Good morning

Coffee and an almond croissant from Two if by Sea and a park bench overlooking the marina. The backdrop is the Dartmouth yard. Train 407 just tied on its power and 511’s crew will leave shortly to drag another load of gypsum hoppers from Milford to Wright’s Cove. The yard is packed with autoracks and all is right with the world. 

Take care


“It just feels so cool”


My walk after work today brought me to Atlantic News, on Morris Street, here in Halifax. There amongst a generous assortment of model railway magazines were three copies of Model Railway Journal number 254. For the first time ever, I have just bought myself a copy of this magazine in person! Every copy of this that I have arrived in the mail. Often by way of exceptionally generous help of friends in England.

It probably sounds silly to confess, but it just feels so cool to just wander into a store and buy a copy of this like it was any other magazine.

More random thoughts…

I don’t always care for MRJ. That’s okay because it’s just a magazine. Regardless of whether or not I liked the copy, the fact that I probably only have it thanks to the generous help of a friend instills in each copy a memory of that relationship, which in turn makes each copy pretty darn good.

I hadn’t even intended to go for the walk. I was sort of cranky (really…a bit anxious and a little melancholic just for fun) after work today and thought I should probably just see what some wandering and sunshine might do. Stop number one was my first visit to The Wired Monk for coffee and a slice of carrot cake. First time visit to this really pleasant little coffee shop and it was delightful. I’m looking forward to going back soon.


Matchbox (part 2?)

I wanted to revisit my earlier post that introduced a model railway design that I had named “The Matchbox”. The vision for that design remains clear in my head but as I re-read that post I wonder if I could have done a better job of explaining the basic idea?

Hopefully, the following illustrations and text will be helpful.


Above is the basic idea. Borrowing a dimension inherited from a wall in our apartment, it’s footprint is six feet in length and nine inches deep. I’ve shaded in the major construction components to provide some initial bearings. For the sake of this exercise, let’s not get too bogged down in details like the size of individual elements and focus instead on how the design works.

“layout” (red)

As the name implies this is our diorama representing the complete scene; track, trains, and all. The complete area is scenicked and finished to a presentation standard.

“staging drawer” (brown)

Equal in area to the complete footprint of the layout, the staging drawer is deep enough to store rolling stock inside and is open along the top.

“fascia” (grey)

Wrapping around the exposed faces of the layout, the fascia covers the complete front expanse of the layout. When the layout is in the closed position, this completely hides the horizontal seam between the two layers and the secret buried deep inside.


“backdrop” (blue)

Equal in length to the layout and reaching to about twenty-four inches above the finished scene.

“valance” (black)

The valance frames the top of the layout and also contains the lighting rig.

“cassette style switching lead” (white)

Instead of storing the cars loose, they are pre-loaded onto cassette-style staging units. Complete cassettes are stored inside the staging area within this matchbox’s envelope.

The staging drawers, valance, and the backdrop remain fixed (e.g. “to the wall”). They do not move. So, in terms of how the layout changes during an operating session:

  1. The layout is opened up by sliding it out into the hallway
  2. A cassette (containing a train) is selected and lifted out of the staging drawer
  3. The cassette is attached to the end of the layout and left in place until the end of the operating session
  4. Once in place, the cassette bridges over the staging area
  5. At the end of the operating session, the cassette is returned to the staging drawing
  6. The layout is slid back into the original closed position

It’s really that simple.

Traditionally, a model railway remains fixed in place. If we need that extra length of track, we achieve it by adding to the layout by attaching staging to a free end like a pier jutting from the land out into the sea. In this case, I propose moving the layout out of the way to make room for the extra track we need. This is made easy by mounting the layout on a set of drawer slides built onto the top of the integral storage unit. It slides open and closed like a matchbox and in doing so, both reveals the trains stored inside and also evolves the plan from static diorama to operating model railway.

matchbox2-3 end drawer

As I noted, I based this idea around a plan that was six feet in length. At most, I would expect to only need to open it up to add about two feet of additional length (i.e. where that staging cassette is attached). That leaves a space at the other end of the board where a second drawer could be incorporated. It could be used to store more trains but I suspect it would be better utilized as a placed to store those tools I use most often.

matchbox2-4 front drawer

Instead of the drawer opening from the end, it could just as easily open from the front of the layout. If I were storing tools inside, this might actually be the better idea since it could open directly over my work table.

I find the idea of sliding the model railway around novel and amusing. What I find attractive about the plan isn’t so much borne of this amusement as it is the way that the design provides places to store extra models, tools, and materials. Typically these find places on shelving near the layout but they often look cluttered. In this design, they are tucked cleanly, invisibly inside. Between uses, all that is shown to the casual viewer is the model set.

Rick de Candido has written two really neat blog posts in which he presents some terrific suggestions on how staging cassettes could be built. He presents an idea that not only makes it easy to move an entire train but to do so in a way where the cars are protected while in flight. Even my modest cassettes are in the range of twenty-four inches in length and I feel that is approaching about as long a cassette I could safely maneuver without accidentally dumping everything on the floor. Check out Rick’s blog posts by clicking on this link:

I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with these sketches. I hope this article has been useful in helping to further explain the idea.

“I am not a layout designer…”

The posts all start with a variation of the phrase “I am not a layout designer”. Each time Rick de Candido presents an idea that is unique, yet undoubtedly draws from the experiences he’s gained from building the Fillmore Avenue Terminal and what he’s learned about his own relationship with the hobby. You can see the family resemblance in broad, aesthetic terms but it’s clear that none of these ideas is a simple rehash of a common theme like: shelf layout done three ways.

The conceptual plans all seem to be grouped into a blog category titled Tech  – Layout Concepts and if this all goes to plan the link below not only invites you to his blog but loads this particular series of posts:

Elsewhere on the site are a series of articles, each devoted to describing one type of train operation on the layout. I enjoy re-reading these articles and often think that they could stand as individual layout design studies. A favourite among these is the one in which Rick writes about managing express cars received from trains that have just arrived or are being prepared for the next train out:

Through detailed text and annotated with terrific photos, articles like the above describe how a layout could be created based on only this extract. Each time I’ve read Express Car Ops, I’ve caught myself thinking just how fun that job would be to hold at Fillmore and, equally, just how fun this alone would be if this was all the layout I had at home.

This style of writing is something I wish we were treated to more often in the hobby. The railroad, both real and in model form, is a community of activities. As with any community there will be stories that we are attracted to and that draw our attention in. In doing so, we’re invited to get to know the greater story on a more personal level since we’re provided a chance to relate our story to the one we’re discovering.

Maybe not a layout designer like the ones we typically get in the pages of the latest track plans book but I’m grateful for that. We could use more people that aren’t.

Thanks Rick. You’ve created something really good both in the model railway and also the website dedicated to telling its story to the rest of us. I appreciate the work and have always enjoyed checking in.

A close runner-up in Fillmore extracts that I think would make a superb layout would be an extract based on the activities Rick describes in Service Train – Coal:

This train serves to deliver coal to the coaling station and boiler house in the scene. That detailed coaling tower would make a superb signature scene instantly identifying the story of the layout and each operating session would be devoted to the acts of a single shunting engine, moving coal hoppers around.

The Matchbox


Image from Anagoria and found in Wikipedia and used under Creative Commons.

Closed, the matchbox is a advertisement for a brand. It’s entire surface area is dedicated to that statement. We know that there are matches inside and we don’t need to see them to trust that they’re there waiting for us to use. I like this simplicity and have always thought the simple matchbox was among the more brilliant ideas we’ve presented as a means of packaging a product.

A model railway exists in two states: One where it’s a static diorama and tells a story by presentation of details alone and a second state where it comes alive as a piece of kinetic sculpture. How can its design favour the very different design criteria to better serve those very different demands, basically: That shelf isn’t going to get longer just because I need more track to run a train on.

Or could it? Presented above are a pair of pages I’ve taken from my sketchbook based on an idea that I’ve been thinking about, based on a classic matchbox.


The “scene” is the identify of the layout. In between uses, the entire available area is made available to casting the scene in which the railway is set. To create enough space for the scene I have truncated the plan just in front of the turnout. This isn’t a problem since, in this state, our ideal is presentation and not operation.


When it is time to use the model railway to support operation, the scene slides to reveal a tray that resides under the layout itself. That tray can be used to store extra rolling stock pre-loaded onto storage cassettes. Those cassettes could be added as a bridge over top of the tray that connects to the track on the layout to add to the available length of track in the scene and provide enough room for a train to reach into either of the sidings.

In truth, this isn’t an entirely revolutionary idea. Removable storage cassettes that clip onto the end of the scene feel as established an idea as the hobby of model railways itself. Their traditional design in fact would be simpler to engineer than what I’m presenting so what makes this idea intriguing to me?

We could divide the available room to provide a staging area aside the scenic section. However, we’re taking space we need simply to invest it for storing stuff we’re not using. Further, to the audience, I’m worried that we wind up telling both stories in the same voice. I think that can prove visually confusing.

By hiding the extra rolling stock within the layout’s envelope I don’t need more room than the layout occupies simply to store the cars. Also, they’re afforded a bit more protection from the world buried deep inside compared to being on a shelf mounted on the wall or in their factory boxes stored somewhere else.

This storage space itself could and should store more than just the trains. I’d place the layout’s control system in here and even the basic modelling tools required for typical modelmaking. I could easily see enough room in this hidden space for some knives, sanding sticks, tweezers, and the usual kit.

Matchbox Sketch5

In this plan the backdrop and lighting valance are static. They don’t move with the layout. This too is deliberate. When I’m operating a train on it my attention is on dividing cars between the various car spots indicated on the plan A-B-C-D-E but likely where I need light so I can see to couple and uncouple cars or read data from a car’s side I’m standing, fairly stationary, around F-D-E.

The local art store sells wooden trays intended to be used for painting in the same way we’d use a stretched canvas. I could see two of those, face each other to form the top and bottom halves of the layout with a set of simple drawer slides acting as the means of moving the layout for operation. (These trays come in sizes up to 12×48″).

I don’t know if this is an idea that I’ll tease out much further but it is something that I’ll refer back to. In a few weeks, we finally move into our apartment and it’ll be time to start seriously exploring some exciting new venues for the layout to live in. Having posts like this on hand will be fun to refer back to.




…was a little over two months ago.

I applied for the job over a year ago. At the time, I knew it sounded like fun. When I submitted my application it never really occurred to me that they might actually call my bluff and offer me the position. Sure, I mean, during the winter I had received emails from our Human Resources team that reminded me of my “suitability” but you never really expect that to go anywhere.

And then it does.

At the end of March they offered me the job in Dartmouth.

“The end of March” feels like standing on the top step of a tall ladder. You can see as far as an eye can see but spend most of the time looking down and hoping that the step you stand on, the one clearly marked “Not a step!”, doesn’t know it can’t be one. From the end of March, the first of May is a lifetime away and I had, like, forever to get there.

And then the next day it was May 1st.

And now it is June the fourteenth.

This post is for the blog.

I don’t want to write a post that sounds like a confessional but I do want to acknowledge the time and how things just suddenly went quiet on my end. During the week I live and work here here in Dartmouth and on the weekends I drive back to the Island where the girls are. On those drives I carry an eclectic play list of music for the car and a conversation for myself wherein I mostly talk to myself about design ideas and contemplate the state of the model railways. Some of those ideas will be remembered as stillborn blog posts and some I’m looking forward to exploring in a more tangible way when things start to settle back into a routine. Some, you should join me to talk about in person – I hope that happens some time soon.

Mostly, this post is for Krista.

I never planned things to go quiet just after Krista’s post but that’s how it worked out. In no small way that’s exactly how things should have been and I’m glad for that. During a time like the one we’re moving through right now, time is punctuated by a series of major life changes like selling the house, finding good schools, and somewhere good to live. Despite how many times I believed, with complete conviction, that I’ve just charted a course for certain doom she’s proven me wrong and I’ve never, ever, been so happy to have been so wrong. She hates John Prine but I can’t find a song with a better lyric to mark this moment: “She is my everything”

So, in a rambling sort of way, that’s where the time went. Once upon a time I accepted a job offer and because of that we’re in the process of moving to Nova Scotia. We’re excited to be here and excited to head out on this adventure.

Wait, there is a better song. One she does really like. One we both really like and it goes like: “Two of us riding nowhere…on our way home.”

I love you Krista

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!