The Port Rowan turntable

Port Rowan turntable installation

This past week, I decided it was time to tackle the Port Rowan turntable. It’s now built, and ready to be installed on the layout.

I kit bashed my turntable, starting with an HO scale kit for a 90-foot turntable from Custom Model Railroads* that I picked up back in October. A 90-foot turntable in HO works out to about a 65-foot turntable in S – close enough to the prototype’s 60-foot model. That extra five feet will make it that much easier for operators to spot a 10-wheeler on the bridge – there’s not a lot of room for error:

Port Rowan turntable - tight squeeze for a 10-wheeler

The CMR kit is laser cut from acrylic and creates a deck girder bridge. My prototype had a through-girder arrangement, so to replicate this, I added sides created from HO scale bridge components from Central Valley Model Works. I used two packages of HO scale, 72-foot plate girders (part 1903-1). I cut away the rounded ends and spliced the girders to get the length I needed for my turntable bridge. I carved away all the detail below the angled braces on the inside of the girders, then attached them to the CMR turntable deck by adding a length of .060″ x .250″ styrene strip to each side. (Sorry – no in-progress photos. I was too busy making progress!)

The prototype turntable had an air-operated engine at one end, which crews could hook up to their locomotive’s air brake system. In Steam Echoes of Hamilton, author Ian Wilson notes this was used if the pit rail was slippery – perhaps from too much crushed Queen Anne’s Lace. I modelled this engine using a white metal kit from Keystone Models for a stationary steam engine. I rearranged some of the details and mounted it on a pair of Evergreen styrene I-beams, then glued it to the side of the girder. It worked out perfectly and adds a great detail to the turntable. I also added a pair of armstrong handles using brass rod plus some strip wood and wire for the blocking and U-bolts that secure these to the bridge girders.

The CMR kit features a removable bridge, which – among other things – allows one to get it out of harm’s way when working on the pit. I’ve sprayed the pit base with random swirls of black and rail brown and whatever else was coming out of the airbrush while painting and weathering the bridge. It’ll eventually get covered with dirt and weeds:

Port Rowan turntable pit base and ring rail

I built the cribbing from Mt. Albert Scale Lumber bridge ties (also used on the turntable bridge and the three bridges on the layout). I only did a partial wall, to hold back the earth at the approach track, because the “pit” at Port Rowan wasn’t really that well defined. The railway elevated the approach track – easier than digging a proper pit – and I’m duplicating that by raising the roadbed by 3/4″ on my turntable lead. I’ve glued down and sanded some ties at the end of the lead to help with final installation of the turntable. That’s going to require a second set of eyes and hands to get everything level. I’ll add more risers under the approach track at the same time.

The CMR kit is powered by a slow-motion motor – I’m not sure of its original purpose but probably as a display motor. It’s not the kind sold as a stall motor switch machine. The label says it includes gear reduction of more than 7000:1 (yes, seven thousand to one) and it does move darned slowly. CMR did a nice job of making everything serviceable – there are several places where one can loosen a grub screw to pull the bridge, the shaft and the motor.

I’m really pleased with how this project turned out.

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

6 thoughts on “The Port Rowan turntable

  1. Hi Trevor,

    Great job on the turntable, looks fantastic. Can’t wait to see it with the weeds all around it. Shame you can not hook it up to a small air supply and have to use air to turn the table.


    • Hi Matt:
      Thanks – I’m really pleased. I’m looking forward to adding grass and weeds too – but one step at a time…

  2. Trevor,

    Great looking turntable. Nice kit bashed job using the HO parts too! I seem to be learning of some new suppliers too.


    • Hi Mike:
      Thanks – glad you like it. I’m really pleased with how the turntable kit bash turned out. CMR was a company I’d never heard of, but my friend Simon Parent suggested them. The service was great and CMR seems to have addressed many of the weaknesses of model turntable design. I’m looking forward to getting this permanently installed on the layout and getting the approach track laid and wired, so I can test it under real operating conditions.

  3. A quick question, but if the table is raised, as you have modelled it, and the air-powered cylinder is not operative, how would the turntable have been turned? The armstrong handles look as if they would be rather high up in the air, and all but useless.

    • Hi Simon:

      Good question – and I have an answer.

      The handles are for final alignment with the approach track. The air-powered engine is always used for turning.

      The reality is, my priority for the turntable was reliability. As I’ve written on this blog, I hate turntables – they are the most finicky of beasts. The kit I used impressed me with its robust design and has proven itself in service. But it does sit higher than the prototype. Lowering it would’ve required rebuilding the roller assemblies on the bridge – which would’ve defeated the purpose of using a kit and probably would introduced reliability problems into the finished model. So I left it high.

      I could’ve left off the Armstrong levers – but I loved how they were attached to the bridge so I modelled them.


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