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.

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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

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(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.

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(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:

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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:

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(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.

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(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.

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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:

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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.

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(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.

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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.

CNR Map of Port Rowan branch (1937)

I thought I’d share this period map of the branch from Simcoe to Port Rowan. This was included in the Canadian National Railway’s application to abandon the line in the late 1930s. It’s intended to show the various alternative transport links available to those who would be affected by the line’s closure.

The line to be abandoned is shown in red.

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(Click on the map to view a larger version)

Abandonment Application – April 1938

In the 1930s, the Canadian National Railway sought permission to abandon the Port Rowan segment of the Simcoe Subdivision – including the two towns that I model. (Click here for a map)

As part of this effort, CNR submitted its description of the line and the communities that it served to the Board of Railway Commissioners for Canada.

I’ve written about this abandonment application previously on the blog and shared some of the data. But I realized I should share more – to expand on the record, as it were.

This information is not relevant to the era I model, of course – things changed significantly in the two decades that separate this document and my 1950s setting. Nonetheless, this document provides some interesting reading, and certainly can be culled as inspiration for operating sessions. So here it is – click on each document to view a larger version:

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(The following is the catalogue information from Library and Archives Canada, for those looking to find it themselves)
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As one might expect, the village of Port Rowan was not happy about this proposal. Here’s their response.

I’m grateful to Jeffrey Smith of the CNR in Ontario website, who found this information in our federal archives and shared it with me.

HeliCoil thread inserts

Sometimes, I come across a product that I like so much, I want to scream, “Why am I only just hearing about this now?”

HeliCoil thread inserts are one of these.

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(A new technology benefits from an old one: a 3D Printed body shell is fitted with 2-56 HeliCoil thread inserts to attach the body to its frame)

I learned about these from my friend Ryan Mendell, who is the most knowledgable person about machining and tooling that I’ve ever met. Here’s the story:

I was looking for a frame to put under the 3D Printed body shell for my CNR D-1 project. Ryan offered to cut one for me out of 1/8″ brass sheet stock. (It’s exactly what I needed, and I’ve written about it elsewhere on this blog.)

Once I had the frame and the shell, I needed a way to fasten the two – something that I could open up for assembly, finishing, servicing, etc. Stephen Gardiner, who designed the shell for me, included plain mounting blocks on the 3D Print in eight locations, so that I had some flexibility about what mounting method I would use. Stephen did caution me, however, that the 3D Printed material is quite brittle and he was worried that over tightening or repeatedly running screws in and out of the material would eventually shatter it. What to do?

Ryan recommended 2-56 Heli-Coil thread inserts because – once installed – they would become a threaded metal insert that would readily accept 2-56 bolts, a standard size for our hobby (many commercial trucks are mounted to bodies with them). Best of all, these would protect the 3D Printed material from stress.

Helicoil inserts were created in the 1930s for the aircraft industry. They’re used to impart a steel-like strength to softer materials, to prevent stripping or cracking. Today, they’re often used to repair damaged threads.

As a quick look at Stanley Engineered Fastening’s HeliCoil page will suggest, these are more than an insert: they’re a system. They require special taps and insertion tools.

To use them, I carefully drilled the appropriate-sized hole in each mounting block on the inside of the shell. I started with smaller (higher-number) drills, and worked my way up to a #41, which is the recommended size.

I then tapped the hole using the HeliCoil 2-56 tap. (This does not tap the hole for a 2-56 bolt: rather, it taps the hole for a 2-56 HeliCoil insert, which in turn is sized for a 2-56 bolt.) I then used the HeliCoil installation tool to drive the insert into place. This tool is threaded to accept an insert, and has a notch on the end that engages a tang on the insert to allow one to screw it into place:

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(A HeliCoil thread insert mounted on the installation tool)

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(This end-on view clearly shows the tang that engages the installation tool, allowing it to screw the thread insert into place)

Note that these inserts are one-way products: When you install them, you can insert them deeper into a hole, but you can’t back them out. The practice is to insert them so the end of the insert is just below the top edge of the hole. I worked carefully to install them as I got close to the end of the insert, turning a quarter turn then inspecting the work to determine where the insert was in relation to the hole.

Once satisfied, a tool is used to break off the tang so it won’t interfere with the bolt.

I am so impressed by these that I started thinking about other applications in the hobby. The one that immediately comes to mind is the mounting holes in body bolsters on rolling stock. 2-56 screws are often used to mount trucks to bodies – including in S scale. Truck are periodically removed or adjusted. And since trucks must rotate freely under bolsters, this mounting point would be subject to a certain amount of stress whenever the rolling stock is in motion. I know a few of my cars have worn holes in the bolsters – I’ll plug them re-drill, and add HeliCoil thread inserts.

So, I purchased the relevant tools for 2-56 HeliCoil thread inserts, and a selection of the inserts themselves in four lengths. (I ordered these from McMaster-Carr. Unfortunately, the company only sells to businesses – but I am self-employed and registered as a business, so that didn’t pose any problems for me.) I then collected the tools and inserts into a small container with compartments to keep everything organized:

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This is not the cheapest solution around: the starter set I put together cost around $200 for the tools (through hole and closed end hole taps, an installation tool, and the tang break-off tool) and a selection of inserts (30 of each of four lengths). The 2-56 inserts themselves are anywhere from 39¢ to 55¢ each (sold in 10-packs). But they do the job and do it well.

(Thanks, Ryan, for introducing me to these!)

LCL: AAR Form 99

Over on the LCL modeling group on Yahoo, a member asked whether anybody had a copy of the AAR standard form 99 – the waybill used for less than carload (LCL) freight.

As it happens, I do – in my copy of the AAR’s Railway Accounting Rules, published in 1951. So I shared it on the group – and I’m sharing it here:

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It reminds me that I need to continue to work on my ops plan for LCL and express, which is an important part of life on the Simcoe Sub to Port Rowan. I have come up with a scheme, but I haven’t held enough operations sessions to determine whether I like it…

Leonard Lee: 1938-2016

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(Click on the image to read the company’s tribute to its founder)

I was sad to read today of the death of Leonard Lee. He wasn’t a railway modelling enthusiast (not that I know of), but he did so much to make my hobby more enjoyable.

That’s because Leonard was the founder of Lee Valley Tools, one of those rare companies that, for me, does everything right. Lee Valley Tools offers high-quality products … excellent customer service … and a truly useful e-commerce site for shop-at-home convenience. It has always stood behind the products it sells: I’ve returned a few (mostly, because I realized I needed something different) and returns were always hassle-free. Like a good hobby shop (and for wood-workers, that’s what it was), Lee Valley Tools holds course and seminars to help its customers learn new skills. And it researches and develops new or better tools under the Veritas brand.

Yes, I could have built a layout without Lee Valley – but not as easily. Not as painlessly. Because when I needed an answer to a construction challenge, chances are I would find it at Lee Valley. And if I did, I could always buy with confidence.

What is less obvious about Lee Valley Tools is how it treats its employees. I’m sure there are examples of workers who were unhappy at Lee Valley – you can’t please everyone – but I have never, ever been in one of their stores or on the phone with an employee and had anything but a terrific experience with someone who is obviously knowledgeable and happy about doing the job that they do. Maybe I’ve been lucky. But I suspect the real reason is the work environment that Leonard Lee created – one that he described in a 2013 Globe and Mail article about executive compensation thusly:

You get tremendous loyalty from employees if they enjoy their work and they are participating in the income and they have the authority that they need to execute their job.

Written like that, it seems like a simple concept. But in the case of Lee Valley, this isn’t just HR lip service or PR bafflegab. And what a difference that can make.

Thanks, Leonard, for creating Lee Valley Tools (and opening a store a 25 minute walk from my house!) – I’m so glad that you did. You will be missed.

CNR express car: Nibbled

Well, that’s an unusual headline, but that’s exactly what I did.

As previously noted, I’m turning a model of an SP baggage car into a reasonable stand-in model of a CNR express car, in the 8775-8799 series. The most noticeable difference – and therefore the one I simply must address – is the doors. The SP car has two 5′ doors on each side, whereas the CNR car has a 6′ door and a pair of doors in an 8′ opening. The doors on the CNR car are also taller, reaching almost to the roof. (I provided more detail about the doors in a previous posting.)

I disassembled my SP model, and opened up new spaces for the doors:

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(Modified car, with new door openings)

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(Stock SP car from South Wind Models)

The brass walls are fairly thin on this car, so to do this work I simply marked the size of the new openings, then removed material with a “nibbler” – a tool used in electronics:

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(Check your local electronics supplier, or even your hobby shop, for one of these)

As the name implies, it nibbles away thin brass, PC board materials, styrene, you name it. (It’s a great tool for making openings in walls for window castings.) I’m really glad I have one in my toolbox. Using the nibbler is like playing The Price Is Right: I tried to get as close to the line as I could without going over. I then finished the openings with a good mill file.

The other big change I have to make is the roof vents. As the photos above suggest, I’ve removed the SP vents and will be replacing them. Here’s a close-up of the roof, with vents gone:

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Removing them was easy: I held the car body shell with an oven mitt, and used a micro-torch to melt the solder from the inside of the roof. A few passes with the torch was all it took. I would heat a post, set down the torch, then grab the vent with a pair of pliers and pull it out of the roof. I still have to fill the holes, and add new, longer rain strips to the roof over the larger openings.

I guess I’m committed to the project now.

Next up: I’ll build some new doors for the express car.