CNR – Pine Street, Thorold

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 industry was a paper mill on Pine Street – identified as “Fraser Inc” on a CNR Track Map and related Key to Customers. Look for JF30-JF35 in the lower left corner:
 photo JF-Zone-Map_zpsd3800e5b.jpg
CNR JF-Zone (Thorold) Legend photo JF-Zone-Legend_zpsa6d6eb26.jpg

The mill is immediately recognizable as the white blob amid the general greenery near the top of this image:
Pine Street Mill - Overview photo PineSt-Overview_zps8fd03462.jpg

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:
 photo CNR-PineSt-PD-02_zps90d4e8db.jpg
(Used with permission from and thanks to Paul Duncan at

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:
Pine Street Mill - Detail photo PineSt-Detail_zpsfd534e64.jpg

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.)

In this image, a switch job is heading south from the mill, part of which can be seen just to the left beyond the last boxcar:
 photo CNR-PineSt-PD-01_zps5f517eaf.jpg

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:
 photo CNR-PineSt-PD-03_zpscf19c5cb.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-PD-04_zps6542c8e0.jpg

Note also in that image that there’s a pretty impressive stone building at the south end of the mill yard. Here are a couple of better photos of it, looking from the north and from the south:
 photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-14_zpsce9b7703.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-13_zps1c51f752.jpg

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:
 photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-08_zps9eda84fd.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-04_zps2ab86cc5.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-07_zpsea68e4c9.jpg

The track arrangement is straight-forward. Compare the following images to the track map, above.

Two spurs – JF31 and JF32 – run alongside the low building at the south end of the mill, where boxcars are spotted:
 photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-12_zps957d9edf.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-02_zpsf7f4bf03.jpg

These spurs terminate under a metal canopy. This area is fenced in since chlorine and other chemicals are obviously being unloaded in this area. A big sign on the gate warns of the danger:
 photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-10_zpsa211b8a3.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-04_zps2ab86cc5.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-05_zps681a4d56.jpg

Note also the small staircase in that last photo. If we have another look at this photo…
 photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-02_zpsf7f4bf03.jpg

… 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:

 photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-11_zpse5ff49e0.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-08_zps9eda84fd.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-01_zpsc0946a4d.jpg

There’s a fourth track at the very left of this image:
 photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-02_zpsf7f4bf03.jpg

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:
 photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-03_zpsbc6162fd.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-06_zps75d7bfca.jpg  photo CNR-PineSt-TPM-07_zpsea68e4c9.jpg

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:
 photo CNR-PineSt-PD-02_zps90d4e8db.jpg

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!

17 thoughts on “CNR – Pine Street, Thorold

    • I agree, Mike.

      I think the street trackage would also really slow down operations – one would have to flag every move, after all. It must have been a real pain for the railroaders – but fun for us modellers!


  1. Parts of the entire Trillium Railway from Port Colborne to St. Catharines has great potential for an achievable layout. Paul Duncan‘s website is invaluable. I’ve been working up some details here.

    Enjoying progress on your layout as well. While currently living in the Netherlands, we have a place back in Ontario in Port Stanley. The railways that reached these small towns on Lake Erie are very interesting and model-genic too.


    • Hi Barry:
      Thanks for getting in touch – and nice job on documenting the Trillium Railway on your website. Yes, it’s a line with a lot of potential.
      Thanks for the nice comments on my layout, too.

  2. I was amazed to see this post! A few months ago I made a delivery with my truck to this building which is now a book warehouse and I was very curious about the history since there had obviously been rail service at one point. Unfortunately, no one there knew much about the place. Now I’m all caught up, thanks very much for sharing the info!

    • Hi Warren:
      Glad I could help. It’s a neat building – a was a neat railroad operation in its day. I haven’t been to Thorold in a while so it’s nice to know the building is still there and being used as a warehouse.

  3. This entire operation, at one time was operated electrically by the Niagara St. Catherines and Toronto Ry, with a vartiety of steeple cab locos.
    Currently, I model the NS&T in S scale, the Merritton CN junction with the NS&T, down to Thorold, using scratch built equipment.

    • Hi William:
      Thanks for writing. I have always enjoyed seeing your NS&T equipment at local shows. In fact, even before I met you or became interested in S scale, I remember taking a photo of some of your work posed on a module from the S Scale Workshop – and thinking, “Wow – that’s great stuff!”

  4. Hi Trevor,
    I’ve wanted to build an Inglenook shelf layout to get some trains running in a hurry, but then I came back to this layout idea and realized with two more turnouts I could have a very nice switching layout, as you say for home and/or exhibit. Do you have any information on the tracks running deeper into the plant, i.e. JF31? And would you have any idea whether a scale map showing the tracks might be available somewhere? It looks like I could build it close to scale length.

    • Hi Robin:
      This is a great choice for an Inglenook-style layout – one that moves beyond “switching puzzle” to a real place with real operating challenges. Well done.
      I’m not sure what the other tracks were used for. At the time I visited the plant, the two front tracks seemed to be used for most things. At a guess, I’d say the elevated track that runs into the building was used to unload something by gravity – maybe covered hoppers – into a pit below. The back tracks could’ve been used to ship outbound product in boxcars.
      I know of no scale map, but between Google satellite’s ruler and the photos showing the track arrangement, you should be able to come quite close to a scale model. The spacing of loading doors along the front tracks should help too.

    • Hi again, Robin:
      I had a quick look at your blog and like the ideas you’ve presented there for a home layout, capturing the railway you saw while at university. Is this thought of an Inglenook to be a project in addition to that one – perhaps an exhibition layout? Just curious…

      • Hi Trevor,
        The Waterloo spur is my layout, where I go for handlaying and fidelity to prototype. However, it’s also taking time and I realize I could improve on my first attempts. Plus moving into a new home has me rethinking the track plan. As you can tell from the blog, it’s stagnated, although I am further along than the status described.
        The Inglenook was a chance to get trains running quickly, both for my benefit as well as for one of my sons who is interested in trains also. I like the puzzle aspect of it as well, hoping it can teach my son some patience. As usual though, I can’t stop myself from going further, thus the move from 8′ Inglenook to 13′ + staging Pine Street. My wife and daughters are out of town for a few days, I’m picking up plywood tonight, and the three turnouts and flex track I need are waiting in the basement. We should have some movement by the time the girls come home. Here’s hoping!

        • Hi Robin:
          Sounds like a great idea – get something running relatively quickly and it might un-stagnate the home layout. I also like the idea of using the layout as a teaching tool – particularly if it’s based on a real place, as opposed to something built as a puzzle for puzzle’s sake.
          As for blogging, I find that blogging regularly about my home layout helps me to make progress on it. Perhaps as you undertake the Pine Street Mill project you’ll share your progress? I’d love to follow along…

  5. Trevor, I was already formulating a wrap-up post on the Waterloo layout to-date before I move on to describing the building of Pine Street. It is a fun and rewarding thing to set ones thoughts and experiences onto paper, as it were, especially when others are following along and appreciating the ideas. Your blog is fantastic example of the art. Will keep you up to date on progress.

  6. Trevor,

    I’ve followed your blog for a time and have become taken with the thought towards Pine St as my home layout. I have a space that is 10′-0″ x 20′-8″ that can be used that even gives room down the center of the space for a 15′ peninsula that I can dedicate to the mill and street running.

    Given that I am mostly a lone wolf modeler, do you think a layout based on Pine street and surrounding industry could make for a good layout for a single operator? I may have guest occasionally but most times it will be just me. I am thinking the layout could support me over multiple operating sessions, but being unfamiliar with the area, I am not sure what they ran and how often.

    I really feel the layout exemplifies your mantra of an achievable layout, and have been looking to find something that is prototype based that meets that objective. This does so well and I think a bit of creative license on the remainder of the industries on the branch and a move from CNR to Milwaukee Road (I’m a fan) could make for a great layout to serve my given railroad. Of course I’m not tied to the MILW, but basing a layout on a prototype, even a different one, still makes a layout believable and achievable, which I think is the key here.

    I’d like your take on this if you have the chance.

    • Hi John:
      Thanks for getting in touch. I think Pine Street would work beautifully as the nucleus of a home layout. As a lone wolf, you can spend many hours shuffling cars into and out of the mill and enjoying the sight of the switch job picking its way up the street between the other traffic and past home and businesses.
      If the job ends its day in a small interchange yard, you can have mainline trains wearing out the high-iron in the background while you do this.
      The challenge of building a large industry – with its various wall textures, piping, gates and fences, signs, and so on – is also terrific for a modest layout space like yours. As many designers in the hobby have noted, you’re better off to build one large industry with multiple car spots than you are to build a half-dozen smaller industries that take one car each. The switching is more challenging – and the industry looks more like it can justify rail service.
      Pine Street is my version of Lance Mindheim’s “commercial bakery”, I think. It’s a favourite subject of mine.
      And yes, you could certainly transplant this mill to the Milwaukee Road, and add a couple more industrie slong the street between it and the yard. Good in-town industries could include a lumber yard, a food processing plant, a specialty metals fabricator (pipe/tube maker, truss fabricator, etc.), and so on.

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