Prototype inspiration: Cobourg ON

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(Welcome to Cobourg – an ideal subject for an achievable layout.)

Sometimes, everything for a layout just comes together in one place. My friend Bernard Hellen reminded me of that recently when he posted on his Quebec Gatineau railway blog about a visit to Cobourg, Ontario. (My friend Chris Abbott and I visited Cobourg a decade ago, which is when I took the photos for this post.)

This small city, about an hour or so along the highway east of Toronto, sees a lot of railway action. That’s because it’s on the Toronto-Montreal corridor for both the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific – in fact, Canada’s two major carriers parallel each other through the city, just a stone’s throw apart.

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(Looking southeast from the VIA/CN station parking lot towards Division Street. That’s the CPR on the overpass.)

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(The parking lot – south – side of the VIA station. The CNR main runs along the north side of the structure. The CPR track is behind me.)

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(An eastbound CP Rail train rolls behind the VIA station…)

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(… and then across Division Street. Ahead of the train can be seen a small yard where the two railways could interchange traffic, although I don’t know how often this was done.)

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(West of the depot, a westbound VIA train accelerates away from its station stop on CNR trackage. Down the road, one can see the gates for the CPR line that parallels the CNR)

The CNR had a small yard across the tracks from the station, some of which was removed a few years ago, when VIA installed an overhead walkway and second platform on the north side of the mainline. When Chris and I visited, the yard was still there – and held a string of covered hoppers:

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(Chris inspects the scene)

These were destined for one or more customers in the adjacent industrial area. Yes, industrial area! In addition to the parallel mainlines, a layout based on Cobourg would also offer plenty of switching opportunities. Let’s get oriented with a satellite view – straight up, and labelled. Click on the images to view larger versions:

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You’ll note there are a lot of “KS##” labels on the second map. These are track assignments, from a CNR track map from 1984:

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(Area to the west of the station. North is to the right of the image)

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(Station area. North is to the top of the page)

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(Customer assignment list)

The “play potential” for this area should be obvious. The industrial park – in the upper right – has several customers and is quite organized, while the jumble of tracks to the left serve a large, multi-building complex that belonged to General Foods/Kraft at the time. Let’s look at some photos of the area, starting with General Foods:

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(Looking east from Ontario Street, towards the runaround at KS76. The track diverging towards us at lower right is KS79)

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(Looking west from Ontario Street, towards the General Foods plant. KS79 branches to the left, while the righthand track is the lead – KS77)

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(Another shot of the General Foods plant, looking west from Ontario Street)

Now, let’s look at the industrial park:

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(Looking north on KS32. In 2006, the switch to KS35 has been lifted but the ties remain)

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(End of track, KS35. The track is gone, but the impressive stop remains)

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(Curves at the top of the park. The closest is KS46, while the track beyond it is KS43)

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(Looking east. KS43 is at left, while to the right are KS46 and, behind it and leading into the building, KS44)

A layout based on Cobourg could be easily built in N or HO. It would fit around the walls of a rectangular room, with the station area along one long wall. Here, one would face south, looking at the station from the CNR side and with the CP Rail running along the back of the scene.

A peninsula into the centre of the room would accommodate the General Foods industrial trackage, while the industrial park in the northeast corner could wrap onto benchwork built away from the long wall opposite the station area. Behind the industrial park (preferably accessed by a separate aisle against the wall, and separated from the park by a backdrop) one would build a double-ended staging yard to feed the two mainlines – one for CNR/VIA trains, the other for CP Rail trains.

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(Literally, a back of the envelope sketch of a possible layout. Not all track shown. Click on image for larger view)

This would be a great layout for three or four people to operate. Obviously, the focus would be the local job that switches the industrial park, and this would keep a conductor/engineer team occupied for a session. A third – and possibly fourth – person could polish the rails on the CNR and CPR with manifests, locals to switch the interchange and yard… and, of course, VIA passenger trains.

Thanks, Bernard, for reminding me of this great location!

F Units in Woodstock – in 2016

Last week, Bob Fallowfield, Barry Silverthorn and I visited Woodstock, Ontario to do a bit of rail fanning. We saw many things, including a pair of F units working in revenue service – in 2016, no less:


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

These covered wagons are designated as “FP9u”. They were originally owned by the CNR, and later VIA Rail. VIA upgraded the locomotives (hence the “u” suffix) with new prime movers and other changes to extend their useful service life. The diesels next went to Rail Link, and are now owned by the Ontario Southland Railway.

The OSR is a model railway enthusiast’s dream: A modern short line offering personalized service with an eclectic collection of locomotives. Any of its operations would make an ideal subject for a layout.

Spend some time on the OSR website and see if you don’t agree…

(NOTE: The three of us were shepherded by an official from the OSR. Don’t trespass while rail fanning!)

CNR – Purina mill in Woodstock

Last week I joined my friends Bob Fallowfield and Barry Silverthorn in Woodstock, Ontario. Bob is modelling Woodstock on his HO scale home layout and was our guide for the day. We saw many things, including a Canadian National Railways local crew switching the Purina feed mill. I only captured a short video of this work (see below). But it was enough to confirm that this would be an ideal subject for an achievable layout:


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

The mill spans the tracks, and on a layout the overhead conveyor could act as a scene divider into staging. So too could the pedestrian overpass that I stood on to record this video. The mill itself (specifically, to the right in this video) would make an imposing backdrop, if one positioned the viewing aisle to the left of the scene. Tall trees further frame the scene, while there’s plenty of detail to model in the mill and the track.

Sound makes a big impact in my video. The throaty prime mover and the squeal of flanges bring home the mass of railroading. To that end, building this layout in a larger scale (Proto:48, anyone?) would put the viewer right in the scene. One of the O scale “Red Caboose” geeps would provide ample room for DCC, other electronics, and a big speaker – while the new “Full Throttle” decoder files from ESU Loksound would deliver the perfect atmosphere. Check out this Loksound video, shot on Bob’s HO scale layout. In particular, listen to the GP in the video and imagine what that would sound like in an O scale model with a much larger speaker:

Beyond engine sounds, I would add a flange squeal device to the curved route through the turnout. Iowa Scaled Engineering makes a great flange squeal module.

And, I would add environmental sounds – especially birdsong. I’ve done this on my own layout, using Dream Player Pro kits from Pricom Design. It’s incredibly effective.

A layout like this would be a showcase for fine model-building – including a lot of scratch-building. But the prototype shows that inspiration can come in small spaces, even if one wants to work in larger scales.