Sunday, March 26, 2006

Spring is in the Air - Hear the "Bluebirds" Sing!

I dedicate this fun story to my newfound friend, Mike Sherbak, who is deployed in Baghdad, Iraq, where he is working courageously to make a difference in the lives of others in a faraway land. Keep up the great work, Mike!

I received a telephone call from my good buddy, Dave Haney.

"Hey Mike, seeing as how the temperature here in Ottawa has passed the zero degree threshold, imagine how warm it'd be south of the border in New England! How about you and me taking a railfan trip to North Dover? We'll be gone two days!"

"Sounds good to me Dave!" I responded. I knew my arm could be twisted easily! Besides, my philosophy is that you'll never know what you'll see 'till you get there!

After much railfanning en route, we arrived at the New England River and parked in a favourite railfan spot...the edge of a tall embankment which offered a wholesome view of the B&M tracks piercing Haney Cut and traversing the sturdy bridge structure.

"How about you stay here, Dave, for your shot, and I'll scamper down the embankment to get a 3/4 angle "side on shot" when a train comes," I called out.

Well, it wasn't too long before we could hear the canyon walls echo to the sound of dynamic brakes a-squealing! "Can you see it yet?" I hollered back up to Dave.

"Sure can," Dave called out, "and you'll be surprised when you see the head end!"

Sure enough, a pair of "Bluebirds" were on the point of the train. "What a pleasant surprise," I hollered as I struggled to gain solid footing for my shot of the units. I was shocked to find that the two units were pulling an extremely short train on this day...a tank car, a boxcar and a buggy in McGinnis colours. I managed to spin around quickly and snap a shot of the tail end as it entered the outbound end of Marshall Cut.

I scrambled up the ledge and reached Dave's truck. We knew that there was a short order restriction through Marshall Cut and, with recent track work underway, the train may have to wait there, so we headed to the inbound end of the cut to see if we could make in time for a decent shot.

Sure enough, we found the train stopped. This gave me time to shinny up a tree and Dave time to climb a short hillock. Check out the shots the two of us were able to attain.

Dave captured the two units just as they began moving again crossing the culvert over Mitchell Creek.

From my vantage point high up in a pine tree, I was able to frame a shot of the two Bluebirds with the switch engine for Conley Lumber and Coal, B&M 1231, resting on the Conley lead.

We quickly gathered up our equipment and headed into town where I managed to shoot the train as it crossed the border from Maine into New Hampshire. The Salmon River is a natural boundary here and that's Stanley Bridge the train is approaching. Note the old 44-tonner resting on the abandoned siding in the background.

Dave ran on ahead and crossed boundary road where he managed to snag this shot of the train approaching the road crossing. That's the F.B. Hamer building to the right in the background.

Note that the road is protected by a rail employee who spends his day in the crossing shanty. "Where is this person?" Dave is wondering. Oh well, he managed to get a great shot away, anyways!

We met up with Dave's good buddy, Wayne Hills who was in town snapping a few shots for a book he is working on. Wayne managed to capture the train as it took the south siding in town for a meet.

The two "Bluebirds" are Gp9's and we managed to lens the 1746 and 1701. This has allowed us to snap one of the latest and one of the earliest in the number scheme for these diesel locomotives. The B&M traded in their weary fleet of FT's for engine parts on the new "9"s and a total of 50 were purchased. (#1700-1749) They were the first B&M road switchers bought without steam generators with the exception of the former demonstrator RS2 #1500.

Wayne offered us some of his photos, two of which were taken in the town of North Dover. The train dropped its only boxcar and sashayed over to the north siding after another train passed through town. Over lunch we discussed our displeasure with the McGinnis regime on the railroad. We were concerned with the loss of the beautiful maroon and gold FT's and the new colours of the GP9's were hotly debated. It seemed that "billboard" schemes were now spreading from boxcars to locomotives at lightning speed. The new blue, black and white patterns appeared glaringly modern and reminiscent of McGinnis's tenure with the New Haven. Apparently he hired his wife to do the latest artwork in bold lettering.

I must admit that the interlaced B&M grows on you after a while. The "bluebird" scheme underwent later developments, and, as the railroad lost more money, a basic solid "blue dip" was applied as a cost saving measure when repaints were necessary and when new diesels arrived on the line.

As for Dave and I, our railfanning trip couldn't have turned out better. We met Dave's good buddy, Wayne, and yes, spring was in the air as those pair of "bluebirds" sang proudly as they hauled their short train into North Dover on a spectacular spring day!

Cheers, Mike

Feel free to check out my other weblog which details the activities of my round robin train operating group here in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at

Sunday, March 19, 2006

1000th Visitor to my Model Railroad

Over the years a number of interesting people have visited my layout, many with a story to tell about their lives both inside and outside the hobby of model railroading. Guests have come alone or in small groups of three or four and I've managed to host larger crowds at times as my crew lounge is able to handle a dozen people with ease. Some folks who have come by were not necessarily involved in the hobby and it is my hope that somehow I managed to "kickstart"the model railroad gene in their DNA.

Some of my interesting visitors have included Rod Johnston, the husband of Lyne who created the well-known comic strip "For Better or Worse" where she often makes fun of his interest in trains. Walter Gretzky, the father of Wayne Gretzky of NHL fame telephoned to come over one time when he was visiting friends in the Ottawa area. Unfortunately, my wife had to give him the message that I was out of town giving a scenery clinic on model railroading! It was also a thrill hosting Tony Koester and Jim Hediger from Model Railroader Magazine in my home. The well-known modelling team of Bill and Mary Miller dropped in as did a crew of Master Model Railroaders from all over Ontario and other parts of the continent during a convention a few years back. I still get a big kick out of opening the pages of my guest book and reading all the comments people leave. I must say, every continent of the world is accounted for! This past week, in particular, was a milestone one for the layout. Read on...

Thursday evening, I was teasing my good friend, Derek Debeer, that he came up "one" short when he signed my guestbook after bringing his son and a friend over to see the trains. "What do you, short, Mike?" he queried me. "Simple,"I responded, "you are the 999th visitor who has come to see my model railroad!"

Derek didn't mind as numbers mean little to him. He is a "free spirit" who has already made a remarkable difference on the planet. You see, Derek was the drummer for the world class musical group "Johnny Clegg and Juluka" later
known as Zavuka. The music from this inter-racial band influenced those whose ambition it was to bring down the walls of Apertheid...and what an influence they were...and continue to be. In fact, Nelson Mandela asked Derek and Johnny to play at his inauguration as President of South Africa upon his release from prison. That's Derek on the left with other members of the band.

While visiting my layout, Derek mentioned that before he became heavily involved in the music industry, he worked for two years on the railroad in South Africa. He was a fireman whose primary job was to stoke the fires on the Garrats...those rather interesting locomotives prevalent in the southern parts of that continent.

Derek certainly had many a tale to tell about life as a stoker aboard these behemoth locomotives, but that's for another day.

So, who became the 1oooth visitor? Well, the following day, a little three-year old lad came over with his parents to see the trains. This was a couple Lisa had wanted to introduce me to...a wonderful family she had met through the nursery school where she volunteers. The young lad's name is Justin and he was thrilled to learn that he was a very special visitor.

I ran a lengthy freight train and he counted 38 cars being pulled by four engines. I then ran the short local you see pictured here behind B&M RS2 #1503. As a gift, I gave Justin and his parents a number of "black and whites" of the layout (I prefer them to colour images as they seem to suit the 1950's era better) and Justin was presented with a handful of Thomas the Tank colouring pages which thrilled him immensely!

Yes, model railroading is not only spans the ages and the globe!
Cheers, Mike

PS. The image of the Garrat was taken in 1964 by E. Marggraf

Check out my other weblog which details my train operating round robin group at

Monday, March 13, 2006

Entrances to Staging

The staging tracks for my B&M/MEC model railroad surround the layout within the four walls of the room. There are three openings where staged trains enter the visible portion of the layout. Much has been written about effectively masking these openings to staging, and, if done properly, visitors will hardly notice that staging tracks exist! Alongside each picture I will explain in detail how I masked the entrances to staging on my layout.

The first image showcases the northerly access area for inbound trains. This portal area to staging is effectively hidden behind a long rock cut and a large stand of trees. The trains enter the layout through Haney Cut and immediately traverse the New England River Bridge in the state of Maine. Today we see a B&M rail diesel car exiting the cut.

B&M tracks traverse the entire layout where they exit at the southerly portal, a tunnel located underneath the upper main street of North Dover. I call my town North Dover to give me artistic license to bring some of my favourite scenes from around New England to the layout, one of them being the famous tunnel at Bellows Falls. This scene is masked by a tall cliff, some buildings and a creamery located in the town. On this day we spot a Maine Central unit tank train exiting the tunnel in town. The MEC is granted trackage rights for a short portion of the B&M line through North Dover for interchange purposes.

The Maine Central's sole independent access from staging takes place halfway around the layout at the Howard Street Overpass where a tower guards the interlocking. A combination of elements work here to mask the Maine Central's portal including the tower, the overpass and some groupings of trees.

The image we see here is of B&M RS2 #1503 pulling a short local into town. The highway overpass certainly appears crowded today!

The last image demonstrates just how effectively the tower, overpass and trees work to mask the portal to staging at this location. That Maine Central train #391 "The Oil Can" await clearance to enter B&M trackage.

Yes, if done properly, visitors will never know what's coming next onto your layout. Indeed, each train will be a surprise!

Cheers, Mike

Visit my other weblog where you can see what my round robin group does each Friday night!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mike's Layout Schematic - With "Surround Staging"

Many visitors to the blog have asked to see an overview of the layout. The room size is 11'x13' and I've managed to squeeze a great deal of realistic railroading in such a small space.

Study the image carefully and you'll see the ingenious staging concept my good buddy Trevor Marshall and I coined "surround staging". (Double-click on the image to enlarge.) A special thanks to Rick Johnson at Model Railroader Magazine for his efforts in bringing my layout diagram to life in such a professional manner.

The town has two sidings, the north and south siding where drops and lifts can be spotted or where meets and passes can occur. They also offer "runaround" capabilities for the local North Dover crew. In the photo to the right you see a train arriving North Dover inbound on the main with the two sidings noticeable. That's the Holy Spirits Distillery in red brick and the Phillips Furniture Factory in brown brick. The inclusion of both "trailing" and "facing" spurs adds to the operational interest when switching out these and other industries in town.

Take note that all turnouts in staging are located at the duckunder entrance to the room and at the angled access areas in the two far corners. This was purposefully done for switch maintenance purposes. All other tracks in staging are "straight and true" and to this day, since 1997 when I began running trains there has yet to be a concern with trains in staging!

The image above is taken at the duckunder entrance to the room. This area is considered staging and you can see the turnouts for some of the other staging tracks here. GP7 #1566 leads three brethren on train PM2, a hotshot freight from Portland to Mechanicville. Notice the latest subtle weathering on the newly installed interlocking tower.

Indeed, the length of track in staging is longer than on the visible portion of the layout, but fully half the fun of railfanning is the anticipation of the trains that are to come!

Cheers, Mike

Check out my other weblog which details my train operating round robin group at

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Maine Central locomotive #672 - An F2 Beauty

My HO scale B&M Railroad interchanges with its New England cousin, the Maine Central, which has been granted trackage rights into the town of North Dover. Two pairs of Maine Central trains traverse these B&M tracks daily, train #561/562 "The Oil Can" and train#591/592, a mixed freight. The images you see today were taken on many of my railfanning excursions around North Dover. I've selected my favourite Maine Central diesel to showcase, the 672, an EMD F2.

The first image (above) shows F2 AB set #672 arriving town outbound. The train has just exited the tunnel under the main street of town. It will lift loaded tanker traffic in North Dover destined for the many paper mills located in the interior of the state of Maine. This train, train # 562, has been nicknamed "The Oil Can" by local railfans.

The second image taken a few months later shows the same units in care of an inbound mixed freight, train # 591. I managed to capture the units passing the FB Hamer building at the Boundary Rd. crossing on the outskirts of North Dover. The train is entering yard limits where it will perform its drops and lifts. Note the B&M shanty protecting the road crossing.

The third image captures the Maine Central train holding the interlocking in anticipation of a meet with a Boston and Maine train. It has just left staging and entered the visible portion of the layout. The interlocking tower and the highway overpass serve to mask the portal opening from the staging area!

The final image shows a different meet...this time in staging. This is the area near the duckunder at the entrance of the train room. The Maine Central train will pass behind the tower and enter the scenicked portion of the layout underneath a highway overpass and behind another interlocking tower (see previous image). The juxtaposition of these two cowl-bodied beauties really makes for a great photograph!

F-units have always captured my fancy. It continues to amaze me how the engineers of the day created those beautiful rounded edges on the front body of the unit. Indeed, when I built my layout, I had to have a few of these "beauties" on the roster!

Cheers, Mike Hamer

Check out my other weblog which details my train operating round robin group at