Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Watch Buster Keaton's "The General"

    Buster did all of his own stunts! Don't try this at home, folks (or anywhere else, for that matter). 

31 years ago, during the 1983 NMRA national convention in Winnipeg,  WMRC Vice President Dave Downie ran the 16mm projector in a room on the third floor of the Winnipeg Convention Centre, where he screened Buster Keaton's The General and The Railrodder on a continuous basis. The print of The General wasn't of the best quality, and there was an annoying voiceover describing every single action, but back in those pre-YouTube days (and there weren't many video stores back then either) it was a rare opportunity to see this classic railroading film. Dave kept hundreds of people amused and he enjoyed watching the reactions of the audience, especially the children.

The General cost $750,000 to make, a huge sum for 1926. (Spoiler alert: a lot of the money went into the spectacular shot of the burning bridge collapsing under a locomotive) It wasn't well received by critics or the public at the time. It's now considered one of the greatest films ever made, and was ranked #18 by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best movies of all time.

 There are some great scenes for railfans and non-railfans alike. There are great gags, great stunts, and the humour still holds up 88 years after its initial release. Thanks to the miracle of technology, you can now watch The General in its entirety by clicking here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Assiniboine Valley Railway rides again!

Clear your schedule! Cancel all your appointments! Tell your secretary (Oops! Make that "personal assistant" - we strive to be politically correct on this site) to hold all your calls! The Assiniboine Valley Railway will be holding an open house on the weekend of August 9th and 10th!

Please note that they have a new website, and a schedule of events, which you can access here. It has also been posted on The hours for the open house on Saturday is from 11:00AM to 5:00PM. The hours on Sunday are from 1:00PM to 5:00PM. It costs $2.00 to ride the rails, and it's worth every penny! Children under three years old can ride fro free. A 12 ride rail pass is available for $20, which is good at any AVR event.

The Assiniboine Valley Railway is located at 3001 Roblin Boulevard, right next to Assiniboine Park.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Invest in trains (the real thing, not the models)

Canadian Railways have always been a very solid investment.  No one has ever gone broke investing in Canadian railways. They also pay quarterly dividends. Thanks to the vastness of our nation, their future is secure. Both CN and CP have the advantage of having ports on both ends of the continent, plus connections to Chicago and one major U.S. port each.  Shipping by rail is still the cheapest and most efficient form of land transportation. Intermodal shipping, agricultural and resource  agricultural exports guarantee their prosperity.  

Especially resource.
Oil, that is.
Black gold.
Alberta tea.

As long as future pipeline development will continue to at a snail's pace, oil will continue to be brought to market by rail for a very long time. 

Look at any freight train that passes you buy. How many tankers do you see? Can you count them all? Of course you can't.

 CN stocks split in the previous decade, nearly tripled in value, then split again late last year. Pundits estimated that the price would climb to $66.00 by the year's end. As of this writing, the stock is listed at over $73.00. CN's second quarter profits increased by 18%.

The largest single shareholder of CN stocks is Bill Gates. Yes, that Bill Gates. The Microsoft guy.

In 2002, CP broke itself up into five different companies. CP Rail soon exceeded its pre-breakup value, and two of the companies, Fording (now Teck Resources) and Encana have become valued resource stocks. Encana also split into two companies, creating Cenovus, creating more shareholder value.

In 2012, CP Rail underwent a much publicized corporate takeover and management restructuring, where former CN CEO Hunter Harrison was hired to run the railway. Before the takeover, the stock was languishing in the mid 60's. As of this writing, it's now worth over $210. Shares have surged over 25% in 2014. Under Harrison, CP's operating ratio has fallen from 80% to 65.1%.

Will these stocks continue to go up? Hard to say, but keep in mind that we're still in a very strong bull market.

But your own homework before you invest. There's plenty of advice and information out there.  You're not going to impress your financial advisor if you tell him that you're going to sink your hard earned cash in a stock just because you read about it on the WMRC blog!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Buste Keaton rides Stephenson's Rocket

Silent film great Buster Keaton was quite a rail fan! His most famous film was "The General", where he rescues a train stolen by the Union Army during the civil war, and one of his last films, "The Railrodder" featured him riding a speeder across Canada. 

He also featured a replica of Stephenson's Rocket in an earlier film, titled "Our Hospitality". Keaton purposely set the film in the 1830's so he could use Stephenson's Rocket. Our good friend Chuck Huard sent us this link, featuring nearly five minutes of Keaton riding the Rocket. Enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Model railroading: The greying of our hobby

              Are the meetings at your local model railroading club beginning to look like this?

   There's no doubt about it - model railroading needs more younger members! The greying of our hobby has been happening for a long time, and it's epidemic all across the country. We saw it coming in the 80's and 90's when we saw the younger generation's fascination with video games.

    The baby boomers were the last generation to fully embrace the hobby, mostly because they grew up with model railroads. Attendance in the WMRC spiked and thrived in the 80's when boomers such as Larry Leavens and Ron Einarson joined the club. These members were in their 30'swhen they joined, and they continue to make important contributions to the club. But now these boomers are in their 60's, and there are very few younger members joining. Membership has been declining in every model railroading club.

   Mind you, there's still a lot of life in the old codgers. The rebuilding of the Gateway Western, which included building a vary large structure to house the railway, was mostly done by members of the WMRC and the Winnipeg Railway Museum who were in their 60's, and even in their 70's!

    The WMRC has younger members, such as Ian Plett and Suzanne Lemon, who have done wonders for the club. Their enthusiasm has truly revitalized and inspired us. We need more just like them!

    Attendance the Manitoba Mega Train Show and the WMRC's spring open house has showed us that interest in model railroading is still very strong. We get many young families in to view the trains. But they're not joining!

   Our only hope for survival is to have more younger members. But where are we going to get them?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Watch Buster Keaton travel across Canada on a Speeder in "The Railrodder"

    In 1965 the National Film Board of Canada released a short film featuring legendary silent movie comedian Buster Keaton, titled The Railrodder. Buster travels across the entire country from Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia to the Georgia Strait in a CN speeder.

     This was one of the last Films Buster Keaton ever made, and it was a fitting ending, as one of his most famous films was The General, where he rescues a train stolen by the Union Army during the civil war.

     The Railrodder is a delight not only for Buster Keaton fans, but for rail fans and historians alike, for it gives us a rare glimpse into what Canada looked like in the mid 1960's all from the perspective of an open speeder.

     If you have 24 minutes to spare, sit back an click here to see The Railrodder. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stafford Swain and CN

   Another view of Stafford Swain's spectacular layout. The clouds were digitally added by WMRC Blog Editor Paul Ullrich.

   Readers of this blog site might've noticed that on previous posts about Stafford Swain's layout, there have been nothing but CN motive power and rolling stock on the tracks. Stafford was a loyal CN fan and a devoted member of the Canadian National Railways Historical Association (formerly CN Lines SIG). Stafford did just about everything for that organization that he could, including stuffing envelopes  on a regular basis at Nick Andrusiak's place whenever another issue of CN Lines was fresh from the printers and ready to ship.

    Stafford was a virtual encyclopedia of anything related to CN. Several years ago, a local man purchased an old CN caboose, intending to renovate it as a cottage while keeping the exterior as close to prototype as he could. Someone suggested that he call Stafford. When he did, Stafford asked him what type of caboose it was. The man didn't know, so he started describing it to him.

     "Is that the one with the white windows?" Asked Stafford.

     The man said yes, and Stafford gave him about 20 minutes of the most intricate details describing the make, model and manufacturing of the caboose, all off the top of his head.

      That was Stafford. Knowledgeable, kind, and extremely generous with the wealth of information he possessed.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Canadian Association of Railway Modellers holds annual convention in Thunder Bay

   The Canadian Association of Railway Modellers (CARM) will be holding Rails to the Lakehead, its 2014 national convention in Thunder Bay, Ontario from September 30 to October 2. Please note that these dates are not on the weekend (September 30 is on a Tuesday). 
    The convention wil be held at the historic Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel, one of the classic railway hotel in Canada. Activities include clinics, prototype tours, rail fanning and a banquet with a guest speaker. Please note the the banquet is an additional cost.
The list of confirmed clinics is as follows:
Bill Skrepichuk: "An Overview of CPR Construction 1883-85 along the North Shore of Lake Superior"
Ed Freeman: "Port Arthur’s iron mining past"
Gerald Harper: "Thunder Bay area railway bridges - something for everyone"
William Waithe: "The CN Weston Subdivision : Modelling freight operations of an urban industrial area"
Mike Walton:"Prototypical British Operation on the Lostock Junction Railway."
Dave Battistel: "Rails into the Wilderness-The Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway"
Andy Malette:"Painting and Lettering CNR Steam Locomotives"

    Layout tours include Craig Symington's Rio Grande Southern RailroadThis HOn3 layout is based on the first district of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad. The layout itself consumes around 650 sq ft of basement and takes upwards of nine people to operate. This layout has been featured in the several issues the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette.

    Three prototype tours are also offered at an additional cost: Bombardier Transportation, Thunder Bay Terminals, and the Richardson International Grain Elevator Complex. The prototype tours are proving very popular and are filling up fast! Virtually all of the early registrants have signed up for them. These tours are limited in the number of people attending, so if you're interested, please register as soon as possible.

   CARM will also have available a booklet describing a self-guied tour and road logs for trains coming from the east and the west. The road logs will be up on the CARM website shortly.

    To commemorate the event, a men's button down long sleeve shirt with a pocket is being offered at $45 ($48 for XXL). Shirts must be ordered postmarked before August 1. 

  Early bird registration (postmarked before August 1) is $60, additional registrants $15 (immediate family and same address only). After that date, the registration fee is $80, Additional registrants $20. All registrations must be postmarked not later than September 15. After that, registrations will only be accepted at the convention.

   Rooms at the convention rate of $90.00 Cdn. per night will be available until Monday, 15 September 2014. For information on the hotel see the website. To book rooms, call the hotel (Toll Free : 1-800-267-2675, Local : 807-345-5411) and cite code number 184141 and CARM to obtain the convention rate.

For a PDF of the registration form, click on this link.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

CN cracks down on rail fans in Portage La Prairie

   These two distinguished gentlemen and their unidentified "companion" were questioned by the RCMP during a recent rail fanning trip to Portage La Prairie.

    During a recent trip to Portage la Prairie, a small group of rail fans were reported by CN authorities and questioned by the RCMP.

    The group had settled in their usual rail fanning place at the foundation of the old grain elevator near the CP tracks. Two of them, who were in their 60's, left the site to walk to the Via Rail station to answer nature's call ( which is common for most men of that age). The two elderly men were walking  on the station platform on the opposite side of the tracks when a CN employee burst from CN's portable structure and shouted at them.

    "Hey, get off of there! You're trespassing!" Shouted the employee.

     The two men immediately complied and walked across the tracks to the passenger platform at the station. When they returned to their rail fanning site, they were surprised to see an RCMP police car approaching them. The police informed them that the CN employee had called them to report a trespassing incident.

    The two policemen took their names and told them that they'd have to call CN Police to see if they wanted to lay charges against them. The police seemed a bit embarrassed by the situation, and as they were waiting for the CN Police to respond to their 800 call, they chatted with the three men about camera equipment (It should be noted that while this was going on, other people were freely crossing the tracks at various locations). About ten minutes later, the CN Police responded.

   No charges were laid, but the RCMP strongly advised the men not to cross the tracks for any reason except at the designated level crossings. With that, the rail fans parked at the station, then later went to the diamond, far away from the prying eyes of CN.

    This might've been an unusual and even an isolated incident, and the rail fans might've been just a victim of bad timing on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but CN (and CP) are well within their rights to report such incidents. They might've not taken some of the more extreme measures we've all heard about the U.S. railroads regarding rail fanning, bur keep in mind the CN and CP have a strong presence in the U.S. and are influenced by the practices of other railroads.

    As Canadians, we are often inclined believe that we can rail fan more freely than our friends south of the border. Incidents like this show that this is no longer true. When we rail fan, we should always exercise extreme caution and respect the property laws of the railroads, whether we are rail fanning in the U.S. or in Canada.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Manitoba's model railroading community mourns the passing of Selkirk Model Railroad Association President Tom Reeve

   It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our good friend, President and Chairman of the Board of the Selkirk Model Railroad Association, Tom Reeve, after a brief battle with pneumonia and liver cancer.
   Tom was a founding member of the Selkirk Model Railroad Association. Tom's lifelong interests in the hobby and dedication to the hobby was certainly shared by all. His presence at the club house and in all our projects was felt and Tom will be missed by all who knew him.
   Tom was interested in all scale (N, HO, O and G scale) and an avid reader of anything that involved trains. Tom was a strong supporter and worker in the latest project of the association, the diorama for the Heritage Museum of Grand Beach. Sadly, he will not be there for the final installation in the middle of July.
   Tom's funeral service will be held on Tuesday, July 8 at the Gilbart Funeral Home, 309 Eveline Street, in Selkirk at 11:00AM.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Happy Canada Day!

    To all Canadians, non-Canadians, WMRC members, non-members, model railroaders and rail fans all across the country and all around the world - have a joyous and happy Canada Day! Big thanks to Stevie Vallance for sending this image!