My friend Simon Dunkley brought this one to my attention …
The North Stratford Railroad is a 26-mile short line that ran North from a connection with the Grand Trunk at North Stratford, New Hampshire to Beecher Falls, Vermont – near the Canadian border. At one time part of the Maine Central Railroad, the line was rescued from abandonment in the 1970s by the state of New Hampshire. In its new incarnation as the North Stratford Railroad, the line is as simple an operation as one could ask for, with two locomotives (an Alco S1 and a GE 44 tonner) plus a large fleet of boxcars to serve the railroad’s single large customer – the Ethan Allen furniture plant at the end of the line.
To learn more about the North Stratford Railroad, including a sample layout plan, I recommend the article by T. Bram Bailey in the June-July 1985 issue of Prototype Modeler magazine. This article used to be archived at TrainLife but no longer appears to be available there, so interested readers will have to go on a hunt.
As Bailey’s feature explains, there are a couple of other opportunities for online switching – including an Agway operation in Colebrook. But the primary customer – the reason for the line’s existence – is Ethan Allen. Bailey’s article notes the railroad hauled loaded boxcars of furniture from Ethan Allen to the GT interchange, while inbounds destined for the factory included empty cars for loading and loads of furniture subassemblies.
In HO, one could easily model the entire line, including the interchange with CN. The plan in Bailey’s feature occupies a 10-foot by 15-foot space and all of the short line’s trackage is within easy reach of the aisle.
In larger scales, some of the scenes are too deep to maintain so the plan would need to be adjusted. That said, at 20-feet by 30-feet, it’s not a huge plan for O scale. An alternative would be to focus on the Beecher Falls scene, creating a terminal-to-staging style layout (as I have done with my S scale Port Rowan layout).
Regardless of whether one tackles the whole line or just Beecher Falls, I would be tempted to enhance the trackage at the Ethan Allen factory ever so slightly, adding a second track for inbound loads. That would enhance switching by requiring the operator to separate loads from empties for spotting at separate doors. Further operating interest could be added by requiring the inbound loads to be sorted into spot-order for Ethan Allen. Would the real railroad have done that? Probably not in the Maine Central days – but short lines are noted for their personable service and willingness to accommodate their customers’ needs. Again, it would enhance switching.
All the equipment needed to build this layout has been produced in HO, S and O scales.
40-foot boxcar models are ubiquitous – buy them in bulk.
In HO, the Alco S series switcher has been done by several manufacturers, while Bachmann has done the 44 Tonner.
Brass versions of the Also switcher have been done in S and O scale.
Lettering might be a challenge, but the boxcar lettering has been produced in HO and O by Highball Graphics, and my guess is that the logo would work on the locomotives in a pinch. What’s more, I know from experience that Highball Graphics does a very nice job of custom decals, so getting sets for S scale should not be an insurmountable problem.
Simon has written about The North Stratford Railroad on his blog as well. He has included a number of links to other sources of information about the North Stratford Railroad, including photo galleries – so it’s well worth the visit. (Good find, Simon!)
Short lines are great prototype inspiration for achievable layouts. Many will recall the excellent set of articles in the September 1978 issue of Model Railroader on the Arcade & Attica Railroad – a New York short line that survives to this day.
A similar in-depth treatment in the August 1979 issue of MR covered another New York short line – the Fonda Johnstown & Gloversville. To see how this line can be modelled effectively, check out the HO scale layout by Steve Lamora in the February 2004 issue of Railmodel Journal (archived here on TrainLife).