Little details often go a long way to setting the year on a layout – especially for those who are not in the hobby or not familiar with the railway being modelled.
For example, I know that 2-6-0s ran on the branch to Port Rowan until sometime in the mid-1950s, when a bridge at Caledonia was rebuilt to allow larger power to cross. By 1957, Port Rowan trains were hauled by CNR 10-wheelers. Somebody who is only generally familiar with railroading may see steam locomotives and be able to guess that the layout is set before 1960 – but they would need more clues before they could even pin down the decade.
Vehicles help. Even if one can’t tell a 1953 Ford from a 1955 Chevy, there are certain signature styles that say “1950s” versus earlier or later decades: Nobody will mistake that 1953 Ford Crestline Victoria for a 1935 Ford Phaeton.
But little details also help tell the story. Like a TV antenna.
As the lead photo shows, I’ve used an HO scale photo-etched antenna from Gold Medal Models. I glued this to a length of phosphor bronze wire (not included) and added a block at the bottom from 0.040″ square styrene strip. I painted the block and wire black and then glued the antenna assembly to the side of the chimney. I added a loop of black E-Z Line around the chimney to represent a strap of metal, securing the antenna to the brick work.
The signal has to get from the antenna to the TV, so I used more black E-Z Line to add a cable. I threaded an eyebolt onto the line, and glued this into a hole drilled on the wall below the eavestrough, as shown below. Next, I drilled a hole in the siding next to the parlour window and glued one end of the cable into this. I then pulled the line tight – but not too tight – and glued the other end of the cable to the bottom of the antenna mast.
For most North Americans, a roof-top antenna defines a period from the launch of broadcast TV in the mid-1940s to the widespread adoption of cable TV services in the 1980s.
TV came to Canada a little later than in the United States. Canadians living along the border had been picking up American signals since 1946, and thousands of TV sets were watching ABC, NBC or CBS from border cities like Buffalo, Detroit and Seattle.
The first Canadian stations – CBC Montreal and CBC Toronto – signed on in September 1952. That year, it’s estimated that some 85,000 sets were sold, 95% of them in Ontario. Most of these – 57.4% – were sold in the Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Regions as people took advantage of clear signals beamed across Lake Ontario.
St. Williams and Port Rowan are a fair distance from Toronto so picking up CBC would’ve been impossible until further affiliates were launched. But they are right along the shore of Lake Erie – and from a broadcast signal perspective they’re in clear view of Buffalo. Could they have received television signals from there? Would they have bothered?
WBEN-TV signed on the air in 1948 and WGR-TV joined it in 1954, so signal or two existed. But televisions were expensive and the signal quality would’ve been dicey. That said, TVs were also a status symbol. It seems that my tobacco farmer in St. Williams is keen to impress the neighbours with a television in the parlour. Or maybe he just loves The Howdy Doody Show?
Regardless of reason, the antenna adds a nice bit of rooftop clutter that helps define the era.
*Dinah Washington’s recording of “TV Is The Thing This Year” was released in 1953 – one of the years I use for operating sessions on my layout:
FYI, Diane Reeves did a great version of it on the soundtrack for “Good Night and Good Luck”: