That’s “Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto” – and it’s like kryptonite to me. I go weak at the knees for this stuff…
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I picked up a number of pieces from my friend William Flatt, who is downsizing his hobby due to age.
William is an excellent modeller who works in S scale, and models a very unusual prototype: a former interurban in the Niagara Peninsula that became an electrified subsidiary of the Canadian National Railway.
I have a long history with electrics, and the NS&T. I grew up in Toronto, and my first exposure to full-size railroading was the Toronto Transit Commission’s extensive streetcar lines and (at the time) two-route subway system. Today, I live in a neighbourhood bounded on three sides by streetcar lines. The fourth side is defined by the subway. (As a consequence, our vehicle spends most of its time in the garage.)
Later – around age 12 – my parents and I moved to St. Catharines. And while the NS&T was long gone by that time, the CNR still ran freights on NS&T trackage through the city – including up the middle of streets – as part of its Grantham Subdivision.
(The ex-NS&T yard at Merritton, Ontario – in the southeast corner of St. Catharines)
I would walk to high school along one such street – Louisa Street – and a couple of times a week I could count on seeing a freight behind an EMD switcher as it headed to the local General Motors plant…
(While visiting my parents a few years after university, I snapped this photo of the CNR passing between the GM plants on Ontario Street. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw a train on this line…)
If I recall correctly, the GM Ontario Street job worked five days a week, but my timing wasn’t always perfect. Still, I was curious about the local lines – who wouldn’t be? – and was delighted to discover that they had once hosted freight motors under wire. A couple of books were published, and I grabbed them as soon as I could at my local hobby shop.
Between the TTC and the NS&T, electrics became a strong influence in my hobby. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, many hobbyists my age were inspired by the appalachian coal hauling layouts build by people named Al and Tony – but my hobby hero was Bob Hegge, and the articles I looked forward to in the hobby press were those covering his O scale Crooked Mountain Lines I even have a CML tribute boxcar on my layout.
Many hobbyists model the railway that influenced us at a formative age. I have several friends who do exactly that: to name a couple, Bob Fallowfield is modelling the CP Rail of his youth in Woodstock, Ontario, while Hunter Hughson is recreating the Penn Central in New York State – a line he rail-fanned with his father. By all counts, I should be building a layout based on the CNR in St. Catharines in the 1970s-1980s. But I’m not – for a few reasons.
I’ve never been able to design a CNR Grantham Sub layout that would balance prototype accuracy with my available space. The era I saw first-hand included some pretty big equipment – up to and including 86-foot high cube boxcars that trundled up the street to a General Motors plant.
Even in HO, those require some space-eating curves. And that’s just as well, because what really appealed to me about the lines in St. Catharines was their electric heritage.
But that posed another problem, in that there are few models of suitable NS&T equipment. I wasn’t about to scratch-build everything. (Keep in mind that I’m only just learning to bash brass and use machine tools – skills that are invaluable when it comes to making locomotives from scratch.)
Now, I knew that in addition to being an excellent modeller, William was also a manufacturer. To model the NS&T in S scale, he designed and produced photo etched sheets and cast parts for various freight motors. I first saw examples of these at the 2007 Copetown Train Show, where the S Scale Workshop was exhibiting its Free-mo style layout. (As an aside, I was not yet a member of the group and their Free-mo layout was less than a year old at the time.)
(William’s model of freight motor #18 and express car #41)
The first time I saw William’s work, a couple of his models were on static display on the S Scale Workshop layout. (I could not get a better photo, unfortunately.) I had no idea that he was creating kits for some of the NS&T equipment – and by the time I found out, he was sold out.
At various meets over the years I’ve picked up a couple of unbuilt kits for NS&T freight motors #18 and #20. It was definitely a case of “buy them while I could”, but they’ve always been a low priority for me: I could turn the finished models into a diorama, but two locomotives weren’t enough to convince me to model the NS&T – and anyway, I’m modelling the line to Port Rowan, right?
I knew that William was not interested in selling the NS&T equipment that he’d built. I wouldn’t be either: the models represent a lot of time, and many are the pilot models for his kits. But he did have some unbuilt kits and some part-built models for sale, plus all the detail parts needed to finish them. And that’s how come I now own a small fleet of NS&T potential:
NST 8, 15, 19:
(Mostly-finished bodies for NS&T freight motors #15 and #19. I also bought an unbuilt set of etchings and parts for #8 – a third motor built to this design, and the subject of the lead photo for this post)
(The etching sheet for NS&T freight motor #17 – a steeple cab. I also bought the parts to finish this)
NST 620 class:
(The etching sheet for an NS&T 620-class interurban. Again, I also bought a set of castings to finish this one)
Added to what I have already acquired, I have six freight motors. That’s a respectable fleet. While I only have the parts for a single passenger car, the NS&T hosted a number of fan trips and excursions over the years, so I can use the car for that.
IF… I build a new layout.
Will I do that? I don’t know – yet. And I won’t make the decision until several milestones are achieved.
First – I intend to finish Port Rowan. I’m so close, it would be unfortunate to not do so. I enjoy my Port Rowan layout but I have no personal connection to the prototype: I chose to model this line for the very practical reason that it fit my layout space.
Second – I would have to design a layout that I would actually want to build. I’m picky about layout designs and compromises. In fact, this is something that has prevented me from modelling the CNR Grantham Subdivision in the past. That said, modelling the earlier era – the NS&T under wire – opens up new possibilities for me. For one thing, the freight equipment is shorter, and curves could be tighter – tighter even than the 42″ radius I used on Port Rowan (which is already pretty tight – the passenger equipment barely negotiates it). For another thing, the NS&T offers different scenes and customers to model than the CNR of the 1970s-1980s.
Third – I would have to actually build all of these electrics – to my satisfaction. I can do it – I’m sure I have the skills – but until I have them ready to run there’s no point in considering a new layout. Get the equipment finished first, then address the layout. It worked for Port Rowan, after all…
Fourth – I would have to build some trolley wire and get it working to my satisfaction. Despite being a traction guy at heart, I’ve never done this. Can I do it? I’d better figure that out before I commit to a layout.
If I can satisfy those four criteria, then I’ll retire Port Rowan and embark on a new adventure. Until then, Port Rowan is safe. If I can’t satisfy those four criteria, then I see a wicked good NS&T diorama in my future…
As a bonus, there were a number of locations where the NS&T met the steam-powered Canadian National – from Merritton to Port Colborne – so if/when I do embark on this adventure my CNR locomotives and other equipment can all be put to good use.