Dear Rapido Customer,
Factory Special Report:
The Canadian Has Left The Building.
It is my pleasure to finally be able to tell you that the first shipment of The Canadian, CP Block set #210001, has left the factory and is en route for Canada. It will travel by ocean from Hong Kong to Prince Rupert, at which point it will be loaded onto a CN intermodal freight for the rest of its journey to Vaughan, Ontario. Shipment of the most ambitious model railroad project that we have ever attempted has finally begun.
In this newsletter special report, I'll take you through the last few days of production at the factory, including loads of behind-the-scenes photos that you don't normally see in the hobby press.
Now every time I include factory photos in a newsletter at least one of you writes me an email in big, bold letters telling me to "bring these factory jobs back to the U S of A."
For the record, were we ever to start our own model train factory in North America, it would most likely be located in CANADA. So you will probably be more accurate if you tell me to bring these factory jobs back to the CA NA of DA.
Though this photo is from a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a good place to start. This is the last two FP9A shells for set #210001 being prepared for parts assembly. The shells have been injected, the mould parting lines have been sanded off; the shells have been painted; and they have had their striping and lettering applied with pad printing machines. Now the grab iron holes are being drilled onto the noses by a CNC drilling machine. The next step will be to start putting on the more than 100 extra parts. The total parts count for the FP9A locomotive is close to 400.
You are probably wondering: "why do you have to drill the holes? Can't the holes be on the mould?" The reason is twofold. Firstly, we can only inject holes that are in the same plane as the movement of the mould, and grab irons on the corners of the nose are not in the plane of the mould. See the illustration below.
The second reason is that there are several different possible grab iron locations for the FP9A locomotive. Even from one locomotive to the next in a specific paint scheme there are variations in grab iron locations. Similarly, the FP9A roof details varied quite a bit. All of the mounting holes for those grab irons and detail parts need to be drilled, otherwise on some engines you would have mounting holes with no parts installed in them. My crazy desire for accurate details for each FP9A locomotive road number means that we have to go through these extra steps. You can read the prototype FP9A Spotter's Guide by clicking here and you can take the FP9A Master Class (showing all of the CN and CP variations) by clicking here.
That CNC machine in the photo is the only one we have. And every time the mounting hole angle changes, we need to reset the supports holding the shells with Allen keys. Our FP9A production run numbers in the thousands. Every one of those shells must go through that CNC machine (on average) eight different times. Now you see why production takes so long. Hopefully the profits from The Canadian will allow us to buy a better machine...
Now we move forward to the last few days. The photo above shows the nose grab irons being installed on the FP9A shells.
Before you send me angry emails, I need to clarify the age of our factory workers. All of the workers at our factory are 18 and over, but you would never believe it by looking at them. My second favourite restaurant in Dongguan is the Upper Cave Man Art Club, a wonderful vegetarian tea house and restaurant in the heart of Dongguan City (though ask the price of the tea before you order as some of it is over a hundred dollars a pot - ask me how I learned this). Convinced that our regular waitress was 14, I finally asked her age. "三十一岁" was her reply. That's 31.
Maybe it's something in the water in southern China, but workers who are in their 20s all look to be about 12. The fountain of youth thing starts early. When I buy clothes for my five-year-old daughter in China, I need to buy clothes labelled for eight-year-olds.
Although it is illegal, I am sure child labour still exists in places in China. But you are much more likely to find child labour in the textile factories of India and Indonesia than the injection and assembly factories of southern China. There are very strict laws about child labour in China, and in the model train factories those laws are very rigidly adhered to.
In the photo above, workers are installing and testing the lighting circuit boards in the passenger cars. Unlike our Super Continental Line cars, the lighting in The Canadian is track powered. It will work on DC or DCC, and each car has a capacitor so there is no flicker.
Here the factory workers are installing the completed shells onto the completed underbodies and interiors of the Skyline and Park Cars. The guy on the right (you can just see his hands) is testing the lighting again to make sure that none of the wires got broken while the shells were being put on. It's a very tight fit.
Here's another photo of the testing process. The fellow on the right is testing lighting circuits while the guy on the left is checking coupler height. The diner on his test track has the coupler at the correct height and he checks every coupler against it.
The F9B models are assembled and are waiting for installation of the really fragile details, which are done last. The really fragile bits are the Steam Generator Blow Down vent on the roof, the speed recorder, and the truck end beams. They go on last to ensure that they aren't broken off during assembly and inspection.
Here the truck beams and the speed recorders are being installed. This is very finicky work, and I think I would go insane if I was doing this sort of thing all day. Installing grabs in my own kitbashed models is quite enough for me.
Every FP9A is tested twice. First it is tested with the shell off so factory inspectors can immediately fix any broken wires or replace any circuit boards that are not working properly. You can see the headlight, number board, class light and ditch light LEDs all lit on these chassis being tested.
The locomotives are tested again, after they have been assembled. This ensures that nothing got smacked during assembly. In this photo you can see the illuminated searchlights on the CP FP9A roofs.
In addition to testing the FP9A locomotive functions, the models are also inspected for visual blemishes, parts broken or installed incorrectly, paint chips, etc. This is called QC, or Quality Control. Because the models pass through so many hands in the assembly process, it is possible that something will get scratched or banged up while it is being built. If the problem can't be fixed, the shell is junked. But usually the people at the factory can work their magic and the shells can be used.
In the photo above, the QC inspector in the foreground is checking the locomotive, while the workers in the background are making repairs. She has found the horn is missing on the roof and there appears to be a smudge just behind the horn mounting position.
The passenger cars also get checked for any appearance issues, and they are fixed up prior to packaging. Yes, I know the woman on the left looks about 11. She probably has two kids.
Actually, I'm not entirely kidding. After my last newsletter, someone posted on our Facebook page a question about the age of the "boy" working the Tampo pad printing machine. The "boy" in question was Wan, who is in his 30s, is married and has a son.
Before final packaging all models are given a final inspection and a thorough cleaning. We try and remove all traces of skin oils and fingerprints at this stage. With literally thousands of models being packaged, sometimes a fingerprint gets through. You can just wipe it off with a soft cloth like the woman is doing in the photo.
True Story. We once had a passenger car returned to us because it had a fingerprint on it. There was an angry note with the box that said "What kind of QC do you have in your factory? SOMEBODY ACTUALLY TOUCHED THIS MODEL!"
Well how else would model trains be made? Much to my ongoing dismay, we have not yet invented a telekinetic model train factory where models are assembled by the power of the mind. But we are not people to take such criticism lying down, so for a while we experimented with alternative methods of model assembly:
Meet Janice, Bolshevik and Schmidt - three examples of our experimental Departmental Assembly and Labour Efficiency Kinesis devices. We tried using these to assemble our models with, I must shamefully admit, disastrous results. Their complete lack of opposable digits caused no end of trouble. Added to that, their name was a bit of a mouthful. It took forever just to explain the simplest of tasks: "If we could just move those Departmental Assembly and Labour Efficiency Kinesis-es over to the tampo room and move the Departmental Assembly and Labour Efficiency Kinesis-es from there to the assembly room it would be a great time saver." We couldn't think of any way to shorten the title for these metallic munchkins, so we had to scrap them and go back to using humans, as inefficient and fingerprint‑y as they are.
There are over 300 sets of 210001, and each one comes in a Really Big Box. Here you can see the tampo room has been overrun with packaging materials for The Canadian.
Those of you who have read my recent blog entry (available here) will know this goody bit already. Each Canadian comes with a package of 100 monogrammed cocktail napkins, four reproduction CP or VIA swizzle sticks, and a stemless monogrammed Scotch or wine glass. We want you to enjoy your Canadian in style. You can see them in the packaging above. When you open your Canadian, have a drink to celebrate!
Finally The Canadian gets packaged in its presentation and shipping boxes. Did I mention how absurdly big this box is?
There are approximately 4000 parts in each Canadian. We're protecting your train with thick Styrofoam; PVC blisters on the engines and PE wrap on the cars; a PVC cover over the entire train; a double-wall cardboard presentation box; and a triple-wall cardboard shipping carton. Hopefully that will be enough to survive the brutal treatment that packages marked "fragile" regularly receive from the courier companies. Well, one can dream...
Dennis, our factory owner, would be very happy never to see The Canadian again. He sent me an email the other day telling me if I ever want to do a project this complex again I can come to China, sit down at an assembly table, and do it myself. Here he gladly vents his frustration.
And there it is. The first shipment of The Canadian has been loaded onto a 40-foot container and is en route from China. In the eight-year history of Rapido Trains Inc., this is the first time we have ever filled an entire shipping container - we are a very small company, after all. And that is only one product number. We still have six more to go!
For those of you who have the ability to track shipping containers, our container number is CBHU6282794. Anyone who can grab a photo (or six) of it on the train from Prince Rupert to Toronto will be entered into a draw for a free passenger car model. I suspect the number of submissions will be between zero and one, so your chances of winning are really, really good.
I hope you have enjoyed this insight into the organized chaos that is involved in preparing such a large shipment of model trains from the factory. I have to say I am extremely proud and impressed with the hard work and dedication of everyone at our factory in China, and Dennis and his team have met and surpassed the challenge of producing what is probably the largest model train project in Canadian history. I owe all of them my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation.
All the best,
Rapido Trains Inc.
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