Sunday, January 29, 2023

Industry Profile: Concordia Milling Company

In my Pyrrhic pursuit of the Walthers Red Wing Milling Co. flour mill, I occasionally come across prototype structures that fill the mill bill. In my Pinterest account (see sidebar) I've amassed 260+ photos in my 'Favourite HO Scale Structures to Work With' board. The vast majority of these are the aforementioned Walthers kit. (There's also a smattering of Revell Superior Bakery and Atlas structure photos in there.) I've previously published a post showcasing the creativity of those who have built or kitbashed this iconic concrete cairn of trackside treasure. I have not done neither, nor do I have any plans to do so. Sorry if this sounds like I'm going against the grain! Or, to paraphrase that dreamy movie's title, "Wheat Dreams May Come".
But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy a half-baked stumble into the flour mill sphere, and when I found this example in Concordia, Kansas I immediately surfed over to Googlemaps to see it (above and below). The large silos, storage and milling floors are arranged like stair-steps, in what must have been a standard small mill stacking. The mill is still in use, (perhaps even flour-ishing!) but not rail-served any longer.
On a side venture into the flour world, the daily grind took me into the world of vintage postcards. Apparently, even flour mills were genuine grist-for-the-mill for early-century postcard purveyors. The views in this post are mostly postcards, dated from 1900 to 1920. Some have been colourized.
The above view includes old-timey cars and trees.
Oh yes we are. The windows are open and loading dock in use in this colourized view:
A spooky night-time view;
Similar to the top colourized view is this sepia-toned one:
This vintage advertising is from an era before the meaning of PPP as Public-Private-Partnership!
A sample of the mill's products:
If I ever switch my modelled locale away from Kingston, a mid-West granger road might result. Goodness knows I have the covered hopper cars for it, and now, a vintage prototype plausibly rail-served.

Running extra...

The Amherst/Springfield MA Railroad Hobby Show is baaacck. I can't imagine the potential purchase price of all the models on display by manufacturers*. All this in a 'dying hobby'. The only thing I see dying is the affordability angle. One has to have a sharp eye for bargains. Locomotives at $300 and up, freight cars at $65 and up? Really? My sharp eye blinked this past week when the online seller of a too-large collection of bargain-priced vehicles got chippy and couldn't handle the influx of interest. It was not the Art of the Deal. *Breaking News: Atlas announces CN Pointe St Charles caboose!

I gave two enjoyable ZOOM presentations for the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers this past week, "Kingston's Hanley Spur - What Makes My Layout Unique?" Time for questions:
Six years ago today, I predicted the downfall of a certain Art of the Dealmaker. Said his presidency would end in a courtroom. Courting disgrace - a legacy of disgrace. I think I'm on track to be right. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

Last Canadian, Last Copies

This past week marked the annual observance of the drastic 1990 cuts to VIA Rail Canada's network. The most notable cut was the removal of the Canadian from the CP route after 35 years. Also this week, I made the last shipment of my four books on VIA. The first, published in 2011, coincidentally marked VIA's first 35 years.

Hope all is well with you. Jason asked me to reach out to you. 
We would like to order more copies of the Trackside with VIA books.  
We are completely sold out  - Lystra

Even though I knew this day would come, it stopped me scrolling when I opened up Lystra's email from Rapido Trains. I've never wanted to end up with a basement full of copies of my books. The apocryphal story of surplus copies of Bytown Railway Society's Trackside Guides being bulldozed, some years ago, into landfill was heartbreaking. So all along, I've decided to keep my inventory of printed copies low. Previously, a sell-out was never really final, because I could always order more. Now, to have Rapido Trains getting the penultimate copies after 12 years of printing, it just seemed right. Bookends - delivering copies to Jason in June, 2011:

If you do publish your consists, I will certainly be ordering a copy. 
I think it would be a great reference both for railway history and for modelling.
 I would hope others see the value. - Jakob, September 2010

Jakob and I exchanged many, many emails. Perhaps more than Hillary Clinton and WikiLeaks! Emails about a variety of rail-related topics, from Kingston to consists. But always consists. His interest in seeing early-VIA consists was the main impetus for setting me on this publishing path. When I was mulling publishing in 2010 I didn't think Jakob had any idea that I'd scrape together 2,700 of them for my first book.

When people come to me and want to tell their story, 
I help them publish it as a book - Bryan

Until he said that, I knew Bryan worked at Allan Graphics as a graphic designer, but I didn't know he could help me create a book! For awhile, I was one of their best customers, because self-published autobiographies, family histories or poetry anthologies might only have single- or double-digit press runs. They referred to me as the guy with the train books. Perhaps the only thrill bigger than seeing a Proof Copy in my email inbox from Bryan was getting cases of books. Bryan even delivered them on his way home! Now that's customer service! Dave and his team at Allan Graphics published the books so professionally - I always looked through each copy before I mailed it and enjoyed doing so. 

Bryan thought it was odd when I mentioned to him I wanted a strict upper page count, thereby shipping weight, for my book. He said most people just have a story to tell, and it takes as many pages as it takes. I knew that based on Canada Post rates for Oversize Lettermail, that a 500 gram shipping weight was flat rate, and one gram over that meant we were in Parcel rate, with its inherent distance-based differences and fuel surcharges. As it was, I absorbed costs along the way. The rate for that Oversize Lettermail almost doubled. Padded mailers went up slightly, though still one of the best deals at Dollarama! I raised prices once, in 2014.

For each book I published, I started a blog. Usually, the next book idea and blog were begun as soon as the current book was printed. It was a handy way to document my progress, and perhaps to drum up some pent-up demand. After publication, I added reviews and connections made to each blog.  For my VIA books, I used the generic handle "NEWVIARAILBOOK" because I didn't know how many I'd end up with.

Making deliveries to Jordan and Terry in 2011.

The First 35 Years was a grandiose-sounding title. It's no wonder that hobby shops across the country were contacting me to send copies. My first book was published in June, 2011 and was birthed during a Canada Post labour dispute. I tried to be up-front about the book being mostly valuable consists, a little history. It was all useful information. But it was never a coffee-table book. Jakob and Jason were valued contributors. Perhaps the consist-heavy format worked against me and sales of my later books. Cross-Canada - 24 copies to Halifax, 20 to Vancouver, 12 each to Ottawa, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Merrickville, 20 to Mississauga. Those hobby shop orders would be halved for my next book.

"79 pages of useless car numbers in a book of 116 pages" 
- Customer who shall remain nameless.

Cross-Canada Compendium, published in October of 2012, was conceived because I was getting emails looking for more content from across the VIA network. But I could only publish what I had. So I needed more. Contacting contributors like Gary Hadfield, Robin Lowrie, Tom Box, Brian Schuff, Bruce Chapman and Jakob helped me do that. Brian sent me so many photos that we'd have weekly phone calls to talk about them. He has an encyclopedic memory that includes the photographer, date and location. Come to think of it, many of my contributors were the yin to my yang. Considering that part of the reason for publishing was a personal pursuit of preserving data and photos in some easy-to-find format, it helped to have input that was already well-balanced. The night that I woke up to 24 emails from Bruce Chapman was especially noteworthy.

When the Compendium swelled its riverbanks, it was time to create a concurrent companion volume. As a ally of alliteration, though trying not to make an assonance of myself, I chose another grandiose-sounding, and long title. The Cross-Canada Compendium Conist Companion. This smaller volume contained all the consists that had pushed the Compendium over the dreaded 500-gram mark. The Compendium would finally answer the question - did people really care about consists? Were they consist-crazy??

Bryan kindly makes a delivery of my second book (above). Colour sections in my two later VIA books made my cost 33% more, but how could I tell the stories of the riotous F40 wraps, the early-VIA rainbow years, and other kaleidoscopic kolours in black & white?

The VIA field lay fallow for about four years. I got the itch to do publish some research, trip accounts, and updates on what VIA had been up to in the years following my last book. To fill out Research and Recollections, contributors Tim Hayman, Don McQueen, Mark Perry and Mark Sampson came aboard. It was 2017. Bryan brings boxes of books on April 22, nearly the same date that CP's The Canadian debuted in 1955!
I delivered many copies of all these books, usually by mail from my dining room table. But my favourite deliveries were at Kingston's VIA station, to crews or passengers: Tim (below), Matt, Mark, Chris, Terry, Jordan, Dave, Andrew and Jason.
I'm no economics professor, but Bryan had always told me, go for bigger print runs! I was more cautious, and by the time I got to smaller print runs to maintain some inventory, the costs went up. Selling copies to dealers with a 40% discount left room for profit for them, and as much or less profit for me. I was making $1-2 per copy. The number of hobby shops had dwindled in the past decade. So had the market for printed books. But I was convinced and committed to getting it 'out there' that I continued filling customer requests. 

Did I get rich doing this? Or was it all about existentialism and filling the ether with VIA? At one point, a back-of-the-envelope calculation led me to believe I'd paid for a year of progeny post-secondary tuition. Sounds like a lot! Considering, however, that all that post-secondary education cost us well north of $100K, I wouldn't call that getting rich. But I was rich in satisfaction and pride - both publishing and parental pride. And it had been a good ride, on both accounts.

Cookbooks and novels sell, and I'm sure the Tibetan cookbook shelf even exceeds the VIA one. E-books, who knows? The limited success of non-fungible tokens and crypto-currency shows me that we're still living in a literal, hold-in-my-hand world. At least until the holographic, device-driven world finally displaces Gutenberg's glory.

The VIA book shelf remained a short one when 2022 rolled around. Kevin Holland had published his Morning Sun Books and VIA Historical Association books, and that extended the shelf. Otherwise, we still had Nelligan, Greenlaw, Shron and Gagnon. And during a Rapido Live, it was Shron who said, "Gagnon has published a few things", when hyping the upcoming VHA book, and I was watching. Fellow VIA book creator Chris Greenlaw and his dad Tom, chez Gagnon:

I'd printed books. They were never intended to shake the world. They were an effort to collate information and produce useful books for VIAphiles and for the reference of the author himself, encapsulating a corporate entity perenially at threat, under-funded, without a clear government mandate and begat by two dying passenger services in the 1970's. They were not just things, however. They were things, yes, but they were also books.

The books represent a truly rich collection of information published on the railway and I consider owning copies, a fortunate privilege. - Chris Mears

Publishing books makes you two things. An expert, and a target. An expert because people apparently think you must know everything about a topic when you put it on paper. Obviously not the case, when you believe like I do that 'the more you know, the more you realize you don't know'. I'm happy to wear the trappings of an expert, but they often feel like the emperor's new clothes. A target because people want to keep you humble, and to prove you aren't an expert, even in some small, seemingly trivial way. There are fun-loving VIAphiles, and then there are pedantic, poker-faced keyboard kurmudgeons who are the devils in the details. 

If you have an interest, or experiences that you've always thought would make a good book, or even a blog, wait no longer! Don't let anything you read in this post discourage you. I've had phone calls and emails about people considering their own book, and I've encouraged them. I know of one who has taken my advice, and some great photography of Kingston's Third Crossing bridge, all the way to the shipping dock. Success!

Fellow bloggers, magazines and newsletters kindly printed reviews (top photo from a review by Steve Boyko). I was invited to give pre-pandemic presentations in Ottawa, Toronto, Morrisburg and pandemic Zoom presentations to Winnipeg, Toronto and worldwide audiences, (because one never knows who's watching). It is said publishing is 10% writing, 90% promotion. I didn't spend a cent on advertising, though the promotion part was absolutely my least favourite part of the book creation process. Final totals of copies sold: 606, 352, 281 and 208, totalling 1,447.

The number of copies I now have on hand would not exceed the average LRC train length. Only Research & Recollections is completely sold out, thanks to Lystra and Jason's order! There will be no more printed. I want to thank Jakob, Jason, Bryan, Dave Allan and all of you who have been on this journey with me. It all seems like the Canadian on that cold winter's day in January, 1990 - a silvery, serpentine stream of escaping steam leaving behind years of wonderful memories.

Running extra...

When I someday write my memoirs, this post can serve as the chapter entitled, "I Could Write a Book!".

Fredrik Backman's book A Man Called Ove became Tom Hanks' latest vehicle, a film named 'A Man Called Otto.' You'll never guess how we got to the theatre - by auto to Otto. We thought we ought to. It was National Popcorn Day. Thanks, Cineplex Odeon Gardiners Cinemas, for the free small popcorn to help us celebrate!

No-one should ever agree to take a trip with Tom Hanks. His spacecraft had major problems, his ships are taken by pirates, and if he gets out of the airport at all, one of his planes crashes on a desert island, while the other lands in the Hudson River. Definitely something to Sully ones filmography!

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Railstream Webcam Highlights, Part 2

CNSU 002 on former well car CN 0002 - westbound December 1
My highlight-reel images from December, 2022, showing Railstream webcam images from Geddes Street level crossing over CN's Kingston Subdivision in Belleville, ON. (All images courtesy Railstream, LLC). It's not as if I observed every train, maybe only 2% of each day's trains. But there were enough oddities plus exceptional locomotives and cars that led me to saving and sharing them in this post and the previous post.

 FURX 5563 on 5-unit CN No 305 from G3 Limoilou to G3 Leader, SK elevator - December 1

A second BMEX unit eastbound early on December 2

Bridge girder on OTTX 132026 westbound  - December 4

Prestige Class Chateau Varennes trailing VIA No 42 - December 5

Blair Manor buffer car on VIA No 52 with CN No 518 on north track - December 8

Former Sask Pool WFRX 850820 westbound - December 8

Bluebonnet IC 2466 with mismatched hood and evaluation car CNIS 412011 - December 11

Blue BC Rail 4648 - December 13

Family Lines CSXT 252389 with five CSX covered hoppers - December 13

Herzog HAGX 1750 trailing CN No 369 - December 13

MPM VII/HZGX 175 trails six well cars 

OTTX 132038 with an RBT (Really Big Thing) also on CN No 369 - December 13

NDYX 857135 with awesome tiger graffiti - December 16

Unconventionally-lettered Drummond Manor VIA No 41 buffer car - December 17

Breeding pair of CNNA map units 2508-2521 (that paint!) on CN No 369 - December 19

EVOX 19050 H202 tank car on CN 668240 train CN No 372 - December 21

Unusual DTTX 885203 'K' Line Rail Bridge 5-pak on CN No 123 - December 22

GATX 00306-00322 for Brockville - December 27
In the aftermath of CN's Christmas Eve derailment 17 TankTrain cars, white GATX 00306-00322 were not set out by CN No 377 in Brockville, instead making it all the way to Toronto, then returning to be finally set out in Brockvegas by CN No 368.
BCOL 4653 leads CN No 322 - December 27

The 'Blue Train' - BCOL 4646 DPU on CN No 322 - December 27

CP 7057 made at least three trips over three days on the Kingston Sub - here trailing three CN units on CN No 377 - December 27

QTTX 131437 one of three westbound girder loads, each with CN idler flat - December 29

Atlanta quadcam surprise - railfan capturing UP 1995 C&NW heritage unit - Jan. 2

Running extra...

The Golden Globes Awards were the least-viewed but the most-diverse in the history of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association-sponsored awards. I might be the last person in North America watching these shows. They used to be a real event, a viewing highlight. With the advent of TMZ and other 24/7 entertainment programming, awards shows have become soapboxes for issues. David Letterman hosting the Oscars, save us!

We've started our own sofa-borne book club - I'm reading Confidence Man by Maggie Haberman, and my wife is reading Spare by Prince Harry. The latter mentioned his ghostwriter in a TV interview, though I saw no mention of such a writing assistant in the jacket liner notes. I guess he got ghosted!

Crossover event! Posted on my Hanley Spur blog this week - these 1979 and 2023 views of a rare San Luis Central reefer load of potatoes at Quattrocchi's. My thanks to Mark Charlebois for making this possible.  Layout-level photography revealed the need for missing details I later added: right-hand dimensional data and weathering.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Railstream Webcam Highlights, Part 1

NOKL 550001 with the 'Julius Pringle' - October 28
My highlight-reel images from the very end of October and November, 2022, showing Railstream webcam images from Geddes Street level crossing (actually anything but level when driving over it!) over CN's Kingston Subdivision in Belleville, ON. (All images courtesy Railstream, LLC.) It's not as if I observed every train, maybe only 2% of November's trains. But there were enough oddities, plus exceptional cars and engines that led me to saving and sharing them in this post. The number of trespassers using the mainline as a sidewalk is pretty alarming. Usually dark clothing, head down, between the rails, against the current of traffic, carrying a skateboard, perhaps even earbuds in!

BCOL 6148- November 1

DWC 558571 - November 1

UP 465301 - November 1

TPCX 190630 with two GFL trash-haulers WB - November 5

12 CSXT/HKRX/MWNX flood-loaded coal hoppers EB - November 7

NS 9768 with 4 units EB - November 7

New UP 700276 - November 8

ACFX 48644 on ITTX 974277 - November 9

QNSL 410-407 WB - November 9

CNIS 412011 inspection car - November 10

Several cars of  'pipes' on No 305 - November 13

VIA 6443-6445L from No 2 trailing No 42 - November 13

NOKL 360321 - November 16

Refurbished diner Frontenac and coach 8101 trailing No 63 - November 16

CN (EJ&E Heritage unit) 3023 leads WB intermodal - November 19

Meet in front of the camera - November 21

CN 3950 leads former Deathstar IC 1037 on No 372 - November 22

VIA 8517-8137 trailing No 42 - November 22

Quadcam surprise - Virginian heritage unit 1069 on Atlanta cam - November 23

Mid-Iowa Corp. covered hopper - November 25

Combination-door CN 598140 with rare small 'CN' - November 26

Rio Tinto BMEX 522 on CN No 306 - November 28

 In Part 2, we see what December brought!

Running extra...

Huge wow factor. Sailor, book customer and Legomaster Gilles Lessard has created an amazing 'Coke-can' covered hopper made of Lego. I had to look twice. Then I had to look twice more. See Gilles' amazing creative talent! Gilles kindly sent some links: a massive event in Germany; a Lego gathering in Chicago' and a real black beauty!
My Lego technical ability began with the seemingly prehistoric Shell tank truck and fire truck! Gilles kindly added...It is mostly called L-gauge (lego gauge) and most people build to the scale of around 1:48, or 8-wide, referring to 8 studs being 10 feet. The Lego minifigure isn't the most anatomically accurate thing therefore people play with the scale to something that feels right and not necessarily 100% to scale.