Modelling the E&N in HO Scale in my basement


This website is devoted to documenting the progress towards construction and completion of my HO scale (1:87) rendition of CP Rail's Esquimalt & Nanaimo division on British Columbia's Vancouver Island from Nanaimo, British Columbia north to both Port Alberni and Courtenay in late 1988. Feel free to look around, and check back every now and then on the Updates page for progress reports on layout construction. If you have any comments or questions, please contact me via e-mail at or leave a comment on this site.


Have I neglected my blog or what?

I’ve got a fair bit of time now to bring you guys and girls up to speed if you haven’t been able to see the layout in person, though I don’t know how many photos I have on my phone to share.  Anyhow, here’s the story.

I could have had track completely finished a long time ago.  But I decided that I wanted the trestle at Vancouver Island Gas in a more complete state.  Unfortunately it was not to be.  Cam wanted to figure out the best way to anchor the trestle to the benchwork but still have a good base for the scenery.  The scenery would also dictate the angle bracing on the bents.  So to have the bents actually in and on top of the plywood, and have scenery that drops from track level to much below track level would require some creative fiddling with the blue styrofoam that would support the shell. Here’s Cam checking to see if the work actually gives some level track:

The trestle at Vancouver Island Gas is being built

Meanwhile I had also been working on the track into the former engine house at Port Alberni.  Using two or three different thicknesses of styrene sheet, and a large amount of styrene cement (I was pouring it out of the bottle to get it to laminate the sheets together…) I was able to get the foundation started.  I’ll need to build more up to match the rail height, but for now I just needed to get the only the rail level to what was coming in from outside.  Unfortunate that I didn’t take more progress pictures of that specific detail.  Following that, I wired up the remainder of the yard trackage and the plywood division to the track bus, so the full yard was powered.  But over the week between Christmas and New Years, both Cam and I were off work and we got those two bits of track installed, clean things up and  finalize the trackage between the Plywood Division and the Port Alberni yard.  I of course would leave a few spikes out.

The first day of 2016 would be the final spike ceremony.  Invitations were sent out a couple weeks prior to have a few friends and supporters over to see the final spike being driven into the track.  Kevin Pyle brought a spike maul, used for driving spikes on the prototype, and I figured “why not?”  Using the spike maul and a nail set was a little awkward, but it didn’t take more than three taps with that huge hammer to set the spike in place.

Cam received the honour of driving the final spike.  He initially declined to use the spike maul but decided to use it for the “shiggles” factor.

Here is where I would insert a link to the video that was shot, but stupid me shot Cam’s video upside down and thankfully software exists to rotate the video to be right side up, but I just don’t have time at this time of year to edit it and make a better product so you’ll have to visit this page later to see the video.

After the spikes were set in place, trains were fired up and run over most of the layout.  I say most because quite a few servos were not yet installed into Port Alberni yard so switching there wasn’t done much.

Since that date, more work was done in getting the servos installed and hooked up to the Tam Valley Depot Octopus III controllers.  After some discussion with Kevin Rudko of Signalogic Systems, it was discovered that his switch control panels intended for use with his switch controllers would actually work with the Octopus controllers, with only some slight wiring tweaks.  The only real hitch is that using momentary switch inputs could lead to some undesired action on the servos, but time will tell whether this was going to be a huge concern or not.

The next major event would be the Calgary Model Railway Society’s Layout Tours, happening at the end of February.  Much cleaning was done, trains staged and switch lists generated, and my huge thanks to Dave Chomyn for coming over to run those trains during the six hours that the tour was running.  We had 44 people over to see the layout that Sunday, which for me, was a huge success.  Lots of people left favourable comments in the guest book, one guy who came over with a hatred for multi-deck layouts left quite impressed and now considering the idea has merit, and even a few women were impressed.  Virtually all of them will be back for future tours to see how the scenery is progressing, and see how many of the “thousands upon thousands of trees” I’ve planted!

Of course, I’m also heavily involved in the organizing of SUPERTRAIN, Canada’s Largest Model Train Show.  This year, I’m working on the Registrar duties (thanks to Jim Ironside for being my co-registrar), graphics design and printing, and new this year, organizing the Shuttle Bus operation between a large Transit park and ride lot and the show venue.  Being able to combine my transit-geek and friendships with a bunch of bus drivers to help the show has been quite rewarding.  This show takes up a lot of my time in the few months leading up to the show and I’m thankful for the opportunity to even get downstairs every now and then.

At some point I’ll be able to get back to the GP9’s that are needing to be completed, get some more scenery work done and who knows what else…  Until then, keep your stick on the ice.

Turnouts complete, trackwork not far behind!

It’s extremely gratifying to finally report a completion of a few things, since a lot of progress has taken place with the layout since I’ve written last:

Firstly, I’m done with turnout building and placement!  This weekend I finished spiking down  the switch just outside the Port Alberni enginehouse.  This was the last turnout to be laid.

I still need to hook up a lot of servos, connect them to the Tam Valley Depot Octopus III controllers and figure out how they will be thrown.  Dave Bedard favours toggle switches, I like momentary push buttons.  It would be awesome if I could get Signalogic Systems SCP controls to work; I have them running the few tortoise-powered turnouts on the layout, and to have just one interface would be great.  It’s bad enough to have bullfrog knobs and another means, to introduce a third might make things confusing for the operators.

On other “almost completed” items, I’m less than five pieces of track being spiked down from the milestone of being done laying all trackage.  Two bits of track into the enginehouse (will it be a structure or just the foundation?  I’m trying to determine -without a lot of success- whether the current enginehouse was built prior to 1988 or not.  If you have any info on this, please drop me a line!), the Vancouver Island Gas spur needs its trestle constructed and then two lengths of flex track near the Port Alberni depot need to be spiked down.

Wiring has been done for the majority of the yard in Port; the southern quarter of the yard plus the remaining trackage towards the plywood division still needs feeder wires hooked up.  Some bus wires will also need to be strung too.

Will have to update this post with pictures later, along with updates on a few other bits – the GP9 fleet, the freight car fleet and more.  Stay tuned!

On complex track work

On April 27, 2014, I sent out the following notice to my operating crew:

Effective immediately, all Port Alberni freights are annulled, account lack of destination trackage.

I had pulled up the entire temporary staging yard in the space of a couple hours, salvaging the track and turnouts for later use, and that left any chance of a Port freight running to nil. In Hunt for Red October, Captain Ramius said that “on his arrival in the new world, Cortez burned his ships.  Thus, his men were well motivated.”  I had effectively done the same thing.

With the temporary yard gone, I could get to work on building the proper one, and after acquiring appropriate materials (ie: a full box of sheet cork and way too many strips), Cam and I got to work on laying that down and securing it with contact cement.  (Seriously, anyone who uses white/yellow glue for cork needs to learn about Contact Cement.)

A J-roller makes for good contact

After that was all thoroughly sanded, tracklaying could begin.  The first half of the Port trackage is rather complex. I spent on the order of several evenings fitting the skeletons of the turnouts together and discovered that I’ll have a route (not terribly likely to be used though) where you can travel about eight plus feet and not have the wheels touch any length of flex track – yes, all turnouts for 8 feet!

Fitting these turnouts together with a large amount of cutting, desoldering and resoldering bits to make crossovers, and butting points up close to the frog of the previous turnout all proved challenging but achievable.  I would learn later that fitting the wooden quicksticks underneath would be just as much of a challenge.

The past couple weekends I’ve been getting the finished turnouts all spiked down and linked with bits of flex, along with trackage into the pulp mill.


lots of turnouts!

 I’ve got to spike this all down, but this represents the difficult stuff.  The yard will be easy, but time consuming with all the drilling and spiking.  The last spike is in sight, likely with completion of track work to be later this summer.

Despite appearances, I have been working…

I will admit, having no updates since last October some six months ago is not doing many of you any favours.  Allow me to bring you up to speed.


Fast Tracks Skeletons for Port Alberni Yard

In my hand is the cumulation of some hundreds of hours worth of work.   Many evenings and weekend mornings building these at my workbench, plus a few made elsewhere over these past six months and they are all done!  Unless anything serious goes wrong, I won’t need to make another turnout for this layout.
Over two dozen functional turnout skeletons (as well as two more non-functional scenery turnouts, not shown) which need a wash and to be glued and spiked to the quicksticks, and then the Port Alberni yard can be laid in it’s intended trackplan.  Speaking of which, the trackplan was finished up on the computer in a program called Empire Express some time ago and printed full size.  Cam and I have been trying to figure out how to transfer it to the benchwork, and my ever-so-smart wife said I needed graphite paper.  Sure enough, a couple art supply stores in Calgary stock large sheets of the stuff, at exceedingly reasonable prices: $1.80 for a 20×26″ sheet.  Works much the same as the carbons of ye olde time.  Place it between what you want to copy onto and your pattern, draw over the pattern and the paper leaves marks.  Works for me.  Except I have a temporary staging yard occupying the benchwork.  Well, as of a few nights ago, make that ‘had’ a staging yard.  Some judicious use of a soldering iron and a pair of nippers and the yard is gone. Track laying will commence rather soon…

Other updates:

Plywood Division

Benchwork Extension into Plywood Division

I decided that the track plan for the plywood division wasn’t quite up to snuff and decided to extend the benchwork for it around the corner and into the stairwell.  The trackage to the prototype was such that a train would continue out of the south/timetable west end of the yard past the depot, then into a short siding to allow the locos to run around the train, and push the cars into a facing point switch and the two tracks. Those two tracks are in the stairwell, with the runaround track where the staging was going to be.  The engineering of the extension had to take the drawbridge into account which thankfully clears with about an inch of space.

Another update is for Courtenay.  We weren’t happy with the number of moves needed for turning a Courtenay train and decided to do something.  We’ve extended the siding track around the corner and it’s now long enough to account for a standard length train.  Unfortunately the spur for the CP Express building at Courtenay is now single-ended as a result, but an acceptable compromise. The tail track is still long enough for a pair of locos, the water car and caboose.


Work continues on these.  All shells have paint and most decals applied but still needing more, like frame dots, warning labels, etc. Work on the chassis still needs to happen in addition to decoder/lighting installs.

Pole loads

I’ve spent more than a few hours at Kevin Pyle’s drill press and have made quite a few poles.  Sadly, only enough for about half a car’s worth!

And on a last note:

SUPERTRAIN, Canada’s largest model train show, is an event which I assist in organizing, happened a couple weekends ago.  This year, the show was held only a few minutes walk away from my house and I took the opportunity to host an open house for a few friends visiting from out of town.  Was surprised when they brought a few other friends.  I’m rather proud that I had manufacturers (well, at least their reps) galore looking at my layout.  Scott from Bowser, Matt from ESU, Jeff from Prairie Shadows, Dan from Rapido Trains, Grant from Southern Alberta Rail, and always, Michaelea from Sign Reflectionz.  Cam, Mark Kaluza, Josh Anderchuk and Matt Soknacki were also there and fun was had by all.  Next year guys, the trackage will be completed!

Finishing benchwork

I’m done!

Well, okay, so there’s a lot of work still to be done, but a significant milestone was achieved a little over a week ago when Cam and I secured the last of the benchwork to the wall for the Alberni Pacific Plywood division. That bit of benchwork means that everywhere I want to install trackwork, I have the wood to support it.

Admittedly, it’ll be a fairly lengthy time before I can actually run trains on it due to the fact I’m needing to build all the turnouts for the Port Alberni yard first, and could have worked on them first, but I wanted to get the major amounts of woodwork completed and get the chopsaw out of the basement and make use of the space this tool vacated. As well as having a clean floor too.



Fixing deficiencies

I suppose thanks are due here to a good friend of mine – Grant Eastman. Many times I’ve been to his very impressive N scale layout of the protolanced Southern Alberta Rail, and found substantial sections of benchwork and track completely replaced.

His motivation?

He simply didn’t like how it was previously done and decided to do something about it. For example, he didn’t like how one would have to leave the train and walk around the laundry facilities, furnace and hot water tank. So he relocated, not the track, but the latter three items to allow one to stay with the train. He rebuilt the staging loops and to provide a better track plan, rebuilt the stairway into the basement, changing it’s configuration in the process. He also changed all the code 80 track out with code 55, even in the fully scenicked areas for better appearance. I could go on but you get the idea. Enough about his layout and back to mine.

I wanted Vancouver Island Gas to be a signature scene on the layout, but disliked the fact the aisleway around the nose of the basement was tightened up substantially, and that the trestle was right up against said aisleway. Sure, I could protect the future structure and rolling stock with a sheet of lexan (high-grade plexiglas) but it did nothing to reduce the amount of dead space behind the track that would need scenicking.

So, after consultation with Cam and Dan, I decided to follow Grant’s lead and do something about it. Track was lifted, feeders cut, bus wiring separated, benchwork pried apart and then removed. Here’s a couple shots of the work in progress. The first shows Cam undoing screws to take off the benchwork and the next after everything save for the brackets have been removed.


Sadly, I neglected to take a ‘before’ picture as we jumped right into the work.

Some people showed considerable concern over the fact I was in demolition mode before the layout was even complete, but after reassuring them with why, they were supportive.

Several weekends later, the benchwork was reinstalled and track relaid and wired in. Thankfully, some pieces were reused, and only a few sections of track needed to be added in. Here’s a couple shots of what it looks like after everything was done:



The aisleway gained enough width (give or take another 7 inches), the space behind the track was substantially reduced and there’s space in front of the spur.

Sadly, one consequence of the work is the loss of the needed height to properly model the trestle. It’ll end up being compressed in both directions, but I couldn’t achieve that height without really impacting the space below. Oh well. I’m still happy I did this.

Additions to the GP9 Fleet

As I eluded to in my last post, I’ve been working on a few GP9’s for the layout.  I have two functioning units on the layout now, but that’s nowhere near enough for what was on the island in 1988 and earlier timeframes. (slight aside here: Cam keeps wanting to wind the wayback machine to 1986 to model a whole ton of log trains when truckers went on strike…and unfortunately, all the locos on the island then were GP9’s…Not hard to figure why I want to model 1988 – a lot more variety in motive power that year!)

Back when Proto was affiliated with Hobbycraft Canada, the GP9 models produced in CP Action Red were done with only a single number (maybe two, but I can’t say I saw it), and trying to find this paint job on ebay was getting quite frustrating.  Too expensive or simply not available.  So I started looking and found a few relatively cheap GP9’s in Santa Fe and CN paint schemes which were mechanically similar to the units I had – specifically, equipped with Dynamic Brakes.  I was also informed that stripping the paint off these units would be pretty safe and easy – simply dunk them for a period of time in 99% Isopropyl Alcohol.

One paint scheme was easy.  Others…Not so much.  Put it this way, if I’m going to go for more units, I’m looking for Santa Fe black and silver units.  The CN noodle required grit blasting with baking soda to remove, and the blue and yellow Santa Fe paint scheme spent days in the alcohol and numerous brushings to remove the paint whereas the black scheme was completely cleaned off after a mere 8 hours in the dip and a gentle brushing with an old toothbrush!  Two other units were stripped as well, but cannot recall what paint schemes they were in. Something tells me one of them was a CP Tuscan scheme.  This has been a longstanding project…  I also acquired one undecorated GP9 as well, but it presented a unique issue in that it came without dynamic brakes.  Oops. Cam found an appropriate part from Bachmann of all places. It’ll do!

Once the units were all completely stripped, and with advice from Cam, we started in on making them more appropriate for CP Rail.  First off was acquiring a bunch of detail parts – a proper CP horn, high hood bell, sinclair antennas, sand hatches, handbrake wheels and 48″ fans.  These models were originally delivered with 36″ fans for primary cooling, but most of the prototypes with 36″ fans were sent for rebuild prior to 1988.  So four of the units on the layout will be equipped with 48″ fans, which required a fairly substantial patch job.  One that Cam readily agreed to do… Thanks! Over the course of several evenings at Dave’s place, these parts were installed onto the stripped shells, fans installed and generally, the shells made ready for paint.


Concurrently to all this was the preparation of my new spraybooth built by Garth Prestegaard (apologies Garth if I’ve spelled your last name incorrectly) many many moons ago.  Off the old spraybooth was the fan and electrics, and onto the new cabinet was the same fan and new wiring.  Once plugged in, flick a switch and the fan turns on and turns on anything plugged into the electrical outlet beside it – used for lighting and a hair dryer.  Works well!

Six shells, three ready for paint, three needing some work

Six shells, three ready for paint, three needing some work

Which generally brings me up to today.  I have six units soon to be ready – three units with 48″ fans all complete and ready for painting.  One unit with 36″ fans required installation of the winterization hatch which I forgot to strip first, a second unit with 48″ fans required fans that I didn’t already have, and the third not-quite-ready unit which will be 8204 isn’t done owing to the fact it’s undergoing a more extensive amount of work – a short-hood upgrade. That one is the one on the far right in the above picture.

On advice from Dave, I washed the three units, air dried, and then painted the rear end with Tamiya Gloss Black out of a spray can.  Very good stuff!

Black ends painted

Toilet Paper Tubes make for good handles and stands for painting

Toilet Paper Tubes make for good handles and stands for painting

Toilet Paper Tubes make for good handles and stands for painting

Toilet Paper Tubes make for good handles and stands for painting

Next up was priming the short hoods and the Cab/Frame assemblies.  This was done with Tamiya Fine Surface Primer White.  After numerous light passes, that was complete.  Attention turned to masking off the black paint so I could prime the long hoods.  What an eye opener that process is!  Obviously one wants to ensure the masking is done cleanly and properly to avoid any paint from bleeding underneath, and this takes time.  Spent nearly three times longer masking it than I did painting them…

Once masked, the white went onto the long hoods.  Lunch called at that point and afterwards, got the airbrush hooked up and mixed up a couple drops of Vallejo Retarder Medium into the paint cup 2/3rds full of True Line Trains Action Red paint.  Sadly, this paint has been discontinued owing to Testors (manufacturers of the True Line Trains paints) getting out of a lot of paint lines, so I’m quite glad that this paint goes on so nicely.  After painting 3000 and 3004, plus the three units today, I’ve used up maybe 2/3’rds of a single bottle.  I have two more full bottles and think that I’m pretty set in case I want to redo other units…

Red Paint applied, Masking removed

Finished applying Action Red

Following that process, and letting the red cure quite well, on went the masking tape on the cab/frame assemblies to protect the red which was sticking around. Sprayed the black onto the rest of it, pulled the tape off and after scraping off the (thankfully very few) spots of black which managed to make its way under the tape, have some very sharp looking units.

Cab/Frame Assembly painted black

3 GP9's waiting for glosscote

Onward to glosscote (very light coats according to Dave), then application of decals, and the installation of decoders onto the chassis…Which reminds me. I should get to it!

Another omnibus update

So it’s again been a while since I’ve posted an update. Seems to be a common theme around here… And admittedly, I’m going from memory here so please excuse me if I forget anything. (Cam, this is your opportunity to comment on anything I’ve forgotten!)

I was quite busy in the lead-up to SUPERTRAIN, ensuring things with the show were taken care of, but also with the layout at home since I knew a few people coming to town for the show would also appreciate an ops session. (Yet another common theme here…) so track cleaning, ensuring the Port Alberni staging yard is operational, motive power is good and that I’ve got rolling stock ready. Also worked on getting the dispatcher’s office somewhat cleaned up so I could use it. The chair was rather dusty!

The ops session went reasonably well, but with some operators being unfamiliar with the layout and the work extra running dead on hours left a few things to be desired. Namely, need to get a car control system in place and while I was thinking of a computerized switch list generator, I’m thinking of going to car cards after discussing things with Grant Eastmam and Cam following the session. Still doesn’t negate the fact I need to renumber a LOT of rolling stock.

Here’s a hint to the manufacturers: more road numbers! Or even better, include a small decal sheet with numbers we can use to renumber the cars with!

Also, need to have operators more familiar with where everything is, and the dispatcher needs to write up clearances before everyone shows up. More preparation in advance of the people showing up is usually a very good thing. And of course, I wish I had a couple more passing sidings, which don’t exist on the prototype because the trains were spaced out a lot more than what they are in an ops session…

Since the ops session, I’ve been working on rolling stock and motive power, including getting a whole ton of GP9’s ready for CP paint. But that will have to wait for another post…my train ride is almost done. See ya!

April 5, 2014

With the trackwork finished for the moment, attention turned to getting the trackage actually wired up properly.  As the train actually managed to make it all the way to the main yard track, we knew the continuity of the trackage was good, but without being able to do anything within the yard, it was kinda pointless to carry on with the situation we had.

So out came the drills, 20ga stranded wire in green, red and black, and the soldering station, and wiring was done.  I even got the bus completed all the way down to the end of (temporary) track.  Cam and I worked in our own districts – for me, I worked on completing the wiring to the West Siding Switch of storage track Arrowsmith, Cam worked down the hill and then while I was finishing the bottom of the hill and a portion of the yard, he finished the other part of it.  Progress was made and we had a fully wired layout again.

Much cleaning was done and playtime began.  Well, some say we were testing the layout…yeah… yeah, that’s it.


We certainly found more than few switches which had activation pins which needed grinding.  All were fixed, and then began the massive task of trying to ready enough rolling stock for the ops session…

March 29 and 30, 2014

With my second ops session planned for just after SUPERTRAIN (good grief, what was I thinking?!?), I was thinking I should get something done for the layout. Not that Cam didn’t sort of prod me in that direction either, no…. (Insert shifty eyes here)

Anyway, we figured it’s be great to actually get a train all the way into Port Alberni, even if it ended up at a temporary staging yard of sorts, as I haven’t had time to focus on doing up a real, accurate track plan for P.A.

Side note here. Earlier, Cam and I were discussing the track plan and realized that the tight confines of the trackage near the wye in Port Alberni was a guide, but we needed to make sure what was planned was actually doable. As such, I’m going to draft up the plan in CadRail and then print it full size so we know exactly where things go. Needless to say, such a plan is going to take a while to fully draft.

For a very long time, we’ve had the sub benchwork down the hill started… But not quite complete. This past Saturday, Cam and I worked on fixing that, and getting that little bit of track board finished and secured. After a bit of a meal, we got the contact cement out and laid the cork from where we left off just prior to the MP25 trestle, all the way down the hill. As we weren’t going to put cork in P.A. until we had a plan, we used a long cedar shim to ramp the track from the cork to the plywood.

After dinner, track laying down the hill began in earnest, and that was complete that evening. Of note, we actually slightly superelevated the curves on the way down the hill, for some aesthetics, but more for keeping runaway rolling stock from wanting to jump the rails on the way down.

Sunday, Cam arrived and we got the temporary staging yard built. A three track, double-ended affair with commercial #6 turnouts, it’s not great looking, but will hold two full port freight trains… One to arrive and the power can switch the caboose off and put it on the other train and come back to Wellcox with a different train.

We cleaned up the layout after the trackage was complete, powered up the layout and ran a couple GP’s (3000 and 3004) up to Port to see how far we’d get.

Surprisingly enough, we got all the way to the yard, and into it!