Historic Airphotos

April 20, 2018

I recently ordered some historical airphotos of the Fort St John area to help with trackplanning and for general prototype reference.   I used the BC Government airphoto service


The process of selecting airphotos is more intuitive than it used to be, but still takes a bit of work.  The actual online ordering process is quite easy once you know the scans you need.

Photo coverage maps can now be viewed in Google Earth, from which individual scans can be ordered.   I selected images from 1967, 1970, 1971 and my modelling year 1978.  The images were shipped on a CD as tiff images.   The approximate cost including shipping to New Zealand was $100.  The image files covered quite a large area so I made some Jpeg clips of the Fort St John yard below.

The resolution varies between years, but in some cases it is possible to make out specific freight car types.   Unfortunately I have no information on the date the images were taken, other than the year, but given that trees are in full leaf it can be assumed that they are summer images for each year.

One interesting feature of note is that the line heading north to Fort Nelson appears in the 1970 image.  While the overall tracklayout of the yard is relatively consistent, the density of industrial buildings and surrounding housing increases noticeably over the years.

Note.  You can view each image full size by clicking the ‘Full Resolution Image (Opens in New Tab)’ link below each image overview.

Image 1.   1967 1967_BC5269_028_12n_clip2Full Resolution Image (Opens in New Tab)


Image 2. 19701970_BC7279_148_14n_clip2

Full Resolution Image (Opens in New Tab)


Image 3. 19711971_BC5439_246_14n_clip2

Full Resolution Image (Opens in New Tab)


Image 4. 19781978_BC78043_028_14n_clip2

Full Resolution Image (Opens in New Tab)


So it was fairly obvious right from the beginning that the single room light wasn’t going to be good enough for layout lighting.  Because I didn’t want to install a permanent overhead shelf for lighting, I figured I would end up just having to position some standing lamps or some other less than ideal solution.




I did some thinking about a hinged fold up lighting canopy (to enable access to the storage closet) but wasn’t sure how it would support heavy strip lighting which is what I had always used on previous layouts.    A trip to Bunnings (our version of Home Depot) provided the solution.  I found some cheap artist canvasses 40 inches x 16 inches in size that were extremely light.  Three canvasses joined together spanned the length of the layout. These were easily be attached on hollow core door backdrop with hinges.   Then I found some cool white strip LEDs for the very reasonable price of $55 for 5 metres.   Two packs of those were more than enough to light the entire layout in 3 strips.



The LEDs come with a self -adhesive backing.  The verdict is out on whether this will hold to the wood frame long term so I have used some clear push pins for extra support. The worst case scenario is that I will have to permanently mount the LED strips using contact cement at some point.




So for a couple of hundred dollars I was able to create a fold down lightweight lighting canopy complete with cool white LED lights that run bright and cool and draw minimal power.



Initial Trackplanning

February 3, 2018

I’ve been sketching out a rough trackplan of Fort St. John yard this weekend.   It was quite a challenge to fit all the elements in that I wanted, given the 11.5 ft wall length of a small New Zealand spare room.  I tightened up the main curve radius to 14 inches and plan to use some Atlas #5 turnouts in tight places, rather than my preferred #7s.  The trackplan is also heavily edited down from the prototype track layout.

There is nowhere in New Zealand to easily buy N scale track and turnouts so I am hoping to buy everything needed for the yard on a trip to Australia in a few weeks.





A nice feature of New Zealand life is the way that the Country effectively shuts down over the summer holidays.  Most companies are closed for two full weeks and Auckland especially empties out completely.  This provided time to repaint the spare room and complete the basic benchwork.

I have learned all the hard lessons from my previous layout attempts so I made the benchwork for this one simple, light and most importantly, portable.   The construction is essentially a series of hollow core interior doors mounted on L-girder framework.   The backdrops are also hollow core doors and can be removed.

In order to minimize the issue of tracks crossing baseboard joins, I configured the benchwork with a full length door at the centre and two 28 inch off-cuts at either end.  This way the bulk of the classification yard will be entirely contained within the central section with just a few tracks crossing the joins.

One compromise necessary for ‘planning permission’ was easy access to the closet in the corner.  For this I designed a drop-down leaf with a hinged leg.    It works quite elegantly and uses a hinged leg with a barrel bolt lock on the leg to prevent it from collapsing when in operation.   The backdrop extends behind the closet door with sufficient clearance that it did not need to be hinged.  Also helping planning permission was the impressive amount of stuff that could be stored under the benchwork upon completion.  This will be screened with some curtains eventually.

The following images show the progress over the last couple of weeks.  As an aside, modelling a Canadian prototype with palm trees swaying outside seems so wrong, but feels so right










Track Plan.

December 25, 2017

The space available for the layout is a spare room that is 11.5 x 8 feet. It is not a lot of space so a small shelf layout design is proposed.  Fort St. John will be modelled in a simplified compressed way.   I have also decided to backdate the layout to 1978 because trains and individual items of rolling stock were shorter then compared with the 2000s which is when my previous layouts were set.

The plan is to construct the layout on a series of hollow core interior doors. Atlas code 55  track and turnouts will be used. Minimum radius will be 15″.

..and we’re back

November 14, 2017

Well.  That was an interesting few years.   In 2015 I unexpectedly found myself moving to New Zealand after 16 years living in Alberta Canada.   The move was primarily due to the miserable economic situation and lack of job prospects in Calgary at the time and was only supposed to be for 2 years.

Those 2 years have passed and things really aren’t that much better in Calgary at all.  Perhaps predictably, I have realized that New Zealand is actually a pretty great place to live and it looks like I am here for a longer term.

Now that I am settled I have had a wave of enthusiasm to get back into the hobby.  This site will document the joys and frustrations of trying to model the old BCR while living thousands of miles away from it.

A more permanent housing situation is in store for 2018 and with it a small room for a layout.   Stay tuned for further updates.