Tuesday, February 14, 2023

2023 Binbrook RPM Post-Mortem

What we call the Binbrook RPM is an unofficial event hoster by fellow modeller Hunter Hughson in early February and surrounding his anniversary. Nothing fancy, but simply a wholesome gathering of like-minded souls. This year was particularly specially because it was the first meet after a 3 year hiatus due to the pandemic. Fortunately, almost everybody was able to find some time in there schedule and people gathered from all corners of the country with some special guest from far away in the United States.

I would have loved to travel by rail, but this year, the unforgiving VIA Rail schedules made it almost impossible. On Saturday morning, with Will Lawrence and Chris Mears, we visited a few hobby shops around Hamilton, including Otter Valley Railroad, Paris Junction Hobbies and Dundas Valley Hobby. The amount of time spent on the road was a testament to the fact hobby shops are now a few and afar. I dubbed that journey the Great Southern Ontario tour has it was as much as I can tell a disguised visit of hundreds of acres of farmland. While visiting these shops, one thing struck me quite a bit: I had nothing to purchase. Some could say I could have purchased supplies, but I didn't know what I really needed. With my approach to the hobby shifting more and more toward customization over acquired brand new locomotives, I've come to the point I'm no longer a good customer for a traditional shop. The same happened at the Springfield show too.

Later in the afternoon, we gathered at Hunter's place for the RPM. In the previous event, it was much more formal, but this time, people just chatted over models and dinner before we really committed to discussing modelling. I suspect the need for social interaction was probably was most of us needed. I won't name everybody that partake in the event since I will certainly forget a few names and I apologize in advance.

Hunter started by presenting us the two Athearn Ford trucks he modified for Penn Central and Conrail (?). These were the subject of a recent article in RMC and it was great to see them in real. What makes these models interesting is the simplicity of what was done to improve them greatly. By simplicity, I don't mean it's easy, but that the process is elegant and not convoluted. It's something that is achievable for most and which deliver great results.

Chris van der Heide presented a few Algoma Central drop bottom ore gondolas he has designed and 3D printed. Many dozens are currently printing. He explained to us how he was able to design a single part body that could be altered to represent various modifications done to them over the years, including different extensions. His models were both accurate, well printed and easy to assemble. Lots of thoughts have been poured in their design and it shows. Can't wait to see them painted!

Hunter's neighbor, a modeller who specialize in freight car weathering presented a few examples. While he use many different techniques, he wanted to explore more using only acrylics to streamline the process. He also shown us how silver color Sharpie pens can be extremely useful to replicate peeling paint on galvanized steel. Light weathering and dullcote gives the ink a realistic look that blends together well with the car.

Will Lawrence presented several models, but his work on a RSC-14 and a Cap Breton RS-18 were the most fascinating ones. Will still continue to convert Atlas RS11 in various MLW products. As he stated, the drive is excellent and they are easy to rework. He also does the same with Proto 1000 RS-10 and RS-18. According to him, the notorious height discrepancies are barely noticeable and if you don't mix them with Atlas locomotives, you will never notice it. He loves the drive and the detail quality, thus can overlook the inaccuracies. I do agree with that statement. 

Robin shown us is current effort at replicating a SW1200RS both in S scale and in O scale using an Athearn drive. He also use 3D printing to build these models and experiment a lot with part design. We only saw his work in progress, but it's quite promising... I also tried to convince him to model Chemin de fer Lanaudière in S or O scale. He's after all another fan of Quebec small branchlines.

Chris Mears, once again, decided to surprise us with something most people wouldn't do. He shown us two scenery and track mockups he made recently. As always, his obsession with colors, textures and space makes it a fascinating exploration. Basically, he's trying to figure out how to model a small layout that can be displayed in a book shelf. Using 1/2" thick foam, napkins and various ballast, tile grout, static grass and jute rope, he's developing a technique to create scenery without having to wait for material to dry. No clay, no plaster, no fillers, just the good stuff. It may sounds cheap, but the results speak for themselves and it's probably the most amazing grassy track I've ever seen. He also presented us his friend James Hilton's book, which he helped to edit and contributed some material. Having discussed with James in the past, I can confidently say it's one of the sharpest minds I've encountered in this hobby.

Finally, I think it's Ryan Mendell that summed up the meet with the most accurate remark. He mentioned that since 3 years, most people had changed their approach to weathering. We no longer care about "accurate" freshly painted colors and start weathering before applying decals. Are we witnessing the influence of armour modellers? Most probably.

Pierre Oliver's layout shows that a lot can be achieve with simple means

On day 2, the gang moved to Pierre Oliver's house in St. Thomas to have an operating session on his excellent Southern Pacific Clovis Branch between Fresno and Bryant circa 1951. This is a huge basement layout, yet depicting a very mundane and small prototype. Design is by Trevor Marshall and it has, to some extent, a similar modus operandi than Port Rowan did. Pierre is a car builder and likes operation, thus the layout has a very simple level of scenery. However, since southern California is quite arid, it fits well and what is there is good enough to immerse visitors into the site.

Pierre's layout is an exercise in simplicity

The layout is also commendable for having almost every single piece of track that existed on the prototype. No compromise, except the staging yard. Thus, when you operate, you get the full experience. It's also a fantastic prototype because it served the citrus and wine industries. So all these cool PFE reefers and wine tank cars are at home!

Wine tank cars in their prototypical context are a delight

While the track plan is simple, operations can be tricky due to a few moves that are required to perform the tasks. It's an interesting balance, because it's not a switching puzzle, though you have to think wisely before moving. I ran the local freight with Will Lawrence and it took us almost 3 hours to finish the job. At the end of the day, I felt like I worked on the real railroad. I think it convinced me to keep thing much simpler on my own home layout. That said, I think the Clovis branch is a good example of a layout designed for many operators, but that can work most of the time for a solo operator. Also, it's sheer simplicity makes it possible to build a very, very large layout and yet be able to scenic everything in a short time span. Pierre mentioned it took him about 1 years and a half to get everything up and running with a first pass of scenery. I don't know a lot of layouts that can boast that.

After a long day of work, it's time to go back to the roundhouse

Finally, we had a nice dinner at Pierre's which concluded a nice and relaxing weekend. On the morning, I rode Go Transit from Hamilton to Toronto as an enjoyable way to take my flight at Billy Bishop Airport. Once again, I'm reminded by the generosity and hospitality of my hosts which can hardly be described in words. In current years, that genuine display of warmth is worth much more than anything.


  1. This sounds a wonderful way to spend a few days. We get the same sort of thing at our exhibitions, where friends come and chat whilst we play trains, but it’s less intimate, less selective in membership. I’m glad you all had such a good time, I have only read positive reflections of the event!

    1. Judging by the smiles at the event and right after, I suspect all truly enjoyed the moment. It gave us some much needed enthusiasm to model something! BTW, your book is perfect! It was a delight to scroll through what is both a very intimate journey and an universal understanding of our hobby.