April 19, 2017

4 comments


An Announcement That an All-new Product Announcement Will Soon Happen!

In June of 2014, ExactRail "previewed" our all-new Southern Pacific G-100-22 gondola at the Bay Area Prototype Modelers meet!  But lets not kid ourselves, a preview is effectively an announcement for an upcoming announcement.

Now, we are pleased to announce that the previous announcement for an upcoming announcement will soon be announced!

In May, ExactRail will announce the HO Scale Southern Pacific G-100-22 Gondola!

In 1974, the Southern Pacific received 100-ton, 65' mill gondolas from Thrall Car Manufacturing. The railroad classified these cars as the G-100-22. They were among the first 100-ton, 65' gondolas acquired by the railroad. The G-100-22 is a distinctive car. Like all modern gondolas, the stature of this car gives it presence. Yet, the modern "facade" is betrayed by terminating dreadnaught ends and trucks that are well inset. This car is distinctive--for sure, and that is why we love it.

The Southern Pacific G-100-22 will be offered in the "1974 As Delivered" paint scheme in 9 road numbers. The model is a Platinum Series replica and features:

  • Wire grab irons, brake rods, tie downs
  • Etched top chord tie-downs and brake step
  • Kadee #158 Coupler
  • CNC-machined wheels and axels
  • Accurate print and colors
Please watch our website for an actual announcement with photographs, prices and availability!
Blaine Hadfield   
April 16, 2017

8 comments


Model Railroading is Sophisticated, vol. 2

The breadth of interests expressed through model railroading is vast, and they often go beyond modeling in the literal sense. If you think that model railroading is just about modeling, then please consider the answer to the following question:

Of people who self-identify as current or "active" participants in the hobby, how many presently have a layout?  How many have engaged in a specific modeling project within the last year?

If my experience can stand as a litmus test, I would suggest that a number of people who self-identify as "active" participants and who have a layout or who have engaged in a specific modeling project within the last year is less than 50%. Granted, this is an estimate, and it is given in broad terms. But, it does accord with the opinions of others in the industry. Regardless of what the actual number is precisely, all accounts indicate that it is sufficiently low so to enable an observation:

The majority of "model railroaders" neither have railroads nor do they model.

Take a moment and let that sink in...

At this juncture, it may be worth noting that the estimate above is descriptive. It is a metric for how people are actually participating in the hobby. It is not a suggestion for how people should participate in the hobby. If it needs to be said, I think that hobbies are the kinds of things where people work out for themselves how they want to participate. In fact, the whole point of this blog series is to draw attention to model railroading as a hobby rich with options, and this is another reason for why model railroading is great.

That said, the observation is a little provocative; is it not? 

I have framed the observation in this way because, I believe, it exposes a particular conceptual framework at play in our industry. And, I am going to argue that an upshot of this framework is also at play in the minds of manufacturers, and this can be detrimental to the hobby.

Let me explain:

If we are looking for an answer to why it may seem awkward that many "active" model railroaders may not be modeling and may not have railroads, I am stricken with the thought that it only feels odd because of culture.

To illustrate the point, consider the following: imagine you are introduced to another model railroader for the first time. The thrust to ask the following question is almost compulsive, "What do you model?" And more likely than not, you ask in precisely those words. From here, this person goes on to describe in great detail how he "models" [name a railroad, region and era]. Then, as the conversation rolls forward, you are made to know that the railroad, region and era is not actually a model railroad, but the concept around which his specific interests rally. The equipment he collects is in the closet; the layout is sketches, and the basement will be converted to a railroad room when the children move, but only in time, and so on. 

In other words, we bill our activity in the hobby in project-based terms. And this isn't unusual. We are cultured to think in project-based terms. We frame our progress by what is done on the workbench, and we talk about our interests by way of what we model--even though we are not using that term in quite so literal a sense. And as a group, we do so to such an extent that, when our actual practices met the more literal use of the term, "modeling", there is a mismatch that feels provocative. When someone asks me "what do you I model", I tell them about the Union Pacific's Caliente Subdivision--even when there is no layout in my basement. And I don't feel like less of a participant in the hobby for doing so. I am working on it--believe me, and because the steps that I am taking are a part of process in the largest possible sense (acquiring a place to build the layout, finding the income to prepare the space, creating an operational schema to drive layout design, acquiring the equipment, etc.), it is easy to conceptualize them in project-based terms--or "modeling." 

So, there is a mismatch between the colloquial use of the term "modeling" and the literal use (this blog is riffing on that difference). However, this difference isn't just philosophical word play. I think that this is relevant because, as these words get conflated, we get confused about what is at the heart of our participation in the hobby. In my opinion, it is a problem that manufacturers provide input into the industry in a way that is more in line with the literal use of the word--in other words, we can be too "project-minded". But, enthusiasts are engaged in the hobby in a way more in line with the colloquial use. And, I think that the quality of our hobby will improve when manufacturers do a better job of dealing with this difference.

Let me explain:

There is a sense in which any manufacturer is project-minded. The model train business is not complex in that the relationship between the revenues and projects is relatively straight-forward. As a result, there is (and always will be) an impetus to announce and create. However, when I use the term "project-minded" for manufacturers for this blog, I intend a slightly different use. Project-minded manufacturers are ones where the race to announce and create supersedes other elements of good business practice.  What does this look like in our industry?

It is making announcements with only line-art or prototype photos.

It is making a pre-order announcements on products that won't deliver for a six months or more.

It is doing these things, and then bringing the product to market with quantities so close to the actual pre-order amount that chance of acquiring the car without a pre-order is scant.

It is having websites that don't allow for the proper exploration of product so that a customer can make an informed decision.

(It is many other things to, but this blog is not intended to be a diatribe.)

This style of business is project-minded because manufacturers are operating is such a way to neglect aspects of the business that are important from the consumer's point of view. The only thing that "really" matters is getting the project out there. Manufacturers are solely focused on what the manufacturer needs to create another turn of the wheel. This is an extraordinary disservice to the industry in that it deprives the customer from value that enriches the buying experience. And ultimately, I would argue, it has an attenuating effect on the industry.

There is a development in the last decades that is seeing rising success, precisely because, at the conceptual level, it understands what I am to speaking to. Railroad prototype modelers (RPM) meets are events where people display projects and promote better, more accurate modeling. In terms of being a project-rich environment, RPM events are Zion. And so against this, it may surprise you that I attribute the success of these events to their ability to offer something more than just projects alone.

Please look for this in my next blog.

 

 Blaine Hadfield

March 31, 2017

2 comments


Model Railroading is Sophisticated, Vol. 1

Model railroading is among the most sophisticated of hobbies, and if you find this to be an odd statement, then by all means, please read on.

So that we are all operating with the same sense of the word, 'sophisticated' means, "having a refined knowledge of the ways of the world cultivated especially through wide experience" (Merriam-Webster)

To help explicate what I mean, answer to the following question; what does it take to execute a model railroad at a high level?

I have embedded a Model Railroad Hobbyist video of Mike Confalone's Allagash railroad. The Allagash is a premier layout. It breaks from the familiar to model Maine in late winter, and it does so spectacularly.

What does it take to execute at this level? 

 

Whatever the answers are, they relate to knowledge and talent in a very diverse set of domains. This includes knowledge of history, railroad prototypes, rail operations, model train operations (because they are different), and talent in construction (as it differs from modeling), and modeling (as it differs from construction), electronics, painting and astute conceptions of layout, space and color, and the list is far from complete. So incomplete, but an attempt to compile an exhaustive list becomes tedious.

The point is this: in what other hobbies is the confluence of such a diverse set of talents required? Model railroading is unique in that it ranks among an exclusive set of pastimes in this regard.  In fact, in this moment, I am at a loss to think of any that cast a net quite as broad as model railroading.

As I write, the voices of past professors ring in my head.  "Blaine," they say. "You are making a facile argument; you are preaching to the choir."  Besides, it is flattering to be told that our hobby is sophisticated. There will be no voice of dissent here.

But, the purpose of my blog is not to entitle us for the favor of those outside of our community, but rather, to speak to those within it. Renewed appreciation for the breadth of our hobby helps us relate to those within it. This is where the blog is going.

But for now, let us rest on 'model railroading is spectacular.'

 

Blaine Hadfield

March 26, 2017

1 comment


Ode to Utah Coal, vol. 4

A confession: when I began the series entitled Ode to Utah Coal, it was not my intention to entrench the series with nostalgia and the ways in which the Utah Railway is unique as a western operator.  But, that is what the blog has become--and as a topic, I don't believe that it is parochial. When the Utah Railway operated its last coal train over Soldier Summit this year, it ended a 105 year service record. That is remarkable, and it seems relevant to bookmark this change with a few notes here.

But now, let's turn things on their head.  

Rather than look at what is unique about the Utah Railway, this blog explores something that was unique to the Utah Railway.  If this statement were posed as a question, as in 'to the Utah Railway, what was unique?', the first thought to come to my mind is the depot.

As in, yes, they had... one.

The Utah Railway was organized in 1912 to move Utah coal--not people, and in 1912, moving people was a normal part of railroad operations. However, in 1917, the railroad did acquire the former Southern Utah Railway "Kingmine" depot in Hiawatha, UT. It was the Utah Railway's only depot.

The depot was located between two mine loaders. The photo below shows the east coal washer/loading building in 1982. According to UtahRails.net, this operated until 1991. There was a second tipple west of the depot at approximately the same distance. The way that the depot is awkwardly positioned between two mine structures is metaphor of its place for the railroad, id est, completely secondary.  

The railroad moved coal, and there was a depot only insofar as station-bound individuals contributed to the activity of moving coal. Records indicate that the Utah Railway operated its last mixed, passenger in 1926. Oddly, after 90 years, the depot--that thing which was of the least operational importance to the railroad--managed to be the only railroad-related thing to survive in Hiawatha.

How time is not without a sense of irony. 

The east coal washer/loaders was dismantled in October 1992, and I presume the other loader was razed in the same period. The rail was pulled up about five years ago.

 

 Photo credit: UtahRails.net

If you would like to read more about the Utah Railway's operations in this area, please visit Utahrails.net. 

 

Blaine Hadfield

March 19, 2017

7 comments


Ode to Utah Coal, vol 3

 

In my first 'Ode to Utah Coal' blog, I wrote about those rare moments when, as if by transcendence, we are aware of change as it happens in the now. My last blog discusses Utah Railway's cachet as an operator of unique locomotives. At the time these were written, I did not foresee how well these topics would intersect for events that would transpire this week.

In 1952, the Utah Railway acquired six RSD-4s. In 1974/1975, they acquired an additional six RSD-12 and 15s. These ran in heavy, drag service until 1982--which made them rare birds for a western operator. However, Utah Railway's cachet goes beyond its Alco fleet. In 1985, the Utah Railway rostered four ex-BN F45s--an odd grab that, I assume, saved these locomotives from the torch. These operated until 2001 when the Utah Railway acquired Australian-built SD50s, and these are completely unique.

Also in 2001, Utah Railway performed a coup d'etat on Motive Power Industries (MPI); it acquired all six MK5000Cs. MPI designs, manufacturers and re-manufactures locomotives. The MK5000C is the product of an ambitious push in the manufacturing segment of MPI's business. In 2003, the Caterpillar prime movers of the MK5000Cs were replaced, and they were redesignated 'MK50-3'. Utah Railway 5004 MK50-3 awaits assignment in Martin, UT in the James Belmont photo above.

Beautiful, isn't it? 

These MK units are resplendent with the Utah Railway paint scheme on their flanks. This week, four MK50-3 units were removed from the property, and the future of the others seems uncertain. 

As we all know, change happens--it is an endless plight for the romantics among us. But today, it feels again as though the absence is something that will truly be missed--Utah Railway MK units over Soldier Summit.

Here is to the memories.

 

 Blaine Hadfield

 **Update: In the original blog posted on March 19th, I wrote that all of the MK units in Utah Railway paint schemes were removed from the property. However, when I drove through the Utah Railway yard on March 20th, Utah Railway #5003 (one of the MK units in Utah Railway paint) was among other locomotives in the service facility.  Evidently, some of my information was wrong about which of the four MK units stayed and which units left.  I have updated my blog post accordingly.

February 26, 2017

8 comments


My First Issue of Model Railroader Magazine

In a blog that I posted a few months back I talked about the time when my interest in trains started. Not long after, I bought my first copy of Model Railroader. It was the September 1994 issue and it, more than any other issue inspired and molded me into the modeler that I am today.  

On the cover was a photo of Michael Tylick's O scale Pioneer Valley. A layout that I love so much, but this blog is about another. Further in was an article by Bruce Chubb on his Sunset Valley railroad that shook the infant foundations of my model railroading interest. I spent many hours re-reading the article and studying every detail in the photos. The scene that hooked me more than any other was his passenger station that was built over the tracks. So much of what I saw still influences my modeling today.

18 years later at the 2012 National Train Show in Grand Rapids Michigan, I was invited to a layout tour of the Sunset Valley. It was amazing to see in-person the layout that inspired me so much. Then something special happened... I somehow ended up with a throttle in my hand. I was given the opportunity to run a passenger train across the layout and make a station stop at the location that inspired me so much. Fortunately a friend of mine took a photo of this moment.

Sunset Valley 2012

This month, Model Railroader releases their 1000th issue. Congratulations on this milestone and thank you for the inspiration you gave me starting with this issue and from so many others after. 

Chris Brimley

February 12, 2017

6 comments


Ode to Utah Coal, Vol. 2

A 'cachet' is a quality that distinguishes something as unique, and it connotes a state of superiority.

A "railfan's cachet" is a quality that distinguishes something as unique, and it also connotes a state of superiority--but only from the point of view of the trackside enthusiast.  Everyone else regards this same thing with a state of total aversion.    

Okay... so I may have just made that up...  But, it kind of describes our world, doesn't it? The things that are attractive to railfans are often the very same things that others view with antipathy.

Take for example Utah Railway's (UTR) roster of Alco locomotives. No career railroader would claim that, by the late 1970s, the UTR fleet of RSD-4 and 5s was a mark of superior distinction among railroads. No, they were derided by crews for what they were: second-hand, temperamental, smokey and old. And, the railroad operated them well beyond its peers--up until 1982.  But of course, for railfans, the Alco fleet was Utah Railway's cachet--it was a railfan's cachet.   

Watch the video below.  It is probably worth it. 

Blaine Hadfield

 

 

 
To see more videos like this, please visit Lee Witten's YouTube channel.  That is definitely worth it.
February 06, 2017

10 comments


Ode to Utah Coal, Vol. 1

A six unit, mid-train helper set cuts out from Utah Railway's
last scheduled coal train at Ironton, Utah.

 

Change happens.

Yet, we have a remarkable inability to appreciate change except from the point of view of great distance. For example, in the year of my birth, nine railroads operated within an hour of Utah’s Wasatch front. Today, there are three. It goes without saying that there is a tremendous difference between then and today, and it is easy to point to how things are different. But, it is more difficult to point to how things are different from six months ago. It seems as though our minds are very imprecise for dealing with change in real time.  

It is rare when one has the clarity to see change as it happens in the now--recognition that, at this very moment, the earth upon which you stand is shifting. This week, I had that moment when the Utah Railway operated its last coal train over Soldier Summit. This move was the end of a 105 year service record.

105 years... Let that sink in.

In 1912, the Utah Railway was chartered to carry coal from Utah mines to points of interchange with the Union Pacific and Rio Grande. For decades, the labor of moving coal over Soldier Summit was almost the railroad's exclusive task. Today, the railroad is in a state of transition. It is an emergent bridge carrier, and this is good. It will keep the railroad operating into the future. 

But, it is not the same.  And while I watched the crew cut-out six mid-train helpers, I knew that tomorrow was going to be different.  Somehow, tomorrow already feels different.

Blaine Hadfield

January 24, 2017

1 comment


ExactRail at Amherst Train Show!

 

ExactRail will be attending the Amherst Railway Society (ARS) Railroad Hobby Show in Springfield, MA!  On January 28 and 29th, visit us at space 39 in the Better Living Center building of the Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds.  Come see what is new and let us know what you would like to see in the future!

The ARS Railroad Hobby Show is America's largest model train show. There are over 360,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space.  Furthermore, ARS gets our applause for being socially conscious organization.  It has donated over $750k to deserving, non-profit groups. By attending the Railroad Hobby Show, you are supporting a good cause.

We looking forward to seeing you there!

Blaine Hadfield

  

December 24, 2016

2 comments


Merry Christmas

May all of your signals be green!

Happy Railroading

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