That’s an excellent place to start…
I have a long history and fascination with railways that run under wires – including the Niagara St. Catharines and Toronto Railway.
I grew up in Toronto, and my first exposure to full-size railroading was the Toronto Transit Commission’s extensive streetcar lines and its (at the time) two-route subway system. The TTC really was “The Better Way”, as its slogan says – so much so that my parents both stopped driving before I was born.
We lived in several places in Toronto, but always near transit – in fact, always a quick walk or bus ride to a subway station – so that my father could easily get to and from work. Growing up, my mother and I would take transit everywhere: to the downtown department stores… the museums, galleries, and other attractions… the Canadian National Exhibition… St. Lawrence Market and other shopping… Centre Island, the Beach, High Park… and, of course, hobby shops such as George’s Trains. In short, everywhere. Transit was a way of life.
For the most part, these journeys involved a subway. Like many Toronto kids, I lobbied to sit at the front of the subway train so I could look out the window to see where we were headed. An empty front seat meant a dark adventure ahead and the twists, turns, rises and falls of the track were as familiar to me as they would be to any TTC subway driver. (If the front seat was occupied by another rider, my transit adventure was positively ruined.)
(Certain stations were highlights. Davisville was one: it’s above ground, and the location of a subway maintenance yard.)
Buses were just another road vehicle. They were a means to get to the subway, and that was it. No rails. The less said about buses, the better.
Less often, our journeys would involve a ride on the streetcar. Growing up, that meant the iconic Presidents Conference Car (PCC):
I loved the way we would stop traffic to walk into the middle of the street to board. I loved the open windows in the summer, complete with dire warnings about sticking heads or arms out of the vehicle. I loved the sound of the traction motors, and the sparks from the overhead. I loved the dashed lines on station platforms that showed you how the ends of the car would swing out over the tracks as they rounded curves: step inside that line, and you’re going to be hit. I loved the flange squeal.
Today, my wife and 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.) I’m a passionate strap-hanger: Transit is still my preferred way to get around. And while the subway is the most efficient, it’s the streetcar that holds the most appeal for me. I love to grab a window seat in warm weather and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city passing by…
When I was 12, my parents decided to move out of the city. I hated the thought – and when we ended up in the St. Catharines without a car, I discovered just how good the TTC had been. Now, it took most of a day to get anywhere – and the only transit option was a bus.
But, it wasn’t all bad. For starters, back in the 1970s and 1980s, St. Catharines had the most amazing model train store I’d ever seen. Niagara Central Hobbies was nirvana for a railway modeller. And I could walk (or, in good weather, bike) to it from home.
Also – and this was really cool – the Canadian National Railway had a spur line to a General Motors plant just a couple of blocks north of our house:
(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…)
Despite living in Toronto, I didn’t often see real railroads at work. They tended to be in places we weren’t. So this was my first real exposure to real-life railroading – and what an eye-opener! The CNR would haul boxcars along tracks in the street, right up the road from me. When I attended high school, I would walk to school along Louisa Street – and my path would frequently cross that of a switch job headed to GM. I soon learned that these were tracks once worked under wire by the Niagara St. Catharines and Toronto Railway. I spent lots of free time on my bicycle, riding through the city to follow these tracks down through the Eastchester Yards and eventually to Merritton Yard, where the CNR’s Grantham Sub (as the NS&T lines were known) connected with the Grimsby Sub mainline.
(The ex-NS&T yard at Merritton, Ontario – in the southeast corner of St. Catharines)
Between the TTC and the NS&T, electrics became a strong influence in my hobby. But I’ve never modelled them – for various reasons that I’ll detail in a future post.