A Visit to Mike Hamer’s Boston & Maine in HO

I spent the weekend in Ottawa, travelling on Via trains 40 on the way there and 45 to get back home. Travelling by train was, unsurprisingly, a joy that will never grow old for me, despite the fact that both trains were just minutes under an hour late arriving at their destination.

The highlights of my trip were the morning spent at the National Gallery and our visit with Mike and Lisa Hamer. It turns out that I have much in common with Mike – we’re both musicians and teachers. We also appreciate railroad modelling in a similar way. Mike collaborated with me in writing this post. I couldn’t get all the details correct without his help.

Mike’s layout is deceptive. It photographs really well and it leaves the impression of being much larger than it actually is. A big piece of Mike’s layout is an urban scene comprised of enough structures to populate a much larger layout, and Mike has enough structures on dioramas to fill a modest sized layout quite comfortably.

Next time I visit, I’m going to spend less time taking photos and more time running trains. Here are some highlights.

A pair of B&M 'bluebirds' hauls a freight across a river valley. The northeast states are unquestionably invoked in this scene.

A pair of B&M ‘bluebirds’ hauls a freight across the Haney Gorge. The northeast states are unquestionably invoked in this scene.

In the photo above, Boston and Maine inbound train N2, in care of GP9 Bluebirds 1746 and 1701, steps across the New England River Bridge at Haney Gorge. Note the “billboard” paint schemes on these McGinnis units. The wife of then B&M president Patrick B. McGinnis designed the stylized “B” over “M” as she had done in a similar vein with the New Haven’s “N” over “H” logo when her husband was president of that railroad. These two units were part of an order of fifty new GP9’s that replaced the B&M’s weary fleet of FT’s. While many railfans mourned the loss of the maroon and gold Minuteman scheme on Boston and Maine diesels, one certainly cannot doubt the colour of railroading!


Above, a trio of GP7’s heads up Boston and Maine train PM3 across the New England River Bridge on a sunny May afternoon. The train is under a slow order restriction as it will enter Marshall Cut upon exiting the gorge. B&M units 1566 and 1568 are versatile geeps. Note the train lighting equipment box on their long hoods that enables them to pull passenger equipment for the railroad when not running manifest freights. Trevor Marshall super detailed and painted the 1566.

First generation diesels abound on Mike's layout. Here, a mix of F3 and FT cab units pass an RS-3 spotting a gondola on an industrial siding.

First generation diesels abound on Mike’s layout. Here, a mix of F2 and FT cab units pass the North Dover Station while an RS-3 spots a gondola at Phillips Furniture.

In the photo above, B&M train MP2 arrives North Dover where it will exchange traffic at the outbound end of the yard. F2 diesel locomotive #4255 leads FT AB pairing #4217 on this day. In the mid 1940`s, B&M management realized early on that the FT ABBA quartets were too much power for their trains, so the company purchased an order of F2`s to improve power to train ratios. When the FT`s were retired and parts used on the new order of GP9 Bluebirds, the phase-in period took sufficient time to allow Mike the opportunity to run both types of locomotives on his railroad.

Mike's ability with modelling structures is clear in this overview of an urban scene.

Mike’s ability with modelling structures is clear in this overview of North Dover.

Above, the bells are ringing as B&M train MP2 passes the depot in North Dover. This train left Mechanicville, NY in the morning and will complete its run in Portland, ME later in the day. Mike chose to call his town North Dover to give him artistic license to bring his favourite scenes from around New England to the layout. Mike tells us that his model railroad showcases his skills shortly after he entered the hobby of model railroading. He now likes to spend his time scratchbuilding and constructing craftsman kits for dioramas. He also enjoys building structures for others and working on and operating friend`s layouts.

Testing Sergent Couplers and iPhone Throttle

A couple of days ago, I visited Trevor Marshall and his Port Rowan S scale layout and had a chance to try out two different pieces of equipment that have piqued my interest of late.


CNR 1560 is working the Daily Effort in this shot from 1955. Taken from an adjacent field, the photo shows a wooden van being shoved down the run-around track at Port Rowan so the crew can begin the process of setting out two cars and lifting two more for the return trip.

Trevor fitted enough equipment with Sergent couplers so that he could run an operating session.   We used the Sergent-equipped fleet to run the Daily Effort to Port Rowan and back.  I can say that I like the look of the Sergent couplers, without a doubt.   Their functionality was very good, but still left a bit to be desired.  I like the fact that the couplers require a stop for alignment, just before coupling.   Some might find that tedious.   The uncoupling process functioned flawlessly, but there were a few instances when the knuckles didn’t lock after the couplers were mated.  This could be a matter of fine tuning, lubricating, or break-in.  Overall, I was impressed enough to consider running some test on my home layout (I’ll have to actually build that layout first). Until I’ve had some time to use them at home, and until Trevor has had the opportunity to work out the bugs on his, I’ll reserve judgement.  I’m very hopeful that this will work out.

It was about halfway through the operating session that Trevor mentioned his iPod app that he uses as a throttle.  I switched from the regular Lenz throttle to the iPod app and thoroughly loved it.  The app is called TouchCab and it only works on iPods and iPhones through a wifi interface to the Lenz DCC system.

I like that the app uses icons to represent the various functions (the whistle looks like a whistle graphic, the bell looks like a bell, etc.) which made me much more confident while running a train.  Speed is controlled by swiping across the screen, and is represented on screen by a graphic showing throttle setting from 0-100%.

IMG_3056The best thing about the app is that it completely removes the need for the user to think about what the different numbers on the throttle mean.  Also, having been a Mac user for nearly two decades, both professionally and for my personal use, I find the interface familiar and comfortable.  For context, I don’t own my own DCC system, so I’m always operating as a guest on another person’s layout.  So far, I’ve used NCE, Digitrax, and Lenz handheld throttles.  I find all three to be different renditions of clunky and alienating.

Clearly, the throttle app is not for everyone.  As I step closer to the major purchase of a DCC system for my home layout, the ability to run a throttle app has become a significant factor for me to consider.