. Thank you, everyone, it means so very much to me that all of this introduced us to each other.

Thank you!

I often remark that: in my opinion, I’ve learned more about model railroading from conversations about the hobby I have with Krista than I’ve learned anywhere else and I’m so completely thrilled and excited to welcome several posts from her, here. I have suggested a couple of topics that have featured in our conversations but mostly just asked her to write.

Once upon a time, in a story on the Vinyl Cafe, Stuart McLean said: “A little bit nervous. A whole lot excited.”

That pretty much sums up the moment right now.


1, 2, 3, 4.


In proposing the sketch of the grain elevator layout I found something that I am still really amused by. Something that presented both the layout and the fascia on an almost level field where one was just as interesting to look at as the other: the layout filled with rich visual textures and details begging to be explored yet also providing a source of backlighting for the shadow play arranged by those silhouettes in front. Those sketches and then the mockups that followed also provided me with a chance to explore vertical dimensions like how much height was required by the scene.


What if the borders were tightened to provide just enough room to look across a freight car’s roof or to peer underneath? While I didn’t have a place in mind when I sketched that out, those close quarters felt urban. Urban things like people on a crowded sidewalk or the way a train must snake its way between buildings on its trip to work from home.

3part frontelev

What if we cut into the fascia in sections? We might not even arrange each opening in the same orientation or on same elevation or plane. In the above sketch:

  • A is cut open large enough to provide a full side elevation. Rail cars parked by factories. The scene is shallow and its horizontal bias plays on the length of the scene and excuses the height completely.
  • B is the alley. Vertical. It’s taller than A but very narrow. Like seeing a train crossing the street downtown we see it moving between the buildings and that extra height provides a view deeper into the scene.
  • C is cut open, wrapping around the corner.

Initially, I thought this was really neat for the way it played with the scene but, looking at the sketch, I also like the way it plays with definition of the sides and ends of the box itself. A and B are a presentation that might feel more passive as we watch something moving against something else but C, that view from the side and end simultaneously, is a terminal space from things arrive, leave, or rest.

3part planview

In traditional model railway layout design we must provide white space to communicate distance or frame each element. In this concept, that white space isn’t required and we could quite radically tighten up the overall footprint of the layout. Furthermore, since we are more actively managing the view of the scene, we focus our work on modelling only what is required to complete the scene from that one perspective.

As a concept, it’s something that feels like it works as a static display or an exhibition layout and perhaps less well as a traditional model railroad. I may mock this up but don’t believe I have any interest in taking this much further than that. I’ve been trying to invest more time

All things must pass

allthingsmustpass v1-1

The model railroad, designed for operation, where you don’t model either end of the industrial process it is supposed to represent and really only provide enough stage to host an extract of the operating session. Just enough to model the bit I’m interested in:

  1. Engine enters the stage from “C” and moves through the scene to exit at “B”
  2. “B” represents a place where loaded hoppers are retreived. I’m not interested in modelling how they are loaded I just need them to come from somewhere to support the play. Further, by excluding this scene from the layout it can be greatly reduced to only a single track where I add or remove cars from the layout instead of a complex yard of tracks, cars, and scenery – all of which distracts from the purpose of the plan and the intent of the experience.
  3. With the engine shoving from the tail end, a string of hoppers is shoved through the scene. Even though only one motion in one direction, it’s a dance of delicate steps: feeding in enough throttle to maintain inertia but not so much as to break traction on the rails.
  4. Cars are fed into an unloader of some sort located at “A”. Again, not interested in building a model of this and don’t feel I need to.
  5. Repeat from step 1.

Just sawing back and forth through the scene and enjoying just how good it feels to watch and listen to well-made models in action. Not that it demands more detail, but from another page in the sketchbook, I found this page providing some additional detail for the typical operating session:

allthingsmustpass v2

The length of the operating session is determined by the amount of time I feel like attending. When retrieving hoppers, it is just running across the stage. When shoving them through the unloader though, even though the actual unload point is off-stage and not modelled the act of feeding cars through it one at a time is a very important part of the operating session.

  1. The train rests, all three cars and an engine of it, on stage
  2. Grab a notch on the throttle to shove the first hopper into the unloader.
  3. Pause while it’s unloaded and then shove the second into place…then the third. With
  4. With all three now unloaded move back to staging.
  5. Return with as many hoppers need to be unloaded next or if this is a day where we only received three hoppers, bring the engine home and go get on with life.

In terms of reference, the operating session looks one heck of a lot like the second half of this video:

And the sound and look of that little engine is a lot like this:

One Tutorial to Another

While I’ve watched the previously mentioned tutorial on static grass several times and enjoy it so much that I’ll probably watch it a few more times, this I had not. It’s a series of videos that describes making turnouts. I don’t understand what he’s saying but his workflow is logical and easy to follow. Even despite the language barrier, the host is making what feels like professional use of his time in each video and the resulting series is quite pleasant to watch.


The turnout he is building appears to make use of a plastic base. It seems interesting and I’m intrigued. While the ties are molded with some beautiful detail in place, including spikes, the rails are simply glued in place. A while ago, I built a turnout using cardboard ties and I used CA adhesive to bond the rails to those ties. My turnout has travelled far off-Island and seldom enjoyed much protection. It’s yet to fall apart and this only furthers my thoughts that you could just glue the rails down.

Anyway, glueing ties is a tangent away from showcasing another nicely done series of tutorial videos. Again, nice camera work and well designed work. I’ve watched the first nine episodes and bookmarked the channel so I can return back later and watch more when I have the time. I see he has others and I’m looking forward to seeing them too.

Sorry for the blog title. Sloan’s One Chord to Another record is a much better use of that combination of words…

Nice tutorial on static grass


I understand the appeal of using “static grass” on a model railway and the basic techniques involved. Furthermore, the benefit of using a selection of grasses of different lengths seems equally obvious. What I couldn’t seem to understand was how you were supposed to stick it all down in layers. Often, I’d read or hear about how a modeler stuck down a field’s worth of fibres of one length and then went back and stuck down more later. To my simple mind, I just kept envisioning layers of fibres stuck down over top each other and not the pleasantly varied field we all had in mind.

I know. Once again, it’s me.

I wanted to post the video part to mark how it helped me overcome a simple comprehension issue but more so to showcase what I think is just a very well done tutorial. Despite what ___ insist, every so often someone actually does elect to compose a truly great video on their own and make it publicly available. Good content exists and is worth celebrating. I like the camera work, the length of the video, and I feel that even the soundtrack works.

Well done, thanks!