Analysis Paralysis

Analysis paralysis. This is me right now.

I have a number of model train projects on the go, and I’m not executing on any of them.

Lance Mindheim just wrote a post “Fear of the Inconsequential” where he wrote about the “fear of getting it wrong”. That’s me, all right.

What do I have going on?

  1. Neglected fascia
    Neglected fascia

    Fascia – I started installing fascia on the layout, but I quickly realized I don’t know how to get around the corners. I’ve reached out for help, got some, but I lack confidence. Some of it is too long and needs to be trimmed, and I don’t have a table saw. I feel like it’s not going to look very professional, so right now the majority of the fascia sits in my garage, painted and slowly getting dirty and unusable.

  2. Ballast – I’ve ballasted all of the visible CN track that I am going to do. I’ve done patches of the CP track but I haven’t finished it. Why not? I really don’t know.
  3. Scenery – I’ve done some bits of scenery here and there, but the main part of the layout – Georgetown – is undecorated. I have an idea in my head of what it should look like, but I don’t know where to start so I don’t.
  4. Kits – I have several model kits that I haven’t started. Some are Intermountain grain hoppers and for those I am just intimidated by the number of parts. I have a couple of Athearn “blue box” kits that I know I can do, but I haven’t done them. Also I have a grain elevator mostly complete, but I can’t move from 85% complete to 100% complete because.. I don’t know why not. I have some great decals from Precision Design on it but I need a few more.

I know I should “just do it” as Nike said. Something is better than nothing. I can always go back and make it better if I don’t like the result.

I know this.

But I have to get over this internal fear of screwing up before I can move forward.

Here’s hoping that happens soon.

What do you do to push past these internal roadblocks?

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 2016 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 activities like model ship builders, Lego, face painters and more!

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.

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?

I liked the Pioneer grain elevator

The N scale yard below was quite impressive!

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.

Sterling Schabler and his layout
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.

Kildonan Short Lines

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

Winnipeg N Trak!

So many great layouts.

N/Scale Mainliner

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

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!

Dive! Dive! Dive!

There was some face painting too…

Face painting

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

Lego displays at Manitoba Mega Train
A very impressive ore dock in Lego
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 Manitoba Mega Train 2016 organizers and exhibitors for a great show!


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

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



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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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 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 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.