The Andrew Merrilees Collection :: 1

Canadian railway historians owe a huge debt to this man:

Andrew Merrilees

Andrew Merrilees was a Toronto-area businessman who dealt in railways, boats and other large equipment. He was also a very active collector of photographs and other materials related to transportation. A huge portion of his collection – said to number 375,000 photographs and other documents – ended up at Library and Archives Canada.

I’ve known about the Merrilees collection for a while now, but I’ve never been into the archives to have a look. I rectified that oversight this past week, as I joined my friends Jeff Young, Peter Foley and Mike Walton on a trip to Ottawa for two days of document diving.

I’ve only scratched the surface, but already my mind is blown.

Fireless loco.
(An example of the weird and wonderful things we discovered. Photographer and date – and subject – unknown. But everybody agreed we want one!)

We photographed many of the interesting things we saw, and I’ll be sharing them on my blogs as I have time to process the material.

NST 60 - Terminal
(NS&T 60 at the Geneva Street terminal in St. Catharines. Photographer and date unknown.)

I was looking primarily for photographs and information related to the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway, and therefore much of what I found will appear on my Niagara Electrics in 1:64 blog.

Other fascinating finds may end up on my blog about Achievable Layouts, as much of what I saw could act as inspiration for a wonderful model – or model railway.

Toronto York Radial Railway rotary plow
(This piece of equipment just begs to be modelled. An unknown photographer shot this image in 1905 of a Toronto & York Radial Railway (Metropolitan Division) rotary snow plow. According to notes on the back of the photo, the plow was built by J. Coghlan Company and T&Y purchased it secondhand in 1904. The photo was taken on Yonge Street, at the GTR Belt Line Subway, outside the old T&YR Mount Pleasant shop. The gentleman is identified as Joseph Middlebrook.)

CNR 91 - Simcoe - AMC
(While I wasn’t looking for photos related to Port Rowan in 1:64, I did stumble across this nice shot of CNR 2-6-0 Number 91 leading a mixed train near Simcoe, Ontario. Photographer and date unknown.)

If you’re not following my Niagara Electrics or Achievable Layouts blogs, you might want to add your email to the distribution lists. You’ll find information on how to do that on each blog – in the righthand column on the home page.

Also, I’ve added “Andrew Merrilees Collection” to my list of Categories. You’ll find that list as a drop-down menu in the right column on the home page for this blog. In the future, if you want to find all posts related to images from this collection, that’s one way to do it.

No NERPM for me this year

Well, nuts.

Things did not work out. Something has come up and I won’t be able to attend the New England / Northeast RPM June 1-2 in Enfield, Connecticut.

I was really looking forward to it, but life sometimes gets in the way of trains.

No need to send best wishes, etc. It’s all good. But if you want to take my place, there’s a clinic slot open at 9am on the Friday…

Merritton :: 1980


I’ll start by saying this is not my photograph. I found it online – on a Facebook group devoted to Niagara region history and trivia. The image is by AW Mooney – and as Rob Chant notes in the comments, a larger version can be found on the Railpictures site, along with additional caption information. (Thanks Rob!)

This one is outside of my modelling timeframe and location. But I love the image.

It’s 1980 and we’re looking east along the Grimsby Subdivision at Merritton, Ontario – at the east end of St. Catharines. The photographer is standing on the Merritt Street bridge over the tracks.

At one time, this was the location where the CNR interchanged freight traffic with the Niagara St. Catharines and Toronto Railway – an electrified line that ran between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. (The CNR absorbed the NS&T and when I was growing up in St. Catharines I used to regularly see CNR switch engines in my neighbourhood, running on former NS&T street trackage to serve a General Motors parts plant on Ontario Street.)

The interchange yard is to the left, behind the station building. There’s a four-track yard there now – but it used to be larger and at one time included a track scale. Even so, it was a small yard by railway standards – perfect for modelling.

Obviously, the big attraction in this picture is the steam fan trip behind CNR 6060. But as someone who grew up in this area, I see lots of other interesting things.

The station, for one. It’s gone now – the victim of a fire (arson, if I recall) in the 1990s. I have some photos of it somewhere, taken shortly before it burned down. It was not an active station – VIA Rail trains stopped at West St. Catharines, a couple miles behind the photographer. But it was used, I believe, as a crew office for the local switch jobs. Now, Trillium Railway works out of a metal building here.

The track occupied by the switcher curves to the right in the distance. That’s the start of a steep grade up the Niagara Escarpment into Thorold. Among other customers, that line served the paper mill on Pine Street. I’ve written a fair bit about that customer on my Achievable Layouts blog.

In the distance, the grey blob over the tracks is the lift bridge over the Welland Canal.

I remember riding a fan trip special behind CNR 6060 to Niagara Falls and back when I lived in Toronto. But I don’t remember this trip through St. Catharines in 1980. This photo brings back a lot of memories.

I must confess I have made several attempts, in various layout spaces, to design a layout based on the ex-NS&T lines as I remember them – part of CNR’s Grantham Subdivision in the 1980s. Essential locations for me would include this yard and Eastchester Yard on the NS&T north of here. But I can never get it to fit. I think I know the prototype a little too well, and can’t accept the compromises required to shoehorn it into a basement. Or maybe I haven’t tried hard enough…

In addition to writing about it here, I shared the original image to the Classic Canadian National Facebook group, where it’s already generating some interesting discussion.

Thinner Throwbars in RMC

I have a story in the October, 2017 edition of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine about how I built the head rods (throwbars) for my turnouts.

RMC October 2017 cover

I hand-laid my track and built my turnouts using the assembly fixtures and other tools offered by Tim Warris at Fast Tracks. I love the reliability of using copper-clad printed circuit board (PCB) material for holding rail securely in a turnout – especially around the frog.

But the traditional way of making a head rod always bothered me, because the rod would end up being as wide as a tie – for the very good reason that one would simply use a PCB tie.

My approach results in a head rod that is much thinner in appearance – more like the metal bars used on a prototype turnout. The article provides step-by-step instructions to make your own.

In preparing this article, I took some photos of the switch points on a turnout, part of the ex-CNR – now Trillium Railway – industrial trackage in St. Catharines, Ontario. Here they are, for context:

Head rod and back rod
(Head rod and, further up the points, a back rod. Note the size of these rods, compared to the ties.)

Head rod and stock rail
(The head rod projects only a couple of inches beyond the stock rail.)

Head rod and switch stand
(A pipe connects the head rod to the switch stand)

Click on the RMC cover, above, to visit Railroad Model Craftsman online. You can order a copy of the magazine via the White River Productions online store.

California Dreamin’ | We’ll always have Perris

As part of my trip to California in mid-September, I squeezed in a brief stop at the restored ATSF train station in Perris. This is something I’m really glad I was able to do – it was a pilgrimage of sorts.

To find out why, visit my Achievable Layouts blog. Just click on the pretty postcard view of the station, below:

California Dreamin’ | PE 985

Danger! Danger! Whoop-whoop-whoop!

PE 985 in O scale

I had a great time in southern California earlier this month. A great time. I’ll write more about it as time allows, but my travels included a stop at The Original Whistle Stop model railway emporium in Pasadena. Which is where I saw the above, O scale, Pacific Electric wood car.

What a beauty.

I have a soft spot (right between the ears) for traction. I attribute it to growing up in Toronto – a city where streetcars survived and thrive. The TTC was a part of my daily life. My parents did not have a car – in a big city, you don’t really need one. My father took the subway to work, and my mother and I would go on all manner of trips through the city – all involving a ride on public transit. Unlike many hobbyists I know, these were my first exposure to the phenomenon of flanged wheels on steel rails.

That influenced my tastes in the hobby for many years. While others my age were devouring the work of Al McClelland and Tony Koester – and building “tribute layouts” around the theme of Appalachian coal hauling – I was absorbing everything I could about Bob Hegge and his Crooked Mountain Lines. I can still remember the month/year of issues with Hegge articles in them and at one time planned my own tribute layout in my parents’ basement. (I started one, but never got as far as stringing overhead, so I don’t know if that’s something I enjoy – or whether I’m even capable of doing it.)

My interest extended beyond the CML, of course. My copies of the traction books from Kalmbach and Carstens are definitely dog-eared. And I have a number of models of equipment from interurban lines, in several scales.

No need to worry: Port Rowan is safe. I have a boxcar painted in the Crooked Mountain Lines scheme – an NMRA heritage car, and the only freelanced railway represented on my layout.

But models like the Pacific Electric car above make my heart skip a beat. I’m fortunate it was not for sale.

As I noted earlier, I’ll have more to report on my trip – to an NMRA convention, and seeing the sights – as time allows. Stay tuned…

Southampton mural

George Dutka recently visited Southampton, Ontario and shared a couple of photographs of a terrific mural painted on the side of one of the old brick mills. Have a look at his blog to see what I mean:

Southampton, Ontario – Mural

I have a model of the subject of this mural, which regularly plies the rails to Port Rowan. So it’s nice to see it captured in a piece of public art – thanks for sharing this, George!

Like Port Rowan, Southampton is another one of those small Ontario towns once served by the CNR that would make a terrific subject for a satisfying layout. In fact, I’ve even drawn up a plan for such a layout, which you can find on my Achievable Layouts blog.

Enjoy if you visit!

Port Rowan Main Street :: 1956

While this is correct for the era I model, Main Street in Port Rowan is south (beyond the backdrop) of what I model. Still, it’s an interesting photo of the community I’m modelling, and I’m grateful that it was shared via the Stories and Legends of Long Point and Port Rowan Area group on Facebook.

Port Rowan - Main Street - 1956

Not to be too grim, but perhaps C. Leslie Clark ships an occasional coffin (loaded or empty) as express on The Daily Effort