Leedham’s Mill research trip

Leedham Mill Sign - Stitched Together
(My stitched-together version of the Leedham Mill sign, based on a series of photos I shot of the original – which hangs in Donald Leedham’s garage)

Yesterday, I visited with members of the Leedham family – the people who owned the feed mill in Port Rowan (now Doerksen’s Farm Supply). Leedham’s Mill is the complex of structures at the end of track in Port Rowan, and a major customer on my line.

Airstream on Bay Street in Port Rowan
(My mock-up of the mill complex: I’m now looking forward to replacing this with detailed structures)

It was a treat to sit down with Donald Archie Leedham in his home. Donald worked in the family mill in the 1940s and 1950s. He seemed really pleased that I’m interested in the mill and plan to build a model of it. The visit gave me a chance to learn a lot about the history of the family and the mill, as well as scan photographs and take pictures of artifacts relevant to the era I’m modelling.

Here are some of the things I learned:

The Leedham Family originally had a mill in nearby Forestville, but when farms in that area switched almost exclusively to tobacco, the family moved its operation to Port Rowan. When the railway decided it no longer needed a separate freight house in Port Rowan, it was purchased for the mill. In February 1938, the freight house was jacked up and poles were used as rollers to move it across the tracks and west to the mill property. Here’s a photo of the move:

Port Rowan freight house - move to Leedham Mill

The Leedhams then added an office to the freight house. This was done because the original mill office had a very low ceiling. The office is clearly seen in this next photo, from a local calendar in Donald’s collection. This also shows that the mill had a truck scale, on the north side of the office. The scale operator worked behind the large window on the north wall – to the right of the chimney – and the truck scale is right in front of the window. I don’t know if I have room to model this on my layout, but I’d sure like to figure out how:

Leedham Mill - Doerksen calendar
(Photo shows the mill after it was acquired by Doerksen – the current owners)

One of the most exciting artefacts is the original mill sign from the era I’m modelling. The Doerksens offered the sign to the Leedhams when they took over the mill. Donald has restored the sign and it hangs in his garage. It measures approximately 3’x10′ and hung on the north side of the former freight house (so it will be visible from the aisle on my layout, which is a nice bonus!). I took photos of it in segments, and stitched them together in PhotoShop to create a version of the sign that I can add to my model of the mill.

Leedham Mill - Segment of prototype sign
(A sample of the sign. I took several photos – without the flash – then stitched them together to create a suitable sign for my model. That stitched-together sign is the lead photo for this post)

Leedham’s Mill handled a variety of products. The mill received various grains by rail. These were cleaned and blended into the typical products one would expect at a mill – including seed, feed and flour. The tall building closest to the tracks was the elevator – it was torn down a few years ago. Leedham’s also shipped out wheat grown in the area – but by truck.

NK Seed sign

Speaking of trucks, Donald had one of the company signs from the trucks. These were molded out of some form of plastic and attached to the truck doors with magnets. I was able to stick it to the side of my vehicle to take a photo outdoors:

Leedham Mill - truck sign

In addition to feed and seed, Leedham’s was also a fuel dealer. Coal was delivered by rail – to the elevated coal delivery track elsewhere in the Port Rowan yard. (I did not realize that Leedham owned the coal dump – now I do!) It was then loaded into trucks using a conveyor, and trucked from the dump to a coal bin on the east side of the Leedham complex. I’ve built a small coal shed for this location but realize now I’ll have to make it a lot larger. I’ll use this coal shed elsewhere once I’ve built a replacement. There was a fair bit of coal traffic during tobacco curing season: apparently, the tobacco kilns were originally fueled with wood but Donald remembers them being switched to coal.

Coal Pamphlet
(Leedham’s Mill was an important enterprise in Port Rowan, and a major customer for the railway. This pamphlet lists many of the services the mill provided to the community)

Donald recalls that coal came from the anthracite region of Pennsylvania. It crossed the lake via car ferry to Port Burwell on the CPR, and then was forwarded to the mill by the CNR. He also recalls that an elderly trestle near Vittoria was in bad shape, and that a full car of coal was too heavy for the trestle – so he would drive to Simcoe with a truck to shovel out part of the load. The balance would be delivered by rail to Port Rowan.

Leedham’s was also a B/A Oil dealer, but this was trucked to the mill. The pumps were on the west side of the road – which puts them in the aisle in my basement, so I won’t be modelling this part of the operation.

Finally, Leedham’s sold bagged cement. Volumes were dependent on who was building what in town. The bagged cement was shipped to the mill in boxcars from St. Mary’s, and unloaded into an extension of the main mill building.

Leedham Mill - thermometer

I’ve been putting off building the mill because it’s a large project – but yesterday’s visit answered some important questions and I’m now keen to tackle Leedham’s in 1:64. Thanks to Donald, his daughter Pat Elliot (who arranged the visit and brought a delicious cake) and son Scott Leedham (who was also on hand to help out), my model of the mill more accurate, and the process of building it will be more rewarding.

19 thoughts on “Leedham’s Mill research trip

  1. I’d be interested to know how a small mill like this off-loaded the grain from the boxcars and moved it into the facility.

    • Apparently the boxcar doors lined up with the mill doors. I assume they dropped a plate between and hauled it across. I’ll double-check.

      • Hi Michael:

        I’ve now double-checked. I asked Pat to check with Donald. She did, and writes…

        They really only received oats on the rail cars and they had an enclosed auger that went into an opening on the train car and augured the oats to the back building. They had a mill stone etc moved from Forestville, and ground, bagged and sold the oats. He’s going to think about it more, but that was the best of his recollection today.

        So, it sounds like a portable auger was shoved into the boxcar and used to transfer oats out. I suspect a couple of workers shovelled into the auger bin in the car – but that’s just my guess.


  2. Industrial Archaeology for model RR’ing

    First, it gives you the facts you need to have in order to build something.

    Second, it gives depth to a scene, it tells ‘the rest of the story.’ This is something many USA-ians miss and miss out on. Our RRs should tell a story, in design, operation, structures and scenery. The deeper and more convincing the story, the more effective the modeling.

    One wise man said that the universe isn’t made up og atoms, it’s made up of stories. Something to remember and consider.

  3. How exciting!
    However, the T in the sign is not quite right. Need to balance out the top bar.

    Bart Hollis
    BTW. Thanks for your effort re the coupler question.

  4. Gosh, this is just great stuff for you, and it can form a basic operational core for a lot of us.

    You are such an asset to the hobby!

  5. Trevor,
    Would you have modeled any of these areas any different if you had built your Port Rowan layout in HO? Is there anything rail planning wise that you would have added?

    • Hi Mark:
      Great to hear from you!
      If I’d built the layout in HO scale, I would have had 35 percent more space. I would be tempted to do the same thing I’ve done, but use that space to lengthen the runs between towns – particularly between St. Williams and the sector plate. HO would also have allowed me to make the Port Rowan peninsula narrower, and given me wider aisles. But I would not have substantially changed the layout. In fact, I would’ve used the same minimum radius (42″) that I have in S.
      That said, I would not have built this layout in HO for several reasons. Perhaps the most important is that small steam in HO scale does not run as well as it does in S. Simon Parent’s locomotives are works of art that run as nicely as they look. While the 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s have both been done in brass in HO, they do not measure up to what Simon has done in S.
      Working in HO, I would have picked a different theme – most likely diesel-powered.

  6. Great little history lesson Trevor. It’s nice when these things come to life for a model railroad. Have enjoyed the journey along with many others.
    Cheers, Gord

  7. I have found that as I “mature” and my interests become more focused, “micro histories” such as this become more fascinating. A local family owned lumber mill holds a similar fascination for me.

  8. I see they were a Northrup, King seed dealer at one time. Do you know what brand of flour they sold? I can make out ??? leaf on the top line.

    Always learn something from your blog, Trevor.

  9. I’ve had a look at coal deliveries at Port Burwell. You can use some Pennsy hoppers as that is how they’re delivered in the car ferry Ashtabula. I had some Patterson- George photos that I’ve donated to the Port Burwell museum.

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