NS&T 14: switching on St. Paul

I’m working my way through the collection of photographs, maps and other materials I’ve recently acquired from William Flatt – and I thought I’d share some of the images that speak strongly to me about the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. Here’s one:

NS&T freight - St. Paul Street

NS&T 14 with a cut of cars on St. Paul Street – Date and photographer unknown.

The photographer took this image just west of Geneva Street in St. Catharines. We’re looking northwest. (For those who know St. Catharines well, the white building behind the train is the building that’s now occupied by Herzog’s – the men’s clothing store. And behind the boxcar at the end of the train, you’re looking at the building that would later house Niagara Central Hobbies. One of the best model railway stores in North America at one time, it never made the transition to the online economy and closed a few years ago.)

I’m told the car in the foreground is a 1952-53 model, so it was taken after that.

I love this photo – it’s the sort of railroading that appeals to me. This is a switch crew, working a short cut of cars, under wire, on trackage up the middle of a city street. When I was growing up in St. Catharines, I saw similar (although diesel-powered) trains every day, working the General Motors plant on Ontario Street. Other than the overhead wire, it was just like this.

I had some trouble pinning down exactly what this crew was doing on St. Paul, however. I didn’t know of any industries along the street – I thought it was solely a passenger-carrying line. (The city bus next to the steeple cab shows that the streetcars had been abandoned by this time.) So I posted the photo to the NS&T Facebook group, and the Niagara History and Trivia Facebook group, and got some answers. (Thanks to everyone who contributed!)

It turns out that there was a factory at the south end of Phelps Street (now Riordan Street) that was an NS&T customer. There are various thoughts about the identify of the customer – including English Electric, Resin-Tex Limited, Eaton Yale, and Ferranti-Packard. (Eaton Yale or Ferranti-Packard may make the most sense: those companies had foundry operations, which would explain the gondola cars in the train.)

As the saying goes, “getting there is half the fun”. Switching Phelps Street required a lot of backing and frothing. I’ve illustrated this by adding labels to an aerial photograph of the area:


Aerial Photograph, downtown St. Catharines, 1955 – From the Brock University online collection

St. Paul and Geneva - Aerial 1955

(As above, without the labels.)

Cars for this customer would’ve come out of the Eastchester Yard, west onto Welland Avenue, south down Geneva Street, and then west on St. Paul Street. That’s where the photo of Number 14 was taken. At this point, the crew is likely preparing to swap ends with the trolley pole: either that, or the crew member holding the pole’s rope is preparing to guide the pole as the train back-poles. (I’m told the track on St. Paul was cut back to Court Street – which is the gap between the buildings over the second gondola car. On the photo, I’ve ended my sketch of the line at Court.)

The train would then pull east on St. Paul and onto Queenston Street and run past Phelps Street before switching direction again and heading south on Phelps to the factory.

For those unfamiliar with St. Catharines, Welland, Geneva, St. Paul and Queenston are all major streets with a lot of vehicle traffic. It would’ve been a real challenge to switch this safely.

If I go ahead with the NS&T layout project, I know I will want to model some scenes where freight ran through the street, so this picture is a real inspiration.

8 thoughts on “NS&T 14: switching on St. Paul”

  1. The kind of scene is really exciting. Figuring out what’s going on with the photos is fascinating. There’s a small electric railroad in Wisconsin that sort of reminds me of what you’re describing the NS&T as. The East Troy Electric. They still exist as a museum, but even more fun, one of the industrial spurs off the mainline still exists and they give rides on speeders from time to time. I imagine this kind of thing would be very much like what you’re considering modeling. https://youtu.be/vwAN_7kUPMs

    1. Hi Jeremy:
      You’re right – and I’m really enjoying the figuring out part. Even if I do nothing else with this, I hope that others find the information useful.
      That said, every bit of info that I explore makes me want to do this more…

  2. So, am I correct that every time the steeple cab reverses direction, the crew have to switch the pole end to end on the cab?
    Again, thanks for posting,
    Cheers Gord

    1. Hi Gord:
      Good question. Actually, no. The crew would swap the poles end for end when they planned to travel long distances or at higher speeds. But when switching, it was quite easy to “back pole”. In fact, the crew member holding the rope for the pole may shortly turn around and prepare to look ahead as the train does just that.
      The good news is, I’ve run trains on the HO scale Grand River Railways layout built by Roger Chrysler. Like his prototype, the trains on his layout run under wire, and we did a lot of back-poling.
      It requires careful wire-hanging – but that should be done carefully in any case. But being able to do this in the model world will sure make a switching layout a lot more fun…

  3. Thanks Trevor. On a model layout, do you run current through the overhead to power the engine or through the rails normally and the overhead is just for “show”?
    Cheers, Gord

    1. Hi Gord:
      Power can be routed either way that you describe. I’ve run on layouts with both. I haven’t decided which way I’ll go if this planning exercise evolves into building a new layout.

  4. Did the NS&T also serve the Canada Hair Cloth factory which was along the 12-Mile Creek, almost opposite Lincoln Foundry?

    1. Hi Philip:
      Nope – the Canada Hair Cloth company never had direct rail service. I’m not sure if they used the NS&T freight shed or team track over in the Niagara Street yards, however…

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