Friday, September 4, 2015

Murray Bay Story

As track laying is nearing completion and informal operation sessions are hold regularly, I feel it’s time to survey the entire layout as it stands after the rebuilding process start more than a year and half ago. Actually, the trackage reflects what was envisioned back then and I’m glad Jérôme can now confidently say lower track density doesn’t mean less fun. As he observed last session, you’re better off with only one realistically longer siding than 3 short sidings.

D’Estimauville (MP 1.2)

D’Estimauville is where trains are staged before operation sessions and where they disappear at the end of the day. It is made of a very long two-ended siding that folds around itself as a returning loop. As far as operation is concerned, I observed the returning loop is seldom used. The only time it is handy is when you need a third track to build up a train and do some switching moves. I don’t know if it will survive, but it could be replaced with a stub-ended siding and it would be even better. By the way, that’s exactly how the prototype worked back then. On a positive note, the sweeping broad curved and bridge scene worked far better than expected.

Track exit hidden staging

D'Estimauville Avenue crossing

Villeneuve (MP 4.4)

This is probably the larger industrial district on the layout. The entire scene is more than 20 feet long and very little compression was used thus the tracks are quite prototypical. Operations at the cement plant are numerous and varied: bulk cement, bagged cement, gypsum, coal and machinery. Each needs special procedure: shoving many cement cars, individually unloading coal and gypsum hoppers, spotting boxcars and flat cars and managing the small yard. The plant is so huge you can’t handle all the traffic in one train, which helps to ensure variety. With its 17 feet long siding and large traffic, this is the only place you can run long and heavy trains similar to the prototype. A 20-car train bound to Villeneuve is not a rare occurrence and push the locomotives to their limit (each car weight about 8 to 10 oz.).

West end of Villeneuve

Ciment St-Laurent cement plant in Villeneuve

East end of Villeneuve, cement warehouse and Sous-bois Street crossing.

Montmorency Falls (MP 5.6)

Montmorency is home to the oldest and original customer on the line: Dominion Textile plant. The place used to be a busy industrial district full of track, locomotive facilities and a wye, but CN takeover and early 1980s economic slump in Canada due to modification in import tariff is slowly killing the plant. The area smells like decay with the decrepit turn-of-the-century brick plant, abandoned passenger station and powerhouse ruins. The low volume car traffic no longer command a special switcher to switch the plant and it is only an occasional stop when the train returns from Clermont to drop a few U.S. cotton boxcars and spot a sporadic chemical tank car.

Montmorency Falls abandonned station

Dominion Textile plan. The power house ruins will be at left

Charlevoix (MP 38.6)

The peninsula represents the scenic area along St. Lawrence River. Just like the prototype, the track follows the capricious topography which command successive and treacherous sharp S-curves. This harsh landscape induce a lot of stress on trains both real and model thus running speed are far slower. Don’t underestimate the effort a locomotive needs to pull a heavy train around Cap-Brûlé because it has nothing to do with Villeneuve flatlands. Charlevoix is also the only part of the layout where scenery reaches any significant level of completion.

Entering Charlevoix "Les Caps" area
Sault-au-Cochon, a small but infamous fishing and hunting spot (MP 40.8)
A sharp curve around Cap-Brûlé
The mighty Cap-Brûlé and Clermont's west switch

Clermont (MP 92.1)

Clermont is a typical backwood industrial boom town that developed in the early 20th century when a paper mill was built in the middle of a pre-existing rural community called Nairn Falls. It is the line terminal and home to various large and small shippers. Most traffic handled is related to farming, high tension cable, wood products, cement and gas. In real life, Clermont’s trackage is quite large and diversified. However, we had to reduce that to the minimum. On the layout, Clermont is nothing more than a relatively short two-end siding (eleven 50ft cars) and a team track. It works as a storage yard for the nearby paper mill as per prototype. Another prototypical feature that was kept is the yard S-curve profile which makes for interesting vista of trains.

Clermont's diminutive yard with the team track
Clermont's east end, the village and Malbaie River bridge to Donohue


End of steel. Donohue is a large paper mill built upon Nairn Falls hydroelectric power which is accessible over a railway bridge crossing Malbaie River. This is the second most important customer on the line and the sole reason the subdivision is still economically viable. The plant was enlarged and modernized during the early 70s and provides newsprint to the famous New York Times. The mill scene occupies a 12 feet L-shaped shelf and follows the prototype trackage as close as possible even if some compression was used. Traffic handled includes woodchip, newsprint, chemicals and kaolin clay slurry. Switching the plant is labor intensive and needs good organization sense. For this reason, just like the prototype, Donohue does this tedious work itself and blocks the train for CN. From a scenery standpoint, Clermont got lots of attention as this is the only place on the layout to harbour custom-built structures. The bridge scene is quite an interesting vista and works quite well to separate scenes and different operation types. A large photo backdrop of the actual mill will soon be installed there.

Malbaie River bridge and Donohue's newsprint warehouse

Donohue plant and chemicals unloading area

Donohue's woodchip unloading facilities and end of steel


All in all, Hedley Junction reached a point where I can affirm it offer a condensed but realistic vision of a typical Eastern Canada rural subdivision in the 70s-80s. There’s a good balance between large and active customers and dwindling industries. Traffic is still strong, relatively varied and many trains are needed to run the subdivision each day. What you can find on a mid-1975 CN timetable was effectively translated directly on the layout and that’s a plus.
From an operation standpoint, the layout is quite a success. We didn’t hold an official session yet, but at every meeting, some switching takes place between times spent building the layout. To me, it means we reached our goal. Even incomplete, it is possible to operate a specific industry, which is great to keep interest up. I can also say that the project motivated me enough to build, kitbash and weather lots of cars and locomotives. Having realistic operations is a good way to push yourself bringing your rolling stock to the upper level.

Finally, the most important thing is that we enjoy building the project. Since we changed and limited our scope, the project progressed steadily. The trick is simple: chew something you can swallow. There are hundreds of layouts you can dream of, but very little you can successfully model. Hedley Junction proved you can go small with medium space available and double your fun. We learned to appreciate that over the last year and half and I’d bet the three of us would never go back to what we used to do. Our layout isn’t the largest out there, it doesn’t have all the prototype features, but it got the basics well and it can support a strong main line freight traffic, local switcher and industrial switching in a somewhat achievable scale. In no way this is small time railroading.

Finally, the thing that strikes us since a few months is how flawless motive power and rolling stock is required to have fun while operating. We still have to address this. Getting the best out of a locomotive is the biggest challenge (including track wiring and cleaning) we ever faced. So much, it is probably the most effective way to keep a small but reliable pool of locomotives. We are still working on that and only a handful of engines are going to be upgraded for top performance.


  1. Thanks for the tour of the layout. I note how you have followed the prototype pretty closely, and operations works as a result. The prototype has worked it out for you!

    Those mountains/hills look great so far. I'm looking forward to watching the scenery appear!

    1. Thanks Steve! Following the prototype was a very tortuous process!

      Scenery is about start real soon with Dohonue, then moving toward Clermont and Montmorency.

  2. If it isn't already in your loco upgrade plans, consider additional phosphor-bronze wipers directly on the wheel treads plus perhaps keep-alive circuits with the decoders. Of course, the wheels and track still need to be kept clean, but the above will help with pickup and carrying through a few residual dirty spots.

    1. Thanks for the tip Rich. I didn't think about the phosphor-bronze wipers, but it would help. At this point, i'd say half the loco doesn't have pickup problems (mainly Atlas and Rapido) while others have some hickups (Proto and Bachmann)