CNR – The Wiarton Spiral

Last year, a friend asked me for some help with a design for an S scale CNR layout. I always like to design layouts – even freelanced ones – from prototypes, following the Layout Design Element principle that if it worked for the real railroad it must work in model form (we just need to figure out how it was used). So I turned to Ian Wilson‘s various books on CNR lines in Ontario and one of the LDEs I picked for this layout design was the small waterside terminal at Wiarton.

There’s a neat article about the Wiarton railway station (with several great photos) online at Postcards From The Bay. Click on the postcard, below, to read it:
Wiarton Station photo WiartonPostcard-1911_zpsb6c3dc9a.jpg

Ian writes about Wiarton in Steam Over Palmerston and the book includes a track map – really useful when designing a layout!

(Wiarton is also well-covered in an earlier book, Two Divisions to Bluewater by Peter Bowers, published in the early 1980s by Boston Mills Press. Peter also includes a drawing of the track arrangement in Wiarton.)

The railway at Wiarton is confined to a long, narrow strip of land along Colpoy’s Bay – perfect for a long, narrow section of benchwork. That said, it’s a pretty long yard – especially in a larger scale such as 1:64. But I was able to work Wiarton into my friend’s layout space by wrapping the terminal into a spiral. I’m quite pleased with how the design turned out.

Here’s the plan for the Wiarton section of the layout, with notes below:
Wiarton Spiral photo WiartonSpiral_zpsf148e54d.jpg
(Click for a larger version)

– Two squares = 12 inches. To save you counting the squares, this section of the layout plan is approximately 12 feet by 17.5 feet, including the squares to either side of the drawing. (Obviously, some access aisles would be necessary along the left, right and bottom edges of the plan.)

– Unless noted, minimum radius is 48 inches and switches are Number 8s. This will accommodate my friend’s stable of CNR steam power – up to 4-6-2s and 2-8-2s – as well as full-length passenger cars. That said, photos in Ian’s book show this to be the land of Moguls and 10-Wheelers.

– The Wiarton area is designed to be operated from the inside, but since there’s access to both sides of the peninsula it will be easy to install and service the turntable. (I’ve written many times on this blog about how I feel turntables are the fussiest piece of track work on any layout, so I always like to have them up front and easily accessible.)

– Since access to both sides of the peninsula is advantageous, it’s designed with no backdrop. (That said, one could hang a fabric backdrop, such as I’ve done on my layout.)

– The wharf area has a 42 inch radius curve, but this area will be switched by smaller steam power shoving a couple of freight cars at a time. I use 42″ radius curves on my layout and the 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s I run have no complaints. Customers here include the British American Oil Company (at the end of the spur), Wiarton Fish and Ice, and McNamara Construction. Other structures along the spur would include a boat repair shed, plus several tool and oil sheds.

– The post in the room is, well, unfortunate, but it does provide a solid place to anchor the far end of the peninsula. The fishing boat wharf will be a nice scenic element but will also help with stability for this long, narrow section of layout.

– If one is really pressed for space, a sector plate-style staging area could be built running up the left side of this plan, and Wiarton would work really well as a self-contained terminal-to-staging style layout.

– The terminal would require a variety of freight cars – from boxcars and stock cars, to coal hoppers and tank cars, to refrigerator cars for fish caught in Georgian Bay. At a minimum, a combine would take care of passenger equipment although Ian’s book includes photos of trains ranging from a single combine to a coach or combine plus baggage car.

– There’s a team track next to the turntable. Nearby structures/industries which could be moved closer to this track (but not adjacent to it – no point in losing the flexibility of the team track) include the Wiarton Co-op, a feed mill, a wood-working shop, and a power station. As with the wharf area, several sheds and storage buildings are not shown on the layout plan.

– There’s a section house located up-line from the station. It could be moved to the long curve between station and yard area, to add another railroad-y structure.

– The station should actually be closer to the yard, but that 48″ radius curve to get onto the spiral peninsula sure eats up space. If one is uncurling the plan, move the station closer.

– I have drawn some trees along the curve between station and yard. This is because we needed a soft screen to separate Wiarton from another scene on my friend’s layout. If being built as a stand-alone layout then I would scenic this area like a town park, rather than a forest. Add a band stand or picnic pavilion… walking paths… benches… playground equipment, and plenty of large, healthy trees to provide shade. And then make sure there’s a fence in good repair separating the park from the railway!

– According to Ian’s book, two mixed trains ran daily except Sunday. Second Class train M341 arrived at Wiarton at 10:55am and left at 12:25pm as Second Class train M336. Later, Second Class train M337 arrived at Wiarton at 1:55pm and departed at 2:15pm as Third Class train M338. I’d be tempted to drop the passenger cars at the station for unloading/loading express, while the crew heads into the yard area to do any freight switching. With outbound freight assembled in the yard, I’d then back up to the station to collect the passenger cars, bring them into the yard to build the train, then turn the locomotive and finally pull ahead to the station to load passengers before departing Wiarton for Clavering, Hepworth, Parkhead and beyond.

I think this is another excellent example of how one can look to the prototype for an achievable layout in S scale. Even as a stand-alone layout, Wiarton has much to offer.

While it won’t support marathon operating sessions (something I no longer enjoy, anyway), there are two mixed trains to operate each day with switching to keep a couple of people entertained for a reasonable length of time.

For the craftsman, there are plenty of interesting structures to build, including the beautiful (and, fortunately, preserved!) Wiarton station and the wharves.

There’s even space for fishing boats – and an oil tanker.

The layout builder could even include Wiarton’s most famous resident!

11 thoughts on “CNR – The Wiarton Spiral

    • My pleasure, Matt.
      I enjoyed working on this plan for my friend – particularly the Wiarton area – and felt it was worth sharing here.
      It’s a neat terminal, strung along the bay as it is. If I were starting the layout today, I might unfold the spiral plan and try to fit it in my layout room. But I’ll finish Port Rowan first!

  1. Love these examples of achievable layouts and prototypes. Moving up in the size of modeling scale brings a whole new set of design issues, ones that aren’t well served by the smaller scale conventional solutions. Larger modeling scales like 3/16″ and 1/4″ almost need a different design language, one that plays to the inherent strengths of these scales.

    Your examples are doing just that.

    Mike C.

    • Hi Mike:

      Thanks for the positive words. I draw enough inspiration from your layout…

      As you know from your work in Proto:48, things like reach-in access really become major limits to the planning process in larger scales. For example, incorporating a turntable into a layout becomes a real problem in S or O – much more, it seeems, than in HO. Even in S, turntables take up so much space that putting them near the front of a scene (where I think every turntable should be, for reliability’s sake) means any track behind the table requires an unacceptable reach across the scene to uncouple cars, perform maintenance, etc… yet putting it at the rear means the turntable itself is difficult to service. On my Port Rowan layout – as on this design – I’ve addressed the problem by ensuring there’s access to both sides of the scene where the turntable is located.

      Beyond the practical problems, I think success comes from adjusting one’s expectations in terms of prototype. As I’m showing with Port Rowan, I’m able to model a major railroad (a transcontinental carrier, in fact), in a modest space by picking a small, out of the way community as my subject. My space could not do nearby Simcoe, Ontario justice – let alone a railroading hot spot like Bayview Junction near Hamilton. So I hope that this occasional series of thought-starting layout-planning ideas is driving home the concept of finding a piece of a prototype that’s manageable enough that it can be modelled without undue compression, so that it retains the appearance and operating potential of the prototype.

      I’m also a firm believer in modelling from a prototype, even if one is freelancing. Frankly, I’ve never seen a freelanced layout featuring anything like Wiarton as a branch line terminal. The thought of running a long, single track to serve multiple customers doesn’t occur to us, when we’re focused on adding switches to boost complexity and, by extension, operating “fun”. But it’s so common on real railroads, where each switch is an added cost to build and maintain, and an added source of potential derailments. Wiarton is a good example with its long tail track along the wharf, as well as the spur serving coal shed and stock pens. But one of the other popular postings on this blog – about the CNR Waterloo Sub to Galt – also features a long, single track spur (along George Street).

      In fact, many of the prototypes I enjoy, and try to convert to layout designs, feature a team track or other public siding as the major source of carload traffic. As I note in the Wiarton write-up, there are several industries near Wiarton’s team track that could be railroad customers – but relatively few industries actually on the railroad. I guess the oil terminal at the end of the wharf is one. The coal yard is one. But the stock pens are probably a shared resource – more of a specialized unloading area at a team track. On the Waterloo Sub, three stations on the line are nothing more than team track spurs, while in Galt itself, Canada Bread uses the railroad by hauling goods across the small parking area by the team track.

      I can think of a few modern equivalents, too – truck/rail transfer terminals come to mind. In fact, I have information on a couple of them, which I’ll make a note of. I feel another posting in the “Achievable Layout” series coming on…


      • Trevor,
        Not only the reach in issues you mentioned, but things like curve radius become genuine problems in larger scales. A design requiring multiple turn back curves might be feasible in HO or N, but the same design in O becomes a real headache where curve radius is measured in feet instead of inches.

        This is why design solutions need to take scale in consideration. Trying to fit a large into a small scale design only leads to frustration and failure.

        Mike C.

  2. It appears that Wiarton never developed much carload freight traffic. A single long spur worked to serve many customers because of this. Would there have been more than one or two cars on that spur at any given time? And most of the time, the spur would have been clear. Modellers are in the bad habit of trying to fit a lot of railway business into modelled locations where the prototype had very little, or at best sporadic. And then post-WWII, trucking took almost all of what was left…

    As for a ship at the oil terminal, how about the last whaleback ship, the SS Meteor? It sailed the Great Lakes until the late 1960’s.

    • Hi Steve:

      Good point, although it’s always more fun to increase the traffic levels on our layouts, right?

      Peter Bowers’ book notes in early days the spur with the cattle dock and coal shed on it used to run further to serve a cement plant. Peter notes trains “served the cement mill, lumber mills and later a sugar beet plant”, while Ian’s book notes the coal shed spur extended to a sugar beet processing plant at one time. Putting it all together, I interpret this to mean the sugar beet operation took over the area formerly occupied by the cement mill (or adjacent to it).

      Peter continues by noting that as these original sources of traffic dried up they were replaced by the commercial fishing industry. “Until the demise of the mixed train in 1958, one or two cars of fish were taken to (Parkhead) daily, where they were picked up by train #174. On occasion, up to ten cars of fish a day provided the crew of #174 with the formidable task f maintaining its schedule.”

      This could be interpreted as up to 10 cars from Wiarton – or up to 10 cars (including those from Wiarton), since #174 originated in Owen Sound.

      (Thanks, by the way, to Mike Culham who emailed to remind me that Wiarton was also covered in Peter’s book.)

  3. Always an interesting operation, especially the meets at Park Head. At the recent Train Show here in Kingston someone was running a video of a meet between the mixed and the Palmerston bound passenger run showing the exchange of reefers and baggage cars. Park Head also had a very interesting station…a downed baggage car. If I’m not mistaken, I think there was a furniture factory that used one of the stations between Park Head and Wiarton for shipping their product. Books are still in boxes so I can’t check.

    This is a very interesting idea, posting these achievable layouts. There are others. Penatang comes to mind. It too has a long spur that serves more than one industry. A very interesting junction would be Irondale on the Haliburton sub. The 1949 timetable had three mixed trains running through this Jct. and exchanging cars in Kinmount and then turning around and heading back where they came from. Trains were based in Haliburton, Lindsay and Bancroft. Very scenic, too, given the bridges very close to the Junction. Westport as well has possibilities given it was served by two daily mixed trains one from Napanee and the other from Brockville. As you say, Galt is also a great choice. I like this spiral idea especially. Might be a way to get Gananoque’s dock area modeled as well.

    • Hi Daniel:

      The problem with Parkhead is that there’s a wye, and all three legs must be active to accurately model the operation. That’s difficult to do in S, as you know – it’ll eat up space like nobody’s business.

      The other shortcoming with Parkhead is there’s really not a lot of switching to do there. A couple of passenger car exchanges and that’s about it. So, for the amount of space it takes up, there’s not a lot of operating bang for one’s buck. Certainly not as much as one finds in Wiarton itself.

      Junctions are tricky – they’re either so small that there’s not much happening beyond watching the trains roll by (like Inglewood, Ontario), or there’s so big (eg: Palmerston) that they’re tough to shoehorn into our layout spaces – especially in larger scales like S and O.
      Now, Penetang(uishene) – there’s a great candidate for an achievable layout. Ian Wilson‘s two books on Allendale cover it, including a track arrangement. I count 12 switches, although his plan does not show a run-around track. I’m guessing that the long spur adjacent to the turntable was either double-ended or had a crossover near the station. If not, that’s where I’d add one. It’s definitely in my file of Things To Write About.

      And knowing your layout space, I’d recommend you look at it as a candidate. You could stand in Georgian Bay to operate it, and simply run the mainline to Allendale into a sector plate for staging. My only concern would be the reach-in to the turntable but some clever design work could deal with that. And there’s plenty of opportunity to “fold” the main track into a room – for instance, building Penetang in a U-shape. I’ll give this some thought…


  4. Hello Trevor,
    I just came across your post. My name is Gary and I live just north of Wiarton.
    I’m in the process of doing research on the Wiarton – Parkhead line with the hopes of modelling it in HO. I have visited the Library and Town Hall in Wiarton gaining some info but not enough to plan the layout. I see that you have mentioned several books that may document the line but am wondering if you, perhaps, would have any other info available. I am hoping to get the Town of South Bruce and Bruce County involved with financing and to possibly display the finished layout in the 1904 Wiarton Railway Station – which is now a visitor centre for the area.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Gary:
      The books I mentioned are the only ones I’ve run into. That doesn’t mean it’s an exhaustive list – just what I have to hand.
      Good luck with the project.

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