Why the Canadian National in S?

Another good question that deserves an answer.

There are two reasons; familiarity with the prototype and equipment availability.


Living in Southern Ontario, the Canadian National Railway is the home team.

It’s not as extensive as it once was – not by a long shot – but one doesn’t have to go very far to find the CNR. From a hobbyist’s perspective, that also means it’s arguably the best-researched prototype for modellers in this area.

Go to a local train show, and the photo vendors will have a good selection of CNR pictures on offer. Local historical societies have information about the railway because, well, it served their town. And southern Ontario railfans and modellers have done a tremendous job of documenting the railway’s various lines, equipment, structures and so on.

I always like to start with books and my Port Rowan project is no exception. There are two that are of immense value for information and inspiration. These are:
Steam Echoes of Hamilton*, by Ian Wilson; and
Hamilton’s Other Railway*, by Charles Cooper.

Beyond books and photo dealers, I have several friends who model the Canadian National in the steam era (in a variety of scales) and they’ve been very generous in sharing what they know. That’s a nice change because frankly, my work on Maine two-foot lines since 2002 often seemed like working in the wilderness. Neither of my two closest friends in the two-foot community lives in Southern Ontario. (One is in Alberta, Canada and the other is in the United Kingdom.)

After almost a decade of self-imposed exile, it’s really nice to be working on something to which my local peers can relate. Already I’m benefitting from the knowledge of those modelling the line south of Hamilton to Port Dover and Port Rowan, as well as the expertise of those modelling the Canadian National in S scale (and in other scales, too).

Which brings me to…


S scale may seem an odd choice for modelling the CNR – except that the railway is surprisingly well served by manufacturers. Off the top of my head, here’s a list of what I need for the Port Rowan project, with notes on who makes it:

Steam engines

Moguls and 10-wheelers on the prototype.
(CNR 10-wheeler 1541 and Mogul 83 at Simcoe, Ontario)

Moguls and 10-Wheelers.
(These two classes of small steam locomotives are the core of my model railway)

Photos of Port Rowan in the 1950s show CNR 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s. Both have been produced by Simon Parent, with help from Fred Rouse at S Scale Loco and Supply. (My understanding is that Fred has now wound up that business.) I picked up a pair of the 10-Wheelers built and finished for me by Simon. We chose CNR 1532 and CNR 1560, since Simon had good photos of both sides of both of these locomotives from which to work:

CNR 1532 in 1:1 and 1:64…

CNR 1532 - prototype photo.

CNR 1532 in 1:64.

CNR 1560 in 1:1 and 1:64…

CNR 1560 - prototype photo.

CNR 1560 in 1:64.

Simon is a master craftsman and these locomotives are the nicest running steam engines, in any scale, that I have ever owned.
Simon has also produced a kit for the CNR’s 2-6-0s. I have one of those, and have asked Simon to build it for me. (UPDATE = 2013-02-21: I have actually acquired three of these from Simon! Click here for the story.)

E-series x3.

Passenger equipment

Passenger cars for The Daily Effort.

My needs are modest here as Port Rowan was served by a mixed train. In the early 1950s, the passenger equipment on this included a baggage-mail car and a combine. Later photos show the baggage-mail car replaced by a baggage car.

For the combine, Andrew Malette of MLW Services* has come to the rescue, with a kit that builds into a very nice model. I have two of them:

CNR combine 7184.

CNR combine 7176.

American Models* makes a very nice ready-to-run RPO that is a very good start for a CNR mail-baggage car in the ME-73-B series (CNR 7790-7794 and CNR 7807-7809):

CNR baggage mail car 7792.

If a proper National Steel Car baggage car becomes available (and it might) I will add one to the roster as well.

Freight equipment

A sampling of suitable S scale freight cars.

Again, my needs are modest here. There’s not a whole lot of traffic in and out of Port Rowan.

Photographs show hopper cars of coal and stone, boxcars of building supply materials delivered to the team track for Beaver Lumber, or cars for the feed mill located at the end of track. In addition, a train may include a boxcar of L.C.L. for the freight shed or a tank car of fuel oil.

Oliver and David Clubine at Ridgehill Scale Models* offer nice resin kits for CNR (and CPR) Fowler Patent boxcars – as well as terrific resin kits for CNR vans (cabooses) in three variations:

CNR Fowler Boxcar - Ridgehill Scale Models Kit.

CNR wooden van - Ridgehill Scale Models kit.

To boost Canadian content, MLW Services is in the process of bringing CNR eight-hatch refrigerator cars to market as resin kits. Reading about the branch, several stations on the line shipped apples at one time – and given the relative paucity of Canadian equipment I’ll happily justify using an eight-hatch reefer or two, spotted at the Port Rowan team track or on the St. Williams siding, to represent this traffic. (As an aside, Port Rowan once had a large apple evaporating plant near the station, which supplied dried fruit for soldiers in the Great War).

CNR Eight-hatch refrigerator car - MLW Services kit.
(UPDATE: That kit was released in 2013)

To fill out the train, a selection of era-appropriate freight cars is available from American Models*, S Helper Service (now MTH*), S Scale America (offered by Des Plaines Hobbies)* and – at one time – Pacific Rail Shops*.

American Models, S Helper Service and S Scale America offer ready to run equipment that is very well detailed, although the models may need modification to better represent specific prototypes. Between the three, I’m covered for boxcars, hoppers and tank cars – at least as starting points for any detailing projects I want to undertake.

PRS offered kits for several common boxcars – a list can be found here. Andy at MLW Serivces offers a set of detail parts to upgrade PRS boxcars, while S Scale America (Des Plaines Hobbies) has the very-Canadian eight-run boxcar ladders with integrated stirrup steps. I have a few boxcars and have used these parts to upgrade them to model some Canadian National versions:

CNR boxcar - converted PRS kit.
(Converted Pacific Rail Shops kit)

CNR boxcar - converted S Helper Service RTR.
(Converted S Helper Service ready to run model)

CNR boxcar - converted S Helper Service RTR.
(Converted S Helper Service ready to run model)

Another wordy post but as you can see, I have sources of information and sources of equipment well covered.

I look forward to doing more research as my Port Rowan project progresses.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

2 thoughts on “Why the Canadian National in S?

  1. Trevor- really enjoy your blog. I wish I had learned about your ideas on “achievable layouts” before I began mine 20 years ago. My layout is 4 feet deep in most spots, is 51 feet long, and thus sadly has plywood for most of my “scenery”. My next layout (if there is a next layout) will be no more than 2 feet deep to facilitate completion and access. Your CN steam theme strikes a chord with me as my layout, the Central Niagara, is based on the CN, and also because I spend my summers in Long Beach on the north shore of Lake Erie. I was wondering if you can suggest a reliable source of S scale caboose decals for both CN and CP. Thank you, and I will continue to look forward to following your writings on the Port Rowan branch. Thank you.

    • Hi John:
      Thanks for writing – I’m glad you’re enjoying my layout. I am too!
      S scale decals: I would try Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing. Check my list of links, under “S Scale Suppliers” for a website.

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