Thursday, July 7, 2016

Thinking Out Loud - Part 1

While our vacations are continuing, I’m going back reading railway-related literature of all kind. In fact, the basement renovations are taking more time than anticipated and thus very little progress is done on the layout.  This is a good opportunity to step back, relax and seeking new ideas before returning once again to our never ending task!

For loyal followers, I’d suggest reading this sharp series of articles about the historyof Murray Bay Subdivision published in Canadian Rail. The help of Denis Fortier – a well-known railfan in Quebec and Charlevoix areas – really show. For followers of this blog, I believe it is a good gateway to understand a part of our layout.

Sure, I have a major reason to do many searches right now. I’m in the planning stage of building a new garage and that means layout-dedicated space for the first time in my life. I’m entertaining the possibility to use a 9.5’ x 19’ room only for that purpose. I consider an around the wall layout would be the best bet and I’m not against the possibility of continuous running. While the space is relatively vast, I don’t believe I can cram more than two small locations and maybe a decent amount of scenic area between them (probably a substantial bridge scene). To be honest, I think I have a fair idea of what I can achieve in that space. I’m also well aware I’m interested in building prototypical structures and reproducing real-life location. While I want my trains to have a purpose, I’m not obsessed in filling the place with track and operation opportunities. I’ve learned a long time ago I preferred small town with a few siding than large industries and I love when there’s a fair amount of single track main line blended in well-crafted scenery. In that respect, I feel we too often try to incorporate too much specific locations on our layouts and not enough mundane situation.

As usual with most modellers, I’m struggling in determining which prototype I’d like to reproduce and which era. Over the last decades, I accumulated a lot of rolling stock and locomotives from various eras and roads. I can classify them in five coherent categories:

-Non-descript branchline steam era
-Canadian National steam era
-Canadian National diesel era (1960-1993)
-Canadian Pacific diesel era (1960-1985, mainly Multimark)

I feel each of them have a lot of opportunities and I’ll describe want I think of each ones.

CN diesel era:

I have a lot of cars and locomotives that have actually no purpose on our current club layout. I feel it is a real shame to not be able to use them. Among the interesting prototypes I’d be interested to model, I feel the area near Drummondville and Aston-Junction is very promising. As a continuous run, you can stage large freight manifest with 6-axle power and also various passenger trains between Québec and Montréal. Industries are very limited with a few feedmills and some interchange work with Bécancour. There is also a local freight train than handle such traffic. Of interest is the fact this train has its own small locomotive facilities which is a very interesting fact for a medium sized layout. Add the fact that extremely scenic bridges exist in the area and you have a winning concept.

Canadian Pacific Diesel Era:

I always loved the CP Rail with its mismatched consists of locomotives and rundown appearance. Add to this the weird beauty of the colourful Multimark brand and you get a very attractive concept. Finding a suitable prototype in Quebec is however extremely challenging. The best candidate is the International Railway of Maine in Southern Quebec. Industries are very small yet interesting and very scenic. Among the most iconic locations on the line are Cookshire, which I often used as inspiration in the past and other smaller locations like Milan. A nice bridge scene exists in Cookshire over the Eaton river. Another option would be to model the line between Jackman, ME and Greenville, ME. This would make a terrific layout from a scenic point of view.

Canadian National Steam Era:

I’ve never been a fan of large steamers though I do like them! I’m talking from a layout perspective indeed! Over the year, I kitbashed several models into CNR steamers, including 0-6-0, 2-6-0 and 2-8-0 and have built a substantial fleet of rolling stock fitting that era. Finding a prototype would be too hard and I must admit steam operation over the Murray Bay Subdivision is extremely engaging. That would be a nice complement to our modern layout and it would be a great opportunity to model locations that we left out because they were of little interest during the diesel era. Among the chief location is Baie-Saint-Paul which sported a small but dense rail operation. Imagine 2 stub sidings serving a freight depot, an oil dealer, a team track, a cattle pen and a lumber yard. Add a large water tank, a passenger station with covered platform, a section house, a grade crossing and a substantial bridge. Now, take in account this scene takes only 9 feet to model without any selective compression and you got an idea why I feel this prototype is great.

Now move to La Malbaie were the regular trains reached the last station on the line. You find there a very long freight and passenger depot, a weird two stall engine house, a turntable, a coaling facility using hoist and drop bottom gondolas, a few section house and a water tank. Better, the line doesn’t end in Murray Bay but continues up to Clermont which means you indeed have a terminal, but it isn’t too much unprototypical to make this a continuous running layout. Structures to model aren’t too numerous, but I can testify they are all very interesting to build. Also, must I stress out the fact that if Rapido release its CNR 4-6-0 in HO, that would be the most amazing thing since this very locomotive was the main power on Murray Bay Sub back in the steam days.

Non-descript steam era aka Temiscouata Railway:

This generic name could imply a lot of thing but it mainly means this material can be easily kitbashed in a vast array of prototypes. What I have in mind is Temiscouata Railway’s Connors Branch in New Brunswick. I’ve often talked about that great prototype. The terminal in Connors is the epitome of small steam operation. The traffic on the line was substantial enough to not look moribund. Connors only take about 12 feet in HO, so no need for selective compression. Also, several small but industrious saw mills and feed mills were rail served in the area. Just a few miles east of Connors was the picturesque Little Mill River, a seven-car stub ended siding. Switching opportunities are numerous and making and breaking trains in Connors could be very interesting since many trains were scheduled out of Connors and maintained there. I can already imagine the scenic vistas of small trains crawling on the shores of St. John River. Also, it’s interesting to note Temiscouata made extensive use of small wood trestle all over the line to span brooks and rivers.

At this point, I haven’t settled on any ideas. I think they all have strong points. On the other hand, I must admit the two small steamer scenarios are my favourite. I remember a few years ago to have acquired a Bachmann Alco 2-6-0 sound equipped locomotive. For a while, I used it to switch a part of Hedley-Junction depicting St. Joachim (were Montmorency is now located). I had the time of my life and I was well aware the model wasn’t that great and the sound decoder was minimal.
What will make a prototype more interesting than another will be the possible traffic. Murray Bay enjoyed first class passenger trains and freight trains but not mixed. On the other hand, Temiscouata pulled very short trains, including passengers, freight and mixed.

Imagine a Murray Bay layout. While you have interesting activity going on in Baie-Saint-Paul, there’s very little to do in La Malbaie except turning engines and reordering the passenger cars for the return trip. To my knowledge, freight activity in La Malbaie was almost inexistent (no dedicated sidings). It means freight trains would originate and go to locations out of the layout. Is it a bad thing? I don’t think so, but it means two staging areas, which isn’t optimal. At least, there’s a provision for continuous running because, as a matter of fact, the two staging areas could be merged together.

On the other hand, a Temiscouata layout wouldn’t require provision for a continuous run. Most action occurs in Connors, both freight and passenger. It’s also the originating point for half the trains.

That said, I have still many months in front of me to decide but I can already say that a CP Rail switching layout (the one with the feedmill I once build) would be enough for this theme. It would mean a steam era layout would be the most likely outcomes.


  1. Mat,

    L'article sur la Sous Murray Bay était fantastique!


    1. Greg, Denis Fortier did a very nice job. He has written many articles about Murray Bay for various local and national publications.

      He is a fine gentlemand and gave us decisive informations when designing the layout. I must say it was heartbreaking to not model some scenes on the layout and the choice wasn't easy.

  2. Yes it was indeed. What beautiful railroading territory.

  3. Mat,

    Reading your post, it seemed to me that you have slightly more enthusiasm for a steam era branchline than the other options. Trevor Marshall has shown just how much fun you can have with such a "simple" scheme, and it doesn't require hectares of space to achieve this.

    Modelling something like the Temiscouata would take you down different paths to those well worn by the footsteps of others: this makes it more enjoyable, but it can be lonely. However the rewards can be immense, and some day you may find yourself moving further back intime and entering the realms of scratch building those lovely 4-4-0s.


    1. Simon, you definitely understand my train of thoughts about this endeavour. I've always had a fascination with small steam branchline prototypes and Temiscouata is almost untouch territory. Trevor has been pivotal in motivating me to tackle this project.

      The funning thing is that building the Temiscouata is a no brainer. The track plan is obvious and fit modest space without any concern for space. Operations are well-documented and follow a similar approach than Port Rowan.