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.
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:
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:
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’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.
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:
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.
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.
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.