Friday, December 27, 2019

Ye Olde History of Rapido Trains Inc.

Rapido Trains Inc.'s Newsletter issue 119, in addition to the latest product announcements, production schedule, questionable puns and kooky graphics, contained a section entitled 'Looking Back on 15 years of Rapido". I am no fan of staid or stodgy corporate histories, but I found this capsule history interesting because it is a rags-to-bellbottoms story of what it's like to  grow in the Golden Age of Canadian Model Railroading. While I was otherwised engaged hoisting another fruitcake and toasting with another Railway City Brewing Co. beverage, I simply copied and pasted this engaging account into this post then appended my own encounters with Jason over the years. Enjoy:

Last month marked 15 years since Rapido Trains Inc. was incorporated. In that time we've grown from a one-man-show with one resin kit and some decals to one of the larger model train manufacturers in North America.

In 2000 I was about to get married and someone asked me what I was going to do with my life. I remember my answer clearly: "I'm going to go to England, get a degree, and teach art history. But what I really want to do is make model trains all day."

Sidura and I left for Birmingham, England, the next year. I was very unhappy with my career choice. What gave me joy were the stolen moments when I could escape to the sun room to work on my model trains. At one point I told Sidura that model railroading could be a very expensive hobby. She replied, "As long as it pays for itself, it's fine." She meant that I should sell my old stuff on eBay. Instead, I decided to start Rapido. My model railroad in England was on a 7.5" wide shelf in our living room. The two locomotives were old Atlas/Roco FP7s heavily modified into VIA FP9As. 

In 2004 I was 29 years old. We were back in Canada and I had no degree, no job and no money. Sidura and I realized that we had nothing to lose, so we tried to make the model train business work as a proper company. I spent the winter measuring and drawing an ex-VIA coach and sleeping car. In the snow. In -12C weather.

After two trips to China on borrowed money, I had found a factory to work with. It took until late 2006 - and a lot more debt - for our first models to finally arrive. I packaged up a CN "E" series sleeper and mailed it to my PhD supervisor in England. "Here's my thesis," the accompanying letter said. "I'm officially withdrawing from the program."

A number of key milestones allowed Rapido to grow to the successful company it is today. The first was hiring Dan Garcia. With Dan on board I could focus on marketing and product design, because he was handling all of the customer service.

In 2009, Bill Schneider and Janet Golfman joined the team. Janet has since grown in her position to be a first class CFO - a long way from her original role as a part-time bookkeeper. With Bill I had found a guy who really understood how the model train business worked. Bill also introduced Rapido to the American market. I remember one fateful conversation with him, before he even joined the team: "You know, the New Haven has a lot of really devoted fans. I think you might want to think about making some New Haven models."

For several years, Rapido was just Dan, Bill, Janet and me. The company struggled to grow. We had great ideas but we were always short of cash and our factory was very busy with a growing client list so they could not deliver all the models we needed.

In 2013, Bill and I flew to China and convinced our engineer, Huang, to start a new Rapido factory that would just make our stuff. In 2016 our partner, Colin, threw his hat in the ring and started the LRC factory. This solved our supply issues.

Back at home, we surrounded ourselves with some really talented people who have helped Rapido grow into the success it is today. A lot of people still think Rapido is just me in a garage somewhere designing and shipping out model trains. Far from it. Rapido is a team of amazing people, almost all model railroaders. They are lucky enough to have found careers in their hobby, and they love coming to work every day.

Rapido has had its fair share of headaches. The first shipment of passenger cars had wobbly floors. We fixed it pretty quickly, but I bet there are still a few guys out there who swore in 2006 that they would never buy another Rapido passenger car and have remained true to their word. Since then every year has brought new challenges.

The HO scale TurboTrain looked amazing, but ran like a pregnant hippo on crutches. Our Algoma Central coaches somehow migrated from silver to beige. The first run of N scale 1600-series GMD-1s ran THE WRONG WAY on DC track. The first run of mill gondolas had amazing Z channel ribs... which could be found floating around the bottom of the packaging. The list goes on. Today we've got a warranty department staring down an entire bookcase of RS-18 locomotives awaiting motor replacements.

But still, we soldier on. With each new challenge we get stronger. Mohan is in China right now, working with the factories to implement better quality control practices and improve communication with the assembly team there so they don't make production changes - like changing the colours of rooftop beacons - without checking with us first.

I will ask anyone who says our hobby is dying to take a look at Rapido as proof that it isn't. Our sales in 2019 were four times our sales in 2013. This shows that there are a lot of railroad modellers (and bus modellers) out there who are eager to upgrade their fleets. Talking with people at shows, it's clear Rapido has also brought some new people into our hobby - especially Canadian modellers who were never inspired to join the hobby because the selection of Canadian prototypes was too narrow before Rapido arrived on the scene. It's nice to see so many new customers at every show.

Everything I have talked about so far is really just the background to the most important aspect of our 15th anniversary. Rapido's success comes down to one thing: YOU. You, our customers, have shown faith in us and continue to support us. We love that you love our trains, and without you all of this would have just been a pipe dream.

So thank you to everyone who has bought a Rapido model, given us advice and suggestions, contributed research material, kitbashed our models, photographed and videoed our models, hung out with us at shows, and supported our restoration efforts.

You guys - our model railroad community - are what it's all about. Thank you so much. We look forward to a great 2020 and another great 15 years! 

Your humble blogger has had the pleasure of meeting Jason on a few occasions. The first quite by chance - on June 19, 2008 as we headed east to Montreal in VIA1 on VIA train No 52/40. Hearing a conversation ahead of us, a passenger with book in hand was chatting amicably with on-board staff. I put two plus Turbo together and realized it was none other than a certain model train manufacturer doing the kibbitzing. On his way back to his seat up the aisle, it was, "Excuse me, are you Jason Shron?" Surprise! When they were returning from a proto-photo trip to Brockville that November, I met Jason and Dan downtown to talk Kingston Sub modelling.
Three years later, upon the publication of my first book on VIA Rail, Jason was on a barnstorming tour to the Maritimes. Having been kind enough to pen the foreword, I met him at Kingston on his way west aboard VIA No 61 Eng 6437 (above). Also at Kingston, the Rapido Icons of Canadian Steam launch excursion passed through in October, 2015:
It would be another eight years until our paths would cross again, on the Platforum podcast. Jason remarked upon my CN 3120 being the only Rapido RS-18 equipped with X2F couplers, possibly in the entire world! In the post welcoming this plucky pollution-plumed performer, I editorialized about the impact of Rapido on the modelling scene in the Running Extra section. I won't further editorialize here, suffice it to say that where two or three Canadian railway modellers are gathered, Rapido will be part of the discussion.
Sometimes, Rapido is meme-worthy. I find such memes ably encapsulate a long-winded, somewhat-productive back-and-forth social media debate about some recent Rapido-based issue:
Or when there's discussion about who's no longer a 'member of the band', who's president of the company now, or just who is the craziest, nerdiest modeller out there. 

Running extra...

Happy New Year! Speaking of memes, whatever arrived under your tree this Christmas, may you spend several moments, minutes or hours of enjoyment 'getting away from it' all in your layout room, workbench or motel room while laying-over between runs:
People say I use 'air quotes' a lot. What do they mean by 'a lot'?

Speaking of bad jokes, it's time for one more. What did the clock do when he was hungry after his Christmas turkey dinner? He went back four seconds!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019 and CN Plum Pudding

A suitably wintry image of your humble blogger with a westbound CN freight at Mi 182 Kingston Sub in March, 1971. (L.C. Gagnon photo)
Canadian National Railways' passenger services were known for many years for their in-house production of Plum Pudding. Beginning in 1937, about 1,000 pounds were made for local use, supplemented by well-known commercial brands. In 1940, plum pudding was served to troops on trains. Procuring canning equipment in 1943, the tins were sealed and large quantities were produced for several years, the peak year being 1944 when more than three tons were produced!
In its December 1958 issue, CN's Keeping Track magazine sent Miss Elizabeth Gillan to go behind the scenes at the commissary car in Montreal coach yard where plum pudding production was taking place. Her article was published under the heading 'A special feature for women'. Three chefs: Joseph 'Bill' Nellis, Joe Panko and Camille Fleurent (pictured above) produced 210 tins of pudding every four hours - enough to feed 1,260 passengers, during a two-week work bee Annual production at this time was two tons, enough to serve CN passengers from December 19 to January 5: 3,200 tins or 19,200 servings in total. In the 22 years previous, 50-55 tons of pudding were served in CN dining cars!
Walnuts from China, almonds from Spain, raisins from Australia, rum from the West Indies, apples from Canada, lemons and oranges from the United States, and the three chefs - from New Brunswick, Russia and French Canada respectively, were part of the mix. Washing five hundred pounds each of sultanas and raisins, 600 pounds of currants, then adding 15 gallons of rum, 20 gallons of stout, juice from 400 oranges and 400 lemons, 400 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 200 teaspoons of almond extract, the ingredients were soaked for 12 hours. 
Four hundred pounds of chopped apples, lemon and orange rind, 3200 eggs whipped and 300 pounds of mixed peel were added and mixed well. Then, 400 pounds each of brown sugar and flour, 400 teaspoons each of baking soda and cinnamon, 500 pounds of bread crumbs, and 200 teaspoons each of ginger, nutmeg, allspice and salt, then 400 pounds of nuts, 500 pounds of beef suet were stirred - with a silver-plated shovel! Here's the recipe condensed for the average household. Make your own!
Of note - the recipe contained not a single plum! So if Jack Horner were sitting in his corner of the dining car eating it, he would have something else stuck on his thumb. (It would be unlikely that the Alberta Conservative/Liberal politician of the same name would be on a dining car since he portrayed himself as a railway foe, though 1958 was coincidentally the first year he was elected to Canada's Parliament!)
In the CN commissary car, the mixture was placed in 20-ounce tin cans, steamed for three hours then sealed piping hot. Packed and sent to all dining cars for serving, a hard sauce was to be prepared for a topping just before the pudding was served. Our family was the recipient of at least two cans of the plum pudding in the 1960's. Here are two labels that my Dad kept on the cans from a family acquaintance who was a CN conductor. I'm assuming the blue label was the earlier, since the cost shown was a mere 95 cents:
And this one with the red-and-white label may have followed, as it cost a dollar. I noted some refinements to the French translation:
I can't think of anything better than rolling through a winter wonderland on a steam-powered or diesel-hauled CN passenger train sipping strong dining car coffee and tucking into a piping hot serving of this tasty-sounding plum pudding. Perhaps reminiscent of these two years of puddings given to us, our family enjoyed boiled plum pudding after Christmas dinner at home for many years, topped by a sweet, thick, lemony sauce. VIA resurrected plum pudding in its dining cars in 2007. Though I don't have this book in my library, Exporail's 100 Years of Canadian Railway Recipes apparently includes the recipe:

Lots o' links: 
*   *   *   *   *

Normally, the Running Extra section appears here. In lieu of my routine ramblings, I'm pleased to share Christmas greetings from fellow bloggers, enthusiasts and friends and greetings of the season to all Trackside Treasure readers! Check back to see more as they arrive!
Platforum Episode 3 'Home for the Holidays' special has reached 1,000 views!

Merry Christmas to my fellow bloggers whose fine work I enjoy in Trackside Treasure's sidebar: John, Dave, Edd, Chris, George and Don and Peter, Matthieu, Bernard, Michael and Marc!

* * *  Merry Christmas and Season's Greetings!  * * *  

Season's Greetings video message from blog partner Edd Fuller of The Trackside Photographer:

...from Bernard Kempinski of the USMRR Aquia Line: 
VIA's Canadian from Mark Perry:
Another Canadian at Winnipeg by Steve Boyko:
From the HOsers at Rapido Trains Inc.
Out of the snow by 'Diesel' Don McQueen:
Steve Bradley:
 Randy O'Brien:
 Proto-hogger and model-hogger Mark Perry:
Alberta's Jason Paul Sailer:
Mr. Alex Pallo Jr.

Friday, December 13, 2019

On the Platforum 'Home for the Holidays' Special

Take four train enthusiasts, put them on a chilly outdoor location beside a busy main line in December, start the cameras rolling and the eggnog flowing, and film it all. Like this would ever happen! But it did! It's the Platforum Episode 3: 'Home for the Holidays' Christmas Special! 
When I receive a message from fellow model railroader Bob Fallowfield (above with beard)(above with hat)(above, smiling)(above - at left - that nails it), I pay attention. Would I consider participating in the fresh podcast series 'The Platforum"? You bet I would. But wait? How does one go about filming a podcast, and why? Clearly, not only did I have to get out more; I had a lot to learn. If you listen to a video, it's like a podcast! Youtube has the answers - Episode One.

After a quick exchange of messages with Bob, many of my questions were answered. Joining Bob 'No Trackplan' Fallowfield would be this kooky Kingstonian, locomotive engineer Jordan 'Hollywood' McCallum (below, with Bob), and the inimitable Jason 'Edmundston' Shron. I'd often thought it would be neat to participate in a roundtable with fellow VIAphiles. This would be an awesome aweportunity!
The night before the taping there was a six-inch dump of snow. Travel would be perilous or perhaps prohibited by my better half. A call to Bob confirmed it was ON. I was OFF and OUT. Getting to Bath Road, a City of Kingston snowplow blasted past! Let's go!
The drive was not too bad, and I safely reached the taping location along CN's Kingston Sub. I made myself at home and Jordan soon arrived. Fortunately, CN sent through a whack of freights - we could enjoy these from the warm side of the windows while sipping a warm beverage, while Bob and Jason trainwatched from the windy platform (top photo and below):

I recorded 14 trains during our time here. Though it was difficult to dive through the set to the best platform vantage spot, or to whip out a tape recorder or notepad, my point-and-shoot camera timestamped each passing train. In this company, I was not concerned about looking like a rabid, avid railfan! VIA 6449 westbound at 1044 (above) and CN 2117 eastbound ten minutes later, with DPU 2337:

VIA 907 westbound at 1115 (above) while 3038-3842 lead a westbound at 1138 with Rio Tinto ingot cars on the head-end:
Jason with VIA 903 westbound at 1217:
Soon it was time to form up on the 'Platforum' for the taping of 'roundtable' discussion. Platforum -  clever name, just like 'Fallowfield'. (Bob says few people know what a fallow field actually is!) Bob laid the ground rules for the discussion succintly:
  • no profanity
  • nothing off-colour
  • no railway-bashing
  • no off-topic 'mission creep'
  • no talking about modelling CN
  • no sharing of Bob's trackplan
OK, I made up the last two! The atmosphere was definitely professional, as was the technical production value by Barry and Christian. Barry appreciated the shadowless overcast as the pair worked the three cameras. Christian looked cold. But geniality was snowing in spades upon our merry band, and Bob did not need to ask if I was having fun. Video capture of Jason, me, Jordan and Bob:
Look out, David Frost and Barbara Walters, because Bob Fallowfield has a story-teller's wistful gleam in his eye, the Pierre Berton-like curiosity for a previously-unknown fact, and the tenacity of a sheepdog in his questioning.
VIA 917 westbound at 1446 with waving hogger (above) and CN 3107-3197 westbound at 1509:
The trains kept rolling! A flurry of CN freights as the railway continued to recover from its late-November strike, and VIA sending through its usual blizzard of trains. VIA's regular Discount Tuesday ad even got into the act, virtually:

Some fun facts from the shoot:
  • Bob has been part of an operating crew on a major Canadian shortline
  • Jordan was initially hired by Central Western, Canada's first shortline
  • Jason favours bell-bottoms
  • Barry is somewhat of a bird-watcher
  • Christian drove in from Kingston earlier in the morning, so why couldn't I? (below with VIA 918 on the tail-end of a westbound. Note crusted snow - on the unit, not Christian!)
All too soon, we burnt up all the daylight and it was time to head home with memories of this momentous meeting, savouring of nostalgia-steeped stories, and anticipation of the finished product!

Major appreciation to Bob for inviting me to take part in the Platforum. It was great to finally meet Bob and share in the trackside version of his Fallowfield Effect. He did not bring a paper copy of his trackplan, which was a completely expected disappointment. Thanks also to Jason and Jordan, both of whom I had been fortunate to meet before for adding their unique perspectives throughout the day. Of course there were some unfilmed conversations which will never be on Youtube. These were enlightening and gave glimpses into each participant's world and allowed me to share more of mine.

And now...enjoy the Platforum 'HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS' special here.

January 4 Update: The Platforum Episode 4
Running extra...

We shared some frigid fruitcake on the Platforum. Some years ago, CN passengers shared some Plum Pudding in the dining car. Watch for more in an upcoming post. The Roberval & Saguenay operated a Christmas train, including Rio Tinto RTAX 19090, decking the halls of this silver ingot car with boughs of holly and more. Kevin Burkholder kindly shared his photo:
Far to the west, Habib Fazil photographed and kindly shared this photo of a new test car for CN's Walker Yard locomotive shop in Edmonton. A great kitbash and a welder's delight. Not even the graffiti was rollered out:
You be the Pacman like the CP Rail multimark? This topic came up on the Platforum, and it seems lots of railfans like to refer to the latter as the former. When the multimark was created, video games were years in the future. When the going gets tough, the tough get meme-ing:

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Black Friday 2019, Syracuse NY

Retail therapy and railroad therapy? The Black Friday phenomenon continues to spread, first throughout the U.S. and now into Canada, as Canadian merchants finally try to stem the tide of shoppers heading to our neighbour to the south. Previous New York Black Friday visit in 2014 (with previous years' links in the post) and Canadian one in 2016. This year found us in DeWitt, NY near Syracuse. I found the ideal way to keep my wife from over-spending at the mall - I dropped her off (unknowingly) at a mall that had been vacated except for a LensCrafters and a cineplex!
After the drop-off, it was over to DeWitt. CSX was quiet this day, but Amtrak at least participated. First through was a westbound Amfleet consist (top two photos) behind Amtrak P32 703. There are several photos here of the 703 through Syracuse - it received this Phase III paint scheme in 2018, including the Empire Service decal behind the cab door. Repainting costs were shared by Amtrak and the State of New York. See it in motion - Youtube video here. Ten minutes later, this eastbound behind Amtrak P42 97 passed through. Also in motion - Youtube video here.
The CSX yard seemed oddly quiet. I noticed some earthen berms and construction equipment plus  double-stack container cars nearby. It remains a clear and publicly-accessible railfanning location with good southern-exposure lighting! And waaaay in the distance was that yard engine:
It turns out that the yard is being redeveloped as an inland port. Increased security may account for the retrenching of the sprawled-out yard facilities. The next day, it was north to Watertown. At the Afgritech feed mill, these two covered hoppers were spotted past the mill after unloading. FURX 855261 and BRIX 97307:
The crossing leading back to Arsenal Street has been removed, with concrete blocks making the point. The Afgritech mill seems to still be busy (industry profile here) .
Modelling opportunity...this house across the track from the mill. Dartboard and all!

Running extra...

Black Friday was not a cornucopia of crockpots, nor was it a larder of large-screen TV's or even a cavalcade of Cabbage Patch Kids for me. A few modelling supplies, though, including a mirrored cellphone case (John Allen-like treatment of my Hanley Spur drydock). And that green scenic mat thing is the poor-man's static grass applicator! Those 12x12-inch papers are for pavement, road treatments or flat roofs. Er, rooves?
Up on the housetop, ladders squawk/Let's make that Christmas display really rock/Wait till it's freezing cold and then/risk your life freeze your fingers...again/Ho ho ho who wouldn't go/ho ho ho to the recliner I go/down from the aluminum ladder leverage/just in time for a festive beverage!