Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group
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Saskatoon Western Development Museum


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SRM Annual Model Railroad Talks - 2009


This series of talks is designed for both first time builders as well as experienced model railroaders.  This year, we will narrow our scope somewhat so that we can discuss the topics in greater detail.  As always, questions are very welcome.  The talks and demonstrations will be given by members of the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group who are in their 17th year at the museum and their 13th year of giving these talks.  

LOCATION:  Western Development Museum, 2610 Lorne Avenue, Saskatoon.  Phone 931-1910.

Adding Signals to Your Model Railroad                                                                             Sunday 1 February 2009, 2:00 p.m.
Signals on a model railroad are an eye catching scenery feature and quite useful as well.  We keep costs down by building out own signals and would like to show you how.  We will provide some basic material to get you started.

Heritage Festival - No Talk as SRM Runs the BiG                                                                 Sunday 8 February 2009, all day
The BiG Railway is our Large Scale portable layout that we set up for special occasions.  Drop by and visit us.  If you have not tried Digital Command Control yet, or even if you have, come and run a train.

Switches for Your Model Railroad                                                                                         Sunday 15 February 2009, 2:00 p.m.
Track switches or “turnouts” add more fun to the railroad.  We will discuss different types and their installation, care and upkeep.  We will also show how to wire the signals we built to show which way the switches are set.

Streets and Roads for Your Model Railroad                                                                         Sunday 22 February 2009, 2:00 p.m.
No scenery is complete without streets and roads.   From dirt roads to gravel roads to paved highways  we can build them easily with a bit of plaster.

PRW Train Show - NO TALK but come anyway!                                   Saturday 28 February & Sunday 1 March 2009, all day
The boys from Saskatoon  Railroad Modellers will be running their BiG Railway this weekend as part of the PRW Annual Train Show.  We hope to see you there..  

Air Brushing on and Around Your Railroad                                                                                Sunday 8 March 2009, 2:00 p.m.
With an air brush, you can apply colour quickly to large areas and very smoothly and precisely to small areas.  We will demonstrate scenery and car painting using acrylic paints.

Couplers and Trucks                                                                                                                  Sunday 15 March 2009, 2:00 p.m.
Tuning up wheels, axles, trucks and couplers for better operation.  We will also discuss the various types of couplers now in use and how to live with them

Trees and Bushes for Your Railroad                                                                                           Sunday 22 March 2009, 2:00 p.m.
There are a variety of trees and bushes in the real world and a variety of ways to make them  for our model world.  We will demonstrate the ones that work well for us.

Making and Applying Decals                                                                                                      Sunday 29 March 2009, 2:00 p.m.
You can make your own custom decals for Locomotives, rolling stock, road vehicles, store signs etc. All you need is access to a computer and an inkjet printer.  We are still learning about this ourselves so it should be interesting!

Cost:  Regular admission rates will apply.  It is suggested that individuals or families planning on attending many of these talks consider purchasing a yearly membership for as little as $35.  Membership includes many benefits in addition to these talks.

History of the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group

The Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group was formed on 4 November 1991 for the express purpose of building a publically activated HO-scale model railroad diorama at the Saskatoon Branch of the Western Development Museum. After almost a year spent drawing up plans, nailing down specifications and hammering out a contract, work on the diorama was started on 4 October 1992. By 9 May 1993, two trains were operating automatically at the push of a button. Named "Rails North - Prairie to Parkland" the glassed-in diorama is reminiscent of the first north-south Saskatchewan rail line extending from the flatlands in the south of the province to the woods of the north. The diorama, like the Boomtown theme of the rest of the museum, is set in the period prior to World War One. Two Canadian Northern Railway trains, typical of the period, travel across a prairie scene centered on Saskatoon. The first train, northbound, brings in settlers to work the land. The second train, southbound, takes out their produce. The trains run unattended except for occasional maintenance, making an average of 15,000 trips each per year.

The "Rails North - Prairie to Parklands" exhibit, and the later additions that are detailed below were built as a joint project between the Western Development Museum and the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group. The museum provided the materials to build the outer walls enclosing the diorama and necessary work space and continues to provide the space, the heat and the light as well as other amenities. The Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group provided the materials to build the diorama, the trains and electronics to operate it, and the labour and expertise to put it all together, and continues to provide upgrading and maintenance. This has been a good arrangement for all concerned - the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group gets serviced space that they could not otherwise afford; the museum gets a popular exhibit that they could not otherwise afford, and the public gets an interesting exhibit and a source of information on model railroading subjects.

By 1995, the popularity of the "Rails North - Prairie to Parkland" exhibit was well established and the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group had learned some lessons about exhibiting model trains. These lessons affected the next developments of their display. The first lesson was that people, particularly young people, enjoyed taking part in the display, even if that involvement was only pushing the button to make it start. With that in mind, and with the consent of the museum, the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group set up a toy train display featuring Lionel trains from the fifties and modern gauge one trains representing trains from the turn of the century. These trains were set on simple loops of tracks on the floor of an elevated, furnished room behind a large glass viewing window. The exhibit, called "The Railroader's Livingroom" is reminiscent of how toy trains were often run on the parlour carpet. Most importantly, the trains can be run by the public without the attention of the museum or group personnel. The controls were kept simple - a push-button to start the trains and engage a timer, and a throttle lever for each train. This exhibit has required relatively more maintenance than the HO-scale exhibit, mostly in the form of track and wheel cleaning and lubrication.

The second lesson learned by the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers was that there is a great deal of interest in model railroads, as distinct from the diorama itself. The public likes to see people operating a model railroad. The service space behind the diorama has slowly been developed into a working model railroad, which together with the diorama, can be manually operated as a large model railroad with several engineers. The original intention was that from time to time when group members were present, they could remove the backdrop separating the diorama from its service space and allow the public to view a large model railroad being operated. In practice, it turned out that as little as one engineer operating a switcher to make up and set out a small train is enough to draw a large crowd. Surprisingly, it turned out that the public also like to view a model railroad even when it is not in operation. The Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group had anticipated that an occasional model railroader might like to have a look at the service space if a group member happened to have it open. Based on this anticipation, they had included a small foyer inside the access door to the service space. However, it was inadequate to handle the crowds which came in whenever the access door was open. As a result, in 1997 the group, in co-operation with the museum, expanded this viewing space and installed a glassed partition to allow the public to view the behind-the-scenes working of the diorama and the model railroad in the service space.

The third lesson learned by the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group was that people like the chance to talk about model railroading. A surprisingly large percentage of the public come forward with stories about the toys trains and model railroads of their youth, or about a friend's or relative's layout. A smaller percentage come seeking information on building their own model railroads. Many of these people are already active model railroader but have no interest in joining a club. Yet they want something beyond what they can learn from books alone. The Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group was ideally situated to cater to this segment of the public. To do so, the group, in co-operation with the museum, started in 1996 to give an annual series of talks on model railroad subjects. These talks have been well received, with a number of attendees returning again the next year. Partly as an outgrowth of these talks, the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group decided in 1998 to start a web site - the site where you are right now.

SRM Inside the Museum

The Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group has fallen into the habit of meeting at the museum on Saturday mornings to check on the HO diorama and the toy train exhibit and to have a chance to discuss model railroading among themselves and with members of the public. One week it may be a technical discussion on the best way to wire signals on an outdoor layout and the next week it may be showing a youngster and a parent how to clean engine wheels. Saturday afternoons in the winter are used to work on the model railroad behind the scenes and to run it manually just for fun. Then on Sundays in February and March the annual series of lectures on model railroad subjects is presented. Life is busy inside the museum.

SRM Outside the Museum

The four members of the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group collectively maintain seven layouts in addition to their layout at the museum. Three of these layouts are HO-scale, three are Large Scale garden layouts, and one is a Large Scale portable layout designed for exhibition at train shows. Eventually all of these layouts will be featured on the photo tours that are part of this site.

Paying the Rent - Advice to other model railroad groups and clubs.

Free rent was not the primary nor even a secondary consideration in the decision by the Saskatoon Railroad Modellers group to pursue a relationship with the Western Development Museum. However, the group members are still well aware that having rent-free space has been and is of great economic benefit to the group. It is no exaggeration to say that the Prairie to Parkland railroad would never have been built without it - the group simply could not afford to rent the required space.

Other model railroad clubs may want to pursue a rent-free option when it comes to their layout. In addition to museums, there are many other locations where a rent-free agreement may be possible - local libraries, civic centers, neighbourhood malls and possibly schools to name a few. The advantages of free rent are obvious. Some direct advantages are: more money to spend on the layout, lower membership fees, and being able to leave the layout set up all the time. These lead to indirect advantages, such as a better layout, more members to help build and enjoy it, less time wasted on frequent set-ups and more time available to enjoy building it and running the trains.

Free rent, however, comes at a price. The body granting free rent can only afford to do so if there is some benefit in return. For a school or library, the return might lie within their mandate to educate, for a civic center, it might be attracting tourists and for a mall, it would likely be the ability to attract more customers. This in turn will mean that club members must put on shows and meet the public regularly at times that are convenient to the host, even if not convenient to the club members. It will mean extra work for the club executive to manage volunteers and check that operating schedules are being met. It will mean working and operating under the constant watch of the public. And it will mean the layout is accessible only during hours set by the host.

If yours is a club that prefers to work in private, if yours is a club that prefers to work as the mood strikes and sometimes not at all, if yours is a club that believes your model railroad is for your own benefit only, or worst of all, if yours is a club that cannot put on a decent show and interact with the public at the same time, then free rent is not for you. On the other hand, if yours is a club that can pass the tests, then you have the chance of reaping benefits far exceeding just the saving of the cost of rent.


this page was last updated 4 January 2000, 22 January 2009