CPR Elora Branch

CPR Mixed at Elora photo elora-CanadaRail_zps6b8fc47e.jpg
(CPR mixed at the Elora station, from the Canada Rail web site. Click on the image to visit Canada Rail online)

The Canadian Pacific Railway’s 27.3-mile branch to Elora, Ontario is an ideal subject for an achievable layout. This branch left the mainline at Cataract Junction, a location with a lot going for it as the focus of a layout. Here’s how it appeared in 1912:
CPR Cataract - Map photo CPR-CataractJct_zps10440b9b.jpeg

Leaving Cataract Junction, the branch then passed through a handful of communities. At Fergus, the CPR (and CNR) served Beatty Brothers, a major industrial customer whose manufacturing plant built washing machines. But the rest of the branch was typical of quiet rural Ontario communities. The railway would haul passengers, express/LCL and carload goods typically found in an agricultural area.

The end of the line was Elora, which featured a compact terminal hemmed in on all sides by roads:
CPR Elora - Map photo CPR-Elora_zpsd989c8a9.jpeg

In the popular modelling era of the 1950s, this branch was served by a mixed train hauled by one of the railway’s D-10 class 4-6-0s, with a combine bringing up the markers.

(A promotional video of Elora in the 1940s, posted by the Grand River Conservation Authority. This 4:33 video includes some footage of the Elora yard. You may also watch it directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

The Elora branch was part of a larger system of branch lines radiating out of Orangeville to serve communities throughout Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, including a line to Teeswater and Wingham via Mt. Forest and Harriston… a line to Walkerton via Durham and Hanover… and a line to Owen Sound. There are several sources for information on these branches, including two books from Boston Mills Press. Steam Trains To The Bruce and a follow-up album, Running Late On The Bruce, are both now out of print. But click on the cover of each (below) to launch a search on the ABE books website:
Steam Trains to the Bruce photo Bruce-1_zpse7913619.jpeg Running Late on the Bruce photo Bruce-2_zpsd9c8056b.jpeg

I’ll warn you now, as out of print titles they’re not cheap! For those with a more casual interest in the CPR in Southern Ontario, I can recommend several articles on the Old Time Trains website:

CPR Bruce Division Branches pt 1 includes a link to a map of the Cataract facilities as they appeared in 1923, plus a couple of pictures of the water tank.

CPR Bruce Division Branches pt 2 includes several photos of the Elora branch, and a link to a map of the Elora facilities as they appeared in 1949.

CPR Bruce Division Branches – Passenger Service includes several photos of typical mixed trains.

The Bruce Branches Gallery includes several photos of the mixed to Elora, including a couple of lovely colour photos of a mixed hauling a business car as part of a line inspection.

— Station galleries cover Cataract, Erin, Hillsburg, Fergus and Elora.

— Old Time Trains also includes an article about Beatty Brothers.

While I’m not going to provide a suggested plan for a layout, it would be fairly simple to lay out the mainline (between Streetsville and Orangeville) in an around-the-walls mainline with Cataract Junction on one side of the room and a double-ended staging yard on the other. The turntable at Cataract was taken out of service in the 1930s, which would save some benchwork depth on a layout. I don’t know if the spurs to the gravel pit were still active in the 1950s. Regardless, they would provide some additional traffic for a layout so I would include them. They could be moved north of the water tank (towards Orangeville) if needed.

The branch to Elora could wrap around the inside of the mainline. Drop it down a grade from Cataract and swing onto a Peninsula to reach Elora. This way, one could model Elora in a deeper space and enjoy one’s work from three sides.

I haven’t mentioned scale yet. HO is obvious, with D-10s imported in brass in the past. But tackling a branchline like this also suggests larger scales, and a few years ago Sunset Models imported diecast models of the D-10 in O scale. (Sunset is currently trying to drum up interest in a diecast version in HO, too.) For more information, click on the image of Sunset’s O scale D10 to visit their website:
Sunset O scale D10 photo Sunset-Oscale-D10_zps10a93a24.jpg

While no model of a D-10 has yet been produced in S scale, the Elora branch survived well into the diesel era and photos on Old Time Trains show a CPR Maroon & Grey switcher heading onto the branch in 1959. This would have been a freight extra, as the last Mixed Train ran in 1956, but the line was not abandoned until 1987. S Helper Service offered an EMD SW-9 factory painted in CPR Maroon & Grey, which would be an excellent starting point for a detailing project.

A layout based on any of these branches could be rewarding to build and engaging for a couple of operators to run, while remaining achievable in terms of time and space required to build and maintain it. The branches radiating out of Orangeville are definitely worth a closer look.

14 thoughts on “CPR Elora Branch

  1. Another interesting prototype, Trevor.

    I notice that you call the terminus “compact”. Indeed, in prototype terms, and for the most part width, it certainly is, but it is of a reasonable length, say 30′ if modelled to scale in S?
    I mention this not to put anyone off, but to point out that the simple track layout worked because of that length. Yes, the layout is compressible, but only so far: the freight and coal siding, and coal spur to the end, do need to be able to hold a few cars each: I would guess that maybe 16′ is a reasonable minimum, 20′ might be better. Over compression is one of those things which make some compact layouts look toylike, hence the comment.

    On another note, the slight angle to the tracks, relative to the streets, means that grade crossings are not perpendicular, which would be a very interesting scenic feature.


    • Hi Simon:
      Everything is relative. Elora is “compact” in a way that other terminals are not – railway facilities in Owen Sound and Lindsay come to mind.
      You’re right about the perils of over-compression. On my layout, my version of Port Rowan is as compact as I could make it – it’s still two-thirds the size of the prototype at almost 1200 scale feet. Any shorter, and I wouldn’t have space to work the trains.
      This is one reason why, when I was designing a layout based on Wiarton for a friend, I ended up folding the terminal into a spiral. It was the only way to get all the pieces in place. Fortunately, Wiarton was amenable to that – Elora would not be.
      I know you’re in the UK, where a 20-foot space is worth a king’s ransom. But for modellers in North America, most home-owners will have that kind of space.
      Obviously, “fitting the space” is a factor in determining what’s achievable. But for the purposes of this blog, the achievability criteria I apply to my layout examples focuses more on cost, time to build and maintain, and the number of bodies needed to work the layout during operating sessions.
      In a 20-foot space, one can build a maintenance nightmare or a layout that demands so many structures that it’ll take 20 years to complete. One can devise a layout that requires a fortune in rolling stock to populate – particularly problematic in larger scales, where each piece is more expensive than HO.
      Or, one can opt for a simple design – one with space to breathe – that can be up and running in the manner of months and still provide plenty of challenge and entertainment.
      Good point about the angled tracks. It does add interest.

      • Nice points, or maybe nice turnouts, as we are supposed to say now!
        “I know you’re in the UK, where a 20-foot space is worth a king’s ransom. ”
        It depends, partly on how old the house is (i.e. when it was built), when one entered the housing market, and where one lives! Certain areas are more expensive, obviously, and anyone who bought their first home in the last ten years will have a lot less house than they would have had even 5 years earlier. But the biggest problem is that house built in the last 40 odd years has a terrible (from the viewpoint of a railway modeller) design of roof. Normally this would be the easiest way to get a big space…

        Anyway, this would only be an issue if one is attempting a reasonably faithful model of the prototype, and determined to do it in S. in H0, it might work in a standard UK garage (typically 16′ x 8′). However, if taken as a source of inspiration, then it is a very useful starting point for an S scale shelf layout in the same space, and as you say, very, very manageable, unlike many grandiose plans intending to fill the area with as much track as possible.

        Those links were interesting – quite an open location, Elora.


    • Hi Bill:
      I agree. Ironically, if I read the history right, the Credit Valley Railway was always standard gauge. But there was narrow gauge in southern Ontario – quite a bit in fact.

      Rod Clarke wrote an excellent book called Narrow Gauge Through The Bush, about the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway and the Toronto & Nipissing Railway. As other readers of this blog will tell you, it’s an astonishing work that every narrow gauge fan should own.

      Plus, what a great idea for a layout – the wood-burning Double Fairlies alone would be stellar.


      • I have NG Through the Bush — railroads north of the border have always been of interest.

        The portage RR is relatively easy to model, especially in 1/20 or 1/22. Plans of several of the buildings and cars have been offered in the past.

  2. Nice article and it would make for an interesting operational layout.
    With regards to the Sunset D10, It is my understanding it was a brass model with brass details. While not perfect, it was a model that cost .01 cent less than $1000. and represented extremely good value.
    Love your Port Rowan branch. Keep up the good work and blog.
    David Nadeau

    • Hi David:
      Thanks for writing (and for the kind words about Port Rowan. I’ll keep blogging!)
      I suppose it could be a brass model. Regardless, at less than $1000 for an O scale steam locomotive, it’s extremely good value as you say – and does make the Elora branch look like a doable layout in 1:48. (Other readers may not know this, but if I recall correctly you offer a kit for an appropriate wood CPR caboose in O scale, too – which would be a perfect way to round out a freight extra on the Elora branch.)

  3. I had someone ask about the structure to the right in the lead photo for this post. That’s a classic 8-sided CPR enclosed water tank. It would be a signature structure for any model of Elora. If I recall, plans have appeared in the hobby press and models have been produced in HO.

  4. Simon had some good points about compression and compactness, but I think that a reasonable approximation in a 9X12 ft. room or 10X15 ft. room, around three of the four walls could be designed to capture the essence of the junction at one end and Elora at the other. Thank you for sharing this. Have you ever thought about a design for the Huntsville and Lake of Bays narrow gauge RR in Ontario? Maybe in On30?

    Phil Gliebe
    Waynesville, Ohio USA

    • That raises an interesting point, Phil: curling things around the walls did occur to me, but Elora is quite straight, and I was talking from the perspective of trying to keep things faithful, albeit in a lightly smaller space.

      This raises the question about how far can one deviate from the prototype, whilst still calling it a model of a prototype, before it becomes a model based on a prototype? I tend to the view that unlike railroad equipment, where we generally don’t model a 4-8-4 as a 2-6-2, when it comes to the whole layout, some compression is not only acceptable but desirable – like all good artists, we can adjust the composition of the scene to improve it. (Buildings lie somewhere along this continuum, as does the number of cars in a train.)

      Food for thought – thanks for making me think!


  5. Trevor, the track plan you showed for Cataract Junction was actually curved, so that’s what prompted me to suggest a U-shaped model plan with at least part of the junction on one corner of the U. – Phil

    • Hi Phil:
      Right you are.
      If it was my layout and I had the space, I would try to do the junction area along a wall on a broad curve (say, 10-foot radius, 15-foot radius or even larger through the mainline). The late Dean of Layout Design, John Armstrong called these Cosmetic Curves and such a curve would make Cataract Jct look amazing.
      But certainly it could be bent into an L-shaped space as well.
      It was a great observation you made – and as you’ve probably seen it prompted a new post. Thanks for contributing.

  6. Great look at Cataract and the junction! I grew up in Orangeville, and sadly did not pay much attention to the railway at that time (1970s and 80s) despite living next to the tracks north of the station (next to the John St crossing), and traversing the yard tracks at Townline Road at least twice each day to get to school and back. I also hiked the Bruce Trail in and around the Cataract many times as a kid.

    A couple of related references that you did not mention, in case you or others are interested:

    Richard Wakefield’s late, great model of Orangeville and other towns on the CPR stretch including Cataract, Fraxa Junction, Alton and others as they were in 1947: http://www.mcswiz.com/MyLayout/Homepage.asp

    A.M. McKitrick’s Steam Trains Through Orangeville (1976) has details about the line that CPR put together out of the CVR and the TG&B. Here’s the AbeBooks reference: http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=10977317414&searchurl=kn%3DOrangeville%2Bsteam%2Btrains%26amp%3Bsts%3Dt%26amp%3Bx%3D-702%26amp%3By%3D-95. I believe it’s in this book that there is mention of the first Canada Dry bottling plant which was just outside Cataract. At some point between 1912 and the 1950s (?) the CPR also served the Hydro-electric plant at Cataract, by stopping on the main across the river from the plant, and unloading onto a bridge that spanned the falls…!



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