Thorold is a town in the Niagara Peninsula. It’s directly south of St. Catharines, at the top of the Niagara Escarpment.
And at one time there was a great little rail-served industry in Thorold that would make a perfect, achievable layout – something along the lines of Mike Cougill‘s Indiana and Whitewater, Jack Hill‘s New Castle Industrial Railroad, or Greg Amer‘s Industrial Lead.
The mill is quite substantial, but the neat thing from a hobbyist’s perspective is that all of the rail service came in on one side of it, so most of the mill could be built at a low-relief structure against a backdrop. The piece we want to see as hobbyists is the narrow strip or railroad between Pine Street and the mill buildings as illustrated in this image:
(Used with permission from and thanks to Paul Duncan at www.NiagaraRails.com)
This lends the Pine Street mill to a shelf layout – either for the home, or exhibition. In fact, one could almost take a rectangle representing the benchwork and drop it on the aerial photo, then sketch in the track work. Layout planning does not get any easier-peasier than this:
Sharp-eyed viewers will say, “that’s all well and good, but where did the track actually go? I don’t see any room for a spur to serve this mill!”
Well, that’s one of the things that makes this such an interesting subject for modelling. Pine Street is lined by houses, a shopping plaza, and a school… and at one time, had a track right up the middle of the street to serve the mill. (The spur ran north from a connection at Richmond Street, at the bottom of the overview aerial image.)
If we move a little closer and look south from the mill, we see that there’s not much of a lead between the first switch and the street – certainly not enough room to work the mill without routinely fouling traffic. In the first image, below, the rails enter the road about where the third car is. The second image, from a similar perspective, shows the rails entering the road between snowbanks just ahead of the locomotives:
I consider this to be a big bonus for the layout-builder: The stone will be a delightful, old-world contrast to the adjacent paper mill with its corrugated siding, safety cage ladders and other modern details:
The track arrangement is straight-forward. Compare the following images to the track map, above.
… we note that a third siding – JF33 – ascends a grade to enter the mill building through a roll-up door. The grade begins right at the mill yard throat – in the first image below, a driveway has to drop steeply to cross the two spurs against the mill building. Note also the interesting numbered ramp and security gates. The grade is quite apparent in the other two images as well:
It scoots past the elevated, covered dock – with very little clearance between structure and street – to the north end of the mill. At one time, there were two tracks here JF34 and JF35. Note the switch buried in the pavement in the rightmost image. But only one spur enters the building here now:
As shown in various photos, the paper mill requires a variety of car types, including boxcars, covered hoppers and tank cars. There’s a small sorting yard on private RoW near the start of the spur – several blocks south of the mill. This is identified as the Fonthill Spur Support Yard (JF11-JF15) on the CN track map. I imagine the crews switch cars into spot order at that location to minimize the amount of backing-and-forthing required at the mill, which would’ve increased the risk of an accident involving an automobile. Another thing going for this location as a layout subject is that the railway used a pair of switchers on this job:
Two switchers were needed because the mill is at the top of the Niagara Escarpment and cars had to be brought up from down below. That’s a lot of horsepower for switching the mill, but is a boon those of us who like locomotives: It doubles our fun.
A layout based on this mill would be entertaining to switch and a lot of fun to detail. There are stairs, fences, docks, pipes, signs, street details such as sewer grates and fire hydrants – and, of course, weeds and trash. And while this would be easiest to build in HO – the locomotives are available, for starters – it should be noted that the mill’s location in-town means the footprint is pretty compact, so it would be possible to build the layout in one of the larger scales such as S or O. The SW1200RS units shown in the photos would be the biggest hurdle, but they would be satisfying kitbashing projects starting with an SW-9 from Atlas (O) or S Helper Service (S).
Meantime, I have my HO CNR switchers in the display case. If I’m ever lured back to the exhibition circuit, this mill is near the top of my list as the subject for a display layout!