Monday, March 31, 2014

The X(2F)-Files

There was a time in HO model railroading when there was neither a standard coupler nor a standard coupler pocket. It was a dark time. Modellers were building kits from scratch, using ingredients like basswood, brass and other organic elements, or building rudimentary commercial kits. But how could the newly-popular HO-scale kits be coupled together and operated like tinplate, Lionel and larger-scale trains - quickly and reliably, often at high speed?
Most early HO car kits came packed with a pair of cast metal, dummy AAR-type couplers and rarely would the couplers of one manufacturer work with those of another. Mantua, K&W, Baker and Walthers offered automatic couplers, though none was compatible with another. European manufacturers had their own designs. At the same time, early Kadee, Hobbyline, and American Flyer had their own designs. Then, the horn coupler, of which the X2F was only one of several specific models, was developed by an National Model Railroad Association committee headed by Paul Mallery. At the time of its development, the coupler was a significant advance over certain other coupler designs in its various capabilities. The coupler committee was outside of the standards committee, perhaps realizing even then that creation of a standard coupler might never happen. Paul Mallery even denied he headed the committee, nor would he admit what type of coupler he preferred! Nevertheless, the new X coupler, X1, early X2 through X2E, and finally X2F variants were developed. The X2F coupler was unveiled at a manufacturers' meeting in New York City: the Hobby Industry Association of America model railroad section, in February, 1957.

NMRA, however, being a reasonably democratic organization, put the question of coupler standardization to a vote of its membership and the membership at large decided against using the horn coupler as a standard. The NMRA, however, does have the S-2 coupler standard. The NMRA would not even call the X2F its official coupler.  Most members preferred the idea of standard coupler pockets which would permit use of any coupler. This was perhaps a longer-lasting, more important development to 'serious' modellers, since many 'serious' modellers considered the X2F a horror. [Ed note: I use the term 'serious' here loosely. I also use the term 'loosely' loosely. I consider myself a serious modeller, though I associate the term 'serious' modeller with one who is stodgy, snobbish and condescending.]

The horn coupler did become a near 100% standard on most HO train sets. Athearn, Model Die Casting, Varney, Mantua, AHM and others soon packed X2F couplers with their major kit lines.  In my experience, almost invariably, whenever two cars refused to couple to each other, they were MDC cars with the cast metal underframe pockets. An agonized cry of "Must be Roundhouse cars!", would echo throughout the HO scale yard. Preferred by manufacturers because the couplers could be produced cheaply, cast on a sprue with other plastic kit parts, the coupler was not proprietary, its use being free from royalties. Various forms of the X2F standard included the 'large hole' Athearn body mount style, and the 'small hole' Tyco Talgo truck design:                                                         
Standardization was desirable to get maximum effectiveness from the horn design, since the many plastics and metals used in the coupler's manufacture by various producers have different frictional properties when coupling, especially when spring tensions also vary because of the use of different springs: brass or steel spring, hair spring, nylon, plastic, etc. The X2F was a significant achievement and because of its low production cost and satisfactory operating capability, did permit interchangeability of thousands of HO cars and locomotives for the type of buyers not generally capable of making such conversions themselves. Paul Mallery said that the X2F never reached its full potential because almost every manufacturer deviated from its original design and tolerances. Kadee evolved into its present form through the 1960's and became the de facto standard for the great bulk of 'serious' modellers. Due to patent expiration, McHenry, Accurail and Intermountain, Bowser and Bachmann have introduced new, almost-compatible couplers.

(at least on my layouts, for over 30 years)
Five reasons I still use the X2F coupler:
1. Supplied with the vast majority of cars I've bought. No retro-fit required.
2. Works well, especially when body-mounted. Truck-mounted styles tend to derail more, especially on backup movements. (Note to self: convert or sideline these cars.) I recommend snipping off the lowest part of the coupler for better operating through turnouts.
3. Works on a variety of radii, tight curvature, turnouts and crossovers. Weatherable, but try not to paint the coupler faces - too much friction!
4. One piece. Simple. Oh, and a nearly-endless supply.
5. No need for layout-mounted magnets or giant fondue sticks descending from heaven, in order to uncouple cars. (Certainly, while effective and time-honoured, my X2F uncoupling method is just as unrealistic. But it too works.)
I get some unusual reactions when I admit (My name is Eric...and I use X2F's) that I still roster a complete fleet of well over 300 X2F-equipped HO cars and locomotives. This includes the only X2F-equipped Rapido Trains Angus van in all of Canada, perhaps the world:
Fellow modellers contact me to offer me free Kadees. They genuinely want to help me. They tell me, "X2F's? You're a rebel!", or "I assume it's due to budgetary restraints". While I appreciate their generosity and good intentions, I'm firmly committed to using X2F's and I'm OK with their continued use.
To reinforce the above, here are a couple of recent photos showing a load of X2F's arriving on my Vancouver Wharves layout. CN road repair truck crewmen from the car shop work at unloading them:
Loading X2F's one-by-one into the section hirail boom truck:
To remove any temptation to switch over, I've just shipped my small stockpile of Kadees to fellow modeller Taylor Main in PEI.  UK modeller Keith Webb recently wrote to express solidarity, "I have a big pot of X2F's for you. I'm quite happy to give these to you, as in my eyes, if you're having fun, why change what you do?" A very welcome and enlightened viewpoint, Keith!
Just email me when you find one...mile179kingstonATyahooDOTca.
PRIZE UPDATE: Congratulations to speedy Trackside Treasure readers Elijah Hall and Troy Melody for their sharp-eyed, rapidly-returned entries. You both win a Trackside Treasure prize that will not be a bag of X2F's. Special honourable mention to Roman Ptashka for keeping me honest and providing the following graphic proof for his entry:
While not initially planning a contest, my intense inspection of my coupler graphic made me realize that I could lose precious credibility if some hawk-eyed reader pointed out the presence of (horrors!) non-X2F couplers in the photo. (pssst...I think I spotted various non-X2F couplers in each letter). Great to have such faithful, interested and engaged readers aboard!

Running extra...

Frank Milotte's Ottawa Northern and Western layout was recently featured on blog partner Chris Lyon's Lyon Valley Northern. Some aspects of Frank's layout grew on me a bit slowly, but one thing I came to appreciate was the dogbone layout design. Specifically, the 'centre-stage' aspect that allowed trains to appear at various levels, parading in front of the operator in runpast fashion.
Fitting in with the classic, some would say anachronistic, I say timeless theme of this post, Part 1 of Chris' series is entitled 'A Step Back in Time'. Part 3 is a Layout Tour.

My wife finds Pinterest very useful for her hand-made greeting cards, as well as getting and sharing new ideas. She told me it was easy to use, and as often happens, she was right! I've found it the perfect spot to keep photos I intend to use for modelling, as well as prototype photos that don't appear on trackside Treasure. Check out my I Should Model This! and other boards. Perhaps you will also find it a useful medium.

What's on your layout? Mine will eventually look just like this: my Pinterest Vancouver BC Modelling board, into which I've been 'pinning' interesting digital images of Vancouver railroading and urban scenery. On the board you'll find this Phil Mason photo of CP Rail's 'N' Yard, taken in 1982. This photo started it all for me, changing my modelled locale from western Canada (Winnipeg) to very much farther western Canada (Vancouver-below). Watch for an upcoming layout tour of my HO scale Vancouver Wharves layout.

Winning the 2014 CARBODY Award!

(March 31 UPDATE: Cold medication. I just realized this whole CARBODY award has been some sort of medication- and sickness-addled dream sequence. Like Dorothy waking up back in Kansas, like Ebenezer Scrooge attributing his dreamed-of Christmases to an 'undigested bit of beef', this is what is now clear to me. Clear as my head is becoming. This blogging business is not about accolades, awards, or any kind of formal appreciation. What is important is the continued readership and camaraderie of those who frequent Trackside Treasure.
Now, unlike the accepting Auntie Em, Professor Marvel and farmhand Hickory (above), the timing of this update might lead you to believe that this is some sort of calculatingly-concocted April Fool's Day prank. Well, stay tuned for the next post. That one will be only be explained away by some as a seasonal joke!

(March 30 UPDATE: I received a call from the board secretary at CARBODY, Shirley Eugeste. Change in venue from the Royal York ballroom to the Bloor-Yonge TTC station food court, near Tim Hortons on Tuesday. Interestingly, the Northern Ontario Board Of Directors Of Your Scale HO Model Engineers (NOBODYSHOME) will be represented, as will the Northern Ontario Scale HOer's (NOSHO's) will be in attendance. I'm still planning on calling in to work to book a personal leave day on Tuesday so I can attend.)

I'm pleased and humbled to announce that Trackside Treasure has been awarded the 2014 CARBODY Award. I'm sure you've heard of this award. It's a pretty big deal around the internet. Not just any blog is granted the honour of showcasing the licensed, prestigious photograph of this beautiful gold blingfest in their sidebar. (You may be thinking of the PEABODY Award, but that award is given for meritorious service in broadcasting. Different thing altogether: that award process is apparently unusually rigorous, involving 1,000 submissions and 30 committees! Whoa!)

When I received the congratulatory phone call from the board chair, I was in the bathroom. After gathering myself together and collecting my thoughts (both of them), I checked the answering machine and could not believe my ears. What had I done to deserve this honour? Not much, I thought. Not too darn much. Not so, said the board chair. I was humbled. I laughed. I cried. I tried to be sincere. I sure hoped this was not a scam. 

When I asked what 2014 CARBODY meant, I was assured that it stands for the Canadian Amateur Railway Blog Of Da Year. It's an acronym. CARBODY that is, not 2014. That's just a number. (And a recently-patched ex-UP CN unit.)

But I digress, as usual. It would appear that it's this type of digression that garners this kind of award. That and more - rambling, mission creep, non-sequiturs, segues, sensational rumours, work-arounds and a general disregard for the starched-collar world of rivet-counters and louver-counters that rules the rail enthusiast back track of the internet.

I'd like to thank my wife for her incredible support. Her repeated entreaties of "I'm sick of hearing about your train s***!" have not deterred me one bit. I'd like to thank my children for disavowing any association with my ramblings-on, simply asking their mother "Just what the heck is Dad talking about?"

Most of all, I'm looking forward to being picked up at my door and whisked to Toronto for the prestigious presentation ceremony, which takes place just before noon on April 1. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

VIA 6651-6653: Three Survivors

VIA Rail received five F9B's from CP Rail. These B units were renumbered at Montreal's St-Luc Shops in February 1979 - VIA 1961-1965, ex-CP 4473-75 and 4477-4478 respectively. Originally, these F9B's wore maroon & grey then CP Rail Action Red, and were used on Canadian Pacific's Canadian and Dominion. When the Dominion came off, they were renumbered from CP passenger series 1900's into the freight series 4470's in the summer months of 1971.  

Purchased by VIA for $5,000-$7,000 each on September 28, 1978 - three were real survivors. Well into the late 1980's these three units were still in active service with VIA Rail, before reaching their out-of-service dates in January-March 1990. Interestingly, CN would only allow the ex-CP units to be renumbered into their 6600-series, reserved for B-units after modifications were made to bring the units up to CN standards. At Calgary in May 1986 (above), 6651 is added to two ex-CN units on my train, to power No 1 through the mountains. Those Action Red portholes and winterization hatch give away her CP Rail heritage. Here's an online auction site photo of VIA 6651 on May 24, 1983:
6651 (ex-1962) was released from Ogden Shops January 21, 1983, max. speed 89 mph. Repainted with CP-style numerals, but not rebuilt, retaining only one steam generator from its CP days.
VIA's Canadian at Winnipeg in March, 1982 had 1962 in its power consist (photo immediately above and all below by Brian Schuff at Winnipeg unless otherwise noted). Interestingly, 1962 caught fire on CP's Laggan Sub on July 7, 1982, then was shopped at CP's Calgary Ogden shops in October. At Winnipeg in wintertime:
Eastbound at Portage la Prairie: "Dude, where's my baggage car?":
VIA 6651 is now preserved in Cranbrook BC, in 'original CP condition'. 6651 was still operating on the Canadian in 1985, 1986 and 1987, latterly with 6404, shortly thereafter assigned Toronto. Besides 6651 on my train in 1986 (top photo) my only other observation of 6651 was in September 1985 - 6651 was between 6312 and 6616 on No 1 at Vancouver. An online photo dated June, 1988 shows 6651 at Mimico, with red paint visible on portholes and roofline. Another online photo shows 6651 operating behind VIA 6773 at Windsor in March, 1989. 
That same year, 6651 was retired and stored in Toronto, seen here at Mimico on October 11, 1993 (above - Trackside Treasure collection):
6652 (ex-1963) was released from CN Pointe St Charles December 16, 1981. Operating on the Canadian in 1984-1986, I observed her twice in Portage la Prairie in June 1984, and on No 9 at Parry Sound, ON in June 1986. Other photos show CN 9161-6652 at Thompson, MB in September, 1986 before 6652 was stored in Toronto in 1987.  Operating in the corridor in 1987-1988, the unit was overhauled in June 1988 (according to a Facebook photo posted by Pierre Fournier) losing its tall winterization hatch.  I observed 6652 on the overnight Cavalier at Kingston on March 5, 1987 behind 6408 (this was my first F40 sighting). Then in 1989, 6652 was operating on the Canadian and in the Corridor.  With two steam generators installed at PSC, 6652 was the last of the three units to operate.  Stored at Vancouver, the unit deadheaded from Vancouver to Winnipeg with two sisters, behind 2 6400's, languishing at the Winnipeg Maintenance Centre until being scrapped by General Scrap in Winnipeg on October 17, 1993.

6653 (ex 1964) released from CN Pointe St Charles May 14, 1981.  Here she is as 1964 in August, 1979 at Calgary (Brian Schuff collection):
6653 was operating on the Canadian from 1981-1984, and I observed her in August, 1981 and again in June, 1984 (strangely unphotographed) at Portage la Prairie, MB. Later operating with CN F7A's out of Winnipeg in 1986, in the Corridor in Feb.1987, on the Canadian in Vancouver in March 1987, then the Corridor before being stored in Toronto later in 1987, where she remained for several years. One online photo dated April, 1988 shows 6653 up against a Mimico bumping post, coupled to an SGU, with red paint showing through above the roofline. At Mimico on April 2, 1989 (Trackside Treasure collection):
In October 1988, the unit was reportedly being cannibalized. Two photos at Winnipeg, in the company of former CP and CN units:
Like 6652, this unit contained two steam generators.
Another online auction site photo shows 6653 in September, 1981:
Interestingly, the other two non-rebuilt F9B's were stored in Montreal by 1984, scrapped in September of that year. All five ex-CP F9B's had VIA numbers reserved for them, though 6650 and 6654 were never used (1961 and 1965 respectively). Though CP 4473 was one of the first locomotives to be repainted in VIA yellow & blue, becoming VIA 1931 on December 12, 1978, it was only for six days! Due to a predicted numbering conflict, she was quickly renumbered again at Angus on December 18, 1978!

Watch for an upcoming post on ex-CP F-units that were upgraded to CN standards receiving these upgrades: 
  • MU receptacle on the front of all A units
  • 74V power trainline (to enable use with CN steam generator units). 
  • Houston automatic fuel cutoff (in addition to the Buckeye system used by CP)
  • Regear unit 4066 to 4069, 4473 to 4475, 4477, 4478. (subsequently not done except 4473.)
  • Apply CN cooling water fill. CN used a nipple style verses CP's "Chicago" bayonet-type-coupling.
  • Upgrade 567B engines to 567BC standards.
  • Repaint.
This Ron Wilbanks photo posted to Facebook shows VIA 6773-6651 at Windsor, ON in snowy March, 1989:
Thanks to Chris Cullen of North Vancouver BC for providing additional information. Also, thanks for Rapido Trains for waiting to release their F9B's until I got this post ready for publication. Talk about timing, eh?

Running extra...

Charles Cooper's Railway Pages are a great source of information. Some of my favourite pages on Charles' site: Research and Writing a BookWhat's New in Publications now listing all three of my books on VIA Rail (scroll) and his Excellent and extensive links list. Lots-o-links!

Dave Winter's Winter Valley Regional Railway site recently included two photos from the 1980's on his Proto-File page. Interestingly, I was able to find complete consists in my Trackside with VIA - The First 35 Years book that match 6785's train at Belleville:
What are the chances that I observed and recorded the consists of these trains, within an hour and 50 miles of where Dave photographed them, 31 years ago? Apparently pretty good. Thanks to Dave for posting these photos and allowing readers like me to chip in with some additional information!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Springtime at Kingston Station

Is the word 'springtime' an exaggeration? Perhaps, but the signs were there. The air was warmer, at least when standing in sun if not in shadow. Our great-nephew stayed with us for a couple of his March break days, and one item on his agenda was train-watching. To me, that agenda item makes him a great great-nephew. On March 10 and 11, our evenings were partly spent at Kingston's VIA station. Don't let the snow in the photos fool you. Spring is coming. So was more snow: 20 cm last night! 
The only freight train we observed was slick with these eastbound oil loads. Though I'd predicted the lead unit would be red, white & blue, it turned out to be a repaint, albeit with BCOL sub-lettering and those weird super-sized Homewood shops cab-side numbers. Tagging along behind BCOL 4641 at 1712 as it passed the 'E' sign (above) were 2621-IC 2697, seen passing the 'F' sign (below). Great-nephew's eyes grow wide as the UN 1267-laden VMSX tank cars pound by: 28316, 28319, 311869, 311074 and others say 'tanks for the memories' as they recede to the east.
VIA No 55 is on Track 2 just past the 'C' sign at 1720. With 906 on the head-end and 6415 trailing, 3468-3330-3353 rattle along in between. Who doesn't like riding the escalators to reach the under-track tunnel?
Take the 'A' train?....
As you'll see, I don't believe it's possible to present enough photos of VIA's new Business Class cars. Very clubby. Very photogenic. Twenty minutes behind No 55, No 66 arrives with 3451 trailing 908, then 3316-3328 (Renaissance scheme) -3325-3473.
Brought to you by the letter F. For Freight trains, please. (If it was really springtime, the station attendant would not be wearing a toque.)
VIA No 67 was being bustituted this night, due to a trespasser fatality near Cornwall. Passengers were told to wait for the bus to arrive...from take them back through Toronto! No 46 arrived at 1800 behind 6409, dragging old-school VIA 1 car 4001-3457-3361-3370. The handicapped sign is prominent.
The next night at 1650, VIA No 44 arrives ten minutes late behind 903. Renaissance scheme 3464-3368-and Ren 3348 trail. Fire extinguisher sign caught my eye:
Normally, only the characteristic 'hockey-stick' platform light standards mar the views here, as noted in this earlier post and shown in every photo gracing the cover of my first book on VIA Rail. One above the car looks like special lighting to show the 'Business / Affaires' lettering on 3464's side:
The decades-old metal sign implores you to 'Keep off Tracks'. Sound advice.
The sign above the door on the construction trailer at the west end of the station shows CN's 24-hr emergency number. Our great-nephew, being a truck aficianado, noted the hi-rail wheels on both pickup trucks and the larger boom truck and asked thoughtful questions about how the trucks move along the rails!
E  is for...Eccident? Look at the damage to the corner of the front corner of 902's monocoque on the engineer's side, also visible in the top photo of VIA No 55 arriving at 1728. 902-3474-Ren 3319-3367:
Years ago, my Dad coined the phrase 'Careful fingers!!' to protect a young visitor's digits, and the phrase stuck. VIA has posted 'Careful thumbs!!' signs on the cab entry doors of P42DC 918, among others. No 66's power leads 3452-3365-3313 at 1747. It looks like the the cab door handles have caused a few blue thumbnails, and perhaps some blue language, too!
Trains rapides. Eloignez-vous des voies signs mark the rear of Ren Business Class car 3455, trailing 917 and leading 3318-3306-3334 on No 46 at 1802. English trainslation: Really, really fast trains. Distance yourself of the tracks! If you know what's good for you!
And that's just what we did after No 46 left. The great-nephew is task-oriented. His checklist for the evening: Train station...check. Pizza Pizza. Running trains in the basement. Playing Legos. Or as I might call it, Best Evening Ever!

Running extra...

Last weekend's Kingston Rail-O-Rama found me arriving on Kingston Express bus 1364. Finds included some Tim Reid and Bob Hunter Kingston railfanning photos bought from the irrepressible Liz Reid, some Vintage Tyco (searchlight car!) from Ron Barrett (going postal in a good way!) and several additions to my railway library, including my annual Morning Sun Books volume - CP Facilities Volume 1. Home aboard Kingston Express 1370.

Prolific bloggers: Chris and Connie, over at BIGDoer. Check out their then and now now and then.

A new CN caboose project website includes this photographer's photo of CN 79707 Dubbya.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Postscripts:1984 Royal Train;1995 Derailment

Fellow Kingstonian, Railway Post Office cancellation expert, railfan Ron Barrett kindly shared several Kingston-area railfanning photos with me. It's about time I shared them with you. In this post I'll include three sets of photos from Ron's railfanning, since they tie in nicely with some posts I've already published. Watch for more of Ron's photography of other unique Kingston-area railfan subjects. First, we travel back to a balmy October 13, 1995. CN's wayfreight on the Cataraqui Spur to the DuPont plant derailed on the trestle between Bath and Armstrong Roads. Ron was there that evening.
At the Cataraqui Spur crossings of Bath Road and Armstrong Road, Ron snapped a few photos of the derailed cars using a 200 mm lens. The TrackMobile from the DuPont plant had been summoned, and arrived (top photo) with the operator somewhat unsure about receiving instructions from a CN employee (above). The last two cars on the south end of the derailment, led by yellow-cupola CN International Service caboose 78100 were hauled down the Cataraqui Spur to permit access of the derailed cars. Normally, the TrackMobile - the Kingston equivalent of Thomas the Tank Engine - does not venture far from its stomping grounds inside the plant! Crossing Bath Road southbound
Behind CN Geeps 4141-4122, the derailed tank cars leaned at an awkward angle at the trestle!
The next day, Quinte Crane Rentals has stabilized the cars to enable them to be pumped out, a job which would take three days. I was here the same day that Ron took the first of these two photos:
Re-railing, with hoist cable crimping the tank just a bit:
About 10 miles to the west on CN's Kingston Sub, Ron made one and only trip to the top of the Millhaven Spur, when CN was still switching the plant. CN engine 4130 handles some ethylene glycol empty tank cars and covered hoppers that are also empty. The outer rail inner railhead was almost completely worn away where the spur reaches the main line. The ties and foot of the rail were covered with rail shavings!
Ron was atop the Princess Street overpass to photograph the arrival of the Royal Train conveying Queen Elizabeth II to Kingston on September 28, 1984. Coincidentally, I was there too, in the crowd near the station next to the Queen's limousine. Postscript II - photos of the Royal Train by Scott Haskill.
Preceded by a pilot train, the Royal Train slows at the Counter Street crossing, as banana-yellow Kingston Police cruisers block the crossing. Patriotic red &white bunting has largely blown onto the station roof!
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are ensconced in their limo as the motorcade departs the station for the trip to their next stop in Amherst View. The train's white-overalled mechanical supervisors and crew wander over for a gander:
White flags and green flags were quite common on the ex-CN FPA4's in VIA service. But the Royal Standard made far fewer appearances, seen here on freshly-scrubbed 6761's cab.

Running extra...and Lots-O-Links:

It's off to the annual Kingston Rail-O-Rama this Saturday. Will there be bargains? Will there be books-by-the-pound at the Bytown table? Should I bring one, or two, reusable shopping bags to cart my goodies home? VIA engine 901 caught fire while on VIA No 57 near Alexandria, ON on Sunday March 2 - Flickr Photo by 'Mike T'. CASO Free-mo layout set up at St Thomas, ON - check out the 3+ pages of photos. Tim Warris' CNJ Bronx Terminal micro-layout - get a round to it. John Eull's amazing photos on - from the early VIA era to today. TV reporter gets plowed by the third truck and keeps on reporting - Ron Burgundy take note.