The Manitoba Mega Train Show 2016

Pano view of Manitoba Mega Train
Pano view of Manitoba Mega Train 2016

I went to the Manitoba Mega Train show yesterday (September 24). The show is being held at the Red River Exhibition Park. The venue is spacious, allowing lots of room for train layouts, vendors and for other activites like model ship builders, Lego, face painters and more!

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Some of the non-train exhibits

I was in line for the 9 AM opening. I’m normally not quite this keen but I had someplace to be in the afternoon, so I wanted to maximize my time there.

This was the view right at 9 AM.

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Opening Minutes

You can see John Longhurst in the foreground starting up his portable Thompson River Canyon layout. I interviewed John over at Confessions of a Train Geek.

I spent the first few minutes walking around and looking at the various layouts, in all sizes from Z to HO to O.. maybe even G?

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I liked the Pioneer grain elevator

The N scale yard below was quite impressive!

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N Scale Yard at the Manitoba Mega Trains show

I saw Sterling Schabler’s impressive square layout and admired his CN slugs. I wish I had taken a better photo, but the photo below will have to do.

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Sterling Schabler and his layout
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Sterling Schabler’s slug

I chatted with Morgan Turney, publisher of Canadian Railway Modeler and one of the founders of the Kildonan Short Lines HO scale modular layout seen below.

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Kildonan Short Lines

The Winnipeg N Trak group was out in full force. It was a very impressive layout!

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Winnipeg N Trak!

So many great layouts.

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N/Scale Mainliner

I loved the great mile 10.6 Manitoba Pool elevator and the Agricore concrete ‘vator!

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Grain elevators FTW!

There were other displays beyond trains… like these ship / submarine models. There were a lot of ships and boats on display. Note the pool where they were running radio control boats!

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Dive! Dive! Dive!

There was some face painting too…

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Face painting

There was LOTS of Lego, which I love. Very impressive.

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Lego displays at Manitoba Mega Train
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A very impressive ore dock in Lego
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Cool VIA and CN trains in Lego

I bought a few things at the vendor tables… mostly timetables and books but I did buy an Athearn CP crane. I had a lot of fun chatting with vendors and exhibitors and I think the social part of the morning was the best part.

I’ll leave you with a few videos and one more photo of yet another impressive layout. Thanks to the organizers and exhibitors for a great show!

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One More Year

Motorcyclist in Morse, SK
Motorcyclist in Morse, SK

I listen to a lot of podcasts.

Most have nothing to do with model railroading, but a few do. I started out with The Model Railway Show, by Jim Martin and Trevor Marshall. It’s over now but it is well worth listening to the archives.

Then I tried The Scotty Mason Show but it’s not really to my taste.

My friend William Brillinger mentioned A Modeler’s Life, hosted by Lionel Strang and featuring several other characters including Jim Rindt, “Bruce the Mail Boy” and “Uncle Larry”. It took an episode or two to get into it, but I like the podcast very much. It’s not very serious – sometimes not at all serious – but there’s a good rapport between Lionel and the other guys, and his interviews are very good.

Early morning podcasting
Early morning podcasting
Lionel Strang
Lionel Strang

The podcast is good to listen to in the background when you’re driving or working on your model railroad layout.

Lionel was a regular Model Railroader columnist, has written a few model railway books and has hosted a number of videos over on TrainMasters.tv.

Today on Facebook I noticed an ad from Fast Tracks that mentioned Lionel and his cancer. His.. what?

Lionel was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer two years ago. At the time he was told he wouldn’t live another year. I had no idea. Lionel never mentions it on the podcast.

He’s been counting the days (up) since he was told he was terminally ill. He’s at around 735 now, a bit more than twice the year he was told he had. That’s the inspiration for “One More Year”.

Lionel seems to be living life to the fullest and enjoying what he has left, and I think we can all take inspiration from that. Life is too short to spend it doing stuff you hate.

Motorcycle, Canola and a Train
Motorcycle, Canola and a Train

Lionel has a GoFundMe page, not for him, but to raise funds for the Psychosocial Oncology Clinic at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto (Lionel is Canadian). The clinic helps patients and family deal with cancer and improve their emotional well-being. It sure seems to be working for Lionel! It’s important to help people not only with the physical effects of cancer, but also the mental effects on the person who has cancer, and their family and friends as well.

I encourage you to visit his GoFundMe page or buy from Fast Tracks (they’ll donate 10%) to support Lionel’s cause.

Also, go check out Lionel’s podcast, A Modeler’s Life. It’s good.

(The two motorcycle photos aren’t of Lionel, but I know Lionel likes motorcycles and trains, so they seemed appropriate)

Visiting the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision

A view across the central peninsula
A view across the central peninsula

This past weekend I visited the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision layout, built and operated by John Longhurst. You may remember that I interviewed John as part of my 10 Questions series. I emailed him last week asking if I could take him up on an old offer to visit his layout, and he graciously agreed. He even agreed that my kids could come too. 🙂

Pioneer grain elevator
Pioneer grain elevator

 

Overview

John’s layout takes up much of the basement of his home in the north end of Winnipeg. The majority of the layout is in one large room with staging in a side room.

You can see his track plan here.

The layout is stacked on two levels, with a “helix” connecting the two levels in the side room. It’s not really a helix in shape – it goes around a rectangular room – but it serves the same function.

Staging and the "helix"
Staging and the “helix”

Winnipeg occupies 6 tracks on the top level and Duluth and Thunder Bay occupy the bottom level.

You can see that John has a lot of SD40 / SD40-2 locomotives. He models CP Rail from the early 1990s when the majority of their power was SD40 variants. Recently he added a pair of gorgeous Bowser SD40-2 locomotives to his fleet.

John’s layout used to have two levels in the central peninsula but he removed the upper deck a while ago. He has photos on the layout showing the “before” for reference, and a blog post too. I like the more open look that it has now.

Photos showing the "before" peninsula
Photos showing the “before” peninsula

The bottom level can be set up for continuous running. John sent several trains across the layout for our viewing pleasure and I took a little video of one of them.

Control

John uses DC for controlling his layout and he has four cabs set up so he could run four trains at once if required. He’s resisted DCC so far as he usually operates alone, and the expense of adding decoders to his large fleet is pretty daunting!

Yard control panel with cab selector switches
Yard control panel with cab selector switches

He uses corded controllers, built years ago, to provide walkaround throttle control of his units. These are really handy and much better than being tied to a power pack.

I took a little panorama with my iPhone to try to show more of the layout in one photo. Click on the photo for a larger view.

Panoramic view of the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision
Panoramic view of the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision

Operations

John operates on his layout on occasion, on a formal or informal basis as the mood strikes him. His trains operate serially – first one train runs over the layout, then the next might go the other way, and so forth.

One thing I really like about his layout is the abundance of industries to switch. The large Peace River Paper mill occupies a corner of the layout, with an abundance of tracks and its own switcher. It is modeled mostly as a series of background flats, visible in the background of the photo below.

Engine house and Peace River Paper switcher
Engine house and Peace River Paper switcher

The Fort Frances engine house and maintenance area are visible here too. John doesn’t use cabooses on his trains as he models post 1990 but I imagine these are here rusting away, or for special trains.

There’s also a shortline connection to the fictional Peace River Northern, which uses an ex CP GP9 for power. This shortline connects to off-layout industries and interchanges with CP on the layout. The track basically goes off behind a ridge and disappears into staging but it provides a very realistic way for more traffic and more action.

Peace River Northern switcher
Peace River Northern switcher

 

View Blocks

John uses a variety of “view blocks” to break the layout into different scenes. There are several overhead road bridges that cut across tracks to break up scenes and provide more viewing interest.

Road Bridge
Road Bridge over Fort Frances yard

Notice the building flats.

In some cases the view blocks are forced by obstacles inherent to the house. Most Winnipeg houses have a few support posts in the basement that need to be accessible, but are often in the way. In my house I had them incorporated into walls with access plates to allow adjustments. John put a view block next to one post to work with the pole.

Pole and view block
Pole and view block

 

The Future

I asked John what his future plans are. His layout is complete, so there’s no work to be done there. He has been working on a portable N scale diorama based in the Thompson River Canyon, in honour of his late brother Ken Epp. John has shared this on his blog and I saw the work in progress in another room.

John is considering moving/downsizing in a few years, so his layout will be demolished at that time. It will be a shame for this beautiful layout to be destroyed, but all things come to an end and it may provide a great opportunity for a new start.

John Longhurst and his layout
John Longhurst and his layout

Thanks, John, for the tour of your fantastic layout!

 

S**t, er, Stuff Happens

Stuff Happens
Stuff Happens

So, that happened.

After posting that photo on the excellent Canadian Railway Modellers Facebook group, I learned that many other people have made the same mistake when installing / changing couplers. Stuff happens.

It’s easy to do, especially when the car might be upside down and you’re trying to jam in the spring, coupler, put the lid on, and maybe put the screw in, all with not enough hands.

At least this was easy to fix. Some things are harder to fix… like when I forgot to install a door in a grain elevator I glued down. That was a bigger fix.

Some mistakes are not fixable at all. I’ve tossed a few pieces of track that I’ve screwed up when I was trying to solder a feeder wire to them and cooked the plastic ties. (aside: I hate soldering)

I don’t have a magic solution. Mistakes are going to happen. The best you can do is to plan as much as you can, and when the s**t hits the fan, take a deep breath, step back, and figure out what you can do to fix things and move on.

Good luck.

 

Installing a Ground Throw

In this post I will discuss installing a Caboose Hobbies ground throw. These inexpensive switch stands are handy to add an operating switch to your layout. They don’t take a lot of space, and are vaguely prototypical. I wouldn’t look to them for extreme realism by any means, but they are a good start and better than no switch stand at all.

The switch stand itself is quite small.

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Note that there are two holes in the base for mounting to the layout. I usually use a couple of track nails to secure it to the layout, as I wouldn’t trust glue to A) keep it down after repeated use, or B) to stay out of the mechanism of the switch stand.

Depending on what type of ground throw you buy, the package may come with different attachments to adapt to the particular kind of switch that you are connecting the stand to. I use Peco turnouts/switches, so all I want out of my ground throw is a hole in the traveling arm to slip over the top of the Peco switch… like the photo below.

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That’s a #202S, a basic ground throw with no attachments.

Ground throw package
Ground throw package

I like to paint the handle yellow, to make them more visible and more prototypical. Here I painted them in bulk, using some old Testor’s paint I had lying around.

Painting ground throws
Painting ground throws

I use a small drill bit to make a hole in the ground throw’s arm and then slip the ground throw over the nub on the Peco switch. It’s a snug fit and it never comes off.

Enlarging the hole
Enlarging the hole

If the ground throw has any attachments on the non-switch side, I cut ’em off so they don’t catch. Don’t trim too close to the switch but cut off what you can.

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Making a Base

Note that the switch stand is hovering in mid-air. I usually cut a piece or two of cork and slide it/them under the ground throw to give it something to sit on. I bevel the edges of the cork with a hobby knife so the ground slopes away from the switch stand.

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I usually put some glue on the underside of the cork, slide it in, and then spike the switch down through the two holes in the switch stand. These spikes also hold the cork in place along with the glue.

Spiked in place
Spiked in place

Then I ballast up to and around the switch. Sometimes I will put grass or ground foam on the outside instead of ballast.

Fully installed
Fully installed

What Side?

One challenge is to decide what side of the switch to install these stands on. Sometimes the decision is made for you – only one side is open – but in some cases you have a choice to make.

At this pair of switches, I could put the ground throws on either side. The choice was to put them closer to the aisle / operator, but in between two sets of tracks:

Closer to the operator
Closer to the operator

The other option was to put them farther away from the operator but also free from any obstructions.

Outside the rails
Outside the rails

I elected to do the latter, for a couple of reasons:

  • less likely to be blocked by standing cars on the siding (the track at left in the photos), and
  • easier to install

In general I like to install them on the aisle side of the tracks to make them easier to see and reach, but in this case I reasoned that cars standing on the siding would obscure the view and reach. It made sense to me to locate them farther away.

Find Caboose Hobbies ground throws at your local model train shop, and give them a try!

 

Grain Car Comparisons

Foobie grain cars
HO scale grain cars

On a layout based on the Canadian Prairie, you need a lot of grain cars! If you are cheap have a low budget, you might be willing to run the less accurate models for a while. Let’s face it, accurate rail cars are expensive.

So you have the choice – do without, while accumulating funds to buy the really accurate models, or make do with foobies / inaccurate models for a while, or maybe even forever.

I have a variety of manufacturers’ grain cars on my layout, and I thought I’d write a little post to show the differences between them. But first, a little comparison photo to show differences in detail.

Grain Car Comparison
Grain Car Comparison

Two Bachmanns on the left, Model Power top right, and Intermountain on the bottom right.

Here’s a photo of a prototype… ALNX 396247 aka “Lethbridge”, a very typical 4,550 cubic foot grain car built by the thousands for the Canadian federal government and some provincial governments. Eric Gagnon has a great article on these uniquely Canadian cars.

Prototype ALNX 396247
Prototype ALNX 396247

What do you look for on an accurate grain car? The most glaring details are the roof walks and end ladders, plus the rib details along the sides. Let’s go.

Grain Car Comparisons

Model Power

Model Power grain car
Model Power grain car

This is a grain car made by Model Power, a manufacturer known for really inexpensive cars. You can see that ALPX 628099 above bears only a passing resemblance to the prototype.

  • Decorated for: ALPX (Alberta)
  • End ladders: Very chunky
  • Roof walk: Very chunky
  • Wheels: Large flanges, known as “pizza cutters” to modellers
  • Ribs: Absent
  • Cost: $5-10 (used at train shows)

This is definitely a low end model.

Bachmann

Bachmann

Bachmann makes the Silver Series grain cars in a variety of liveries. These are decent quality cars with metal wheels, Kadee-compatible couplers and finer details than the low end cars. They are still not terribly prototypical but they are decent cars. I wrote about ALNX 396400 already.

  • Decorated for: ALNX (Alberta), CPWX (red “Canada” and orange “Government of Canada”); CNWX (aluminum and yellow); SKNX (brown Saskatchewan); CN demonstrators (rainbow and environmental); CP (black with multimark); CN (gray)
  • End ladders: Chunky
  • Roof walk: Chunky
  • Wheels: Metal, good quality
  • Ribs: Absent
  • Cost: About $20 Canadian

Intermountain

Intermountain
Intermountain

Intermountain is known for higher quality cars and this one is no exception. It has a number of higher end features but it comes at a premium price.

The car I have is a “ready to run” model but I also have four plastic kits that I have not yet assembled. The kits are of good quality with many parts but don’t have the etched metal parts that the ready-to-run version has.

  • Decorated for: CNWX, CPWX (brown “Canadian Wheat Board”, red “Canada”); ALNX, ALPX (blue “Alberta Heritage”); CN (grey, and silver “aluminum”); CP (black with multimark, black with script); SKNX, SKPX (brown/red); CNIS (grey)
  • End ladders: Fine
  • Roof walk: Metal, fine
  • Wheels: Metal, good quality
  • Ribs: Present
  • Cost: about $50 Canadian

Walthers

Walthers recently announced a limited run of Canadian grain cars based on the National Steel Car 4,550 cubic foot car. They claim to have see-through running boards, finely detailed brake gear, roof hatches and end ladders, with metal 36″ wheels and metal knuckle couplers. They were released in April 2016 but I don’t have any in my fleet.

    • Decorated for: CNWX, CPWX (brown “Canadian Wheat Board” and red “Canada”), ALNX, ALPX (blue Alberta Heritage)
    • End ladders: Fine
    • Roof walk: Metal, fine
    • Wheels: Metal, good quality
    • Ribs: ??
    • Cost: About $45 Canadian

North American Railcar

North American Railcar has produced a few runs of Canadian grain cars. One was a special run of Saskatchewan Grain Car green hoppers, based on the Hawker Siddeley Canada 4,550 cubic foot car.

They claim to have see-through running boards, finely detailed brake gear, roof hatches and end ladders, with metal 36″ wheels and metal knuckle couplers. They were released in April 2016 but I don’t have any in my fleet.

      • Decorated for: SKNX, SKPX (green “Saskatchewan!” and brown “Saskatchewan”); ALPX (blue Alberta Heritage); CNWX (brown “Canadian Wheat Board”)
      • End ladders: Fine
      • Roof walk: Metal, fine
      • Wheels: Metal, good quality
      • Ribs: Present
      • Cost: About $55 Canadian

A note about 3800 cubic foot cars: These cars are smaller than the 4550 cubic foot cars above, but have not been available in model form. Some of the paint schemes above are for 3800 ft3 cars but are applied to the 4550s. This is changing as Rapido has announced 3800 cubic foot models for late 2016.

 

Operating on the Bayside & Tidewater

055I was on Prince Edward Island recently for work. Shortly before I left Manitoba, I mentioned to Chris Mears and Taylor Main that I was headed for the island, and they invited me to join them for the Half Nuts operations group on Sunday evening. They meet regularly and operate on one of two layouts in the Summerside area. I was pleased to accept the invitation and I met them in Charlottetown for a carpool to Summerside to visit Scott Jay’s Bayside & Tidewater Railway.

056In their last operations session they had some issues with the wireless control system, so the layout was halfway through an operating session. Because of that, this session would be shorter than usual.

I met Scott and he introduced me to the other Half Nuts present… more than half a dozen! I wish I was better with names but I did meet Trevor Delaney, and Scott of course.

Scott assigned roles to everyone on the railway. He asked me if I would like to operate or to observe. I said I’d love to operate, so he assigned me to the Bayside yard.

Bayside Yard Diagram
Bayside Yard Diagram

Many of the yard tasks were already done, but I had a few jobs left to do:

  • sort the incoming wayfreight into the appropriate tracks
  • build the US-bound train on the “Build” track
  • sort the other incoming train wayfreight into the appropriate tracks
  • service a couple of local industries

For switching power I had switcher CP 7111, equipped with DCC and sound.

CP 7111
CP 7111

Scott uses the WiThrottle app to wirelessly control the layout. There’s an app to install on your phone (iPhone or Android) and then you use the app to connect to the appropriate locomotive (or consist) and drive the train using your phone! It worked very well and it didn’t take long for me to get used to it.

The first wayfreight arrived from Tidewater, and after they cut off the power, I began sorting the freight cars. Since there is no actual track after Bayside, the cars are sorted into one of three tracks: boxcars, reefers, and “other”.

A view of Bayside yard
A view of Bayside yard

CP 7111 drilled the yard, putting cars into the appropriate tracks and picking out the few cars that were going onto the US-bound train. I also stuck the power for the US-bound train onto the train to get it completely ready.

Only a few minutes after I finished that, the US train operator showed up and took the train away. At this point I had nothing to do until the second wayfreight showed up, so I took a walk around the layout to see what other people were doing.

CP 8407 and another loco were working in Stevenville. This area has a lot of switching action.

Stevenville switching
Stevenville switching

There was a lot of action at the Tidewater yard as well. Scott has made the most of the room to incorporate two yards as well as a couple of significant towns. You can see his full track plan here.

Action in Tidewater
Action in Tidewater

Scott has used a lot of backdrop buildings to add industrial switching areas and use the most of the space. I was mentally taking notes for my own layout!

Here’s a view of one end of the layout, with Tidewater on the left and Chappellton on the far right.

An overall view
An overall view

Chappellton was my favourite area, with lots of switching possibilities as well as a rail car ferry to work.

Chappellton
Chappellton

Anyway, back to work. The second wayfreight arrived in Bayside so I had to put its cars away as well. It was a tight fit putting that last boxcar in its track but it did fit. Scott has a custom program developed to route his cars and it produces paperwork like this.

It's all about the paperwork
It’s all about the paperwork

The crossed out cars were already dealt with before I arrived. The far right column indicates what train is to carry it (E1 and E2 are the wayfreights). After I put the second wayfreight away, I had to deliver the Mainzy cars to the nearby industries. It was a fairly simple job to deliver them and then put the switcher to bed.

Good night!
Good night!

You can see how the boxcar track was chock full.

It was a real pleasure to operate on Scott’s railway. Everything ran very well, the emphasis was on operation (my favourite) and the layout is nicely laid out and provides a lot of operational interest. Most of the layout has scenery with only a few bare spots where track revisions are being made / remade.

Thanks to Scott for being such a gracious host and letting this transplanted Maritimer operate out east for a bit. Visit Scott’s web site to learn more about his layout.

 

Guest Post: CP 1597 and 5911, Recreated

This is a guest post by Braedan Dunne. Thanks, Braedan!

After looking for prototype images a few months ago, I came across a photo at traingeek.ca featuring CP GP9u 1597, which I have in HO scale converted from a Walthers Trainline GP9m. However, what was connected to CP 1597 in that photo made me all the more interested. It was CP SD40-2 5911, which is one of only two locomotives still on CP’s roster that remains in the ‘Large Multimark’ paint scheme.

I was lucky that a good friend of mine from Medicine Hat, AB, who is currently a CP conductor, had his new Bowser HO CP SD40-2s renumbered and/or weathered by a couple of talented modellers in northern Alberta. During our last club meet at the Southern Alberta Model Railway Club of Lethbridge, my buddy made it down to run his completed SD40-2s. One of those models was CP 5911. With the opportunity there, I took my GP9u and connected it to the SD40-2 in the main yard of the club layout and shot a recreated scene of the photo I first saw.

Braedan's CP 1597 and the Bowser CP 5911
Braedan’s CP 1597 and the Bowser CP 5911
Steve's photo of the prototypes
Steve’s photo of the prototypes

Thanks Braedan for the post and the images! You’ve done an excellent job updating the Walthers Trainline model to accurately reflect the prototype… and that Bowser SD40-2, upgraded and weathered, looks great too. I’ve stuck the two photos together for comparison below. The models look fantastic!

Model and prototype together
Model and prototype together

Ballasting in Georgetown

It’s been maintenance time on the layout for the past month or so. I decided it was time to do some more scenery, so I set out to do some ballasting in Georgetown on the CN side.

I spread the ballast over the main track and the siding track.

Ballast spread
Ballast spread

Then I sprayed it with a mixture of water and alcohol, to soak it, and dribbled on a mixture of white glue and water.

After a day, I vacuumed it up… and I mean I vacuumed it up as in about 80% of the ballast went up into the vacuum. 🙁

Very disappointing.

I think I did a couple of things wrong:

  • I had too much water and not enough glue in the mixture; and
  • I did not let it dry long enough

So after a suitable mourning period, I laid more ballast down and did the same process, this time with a much greater concentration of white glue.

Glue and ballast
Glue and ballast

I let it dry for about five days when I was away on business, and when I came back, it was hard as a rock and quite dry. A little bit did come up when I vacuumed, but not very much.

Whew.

I’ve finished ballasting the main and siding in Georgetown on the CN side. To celebrate, I sent Extra 3665 West from Winnipeg to go pick up the five CN ballast cars I had in the siding there, simulating the work train that was in the area. Here’s the video:

There is still a lot to do!

  • Take all the ballast off the tops of the ties
  • Fix up the little bits that I missed
  • Ballast the Manitoba Pool and Irving Oil spurs
  • Add bits of ground foam and grass here and there for weeds
  • Ballast the CP side!

It’s a start.

 

Further reading:

Third Operating Session – CN 403 and 404

Over the past few weeks I have held another solo operating session. This follows the CP operating session I had. I ran CN 404 and then CN 403 through the layout, doing some local switching along the way.

CN 404

On my layout, train CN 404 runs east from Melville, SK to Winnipeg, MB. This train performs local switching in Georgetown, the town that is the main focus of my layout. CN 404 switches the Irving Oil spur and the Manitoba Pool grain elevator, when required.

In this session, CN 404 spotted a tank car at Irving Oil and exchanged grain cars at the Pool elevator.

Please note that I had the train number wrong in the video. In Canada eastbound trains have an even train number and westbound trains have odd numbers.

 

CN 403

As you might guess, CN 403 on my layout runs from Winnipeg to Melville! The train also does local switching in Georgetown, but only switches the CP interchange track as required. It also switches the Cargill grain elevator in Helene.

I had to split the videos to get them under the 15 minute limit.

In the first video, CN 403 switches Georgetown. It had one car to drop off for CP and picked up three cars.

The second video shows CN 403 working the Cargill elevator.

Thanks for watching!

PS if you want to see the real train CN 404, I happened to catch it in Winnipeg in March.