setting the scene

Last weekend I learned some techniques for making scenery.

Trevor Marshall asked me to visit the TrainmastersTV studios with him so I could participate in his latest "Roadshow" episode. My job was to ask silly questions, and he would show me how easy it was to generate basic grasslands. It was far easier than I expected.

My forte has always been electrical and mechanical aspects of layouts. If you want a pair of .128" diameter holes drilled .750" apart, or you need a wiring harness connecting you control panel to the tracks, I'm your man. But high-school art classes were a long time ago, and I was much better at mechanical draughting than "sketching from life" even then.

Starting with a blank slate (a 12" square slab of extruded foam insulation in this case) Trevor showed me how to add gentle contours, foundation colour & texture, realistic ground cover, and even small shrubs to create a pleasing diorama in just a few hours. The results I achieved were satisfying and visually acceptable; I'm sure with more practise I could improve to the point where I would surprise myself with the finished product.

Trevor has a more complete write-up of the event. Please visit his site for more detailed description.


after the long pause

Nothing happens for a long time, then everything happens at once.


The recent Schomberg Narrow Gauge Show (the 10th annual!) was an excellent outing; a full day of discussion, diversion, and divesting.

I was happy to find new homes for a number of items, including a bunch of On30 equipment that has been ageing in its boxes in my basement. I was also able to pass along sizable quantities of good reference material to two fellow modellers in the area; all the Mainline Modeler mags & all the Railroad Model Craftsman mags that have been thumbed through and referenced for several years. These go on to a new life and stay out of landfill (where they don't belong).

In a feat of heroic restraint, I purchased nothing for myself save a delicious currant cake from the Scottish bakery down the street. Ravening hordes of model railroaders had already swept the venue clean of meat pies prior to my arrival.


note how I blend into the wall using urbane camouflage
Not long before the aforementioned event, a show organiser asked me to present a short clinic on the use of machine-tools for model making tasks. I had no idea what would be appropriate to offer, as the days of Model Railroader magazine contributor Carl Traub & home lathes seem long past. After much head-scratching, I decided to cover what could be done with a basic drill press that went beyond just drilling single holes in pieces of wood. Different accessories and processes were presented, several of which the group were unaware. One retired machinist told me that he'd never heard of one item I'd shown; the sensitive drill chuck. The talk went long (and cut into lunch time) but it was well attended and everyone stayed until the end. Enough interest was shown to prompt me to think about a recorded demo (on that, more later).

Dinner with friends at the local pub afterwards put the icing on the cake that day.


The module wiring episode of TrainMastersTV has been released, where Trevor Marshall and I tackle the problem of getting electrons to the trains. Hard to believe this segment was filmed several months ago. Great fun to do, though I wish there were more time to explain some of the "whys".


In moving the RMCs to their new home, I was able to stop by the TrainMastersTV studio and check out producer Barry Silverthorn's latest layout build progress. It looks like a great start to an engaging track plan, offering some unique viewing angles of the trains in operation.


Trevor Marshall held an op session on his Port Rowan branch layout last week. I finally got to meet D&H modeller Michel Boucher from Ottawa, and learned some new ways to think about train moves during switching. Premium resin kit designer & builder Pierre Oliver joined Trevor, Michel and I at a favourite local restaurant to have dinner with 23 other railway enthusiasts to top off the day's activities.

A visit to the Credit Valley Railway Co. for more supplies  (followed of course by lunch) the next day made for a well-rounded visit with a new friend. I now own my 5th set of Xuron cutters which hopefully will not share the sordid fates of its earlier brethren (lost, stolen, destroyed, lost).


a thousand cuts

It seems that this year everything has crowded in to the months of August and September.

Meetings, travel, visitors, new opportunities, household repairs, appointments, special events, etc.

I've never had to turn down or miss so many things in rapid succession.

Additionally, the change of seasons is virtually upon us. A whole raft of tasks that must be completed before the snow flies now loom menacingly close.

On the upside, I have achieved more in the last few weeks than I have in some time - which is very gratifying. The back deck has been repaired, a park bench rebuilt, kitchen walls repaired & plastered, front door & kitchen walls painted, and flooring repaired.

Only a thousand more little things to do…


a grand day out

A visitor came to call from far away, a friend of Pierre Oliver's.

I zipped in to the top end of town and took the subway south. It was one of the new Bombardier-built trains without bulkheads. Going around curves can be a bit disconcerting, but the equipment seems well made and the ride is smooth. A big difference from the old British-made equipment I remember travelling on many (many?) years ago.

Pierre's friend Thorsten is a Fremo modeller from Germany who is also planning a US style layout in a rare European basement. Pierre went to a big Fremo meet in Nordhorn back in 2009 and wrote extensive commentary in his own blog.

If you don't know what Fremo is, you should look into it. Their organisation, display, and operation of massive modular layouts puts most of the public efforts I've seen here to shame.

As an aside, Pierre happens to be the proprietor of Elgin Car Shops and makes some of the finest resin rolling stock kits you'll ever see. Crisp and clean castings, fine etched frets, and clear instructions.

We all gathered at Trevor Marshall's Port Rowan layout for an op session. Initially, I played the dual roles of Fat Brakeman and Confused Conductor while Thorsten operated the locomotive. Trevor had added yet another refinement to the paperwork which, of course, threw me off for no good reason.

Later, he performed the conducting duties while Pierre ran an extra. Frankly, Thorsten did a better job than I did despite never having seen the layout or paperwork before. I'd better pull up my socks!

Thorsten had brought along some of the new leg brackets being made for Fremo modules. They seem to be galvanised steel, water-jet cut and stamped, with a swaged threaded insert for an M8 thumbscrew. Very nicely made. These take a square aluminium tube or wooden leg and offer a slight amount of adjustment for height via the thumbscrew. It shows what can be done by a focused group of builders looking for good engineering solutions.

After the trains were all safely back on the sector plate, we dropped in at Harbord House for a meal and refreshment. Long and enjoyable  discussions of trains, both real and model, followed.

A quick run up the subway brought me back out of the core and homeward.


passing on

Oliver Clubine, owner of Ridgehill Scale Models and founder of the S Scale Workshop, passed away on the morning of April 22, 2014.

Oliver built race cars, model railways, and friendships.

I remember meeting him briefly at the annual Copetown Train Show quite a few years ago. I was just getting into S scale, and he was THE local supplier for all things 1:64. Once you knew Oliver, you were in touch with the whole S community and a wealth of information.

Over the next few years, I attended several of his annual Christmas S get-togethers. I was dabbling with Newfoundland Railway equipment in Sn42. At one of these events he opined that I should enter one of my scratchbuilt cars in a contest, and gave me one of his over-the-glasses "Are you pulling my leg?" looks when I said I didn't think it was good enough to do so.

For many years Oliver and his model rail crew (including his son David) displayed and operated the S scale Ridgehill Central Ry at local shows. The workmanship was excellent, and I always enjoyed seeing the layout in action.

When it came time to build a new layout in a modular format, he asked me to participate; he thought I would "fit in" with the group. Frankly, I was flattered. While I tried to come up with something that was "good enough" visually and was an electro-mechanically reliable part of the whole arrangement, I always felt like I was somehow letting down the side except for the electron-pushing part of things - dealing with any DCC issues that cropped up.

One day a couple of years ago, on a whim, I paid him a visit at his race shop. We had the chance to talk about a lot of things (including model railways), and I was able to lend a hand unloading a semi-trailer full of specialty racing tyres. Shoving a 2-wheeled dolly back and forth through the tall stacks of rubber was easy enough even in the (indifferent) shape I was in at the time. Afterwards I shared a very nice, homemade lunch with Oliver and his wife Sandra. It was a good day with a friend, and I'm glad I made the trip.

My own health has been up-and-down for some time now which has limited certain activities in the hobby, especially with respect to public shows. I've missed quite a few events where Oliver was present, despite his own tribulations. Opportunities lost.

His passing gives me a lot to think about. I will greatly miss his input and enthusiasm.

Goodbye and thank you, Oliver.


revisionist history

However long it takes, I will gradually be moving all tool and workshop related posts from this blog to a new blog, Artem Factotum.

This blog will slowly return to model railway themed content.




I love books.

I have a lot of books, though not as many as some, it's true.

So far 15' L x 6' H of bookcases. And some bankers boxes. And some Rubbermaid tubs.
Need another bookcase, I guess.

Most of these books are technical in nature; not a lot of fiction left after the big purge of 2001. Just the favourites were kept.

Books about machining, steam engines, woodworking, sand casting, cooking, furniture repair, surface finishing, World War I, model building, blacksmithing, railway history, programming, robotics, telephones, web technolgies, chemistry, anatomy, sleep medicine, home renovation, operating systems, electronics, etcetera.

I've been talking about getting rid of things. I've been talking about that for a long time. I am getting rid of things, but not books. My fiction library is a mere shadow of its former self, and I doubt it will get any smaller. The technical library will, if anything, continue to grow.

"Isn't all this stuff available on the Internet for free?"
Show me comprehensive coverage that will never suddenly disappear overnight without warning and I'll get rid of that printed reference work. Honest.

"Why don't you just scan these books into your computer?"
Not a trivial task. It would take a couple of years. And I'd likely destroy some (or all) of the older books in the process. Bit of a sacrilege, frankly. Technically, I'd still have to keep all of the books (the primary source) in order to do that legally. So no real gain there.

I do have some commercially produced electronic collections which replaced more than a few shelves of periodicals. The image quality is not as good as the print versions. Some fine drawing elements are blurred. I recall seeing at least one badly scanned page. At least I can search the contents to find specific references. I even have some digital publications that are not available via any other medium; I use a 7" tablet to view these.

But there's something about holding a real book and flipping the pages that can't be replaced by a digital experience.

Can't explain it; just prefer it.


Getting stuff sorted out means (to me) lumping it into four broad categories.

  • Stuff to keep (needed and still works)
  • Stuff to sell (no more need for it but in good shape and still worth $)
  • Stuff to give away (likewise in good shape and still useful but of little $ value)
  • Stuff to trash (just junk OR not economical to fix OR no real need for it even if repaired)

I've now been collecting stuff for 30-odd years. Opportunity, interest, and discretionary funds coincided on many occasions. However, I subsequently have too many kits and planned projects to complete in my statistical lifetime. Owning stuff that I'm never going to use is taking up mental bandwidth and physical space that I could use more effectively. Time for some of it to go.

As far as the trash category, I've managed to move a decent chunk of that already - still more to go, no doubt.

Surplus, gas-powered garden equipment is starting to get some interest. Extra tools (not many of those) and electronic equipment are also on the block.

Kijiji and Craigslist suffice for some items but, in general, a lot of specialty goods and materials do not get the right kind of exposure through those conduits. Despite past success, I really detest garage sales; can't be bothered to do these any more. From the model end of things, my attendance at the bi-annual Model Railroad Flea Market was an utter waste of time; this venue does not seem to attract buyers outside the standard-gauge HO crowd - and it's been almost 30 years since I've owned any of that equipment.

There's an improptu Narrow Gauge gathering next week. One set of my niche-market items is already sold; I'll get to pass along that batch to an interested local modeller - very pleased that these UK models will finally get built, even if it isn't me building them.

I'll be taking along anything else I can scare up that is appropriate to the NG theme. Not that I expect to sell it all, but the right people should be aware that it is available in order to move it along.

Every cubic foot I gain back a worthwhile step forward in my eyes.
It will mean fewer things to think about,
It will mean a few dollars in my pocket.
It will mean more space to move.
These are all good things.

Too bad I'm so slow at this process...