Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Dropping off 2017 and picking up 2018

It's hard to believe 2017 is just about over. Seems like only yesterday I was writing about how hard it was to believe 2016 was ending. I don't have any sage insights or resolutions. I'm terrible at predicting the future and never keep resolutions, so I'll just rummage through 2017's closets and see what I can find.

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Thanks to a generous reader, the most exciting discovery of 2017,

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Not to mention some interesting discoveries about a couple of once famous and now neglected model railroaders,

Gil Mellé: Jazz Legend, Model Railroader Extraordinaire

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Again, thanks to a generous reader, we got to see what E. L. Moore looked like,

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I came close to retiring from blogging,

This year-ender will be the 958th blog post here at 30 Squares, and 2018 will be my 10th year as a blogger. I know, I know, 30 Squares has only been around since 2009; however, in 2008 I had a blog called Streamlines that I ended up deleting before that year was out. It was too cynical and arch for my tastes, and didn't reflect what I wanted to write about - it was too now and not me. I got back into model making and model railroading in 2003, so 2018 is year 15 as a revived hobbyist. 

Although I only 'retired' for just 2 weeks this year, hanging up blogging is always on my mind these days. I sometimes think I may have written all that I set out to write. But, I'm not going to do anything drastic. I'll go out on a limb and predict I'll do much less posting in 2018. Then again, I sometimes think I still have some things to write about. If I keep going I hope to cross the 1,000 post mark sometime next year. 

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Speaking of 1,000, my letter about the Aug '73 issue of Model Railroader appeared in Model Railroader's 1,000th issue,

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Debra and I took a road trip to pick up a collection of Railroad Model Craftsmans and Railroad Modelers,

Once I got those issues home I spent a lot of time reading them. Their presence in the house was an attractive force I couldn't resist and I 'wasted' days and weeks going through their pages. 

It turns out the collection isn't complete and has significant gaps, but it's a great starting point and I'm glad I was able to obtain it. I spent time organizing, cataloging and boxing the RMCs from the 1950s and 1960s as well as all the RMs. It turns out the RM collection is complete, but the RMCs from those two decades have considerable gaps. I filled many with purchases from Railpubs, but these ones are still missing (eBay is my next port-of-call),

1957: July, Aug, Sept
1954: July
1952: June, Aug, Oct
1964: Dec

I have yet to begin on the 1990s to present, and Vince has the '70s and '80s. I see much pleasant archiving work on the horizon for 2018.

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Is model railroading fun? For me, not really. It's pleasurable and satisfying. I often experience the flow state while working on projects. Fun? No. It's more than that.

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In 2017 I thought I'd try to write a series of  essays on walking, streetcars, bookstores, science and writing as these things have long been tangled together in my mind. I started with A Field Guide to Pedestrians, but put it and the rest of the series aside well before it was finished. Here's the rough draft of the field guide's beginning. Maybe in 2018 I can pick it up again, along with The Kitbashed X, and see what it has in store.

A Field Guide to Pedestrians

In that old Tuxedo Junction series by George Allen and Ernie Hubener, I’d often read about them taking field trips to look for and photograph buildings or railroad related stuff they liked for inclusion on their layout. I rather like this sort of field work, but given that my two favourite streetcar lines are in the urban areas of Toronto and Ottawa, and Ottawa’s is a ghost line at that, means walking around cities with my camera taking pictures of stuff. Sometimes I’ve done it Moore-style from the window of a car, but the images are a lot less thoughtful and taking them has its risks if I’m driving - which I don’t do if you’re wondering.

In downtown Toronto the pedestrians have been pretty mellow about me stopping on the sidewalk to snap a picture of a building or taking one from a café window. For the most part they pay no attention and go about doing whatever it is they’re doing. Although, I’ve had people stop walking so as not to obscure a view as I snapped – well, maybe they just didn’t want to appear in the picture - and then gave me a pleasant wave as they passed once I was done. Of course I thanked them.

It’s not like that everywhere. In one not-so-small town on Vancouver Island, I took some photos of a resale shop that Debra liked and I though had an interesting look. When I went inside to see if Debra was still there, I was greeted by a customer who pointed at me and frantically shouted across the store to a woman at the cash desk, “It’s him, it’s him! That's the one who was taking the pictures.”  I explained who Debra was to the woman at the counter, and she, who apparently was the owner, said they had chatted. I said I was taking some pictures so we’d remember the place. The owner liked that and gave the customer a sharp look. Should I ask permission to take photos of the façade of a store that faces the public thoroughfare? I don’t think Google Streetviews does, but on the other hand, they have at times been met with open hostility. It doesn't always sit well with people.

When I’m outside and taking photos is on my mind I use my little Canon Digital Elph. It has a strap I can cinch-up to my wrist to prevent dropping it, and the camera body fits comfortably in the palm of my hand so it’s out of sight when not in use. In the winter, that means I can keep it warm in  a mitt. I have a DSLR, but it’s big and obvious and not so easy to switch on in an instant and take a quick photo without attracting attention. Although I should probably use the DSLR more because it might change the social perception, if I was being observed with suspicion, from one of snooper to photographer. I find my phone’s camera to be useless. It takes ok pictures, but the phone’s slab shape isn’t conducive to taking quick photos while walking. With the Canon, I can take it out, switch it on, snap some photos and put it away without breaking my stride and calling undue attention to myself or getting distracted from what’s going on. When crossing a busy intersection in Toronto, snapping streetcar photos while I go, this is an important feature. Although in less dynamic environments I’ll often stop for a properly framed picture.

Walking is my main way of seeing. I don’t wear headphones or earbuds or talk on the phone. Usually my phone isn’t even on. I just carry it in case of emergency. Which doesn’t make much sense, but when it’s on it seems like an unfriendly presence. 

Sometimes I’m walking because I’m going somewhere or on an errand. Sometimes it’s to take photos of something. Sometimes is just to get out of the house and stretch my legs. I have this sense that if I can walk, I'm doing ok and things aren't so bad.

Over the years it seems like the other pedestrians I see on these walks fall into classifiable groups. Now, I've gotta be a little careful here. Yes, there are recognizable groups, but they differ from place to place. I do most of my recreational walking through the blocks of the residential neighbourhood where we live. The groups are quite different from those I see when I walk from my home into the city. There's some sort of boundary that gets crossed and the groupings I see around my home neighbourhood dissolve into others that inhabit the city. It's a kind of space travel.

So, these are the home groups, not the city groups - those are for another time. And these are summer observations. Winter's another story.

There’re the exercisers. They’re running. They’re jogging. They're power-walking. They’re running and walking. They’re using the outside world as a gym. Within this group are two sub-groups: those who are dressed in all the latest running fashions and equipment, and those who just threw something on. The first group is usually young or youngish and fit and plugged into some sort of electronic entertainment device. Mostly women, but men aren’t uncommon. The walkers often have ski-pole style walking sticks. The second group are older, and I think are hesitant about the whole running thing. They don’t seem happy; they often seem to be struggling.

There’re the dog walkers. Usually, couples or single women. Rarely men. Always equipped with poop bags. I’m glad of that, but I wouldn’t want the majority of my walking to be done while holding a bag of fresh dog poop. Just sayin’.

There're the commuters and students walking back and forth from their homes to transit stops at rush hours. They’re purposeful and the variety is large.

There're the family groups. Usually a young couple with pre-school kids and a stroller. There might be a dog or two on a leash. They're strolling. Sometimes these family groups will be riding their bikes on the street. Stroller replaced by mom or dad pulling a trailer. Everybody is wearing a helmet except dad. 
And sometimes there're cats. One summer it seemed that every evening around dusk there were lots of stray cats wandering the streets. Each evening I'd see at least two or three slumming around. There was an imperial one who regularly sat Sphinx-like on the soft-top of a parked Jeep. He surveyed the street from his rooftop perch and gave me the evil-eye when I stared at him.

There're many pedestrians who don't fall into those groups. The trace elements doing whatever it is they're doing. Not everyone can be stereotyped. And the stereotypes wouldn't be stereotypes if I knew them and wasn't just noting their passing.

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Some interesting books read in 2017,

Against Everything by Mark Greif
Chinaman's Chance by Ross Thomas
The Spectacle of Skill: Selected Writings of Robert Hughes
Nothing if Not Critical by Robert Hughes
Mister X: The Archives by Dean Motter + Co.
good bones by Margaret Atwood
The Toronto Civic Railways: An Illustrated History by J. William Hood
Cardboard Engineering with Scissors & Paste by G. H. Deason
Lost Ottawa by David McGee
Ottawa's Farm: A history of the Central Experimental Farm by Helen Smith & Mary Bramley

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It's traditional here to time travel at least once a year,

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I made a start on a new HO-scale streetcar layout I'm calling the Alta Vista Transit Commission, or Alta Vista TC for short. Here's the first spin over the newly installed track,

But first the old layout, the Lost Ocean Line, had to go,

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Thanks for dropping by! Happy New Year!


  1. ... and you're thinking about retiring from blogging because you have nothing to say? ha ha - good one.

    best wishes for the new year!

    1. Yeah, that's the irony :-) And I even made predictions in there when I said I wasn't going to! I should proof-read these things better :-) Happy New Year and thanks for all your great comments.

  2. I've thought about retiring from blogging now and then... hasn't happened and probably won't. Sometimes I have too MUCH to say and not enough time.

    Keep up the good work and all the best in 2018 and beyond.

  3. My guess is the more you work on your EVRR, the more you'll find to write about. After "walking in ELM's shoes", you'll be full of new insight into his methods and possible headscratchers. My best innovations came from building ELM structures! (Homemade brick paper, picket fences from cardstock, asphalt shingle paper, modified balsa sheet wood shingles and unusual bridge solutions.)

    1. I think you're right. I've been working on installing the upper loop, adding in some foam scenery formers, and trying some test runs. I'm having a little trouble with the loco stalling in the upper loop switch, but hopefully once I get that sorted out I'll post on progress.