getting steamed

Over the summer I was able to attend a steam-up at a local enthusiast's home. Wow! There are some seriously interesting live steam engines out there; available either as kits or ready-to-run. The majority of the equipment at the event was 16mm scale (~1:19 proportion) and ran very well, often at surprising velocity.

16mm scale appears to be the ideal scale to pursue construction of the relatively small War Department equipment - a live steam, 2' gauge Baldwin is actually available in this scale (but I didn't dare ask the price).


customer service

No, this isn't going to be a faerie tale. I want to make sure that two very worthy vendors get some public credit for doing a damned fine job.

1) Books for Business - This all sounds a bit unreal, BUT... Recently I wanted some books on machining techniques. I found a company in Toronto, Ontario called Britnell Books that had two of the three volumes I was after in stock at a terrific price. I called the phone number on their website and Books for Business answered. Turns out that they are co-located in the same building, and B4B answers the phone for Britnell after hours. Once I explained what I was looking for, the B4B staffer said she would pop into Britnell in the morning to see if the two books I wanted were still there. The next day I called to check if they were present. The lady said, "Yes, and there was a third volume by the same author on the shelf so I picked it out too, in case you wanted it." Brilliant! I had looked to see where they were located - right in the middle of the financial/legal district downtown. When I asked about parking in the area I was told, "We could just curbside it for you." ??? "Just pre-pay now and, as you are approaching the store in your car, give us a call and we'll step out onto the sidewalk and hand them to you." Absolutely amazing! B4B handled the transaction, was thoughtful enough to think ahead for my 3rd volume needs, and smart enough to come up with a lateral pass at the curb! All this for books that were not even in their own inventory and for a new and unknown customer. Frankly, I'm still stunned by it.

2) S Helper Service - I was looking for some components for a locomotive conversion project. I needed quite a bit of an SW9's running gear and realised I should go right to the source. Their product comes with a thin, but useful, illustrated instruction book/catalogue with all parts clearly laid out. I was able to contact their very responsive staff via email for answers to my questions, phone at a reasonable time to place the order, and received the parts with great speed via the US and Canadian postal services. At the time of the order, they were unsure of the shipping cost. When I received the parcel, I noted that the actual postage was $5 US. The receipt in the box indicated $15 Shipping & Handling. I had no problem with that whatsoever - I've been charged a much higher premium for attrocious service. HOWEVER, the very next day I received a letter from SHS with a refund of $10 US for the excess postage. Unbelievable!

Could it be that there are more companies like these two paragons of purveyance? I certainly hope so. This level of service demands some recognition and commendation. I heartily endorse them and wish them continued prosperity.


Toronto Christmas Train Show 2007

Another year, another show at the International Centre. It seemed much less well attended than previous years however the aisleways were nice & wide and the hall was kept very clean.

The S Scale Workshop fielded 110' linear feet of Free-mo inspired modules in 1:64 scale. Many of the visitors commented favourably on the overall display quality. We realise there is more work to do, but we are very pleased with the progress to date.

The scenery on my own siding module turned out very well. The next show will be in Hamilton in 2008. This should allow plenty of time to make more progress with the structures and scenery.


finally, a little progress

Time is not a user-friendly dimension. It's too short in one axis (lifespan) and too long in another (Vogon poetry readings).

Managed to make a bit of progress on the S scale module. The turnout and spur track is in place, with a capacity of about seven hopper cars (or 4 gondolas).

This unit will be ready for display at the Toronto Christmas Train show, Nov 24/25 at the International Centre.


you'd think I'd learn

Overall, the 2nd Ontario Narrow Gauge Show went well. While not being attended by thousands of rabid modellers, the 130+ visitors, vendors, and exhibitors seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly.

The continuous loop micro-layout form of display was the overwhelmingly popular format, and will likely continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Despite the limitations of the style (primarily lack of operational possibilities, very tight curves, and short length of run), the benefits of quick setup and unattended running are attractive to a great many builders - especially the lone wolves.

On the other front, the 3-section "Cooper & Sawyer" On30 display layout of Pete Reisiger was present next to his Creative Works 3D stand. Pete has indicated that he's thinking of trying a FreeMOn30 style replacement as the C & S is due for retirement.

The Peterborough Model Railroaders had a deceptive point-to-point on a board of about 3'x5' dimension (possibly smaller). It appeared to be a continuous run at first glance, but offered some shunting and short runs in a nicely sceniced package.

Our FreeMOn30 setup consisted of the large river gorge, loop & wye, and tiny creek scenes as only 3 members with modules could attend. The lack of the harbour terminus made it a "pointless to loop" arrangement, and required a quick stop before a train could take the long plunge to the floor. Our 4th member brought excellent scratchbuilt ore cars, flats, and a caboose all equipped with Sergent couplers.

Thanks to the Digitrax Empire BuilderII system and a passing siding on the loop, we were able to keep two trains in operation at all times. One with the BLI C-16 and the other with a Bachmann Climax equipped with a Soundtraxx PnP decoder. Four UP5 panels were arrayed along the layout using clamps under the fascia to provide throttle plug-in points.

Operationally, the major problems evidenced were with the long rigid wheelbase of the C-16 over the pointwork, and the pickup wipers on the virginal Climax which kept breaking contact on sharp radii. However, the worst offense was the overall alignment of the tiny Whisky Creek module. Thanks to the intent to build the unit as light as possible, a bow developed along its short length that resulted in unacceptable track humps at each interface. These were sufficient to cause uncoupling of the engine from its cars. It may be possible to repair the module, but it might not be worth doing in terms of effort. Likely it will be relegated to a display/photo stand.

It's possible that the show will now alternate with the Great British Train Show in a biennial cycle, with the NG Show on the odd years. This will allow for more progress to be made, or entire new layouts to be built in the intervening timeframe to encourage display variety.


prep for Schomberg

More On30 module progress was achieved during this past weekend. Trackwork was re-checked and yet more spikes were added where necessary. The wye, gorge & curve module sets were connected together, and the fascias were cleaned up & primed.

Once the setup was checked for shorts, the Bachmann Davenport travelled over all the trackwork looking for areas where short-wheelbase locos might encounter problems with electrical pickup. Reversing the engine through the wye was tested several times.


To the best of all of our recollections, the outside-framed consolidation and the C-16 both successfully negotiated the least smoothly aligned leg of the wye (which still needs a short siding installed) during the Christmas Train Show. We have noted, however, that it is unlikely that the Forney or the K-27 will be able to travel over all of the trackwork in its current state.

Scenic treatment prior to the show will consist of mis-tinted acrylic paint covered in sand and/or sanded grout. Some coniferous trees have been purchased from MountainView Depot to "spruce" up the landscape a bit.

We are still debating the final fascia colour. The intent is to provide a surface that will present a uniform appearance, resist fingerprints & other marks, and keep the eye focused on the scene rather than the benchwork. We have it narrowed the choices down to a few very dark tones but are not certain whether a bluish, greenish, or neutral cast will be the best looking in the end.


More contour forms, rockwork and trestle bents need to be installed on the gorge set, the loop portion needs additional cleanup, and Whisky Creek definitely requires finishing and a new bridge deck but, we are probably doing OK considering how infrequently we manage to get together for these work sessions.




This years S scale modular display at Copetown, Ontario was again very well received.

Soundtraxx DSD and Tsunami equipped Moguls and 10-wheelers were pacing back and forth along the rails to the delight of the attendees, some of whom remembered the presence of steam on local rails. Even a Pacific travelled around the trackage for a while. Pete arranged a photo of it crossing Andy's causeway module.


today's On30 work session

In addition to completing a few more bits of work on the stub turnouts of the wye, we managed to do quite a bit of rework on the river gorge module set. The alignment of the track is much improved, and the trestle approach spans to the bridge now have proper ties in place.

Despite our conflicting work schedules, we really want to have the modules in better operational shape for the upcoming Narrow Gauge Madness show in Schomberg, Ontario (April 21st).



I realise that the HO scale Weyerhauser boxcar is an anachronism in the scene, but we just wanted to test the setup with a piece of rolling stock attached to the motive power and it was handy.

It's almost impossible to get a photo of the river gorge when it's in the workspace; it's just too long. Both the BLI C-16 and Bachmann outside-framed Consolidation locomotives successfully negotiated the curves throughout. We were unable to test a K-27 due to an electrical fault in its wiring harness. Hopefully it will also run without the need for modification.


1/2"n2 chassis

There is a space 1.74" x 3.48" clear under the tram body to permit the installation of a powered chassis. The only item that can stick up into the "control cabin" on the loco is the electric motor itself. None of the wheels, gears, or sprockets can protude above the floorplate.

The plan is to drive a single rigid axle using a 59:1 Falhauber gearhead motor through a set of 90ยบ helical gears. Ideally, the second tilting axle will be connected to the first using Serv-o-link Delrin sprockets and chain. The helical gears will need to be enclosed in a small gearbox to keep them in proper mesh and reduce any strain on the motor shaft and/or bearings.

Drive wheels should be slightly larger than 14" diameter, but that will depend on the minimum size of sprockets that can be used. Bearing boxes will be hung on the ends of the axles. One set will be fixed, the other will be free to move in their vertical axis.


over compensation

Current projects (on hold due to "real life" getting in the way) are to build or re-build three locomotive powertrains using proven methods of equalisation from the "Flexichas" booklet by Mike Sharman and "Principles of Locomotive Suspension" by Russ Elliot.

The first will be an 0-4-0 tram chassis in 1/2" scale on 1" gauge track in order to get my feet wet and prove a few points, the second a scratchbuilt chassis system for an 0-4-4 Forney in 1:24 scale on 32mm gauge track, and the third a rebuild of a solid framed MDC 4-4-0 kit in HO scale. There's an awful lot of work involved, but the predicted improvements in operation will be well worth it. Increased traction for a given weight, improved electrical pickup, and proper tracking through special work are all laid out in the texts.

I've also managed to acquire the following Wild Swan reference books:

  • Whitemetal Locos - A Kitbuilders Guide (Iain Rice)

  • Etched Loco Construction (Iain Rice)

  • Locomotive Kit Chassis Construction In 4mm (Iain Rice)

  • The 4mm Engine - A Scratchbuilder's Guide (R. Guy Williams)

Don't let the "4mm" reference in the titles fool you; the techniques are applicable in virtually any scale or gauge. These books go a long way towards demystifying proper locomotive construction.

I highly recommend Bott Books in the UK for their price and exceptional customer service.