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VanRail 2011; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Extended Report by Scott Calvert; Chairman
November 30, 2011

The greater Vancouver area was again the host city for the VanRail operations event which took place September 9 -11, 2011. This was the third time we have hosted this gathering, and it was by far the most successful. Many guests stayed at the Accent Inn host hotel and enjoyed quality food at the adjacent ABC family restaurant where we had a separate room for breakfasts and organizing the car pooling.

35 operators participated in the event from all over the western United States and Canada, and many of them have joined us in previous events. It is an open event limited only by the number of operating position We were able to accommodate everyone that requested a spot this year, and even had a few spares.

Attendees have the opportunity to operate on 3 different layouts for sessions that last from 3 to 4 hours in duration. There was a session on each of three days starting on Friday afternoon. Guests had the chance to see several new layouts this year as well as see progress on several of the layouts we offered in 2009. Layouts ranged from a small HO logging layout to a large double deck HO layout.

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Group shot at Al Fransh's BNSF layout on Whidbey Island. Al is seated on the right in the blue shirt.

A new feature for this year was an extended op session on the Thursday at Al Frash's BNSF Pilchuck Division double deck N Scale layout on Whidbey Island near Seattle WA. This layout was featured in the July 2011 issue of the online magazine; Model Railroad Hobbyist. Several operators stopped there on their way up to Vancouver for a pleasurable session running this large mainline layout.

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Several VanRail guests and hosts looking over the concept plans for Scott Calvert's proposed new HO CPR Boundary Sub layout.

The camaraderie at these gatherings is a very important and pleasant part of the hobby, Almost 60 guests and host crew members enjoyed getting together at Scott and Margot Calvert's home on Friday evening for some socializing. Scott's HO Boundary Sub layout was demolished earlier this summer in preparation for the upcoming move to a new home early in 2012 and the group had a chance to see the preliminary plans for the new 1100 sq ft double deck layout that will be built in a dedicated room in the new basement. Perhaps it will host a modest op session for 2013!

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Seth Neumann (centre) leading a lively 'beer enhanced' discussion at the Friday evening social at Scott & Margot Calvert's)

The first op session takes place on Friday afternoon which allows out of town guests the morning to get here by car, or plane. This format means that most visitors only stay here for two nights which keeps costs down. Saturday morning was the second op session followed by "free time" in the afternoon for visitors to tour some of the local railroad sites of interest or do some more "touristy" stuff. Several guest made the short trip north out of Vancouver to Squamish to tour the West Coast Heritage Park which is an outstanding facility (www.wcra.org/heritage), while others visited the BCSME live steam park in North Burnaby (www.burnabyrailway.org).

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Brian Pate (standing) presenting his clinic on the KMR

Saturday evening we all enjoyed two different presentations. Local modeler and ex-railroader; Mike Chandler shared many humorous anecdotes in his clinic titled "Tales of the Iron Road". Mike gave us all some insight into what real railroading was all about, as well as some of the antics and characters he worked with over the years at CN. Next, well known local modeler; Brian Pate gave an interesting clinic titled "From industrial archeology to an Operating Layout". He talked about the extensive research he has, and continues to do for his own Klondike Mines Railway (www3.telus.net/KMR) and how the current layout is based on that research. Brian's layout has been part of all VanRail events.

Sunday morning was the third op session, and most lasted until just after noon. This gave those guests who were flying sufficient time to take an afternoon or evening flight home and save the added costs of another hotel stay and meals.

Like many of these operating events, each layout offers some of its own character and unique features. Following are some descriptions on the operating sessions that were enjoyed;

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Group shot on Mike Chandler's Midland Western layout overlooking the main yards. Mike is in the orange shirt 4th from the left.

Mike Chandler's sessions on both days introduced guests to the concept of a remote Dispatcher. Not remote as in the other room or upstairs, but remote as located in Calgary, Alberta - over 1000 kilometers away! Using a telephone link, Mike's good friend and retired ex CPR Dispatcher; Bill Salmon communicates directly with several agent operators to manage the traffic flow around the layout using realistic train order procedures. Mike also has an unusual yard setup. Although the two major yards are on each end of the mainline, they are actually physically side by side and share the roundhouse and engine facilities. You can see that configuration in the group shot included in this article.

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Brian Clogg (right) giving the orientation to the guests on his HO CWR layout.

Brian Clogg's extensive HO Caribou Western Railroad was a new offering for this year and was very popular for those that enjoy long mainline runs. The layout occupies a dedicated room and is a multi deck design with a mainline that currently stretches almost 350 feet and it has another 100 feet to go! Although the traffic management system is not fully developed yet, he currently uses what amounts to a verbal train order which mimics the Canadian Manual block system without writing down clearances (track warrant). Ken and Dave Liesse of Seattle shared dispatcher duties and used FRS units to communicate with the yards and road crews. Operators definitely have a sense of isolation while running trains out on the mainline of this large mountain layout. Brian typically runs close to 20 trains including several locals and numerous mainline trains during a session, so guests get a chance to try different jobs.

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Group shot on Anthony Craig's Kettle Valley RR. Anthony is the guy with his head protruding from the roundhouse.

Anthony Craig models the famous Kettle Valley Railway in southern BC on a double deck HO layout which is meticulous in his detailing and prototypical accuracy. In fact, he has modeled the actual yard at Brookmere, BC at 75% of full size. He completed a conversion to LENZ/CVP DCC just before VanRail and it worked very reliably. Unfortunately, he did not have the time to convert all his steam locos with decoders, and had to humble himself by borrowing numerous FM CP diesels from the author! There were reports that the motive power was more reliable than usual - however, Anthony suggests that may be sacrilege! Using a well developed timetable, train order system and fast clock, a dispatcher in an adjacent room communicates with the agent operators via old fashioned period phones. He has plans to extend the layout into another room in his basement so when you come back in 2013 the mainline will be much longer.

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Larry Rice picking up cars at Fraine before piloting the Kraft switcher for a full-session job at Castlegar. The loaded ore train is making its way up the 2.2% grade at Fife on the second deck on Mark Dance's N scale C&W layout.

Mark Dance's N scale Columbia & Western RR is a new addition to the event and was thoroughly enjoyed by crews on all three days. It was very challenging for Mark to restage the layout to accommodate three sessions. However, some late nights accomplished that. His layout is a very accurate replica of the CPR Boundary Subdivision and it has wonderfully inspiring scenery - including snow at higher elevations over the Farron summit! It was quite an accomplishment achieving that effect in N scale, and it is truly awesome. Mark, an Engineer by training, has a unique mushroom designed layout which has employed numerous technical solutions to deal with some of the challenges. The mainline climbs a significant grade over the summit and pusher units are employed to assist the trains over the top - not an easy task in N scale! His layout is featured in the upcoming 2012 Model Railroad Planning magazine.

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Ray and Mark pilot the Eastbound ore train through Fife on the upper deck of Mark Dances N Scale C&W layout while Dan Thompson (right) reviews his paper work for the Slocan/Nakusp job.
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Group shot on Colin Dover's Vancouver waterfront layout. Colin is the 5th from the left at the back.

Colin Dover's Vancouver waterfront layout truly captures the fun of big city industrial waterfront railroading in a prototypical arrangement. The enjoyment of running locals through tight track between large warehouses is one of the main attractions to Colin's layout. The presence of both CP and GN traffic trackage adds another level of interest and challenge for the operators. The layout features many accurate mock ups of numerous large industrial buildings located in downtown Vancouver and Colin has completed significant research to ensure he captures the environment as accurately as possible. Being effectively all yard limits means no dispatcher or train orders. Crews really enjoy the switching aspects of the layout which is a fairly popular aspect of most operating sessions.

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Seth Neumann (back to camera) dispatching on Brian Pate's KMR layout with Dan Thompson receiving his orders while Mark Johnson (right) seems to be enjoying himself with that smile on his face!

Brian Pate's Klondike Mines Railway has hosted guests for all the VanRail events to date. A double deck layout with beautiful scenery and structures, it is very pleasurable to operate, and from all accounts the guests this year had a great time. The significant interchange between the narrow gauge KMR and the standard gauge CPR adds a lot of operational interest for people to enjoy. Brian uses a timetable and train order system with LED "order boards" at all TO stations. This is a very effective solution for communicating with the crews. Operators have an opportunity to run a variety of different trains from locals to mainline passenger trains to the "special" train that handles GOLD! He has an LED detector system installed in his helix so you can monitor your progress as the train spirals its way from deck to deck. After hosting sessions on all 3 days, Brian was looking forward to a well earned rest!

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Kent Williams (left) switching in Klondike City on Brian Pate’s KMR while Dave Doiron (right) wonders why the photographer is interrupting his work at Dawson City.
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Dave Liesse operating a log train on Carl Sparks Seymour Valley RR.

Carl Sparks' Seymour Valley Logging layout is a real treat to operate for a small crew, and on Friday the Liesse family took over the layout. While only handling a 3 person crew, it keeps everyone busy without much rest. One of the most unique aspects of the layout is the operating incline up a 30% grade! Careful attention to handling the loaded log cars down this steep gradient is essential and no run-aways were reported this time, so kudos to the guests. The layout also features some interesting animation such as an operating tramway at the mine and a raging forest fire on the horizon. The level of detailing on the layout is very appealing as well and the layout is populated with many beautifully detailed scratch built structures.

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Ed Liesse (left) looking over the yard on Steve Starks E&N layout while Pete Cressman (right) runs the switcher. Don Mitchell in the background.

Steve Stark's extensive N Scale E&N layout was another new addition to the VanRail offering this year, and was operated on two days of the event. He has captured the true essence of the Vancouver Island railroading and there are numerous accurate scenes and structures on the layout. Steve uses the color Avery dots on the top of cars to manage the car forwarding - after all, those N scale reporting marks are so darn hard to read!! This is one of those rare layouts where most of the scenery is virtually complete. Crews have a choice of many mainline trains as well as locals and yard duties, and 5 channel radio headsets are used for communications between the dispatcher and crews.

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Steve Stark (far right) explains the operation of one of the yards on his N scale E&N layout to Pete Cressman (left) and Dave Falkenburg (centre)

We appreciated all the positive feedback from the attendees and have committed to hosting another VanRail event in September 2013. Feel free to email the author at scottcalvert@shaw.ca if you want more information on the event, or wish to be added to the invitation list.

Page updated: 2012 January 10
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