Great reading from across the pond


Sold at Chapters and Indigo bookstores in Canada, the price of an issue of Model Railway Journal seems rather steep at $ 16.25.  But it’s excellent value for money!  These are iPhone images, so may not be in perfect focus   

I and many Canadian railway modellers’ first model rail reads were UK books found at the local public library.  My first train set in 1972 was an OO scale (running on HO gauge track as most commercial UK outline does) Tri-Ang Hornby CP Pacific set made in Britain.  I enjoyed a visit to the other London in the UK a couple of years back.  So I’m no stranger to UK outline railways.

For about a decade now, I’ve been a reader of UK model rail magazine Model Railway Journal.  Written by and for epicurean UK railway modellers, every issue is packed with practical  articles well and colourfully illustrated by some excellent modellers.  Scales range from UK N scale to G and larger.  Many articles are of models built in UK scales and gauges Protofour, ScaleSeven, and EM gauge.  Almost all are of UK outline railway modelling.

So what does this pricey magazine have to offer a modeller of a proto-freelance Canadian railway in Eastern Ontario?


Many articles are cutting-edge in technique and execution compared to what we see in Canada and the US.

At least one gorgeous UK outline layout leads off each issue, this issue containing an article on Scale7 seaside branchline terminus “Orford”.

Here are just a few articles from my latest issue of MRJ to prove my point.


Gordon Gravett describes how to model road surfaces, including the realistic modelling of puddles, potholes, and use of colour in modelling roads.  His books on scenery should be required reading for the serious modeller.  This article shows you many of his very effective modelling techniques as applied to his latest work, Scale7 (ratio 1:43) switching layout “Arun Quay”. (Then you might do as I did, and buy some of his books to learn more!)

Some of Gordon Gravett’s superb and inspirational modelling on his layout “Arun Quay” can be found here–


A new scenic tool that augments Noch’s Gras-Master.  Expect to hear and read more of the Flockbox “fusion”.


An excellent tutorial on 3D drafting and printing for the modeller.  The author discusses how to make one-off models, multiple copies of a 3D CAD designed part, and describes 3D pattern-making for casting in resin and brass. 

I pay about eight dollars for a typical modelling magazine published in the US.  MRJ at twice the price is a magazine that I read cover to cover and then read again.   It takes time and re-reading for all the great modelling and modelling techniques contained in each MRJ issue to sink in!  Unlike other magazines, ads are limited to a few pages inside the covers of each issue.  Most of each issue of MRJ gives you scenery, mechanical, and modelling tips that I’m sure you’ll use in your modelling.

If you’re at a Chapters or Indigo Books store in Canada, check out Model Railway Journal in the magazines section.

I really should subscribe to this magazine!

The ties that bind….

In my continued quest to improve my modelling, I’ve looked seriously at track tie colour. My earlier modelling efforts were wood ties stained using the method of the late Canadian modeller Jack Work.  His technique consists of dipping or wipe-staining wood with one part black leather dye to about thirty parts rubbing alcohol.  This produced a pleasant greyed colour to my eye, and for years I was very satisfied with the effect.


All ties are grey, right?  Well, sort of.  This abandoned CN track at Beachville is next to a main track.  But even these grey ties have little hints of black and brown in them.  

Then I had another look at tie colour.


At the VIA Rail Ingersoll station I took this shot of ties in track maintained for a track speed of 85 mph for passenger trains, 60 for freight.  These ties are 8′ long, 6″ x 8″ in cross section.   At first look one sees the grey in these weathered ties, but on further inspection one can pick out the brown shading in the ties.  


Former CPR St. Thomas Subdivision now operated by Ontario Southland Railway at Ingersoll.  Track speed is 10 mph here, but increases to 25 mph beyond this crossing.  Again, note the brown tones in the ties.


On the former CN Dunnville Subdivision near Onondaga, May, 1992.  This track had been maintained for a freight speed of 50 mph until a few years before this photo was taken.  With 100-pound, 33′ long Mackie-process rail, this track condition is similar to what I want to model on the Midland Railway’s Campbellford Sub. Notice how most ties are not grey, rather a brown colour.  

I’ll relate a new technique that I’ve devised to model tie colour more accurately in the next post on this.

Experiments in tie staining


These ties were dipped in Minwax brand “Provincial” stain.  They seem a bit dark to me, but colours always appear darker when wet. Tie on the left is a raw wood Kappler tie, on the right are Micro-Engineering ties that have been first dip-dyed using 1:30 black shoe polish and rubbing alcohol.

After trying out three different colours of Minwax stain, I hope to have finally hit upon the right shade.  Keep in mind that most ties in track will have some black tone still in them; this is my effort to get a bit closer to the brown/black colouration of creosoted ties.


On closer inspection, we may be headed the right way by using Minwax “Provincial” stain.  I can dilute the stain using mineral or white spirits such as Varsol as Minwax’s product is an oil-based stain.  The tie on the far right shows the darkening of a light grey tie stained using my alcohol/leather dye mix and then dipped in Minwax “Provincial” stain.


Looking east at Keene, Ontario. Located thirty-three miles east of Lindsay, I’ll be modelling this spot where steam locomotives on grain trains stopped to refill their tenders with water before assaulting the greater than 1% grade to Hope three miles east of here.  The yellow triangular sign stands where the steel water tank was.  Note the brown tone of the ties. 


I’ll need to build a few trestles and steel bridge supports for the Campbellford Sub.  My quest for a replicable method will allow me to model these more accurately as well.  

Tie colour

Lindsay yard and scale track 25-1-12 004

I like the look of wood ties and Code 55 rail, but the tie colour needs improvement. 

I’ve never been satisfied with the uniform look of prefabbed track, so I have handlaid rails on wood ties for almost all of my time in the model rail hobby.

But a problem that I encounter is trying to get the right colour for wood ties.  My go-to method is the famous “Jack Work method”–one part Fiebing’s leather dye to thirty parts alcohol.   Ties are dunked in this and allowed to dry off/evaporate on newspaper. I’ve used black and brown dyes, but the brown does not seem to show on the ties as the black does.

Time to change my methods.  A trip to a woodworking store in Thamesford while my car had its brakes worked on nearby resulted in a purchase of some Minwax brand “Weathered Oak” wood stain.


I’ve dunked part of a few ties, both stained and unstained,  into the stirred can of stain and laid them out on paper towels for inspection in a day or so.  Now to see how it turns out.  So far I’m not that impressed with the resulting colour, but give it time….