Black Beetles and Stanton Drives

I’ve been occupied with other model railway projects lately, including speaking at the NMRA Lone Star Region annual convention in Texas, and setting up my home layout (Port Rowan) to be used as a location in a film. So work on anything related to the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway has taken a back seat.

But I have been busy acquiring things that I’ll need in order to model the line in 1:64.

Before I commit to building an NS&T layout, I have four criteria to satisfy. One of my criteria is to build the kits for various freight motors that I’ve acquired from William Flatt, and get them running to my satisfaction.

In order to achieve this goal, I have been creating a parts list for each freight motor (which I will share in future posts, once the lists are complete). At the top of each list is suitable power trucks: These are essential to getting them running, after all.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve placed orders with two suppliers, as recommended by William.

The first is Steam Era Models – an Australian company run by David Foulkes. Steam Era Models has been around for many years: In fact, back in the 1990s when I modelled the Boston and Maine Railroad in HO scale I acquired one of David’s plastic kits for a Victorian Railways Diesel Electric Rail Motor (DERM). At the time, Walthers had not yet introduced its model of an EMC gas-electric, and this was the most suitable starting point I could find to model the EMC doodlebugs that ran on the B&M:

Boston Maine Claremont Branch - Staging Yard
(The Steam Era Models doodlebug at right blends in nicely with my Boston & Maine equipment. You would never know its an Australian prototype. This was the staging yard on my HO layout.)

The model included a Black Beetle – a power truck of David’s own design. It was wonderful.

Fast forward about 20 years, and David has achieved international recognition for these power trucks, which he offers in several options. One picks the wheelbase, gauge, wheel type, wheel diameter and profile, and the gear ratio, and he builds them to order. William has used these under several of his models, and designed his white metal side frame castings to fit them.

I ordered two Black Beetles for Number 17 and a pair for Number 20, so I can now start work on those two motors:

Black Beetles
(Black Beetles for Number 20 (left) are built to 31mm wheelbase, while the trucks for Number 17 are 33.5mm wheelbase. Both locos ride on 14mm diameter disc wheels. I chose the Code 88 wheel profile (Proto:64) to match the NWSL finescale wheels I use on my freight cars, and the 27:1 gear ratio because that results in a slower, smoother drive. David installed the wires between the motor and pickups to test the trucks, but left them long so I can cut them and use them as leads for the DCC decoders. Normally they would be tight to the truck body.)

Interestingly, when I contacted David about these power trucks he asked if I had bought a Victorian Railways DERM from him many years ago. Great memory!

The NS&T also had three freight motors (8, 15, and 19) with trucks featuring an eight-foot wheelbase. For these, I decided to use Stanton Drives from Northwest Short Line. These run faster than the 27:1 Black Beetles, but I’m confident I can knock down their top speed through CV settings in my DCC decoders. I have acquired two Stanton Drives, which will do one of the freight motors. My order is in for four more to cover the other two. (UPDATE: These arrived July 30th)

Stanton Drives
(Stanton Drives from NWSL. As the packages note, they’re eight-foot wheelbase, with 36″ diameter code 87 wheel profiles, and DCC ready.)

While it doubles the expense, I decided to power both trucks on each freight motor. They will be pulling trains – admittedly short, but possibly up and down grades – so the extra horsepower will be welcome.

Will I build an NS&T layout?

That’s a really good question – and I just realized that while I have addressed this on my Port Rowan blog, I haven’t written about it here. It’s time to fix that.

The short answer is, I don’t know – yet. The longer answer is, I won’t make the decision until several milestones are achieved.

First – I intend to finish my Port Rowan layout.

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. But I think it would be novel to finish a layout in my lifetime.

Second – I need to design a layout that I would actually want to build.

I’m picky about layout designs and compromises.

On the plus side, as my Achievable Layouts blog should make clear I’d rather build a simple layout with a few scenes done well, than a lot of scenes overcrowded. My Achievable Layouts philosophy will guide my designs, and I will only undertake an NS&T layout that can be built without becoming an albatross.

On the minus side, when it comes to the NS&T I know the subject matter really, really well.

With previous layouts – including Port Rowan – I was working largely from photographs and maps, and I was able to introduce compromises without them bothering me too much. Over the years, I’ve built many layouts and each has become simpler than the one before it, as I reduce the compromises by picking smaller subjects to model. But even on Port Rowan – which has just eight turnouts in total, and a single train per operating session – compromises were required. Again, they were easy to make because I don’t have a history with the prototype. But the NS&T? Well, I grew up around it.

To provide an example of the challenge, I walked the line along Louisa Street every day to attend high school. The prototype ran for several blocks and crossed one major street (Lake Street) about halfway along. If I decide to model Louisa Street, how long should the street be? How many blocks should I represent? How much can I compress those blocks? At what point does it lose the feel of running along a street?

Here’s another example: I regularly watched CNR crews switch the General Motors plant on Ontario Street. Again, the track went up the middle of the street past the plant to get to the far side. On the prototype, the track runs in Ontario Street for approximately 2,300 feet. Obviously that’s too long to model uncompressed: In S scale, that’s almost 36 actual feet. But how much can I compress that by? I think 15 feet of street running would be fine. But how about 10? At what point would this huge General Motors plant no longer feel like the major industry that it is?

I feel that compressing scenes will be harder in the case of the NS&T than it was for any previous layout I’ve built, because of my familiarity with the prototype. Can I apply enough compression to actually make something fit in my space that will be satisfying to build, fun to operate – and remind me of the real thing? Those are questions I need to answer.

Third – I would have to actually build all of of the kits I’ve acquired for NS&T freight motors – and get them running to my satisfaction.

I can do this – I’m pretty sure I have the skills – but one doesn’t know for sure until they’re built. Until I have these freight motors 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 these four criteria, then I’ll retire Port Rowan and embark on this new adventure. Until then, Port Rowan is safe. If I cannot satisfy these four criteria, then I see a terrific NS&T diorama in my future…

NS&T 83: Louisa Street

On this blog, I’ve shared many images of Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway number 83. It was a popular interurban car for excursion service. This time, I have one of my favourite photos of this car – found among the collection of photographs, maps and other materials I’ve recently acquired from William Flatt:

NST 83 - Louisa Street

NS&T 83 – St. Catharines. Robert Sandusky photograph, 1956.

Here, NS&T car 83 is headed eastbound on Louisa Street at Henry Street, on – you guessed it – a fan trip. It’s returning from Port Dalhousie and is a few minutes east of the bridge at 12 Mile Creek, and the siding at Woodruffs.

I was certain I’d shared this photo before, but I can’t find the post. No matter – it’s worth sharing again. I love the combination of big interurban car on a tree-lined residential street. And as I’ve mentioned previously on this site, I used to walk Louisa Street to get to high school. Granted, that was three decades after this photo was taken, but at the time the track still existed, and still hosted short CNR trains moving freight cars to and from the General Motors (nee, McKinnon Industries) plant on Ontario Street.

Louisa at Henry - Google Street View 2014

In the above image, Google Street View cameras have captured the same location in 2014. The track is long gone by this point. But the houses haven’t changed all that much over the intervening decades.

The personal connection with trains in the pavement at this location means I would love to be able to include a segment of Louisa Street running on any NS&T layout I build.

St. Catharines Freight House

In an earlier post, I asked readers for photographs of the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway freight house in St. Catharines. Thanks to some detective work from Aaron White on the NS&T Facebook group, I now have a couple of images I can share. As a point of reference, I will include the 1923 fire insurance map for this area further down…

The first photo comes from a collection recently acquired by the Niagara Railway Museum:


The photographer is obviously using slow film, as the photograph is quite blurred. He’s either aboard a moving train, or paused while crossing Welland Avenue to shoot this photo.

The picture shows the freight house on the right, on the far side of Niagara Street. A freight shed extends behind the brick structure.

To the left of the tracks, a tower controls the interlocking here. This interlocking includes the yard throat in the foreground that leads to the passenger terminal (behind the photographer), the line curving away at right that enters Welland Avenue and heads towards the car barn, and the city line that curves away to the left, onto Niagara Street.

(The Niagara Railway Museum is a great place to spend a bit of time online. Its website hosts a number of photo galleries, including one on the NS&T. Why not have a look… and plan to visit the museum this summer?)

The second photograph is via the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre, with permission from Adrian Petry:


I’ll get to the story of the photograph in a moment – but I want to focus on the freight house itself: the brick building in the background. To the right of the building, one can see some boxcars standing in front of the freight shed that extends from the back of the brick structure. And of course, there’s that overhead crane – which is part of the team yard adjacent to the freight house.

The freight house faces Niagara Street, and the NS&T mainline passes on the far side of it. Where the NS&T crosses Niagara Street, one can see the striped crossing gates. To the left of the street, one can spot the interlocking tower that controlled this area on the railway.

Here’s the story of the second photograph, from the St. Catharines Museum’s Facebook page

Lightning Fastener Co. Ltd., 1925
(50 Niagara St. (cor. of Davidson St.), built 1925)

Early versions of fasteners were developed and patented in the United States, most notably in 1851 by Elias Howe and in 1893/1905 by Whitcomb L. Judson. However, it was the Swedish-American Gideon Sundback (photo upper right, facing left), who is credited as the “Inventor of the Zipper.” He not only designed the first successful slide fastener (later referred to as the modern zipper), with a system of interlocking teeth and scoops, but also developed a machine in 1913, later improved upon, for mass-producing his invention.

Seen here is the cornerstone laying ceremony for Sundback’s new Lightning Fastener building in St. Catharines, 1925.

(The museum has a lot of great information available. In addition to its Facebook page, you can find the museum on Twitter and Instagram by using @stcmuseum. Enjoy if you visit!)

As promised, here’s a map of the area. The green arrow points to the freight house / shed. As the photographs and map show, there are spurs on both sides of the structure.


I’m excited by these two photographs because they confirm what I remember of the freight house, from seeing it as a young railfan back in the 1980s. I’m equally excited that there’s a decent stand-in model available for this freight house in S scale – thanks to my friend Barry Silverthorn, no less.

Before he launched TrainMasters TV, Barry ran Grand River Models, which produced a handful of delightful craftsman structure kits in 1:64 – including the Prince Edward Express Company:

GrandRiverModels - PrinceEdwardExpressCo

No, it’s not an exact model. But yes, it’s darned close. And I happen to have one, plus a couple of extra freight shed extensions that I can use to lengthen the structure.

The Niagara St. yards are looking like a better modelling subject all the time!

Looking for photos: St Catharines freight shed and power house

I’m looking for photos of two key structures on the Niagara St. Catharines and Toronto Railway in St. Catharines.

The first is the NS&T’s freight shed on Niagara Street. It’s indicated by the arrow in this map:

NS&T Freight Shed - Map

I believe this building was later part of a lumber yard in this location, but I can’t remember. If you have more info, I’d love to hear from you.

The second is the NS&T’s substation / power house across Welland Avenue from the terminal. It’s indicated by the arrow in this map:

NS&T power house - Map

On the off chance that you stumble across this blog and you have photo of one or both of these buildings – in any era – please let me know via the comments. Thanks in advance!

NS&T gallery (Old Time Trains)

Looking for more photos of the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway? The Old Time Trains website has an extensive gallery online.

It’s spread across five pages, but you can start with the first page (including links to all the others) by clicking on this terrific image of a pair of NS&T 130-series wooden interurbans in boat train service:

NST 130-series - Old Time Trains

Victoria Avenue at Roberts Street, Niagara Falls. Jim Shuman photo, July 7, 1946

Enjoy if you visit!

NS&T 17: Houtby’s Siding

The photograph below is a pretty exciting one for me. It changes how I’m thinking about my potential model railway, based on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway.

NS&T 17 - Houtby's

NS&T 17 at Houtby’s Siding. Photographer and date unknown.

This photo is courtesy of the Niagara Railway Museum, which recently acquired a large collection of photographs. I’m grateful to Aaron White for giving me permission to share it here.

Number 17 and its short freight are in the hole at Houtby’s – at Milepost 2.33 on the Port Dalhousie line. It’s facing north, but it’s likely waiting to back south along the west side of 12 Mile Creek to serve customer(s) at Welland Vale.

To the left of the freight motor, one can see the bridge over 12 Mile Creek and – to the left of that, up the hill – the back of the McKinnon Industries complex on Ontario Street.

Aerial photo - 12 Mile Creek bridge and environs

1955 aerial photo showing McKinnon Industries, Welland Vale and Houtby’s Siding, from the Brock University online collection.

I’m thrilled to have seen this photo because it provides me with an example of the traffic that was hauled across the creek to the west bank. I am very keen on modelling the operations along Ontario Street, but was worried that McKinnon Industries would dominate the freight movements. This photo gave me reason to explore more of the freight workings on the Port Dalhousie division – perhaps I could add Welland Vale to a layout to boost the switching opportunities?

My reprint of the 1945 Employee Time Table includes a list of tracks outside yard limits on the Port Dalhousie Division, which is helpful in determining switching opportunities on this line:

NST - Port Dalhousie track list

(Note the mileage is measured from Port Dalhousie in this time table, so the MP given for Houtby’s is different.)

I like that the line also includes a couple of team tracks and canneries. (I wrote about the Canadian Canners spur at MP 0.86 and the Cannery Siding at MP 0.99 in an earlier post on Port Dalhousie and Lakeside Park.) Looking at the sidings chart above – and keeping in mind that the Port Dalhousie Division was a busy passenger line until about 1950 – has given me a lot more to think about.

Thanks again, Aaron!

“The First Shall Be Last”

Thanks to Hugh Jordan on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway Facebook Group for pointing out that noted Canadian railway photographer Robert Sandusky wrote a sweet capsule history of the railway for the Bytown Railway Society’s Branchline magazine back in April, 2009.

The PDF of the issue is available for free online. The four-page article – which includes an NS&T system map – begins on page 18. Click on this image from the article to start reading, and discover the meaning of this post’s title…

Carbarn-Sandusky Article

Enjoy if you visit!

(UPDATE: I’m told this link may not work for everyone. Sorry about that – it’s beyond my control.)

NS&T in the National Archives

I recently learned from noted Canadian railway historian Ralph Beaumont that the National Archives of Canada has – amongst its large collection of vintage railway photographs – many that show early scenes from the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. Here’s a small sampling:

NF Boat Train - Archives photo.

StC Freight House - Archives photo.

NS&T 40 - National Archives photo.

Port Weller Tower - Archives photo.

Freight switching - Archives photo.

The photos tend to be from an era well before what I would model. But still, it’s a valuable collection that I would love to explore. Clearly, a road trip is in order!

(Thanks, Ralph!)