Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Two Industries, One Photo

Two Industries / Deux Industries

Rail meets the road: CN 8808 and 5691 pull a string of autoracks out of the CN Oshawa Yard. The GM Oshawa plant dominates the horizon.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Closing of Ontera sale extended

The sale of Ontera, originally set to wrap up this past Tuesday, is now likely to take until October. While the Competition Bureau Review is part of this delay, the complexity of the ONTC is once again causing the government to have to slow down in its attempt to make a little money.

>>>Closing of Ontera sale extended | North Bay Nugget<<<

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Obligatory photo of Toronto's new streetcars

TTC 4403

After years of anticipation, transit nuts can now ride Toronto's new streetcars. Even the CBC has caught the transit-spotting bug. Walking down Spadina Avenue last night, I was able to shoot both 4403 (pictured) and 4400. The new cars will gradually replace Toronto's streetcar fleet over the next few years.

Tree Bark Rocks

In the August 2014 Model Railroader, John Longhurst (of the CP Manitoba & Minnesota Subdivision fame) had a very good article about using tree bark to simulate rocks, rather than using the more traditional plaster mould method. I was just about to start refreshing the ONR Green Bank Sub, and I wanted to have more rocks.

Essentially, the tree bark method involves finding pieces of bark that resemble rocky outcrops, cleaning them up, and blending them into the scenery on your layout. John found his bark along a riverbank, so I tried along Lake Ontario. Tree bark floats in the lake for years, eventually washing up on the shore. By then, it has taken on a grey colour and looks remarkably like rock from the Canadian Shield. I collected my specimens and brought them home, where they immediately went in the freezer.

Tree bark is organic material, and all sorts of different organisms might be living in it. Before putting it on your layout, it is best to inspect each piece for anything obvious (moss, bugs, leaves) and then to freeze it for a few days. Then, I take the additional step of baking the bark in the oven, a trick I began using years ago to sterilize soil for use on my layout. Baking bark is dangerous and needs constant supervision in case it starts to burn. For my specimens, I found 15 minutes at 200c followed by 5 minutes at 180c did not damage the bark, but sterilized it enough for use. One warning: the baking process smells awful (like campfire gone wrong). With the bark as safe as it can be, I installed it on the layout.
Tree bark rock serves as the focal point in the front yard of Dufort's Antiques in Heron. Another piece behind the barn helps disguise the supports holding the backdrop in place.

I model the Ontario Northland, which runs through the wilds of the Canadian Shield. Rocky outcrops are an integral part of the landscape, often in cuttings blasted to make way for the track. I cut holes in my plaster-bandage scenery to fit pieces of the bark, which I glued in place. After using regular scenery materials to blend the "rock" into place, the effect is amazing.

Thanks to John Longhurst for the great idea and thanks to the Canadian Model Trains Yahoo! Group for advice on killing organisms in tree bark.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Let's put the 'awe' back in 'awesome'

Anyone who has uttered the word "awesome" in my presence will probably have heard me rant about how the word is overused. "Is Niagara Falls awesome?"I will be heard to say, "Yes! But since you weren't actually talking about it, whatever you said cannot have been awesome." As such I never use it. When I actually do talk about something awesome, I will usually replace it with awe-inspiring for emphasis.

Because this is a railway-related website, allow me to point out that the last train you saw is unlikely to have been awesome. The latest train video online was almost certainly not awesome. But, the invention of the railway, which helped to create one of the most incredible changes in the history of mankind by shrinking time and space while industrializing society was awesome. So, in a sense, trains are awesome, just not the one that just passed you. Take it away Jill!

Jill Shargaa: Please, please, people. Let's put the 'awe' back in 'awesome' |

Trainspotting hobby 80 years older than thought

The National Railway Museum has found evidence of the first trainspotter - way back in 1861. It was a 14-year-old jotting down locomotive numbers as trains came and went from Paddington Station. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this discovery is that said trainspotter was a girl. I think this makes trainspotting thoroughly gender-neutral!

>>>BBC News - Trainspotting hobby 80 years older than thought<<<

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Call of the Northland: On Sale September 29!

After two-and-a-half years of research, writing, rewriting, editing, rewriting (you get the picture), I have signed off on the proof copy of Call of the Northland and I am delighted to announce that it will go on sale to the public on September 29, 2014! The book looks gorgeous and will appeal to anyone interested in the ONTC, railways, Ontario, history, politics or travel (and hopefully other tastes too).

The book will be available to purchase online or through selected local retailers across Ontario. If you would like to sell Call of the Northland in your store, it isn't too late to order (you don't even have to be in Ontario). To get in touch, contact me through the book's website.

Let the countdown begin!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Shoo-fly, Shoo!

A long-overdue update on the construction of GO Transit's maintenance facility in south-east Whitby. So far this year, crews have excavated the site (several times it seems), installed drainage and now built a large berm next to the tracks.

On South Blair Street, my beloved level crossing has closed forever. I am sorry to see it go since it was the first place I used to go to watch trains with my father 20 years ago. However, I understand why the crossing is impeding traffic flow and ultimately inconveniencing the railway companies as well.

In place of the crossing, a new underpass will be built over the next few years. To do this, the GO Sub has been replaced with a shoo-fly track at the former crossing site. A shoo-fly is a temporary diversionary track used by railways to bypass construction or other obstacles (such as a washout). Once the portion of the bridge for GO trains is complete, the Kingston Sub will also be shoo-flied (?) to build the rest.

This photos shows how the site looked as of the end of July. It was taken with a zoom lens at 250mm while standing on the Hopkins Street bridge to the east of the site. Incidentally, the bridge will also be a casualty of the construction as it will be demolished and replaced with an access road to the south of the site, thus destroying one of the best rail photo spots in the GTA. Nothing lasts forever.

Construction in Whitby / Construction à Whitby

Of interest in the image are (from left to right):
  • The CN Kingston Sub. Without a level crossing to worry about anymore, CN freights can now go right up to the signal bridge while working the Oshawa yard.
  • The red and black pile-driver at the former site of the South Blair crossing and future site of the South Blair underpass.
  • The GO Sub shoo-fly with train 916 not-so-slowly rounding the "s" curve on its run east to Oshawa. Temporary signals were installed when the original signal bridge (roughly where the pile driver is) was removed to make way for the construction.
  • The berm, marking the southern limit of the future GO maintenance facility.
Also gone with the construction is the classic sound of trains blowing through the crossing. I miss the horns, even if they can still be heard sometimes when trains approach the construction workers.

For more updates, see the Metrolinx Flickr account, which gives good updates on all the major rail construction projects in the Toronto area, including those in Whitby. Even better, no need to trespass!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ontera sale to close Sept. 2

Summer time, and the ONTC news is largely quiet. That said, the sale of Ontera continues, with the deal set to close next month. While most people are relieved that the bulk of the ONTC will remain in public hands, the sale of Ontera is not popular. Was the telecoms division undervalued? Why is Bell Aliant shedding upwards of half the workforce? What level of service will be guaranteed?

>>>Ontera sale to close Sept. 2 | North Bay Nugget<<<