Robert Turner

Like a lot of us, my start in model trains began with a train set. My first one was a wind-up Hornby 0-4-0 with a circle of track, which eventually by age six, morphed into an American Flyer 4-4-2, a log car and a caboose at Christmas time. Then there was no turning back and a layout followed. By about age 12, I’d progressed to HO with an Athearn GP9 (rubber band drive) in Great Northern colours, a railway I’ve always had a keen interest in since seeing the International at the Peach Arch in the early 1950s. With in a few years I’d joined the Victoria Model Railway club (Steve Stark was also a member as was my brother Bill), and we enjoyed time with the fellows there and got lots of good advice from experienced modellers. A little later, I built my first scratchbuilt car, a D&RGW drop bottom gon. It won a second in a contest the club had, which was encouraging. I’ve attached a picture taken a couple of years ago. A trip to Colorado in the early 60s gave me Narrow Gauge Fever, that I’ve never been able to cure, leading to more modelling in HOn3 and about 25 years ago (eyesight changes!) to working in On3. I also was fascinated by the Island’s logging railways, and modelled them in HO as well as photographing them. N scale had a turn too. I built a module for Victoria Ntrak, and modelled CP and GN until I found it a bit small to work on. And so it goes. I still model in On3 focusing on Colorado narrow gauge, and HO logging, particularly Vancouver Island and Rayonier in Washington. Oh, yes, there are the Milwaukee Road’s wonderful electrics…what can I say?... that I’ve found fascinating since seeing them first in 1969. I’ve had several dioramas and a couple of layouts in those years, but only test tracks at present. What I’ve enjoyed most recently with the narrow gauge is modelling a locomotive and cars to a specific time period or better yet a specific date. The San Juan and Shavano trains are in the plans. Many of the RGS/D&RGW/C&S engines ran for 50 years, so focusing down to, say, the summer of 1939 takes some research and making lots of changes to a locomotive, while matching weathering as closely as possible to specific photos. I like to use real coal (from Colorado) and cinders from locomotives in this process. I have some On3 engines completed, and I hope to do a couple each year, as well as modelling some of Comox Logging’s and Rayonier’s engines in HO.
I worked at the Royal BC Museum for 20 years and in the 1970s we ran the BC Provincial Museum Train. It included displays of the steam era in BC, that featured many dioramas. I worked on a lot of those with my friend Dave Parker, and I built models of K&S passenger cars, rebuilt locomotives and cars for logging scenes and others. Dave and I also measured buildings and researched many structures including the E&N roundhouse in Victoria, a Cumberland coal mine, logging scenes and others. Most of those models are still on exhibit either at the Royal BC Museum or at museums elsewhere in BC. Lindsay Models in North Van built the dioramas to our specs, documents and photos, and they did a beautiful job.
I have also been writing for magazines doing product and book reviews, railway history pieces and modelling articles.That has always been enjoyable. I have written mostly for Railroad Model Craftsman, but also for N Scale, as well has historical pieces for CP Tracks, CN Lines and other history magazines and journals. So far I’ve done over 400 articles. One day, foolishly… because I had no idea what was involved..., I decided to write a book, and a few years later, Vancouver Island Railroads, published in 1973, was the result. I’ve also had a long-time interest in maritime history, so The Pacific Princesses and The Pacific Empresses followed… both part of Canadian Pacific history. Then books on the CPR’s sternwheelers, and the CPR in BC followed. I also did a book on Colorado narrow gauge, The Thunder of Their Passing, and more recently, with my late friend Dave Wilkie, one on the K&S narrow gauge and another on the Boundary District mines and railways (CP and GN). Two large books on the Esquimalt & Nanaimo came along co-authored with the late Don MacLachlan, a retired E&N engineer, CPR modeller and good friend. Then on to a big book on the Yukon River steamers (including many White Pass and Alaska Railroad boats). Over the last 20 years I’ve done a lot of travelling to document the last working steam railways around the world, and that is leading to three books, two of which are awaiting publication and the third, which will be my 21st book, I hope to finish this year (if I can get to Europe for a few more pictures). Travels to China led to modelling a Chinese QJ 2-10-2, that I rode through the mountains of Inner Mongolia, a small diversion from my main themes for models. Photography? Yes, indeed. That seems to go hand in hand with history research and modelling, and I’ve had about 4000 photos published so far (including a lot of natural history subjects, along with many model railway pictures).
Travels to distant places like Western China in the winter for documentary photography was especially rewarding, if not warm. Often it was -20 with a wind blowing from Siberia, but to ride with the friendly engine crew of a hand-fired coal burner was like being in time machine, and an amazing education for someone studying transportation history and technology. I’ve interviewed many railway people from BC and elsewhere, and this sort of experience brought a lot of those interviews to life, to really see what CPR or Rio Grande veterans had explaining to me. A Chinese QJ 2-10-2 and a CPR engine on the Kettle Valley or in the Rockies have a lot in common. The photo of me is from a crew shack at the Sandoling coal mine in western China in January a few years ago. This is one of the very last places on earth where large steam engines (at last reports in 2020) are still working. Such trips also led to a much greater appreciation of the different approaches to railway engineering and equipment, which in turn will lead to some models of sugar cane railways in Java and the Philippines, that will join a model of an East German fireless tank engine, the life sized version of which is still running in Germany.