Between the Kilns photo Tobacco-BackField-01_zps2e5562e0.jpg

I’m not a smoker, but thanks to the leetle trains I’ve learned some things about the growing, curing and marketing of flue-cured tobacco – the type of tobacco that would be destined for the kilns I plan to model for the St. Williams area on my layout.

To wit:

– Flue-cured tobacco was introduced to Ontario in 1913.

– In 1953, more than 88,000 acres in Ontario were planted with flue-cured tobacco, mostly in the counties in southwestern Ontario. This produced more than 127-million pounds of tobacco worth more than $55 million.

– In 1957, more than 117,000 acres produced more than 147-million pounds of tobacco, worth more than $74 million.

– The growing process starts in greenhouses in the spring. These are not artificially heated, but do require a lot of “black muck” – the goop found in swamp lands. Before planting, the muck would be sterilized – either by chemicals, by steaming, or both. Steaming required a boiler – usually a relic fired by coal or wood.

– Popular varieties of tobacco in grown in Ontario included Hicks Broadleaf, Delcrest and White Gold. Hicks Broadleaf accounted for about 65% of Ontario’s crop. Seeds were usually purchased from specialized growers. Fertilizers were applied at seeding time.

– Seedlings were transplanted to the field around the middle of May. It required 6,000-7,000 seedlings per acre. Most Ontario tobacco growers had 20 to 40 acres.

– Special fertilizers were used, keyed to the type of soil the farmer would be planting in. Light sandy soils are preferred but tobacco could also be grown in heavier loamy soils. Drainage is important, as is regular watering. Fertilizers tend to be low in nitrogen – 2-10-15 for example – and one acre of tobacco required anywhere from 800-1500 pounds of fertilizer.

– Transplanting was usually finished by the middle of June.

– Crops were quite tasty to bugs, so insecticides were used regularly to control them. Bugs and pests included cutworm, wireworm, seed maggots, horn worm… you get the idea. 🙁

– Tobacco requires well-drained soil, but also lots of water. 75% of farmers have irrigation systems in their fields (by the late 1960s).

– Harvesting begins in early August. By the second week, it’s definitely on. Harvest can take until October, although more typically it was finished by mid-September.

– Leaves that are ready for harvesting are picked by a crew of Primers, and moved to the kilns to be tied and loaded.
 photo Tobacco-Kilns-HO-Finished_zps6cbeb1e6.jpg
(HO kilns built for my friend Pierre Oliver. Click on the photo for more info.)

– A kiln holds 1,200 sticks of tobacco, with each stick holding about 90 leaves.

– Curing involves careful management of temperature and humidity. The flues are heated by stoves fueled by coal, wood or oil. The curing process takes three to six days.

– A farm typically has one kiln for every five to six acres of tobacco, so each kiln is refilled several times during the harvest season.

– Cured tobacco was then moved to a pack barn. It takes some time to remove the leaves from the stalks, bundle and tie it, mark it, and generally prepare it for auction. Auctions began in early November.

– Tobacco farmers rotate their crops. They’ll plant tobacco on a field, then another crop. Suitable alternate crops include rye and wheat, but also potatoes…

M233 at St. Williams depot photo M233-StW-Depot_zps73d83bf1.jpg

… and corn:

M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg

So… all very interesting, right? But what does it mean for my layout?


From this information, I can now create freight waybills to deliver everything from tobacco seeds, fertilizers and insecticides, to coal and oil for the kilns and irrigation system and drainage tile for the fields.

I can also create seasonal operating sessions, with deliveries corresponding to different times of the year. Even though my modelled season is “August”, I think that tweaking operating sessions to reflect the current month (in the 1:1 world – so right now, I would be running June operating sessions) is a great way to add variety to a layout.

Does it matter that the St. Williams Plantation (yes, there was one and that’s what it was called) is receiving sacks of Hicks Broadleaf Seed as LCL during a February operating session, even though operators can see full-grown tobacco plants ready for harvest on the layout? I don’t think anybody will mind.

My source for this information is Tobacco in Canada, a booklet produced in the early 1970s by The Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board based on a book by a one-time vice-chair of the board, Lyal Tait:
Tobacco in Canada booklet photo TobaccoInCanada_zps29121979.jpg

I picked up my copy of the booklet a couple of summers ago while visiting the Delhi Tobacco Museum and Heritage Centre, part of a fact-finding mission to help me build tobacco kilns for St. Williams. I know I paid less than $5 for it, and encourage anybody who is modelling southwestern Ontario from 1913 onward to grab a copy.

6 thoughts on ““Flue-Cured”

  1. Trevor,

    Excellent story. This is one of the many aspects of our hobby I enjoy. Finding out about the industries and towns that the railroad served. Don’t forget, in the fall you have to ship out the potatoes, rye, and wheat. Looks like your team tracks are going to be very full in the Fall


    • Hi Bill:
      Sorry to disappoint, but no… no Smell-o-vision on the layout. That would take me into American Flyer territory.

  2. What beautiful work, Trevor! They scream “Delhi” to me…..
    None left in that pristine condition today, but I’m guessing they’re perfect for Pierre’s 1951 time frame?

    • Hi Glenn:
      Welcome aboard – and thanks for the kind words. It’s funny – when I started asking about the kilns I was told by people who live in the tobacco growing region, “You better get down here soon – there are hardly any left!” Then I visited and I saw them everywhere. My prototypes for these models were in beside the main road near Scotland, Ontario – a cluster of eight, if I recall correctly. But they weren’t hard to find.
      Of course, “hardly any” is a relative term – and that there must have been thousands of these kilns around at one point. And since each loaded kiln of tobacco was worth somewhere north of $1500 to the farmer – and this in 1950s money – I bet they were kept in reasonably good shape. If their purpose was to control humidity and temperature during the curing process, then they could not have done that with rotting timbers or missing tarpaper.

  3. Nice job, they look real. Did you think about an out house, it would be a long run up to the house, lol. What about piles if sticks? Each kiln needed 1250 or 25 bundles of 50 sticks. Ours were tied in square bundles, five wide and high sticks. They were about six inches square. At the start of the season we would pile all the sticks, enough for about 22 kilns, between every other kiln, in your case two piles. I can’t wait to see how you tie all those sticks together.

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