Traffic Analysis :: 1935

As mentioned a year or so ago on this blog, the CNR attempted to abandon the line to Port Rowan in the 1930s. As part of yesterday’s visit to my layout, Jeffrey Smith, owner of the CNRy in Ontario website, shared a couple of files from the archives that cover this application.

The files are pretty extensive – one runs more than 300 pages – but there’s some great information in them. Here’s an example:

The application, which was denied, included some terrific information about the gross earnings and carload traffic on the branch in 1935 – presumably to justify the railway’s abandonment bid to the Board of Railway Commissioners for Canada.

While this is two decades before the era that I model, the traffic analysis reveals a lot about the type of traffic found on the branch, so here it is:
 photo Traffic-1935-pg1_zpsd9058231.jpg

 photo Traffic-1935-pg2_zps6ea6303a.jpg

 photo Traffic-1935-pg3_zps69169a15.jpg

 photo Traffic-1935-pg4_zps41a88b39.jpg

Some quick observations:

1 – Total inbound and outbound loads for 1935, from all stations on the branch, added up to just 169 cars. Assuming each load generates an empty, that’s only 338 car movements in a year. Since the mixed operated six days per week (or 312 days per year), that’s barely one car per day – either on or off the branch and spread across all stations. Obviously, my layout is a lot busier than the prototype was.

2 – Port Rowan and St. Williams are the two busiest stops on the branch.

3 – The top commodities on the branch, in order, were: Gas and Oil (28 inbound); Hogs (23 outbound); Lumber (4 inbound, 19 outbound); Coal (17 inbound); and Cement (13 inbound).

4 – As expected, CNR cars dominate. Outbound loads are almost exclusively in CNR cars.

Even though I model a different era, I will have to study this list more closely to see if I can tweak my waybills to better reflect the origin and destination of cars on my layout.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to dig through the mountain of information I’ve just received…

Thanks again for this, Jeff – great stuff!

18 thoughts on “Traffic Analysis :: 1935

  1. What a great wealth of information that you found! Historical research sure is fun and interesting, but than again I’m a trained historian. Is it possible that some of the cars included in the documents you found, would still be in service during the time period you are modeling?
    I once found an equally interesting document for the area I’m modeling but about 10 years after the time period. Come to find out the conductor of the local was gleaning grain from one online shipper and moving fully loaded cars (tagged as empties) to another feed mill just down the branch. Eventually the special agents caught up with the crew, but the document makes for some interesting reading, along with a brief look at car numbers, and types that were on the branch.

  2. Some attribute the decline of branchlines to after WWII. But these stats show that the Port Rowan line was in decline by the 1930’s.

    Interesting about the oil and gas traffic. Some of it–boxcars? I’m waiting to read more of this. The IOX tank cars would definitely have been emptied at an Imperial Oil dealer at Port Rowan, but I don’t recall you modelling one on your layout. Perhaps it was gone by the 1950’s?

    • Hi Steve:
      I’m working from memory here but if I recall correctly, in Steam Echoes of Hamilton, Ian Wilson mentions the coal dealer with the elevated delivery track was also an oil/gas dealer. But there’s no infrastructure – no tanks – trackside.
      I switch a tank car to the far end of the elevated coal track spur, and the coal/oil dealer then pumps the tank car into his fuel truck, with the aid of gravity. It would take several trips to unload a tank car.

  3. 1935 provides a snapshot of action in… 1935. Very dangerous to make assumptions about how things went after that.

    Examples: stats from Canadasouthern website:

    passenger revenue:
    1928 1935 1948
    8,835,499.50 3,067,034.69 5,224,241.00 CASO
    85,906.17 33,605.36 -162.00 PM
    421,687.06 9,307.08 57.00 WAB

    freight revenue:
    15,725,267.10 9,625,230.26 22,767,790.00 CASO
    5,352,942.03 3,961,253.11 11,485,201.00 PM
    7,020,210.01 4,768,531.07 11,246,081.00 WAB

    Obvious fact: 1935 was not a particularly good year – middle
    of the Depression… things got better, especially on the freight
    front. Passenger traffic: total collapse on PM and WAB, and 1948
    not as good as 1928 on CASO.

    Also interesting to compare the three roads. They are all doing
    much better freight-wise in 1948 than in supposedly “golden era”
    of 1920’s – but PM gained the most. Terry Link’s chart includes
    breakdowns of what the freight categories were and some commodities
    go way up – and a few go down.

    So generalizing is dangerous. Comparisons are, I think, the only
    way to base dependable conclusions.

    So, Port Rowan line might have been doing *considerably* better
    in your time period than it was in 1935. In fact, it seems far more
    likely that it was doing better, than to assume it had declined…


    • Hi Jim:
      I agree about making generalizations. In fact, I don’t think I am. There’s a reason I’ve noted a couple of times in the post that I model a different era. I know things are different.
      But good advice for others, so thanks for sharing it.
      (I also know that yesterday, Jeff and I switched seven cars – and that’s probably more than a week’s worth of switching on the prototype in the 1950s.)

  4. Hmmm… my nice neat columns of stats got squished and are not nearly
    as easy to read… But the data is still there.

    Such is life.


  5. Interesting to see hay was being shipped to Toronto in 1935. We usually think of horses as extinct in urban centers by the Depression, but I remember a couple of services still provided by horse as late as the seventies in England. My dad worked with horses on a farm in New Brunswick until the fifties, when he left the farm.

    It’s also interesting that there is no intra-branch shipping at all. Either that means that none of the villages had any unique shippers or receivers, or the short distances were already going by truck. Probably this amounts to how far you can go and return in a day; with a horse, that’s probably about 10 miles, whereas trucks in rural Ontario in 1935 might have been 40 miles or more.

    • Damn you for posting this! I think the closest shipper is in Paris, which is 77 km (47 miles) on today’s roads. So, if you had to ship something in 1935, you would ask your friend with a truck rather than take it by train.

      There was a carload of shingles from BC!

    • Hi René:

      The small barn at the team track in Port Rowan is sometimes identified as a “Hay Barn” – and this information endorses that. I assume it was there to keep hay dry while awaiting shipping.

      By my period, the barn was no longer used for that – although I’m not sure what it was used for.


      • Well, that’s interesting. If there was a centralized shipping end of the chain for hay, I wonder if dealers had a central hay barn as well, or did they team it straight from a team track? A quick Google search yields the US association of hay shippers and dealers:, which provides a glimpse into the business.

        It’s kind of a tricky commodity, I think. You want to keep it dry, but it’s bulky and not too valuable. I can’t see money to be made in storing it and retailing it in an urban center, but perhaps out where land is cheap, you might store it near the rail head until it sold.

        I wonder if Port Rowan’s hay barn was used only by the landowner, or was there some sort of warehousing arrangement, either cooperative or proprietary?

        Anyway, I guess it’s a little out of your era, but this is the great thing about being a prototype modeller, as you pointed out earlier this week: we are all mini-historians.

  6. Do you have any insight into how the distribution of commodities might have changed between 1935 and your era? As noted above overall commerce was severely depressed in 1935, but other changes (to trucking as noted by René) and in industrial production more generally may have also played a role.

    • Minimal insight, Seth. But I have been thinking about how to use this information and I have some good ideas, which I’ll detail in a future post. It’s been a busy few days so I’ll do this when I get a chance.

  7. I am intrigued by CG 56202: came in with coal, left with lumber. I presume this was a gon, but it seems an odd choice – coal dust might stain the lumber.
    (I don’t have the number series for the 30s, but in the fifties that number was part of a series on “watermelon” boxcars, as per the SMMW kit.)

        • It was common for coal to be shipped in boxcars in winter on the B&SR/B&HR, supposedly to prevent it freezing solid in the Maine winters. Presumably the problem was not the night time temperatures but the additional water from snow melting in the daytime………..unless someone here knows better.

          The boxcar doors were kept open, even when the boxcars were travelling, the coal being retained by some boards nailed across the door opening from the inside.

          (a B&SR fan if it was not obvious)

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