Late in the summer I started work on an N-scale version of E. L. Moore's Grizzly Flats depot that appeared in the March '62 issue of Model Trains. It was tough going for me, and it took several attempts to figure out how to build all that trim work (still needs some refining). It's another project I eventually tossed on the back-burner. But, I want to get going again so I can use it as the main depot on the Elizabeth Valley Railroad instead of the Fiddletown depot.
In the past I’ve posted a bit about the omnivagant model railroad concept first proposed by Linn Westcott back in the May 1940 issue of Model Railroader. To me it’s an interesting way to look at building a layout that incorporates trolley, tram, interurban or streetcar elements. All of the posts in the omnivagant series are tagged with the word and can be found here.
[Some slotcar layouts seem to exemplify the omnivagant concept more so than model railroads - to maximize the fun :-) This ad appeared in a 1960s issue of Boy's Life.]
I find that the word ‘omnivagant’ often trips people up. Like myself when I first encountered it, I thought it was spelt wrong, and was sure it should be omnivagrant, with an ‘r’. With omnivagant being an archaic word even when Mr. Westcott first mentioned it in 1940, that missing 'r' seems like a natural mistake. Some internet searching cleared things up. One of the more interesting findings on omnivagant and its relations is at The Inky Fool which has a post on noctivagant (wandering around at night), omnivagant (wandering absolutely everywhere) and extravagant (wandering around outside), and suggests how Shakespeare had a hand in changing the meaning of extravagant from its original one of ‘out-of-bounds’ to today’s ‘out-of-budget’.
[Not to be satisfied with merely a flat, omnivagant slotcar layout setup on the rec-room floor, Glen Wagner in the Nov. '66 issue of Boy's Life showed how to build this multi-level twister through mountainous terrain.]
Vagrant also has the connotation of not having a home, job or any fixed connection to a place or activity, as well as wandering. That makes being vagrant somewhat different from merely having a penchant for wanderlust. A railed vehicle can indeed be vagant, but it likely follows its geographically wandering path with a purpose, and repeat it in accordance to a schedule. It would hardly be vagrant.
[This is the Flat River Railroad and Union Traction Co. that appeared in the Feb '57 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman by 'the layout doctor'. This layout is the most omnivagant setup I've seen published so far. It's got streetcars, interurbans, trolley buses and a railroad all in 6 x 14 foot space. Linn Westcott's Union Bay Railway is still the most stylish and best thought out omnivagant layout I've seen. the layout doctor's layout pushes the boundary between spaghetti and omnivagant setups, but it stays in the omnivagant envelope and excels in sheer scale, density and integration. Sophistication of integration of the various transportation systems being modelled is what distinguishes the omnivagant from the spaghetti. ]
This is especially true for an urban streetcar system. I was thinking about how Mr. Westcott’s concept applied to a setup like the one in Toronto where streetcars plied streets laid out on a grid. In the Decatur, Jackson and Newton layout where Mr. Westcott introduced omnivagancy, the setting is small town and rural, and the tracks and streets conform to the terrain. In grid cities the geography is more-or-less beaten flat and sliced up into a Cartesian plan. There’s still omnivagancy, but of a particular kind.
[This is the Toronto Transit Commission's streetcar network in 1973 (sourced from Transit Toronto). It weaves together many streets as does an omnivagant layout, but it does so in a way that more-or-less conforms to the street grid.]
The omnivagant plans I've developed didn’t quite get to the core of what the particular kind was. Streetcars were going everywhere and making all kinds of places accessible as a good omnivagant layout should; however they didn’t remind me of the streetcar lines in Toronto. I guess they couldn’t. Classical omnivagant designs seem better at integrating pre-1950’s North American rail transport where interurbans play a big role along with passenger train service.
[These postcards - by JBC Visuals - I bought at a train show a few years ago resonated with me as they succinctly summarized a lot of my memories of riding Toronto's streetcars. That rush hour streetcar traffic on the left reminded me of my trips downtown, and that image on the right conjured up memories of riding the streetcar with my mother to visit my grandmother. Yes, those are PCCs, but the TCC ran them until 1995, and in the '70s they were still the backbone of the fleet.]
My omnivagant designs weren’t passing my personal nostalgia test. There were many non-Toronto elements I wanted to include – experimental farm, observatory, ocean beach, archeological dig, etc – but the core, the long straight streetcar runs, that could hang a tight 90-degree turn when the route demanded, that I remember riding, weren’t there.
[This is Toronto's street railway in 1921. (sourced from Transit Toronto) More extensive than in '73, but the long gone pieces were still following the city's grid.]
I failed to consider the grid and that the streetcars circulate through the grid. The element of that grid most amenable to compact modelling – that is, via a shelf layout - is the long, rectangular loop, which was often short-cut with smaller, inner loops. It circulates amongst all the streets; so, it's omni-circulatory.
[A late-19th or early-20th century idealization of the most basic streetcar circulation system for a large urban area (sourced from somewhere in the Street Railway Review)]
I suspect the ‘ideal’ streetcar layout for me has some sort of omni-circulatory, rectangular loop in the urban core, and a more free-form omnivagant arrangement on the outskirts.
[This is a Walther's ad from the 1950's. It's true that a setup should go beyond the simple loop, but for certain omni-circulatory layouts, a square loop would be a better starting configuration than a kidney :-) ]
Kato Unitram track isn’t the perfect medium for building an omni-circulatory layout, but it’s pretty good. On the plus side, the track is high quality and precision made, so it has the quality needed for use in kitbashing projects.
[This is the Cincinnati streetcar route map. It's simple and has the basics of the omni-circulator with a twist around Twelfth and Race that makes it a simple figure-eight.]
Unitram track is excellent stuff. I suspect for its intended use – modelling Japanese street trackage - it’s ideal. What I have in mind – old-fashioned Toronto and more North American style layouts – is outside the intended market for this item, so it’s no fault of the product. So far I’d say the most significant downside is that the curves are rather wide for Toronto, whose streetcars must be able to negotiate a 11 m radius turn (around 69 mm in N scale) . The Unitram curves have a 180 mm radius. Using Unitram means approximations to the look of the streets will be in order. But, I think with the long runs that N-scale makes possible, this shouldn't detract from making the thing omni-circulatory.
On the other hand the layout shouldn’t be just a land of nostalgia. I’d like to have some space for playing and thinking about things. Layouts are great for that sort of activity.
The lead photo for this post isn't my layout, the one above is. The lead photo is just digital trickery to use what I've got to figure out where I'd like to go. I think some creativity is going to be needed to keep costs within reach. A couple of final thoughts. This whole omnivagant vs omni-circulatory rambling is likely obvious to professionals who design these things, and modellers who pay closer attention than myself, but it seemed important to me to try and wrap my head around what makes a streetcar layout different from a model railroad. Also, although Unitram might not be ideal for a omni-circulatory North American streetcar layout, it might be perfect for a Launch Pad Layout. :-)
This year has been particularly bad for starting projects and then setting them aside for 'later'. I'm hoping I can finish all of them off over the next few weeks - yes, famous last words :-) This is the easiest, so I figured I'd start with it.
I bought this little 1950s style house from George's Trains resale table back in the early summer. I think it was $5.
It wasn't glued together that well, had some sinking as you can see in the photo, and some blobs of glue got slopped on the outside.
Even though there were also big blobs of hardened glue on the inside, the corners still had gaps.So, I pried it apart as much as I could in order to glue things back together a little more squarer. Unfortunately, I broke a couple of wall corners in the process and had to do a little remedial work on the walls. So, after a general cleanup with with files and sanding sticks to smooth the outside walls, get rid of glue blobs and clear off the stubs from plastic frets, it glued back together reasonably well.
I added a wall between the garage and the main house so if I pose the garage door in the open position, it won't look too odd inside. Also, I glued some clear plastic windows in the frames.
The walls were sprayed with Krylon flat white, and the doors and awnings were brush painted with some flat yellow acrylic paint. The chimney was brush painted with a suitable brick red, and a fine brush was used to dab on some white mortar lines. The roof shingles are a mix of grays and black.
An inside wall surface is embossed with 'Plastiville USA' - obviously indicating that it's from the Bachmann series by that name - and that it was patented on 'June, 17, 1952'. After this minor reno, it's not looking too bad after all those years.
I noted in All Things Weird and Wonderful that in E. L. Moore’s article, Down by the depot, that appeared in the December 1964 issue of Model Railroader, Mr. Moore stated that the depot’s design was based on one he saw in Carl Fallberg's Fiddletown & Copperopolis cartoons. After a bit of searching, I think I found the ‘prototype’ in Mr. Fallberg’s book, Fiddletown & Copperopolis: The Life and Times of an Uncommon Carrier.
This 1960 book is a collection of Fiddletown & Copperopolis cartoons.The book states that Fiddletown and Copperopolis were actual towns in California. At one time Copperopolis had a 2-foot gauge railroad that serviced a local copper mine, and, apparently, that copper was taken all the way to Wales for smelting. But, the two towns were not directly connected by a railway. The cartoons are fascinating, but the collection is marred by racial stereotyping of native Americans.
Another unannotated photo from the William Henry Wood collection; however, this one has clues that make it a little easier to place than the rest. The lettering on the loco tells that it's C.P.R No. 1, Countess of Dufferin. Wikipedia has a full account of the loco's history, but this snippet explains how this American 4-4-0 wound up in Canada, The Countess of Dufferin was the first steam locomotive to operate in the Canadian prairie provinces and is named after Hariot Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Countess of Dufferin (later Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava), the wife of the Earl of Dufferin, a Governor General of Canada. The locomotive was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works (builder's plate No. 2660) and delivered to Northern Pacific Railway as No. 21 in 1872. It was used in Minnesota and the Dakota Territory until 1877 when it was sold for $9,700 to Joseph Whitehead, a contractor for Canadian Pacific Railway. The locomotive, along with six flatcars and a caboose, was loaded onto barges at Fisher's Landing, Minnesota, and propelled by the SS Selkirk, they were shipped down the Red River to St. Boniface, now an electoral district of Winnipeg, Manitoba, arriving October 9, 1877, at a cost of $440.
[Mr. Bill Paterson sits atop the loco. From photos, Mr. Paterson was a tall man - likely well over six feet - so you can get an idea of the scale of the machine. From the Winnipeg Railway Museum notes below, these photos were likely shot in the forecourt between the railway depot and the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Winnipeg. Other indications in the collection suggest that these photos were taken in 1944.]
The reassembled locomotive [JDL: turns out it was "found by accident in 1909 disassembled in the yards of the Columbia River Lumber Company" - follow the museum link for the full story] was placed in Sir William Whyte Park across from the CPR depot on Higgins Ave. in 1910, later to be dressed up with flower planters, etc., until 1944. She was then moved across the street to a small forecourt between the Depot and the Royal Alexandra Hotel.
Another unannotated photo taken by my uncle, William Henry Wood. Those two gentlemen on the car's platform are members of the Purity Flour audit team. The tall gentleman on the right is Mr. Bill Paterson, but I don't know who the other fellow is. This picture was likely taken between September 1943 and September 1944. I don't know where it was shot. On this second image, I pushed the contrast and brightness to see if the railroad employee on the left, and detail in the shadows, would become clearer. It sort of worked.
I always amazes me that modern tools can help unearth hidden information.
I’ve been having a pleasant time reading through old issues of Model Trains and came across this interesting passage in Along the Division that appeared in the December 1956 issue,
Dave Strassman of the Model Trains art staff is a trolley fan - full size. He also likes organ music. Some time ago he mentioned that some of his fellow trolley fans were also organ music fans, and got to wondering if this was just a Milwaukee phenomenon, or if it were the same throughout the country. So he wrote to E. J. Quinby, who is president of the Branford Electric Railway Association as well as honorary president (and founder) of the Electric Railroader’s Association, and asked E.J. if he had noticed any national trend toward devotion to organ music among trolley worshippers.
It seems there is a connection between the two. E.J. sent Dave the following list of people in trolley and organ pastimes:
Well, I wasn’t included in the list that appeared at this point in the article since I wasn’t born yet :-) But if ‘organ pastimes’ include being a Hammond B3 and Jimmy Smith fan, count me in that number. Here is the incredible Jimmy Smith’s Midnight Special,