Operating Session – September 2018

I held another solo operating session during the month of September 2018, and produced a 5-part series of videos documenting the session.

If you want to watch the entire series, you can view this playlist.

Introduction

In the introductory video, I talked about the changes I made prior to this session. They included the introduction of switch lists rather than using the destination inserts in car cards, as well as the introduction of a VIA train into the scheduled lineup of trains.

Episode 1

The “episode 1” video features three trains:

  • CN 214 – a through train
  • CN 403 – works the CP interchange in Georgetown and the Cargill grain elevator at Helene
  • CP 976 – branch line train from Minnedosa to Winnipeg

Episode 2

Episode 2 featured three more trains: CP 949, VIA 1 and CN 404. This was the first appearance of a VIA train in one of my operating sessions.

Episode 3

Episode 3 had the last three trains of the day: CP 948, CP 975, and CN 215. CP 948 had a lot of switching to do.

Switching Cargill

As kind of a postscript to the operating session, I included a video of leased unit CN 4497 switching the Cargill grain elevator after the session.

You can view the entire series on YouTube.

Other operating sessions I’ve published:

Jason Shron on Making Trains

Jason Shron… and his bus, of course

Jason Shron, president of Rapido Trains, gave a talk in Winnipeg on August 16 on running a model railroad company. Jason has been in Winnipeg a number of times, sometimes meeting up with people at Ware House Hobbies, but it always seemed that I was out of town when he was here, or I heard about it afterward. This time, there was plenty of advance notice and I was able to attend.

Jason was giving the talk to the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club – and anyone else who wanted to attend – and wanted to talk about how Rapido manufactures trains, from start to finish, at their two factories in China. The story was especially topical, given that a major Chinese model train factory closed a week before his talk (Rapido’s production is unaffected).

A collection of Rapido goodies

He started with a history of model railroad production in China. Basically, modern model train manufacturing was built in China. Sanda Kan was the first factory and made trains for many manufacturers until it was purchased by the company that also owns Bachmann. The Life-Like Proto 2000 series was the first major line of model trains made in China, back in the late 1980s. Today, most ready-to-run model railroad locomotives and freight cars are made in China.

One thing people always say is, “make it in America!” But the economics aren’t there.

Jason talked about the Budd mid-train dome car and its economics. I don’t want to get into specific numbers, as I am not sure he wants those made public, but here is an overview. The car has a suggested retail price (MSRP) of $109 Canadian on Rapido’s web site ($98.95 on Canadian Express Line).

The first cost is the cost of tooling to make the molding to make the shell. Jason quoted a number, which I won’t repeat, but it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a one-time price you have to invest before you make a single car, and you have to recoup that over all the cars you sell. This makes it very expensive to produce a small run of cars.

Each dome car has about 8 hours of labour in it, to do the pad printing of all the lettering, and add all of the detail parts. I think Jason said there are about 300 detail parts on each car. If you assume that this was done in North America, where the worker was paid about $20/hour (not including labour overhead such as employment insurance, Canada Pension, etc.), that’s $160 in labour alone. Add onto that the material cost and overhead to pay the 12 people who work full-time at Rapido, advertising, etc. and you’ll probably end up with a $400-$500 car. It’s simple math.

Tempo (L) and Amtrak cabbage (R)

Jason talked briefly about 3D printing, which is great for short runs, but it’s expensive and slow and not (yet) suited for mass production. Maybe someday this will change. That would only reduce the tooling costs, though.

He also mentioned that production costs in China have more than tripled since 2008, due to the rising cost of labour there. Someday it will not be cost-effective to make model trains there either!

After Jason’s presentation, he opened the floor to questions and answers, and there were a lot of them. I’ll mention a few. Jason was very open and honest and I appreciate that.

Q: Couldn’t someone buy the closed factory?
A: No, China really discourages foreign ownership. Also, Chinese owners know people – relationships go a long way toward working with local officials and getting things done.

N scale Dash-8

Q: Can’t you make cheaper, lower-fidelity models?
A: Yes, Rapido tried that with the “Prime Movers” line with the Dash-8. People demanded more detail, and the profit margin is smaller on those so they have to sell a lot more. In the end, people want high detail.

Scale Trains makes three versions of most models – Museum Quality, Rivet Counter, and Operator, and their experience, according to Jason, is that the vast majority of sales are the Museum Quality versions and they end up with a surplus of the lower quality versions.

Q: How are your sales split by the nationality of the model?
A: About 30% British models, 50% Canadian, and 20% American.

I was very glad to finally meet Jason in person. We have corresponded a few times over the years, and he sent me a passenger car once as thanks for providing some reference photos and other information for a project they had. Jason is a great guy in person, and a tremendous asset to the hobby. He is also a great advocate for, and user of, VIA Rail.

Thanks for giving this talk, Jason, and I hope to see you again soon!

Operating Session – July 2018

I held a solo operating session during the month of July 2018, and recorded the session for your viewing enjoyment. I operated eight trains.

The session includes every scheduled non-VIA train on my layout, which includes:

  • CN 214 – a through train
  • CN 403 – works the CP interchange in Georgetown and the Cargill grain elevator at Helene
  • CP 976 – branch line train from Minnedosa to Winnipeg
  • CP 949 – westbound train doing switching in Georgetown
  • CN 404 – switching work in Georgetown
  • CP 948 – lots of switching work in Georgetown
  • CP 975 – branch line train from Winnipeg to Minnedosa
  • CN 215 – a through train

Part 1

The first video features CN 214 and CN 403. The latter train is the highlight as it switched the CP interchange and did work at the Cargill grain elevator.

Part 2

The second video features three trains. CP 976 comes out of staging, runs around its train, then heads to Winnipeg. CP 949 then departs Winnipeg (staging) and does a drop and pickup in Georgetown before continuing on to Brandon. Finally, CN 404 did a pickup from the Irving Oil siding. There was some complexity there because the siding was full, so the crew had to work around that.

Part 3

The third video features CP 948, CP 975 and CN 215 and is the longest video. CP 948 did a lot of switching in Georgetown before continuing on to Winnipeg. CP 975 went from Winnipeg to Minnedosa (staging), running around its train in Georgetown. Finally, CN 215 – a through train – just zipped through the layout without stopping at all.

Lessons Learned

I learned a few lessons from this operating session:

  1. Some of my locomotives are junk. Specifically, CN 3125, CN 5542 and CP 1341 – all Athearn blue boxes – are not reliable. They don’t start well, and need a little “push” now and then to get moving again.
  2. My Bowser C630M – CP 4505 – runs like an absolute dream compared to the rest of my locomotives.
  3. I need to be thorough in cleaning the track. I thought I did a good job, but there are some areas around the switches that need work.
  4. I’m pretty sure my EMD leaser EMDX 769 has a broken axle. It also needs its couplers checked, as they didn’t want to let go.
  5. I need to consider making switch lists ahead of time. My car cards work, but it’s unrealistic for the crew to not know what work is ahead of them.

On the positive side, I think the car card system works well for me, and I’m satisfied with the number of industries and the amount of work for each train.

Watch my operating session

 

My Grain Fleet

Three tracks of grain
Three tracks of grain

I recently gathered all of my grain fleet into one place on my layout, at the Cargill elevator tracks at Helene.

It turns out that I have a lot of grain cars!

The Cargill switcher
The Cargill switcher

A grain elevator would never get this congested “in real life” but it was interesting to see all of my grain hoppers and grain boxcars in one place. As my layout is a prairie railroad, I need a lot of grain cars.

The cars are a mixture of higher end cars like Intermountain, mid-range cars like Bachmann, and the low end Model Power type cars. I wrote about the differences between my grain cars before. I’d like to replace my Model Powers with some better cars… all in good time.

Even the grain boxcars made an appearance.

Grain boxcars
Grain boxcars – and a helicopter?

The grain boxcars are used on the Minnedosa line, to simulate shipments from light prairie branch lines. The elevators that are actually on my layout don’t use them.

The helicopter is from when my nephew was over last weekend. He likes to see the trains, and he jams papers, toy cars and whatever else he can find into the lumber cars, hoppers and flatcars as they roll past. He’s 4 so I’m totally OK with him doing that, under supervision. None of my cars are very fragile. 🙂

He also likes to drive trucks along the road by the grain elevator. Again, I’m totally OK with this!

After I took these photos, I ran a few extras to distribute the cars to the CP and CN staging yards in preparation for an operating session to deliver them to the appropriate elevators. It’s taking some time to get everything in position, but soon I hope to run a session! It’s been a while.

Good Old Kadee #37

I had a grain car that had a coupler issue. Just a tad low. Nothing that a new Kadee coupler won’t fix!

Coupler Height Issue
Coupler Height Issue

Sorry for the blurry photo.

There are a few remedies for low couplers like this. Sometimes you can use a fibre washer or two on the truck bolster to raise the whole body up. In this case the other end was fine so raising the body might have fixed this end, but it would have changed the height on the other end.

Bring On the Kadee

Kadee #37
Kadee #37

In this case I replaced the coupler with a Kadee #37, a “medium UNDERSET shank” coupler.

I picked up this pack at the Credit Valley Railway Company store in Mississauga, Ontario.

These Kadee coupler packs include everything pictured – box, spring, lids, and the coupler. In my case I just needed the coupler so I left the rest of it in the pouch.

I popped the lid off the existing coupler box, replaced the coupler, and snapped the lid back on. Here’s the result:

Better height!
Better height!

It isn’t perfect but it’s a lot better than it was.

Ready for service!

Ready for service!
Ready for service!

See Also

 

Manitoba Mega Train 2017

I visited the Manitoba Mega Train 2017 show today (October 1, 2017). As always it was a good show with a lot of displays, vendors, and activities for the young and the young at heart.

I was impressed by this Proto:48 diorama of a prairie grain elevator.

Proto:48 grain elevator
Proto:48 grain elevator

 

The N scale “Mainliners” travel around the prairies exhibiting their layouts at train shows. I liked it! (See a video from Moose Jaw)

The N scale "Mainliners"
The N scale “Mainliners”
The IPMS (International Plastic Modellers Society) display
The IPMS (International Plastic Modellers Society) display

I have to say that the Win N Trak group has a LOT of customized display material – chairs, tape, banners – well organized!

The Win N Trak group
The Win N Trak group

 

Lots of action on this railway!
Lots of action on this railway!

The Portage la Prairie Model Railroad Club had an impressive layout!

The Portage Model Railway Club
The Portage Model Railway Club

These kids were fascinated by the PMRC layout.

Children enjoying the model trains
Children enjoying the model trains

Doug and Florence McBride of Gladstone, Manitoba had a table with their models. Quite impressive!

Doug and Florence McBride, Gladstone
Doug and Florence McBride, Gladstone

The Kildonan Short Lines modular group were exhibiting again this year, and they joined their layout to the NMRA / FreeMo group to make a massive layout. I think they could have used a dispatcher, though – a lot of trains were running around!

Kildonan Short Lines
Kildonan Short Lines
The FreeMo group at Manitoba Mega Train 2017
The FreeMo group at Manitoba Mega Train 2017

There were quite a few vendors at the show, as usual. I was happy to finally meet Rob Arsenault of Weather My Trains in person, after corresponding with him online for a few years. A great guy who does great work.

Here’s a view of some of the vendor tables:

Vendors at the Manitoba Mega Train show
Vendors at the Manitoba Mega Train show

Of course, the free train ride around the show was active and very well attended.

 

Riding the train around Manitoba Mega Train
Riding the train around Manitoba Mega Train

Thanks to the Manitoba Mega Train 2017 organizers for another great show… looking forward to 2018!

See Also

 

Upcoming: Manitoba Mega Train 2017

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

Manitoba’s premier model train show is happening at the end of this month! The Manitoba Mega Train show will be on September 30 and October 1 (Saturday and Sunday) from 9 AM to 5 PM at the Red River Exhibition Place.

I went last year and it was a lot of fun! There are a lot of model train displays of various sizes, vendors of new and used equipment, and even a miniature train you can ride!

I’ll be there this year! Will you?

 

Manitoba Mega Train 2017
Manitoba Mega Train 2017

For more information, visit Vector Garden Trains’ web site.

Read about last year’s show

Nothing Ever Goes As Planned

Nothing ever goes as planned
It’s a hell of a notion
Even Pharaohs turn to sand
Like a drop in the ocean
Styx (from their great album Paradise Theatre)

I had a little solo operating session on my layout a few weeks ago. It was really a positioning move for a “real” operating session I hope to have soon.

I wanted to place some grain cars at the Cargill elevator so I wrote up a Work Extra 3665 and sent it along with a half dozen grain cars and a caboose from Winnipeg to Helene to deliver the cars.

The move to Helene went OK, but while doing the switching moves at the elevator, I hit some dead track with the locomotive and everything stopped.

I tried cleaning the track but that didn’t help, so it must be an electrical issue. I think that section of track could use a set of feeders. Currently it gets power from an adjacent piece of track. The peninsula can shift a bit and maybe the connection to the next piece of track is loose enough now that it isn’t conducting electricity. Something to work on.

Anyway, here’s the video. I hope you like it!

A Giveaway!

Over on Confessions of a Train Geek I am giving away a copy of Eric Gagnon’s new book, Trackside with VIA: Research and Recollections. The instructions to enter are at the bottom of my book review or you can sign up for my mailing list for a chance to enter. The deadline is the end of May 8, Central time!

See Also

The 2017 Winnipeg Model Railroad Club Open House

Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House

The Winnipeg Model Railroad Club held its 2017 Open House this past weekend. It was held on April 1-2 at the club’s regular meeting place in the basement of the Legion on Roblin Boulevard.

The open house featured several layouts from several local modeling groups as well as some private portable layouts, in a variety of scales. I was impressed by the modeling talents of every display.

The winners of the modeling contests were displayed along one wall, with the winners of the photo contests on an adjacent wall.

Here’s some photos I took of the open house.

Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Rail Train!
Rail Train!
Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Winnipeg Model Railroad Club 2017 Open House
Bents Grain Elevator
Bents Grain Elevator
The Assiniboine Valley Railroad was there!
The Assiniboine Valley Railroad was there!
I really liked the detail on the locomotive and the pump jack.
I really liked the detail on the locomotive and the pump jack.
Ian Plett at work!
Ian Plett at work!
Trains and Grain Elevators... mmm.
Trains and Grain Elevators… mmm.
Paul Ullrich's layout is always popular with the kids.
Paul Ullrich’s layout is always popular with the kids.
I liked this N scale layout.
I liked this N scale layout.
A nice compact layout!
A nice compact layout!
An overview of the room
An overview of the room
Photo contest winners!
Photo contest winners!
Last but certainly not least, the modeling contest winners.
Last but certainly not least, the modeling contest winners.

Thanks to the WMRC for putting on this open house! It was fun!

See Also

Brain Dump

I know I haven’t posted in a long time, so I’m just going to do a brain dump and list some things that I’ve been picking away at.

Accomplishments

  1. I added fascia to the majority of my layout! I’m pretty pleased by how it looks. Photos to come soon.
  2. I bought a bunch of “inexpensive” freight cars, some of which I have refurbished for my layout, and some that I resold on the excellent CANADA HO/N Yard Sale group on Facebook.
  3. I started doing some weathering with PanPastel artists’ pastels. So far I weathered one Bachmann grain car and sealed it with Dullcote. I’m pleased.

The Fleet

These are the DCC-equipped locomotives / RDCs I have. Only CN 3665 (third from left) has sound.

Current Fleet

New Acquisition

I bought another locomotive and I hope to receive it by the end of next week.

It’s a Kato/Atlas GP38 custom painted by Scott Holmes in a fantasy CN/VIA scheme.

I’m not sure if I will repaint it… I’ll have to see it and operate with it for a while first to see how I feel about it.

I’m excited!

Time For DCC

Speaking of exciting, I bought a trio of TCS T1 decoders to go into my two VIA “blue box” locomotives and an old Bachmann “RS18”.

Ready for DCC
Ready for DCC

These VIA units have some extra detail on them – handrails, grilles, etc. – so they are definitely a step above your normal Athearn “blue box” quality. I believe Craig Takahashi did the detail work.

I’ll be following these instructions for DCC installation. It’s definitely not my first decoder installation – see my RDC installation – but I don’t do it often enough to be able to do it without glancing at instructions.

Operations

I haven’t done any formal operations sessions in a while. I have run trains a few times when my nephew came by – he does love the trains but I think he likes driving my toy trucks more.

I am getting the itch to run trains so I think I’ll be doing that soon.

 

Next Steps

These are the next things I plan to do on my layout / trains:

  • Install the three decoders
  • Run an operations session
  • Weather a few more cars