This layout almost didn’t exist!

That’s because, thanks to some digging in the archives by Jeffrey Smith, I’ve just learned that the prototype almost didn’t exist – at least, not in the 1950s.

Jeff – who runs the excellent CNR In Ontario website – delved into the National Archives of Canada and uncovered an application by the Canadian National Railway to the Board of Railway Commissioners for Canada in the late 1930s to abandon the Port Rowan branch in its entirety. In the application, railway officials paint a picture of a money-losing branch with very little prospect for future business growth.

What’s invaluable from a layout-building and operating point of view is that this application is backed by several pages of useful data. Here are two examples – describing the character of the branch and the area it served:
1930s-Character photo 1930s-Application-Character_zpsafe5b1aa.jpg

1930s-Description photo 1930s-Application-Description_zps73a0ff46.jpg

(Click on the above images to view larger versions)

I’m pleased that my layout appears to capture the railway that’s described in the “characteristics” section – with light rail, poor ballast and ties, and buildings “generally in poor condition”.

I haven’t read through this information in detail yet, but it is information in the public domain so I will share more of it as I determine how best to do that. Stay tuned for more – including the railway’s traffic reports for the line in the years leading up to the request to abandon it, and the Board’s reasons for denying the application.

(I’m glad the board did that: As a result, the line would last another quarter century, and photos taken in the 1950s would inspire me to model it a half-century after the rails were lifted.)

Thanks Jeff – what a find!

9 thoughts on “This layout almost didn’t exist!

  1. I think Code 70 in S scale works out to about 65 lb/yd. Close enough especially since you will never notice the difference once the track is painted and weathered.

    And Jeff’s site IS fantastic with all sorts of great information.

    • If it was rolled in 1880, it would have worn down to something smaller, but that’s not my point. (Pardon the pun!)

      The point is that Trevor’s track already looks spindly and lightweight compared to most modellers’ efforts. Imagine how much lighter it would look with code 60 rail!

      Not sure I would recommend it, though: a friend (another Trevor, Hughes this time) used code 40 on a P4 light railway, and referred to the rail as something which looks like a piece of misshapen fuse wire.

      • Hi Simon (and others):
        Thanks for the nice words about the rail. Years ago, when I worked in HO, I hand laid a bedroom-sized layout with Code 55 rail – never agin. I could kink it just by looking at it sternly. Code 70 is as light as I’ll go and I’m pleased that it works so well for light iron on a branch line in S.

  2. I’d always wondered why the Port Rowan Branch was spared when segments of Otterville Subdivision were abandoned (Simcoe Junction to Otterville: August 19, 1935; Hickson to Tavistock Junction: September 18, 1935; and Burgessville to Woodstock: December 4, 1935). It appears that the cost of establishing trucking, which C.N.Rys. felt it would need undertake to avoid loosing the freight traffic to the L.E.&N.Ry. or C.S.Ry. (once on a truck, it could be sent to any rail connection), was one deciding factor. More likely it was the near term loss of revenue from shipping oil and gas to Port Rowan and movement of road materials to Port Rowan and Walsh.

    Interestingly the increased traffic in 1937, which prevented the branch’s abandonment, was in a large part due to the hauling of stone and Tarvia (a brand of road-surfacing material made with asphalt) to pave the country roads between Vittoria to Port Rowan.

  3. Trevor,

    Interesting find indeed. What a great piece of history to show visitors to your Port Rowan. Jeff Smith hit on why your branch survived, it was needed to haul nails and boards to its own funeral, or asphalt and stone to the folks building roads-however you wish to view it. If you ever decide to run a “late 1930’s” operating session, you can add containers of fresh fish to your baggage car, and loads of stone. The fish will certainly cause your engines to move at 15mph to get to the market.

    Thank you for sharing. This is an area of model railroading I truly enjoy, why did it get built and why did the pull the rails!


  4. Cool find for all that documentation. I’ve seen some examples of similar reports that CN had prepared during the mid-1950’s as part of their argument against continuing rail service on the Island. These reports were very detailed including details of track construction and also some amazing details on car loadings and traffic movements.

    For the prototype modeller it’s easy to see how useful these documents could be. Building models of railway cars, track and buildings is dependant on having the right photographs and drawings. Building a model of a railway is all the much more successful when this kind of documentation is available.

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