Model Railroading: The Wayzata Depot Garden Layout

An outdoor model railroad you can visit in Wayzata, MN

G-scale is perfect for model railroading outdoors.  In this article, I discuss one such outdoor train layout set up –fittingly enough- on the grounds of a former railroad station which not only is still in its original location but is a prime spot for watching the prototype go by in the form of thundering unit coal trains, grain trains, general commodities, passenger specials, and other awesome displays of modern railroading.

During James J. Hill days 2006, a temporary G-scale garden railroad was set up on the south side of the grounds of the former Great Northern Railway station nestled along Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata, Minnesota.  Little did I know that on the east side of the grounds there would arise in 2010 a permanent outdoor G-scale pike would be built!

Sure enough, the Minnesota Garden Railway Society partnered with the Lake Minnetonka Garden Society, the Wayzata Historical Society, and the City of Wayzata to build a permanent outdoor display showcasing the best in big scale model railroading and gardening.

Girded by a cement block base, two loops of track encircle the layout which features everything from an engine house, water tank, and coal tipple to scenic trestles, a town … even a small station named “Toonerville” (where big main line trains pass, not trolley’s!) as well as a faithful replica of –you guessed it- the Wayzata depot, located on the layout’s north side facing the Wayzata subdivision of the BNSF Railway.

On summer weekends, members tend to their trains as they roll around the pike to the delight of kids –and train fans- of all ages.

Where are the trains stored when the layout is not in operation, you ask?  Why, unside the old waiting room of the depot, of course, which is now used by the WHS; a classy place to store the miniature replicas of the likes that thunder by outside in 1:1 scale.

Beekeeping: A Very Practical Hobby

It’s too bad bees have such a bad rap when it comes to keeping them at home.  Not only do bees pollinate all of your flowers, vegetables and trees, but also provide so many useful products, just from their one sweet nectar.

In addition to honey, which can be used raw as a food additive and also as an ingredient in body care products, bees provide wax that can also be used for many products.  Beeswax makes excellent candles, salve and lip balm, to name just a few of its uses.

Beekeepers will tell you that bees are really not that hard to handle, and some will say that their time with the bees is one of the most enjoyable highlights of the day, their meditative time.  Bees respond well to a calm demeanor and will act in kind. 

Bees can make your vegetable plants and fruit trees produce more, while your flowers will have bigger, healthier blooms.  Bees can improve the health of just about every living plant, and for that reason alone are an asset to any small farm or homestead.

Compared to other creatures you can raise, bees are very low maintenance.  They will take care of themselves if given the proper conditions, working hard all summer long to provide delicious, vitamin-filled honey.

Honey and other bee products also have a high demand and can be sold for a tidy profit.  When you look at all of the benefits beekeeping can provide, it’s a wonder not more people are doing it.

More Notes On Model Railroad Operations

Further exploring this aspect of model railroading

Re-reading my last post, I concluded it painted things in too broad an outline without much detail, so here we go again with more of the latter about model railroad operations:

Recently I found a web page of track plans fit for both N and HO-scale table top pikes chock full of fun options to play the 3-D game of model railroad operations on called “The Mad Trackplanners Page.” *

As you can see, these plans boldly squeeze in not only industries, but tiny railroad yards as well!   One even has a whole bunch of industries to switch connected with a complex web of track.

My favorite has got to be the track plan that has a two-stall engine house, four-track yard, four industries served by three spurs, and an “interchange” track; talk about a lot of operational fun in a small space!  Just mind the equipment size, folks: small steam engines or four-axle diesels only, and no mondo freight cars like auto racks!

As far as bigger train layouts go (especially club ones), the sky is pretty much the limit operations-wise depending on how big it will be and what you are modeling.   It’s as simple as that.  Ditto the modular pikes out there like the HO and N scale ones built and operated by the Minnesota Free-mo Modelers.**

And speaking of modular railroad clubs, long ago there at least used to be an HO-scale Minnesota-based one called the New Brighton connection.   The core of their modules was a double track main line for show purposes and a separate track with on-line industries for switching.

And there you go: more notes on model railroad operations, one of the most fun aspects of the hobby.

Learn Useful Skills Under the Guise of a Hobby

Most hobbies are not only fun past times, but also at one point or another were useful skills that helped people survive or make a living.  As the back to the land movement gains popularity, more people are wanting to learn skills that will help them live more self-sufficiently, or barter for things they need.  An all cash economy is becoming a thing of the past, so knowing skills that others don’t can help you get things without having to spend cash.

Hobbies that are becoming useful skills again include gardening, of course, but also blacksmithing, farming and woodworking, just to name a few.  If you have an interest in these or other skills, you might find it profitable to learn how to do them, not to mention fun.

Learning leatherworking and being able to make pouches, moccasins or other leather items can be a fun pastime, and provide you with practical things you can use yourself or sell and barter with.

Fletching arrows used to be a fun but unprofitable hobby, but as people begin to enjoy the sport of bow hunting again, perhaps there is a niche market for you to sell your finished arrows.

Almost any hobby can be a useful skill in some scenario, and also a way to generate a side income or profitable home business, so if you have been putting off learning a hobby you would enjoy, you can justify it by turning it into a useful skill you can benefit from in the future.

Model Railroading: The Fun Of Operations

A way to spice up your model railroading

While it is very therapeutic to watch a train rolling around a loop of track, many model railroaders choose to move on to bigger and more complex track arrangements by building a model railroad they can run as if it were a real-life one serving businesses along their lines as well as moving mass commodities like unit coal or grain trains.   In essence, such a model railroad becomes a 3-D game set on a colorful game board you can simulate “railroading for real” on.  

Often you can read of model railroaders with basement-sized layouts who host regular “operating” sessions where a group of friends gather to operate the railroad like a real one, dispatching trains, running them, etc.   Some are so into it, there is a separate room nearby dubbed the “crew lounge” with a TV and some chairs for “off duty” crew to relax in.  (Though, frankly, I think having a TV present defeats the purpose of relaxing with model trains.   TV can be so hyper it can cause stress levels to go sky-high, but I digress.)

But you don’t need a massive train layout to have fun “operating” a railroad.  On a four by eight tabletop pike you can put in a couple spur tracks off the “main” you can switch cars on and off of at, say, a warehouse, or grain elevator, or whatever business that strikes your fancy that you can fit onto the tabletop.    Having once practiced with wooden Brio trains the art of operating such a model railroad design, words fail me when it comes to describing how fun it is!

In my opinion, the most ideal sort of model railroad is one that allows you to watch trains roll by round and round as well as has businesses along them that ship by rail you can stop a freight train at and play a 3-D game of, say,  switching tank cars “way billed” for “Western Oil” or cars for some other make-believe business; it will give you many relaxing hours of model railroading enjoyment.





Finding Time for a Hobby

They say that when you are passionate about doing something, you will find the time to do it.  I think “they” might not have had a job, kids or other demands that seem to suck the minutes out of a day like a giant sucking Cheerios through a straw.  Otherwise, they must have been a Martha Stewart clone, because in real life, finding time for the things we love is almost impossible.

If you work away from home, a hobby is probably one of the last things on your mind when you come home from a long day, especially if you also have children or other family who want to spend time with you.  It is easy to say that making time is all about priorities, but the fact is, there are only so many free hours in the day and we can’t do it all.

Finding time for a hobby is important though, and even more so when you have all those other demands on your time.  We need time for ourselves; to pursue something that makes us happy.  If you don’t make time for enjoying life, you are setting yourself up for a very disappointing life.

So, busy hobbyists, I challenge you to make a resolution to find time for doing what you love.  Even if you only manage to carve out an hour chunk from your packed weekend, you will still be able to enjoy your hobby and unwind in the process.

So, what do you say?  Can you make even a little time for doing something you truly enjoy?

Buy Used Hobby Supplies

Hobbies are one of those areas where buying used makes a lot of sense.  Since hobby supplies are generally considered nonessential luxury items, they tend to be expensive but lose a lot of their value once they are used.  For that reason, buying used almost always makes sense, and often times you can buy out someone who has lost interest in a hobby, getting everything you need at a fraction of the price.

One of the best sources for inexpensive, used hobby supplies is Craigslist.  Really, Craigslist is the best source for just about anything used, because it is one of the first places people look when they are shopping for a bargain, and sellers know this.

Thrift stores are also a great place to buy used supplies, from woodworking materials to craft supplies.  I like to get sewing patterns and yarn at the thrift store, because they are often in great shape and cost pennies sometimes.

If you have the time and the inclination, yard sales are probably the least expensive way to get outfitted for a hobby, but it takes a lot of time and dedication to find the good deals.  Yard sale shopping can be a fun pastime though, so if you enjoy that sort of thing, you can save money on all kinds of things – not just hobby supplies.

Buying used hobby supplies makes sense for almost every hobby, and at least some of your supplies can be gained this way for pennies on the dollar.

Model Railroading: Twin City Train Shows Are Hard To Find

A brief look at a now largely vanished tradition

The old fellow handed me his card after I inquired about how I could bring a model train layout to the show I was at.  I still got that card, but I never got to bring a train  to set up there because the place where the show used to take place twice a year –the Wayzata Bay Center in Wayzata, MN- is closed up tight now awaiting the wrecking crew as it falls to urban renewal.

Irony of ironies, the mall served as a temporary home for the Minnesota Free-Mo modular model railroad club the last months it was open. *

Model train shows are largely dead now in the Twin Cities.  The years now no longer see the Great American Train Show no longer fills the Roy Wilkins Auditorium at the Excel Energy Center in downtown Saint Paul thanks to –apparently- no longer being able to make ends meet.  Ditto the train show that used to be held up in the northern suburb of Blaine at Northtown Mall, a show that, from what I gather (alas, I never went) spread across the entire mall until the year it was cancelled forever when Northtown’s management decided to bring in kiosks that would in turn ensure no free floor space remained for events like the model railroad shindig.

We are all the poorer for this.  There was something to be said for, say, strolling into Roy Wilkins auditorium, enjoying all the trains of various scales as they raced about on their portable layouts, and browsing all the merchandise vendors had brought for sale.  Or the magic of walking into the Wayzata Bay Center and strolling down to where all the trains and train displays were set up, saying hello to the regulars, and admiring their handiwork as the mall came alive for the weekend with something colorful and enjoyable.

Happily, the Twin City Model Railroad museum has kept the flag flying train show-wise because they still hold their train show and flea market twice a year at the Minnesota State fairgrounds, keeping the tradition of model train shows in the Twin Cities alive.


Stamp Collecting – Will Stamps One Day Be Obsolete?

Being the only government agency that is responsible for its own funding, the Post Office is in a lot of distress these days.  Rate increases are getting more frequent, and it seems there is constant talk of cutting services, employees and days to help stay afloat.  With that in mind, what will happen to stamps and stamp collections if the Post Office goes belly up?

Even if they continue operating as usual, at some point in this increasingly digital world, the need for stamps will decline to the point that they are no longer used.  That would mean some significant changes in the way stamp collections are valued, or so it seems to me.

When there are no longer new stamps to collect, anyone interested in starting a stamp collection will find themselves competing for a decreasing number of stamps.  For those whose true purpose is collecting, that will make things very difficult.  For someone looking to profit from the hobby of stamp collecting, the profit margins are going to get very wide as more people try to get a finite number of collectible stamps.

Does that mean you should go out right now and buy up anything you can?  No, probably not.  Any changes to the way mail works are probably quite a ways off.  I know I still use stamps and I am not the only one, although like most people, my stamp usage has dropped off dramatically since the advent of email.

What do you think?  Will stamps become obsolete?  How will that affect stamp collecting?

Model Railraoding: Mind The Motive Power Size!

Tips for the right engines to get for a small layout

Once upon a time, a diesel painted in Union Pacific yellow and grey with red trim but sporting the lettering and heralds of the good old Milwaukee Road (a prototypical scheme from when the Milwaukee ran the UP’s “City” streamliners from Omaha to Chicago) called out to me as it sat on a shelf full of locomotives in a Twin City hobby shop (the long-gone Hobby Depot, in Richfield, MN, if I recall right).  I quickly added it to the day’s purchases, took it home, set it on my four by eight train layout … and watched it derail on a tight curve.

I had bought an HO-scale FP45, a locomotive that belonged on a massive club-sized pike complete with wide, graceful curves that it could easily traverse.

The problem was that, with money burning a hole in my pocket, coupled with the fact the Milwaukee is one of my favorite railroads, I bought that engine without so much as a thought to whether or not it could traverse the tiny layout I had at home!

What should have looked for instead was a small switch engine, or a locomotive of the “GP” series by EMD –that is, small four-axle units like, say, a GP38-2, or an F-unit like an F-7.   Not something gargantuan as that FP45.

Moral of the story: if you have a tiny layout, “Big Boy” steam engines, diesels like that Milwaukee FP45, and many, many others are not fit for it.  Look for something colorful, but smaller, like one of the engines listed above, and only buy a bigger engine if you are, say, a model railroad club member or have a buddy with a layout massive enough to accommodate it whenever you are over taking part in running trains on it.