Weekend Reading: The Pennsylvania A3 Switcher by Kozo Hiraoka

I know it’s Wednesday. I am retired so every day is the weekend. 🙂 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.

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: Modelling Branchlines by David Wright

Branchlines_WrightOne of the things I like to do when I am traveling (and when I am not 🙂 ) is visit public libraries. It gives a glimpse into local literary tastes and sometimes interesting public architecture. The Halifax Central Library is definitely worth the visit. The building is almost new and impressively not just a big glass box. I also enjoyed the book return conveyor/elevator/sorting system which is purposely visible at points.

One of the book sections I am sure to go through is, of course, the model railroading and railroad history. In this case, I discovered a copy of Modelling Branchlines: A Guide for Railway Modellers by David Wright. My host agreed to sign it out for me and I read through it over a couple of days.

My initial impression was that this book was a bit of an odd duck by North American publishing standards. Rather than addressing a specific area of modelling technique, it covers a “vertical” segment of the hobby, the UK branchline. It includes a general history of branchlines in the UK, a basic overview of general layout construction methods, layout plans based on specific prototypes, some freelanced plans, some specific detailing and  modelling projects and some advice on colouring with prototype reference photos.

This unexpected approach is, once one gets used to it, an interesting read. The general technique sections provided some useful ideas that I want to try. I consider the real meat of the book to be the prototype line information and associated layout plans. The section describing the construction of a stone station building from card and modelling clay covers an approach I have not seen described in detail and that I definitely want to try.

Modelling Branchlines is in print and available from the usual online behemoth. If you are interested in the prototype subject matter and some excellent trackplan treatments thereof, this book might be worth picking up.

Weekend Reading: CN Engineering Specifications for Industrial Tracks

The internet is such a wealth of information that one can develop the misleading impression that all information is available online. Not but sometimes you turn up something useful. CN Engineering Specifications for Industrial Tracks is one thing I found recently while attempting to answer questions about various track details for Comstock Road. While this is the current CN document intended for modern customers, it does give me help in making more plausible guesses where required.

Some of the information is not of direct interest to modelers since model railway engineering and permitting processes are somewhat less formalized but some of it is bang on. For instance, I gleaned the following useful numbers from this document:

  • Minimum ballast shoulder for jointed rail is 6″ beyond the tie ends. 12″ for welded rail. Hmmm.
  • Additional sub-ballast width is required on the diverging side of turnouts to provide a working area for the rail crew to stand.
  • A spur of over half a mile requires a runaround. Long backing move without a caboose are neither fun nor safe for the guy riding the last car.
  • 25′ between main and industrial track unless space is unavailable, 14′ minimum between adjacent industrial tracks.
  • 20″ spacing on leads, 22″ on body tracks.

And some we are just going to pretend either didn’t apply in the 1970’s or just isn’t doable in the space I have:

  • Minimum rail weight of 115lbs. Depending on sources and rail profile that is either code 125 or code 138. I have Right O’ Way code 100 steel. That is plausible for a circa 1900 era leftover but not especially likely for 1940/50’s new construction. I am claiming reuse as a wartime expedient.
  • A minimum radius of  9° of curvature. Which is something like 160″ in 1:48 O scale. The entirety of Comstock Road is 144″ long… We are just going to prohibit autoracks and proceed.

There is also a bunch of details regarding clearances and grades that I will have to look at more closely although model standards will likely suffice. The real GECO spur crosses the actual Comstock Road and ascends to the last customer on what looks like a fierce grade of 5% or more so I doubt I will come up with anything implausible. (My intent is for the back industry siding to be up a grade to give a bit of topological interest.)