Weekend Reading: The Pennsylvania A3 Switcher by Kozo Hiraoka

I know it’s Wednesday. I am retired so every day is the weekend. ūüôā I received a most wonderous package yesterday in the form of the 5 book set of Kozo Hiraoka’s live steam locomotive construction books. In a triumph of common sense over ambition, I am at least reading the begginer targeted book before I dive into the ones for two different Shays, a Climax and a Heisler.

If you have more than a passing acquaintance with the live steam railway hobby or Live Steam magazine, you already know about Kozo. He has been authoring wonderfully explained and illustrated construction articles for decades. These books are hardcover roundups of five construction series. I am only about 30 pages in but I have already learned a few things. There is lots of photos and drawings with step by step instructions clearly matched to those photos and drawings. When I briefly thought some pages were missing they turned out to be on one side of a fold out drawing. These are very well done books.

The details are awesome in this book. So far, the only purchased items other than metal stock is a few screws. It even includes instructions for winding your own springs for the trucks. Even if I never do this project, I now know how to make springs!

Weekend Reading: How To Build a Model Railway – Ultimate guide to making buildings

Sometime around the Christmas holidays during one of those bits in Ontario where we ventured into bookstores carefully bemasked, I picked up the Model Rail annual How to Build a Model Railway: Ultimate guide to making buildings. It definitely provided some enjoyable reading.

While I think “ultimate guide” is a bit of hyperbole, this volume is structure build articles and structure build adjacent articles from cover to cover. (Save the few front and back pages of on-topic adverts I so greatly prefer to the North American interstitial approach). As the cover says, over 30 build articles. There are also a couple of how to research your prototype and a bit extolling the merits of scratch building.

The subjects are entirely UK based but other than making me wistful for thatched roofs and castles, the techniques covered are generally applicable and run the gamut of all media, card, clay, resin, plastic, wood and plaster. No whole etched metal kits covered but metal is in there too!

There is probably limited merit in reviewing an ephemeral publication such as this but I wanted to take note of the good work the Model Rail staff produces. I enjoy the regular Model Rail when I can get it and this was more and denser than that.

Weekend Reading: Narrow Gauge Downunder


One of the things picked up at NNGC 2019 was the previous year’s issues of Narrow Gauge Downunder magazine. I have been buying the occasional copy at my local train stores but not as regularly as I would like. They were at the previous NNGC I attended in Augusta, Maine a couple of years ago and my hope to see them this year was not in vain.

NGDU is the sort of magazine I enjoy. It combines non-trivial model construction articles and prototype articles of interesting subjects that I am utterly unfamiliar with. In addition to the cover layout, the pictured issue include an installment on Australian prototype sugar cane loading facilities where the cars are rolled on and off of trucks for their trips between railhead and plantation. There is nothing wrong with silver mining in Colorado but it is nice to see something different! NGDU does occasionally include Colorado narrow gauge lines. The authorship appears to go beyond the geographical boundaries implied by its’ title, too.

The modeling articles are generally top notch and include both how-to articles that go beyond the beginner level as well as some novel (at least to me) ideas. Even when the general techniques are familiar, the often novel subject being modeled makes things fresh.

I am working my way through last year and eagerly anticipating the arrival of the next issue. Since this will be the first of the subscription, I don’t know how much lag I will have to endure as the copy makes its’ way to Canada.

Weekend Reading: Weathering for Railway Modellers Volume 1 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock


As the various non-modelling pressures ease up, I am regaining some momentum on the hobby front. I have not done much of note in the shop but I have been keeping up with my reading. The current book queued up on my phone is¬†Weathering For Railway Modellers Volume 1 – Locomotives and Rolling Stock¬†by George Dent. As previously noted, I have done little weathering in my modelling career but am actively working to correct that. George Dent’s book looks to be going to correct gaps in my knowledge if not my talent.

The book is lavishly illustrated with colour photographs as one would expect for so visual an art. George starts off with the why then goes into materials (paints, washes and dry pigments) and tools. Airbrushing is covered quite well in a separate chapter (George has also authored an entire modeller targeted book on the subject) after simple starter projects are covered.

After the various techniques are covered with examples, there are three! chapters specifically on simulating rust then a chapter each on timber and shading.

The balance of the book covers weathering specifics for coaches, diesels and steam locomotives through example projects combining the foundation techniques as appropriate.

I have not finished the book but I certainly will! I also intend to roll right into the companion volume on weathering structures and scenery with possibly a detour for that airbrushing book. (More on my nascent airbrushing adventures to follow). Weathering for Railway Modellers, volumes 1 and 2 are currently in print and available in paper and e-book form from the excellent Crowood Press which is getting a lot of my money these days.

Diamond Ho!

This weekend I kept up the momentum created by getting the first turnout servo installed and started in on the only bit of Comstock Road’s trackwork that requires hand made frogs, the diamond crossing. Through the miracle of Templot, the diamond is asymmetrical with one leg being on a transition curve. Not something you are going to get off the shelf but a feature that let me squeeze things in the way I wanted. Now I just have to build it.

I started by re-reading the relevant sections of¬†Trackwork Handbook for Model Railroaders by Paul Mallery¬†since I have never built a diamond and haven’t built a turnout frog a very long time and not many of them then. Including the diamond in the trackplan was a deliberate creation of an opportunity to do something a bit challenging.

I printed off a copy of the crossing template, found a suitable bit of pine 1×4 and my file and dove in. Much bending, filing and fitting later, I was ready to apply some solder.firstfrog.jpg

Once I figured out that my piddling little 80W digital iron wasn’t going to cut it, I broke out the big 120W Weller and things started flowing. I soldered things into a blob and then spent more time than I like cleaning it up. Nevertheless, a result was achieved that compared well with the paper version.templatevsreality.jpg

The second frog aka V-crossing went considerably faster as I applied my learning from the first one. It was necessary to redraw the reference lines before I started since the wood block got a little singed.secondfrog.jpg

At the end of the evening, I have both V-crossings built and am looking forward to doing the K-crossings. I have not applied any detailing to the frogs and may not do so prior to installation. I will probably regret this decision. Here are both pieces posed in situ on the layout.vcrossings.jpg

Weekend Reading: Trackwork Handbook for Model Railroaders by Paul Mallery


This the book I was re-reading this weekend to brush up before starting in on the diamond crossing for Comstock Road. I have had this book for many years and actually did a search of my previous postings because it seemed strange that I had not already done a post on this book.

This classic is THE book for those intending to hand lay model railroad track in the North American tradition. It covers all kinds of details of the prototype and then gets down to practical advice for the modeller. Written long before DCC or the advent of the Fast Tracks CNC made jig empire, the methods described are what you need to build any kind of track using flat bottomed rail, spikes and a few simple tools. I needed to re-read parts of it because I haven’t built a turnout frog from scratch in more years than I care to count but the asymmetrical diamond on Comstock Road is just the sort of situation where these methods shine.

Even if you do everything with commercial jigs or castings, I highly recommend this book as a reference for prototype practice and other practical trackwork matters. Published by Carstens, it is currently out of print and not listed on the White River Productions site although several other Carstens books are. It looks like the book stand at train shows is your best bet if you want a copy although you might turn up a reasonably priced copy online. (unlike the unreasonably priced ones I found when I checked while writing this post.)

Weekend Reading: Animated Scale Models Handbook

animatedscalemodels.jpgWhile I was in Kingston, ON on Saturday, I was able to take a bit of time to visit the Kingston Railfair train show. As is my habit, I browsed through the used books because one can never have too many books! I was lucky enough to come across Animated Scale Models Handbook by Adolph F. Frank. It was inexpensively priced so I took it into custody out of curiosity.

I am pleased to say that I am not disappointed in my latest acquisition. I have not finished reading it yet I soon will. Published in 1981, Animated Scale Models describes methods, materials and mechanism for animation predating the advent of inexpensive microcontrollers, stepper motors and servos. While some of what is described has been superceded, much of the wisdom of creating mechanisms from simple materials still looks useful.

Materials and tools described are only the ordinary sort that can be easily obtained. While the tool list certainly does not include a lather, I am also certainly going to find things to do with mine in this book. And save money either way. One can buy pulleys from a hobby robotics supplier, for instance, but the cost can add up in a hurry. Using the techniques in this book, one can readily build inexpensive alternatives that are exactly what is needed.

The book itself is soft bound and printed on non-glossy paper. It is well illustrated with plenty of clear drawings but despite the blurb on the back cover, no photographs other than the one on the cover. No pretty pictures here, just the stuff you actually need. Chapters include basic components, speed reduction mechanisms, mechanical movements,  and various example projects including a ferris wheel, a factory with a bicycle assembly line and more prosaic things like a small house with a man swinging a hammer to repair the roof and grandma rocking her rocking chair on the porch.

I think I can safely assert that any model railroader could find something useful in the Animated Scale Models Handbook. I look forward to employing some of these techniques to liven up Comstock Road. While apparently no longer in print, the online book retailers seem to have multiple used copies available at very attractive prices if you are interested.

Weekend Reading: CN Line Issue 70

cnlines70.jpgLast weekend I attended the Greater Toronto Train Show. In contrast to most of my show outings, I spent relatively little time looking at modelling and much more time chatting with various modellers and vendors. I also found several things available that I have been intending to purchase and did my bit to support the hobby.

One of the thing I have been meaning to do for several years and not got round to was joining the CNR Historical Association. The CNRHA had a table at the show and was offering a “past, present and future” package that included the past issues and data DVD, the current issue of their CN Lines magazine and a subscription to the next four issues. I made up for my lateness to the party by getting the lot.

I am quite pleased with the current issue, number 70. The photographs are excellent and the topics are varied and interesting. There is an account of a derailment in Saanich BC (Vancouver Island), a place I visited when I was in the Navy. There is an article about a private passenger car built on a 1910 Pullman sleeper that was converter to a troop car in WWII and did rules instruction duty thereafter. And it’s owner who DIY’ed its restoration! There is also an article on some 0-8-0 switchers CN acquired from the Buffalo Creek Railroad to provide a temptation for a would be locomotive scratchbuilder.

CN Lines is available in some hobby shops, at least in Toronto but if you are a CN fan you probably already know how to get it. My major recommendation is for everybody to join up for the equivalent organization for their favourite railroad(s). I will admit that I took too long to get to it despite the recurring recommendations in the hobby press but I am glad I finally did it.

Weekend, er, Canoe Trip Reading: Track by Jim Pike


Track by¬†Jim Pike¬†¬†is one of the book deals I got at the¬†Great British Train Show 2018. It is also the unread book I chose to take on this year’s canoe trip with my teenagers. The apple not falling far from this particular tree, I had to set a limit of one book each since it all has to get carried over portages. The Ziploc freezer bag is inner line of defense. The outer line being the barrel pack it rode in.

This an interesting book for those curious about the history of railway track construction. Written from a UK perspective, it covers the evolution of guided ground transport starting from medieval mine carts. Jim Pike, the author freely admits that this is an arbitrary choice. He also wisely brushes off that whole how did 4’8.5″ become standard gauge. Signaling is also not covered since it is well covered elsewhere.

Track focuses on the construction details of the track systems themselves: rails, sleepers(ties), wheels and fasteners. Methods of handling diverging routes and crossings are covered as well as some lineside features such as mile markers. I use the vague term “diverging routes” because the breadth of track systems covered includes those where turnouts and the like are not used. All sorts of interesting oddities get a mention including a steam powered Irish monorail that made it up into the 1920’s and an inclined line of variable gauge! that survived long enough that the owning entity that closed it was British Rail.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of track construction. You, too, can find out interesting things like why UK track workers are called platelayers. (And wonder why they are still called that.) Published in 2010, Track by Jim Pike is available through various online retailers in both physical and e-book form.

Weekend Reading: Layouts to Inspire compiled by Mike Merritt

inspireI spent a long weekend traveling to watch migrating birds so no active modelling happened. On the other hand, the evenings do provide some quiet time to do some reading. One of my finds at the¬†Great British Train Show 2018¬†was¬†Layouts to Inspire¬†compiled by Mike Merritt for the¬†Gauge O Guild. The Gauge O Guild is the UK based association of 7mm (and the other “O”‘s including 1:48) modellers so naturally the layouts featured are all of some flavour of “O” scale.

An entire book of layout features is just the sort of thing I like. The layouts in the book were selected by the members of the guild and cover everything from indoor/outdoor garden layouts to micro layouts. O Scale Magazine contributor Neville Rossiter’s Bay Ridge Harbor Rail Road makes an appearance but otherwise it was all new to me. The photography is excellent and the articles are generally in the layout creator’s words which gives insights into how they go about the hobby.

The only downside for an inveterate layout planner like myself is that not all the articles include a track plan. This is a foible of British model railway journalism as far as I can tell since I have noted the same lack in some articles in UK periodicals as well.

Inspire was published in 2016 but does not appear to be still available. I acquired mine from a vendor at GBTS 2018 so presumably one has to get lucky at a show.