Monday, December 5, 2016

You've Heard About CP Rail Red Barns, But What About Blue Barns? (Plus an Update From Bowser)

If you are a CP Rail fan, or even if you aren’t, you know about that railway’s famous CP Rail SD40-2F Red Barns.

But did you know about the Blue Barns?

Yes, indeed, that’s the name given to these unique units now that they have been purchased and repainted by the Central Maine & Quebec Railway.

The shortline railway, which was formed in 2014, operates in the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and in the Canadian province of Quebec.

The CM&Q bought ten of the former CP Rail Red Barns in 2015 (numbers 9004, 9010, 9011, 9014, 9017 and 9020-24). And now they sport the great new liveries!

And here’s good news for HO scale modelers: Lee English tells me that the handsome units will be made by Bowser, including in the BAR heritage scheme.

As for other news from Bowser, Lee says that the second batch of SD40-2 samples are due this week. A new body sample for the SD49-2F is also due anytime.

Click here to read my previous update about the arrival date for Bowser's CP Rail Red Barns.

Top photo by Julian Berard; middle photo by Richard Deuso; bottom photo by Kevin Burkholder.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Christmastime and President's Choice (PC Express) Train Sets

The Mehano/IHC Mogul from the second
PC Express train set.

Christmas and trains--they still go together for many people.

For lots of model railroaders, that's where their interest in the hobby started: With a train set under the tree.

But good train sets were hard to find in the 1990s when Boris Polakow, Vice President of Canadian Sales Development for Loblaws (owner of Real Canadian Superstore), decided it was time for a quality, affordable train set.

Polakow, who had been fascinated by trains since a child, was distressed to see families bring low-quality train sets that broke “a day after Christmas,” as he told me in an interview in 2001.

He thought that if someone sold a high-quality train set at an affordable price, people would buy them. His colleagues at Loblaws weren’t so sure.

In 1992, Polakow proved them wrong.

The first run of 10,000 President’s Choice/PC Express (named after the line of Loblaw’s food products) train sets sold out within days of being released before Christmas, that year—and a tradition was started.

The first set, 1992.

Between 1992 and 2006, a total of 11 sets were released (they skipped 1996, 2000, 2003 and 2004).

Sold only in Canada, they had names like the PC Express, PC Insider’s Express, the Mountain Express, Camelback Express, Pacific Express, 6060 Bullet Nose Express, Yard Bull Express, Mini Chef’s Express and Big Ten Express.

The rolling stock was toy-like—the cars had truck-mounted horn-hook couplers, and many featured President’s Choice products like cookies, cola, juice, pizza and detergent, among other things.

The locomotives, on the other hand, were pretty good—especially the steamers. (All but two of the sets featured steam locomotives.)

Manufactured by Mehano in the former Yugoslavia, the units weren't always true to the prototype (e.g. a CPR Camelback, or the wrong tenders), and had only basic details.

And yet, they were smooth runners; some modelers bought the sets, priced at between $80-$100, just for the locomotives.

A few used them as starting points for super-detailing and kitbashing projects (see Canadian Railway Modeller Train 6, Track 6 and Train 7, Track 1.)

Of note was the company's model of the CNR's 6060-series U-1-f 4-8-2. It was not an exact replica of that famous bullet nose unit, but it was notable for being the first-ever attempt by a manufacturer to reproduce that locomotive's conical nose in plastic.

The PC Express Bullet Nose 6060

One thing that Polakow didn’t expect was that the sets would become collectors items; many people who bought them never took them out of the box, keeping them as collectibles.

Sets can still be found advertised as unopened on online auction sites.

The best source of information about President’s Choice train sets is Ragnar Torfason’s President’s Choice train set web page. 

On it you can find everything you want to know about each set.

The 5th set in the series.

I never bought a President's Choice train set. But in 2012 Canadian Railway Modeller editor Morgan Turney brought a 2-6-0 Mogul locomotive from set #2 over to run on the M & M Sub.

He had recently acquired the unit, and wanted to see it run. I gladly obliged—I rarely run steam on my early-1990s layout. It ran great, and looked good, too, as the photos at top and below attest.

So, at Christmastime, we can remember a tradition now sadly gone, and acknowledge and thank Boris for his contribution to the hobby--for his dream of making quality, affordable train sets for Canadian families.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bowser SD40-2F Red Barn Update

Like many others, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Bowser SD40-2F Red Barn. Earlier this year, it was announced they would be available by December.

I asked Lee English of Bowser Trains for an update. He told me that a new body sample is due in the middle of December. The new body has some minor changes and a big change--open grated steps.

The estimated time of arrival is now February, 2017.

As for other Bowser HO offerings, Lee says the M636 is in final tooling. It will come out after the Red Barn.

The delivery of the second batch of SD40-2s is due in late January, 2017.

As for the much-anticipated RS3, Lee says that design and tooling is "moving along very well." He adds they will announce the Canadian versions next year. This will include chop noses with correct side filters.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

November Trip on VIA Rail to Saskatchewan

Getting ready to leave the station.

Business took me to Saskatchewan in mid-November. Luckily, VIA Rail's schedule lined up nicely with mine so I could take the train to Saskatoon.

Our power for the trip.

There were 10 cars on the train, including the baggage car. Just one coach, which is where I had a seat.

Big prairie sky from the dome car.

Not that I spent much time there; most of the trip was spent in the dome car. Where else would you want to be?

We met a number of freights along the way, but surprisingly weren't held up much.

I used many of the 12-plus hours to do work. As a manager, I am interrupted a lot each day. Travel by trains allows me to get a lot of work done.

The main drawback to travelling in fall and winter is that night comes so early, especially after the end of daylight savings time.

Sunset from the dome car.

Still, it was nice to be in the dome car, underneath the stars.

At the stop in Melville, I was able to catch the train and the super moon.

The next day found me in Outlook, home to the longest pedestrian railroad trestle in Canada. It crosses the South Saskatchewan River.

The bridge, which was opened in 1912, which was designed to enable the CPR connect Moose Jaw and Edmonton, is  now part of the Trans-Canada trail. The line that used it was abandoned in 1987.

The end.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Newton, Kansas: A Great Little Railroad Town

If you like trains, and lots of mainline action with some shortline activity added—then Newton, Kansas is a great place to visit.

Newton, with a population of just over 19,000, is located about 40 kilometres north of Wichita. It is on the BNSF (former Santa Fe) mainline between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Railroads and Newton have been linked for a long time. In 1872 it became the western terminal for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the railhead for the Chisholm Trail.

Business takes me to Newton about once a year. I was there again in October, and had two occasions to wander trackside.

Train watching is easy in Newton. The locomotive facility is easily seen from nearby streets, although you need a zoom lens to get decent photos.

The mainline crosses Main St. right by the locomotive facility and the Amtrak Station (with its classic ATSF Harvey House design), providing close-up views of the action.

Train activity is frequent—a delight for the visiting railfan, but a source of much grumbling among the locals who have to wait often at crossings for the trains to pass.

In two brief trips trackside I caught four mainline freights and a locomotive move. 

Unfortunately, it was afternoon and all the trains were eastbound, meaning I was shooting into the setting sun.

I also caught a WAMX (Webb Asset Management) train pulling a long string of cars slowly across Main St. I think it is the Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad, but I’m not sure.

A wander around the streets alongside the locomotive facility showed a variety of power on site—units from KCS, CP, CN, CSX and NS were all present, along with a few units still in classic BN green, and even some in the old ATSF scheme.

Unlike in 2009, I didn’t see any trains with flatcars carrying Boeing 737 fuselages. Back then, I was lucky enough to catch a number of them waiting across from the station.

There are lots of little towns like Newton across North America, places where there is lots of railway action and relatively easy access to see the trains. Maybe you have a special place like it of your own.