Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Visit to the Bellingham, Washington Railway Museum

Work took me to the U.S. Pacific Northwest in August. It included a stop in Bellingham, WA. While there, I took some time to visit the Bellingham Railway Museum.

I assumed, from the name, that a railway museum would be, you know, located by railway tracks and maybe be home to some 1:1 prototypes.

So I was surprised, when I looked on the map, to discover that this railway museum is in downtown Bellingham—nowhere near the tracks.

Even so, it was an enjoyable visit, offering an opportunity to learn more about railways in that part of the country.

The main attractions of the museum are two layouts: G scale, depicting logging and mining activity in the northwest, and Lionel. The logging modelling is quite spectacular.

The museum also has many historical photos of railway activity in the area, along with examples of Lionel model railroad equipment from past decades.

Interestingly, it’s a “railway” museum—a term used in Canada and Great Britain—not a “railroad” museum, as is more commonly used in the U.S.

(Click here for a post about railway vs. railroad, and why there is no definitive way to prefer one over the other.)

Maybe that’s because the big companies in the region all used “railway” in their names: Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railway, Burlington Norther Santa Fe Railway.

Again, it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so, even if it wasn’t located trackside.

While in Bellingham, I did manage to catch Amtrak's Cascade, heading south along the shore (taking a photo from the boardwalk, which juts out into the water).

Click here to visit the Museum’s website.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Tony Koester, Multi-Deck Layouts and Me

So I was re-reading a copy of Tony Koester's book Desiging and Building Multi-Deck Model Railraods, when I came across a couple of paragraphs about me.

Well, not about me exactly, but about the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub., and how it (and my late brother-in-law's layout) influenced Tony to build his own multi-deck layout.

Tony was a guest presenter at 2000 during the NMRA Thousand Lakes Region Millennium Express convention in Winnipeg.

During the convention, he visited local layouts—including mine and the Cougar River Subdivision, owned by my brother-in-law Ken Epp.

I don’t remember much of what Tony said during the visit, but I remember he paid me a compliment on my modeling. It meant a lot to me.

What I didn’t realize, until I re-read the book recently, was that his visit also caused him to take a dramatic turn in his own modelling.

In the introduction to the book, Tony wrote that for a long time, he couldn’t see himself “adopting the multi-deck approach to layout design any time soon.”

Then, in 2000, he came to Winnipeg, and got “quite a surprise.”

“During an extensive layout tour, I discovered that every new or newly revised model railroad on the tour had multiple decks! 

"One huge basement layout had at least three decks, in fact, with the upper one above eye level . . . something was clearly in the wind.”

Four levels on Ken Epp's Cougar River Sub.

“The story of what was in the wind is what this book is all about.”

“It’s as much a fascinating story of the recent history of progressive model railroad design as it is a how-to book.”

Three levels on the M & M Sub.

After reading those lines, I wrote Tony about his comments.

“That visit to Canada was indeed an eye-opener,” he replied, adding that Canadians seemed to be starting a trend.

Two levels on the M & M Sub.

As for the book itself, there’s a photo of the M & M Sub. in it. There is also a photo from the layout in another of Tony’s books, Model Railroading from the Prototype to Layout.

One of these days, I want to see Tony’s Third Subdivision of the Nickel Plate Road multi-deck layout, and see him once again in person.

Meantime, I can reflect on my tiny contribution to that great model railroad.

Tony's NPR layout.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Thompson River Canyon in Model Railroad Hobbyist

In August it was the HO scale M & M Sub. on the cover of Canadian Railway Modeller. Now my Thompson River Canyon N scale layout is in the September issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist.

Getting in a magazine is always special, but this is a special honour since the layout was created in memory of my brother-in-law Ken Epp, who died of cancer in 2014.

Before he died, he was planning to build an N scale layout based on his favorite railfan area, the Thompson River Canyon in B.C.

Since he died before he could do that, I decided to build it for him. In this case, it was a simple loop on a 2 x 7 hollow core door.

While many have seen the layout on this blog, it’s great to be able to share it, and my memory of Ken, with many others through MRH.

(It’s also pretty cool to be in an issue that features the modelling of Bob Rivard, who is someone I greatly admire in the world of model railroading.)

You can read the whole issue, and read the article, here. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse on the M & M Sub.

Anyone else catch the total solar eclipse on their layout yesterday? 

(Not going to pretend this is anything special; I just printed out a couple photos of the Aug. 21 eclipse and used tape to hold them against the wall or balanced them in the trees. Throw on a van or a loco or two and—there you go.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

On the cover of the Rolling Stone, er, Canadian Railway Modeller

Back in 1972, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show released a song asking to get on the “cover of the Rolling Stone.”

In 1973, they made it—in caricature, at least.

I have no aspirations for the cover of that magazine, but I was interested in getting the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. on the cover of a model railroad magazine one day—and now it’s happened.

This summer the layout made the cover of Canadian Railway Modeller. It had appeared in the magazine before, but not on the cover.

The article inside describes the layout—its construction, background and operation.

In this Internet age, magazines are becoming old technology. But there is still something satisfying about getting in a printed publication—especially on the cover.

If you don’t believe me, ask Canada’s Prime Minister. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Original Founding Document of the M & M Sub. Found

England has the Magna Carta (1215).

America has the Declaration of Independence (1776).

France has the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

And the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision has the bill of sale from Bobbye Hall’s Hobby House in Dallas, TX (1987).

I know this, because I found it the other day.

I wasn't looking for it; I was going through a filing cabinet looking for an old warranty when I came across an archive file.

There were a number of keepsakes in there—bills of sale for our first few cars, our first house, things like that.

Also in the file—thanks to my wife, who hangs on to these things—was the handwritten bill of sale for the first model railroad equipment I bought 30 years ago when I got back into the hobby.

Dated May 25, 1987, it was just before we left Dallas after living there for two years to head back to Manitoba.

Before we left, I went to Bobbye Hall’s, a legendary Dallas model railroad store, and bought six pieces of rolling stock and a locomotive for $39.64.

(You heard that right, young people—you could do that back.)

As I have written before, I had been into trains since a young child but sold my N scale stuff in 1976 before leaving for college.

It was 11 years before I got back into the hobby, with a trip to Bobbye Hall’s.

And now, 30 years and two layouts later, here is the founding document of my model railroad journey.

All but one of those original items are long gone now. But through this old bill of sale, I can remember when it all began.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bowser Red Barn Finally on the M & M Sub.

Finally! My SD40-2F Red Barn from Bowser is on the layout and racking up miles.

The unit arrived a week ago, while I was out of town. It had its first run two days ago.

Like my other Bowser SD40-2 units, it looks great and runs like a dream.

A great looking and great running Red Barn has been on my wish list for years.

Until now, the only way to get this model was to buy brass, kitbash or use the old Associated Model Makers (AMM) resin kit.

I’ve actually had an AMM Red Barn for about 15 years. I bought it used from a local hobby shop.

The Bowser unit (l) next to the old AMM unit.

It’s a crude effort (someone called it a “bar of soap”), and apparently very hard to work with.

My model is on an Athearn Blue Box chassis. It runs OK. Considering the lack of alternatives, it was great for its time.

So when Bowser announced its Red Barn models, I was ecstatic. And now I finally have one!

With the addition of the Red Barn, I can’t think of any more locomotives that the M & M Sub. would need.

Of course, there’s always the GP9u chop nose that Bowser plans to bring out . . . yes, I could always appreciate one of those.

Click here to read more about the history of  this unique unit.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Ode to the Meadows, Man. Wood Elevator: The Only Things Left Are the Memories

At one time, there were over 5,700 wooden elevators in Canada's prairie provinces.

Called prairie giants or sentinels on the prairies, they handled the grain that helped make Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta a bread basket for the world.

And not only that; the elevators were the social hubs for the area’s farmers, a place to not only take a load of grain, but also to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on the local news.

For residents of those town, the loss of the elevator was more than just economics—it was a real punch in the gut.

It said the town was dying, or soon would be.

Or, as one person said to me: “First it’s the elevator, then the post office, then the school, then the churches. Then what’s left?”

Those classic old elevators have mostly been replaced by modern concrete throughput elevators—giant facilities that can handle large strings of hopper cars and hold many more bushels of grain.

Today there are only 500-600 left, by one estimation, and only half of those are in operation.

The most recent one to be destroyed was at Meadows, just to the west of Winnipeg on the CPR mainline.

For Canadian Railway Modeller Morgan Turney, its destruction is yet another sign of changing times. He wrote to following ode to the Meadows elevator.

Remembering Meadows

I don't know what it is about the name 'Meadows;’ perhaps it conjures up memories of a very peaceful place.

There isn't much there. A few farms nearby and a homestead just across the street from the Meadows road sign.

But it had a Paterson wooden grain elevator, the first one you came across driving westward down Rosser Road.

Rounding a gentle curve just past Rosser, there were two things you could count on seeing. One was an African-type tree (it looks like it's from the plains of the Serengeti) in the field on the right hand side of
the road.

And in the distance straight ahead, the Meadows elevator.

It served as a familiar landmark to anyone taking the back roads and following the CPR's Carberry subdivision on a railfan adventure toward Portage la Prairie.

Sadly after July 20, 2017, that 'African' tree is all that's left.

Many of us will miss the Meadows elevator. It was the last one standing on that route after Marquette (another Paterson elevator) was pulled down on September 3rd, 2013.

How sad is it that we destroy our iconic history so willfully. So thoughtlessly.

Meadows is gone—forever. All that's left are the photographs.

And the memories.

Photos: Morgan Turney. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

News from Bowser: Canadian GP38-2 and GP9u Chopnose Locomotives Planned

As Canadians, we aren’t used to Americans noticing us.

We’re like the nice people in the apartment upstairs who are quiet and never make a fuss—easy for the people downstairs to ignore.

So when Americans do take note of us, we are both proud but also little embarrassed by the attention. 

We’re Canadians, after all—saying “sorry” is our national pastime!

One place where Canada has been getting some attention from the U.S. recently is in the model railroad world.

In HO scale, American manufacturers Athearn, Atlas, Bowser and InterMountain have all been making Canadian prototypes.

It’s an embarrassment, alright; an embarrassment of riches.

Of the four, it is Bowser which has taken the deepest plunge into the Canadian market with its HO scale Canadian locomotives.

In 2015, I asked Bowser rep Scott Davis why that was. 

Back then, he said it was partly because the Canadian economy was doing much stronger than the U.S. economy at that time—so why not take advantage of it?

Things have evened out since then, and still Bowser is making Canadian models such as the C-630M, M636, RS3, SD40-2, SD40-2F (Red Barn), and the SD40.

And now Bowser is planning to make the CN and CP GP38-2 and GP9u chop nose. (Yes, you heard that correct!)

Bowser owner Lee English confirmed the GP38-2 and GP9u in an e-mail this past week.

Lee English of Bowser.

The CP version of the GP38-2 will be measured this month, he said; Bowser has already measured the CN version.

The unit will go to the designer by the end of the summer.

As for the GP9u, it was also measured recently. There is no date yet set for when it will go to the designer. Bowser also plans to make a slug.

As for release dates for the new models, “I hope it can go fast,” Lee says, but adds, as a joke, that he has to be careful not to go too fast or he might “run Canadian model railroaders out of money!”

Intrigued by all this emphasis on Canadian prototypes, I asked Lee what causes him to continue to make models for this market.

A main reason, he said, was the great support from Canadian model railroaders—both in offering advice and ideas during the design stage, but also in buying the products.

When designing a model, Lee sends out an e-mail to Canadian modellers for help.

“The response is great,” he says. “The guys that want to help have been great.  I cannot ask for more. The info flooded in.”

As for sales, “the SD40-2 has been a very good project,” he says, and it has led him to consider other Canadian models.

It also helps that he employs, or has employed, staff who like Canadian railways.

“Matt Herman worked for me and pushed to make the C630M,” he said. “He loves Canadian railroading and knew the differences between the Alco and MLW.”

As for the Canadian GP38-2, for that “you have to blame Rich Cox,” his store manager and researcher, he says. “He loves Canadian railroading, too.”

Rich's job is to research potential models that Bowser could make—models not being made by others. 

Knowing that a lot of Canadian model railroaders would likely want a 4-axle locomotive made the decision easier.

Plus, Lee says, “the GMD version has not been done.

I finished my questions by asking Lee what it he wished model railroaders knew about the life of a small model railroad manufacturer.

We need help,” he says. “The modelers need to know we do not know everything about every road name.They need to let us know what they know before the locos goes into final production.”

If they see a new announcement, “offer to provide info,” he says, adding they should be sure to provide photos or other documentation.

As for the future, Lee says “I will continue to make Canadian locomotives.”

Those of us who are Canadian, or who model Canadian railways, are glad he will.