Rethinking St. Williams

 photo PtR-StWilliamsDepot_zpsfcb72781.jpg
(I like this scene as rendered on my layout and I’m not willing to lose it…)

This post could also be titled “Dodged a bullet”…

This week, reader Mike Livingston was able to share with me a photo of the Hammond Mill in St. Williams. Unfortunately, Mike was unable to obtain permission from the photo’s owner for me to publish it here, but I can tell you that the mill was a 1.5-storey structure with a barn roof – like the roof on the next to the team track in Port Rowan:
Team Track Barn photo PtR-Barn-01_zps2cd0bf26.jpg
(Like this, but larger. Click on the image to read more about the team track barn.)

This structure has been elusive, so in the meantime I’ve been using a stand-in – a scratch-built model of a grain storage bin based on a structure in Cheltenham, Ontario – as shown here:
M233 at St. Williams west photo M233-StW-West_zps28961473.jpg
(Click on the photo to read more about the grain bin)

Now that I have a photo of the real mill, however, I’m thinking about building it for the layout. And that got me thinking…

My rendition of St. Williams has always been fanciful – a situation dictated by the size and shape of my layout space. Unlike Port Rowan, which I was able to model fairly faithfully, I took several liberties with St. Williams:
 photo StWilliams-LayoutPlan_zpsd05c9c7a.jpg
(St. Williams as built. Click on the plan to view a larger version)

Like the prototype location, my 1:64 St. Williams features a doubled-ended siding and a single spur. But my siding is curved – and actually about twice as long than the prototype’s four-car capacity. As well, my spur is located too close to one end of this siding and points the wrong direction – back towards the siding, not away from it.

Could I model the town more accurately?

Here’s St. Williams from the air, with the railway’s former right of way highlighted:
St Williams from the air - labelled photo StW-Labelled.jpg

Port Rowan is to the lower left, while Simcoe (staging on my layout) is to the upper right.

The location of the station is indicated with an “A”. The four-car siding was located to the right of the station, and used as a team track. Meanwhile, the Hammond Mill was on the north side of Queen Street, just to the left (west) of the railway crossing. The spur to the mill went behind the structure, so the mill was tucked between the spur and Queen Street.
 photo HammondMill-LocationGuess_zpsc3584f43.jpg
(The Hammond Mill area today, looking north from Queen Street. This is not the original structure. The RoW is now used as a utility corridor.)

With this information to hand, and inspired by the vintage photo of the Hammond Mill, I decided to draw out St. Williams more accurately, to see if it would fit my space:
 photo StWilliams-TestFIt_zps67ac8f17.jpg

Comparing this quick sketch with the layout plan, I’m convinced I’ve made better use of my available space by taking some liberties. Reworking St. Williams to be more faithful to the prototype would require several changes I’m not willing to make:

– I would have to lose the Stone Church Road overpass – a scene I really enjoy – because it would interfere with the Hammond Mill, the mill spur, and the Queen Street level crossing.

– I would have to bump out the benchwork to accommodate the mill, which would affect my ability to maintain (and enjoy) the track through the east end of the Lynn Valley scene – which starts immediately to the west of Stone Church Road.

– I would have to move the station to the aisle side of the track, so that it would be viewed from the back. Since the only picture I have of this station is taken from the front (see the lead photo), and since this is the image that inspired me to model this station, I’m not prepared to lose that view on the layout.

There are several alternatives, of course. I could flip the station/team track portion 180 degrees, so that the station was to the left of the team track, and the first scene a train encounters upon leaving the sector plate.

But as built, I have almost four feet of running room from sector plate to Charlotteville Street, which gives operators a chance to get up to speed and blow for the crossing.

Having an unscenicked and very unprototypical sector plate immediate to the left of the scene would also seriously limit the angles from which I could view/photograph the station. And I do like the view…
Extra 80 East - St Williams, Ontario - August 1953 photo X80East-StW-2014-01_zps347cae5c.jpg

So, no: Unless I can another eight or 10 feet of wall space to the left of the sector plate – which is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future – I’l stick with the St. Williams scene as I’ve built it. It was an interesting exercise in “what fits”, however – so definitely worth the time to try it out.

I may have to replace the grain building with a more accurate model of the Hammond Mill, however. I’ll add that to the “someday” file…

17 thoughts on “Rethinking St. Williams

  1. Sometimes learning the truth about a location can hurt. But remember Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, Go with the ledgend…

    • Hi Tom:

      Thanks – and no, it doesn’t really hurt.

      I knew right from the start, three or so years ago, that I was altering the track arrangement to suit my space. But seeing a photo of the mill got me thinking about whether I could do a more faithful job of rendering the town in 1:64. This exercise proved to me that I can’t.

      I’m cool with that.

      I can still build a more accurate structure to represent the Hammond Mill, though…


      • Trevor,
        If and when you get to building the Mill a good program to use is Sketchup if you don’t have access to a complete set of drawings. I’ve successfully drawn up a couple of different buildings from old photographs and foundation drawings including a very complex grain mill. This idea would work for the Port Rowan station as well if you don’t have a good set of drawings. Food for thought!

  2. Hopefully, the opportunity will present itself to see your mill picture some day. I have a thing about such industries and have 3 mills for the 4-communities on my H.O. layout which is set in eastern Ontario. I am always on the look out for interesting designs. From an architectural technology perspective, the “barn” roof you speak to is called a “Gambrel Roof” in official parlance. I really liked the weathering that you did on the metal roof for the structure that you scratchbuilt. What was the weathering formula again?

    • Hi Philip:


      The weathering was dead simple. I used corrugated metal panels from Builders In Scale (I think).

      I sprinkled a dark rust weathering powder from Bragdon onto the roof, near the peak, then drew it down the corrugated panels with a damp toothbrush. That’s it,


  3. Nice balance to things: Port Rowan is as faithful as you can make it in the space, and St. Williams is a composition of various prototype elements to create the feel of the place. Two different but equally successful approaches.

    Even Constable moved things around to improve the composition.


  4. Dear Trevor,

    OK, so you tested the “what would happen if” in the context of having a layout already built. I wonder if the outcome/decision would have been different if you have stumbled on the new photo (and proto info) _before_ building the current model scene?

    I have a few “drawing board” layout plans at the moment which face a similar issue, the model scene would be visually/logical to build/view from one orientation,
    but the common proto photos of the scene are from the opposite direction,
    with a “squeezed between a cliff and a waterway on a ledge” viewing altitude issue compounding the problem.

    If the layout was already built there would be the weight of “it’s already done, and I love it” on the “leave it as-is” side of the ledger. However, as the plan stands “on paper”, it’s neither harder-nor-easier to build one way or t’other…

    So, for those facing similar issues _before_ the layout gets built, any suggestions?

    Happy Modelling,
    Aim to Improve,
    Prof Klyzlr

    • Hi Prof:

      I don’t think it would be different. I certainly had the track arrangement drawing available to me when I designed the initial layout. I even knew the structure locations. But the emergence of a photo of the mill prompted me to give it another look and share the results. What the exercise confirmed for me was that the placement of the station in a more accurate rendition would’ve been a deal-breaker: I realized I would not want to lose the POV of the only period, prototype photo I have of the station – and the only photo I have of St. Williams with a train in the picture.

      As for suggestions for yet-to-be-built scenes, mocking it up with some rolling stock… some cardboard cut-and-taped to represent the structures… and some crumpled newspaper or piles of fabric* to represent landforms… might allow one to better visualize the potential of the finished scene. At this point, one might gain insights as to whether the scene will work and whether one can live with the departures from reality.


      (*Just don’t steal clothes or towels out of the laundry hamper to do this…)

  5. Hello Trevor:

    ”Sometimes a representation needs to be a bit more symbolic than accurate”.

    None-the-less, great work !

    K C

  6. It happened to me a lot of time. Sometimes, that kind of warped reality is the best way to find what is essential about a location and it’s internal working. Just copying is nice, but having to “fudge” things up push you forward to better understand what you are doing.

    Personally, I find your rendition of St. Williams works better for your layout geometry. It also gives you the chance to have a long scenicked main line where you layout can tell a story. The proof, many of your great pictures were done on that strectch of track, which would have been impossible with a prototypical St. Williams. I guess someone with a different room configuration could find another good balance between elements, but the answer you found by yourself seems to have been proved right since a long time!

    Thanks for sharing this moment of “doubt”, if we can call it a doubt!

    • Hi Matt:
      Thanks for writing and I agree – my rendition of St. Williams does fit better into the space I have available. I’m glad I did the exercise to address the “doubt” head-on, and I’m glad I shared it here.

  7. At the end of the day, even the strictest prototype modelers are exercising a fair amount of compression/reworking. It’s just a fact of life. But the best of them capture the *sense* of the place and in that sense produce something more akin to an Impressionist painting rather than an engineering drawing. In your case, you’ve done both – and done both well. Port Rowan is more on the technically accurate side and St. Williams more on the Impressionist side. I’d argue even if Impressionism wasn’t necessary (given unlimited time/money) it’d still have a place and plays an important role in the best layouts. I really enjoyed following your thought process as you were confronted with a heretofore elusive photo of a key building. I suspect/hope to have the same “problem” myself someday and will be able to follow your example a bit as I evaluate what to do. Thanks – as always – for sharing your thoughts!

    • My pleasure, Chris. I enjoy sharing the thought process too.
      The way my brain works, when I discover some new piece of information related to my prototype I need to examine it to determine whether it works on my layout. I’d rather do the exercise – in this case, creating a rough drawing of a revised St. Williams on graph paper – and confirm that my decision was the right one than have the new information become a nagging doubt along the lines of, “Maybe I could do it better”…

  8. T-
    It may seem “odd” to play out these mind games but it’s one of the the things I enjoy most about our grand hobby. I too am modeling a somewhat obscure 1905’s short line in S scale. The lesson that I’m learning from your fantastic site is to NOT share the photos with the “rivet counters!”
    Knowledge can be a terible thing in the hands of a model railroader. 😉
    Keep up the great work and I can’t wait to see the project layout on TMTV.

    • Hi Charles:
      Oh, I would say, “Go ahead and share!” 🙂
      I was at the TrainMastersTV studios yesterday with my friend Pierre Oliver, finishing the benchwork segment for the modules. It’s been another busy – but fun – week that I’ll report on when I catch my breath.

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