How about a layout plan?

Well, if you insist…

This is the preliminary plan, although close to final. Some tweaking will take place as I do more research and actually begin construction:

Port Rowan Layout Plan

(As a suggestion, you can click on the image to open it in a separate window on your browser, so you can refer to it while reading the rest of this)

Here are some notes on the design:

I’ve drawn the plan to the scale of two squares = 12 inches.

I’ve used a 42-inch minimum radius (equivalent to 31 inches in HO or 56 inches in O scale), although in practice I’ll ease the curves.

Similarly, I’ve drawn the plan with #8 switches but I may use a combination of #7 and #9 switches instead of the #8s everywhere, since I’ll be hand laying my track.

The front edge of the layout is not written in stone. I need to think about things like reach-in distance to switches.

Starting along the bottom of the image, I have a six-foot sector plate. It would require a cassette or integrated turntable for turning the steam locomotives, and it could be extended to eight feet if I make it removable when I’m not using it.

An apple orchard and tobacco kilns would hide a hole through the backdrop.

Next, we have a midway station based on St. Williams. I’d use part of the siding as a team track (coal unloading, produce boxes inbound, apples, tobacco and corn outbound). The spur in the lower left of the plan was not on the prototype, although there was a spur further along that served a feed mill. I’ve drawn a coal shed and an old grain storage building, because I’ve already built a model of the grain storage building:

Cheltenham grain storage building.

This structure used to stand in Cheltenham, Ontario – 174 kilometres away from Port Rowan according to Google Maps. But photos of the building from the early 1950s show it without any protective siding over its cribbed wood construction. I enjoy projects like this and now that I’ve built it, it’ll be great to find a place for it on the layout.

The south end of the double-ended siding at St. Williams can be used to store any outbound cars after switching so they don’t have to be dragged into Port Rowan itself.

The line loops around the upper left corner of the layout room – here I’ve borrowed elements from elsewhere on the line from Hamilton. Stone Church Road is a neat little bridge from near Rymal, and I put it here as a neat photo location, but any small bridge over a road would do. Meanwhile, I’ve moved the Lynn Valley slightly west from the adjacent Port Dover branch to allow me to model the water tank used by locomotives working the Port Rowan line.

The mainline finally heads between orchards, across a farm track, and into Port Rowan itself.

The first switch leads to the elevated track for unloading coal. The coal dealer also receives tank cars (he has a Cities Service franchise) and accommodates hopper cars of gravel on the elevated track. Apparently, the facilities consist of a pair of open-sided bunkers under the rails – like a capital “E”. The dealer then shovelled coal into his truck for local delivery. A derail prevents cars from fowling the main if they roll down the grade.

The track next to the coal track is a team track. One of the customers that uses this is a local lumber yard, which is across the street from the end of rails (right end of the peninsula). There’s a barn next to the track in the photos I have. Apparently it’s not a customer but it’ll make for an interesting structure.

A section house with handcar set-off sits next to the short runaround track. It should actually be further left, facing the main in the angle between main track and turntable lead, but I don’t have space there.

At the end of the line we have the large station (passenger and express), a garage in the field across from it, then the Leedham feed mill (grains, fertilizer, building materials). One reference says a freight shed shared the end of steel with the feed mill but I have not found any photos of it.

This is not an ambitious plan but it has the right, relaxed feel, a sense of going somewhere (I think – especially with a 15 mph speed limit on the branch), and enough switching to keep a two-person crew busy for 45-60 minutes.

In that sense, it’s very much like my recently torn-down On2 layout. But among its many advantages, it’s local: I can drive to the area in less than three hours, which will help with research trips. In fact, I’ve already been down to photograph and measure some tobacco kilns:

Tobacco kilns in Scotland, Ontario.

Why the Canadian National in S?

Another good question that deserves an answer.

There are two reasons; familiarity with the prototype and equipment availability.


Living in Southern Ontario, the Canadian National Railway is the home team.

It’s not as extensive as it once was – not by a long shot – but one doesn’t have to go very far to find the CNR. From a hobbyist’s perspective, that also means it’s arguably the best-researched prototype for modellers in this area.

Go to a local train show, and the photo vendors will have a good selection of CNR pictures on offer. Local historical societies have information about the railway because, well, it served their town. And southern Ontario railfans and modellers have done a tremendous job of documenting the railway’s various lines, equipment, structures and so on.

I always like to start with books and my Port Rowan project is no exception. There are two that are of immense value for information and inspiration. These are:
Steam Echoes of Hamilton*, by Ian Wilson; and
Hamilton’s Other Railway*, by Charles Cooper.

Beyond books and photo dealers, I have several friends who model the Canadian National in the steam era (in a variety of scales) and they’ve been very generous in sharing what they know. That’s a nice change because frankly, my work on Maine two-foot lines since 2002 often seemed like working in the wilderness. Neither of my two closest friends in the two-foot community lives in Southern Ontario. (One is in Alberta, Canada and the other is in the United Kingdom.)

After almost a decade of self-imposed exile, it’s really nice to be working on something to which my local peers can relate. Already I’m benefitting from the knowledge of those modelling the line south of Hamilton to Port Dover and Port Rowan, as well as the expertise of those modelling the Canadian National in S scale (and in other scales, too).

Which brings me to…


S scale may seem an odd choice for modelling the CNR – except that the railway is surprisingly well served by manufacturers. Off the top of my head, here’s a list of what I need for the Port Rowan project, with notes on who makes it:

Steam engines

Moguls and 10-wheelers on the prototype.
(CNR 10-wheeler 1541 and Mogul 83 at Simcoe, Ontario)

Moguls and 10-Wheelers.
(These two classes of small steam locomotives are the core of my model railway)

Photos of Port Rowan in the 1950s show CNR 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s. Both have been produced by Simon Parent, with help from Fred Rouse at S Scale Loco and Supply. (My understanding is that Fred has now wound up that business.) I picked up a pair of the 10-Wheelers built and finished for me by Simon. We chose CNR 1532 and CNR 1560, since Simon had good photos of both sides of both of these locomotives from which to work:

CNR 1532 in 1:1 and 1:64…

CNR 1532 - prototype photo.

CNR 1532 in 1:64.

CNR 1560 in 1:1 and 1:64…

CNR 1560 - prototype photo.

CNR 1560 in 1:64.

Simon is a master craftsman and these locomotives are the nicest running steam engines, in any scale, that I have ever owned.
Simon has also produced a kit for the CNR’s 2-6-0s. I have one of those, and have asked Simon to build it for me. (UPDATE = 2013-02-21: I have actually acquired three of these from Simon! Click here for the story.)

E-series x3.

Passenger equipment

Passenger cars for The Daily Effort.

My needs are modest here as Port Rowan was served by a mixed train. In the early 1950s, the passenger equipment on this included a baggage-mail car and a combine. Later photos show the baggage-mail car replaced by a baggage car.

For the combine, Andrew Malette of MLW Services* has come to the rescue, with a kit that builds into a very nice model. I have two of them:

CNR combine 7184.

CNR combine 7176.

American Models* makes a very nice ready-to-run RPO that is a very good start for a CNR mail-baggage car in the ME-73-B series (CNR 7790-7794 and CNR 7807-7809):

CNR baggage mail car 7792.

If a proper National Steel Car baggage car becomes available (and it might) I will add one to the roster as well.

Freight equipment

A sampling of suitable S scale freight cars.

Again, my needs are modest here. There’s not a whole lot of traffic in and out of Port Rowan.

Photographs show hopper cars of coal and stone, boxcars of building supply materials delivered to the team track for Beaver Lumber, or cars for the feed mill located at the end of track. In addition, a train may include a boxcar of L.C.L. for the freight shed or a tank car of fuel oil.

Oliver and David Clubine at Ridgehill Scale Models* offer nice resin kits for CNR (and CPR) Fowler Patent boxcars – as well as terrific resin kits for CNR vans (cabooses) in three variations:

CNR Fowler Boxcar - Ridgehill Scale Models Kit.

CNR wooden van - Ridgehill Scale Models kit.

To boost Canadian content, MLW Services is in the process of bringing CNR eight-hatch refrigerator cars to market as resin kits. Reading about the branch, several stations on the line shipped apples at one time – and given the relative paucity of Canadian equipment I’ll happily justify using an eight-hatch reefer or two, spotted at the Port Rowan team track or on the St. Williams siding, to represent this traffic. (As an aside, Port Rowan once had a large apple evaporating plant near the station, which supplied dried fruit for soldiers in the Great War).

CNR Eight-hatch refrigerator car - MLW Services kit.
(UPDATE: That kit was released in 2013)

To fill out the train, a selection of era-appropriate freight cars is available from American Models*, S Helper Service (now MTH*), S Scale America (offered by Des Plaines Hobbies)* and – at one time – Pacific Rail Shops*.

American Models, S Helper Service and S Scale America offer ready to run equipment that is very well detailed, although the models may need modification to better represent specific prototypes. Between the three, I’m covered for boxcars, hoppers and tank cars – at least as starting points for any detailing projects I want to undertake.

PRS offered kits for several common boxcars – a list can be found here. Andy at MLW Serivces offers a set of detail parts to upgrade PRS boxcars, while S Scale America (Des Plaines Hobbies) has the very-Canadian eight-run boxcar ladders with integrated stirrup steps. I have a few boxcars and have used these parts to upgrade them to model some Canadian National versions:

CNR boxcar - converted PRS kit.
(Converted Pacific Rail Shops kit)

CNR boxcar - converted S Helper Service RTR.
(Converted S Helper Service ready to run model)

CNR boxcar - converted S Helper Service RTR.
(Converted S Helper Service ready to run model)

Another wordy post but as you can see, I have sources of information and sources of equipment well covered.

I look forward to doing more research as my Port Rowan project progresses.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

Why S scale?

That has to be the second question, and the answer is complex. This posting will therefore be long – thanks in advance for chewing through it.

First, some background. I’ve modelled in O scale for several years. My last layout was in O scale, two-foot gauge, depicting the unique narrow gauge railroads of Maine:

My Maine On2 layout.

I’ve also spent much of the last year working on various projects for a planned Southern Pacific layout in Proto:48:

SP-1767 in Proto:48

I enjoyed the projects, which included:

– Adding DCC, sound and lights to my Glacier Park Models SP 2-6-0s;
– Detailing rolling stock, including a lot of Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars; and
– Converting everything to Proto:48 trucks and Protocraft couplers.

A portrait of the Valley Mallet.

Cut Lever - Bottom Mount

I love the size of O. Trains have heft. Details can be seen. And I enjoy building large models of small prototypes such as section houses and flag stop shelters.

However, when trying to draw an O scale plan for my layout space, I always came away unsatisfied. The problem is, my space is reasonably long, but very narrow. I was running into curve radius issues. I was also finding that, in O scale at least, my two primary objectives for the layout were in conflict.

First, I wanted to create realistic scenes. That meant giving the scenes space to breathe, so they’d look like places one would find on a full size, standard gauge railroad as opposed to a miniature basement empire. It also meant using larger turnouts than what one normally sees on model railways. My friend Mike Cougill uses #8s and #10s on his Indiana and Whitewater layout and I love the effect. (But judge it for yourself by visiting the OST Publications website and look for his book on detailing track in the online store.)

Second, I wanted some operation. Not a lot, but enough to keep a couple of people entertained for an hour or so.

What I found was that even a simple design became so compressed in O scale that it ended up looking like a TimeSaver. (Not literally, mind you: I use the term as an example of any compact switching puzzle – the very sort of thing that real railroads avoid. Craig Bisgeier has written a great critique of the TimeSaver and why one should not use it in a layout.)

In addition, every plan required a HUGE balloon track involving almost 360 degrees of curvature (when one includes an adjacent yet necessary S curve) to get trains from one side of my layout space to the other. Even so, this curve was going to have to be pretty tight – I would say “train set tight”. Every design ended up with two too-tight switching districts (or a too-tight terminal and a staging yard) and a whole lot of curved, awkward nothing in between. Try as I might, I just could not imagine hand-laying all that track for something I knew would end up being frustrating. Been there, done that.

At some point, I realized that Proto:48 would not fit my space and give me what I wanted. So, what to do? Some friends suggested that I make some adjustments to my goals – for example, by trading in the small steam power for small diesels, which could negotiate a tighter curve and smaller turnouts. I decided on a different strategy.

I’m interested in a variety of scales, gauges and prototypes. And along the way, I’ve collected interesting equipment for each – often for use with local modular groups to which I belong.

It occurred to me that I should try working my way down through the scales/models in my collection. Could I design an appropriate layout for these, that would fit my basement, look realistic and give me the operation I desire? O scale (1:48) didn’t fit, but maybe its 3/4 sized cousin, S scale, would? If not, I have plenty of HO in the display cabinet.

My S scale models are of Canadian National steam-era prototypes, for use on the sectional layout built by the members of the S Scale Workshop:

S Scale Workshop.
(Want to know more? Visit the S Scale Workshop online)

I’m an associate member of this group – I’ve yet to build a module – but I’d picked up two lovely S scale CN 10-Wheelers built by Simon Parent from his own kits:

CNR 1532 in 1:64.

CNR 1560 in 1:64.

Could I find a suitable CN prototype?

Ian Wilson has written a series of books on the Canadian National in southern Ontario, so I grabbed my stack of these and started searching for small yet interesting spots I could model. Ian’s book on the Hamilton lines included information and photos on Port Rowan, which I liked for various reasons, aesthetic and practical.

It took two attempts to create a plan that fit my space beautifully:

– The 25% saved by downsizing to S scale would allow me to use the longer turnouts I desired and still give me plenty of space in my scenes for a realistic arrangement of structures.

– In addition, I could reduce my minimum radius by 15% in S; which would still be a more generous curve for my S scale CN 10-Wheelers than my O scale radius would have been for the SP 2-6-0s. The relatively larger minimum radius addressed the “train set curve” issue.

– The space saved by switching to S would also free up enough real estate for me to include the siding and station at St. Williams (the next town up the branch from Port Rowan) and still have room for a decent-sized staging yard to represent the rest of the world. Operations just got a whole lot more interesting and there would be a stronger sense of the trains actually going somewhere.

So far, so good. But two locomotives do not a layout make. What else is available for a CN layout in S? I’ll address that next time…

Why Port Rowan?

Well that’s the question, isn’t it!

I don’t have any family connection. I’ve never lived in Port Rowan. In fact, my reason is purely practical. It comes down to available space.

My layout space is in a multi-purpose room in the basement and while it’s not small, it IS awkward, with various no-go zones for utilities and such. Having designed several layouts for the space (and even built a few of them) I know that a point-to-point arrangement works best in this room, which means I’m limited to the classic “terminal to fiddle yard/staging” operating scheme.

The Port Rowan yard lead.
(Where the action is: The yard throat in Port Rowan)

When looking for a place to model, I discovered that Port Rowan had, at one time, a very compact branch line terminal. I’d hazard a guess that it was the smallest such end of the line on the Canadian National in Southern Ontario, with just five turnouts. But within that compact space, there’s a team track, elevated coal delivery track, a feed mill, a station serving passengers, mail and express, a turntable, and some interesting ancillary structures, such as a section house.

Nothing dramatic, and the operating potential certainly won’t make a crew break into a sweat. But there will be enough to do to keep a couple of people entertained for 45 minutes to an hour, before retiring to the pub; and I have several very good pubs nearby.

Breaking Marley’s Chains

Remember Marley? He’s the dead partner in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, who is often depicted in chains:

Muppet Marley
(If you need a refresher, check out this video clip from the Muppet Christmas Carol)

Well, model railway layouts can be like that too. Hobbyists often find they’re no longer having fun with a particular layout. Maybe the scale no longer appeals to them. Or they’re having problems with, for example, the performance of models of the key locomotives used on their prototype. Or they’re just bored.

But these hobbyists have invested so much time and money into their project, they’re reluctant to admit that they’re not enjoying it. To admit this, they feel, would be to admit failure. So, they continue to struggle with the hobby. They continue to try to work on a project for which they no longer have enthusiasm. Sometimes, they recover; they make a breakthrough and they move on, once again enjoying their model trains. More often, I suspect, they simply continue to drift; not engaged by the hobby, but not out of it either.

I’ve been there, several times. My solution is radical but it works.

If I find that I have not touched the layout in a full year, I know I never will. At that point, it can either continue to occupy space and collect dust, or I can tear it down and do something new.

I’m tearing down again.

In fact, I’ve already started. I’m removing my On2 model railway, a freelanced line based on the two-foot railroads of Maine:

Number 6 works the Quarry. No more...

Most of it is already gone; less than 10 feet to go as I write this.

In its place, I’ll be building a new layout in a new scale and a new gauge, with a new theme. As the blog title indicates, I’m moving my modelling focus back home to Canada and will be building a modest Canadian National branch line terminal in S scale.

I’ll write more about this later, but I’ll use this blog to document my progress.

Welcome aboard.