Branchlines in Transition

I recently picked up a copy of a DVD by this name at my local hobby shop. The video was shot by Steve Bradley, whom I’ve met a few times while operating trains at a mutual friend’s place. It’s a fairly short video – at just 42 minutes – but it provides plenty of inspiration for someone looking for ideas for an achievable layout in a modern (1990s) setting. Green Frog Productions, which markets the video, has a teaser video online:


(You may watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Here’s the video description from the Green Frog website:

Take a look at the operation of 5 Southern Ontario branchlines. Shot in the late 1990’s just prior to many branches being taken over by shortlines or having sections partially abandoned, you’ll join the crews, be trackside, aboard the trains, and even ride a plow extra. A great look at how it was, not that long ago.

I found a number of things interesting about the subject presented here.

First, with the exception of one segment – the snow plough run north of Orangeville – the subjects presented are all strong candidates for an achievable layout. (Don’t get me wrong: The snow plough run – the last chapter of the program – is excellent, but for different reasons.)

These were not high-traffic branches and many of the trains featured are quite short, which would lend themselves to modelling in a larger scale such as S or O. And – as I hope I have proven on my own layout – a lightly-trafficked prototype does not have to result in a layout that is boring to operate: It just changes where one must put the focus. And a couple of the prototypes featured here did (or still do) serve auto plants, significant carload generators that also require the railway to switch to a clock. One – the Goderich and Exeter Railway – did a roaring trade road salt as suggested by this photo.

The above photo is appropriate because my second observation is that all five operations featured were shot in winter. I was struck by how this changed the way I viewed the railways in their environments. Snow adds a uniform wash to the scenes, which tones down the colours of structures, scenery and details. The result is a real focus on the railway equipment, which – by virtue of the fact that it moves – tends to be relatively clear of snow. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean – photos I took during a December 2005 trip to Saskatoon:

 photo Saskatoon-2005-12-29-01_zps4bqfan73.jpg

 photo Saskatoon-2005-12-29-02_zps4g5amdba.jpg

(To see more of Canadian railways in winter, search on the word “winter” at the Railpictures.ca database)

I was particularly struck by segments featuring CP Rail diesels in their “Action Red” paint, which positively leap out of the grey surroundings. A layout given this treatment would be the polar (pun intended) opposite of a layout set in the height of autumn, in which railway subjects would be forced to compete with a riot of leaf colours.

That’s not to say the railway equipment is completely clear. Snow has drifted quite deeply onto locomotive walkways and pilots, which would be an interesting modelling project. It’s also caked onto trucks, brake rigging and other details below the frame, which would wonders for highlighting these traditionally dark areas on a model. Things I knew existed below the walkways, but had never really noticed in photos of clean locomotives, are readily apparent with a dusting of the white stuff.

My own layout is set in August and I’m not about to change that. But I’m sometimes asked by others for inspiration, and this DVD has given me some interesting ideas to ponder…