ho scale

Vernon River in HO

My friend Calvin has started a blog to chronicle “Modelling the village of Vernon River, PE on the CNR’s Murray Harbour Subdivision c.1958.” This morning he posted the first article in a series, describing the construction of CN wood reefers. As he says, these will absolutely be signature rolling stock for a layout set in Prince Edward Island in the 1950’s. Check out the post here:


To say I’m excited about a friend modelling the west end of the Murray Harbour subdivision is an understatement. Calvin does superb work and I’m very, very excited to watch this project unfold.

In his book on the railway, Allan Graham credits the above photo as Keith Pratt’s and dates it 1940. It’s Vernon River. We’re standing on the main road connecting Georgetown to Charlottetown. The railway continues east to Lake Verde, then onto Charlottetown, and eventually the rest of Canada to the right of the photo and Murray Harbour to the left.

That lone coach at the station, I believe, represents a farmer’s market novelty: the railway ran special passenger trains into Charlottetown for the market. The train originated in Murray Harbour but was so popular that by Vernon River an extra coach was needed. Rather than drag the extra coach all the way to Murray Harbour it was strategically placed here, added to the westbound train, and removed from the eastbound run.



Diesel Locomotive Modeling Techniques, Vol. One. Click on the image to read more about the book on OST Publications’ website.

Considering the people who collaborated to create this book I have no doubt that they could instruct me to produce a copy of the SW1500 that Tony built and when I was done, I’d write a blog post with a Prince Street-y title like “The SW1500 that Tony built that Chris built”. The book would be a good investment since a skill like those I’d need aren’t the kind that just fall from the sky to land on your hands. You have to practice and before that, you have to have somewhere and something to start from and where else to learn from than those masters of our hobby.

The hobby has a habit of describing itself as “art” and those who have invested in their practice, as “craftsmen” and as I just did: “masters”. As freely as we paste words like that on the models I like to think there is a conversation that the artist has as they wrap media around a naked idea; as the work arises from the translation of the Idea into the Form the artist is rewarded with something they can consider, both in terms of the investment of self and of stuff; of its ability to represent the emotional dimensions of their inspiration; and now that It is tangible, is It what they hoped it would be.

“This is not a how-to book but more of how I go about it book.”

It’s refreshing to read a book written from the perspective of the artist sharing commentary on his work. In the pages that follow that quote the story moves between what worked and what didn’t. As each stage of constructing the model is completed, it is evaluated and regarded not so much as an accomplishment but as a platform to learn from and build a next project on. “Project” here is not a complete model, such as the SW1500 in question, but component parts of the engine such as a radiator cover. I’ve never thought of models in this way and the more I do, the more I like it. Imagine returning to a finished model and cutting it apart to address something that never quite fit right?

“I spend a few hours comparing the out-of-the-box model with my photographs of the prototype. This begins the process for choosing which engine number or production phase I will do. Once that has been decided I’m able to focus on one specific engine. Then I start three lists”

As much as this book tells the story of creating this stunning model in the terms of what worked, what was learned, and what could still be improved on, it doesn’t completely ignore an opportunity to share good quality instruction. As Tony discusses in the opening pages, there is still time to evaluate the quality of the research media and catalogue those materials he’ll need to complete the model. It’s neat to learn how Tony prioritizes each component of the model and invests his resources. The design of the book forced me to read it as a contemplation and in doing so, I started to see myself in the work and I started to consider how I might try to make things like a radiator housing or how to make better handrail stanchions. Where I might have simply read this and thought it was above my abilities, the work is presented in such a careful way the work is divided into projects that don’t seem so daunting. Projects that even a modeller like me could attempt in isolation that could eventually result in my own SW1500.

The hobby has room for books that are greater than the work they instruct in the creation of. Books that discuss the relationship we have with our models, as we’re creating them.  Books that provide a place to receive a discussion on why you made the choices you did. I believe we learn more from others if we learn why they made that choice, how they arrived at it, and why it felt right.

Among the many books that form the body of our family’s library I’m certain we count favourite volumes that we return to for the comfort of their familiar pages, phrases, and personalities. Like an old friend that we can always count on to welcome us with a familiar story that we’ve never heard too many times. These are the books that are absent from our hobby. Thank you Mike and Tony for investing so heavily in the creation of a book that is all at once a guide you could follow that would indeed deliver a stunning model of an essential diesel and does so in a rich way that presents a story that need never result in a model at all. A book strong enough to stand on what it is.

I doubt I’ll build a model like the one described in this book but I don’t need to. For me, this is a book I’ve already read through several times and in its pages I find a story worth re-reading that runs richer than simply instruction and that feels pretty good.

If you’ve managed to read this far and haven’t purchased a copy of the book itself, please do so. This is the type of work that we need to support the creation of and the best way to express this support is by investing in it and work like it.

Through the course of this post I’ve quoted several passages from the book itself. I believe I have used those that have already been shared in places such as the OST blog so that I haven’t compromised the content of such a superb book.

“For a small shelf switching layout, the perfect engine is the end cab switcher.”

Speaking of quotes, I couldn’t help but pick one last one. A statement that caught my interest since it really stands out awkwardly in the book. Maybe it’s a teaser toward an upcoming volume. Regardless, why is this the perfect engine? Maybe that’s a conversation to have sometime. I hope so.


A little out of hand?

I’m finding that I really enjoy working with these full-size mockups. During a period where my hands are restless for a model to work on, this is something I can quickly dive into and satisfy that urge. It’s work with value that is helping me better understand my relationship with my space and will prove invaluable as I try to settle my mind on decisions that will guide changes to the composition of the layout. For a couple dollar’s worth of foamcore and hot glue, this work is proving to be money and time I consider well invested.

Shown above is the latest and, by far, the grandest. I have increased the opening in the front of the layout to eight inches. The structure below the track currently occupies a vertical space of four inches. Though not installed, I see the top frame set at two inches high. This sums to a fourteen inch high model that is about nine inches deep. I like the overall volume and I have something here that I can easily modify to tailor changes (for example: Is there enough room for the scenic elements in front of or behind the track?)

Keeping in the spirit of screwing around, I thought I’d try creating a variation on spline roadbed based on the 3/16″ thick foamcore I’ve been using throughout these projects. It’s surprisingly rigid and I’m impressed.

Foamcore, hot glue; thirty inches long, nine inches deep, fourteen inches tall; based on 1/87 scale models;

Claremont Concord decals in HO

A quick cruise in eBay led me to this listing:


I have no connection to the seller and I haven’t seen the decals. Regardless, I’m excited and I’ve ordered a couple of sets of these to have a look at them. I’m a fan of the Claremont-Concord Railroad (my interest lies during the LaValley ownership period) and this decal set would be perfect for use on a model of the CCRR’s #30.

While I have no connection to the seller, I did exchange a few messages with him and each has been pleasant. I’m impressed with the service so far. I’m looking forward to seeing the decals and I’m thrilled to shine a light on a product that I haven’t seen produced before.

Frankly I’m surprised, constantly, by the lack of models or even just decals, for those with an interest in any of the shortlines owned or run by Samuel Pinlsy. Sharp red locomotives in beautiful scenery is such as easy sales pitch.

For reference, this nice photo of #30 at Claremont Junction, in front of the CCRR’s engine house will help in case you’re unfamiliar with this terrific little railroad or the engine I’m referring to:



I wanted a blog title as big as I felt when Taylor Main stopped by my house last week to show off something so very amazing: the resin castings based on the HO scale MLW sideframes I drew and 3D printed. In short, you take a set of them and just clip them onto a set of Kato trucks and within minutes you are here:

assembled truck

Taylor Main photo and model.

Which is one heck of a big step toward building a model of classic Canadian branchline diesel like RSC14 #1762:


Taylor Main photo.

Of course, with one of those you can just as easily build a second and then…

The castings were created by Barry MacLelland of Railway Recollections (http://www.railway-recollections.com/). I am so very impressed with the quality of every single one of these castings (Taylor ordered a lot). No flash. None. Every casting was as good or better than anything I’ve ever seen from an injection mould. This is work to be very proud of.

I’m so proud of this accomplishment. I started drawing parts to 3D print at Shapeways just to fill a void I felt existed in the model railway market and to return to my own roots as a draftsman. Creating these parts, in the very first place, was so good for my soul and has repaid so many times over just in the simple act of drawing again. I never expected anyone would buy the parts and since then I’ve seen photos of models made using these parts. I’ve seen N scale Tempo diesels and HO scale RSC13’s just to start. Of course, 3D printing is still a premium means of expanding the reach of the workbench. As soon as I saw the first parts I was curious to know if we could use this technology to create masters from which we could make moulds, and ultimately, resin cast models. I’m so excited to feel like that time is here. Stay tuned for the rest of the kit.

It’s a week later and I still smile every time I see these parts. This could not have worked out better. None of this would be possible without:

  • Taylor Main. Thank you for your support and enthusiasm for this project. Furthermore, thank you for heading up the production of the cast parts and coordinating their production;
  • Barry McLelland. You do good work. Very good work. I’ve been looking forward to working with you and grateful that, that time is here;
  • Krista. Nothing good or worthwhile gets done without your gift of being able to inspire good work. Thank you for investing this passion in this project and the ones like it.

I’ve had a lot of chances to speak about 3D printing to fellow modellers and I look forward to having more of these conversations in the future. We get lost in the idea of the models but there’s a much, much bigger story here in the way 3D printing changes the way we relate to manufacturing. Parts like these casting are a showcase of this change. They are great for the way they take the best talent from the best people and harness their passion for just that one part of the production process. Each of us looked at a project like this and thought we had a way to help. This is just one real example of the power of a good group.

Cardboard ties and CA instead?

You know what it’s like: One second you’re thinking to yourself that this is a fantastic mug of tea and the next you’re thinking that when you solder an N scale turnout together the solder pad bonding the rails to the ties is only about a square millimetre in size. Further to that thought, you catch yourself thinking about all those times when you burned a tie trying to move a rail closer to gauge. Your mind wanders and you can’t hold back any longer. The seconds slip by as you find it ever increasingly hard to ignore that question you’ve been mulling over and why you don’t just glue the rails in place.

Before I get too far into explaining myself here I will mention that I have memories of fibre-tie flex track. I remember what it was like to work with that stuff and those memories were on my mind too when I started thinking about cardboard ties. Now back to what I did.

Photographed above is what I made. The turnout itself is a wye, it’s HO scale. The rails are code 55. The ties are cut from some 1mm thick cardstock that was originally the back of a notepad and the turnout was built in place on a piece of foamcore. As mentioned, the only method used here to bond the rails to the ties is a medium viscosity CA glue. In terms of assembly, I followed the same order of operations I’d typically use and started at the two rails that form the frog and the worked outward from there. Here are some thoughts from this experiment:

Curving rails before gluing them in place was time well spent.

If I managed to glue the rail in the wrong place the joint could be easily cut through with a razor blade and then re-glued in the correct position. You could, in theory, cut and re-glue a rail’s position any number of times. This is a clear advantage compared to other methods. Those folks who use a similar and popular method based on an adhesive like Pliobond where I used CA already know this.

Compared to soldered construction this approach was faster. The biggest savings in time was realised in not gapping all those crossties. However, I’ll need to attach a few more leads to power individual rails where on the soldered turnout I could just rely on the tie itself as the conductor.

The resulting turnout is surprisingly durable. I brought it with me to last night’s op’s session and several friends succumbed to the natural temptation to try and work a rail loose. No luck.

If I needed a bit more reinforcement to hold the rail to the ties I could go back and spike the rail into place. Given the foamcore base, if I was to do this, I’d need something under the foamcore that would grab the spikes as they were driven in.

Being paper, these ties will need to be sealed. Regardless of what the track was made of I like spraying a layer of colour on the track anyway. Lately, I’ve been using Krylon’s camouflage colours for this and being oil-based this step, that I was going to do anyway, will work to seal the ties too.

I’m sufficiently impressed with this little sample to want to try another and to get a better feel for whether or not this is something I’d like to keep doing. If nothing else, it was fun to make up this sample and I now know what it’s like to glue two or more fingers to a piece of model railway track so I feel just a bit wiser too.



Wiley wondering. Trolleys, not the coyote.

I know I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy Andy Gautrey’s Yakima Valley Railroad inspired model railways before so I’ll try and keep this brief. Something about this particular time of year always seems to cause the pendulum of my railroading interests to swing in the direction of trains under wires and I wanted to string together a great thread that associated some Youtube footage of his layout with a build thread he created over on RMWeb. I realise I’m creating this post as much for my own sake to help me track these links in the cloud that this blog provides.

First, here’s the build thread. Andy has peppered this one with great detail on how his Wiley City layout was constructed. In six square feet he’s produced what looks like such as satisfying layout:


From Youtube, a great video he produced that shows the layout. I believe this is one of those truly elegant creations that showcases how successful this design can be for the builder and the audience. I love it.