Leedham’s Mill construction :: 1

Summer seems to be my season for modelling structures – and this summer, I’m tackling the most important customer on my model railway: the Leedham’s Mill, literally at the end of the line in Port Rowan.

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The mill consists of several buildings, including an elevator at trackside, a coal bin, and a storage building for bagged cement. But I’m starting with the office:

Leedham Mill - office model

This is a visually interesting structure with an equally interesting history. The mill office started life as the railway’s freight house. It sat east of the station, and was painted in Grand Trunk’s two-tone scheme.

But the railway sold the structure to Leedham’s Mill, and in February of 1938 the mill hauled the freight house across the tracks and west to the mill property.

Port Rowan freight house - moving day
(Moving day! Photo courtesy the Leedham family. Click the image to read more about the prototype)

The mill’s new office was put on a new foundation and at some point, a cinder block extension was added. Also at some point – I’m not sure when – it received a coat of red paint. This structure still exists as part of Doerksen Farm Supplies Ltd.

Late last year, I was fortunate to sit down with Donald Archie Leedham, who worked in the family mill in the 1940s and 1950s. Donald provided me with a lot of useful information about the mill and its relationship with the railway, which you can read about in an earlier post. Just click on the photo, above.

My mock-up of the office has done terrific service on the layout, but has been in place for several years now while I focussed on other projects. Given that it’s right up front on the layout, and one of the first structures visitors will see, I wanted to polish my skills on structures that are not such a signature item.

But last weekend, I printed out a package of detail shots – many taken for me by Mike Livingston on one of his trips to Port Rowan. I made several notes on dimensions and claddings, and then got to work cutting and gluing styrene and strip wood.

Leedham Mill - office model
(The side of the office that’s closest to the aisle on my layout. The cinder block extension will go on corner in the lower right)

Leedham Mill - office model
(The side of the office that’s closest to the backdrop. Visitors will be able to look between the office and the elevator and see this wall)

For this structure, I’m using the wall farthest from the aisle as a place to experiment with stains and shading. I’ve been doing a lot of painting lately for tabletop miniature gaming and role playing games, and learning painting techniques that are new to me, so I’m working on applying them in a model railway context. To emphasize the walls, I’ve stained individual boards and battens with browns and greys, then randomly glued them to my styrene sub-walls before blending everything together with a top coat. I’m really happy with the results so far, and look forward to continuing to experiment with washes and tones.

Right now, I’m waiting on an order from Mt. Albert Scale Lumber. (It figures: I finally get started on the structure, and I promptly run out of a critical size of strip wood.) But that’s fine – I have other things to do, and I’m already feeling a little bored and battered by board-by-board board-and-batten…

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.

flammis acribus addictis

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(… doomed to flames of woe…)

I enjoy building structures – it’s one of my favourite aspects of the hobby – but they’re always a huge undertaking.

So when I finish one, such as the Leedham’s Mill coal bin I completed over the weekend, I take great satisfaction in the Ceremonial Burning of the Mock-Up in our wood stove.

(When I finish a structure in warmer months, I save the mock-ups in the wood box so I can start off the winter right.)

Every hobbyist needs his or her rituals…

Coal bin for Leedham’s Mill

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I’ve just finished building the first of two coal bin kits – this one, for the Leedham’s mill at the end of track in Port Rowan. (The second kit is for the team track in St. Williams.)

The kit – from Crystal River Products – builds into a much larger commercial coal house, as shown on the company’s website.

I cut down the kit to half the size – which is closer to the size of the prototype bin as described on my map of the yard area. It’ll hold a gondola car’s worth of coal and not much more – but that will add up to dozens of bags of coal for the mill’s customers, and I’m sure the mill will order more coal as the pile dwindles.

This was an excellent kit for many reasons – but the main one is that the designer departed from the standard use of a laser cutter in this hobby: Instead of creating a standard laser-cut kit, the laser was used to create fixtures in which to build up the walls and doors, board by board. The boards were also cut to length using the laser, so things went together with the precision that a laser offers, while still enabling the modeller to individually distress and stain each board for a terrific “weathered wood” finish:

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Too often in the hobby, we’re enamoured by the tools: We have a laser cutter so everything needs to be laser cut. More recently, we’ve seen the same phenomenon with 3D printers. Like laser cutters, they’re great for some operations, and completely inappropriate for others. (I have a friend who runs a high-end machine shop. He has a 3D printer and 3D scanner at work that’s used mainly to create fixtures to hold pieces for machining.)

This kit is a good example of placing the priority on the finished model, not the easiest way to manufacture it. There’s a lot more laser time involved to create this kit than there would be for the standard “four walls plus a roof” approach. This is reflected in the price for the kit (US$140 last time I checked).

That may seem steep for a structure that fits in the palm of one’s hand. But I feel this is entirely worth the price.

There are literally hundreds of pieces of wood in this little shed. I stained each piece individually using three Hunterline stains in various combinations.

When I add up the time spent staining, distressing and assembling, I’ve invested about 50 hours into this kit so far. This works out to $2.80 per hour for hobby fun – so far – with the cost per hour to drop further as I invest more hours to install this structure on the layout and detail the area to turn it into a vignette. (Certainly, I got more enjoyable bench time than I would have had I spent that $140 on a ready-to-run locomotive.)

On top of this, I picked up many techniques – new to me – that I can put to good use on future projects. I can’t put a price on that.

This shed is the first structure for the feed mill complex. I have three more buildings to create, and all will be scratch-built. The coal bin has set a standard of quality for this scene: It was a great place to start.

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Terminal buildings back in place

The preliminary scenery work at the end of the Port Rowan peninsula is now dry enough to return the building mockups to the layout, so here are a couple of updated photos of the area.

The feed mill occupies a large patch of gravel and cinders. The station can be seen just beyond the mill at right:
A return to normalcy photo PtR-EOT-Green-04_zps9fadf3b6.jpg

In this image, the first view a visitor sees of the layout, the automobile at lower right sits on the future site of a driveway for the first of the houses on Chestnut Street. The mill, the garage, and the station can also be seen:
Buildings, grass and gravel photo PtR-EOT-Green-05_zps666fe8da.jpg

A short work extra has arrived at the station. Curiously, it’s not being pulled by a 10-wheeler…

More work on mockups

For the time being, I’ve finished building mockups of the structures for my S scale interpretation of Port Rowan.

Today I added a coal bin to the feed mill complex – the black structure next to the track in this photo:

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock - now with coal bin

I’ve also repositioned the garage – moving it further away from the mill:

Relocated garage mock up

I need to make sure that viewers appreciate that the garage is not part of the mill complex, but a separate entity.

Sharp-eyed viewers will note a grey structure to the left of the train in the distance. More on that new structure in this posting.

Instant Town

… but don’t add water, because it’s made of artist board.

I enjoy structure building, although I don’t engage in the type of structure building that wins craftsman structure contests. But when I need a break from other aspects of the hobby, structures are a favourite.

That’s especially true of the planning/proof-of-concept stage. This involves no wood, styrene or glue – just artist board, a knife, a ruler, tape and so on. I almost always build a cardboard mockup of structures first, so I can confirm roof angles, overall placement on the layout and other things that are easier to fix before one starts cutting and gluing styrene or wood.

It was hot outside yesterday so I went to ground in a cool part of the house, with tools, materials, photographs, notes and a supply of adult beverages, and created mockups of almost all the structures for my model of Port Rowan. It may be helpful to have a copy of the Canadian National track map and my layout plan handy while you look at the photos:

Port Rowan - Plot

Port Rowan layout plan

Here’s an overview of my Port Rowan, taken from the end of the peninsula looking over the roof of the two buildings that make up the feed mill. The Daily Effort has arrived at the station, and for some reason there’s a freight on the team track. I’ve mocked up the barn located next to the team track and, behind the feed mill at left, a rather substantial structure labelled as a garage.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

If we were to travel down Bay Street – at the end of the peninsula – towards the backdrop and then look up the driveway towards the station, this is what we’d see. We’re looking into the L of the station at this point. The L-shaped main building has extensions at each end, and there’s a shed tucked into the L. The feed mill is in the foreground at left.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

If we were to walk to the station, then cross the tracks and look back at the feed mill, this is what we’d see. The mill consists of two buildings, each with extensions or additions. The locomotive is stopped next to a coal bin extension at the mill. To the right of the trackside mill building is the office for the mill – which appears to have been the railway’s freight house at one time. In that role, it would’ve been next to the station but was moved to the feed mill’s site. In the foreground is that garage again.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

Here’s another look at the barn mockup next to the team track. Doing the mockup was essential for getting the roofline right on this structure. The best prototype photo I have of it is from the Keith Sirman collection, taken from the station platform.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

Port Rowan - CNR 88 and M233

Here’s another view of the garage mockup. It can be seen in the prototype photo below, but I have another view in a book that shows large sliding doors on the front of the structure, in the open position, so that’s how I mocked it up. I’ll have to do a detailed interior since it’s right at the front of the layout.

Port Rowan - Cardstock buildings

M233 at Port Rowan - Keith Sirman Collection

I’ve taken several images of the feed mill and the Port Rowan station. Click on each thumbnail for a larger version.

Feed Mill

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan feed mill - cardstock

Port Rowan Station

Port Rowan station - cardstock

Port Rowan station - cardstock

Port Rowan station - cardstock

Port Rowan station - cardstock

I need to give a special shout-out to my friend Mike Livingston. Mike provided many of the critical dimensions for both the station and the two buildings in the feed mill. He also photographed the feed mill earlier this year, with a measuring stick posed in each photo, which was invaluable when creating the mockups. And his photography expedition was timely, as the trackside structure was in the process of being demolished when he visited. It’s gone now – but thanks to Mike’s timely work I’ll be able to model it.

I think I’ve captured the size and proportions of each structure. But the great thing about mockups is that if I haven’t, I can make adjustments quickly and cheaply.

The last mockup to do for Port Rowan is the railway section house. Then I can mockup the depot, coal shed, tobacco kilns and other structures for St. Williams. Then I’ll have to start building the structures for real.