ON THE ROAD WITH RAPIDO (or, “Dan and Mike’s Excellent Adventure”)

By Mike McGrattan

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Very few people truly enjoy business travel; every day a different city; running to catch a flight or train, the lack of a home-cooked meal, a strange bed each night. It can be tiring and when you get back to the office there’s always the catching up to do. Yet when your travel includes going to train shows, layout tours and presentations at clubs and hobby shops the chore seems just a little more enjoyable.

Dan and I set out for a whirlwind tour of Quebec and New Brunswick last week and will end two weeks of travel tomorrow with the fine folks at Otter Valley Railroad in Aylmer, Ontario. Along the way we have met so many modellers, rail-fans, retailers and friends that the grind of a two-week business trip seems considerably lessened. Come along as we look back on “Dan and Mike’s Excellent Adventure.”

Leaving Union Station on VIA Train 62 we set out for Montreal and a visit to the Vermont and Essex Hobby Railway. If you haven’t had the privilege of seeing this incredible layout it’s hard to describe just how much hard work and attention to detail has been put into it. The model of the St. Alban’s station and train shed is a true HO scale masterpiece. Photos below are by Luc Comtois.

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We had a chance to feature some of our upcoming releases including the FPA-4/FPB-4 and the LRC. Club members got a chance to give the pre-production models a test run and the feedback we received was both positive and quite valuable. (Everywhere we go we try and let the people in attendance run our pre-production models and ask them for feedback. The modelling public are not only our customers; they are a great source of information and input that allows us to make our products better).

After having dinner with the guys from Hobby Jonction Express in Dorval, we were off to the West Island Modular Railway. Established in 1986 this club welcomed us in for an evening session where we gave all our upcoming releases a good workout on their spacious mainline. The club is a great mix of veteran model railroaders, new modellers and young, up and coming model railroad enthusiasts. The LRC was the star of the show as many members fondly remember it gracing the rails that pass right beside the club’s facility.

Wednesday morning it was back on VIA and train 22 to Quebec City. Our friend, Les Halmos of Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine was our host and tour guide.

Les

After a traditional smoked-meat sandwich for lunch Les took us to three outstanding club layouts so we could share our new models with the members. First up was Les’s own club, the Free-Modu-Rail de la Capitale  Built to Free-Mo standards, this semi-permanent layout in a wonderful facility is an outstanding layout, both from an operating and scenic perspective. The club members gave the FPA-4/FPB-4 lash up a good workout on their mainline providing us some wonderful opportunities for snapping some photos.

VIA Horse

Before joining Rapido I spent 25 years in the paper industry and have spent more time than I care to remember at numerous mills and paper plants. The first thing you see when you walk into the club room is a stunning model of a CIP (Canadian International Paper) mill. Stopping dead in my tracks I flashed back to visits to the CIP mill at La Tuque, QC as this mill is a highly accurate representation of just such a mill. (that’s a lot better than his usual flashbacks. -Ed.) A well-designed track plan provides a mill switching crew with hours of challenging and enjoyable operating potential and the visual accuracy of the over 12-foot-long facility made this veteran of the industry vividly recall the smells and sounds of a day at the mill.

paper mill

Our next stop was another private club, the Bichotte and Vanasse Railway.  I’d never heard of this club before; their HO scale layout is tucked away in the second story of a nondescript industrial facility. However, one look at the opening scenes of this stunning layout told me that I’d been missing something very special.

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Winding its way through several rooms, the layout is a visual overload of highly-detailed and beautifully-modelled scenes. A huge (we’re talking 14 feet long) steel mill provides almost unlimited operating potential and, as can be seen by the slag car dump area, is detailed beyond the level of most layouts. The hot slag really glows!

Beautiful bridges, scenic tunnels, a custom-made “Peterbilt” dealership and a huge open pit mine are but some of the scenes that jump up at the visitor who, as I did, has to force himself to focus on one vignette at a time in order to truly appreciate the craftsmanship.

pit mine

Our LRC took a spin around the main line and was caught by Dan on the scratch built bascule bridge while I marvelled at the port scene with its craftsman made ships and water scenes.

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Too soon it was time to move on but we left the Bichotte and Vanasse Railway vowing to return as soon as we could because one visit just doesn’t do this outstanding layout justice.  Our next stop was a familiar one (at least to Dan) and was one of the oldest and most well-known model railway clubs anywhere, The SMFQ.

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La Société de modélisme ferroviaire de Québec is located trackside at the Ste-Foy VIA Rail station (not too hard to take… model trains and a chance to wave to passing trains!) and has been active for 50 years. A well detailed HO scale layout and a new and rapidly growing N scale layout are housed in a very comfortable and inviting facility. Workshops, a club room and a separate storage facility or the large scale outdoor railway are also part of this friendly and inviting club.

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Question: What’s better than one model of the LRC?  Answer: Two models of the LRC, naturally. The soon-to-be-released Rapido HO scale LRC meets it’s “Really Big Brother” – the SMFQ LRC! The club treated Dan and me to a ride around their outdoor railway on this custom-built LRC and we naturally had to take our model along for the ride – you’re never too old for this kind of ride!

As we bid Les, the members of the SMFQ and the province of Quebec “adieu” and boarded VIA’s Ocean for the overnight trip to Moncton we were looking forward to seeing some old friends again and enjoying both Moncton and the Maritime Federation of Model Railroaders Convention and Train Show. Settling down for the night in our Renaissance cabins we were aware that there had been some kind of a police incident in Moncton but had no idea that the next few days of our, and indeed, many Canadian’s lives would be focused on our destination and the horrific events that had unfolded.

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Thursday June 8th: 6:30 AM…Couldn’t sleep in; got dressed and went to the Park Car and watched crews on the early morning shunt. The rain and grey skies were certainly appropriate to the happenings in our final destination; Moncton.

Three RCMP officers had been shot dead and two more were seriously wounded. A lone gunman was on the loose, a large part of the city was in a lockdown and we were to arrive there in a few hours. VIA officials did their best to keep us updated; for a while it appeared we would not be permitted to disembark in Moncton, and if we did, it wasn’t clear whether or not we would be able to get to our hotel. The grim reality of a city being held hostage was coming home to Dan and me in a way we could never have dreamed. We didn’t know what we were heading into.

Arrival in Moncton was like no other we’d experienced. There was security on the platform as we headed inside to meet our friend, Cindy, who works for VIA Rail and our hosts, Trevor Jones and Al Bishop. Trevor and Al were putting on the best of brave faces; they were organizing a huge model railroad show and convention in a city that was essentially shut down. In true Maritime fashion they were more concerned about making sure we were taken care of than the seriousness of the situation.

It can’t be overstated just how exceptional Trevor, Al, Luc Nowlan and the rest of the show and convention organizing committee were. A year’s work was now being threatened by something no one could have imagined yet these gentlemen, and indeed their entire committee, went about their business without so much as a complaint or distraction. They are a credit to our hobby and to their community.

The news that the gunman was captured on Friday made everyone breathe easier but did little to lift the tangible pall. Moncton is a tight-knit community; it seems everyone knew someone affected by the shootings and although “the show must go on” mentality that was adopted by the committee was evident, you could not help but pause and reflect upon what in life is truly important as the show opened Saturday morning with a minute of silence for the fallen officers. Experiencing total and complete silence in the huge University of Moncton Athletic complex that was hosting the show is something Dan and I will never forget… and We Will Remember the three RCMP officers and their sacrifices.

The show itself was great; the less than anticipated, yet completely understandable, attendance didn’t diminish the quality of the show. Some first-class modular layouts highlighted the event (and I must say that the huge N scale set up right across from our booth foreshadowed a larger than usual number of N scalers we met… I knew I liked Moncton!)

A young modeller waits to be first in line as Dan sets up our booth.

A young modeller waits to be first in line as Dan sets up our booth.

Sunday was a day of layout tours and relaxing with some local railfans. Moncton is home to some outstanding layouts. Dan brought the “toys” and we got a chance to see our FPA-4/FPB-4 combination run on our friend Luc Nowlan’s layout. Luc is a gifted scratch builder of locomotives and rail equipment. His talents know no bounds as he has created a fleet of Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and BC Rail prototypes unavailable in RTR form.

Luc Nowlan

Al Bishop’s N scale Wolf Valley RR is a wonderful work in progress. Al is designing a true operations-oriented N scale layout, the heart of which is one of the best designed yards Dan and I have ever seen… and he’s hand laying the track! Using Fast Tracks he is custom building most of his turnouts and he has quickly become a very skilled N scale hand layer of track. I just had to let “Littl’ Puddy” go for a spin on the Wolf Valley (Yes; we took Littl’ Puddy with us… she gets lonely if we leave her at home). (Oy vey. He’s started anthropomorphizing that farkachte boxcar again. I’m running. I’m running far, far away. -Ed.)

Puddy ride

Before leaving Moncton on Monday we said goodbye to our friends, hoping that they would be able to take pride in the wonderful job they did organizing and running their show in the most trying of times imaginable. We know the people of Moncton will come together and help move forward from this horrible and tragic event.

We were back in the office for about a day and a half and then it was once again on the road, this time to Kingsville, Ontario (Near Windsor) and a visit to Action Hobbies. We arrived at the store and were met by Operations Manager Tim Swaddling. Tim hooked us up with local rail historian and modeller Bob Sanford. Bob gave us a wonderful overview of the rail history of the area while on the way to visit Mark Roach’s layout.

Mark is a renowned custom builder and painter (Roach Custom Painting) and is a modeller of the Delaware and Hudson. Mark’s layout is in a converted garage and is something you really should be prepared for before you see…. Dan and I were… well… “NOT” prepared at all!

Mark bridge

Mark’s layout is a seamless collage of famous scenes from the Delaware and Hudson. Spanning several states the scenes meld together to form an almost magical trip back to the glory days of the “Bridge Line.” Mark’s expertise in electronics has allowed him to create spectacular lighting effects and his use of lights, signals, building lights and interior details all combine into what can best be described as a “stage craft” approach to modelling.

From day till night; they leave the light on for you.

From day till night, they leave the light on for you.

Dan and I were thrilled to see our MLW units on Mark’s layout and will be looking forward to returning someday to see Mark’s future progress.

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Our host for the afternoon, Bob, next took us to his layout, the Sun Parlor Lines; a nostalgic trip to Southwestern Ontario on September 15th 1955. Featuring C&O, NYC, and a smattering of CN, CP, ETR and WE&LS traffic (go look up the WE&LS…you’ll like it). Bob’s layout is a clinic on prototypical buildings and scenes.

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Bob has decided to delay “laying grass” as he puts it until he has completed his painstaking mission to accurately scratch build each of the over 40 structures that will populate the Sun Parlor Line. Using historical photos and extensive research he has created a smooth-flowing series of line-side industries that are true to the region he models and has designed a track plan that will challenge and delight up to five operators per session.

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With the layout tour complete and dinner at the beautifully restored train station over it was on to Action Hobbies and a crowd of over fifty modellers.

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Action Hobbies is now the site of a new model railroad club. With a HUGE space to utilize, the club is building semi-permanent modules to form a “zig zagging” layout that will provide members with long mainline running capabilities and plenty of line-side switching that should facilitate some outstanding operating sessions. Progress is rapid on the layout and they expect to have the mainline complete and ready for use shortly. The yard(s) will allow for the marshalling of long and varied trains and the sheer layout size and well-thought-out design will allow numerous operators to enjoy not only this promising layout, but all the convenience and service that Action Hobbies is known for.

It’s now Friday and Dan and I are “home.” Tomorrow we head to Otter Valley Railroad for one last presentation and then we are done for this order deadline. There will be time for getting the first GMD-1 locomotives out to stores, catching up on repairs and parts requests, working on future release projects and then receiving more shipments… It will be a busy summer at Rapido’s Galactic Headquarters and before too long it will be time to take the “show on the road” again; I wonder what new products we will have in our tickle trunk next time….?