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

Leedham’s Mill research trip

Leedham Mill Sign - Stitched Together
(My stitched-together version of the Leedham Mill sign, based on a series of photos I shot of the original – which hangs in Donald Leedham’s garage)

Yesterday, I visited with members of the Leedham family – the people who owned the feed mill in Port Rowan (now Doerksen’s Farm Supply). Leedham’s Mill is the complex of structures at the end of track in Port Rowan, and a major customer on my line.

Airstream on Bay Street in Port Rowan
(My mock-up of the mill complex: I’m now looking forward to replacing this with detailed structures)

It was a treat to sit down with Donald Archie Leedham in his home. Donald worked in the family mill in the 1940s and 1950s. He seemed really pleased that I’m interested in the mill and plan to build a model of it. The visit gave me a chance to learn a lot about the history of the family and the mill, as well as scan photographs and take pictures of artifacts relevant to the era I’m modelling.

Here are some of the things I learned:

The Leedham Family originally had a mill in nearby Forestville, but when farms in that area switched almost exclusively to tobacco, the family moved its operation to Port Rowan. When the railway decided it no longer needed a separate freight house in Port Rowan, it was purchased for the mill. In February 1938, the freight house was jacked up and poles were used as rollers to move it across the tracks and west to the mill property. Here’s a photo of the move:

Port Rowan freight house - move to Leedham Mill

The Leedhams then added an office to the freight house. This was done because the original mill office had a very low ceiling. The office is clearly seen in this next photo, from a local calendar in Donald’s collection. This also shows that the mill had a truck scale, on the north side of the office. The scale operator worked behind the large window on the north wall – to the right of the chimney – and the truck scale is right in front of the window. I don’t know if I have room to model this on my layout, but I’d sure like to figure out how:

Leedham Mill - Doerksen calendar
(Photo shows the mill after it was acquired by Doerksen – the current owners)

One of the most exciting artefacts is the original mill sign from the era I’m modelling. The Doerksens offered the sign to the Leedhams when they took over the mill. Donald has restored the sign and it hangs in his garage. It measures approximately 3’x10′ and hung on the north side of the former freight house (so it will be visible from the aisle on my layout, which is a nice bonus!). I took photos of it in segments, and stitched them together in PhotoShop to create a version of the sign that I can add to my model of the mill.

Leedham Mill - Segment of prototype sign
(A sample of the sign. I took several photos – without the flash – then stitched them together to create a suitable sign for my model. That stitched-together sign is the lead photo for this post)

Leedham’s Mill handled a variety of products. The mill received various grains by rail. These were cleaned and blended into the typical products one would expect at a mill – including seed, feed and flour. The tall building closest to the tracks was the elevator – it was torn down a few years ago. Leedham’s also shipped out wheat grown in the area – but by truck.

NK Seed sign

Speaking of trucks, Donald had one of the company signs from the trucks. These were molded out of some form of plastic and attached to the truck doors with magnets. I was able to stick it to the side of my vehicle to take a photo outdoors:

Leedham Mill - truck sign

In addition to feed and seed, Leedham’s was also a fuel dealer. Coal was delivered by rail – to the elevated coal delivery track elsewhere in the Port Rowan yard. (I did not realize that Leedham owned the coal dump – now I do!) It was then loaded into trucks using a conveyor, and trucked from the dump to a coal bin on the east side of the Leedham complex. I’ve built a small coal shed for this location but realize now I’ll have to make it a lot larger. I’ll use this coal shed elsewhere once I’ve built a replacement. There was a fair bit of coal traffic during tobacco curing season: apparently, the tobacco kilns were originally fueled with wood but Donald remembers them being switched to coal.

Coal Pamphlet
(Leedham’s Mill was an important enterprise in Port Rowan, and a major customer for the railway. This pamphlet lists many of the services the mill provided to the community)

Donald recalls that coal came from the anthracite region of Pennsylvania. It crossed the lake via car ferry to Port Burwell on the CPR, and then was forwarded to the mill by the CNR. He also recalls that an elderly trestle near Vittoria was in bad shape, and that a full car of coal was too heavy for the trestle – so he would drive to Simcoe with a truck to shovel out part of the load. The balance would be delivered by rail to Port Rowan.

Leedham’s was also a B/A Oil dealer, but this was trucked to the mill. The pumps were on the west side of the road – which puts them in the aisle in my basement, so I won’t be modelling this part of the operation.

Finally, Leedham’s sold bagged cement. Volumes were dependent on who was building what in town. The bagged cement was shipped to the mill in boxcars from St. Mary’s, and unloaded into an extension of the main mill building.

Leedham Mill - thermometer

I’ve been putting off building the mill because it’s a large project – but yesterday’s visit answered some important questions and I’m now keen to tackle Leedham’s in 1:64. Thanks to Donald, his daughter Pat Elliot (who arranged the visit and brought a delicious cake) and son Scott Leedham (who was also on hand to help out), my model of the mill more accurate, and the process of building it will be more rewarding.