Steam locomotives from the 19th century and 3D printers from the 21st are forming an unlikely partnership. And it’s happening in downtown Parksville.
Parksville’s MakerSpace will unveil its new model railroad room Sunday, Jan. 21, with a workshop and demo for model railroad enthusiasts and those interested in learning more about the hobby.
The session will start at 1 p.m. in the Parksville MakerSpace, located in the basement of the McMillan Arts Centre building at 133 McMillan Ave.
“We’re trying to integrate the cyberworld with what I call the crafty bunch,” said Allan Clark, a longtime model railroader who teamed with MakerSpace member Jim Bennett to conceive the model railroad room.
He coaxed local MakerSpace founder and director John Eyre to consider space for model rail enthusiasts as a logical base for another group of tinkerers and crafters, who may also benefit from the expertise of those who work in other disciplines.
“I’m happy to have the model railroading group in here, not because I have a history or interest myself, but because I can see a whole range of things you can do with a model railway that would fit everybody’s interest,” said Eyre.
“There’s woodworking, model house-building and scenery, painting backgrounds and setting up tracks. And you can use all the electronic control systems we have here to control the trains. The computer guys or control systems and electronics people can get in there, as well.”
Eyre put that to the test himself when, at the request of Clark, he modeled a sand dome for Clark’s refurbished steam locomotive and then printed it using one of the three, 3D printers at MakerSpace.
“I could do that on a lathe,” Clark admitted. “But it was like a nightmare. It was an exercise, too. I wanted to see if John could actually do it, and he took that as a challenge.”
Sunday’s workshop will include classes on model railroading and a demonstration on how to build scenery — including a “mountain” with a tunnel that Clark has already started using cardboard lath strips, a wood frame, several layers of plaster and some paint.
Bennett said the new room could be a space for those who would like to try model railroading but who don’t have the space in their own homes or garages. It could also benefit those who have previously operated model railroads but who have downsized and can no longer keep them at home.
“This layout we’ve got here is going to be an operating railroad,” said Bennett, adding their will be a portable module that can be removed and taken to link with other HO-scale railroads, including at gatherings like the Vancouver Model Train Show. “We’ll have a warehouse here, and an operation to get a rail car here and take it to the warehouse for loading, then pick up another car.
“Rather than just watching the train go around in a circle, you’re actually operating it.”
Eyre described MakerSpace as a place for “STEM” practitioners — those oriented toward science, technology, electronics and math. Parksville MakerSpace includes computers, printers and other peripherals, a woodshop, a craft room with large tables, training and tutoring space, the new model railroad room and even a break room with pool and ping-pong tables.
All he needs is members to populate it, he said.
“When John told us his vision for the MakerSpace and asked us how we could help him make it grow, I knew, via my neighbour Allan, there were quite a number of model train guys. With model railroading you’re making something, but also in my early discussions I saw it was a way to help grow MakerSpace.”