Minimum Space Mack

Mack 33T switcher

What do you do if you like large scales but don’t have lots of space? Adjusting your goals to embrace large models of small prototypes is one approach.

Years ago I picked up this delightful O scale model. It’s a 1921 Mack 33-Ton switcher, produced in brass by Lee Town Models. As the Canadian two-dollar coin shows, it’s tiny – less than 4.5″ over the footboards. Despite its diminutive stature, the model has a can motor between the frames and runs beautifully, while the brass construction gives it plenty of weight. And while I haven’t yet attempted it, I suspect there’s plenty of room belowdecks to squirrel away a LokSound Select Micro, a pair of ESU sugar cube speakers, and a TCS Keep-Alive module – my favourite configuration for DCC and sound these days.

But what does this have to do with layout design? Obviously, a 4.5″ long locomotive doesn’t need a lot of room to manoeuvre. More importantly, the prototype – featuring chain drive and a pair of 40 HP engines – wouldn’t be expected to pull a whole lot or conquer grades: It’ll look right at home trundling about with one or two cars in tow.

While it’s not necessary to build a small layout for a one-car or two-car train, such an endeavour can become a showcase for fine model-building. It also provides the opportunity to think outside the box. Over on his Prince Street blog, my friend Chris Mears has been developing some ideas for small layouts that do just that, using innovative benchwork configurations. Examples include The Broken View / The Overlap and The Matchbox.

Finally, the Mack switcher is not the sort of unit one expects to find in wide open spaces: Critters like this would’ve worked in mills or factories as in-plant switchers. That suggests a layout built around such a locomotive would feature vertical scenery – brick canyons and concrete silos – which would trade real estate for air rights. An example of “going tall” – in O scale no less – is 13th and North E, an urban cameo by Mike Cougill. The Mack 33-Ton switcher would look right at home in Mike’s warehouse-dominated environment.

Hôpital St. Jean de Dieu Railway

In September, I hopped a train to Ottawa with some friends to explore the Andrew Merrilees Collection at Library and Archives Canada and came back with a number of photographs that could inspire models – or, even, achievable layouts. There were many oddities to be found in the collection, including the one shown in these two photos:

Saint-Rahael Tram

Saint-Rahael Tram

As the name on the front implies, this is Saint-Raphael – a tram engine that operated on the Hôpital St. Jean de Dieu Railway – a hospital and asylum in the Montréal area. The hospital also had a standard gauge electric railway that connected the facility to the outside world.

Some searching online turned up a brief article about the railway on the Old Time Trains website. It includes a couple more photos of the tramway and is worth a look. Googling the hospital will also turn up some other sources.

Tramway-Wiki
(Postcard of the tramway: “Having a great time – wish you were here” doesn’t seem appropriate somehow…)

Plan of the hospital
(A drawing of the hospital, showing the electric railway that connected it to the rest of the world. The sprawling nature of the complex makes apparent the need for the narrow gauge tramway, which would’ve run up the corridors of the two wings of wards along the top of the map. I suspect it also ran down the middle row of buildings to connect with at least one of the standard gauge electric lines: it would make sense that it would service as much of the hospital as possible…)

It would be an interesting challenge to model such a line – given that it operated inside the buildings. From my days as a co-host on The Model Railway Show, I know of at least one person who has done something similar: John Landis built a 7/8″ scale layout based on the Illinois Tunnel Company Railway that ran under the streets of Chicago at one time. (You can still listen to our interview with John: check out the guide to Episode 42 for more.)

Whether you want to model a hospital/asylum railway is entirely up to you…