Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hereford Railway - A discussion about layout design

Layout design can be the most intoxicating aspect of this hobby. To be sure, once you start doing it, there's no end. I can testify about that as my sleep hours are quite shortened by storming ideas that make my night shorter. Every moment becomes a good time to doodle some track on a piece of paper.

But we all know it's fruitless without some other form of validation. Many layout designers stree scene composition to be a kew element to build credible railways. Often, a few will say you've got to try it for real in 3D and see how things work together.

When you are unsure about a project, you hardly have any incensitive to strat building a benchwork just to test a few ideas. Some people just try doing it with a computer 3D  model. Even if I have the skill, I quickly learned that was time consuming and restrictive. You can't fudge with a 3D model, you have to know what you want to do. Hum... no grest if you want to try different landforms.

At this point, the last - and best - resort is to make a scale model of your scale model. I've learned this old trick from British modeller Gordon Gravett and made a good use of it. When I wanted to convince Jérôme we got to scrap Limoilou yard and build Villeneuve and Maizerst instead (Hedley-Junction layout), the scale model convinced him in a matter of seconds. I know it would have taken months and a pile of drawings otherwise.

Now, as you know, I'm actually in the process of rebuilding my home layout. I've often complained I couldn't do nothing with the space available, but I decided this time to build something for "real" and see if there are opportunities. To make it clear, I've been designing dozen of layout EACH year since 2009. Nothing came to fruitition except for a few that actually went as far as the benchwork stage.

Two major pitfalls plagued the project: finding a suitable prototype and getting the idea the train is truly going from point A to point B.

To be honest, the hardest problem to solve is finding a suitable prototype. Dozen of prototype caught my eyes and would be suitable, but very little stood the test of time. But it doesn't mean these ideas have some major trends.

Most ideas have in common a set of consistent parameters:

  • Small steam locomotives (2-8-0, 2-6-0, 4-4-0, 4-6-0) and/or early diesel (EMD/ALCO/MLW).
  • Canadian Pacific, New England neighbouring railroads (MEC, etc.) or Temiscouata Railway.
  • Set in the 1950s or early 1960s.
  • Rural location on a branchline set around farming and logging.
  • Short trains and mixed trains.
  • Located in Quebec South Shore, mainly the Appalachian Mountains.
So far, two prototypes are constantly appearing in my design:

  • The Hereford Railway between Lime Ridge, QC and Beecher Falls, VT.
  • The Temiscouata Railway located on Quebec, New Brunswick and Maine boundary.

Thus, I decided to mock up both prototype using a 18" x 10' shelf as starting point with the possibility to add a small extension if required.

Hereford Railway

I already introduced this excellent prototype recently. To make it workable, I'd need to protofreelance the line so it could be fitting my era of interest. No big deal. I'm not trying to model a specific location but to get the general feeling of the area between Cookshire and Beecher Falls: rolling country side.

The first option is straight forward and represent a generic city located along the line. Some hills in the background hide the track leading to the staging area. The town is rather simplistic, which is realistic. With this scenario, the town serves as the terminal for a local mixed train. To turn a steam locomotive, it is required to go back to staging where it is manually reverse with an amovible cassette. No great, but an easy way to save space and wiring issues. I feel the big issue with this layout is the pulpwood loading siding which is near the layout edge and leaves very little scenery opportunities.

This layout takes very little real estate and have a lot of operation opportunities (team track, pulpwood and feedmill).

The second option replace the pulpwood loading siding with a wye. Makes for the interesting possibility to reverse steam locomotives directly on the layout. To be noted, the scenery wraps the L-shaped benchwork which fools the eyes in believing the scene is larger. I like the idea to model a lot of fields along the line and a wye almost buried in vegetation isn't a bad idea to me. Unfortunately, this layout takes up a lot of space. I'm not sure the extension would fit well in my room. Also, I'm not very fond of obstructing the wye with cars. I'd be glad to get your feedback on that matter because maybe this version is actually over reaching.

Temiscouata Railway

This little independant railroad in Eastern Quebec and New Brunswick has always been a favorite of mine. Years ago, Trevor Marshall included it in his "achievable layout" database. It was only an idea but I always thought someone should build it some day. I've design many version of this layout in the recent years but I think I finally nailed it this morning. Cramping a small terminal in 10 feet including a locomotive facilities isn't a piece of cake. Here's the result:

Honestly, I'm more satisfied than I thought. First, this layout breathe. No cluttering, no overdone details and for once, gigantic and believable fields of grass (+ cows!). The track plan is so classic it fits any place in North America (and elsewhere in the world). The downside is that there's no specific industries at Connors, NB. Lots of wood products (pulpwood, lumber) were exported, but the industries weren't trackside. Only a long but busy team track was available.

On the other hand, the engine facility provides enough action because there was a coaling track to refuel engines. On my mock up, I didn't model the engine house, but if someone would extend the shelf up to 11 feet, that would be perfectly possible. Another option would be to compress the scene a little bit to save some space for it. I think modelling the complete enginehouse isn't required. One could only build a part of the building and bury it in overgrown vegetation to hide the trick.

A good point for this prototype is that information - including motive power, rolling stock, structures and timetable - is available online. Temiscouata ran 4-6-0 and 4-4-0 and some interesting combine car and caboose. Everything should be kitbashed or scratchbuilt, but that would provide countless hours of fun. The big question is that I'm not sure my heart's beating for Temiscouata, the project risk to be shelved one day or another. Also, Temiscouata as we loved it ceased to exist in 1948.

The last word

I certainly believe both designs are worthwhile. At some point, onw could expand them as fully-fledged layouts if that notion truly means something!

To be honest, I have a preference for Hereford Railway because it isn't set in a specific location and time, which is a good thing when I want to run my diesel or my steam locomotives. I know myself and can't hardly be dedicated absolutely to one project. Having a layout that has enough flexibility could be a good thing. The wye idea isn't half bad and I like how it breaks the perception of looking at a scenicked plank of wood.

On the other hand, I like the striking realism of Connors. That layout is as simple as one can wish yet still perfectly full of action to operate for a 45 minutes to 1 hour (similar to Hereford Railway). As one forum member on Big Blue Trains - a real railroader - once said:

"Having spent many months off and on, trying out different track arrangements for my switching layout, I've come to the conclusion that the simplest track plan is going to work the best and be the most realistic. It's not how many tracks/industries/switches you have, but what the industries are and how they are switched."

At this point, I'm curious to hear your comments and feedbacks about these options. Feel free to share your observations and impressions.


  1. Hello Matthieu,
    Of your two plans I like Temiscouata better. I'm not sure exactly why. You should try to work up a plan that uses the scene in your title block. I'm guessing it's Hedley Junction. The time frame looks to be 1880's to 1910 maybe. I alway find the photo interesting when I visit your blog.
    Jamie Bothwell
    Bethlehem, PA, USA

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for replying and your interest in our projects! In fact, this small switching layout is a side project and not directly related to Hedley-Junction. One of our member hosting the layout is quite busy recently and I thus decided to occupy myself with a project to try scenery technics.

      I also think the Temiscouata version makes much more sense from a scenic, operation and prototype standpoint. I reworked the track plan to fit more this area.

      The photo was indeed taken in the late 1890s. It's from a friend's personal collection and it has never been published.

      It depicts the junction between the old Canadian Northern mainline (left) and Murray Bay Subdivision. The place was called Hedleyville back then. This station served as a terminus for the lines for a few years before a bridge was build to reach Quebec City. The tracks and buildings all date back to the mid-1880s. Everything except one small house was demolished circa 1910 to make room for a large yard and roundhouse. It's crazy to think such undertaking would be almost impossible nowadays.

      Hedley-Junction is actually located at the other end of the yard (which was once physically modelled on the original version of the layout).

  2. Matthieu,
    I am aware that this layout is separate from the other one. I just thought it might be interesting to model a piece of the line in a different era, and, as I said, I find the photo interesting. Junctions are good places to model because of the activity that takes place at them. Thank you for the information about the photo. I was also thinking that freelancing a location in the Hereford Railway would be more of a fabrication than pretending that the Termiscouata lasted into the diesel era. As a fairly serious bicyclist, I now want to ride the path that runs on the Temiscouata roadbed.

    1. Jamie,
      You are reading my mind! I'm not that much into fabrication too. I think I have two choices regarding Hereford. I can model it as a CPR branchline serving sawmills and pulpwood yards (1927-1977) which ain't a bad idea. The 1940s would be the best era since mixed trains were still operated. Or simply be honest and model the line when it was a Maine Central subdivision and traffic was substantial (lumber, pulpwood, lime, agricultural products, berries, etc.)

      Modelling the Temiscouata, particularly Connors is a piece of cake in term of everything... It did survive, for a while into the diesel era when CNR acquired it in the 50s.

      A colleague of mine often ride over the Temiscouata on bike during summer. From the feedback I've heard, it's truly a charming path and there's still a few small wood trestles standing here and there.

      Over the last 15 years, I often thought about modelling the Murray Bay Sudvision as it could be seen when steam operated (roughly 1889 to 1905). Information is available for Ste Anne (that was the original eastern terminal), but little is available about Hedleyville itself. Quebec terminal is documented and can be modelled full scale in less than a 8 feet long space but the early year insurance maps are approximative at best with "full of track here" notes (very useful!). The original industrial district in Beauport is also well documented (a brewery, a quarry, a grist mill and a match factory). They are all interesting places, but finding information about how such places were ever operated is a serious challenge. Very little people ever cared to document the freight movements on the line and only the passenger service was considered worth back then. We only start to have reliable accounts after 1959. The old paper work still exist at Hydro-Quebec (an archivist confirmed it with me), but nobody ever got through it.

      Modelling the junction itself would be truly great, it's lovely and full of action. Unfortunately, there's little information about this part of the city. At that time, it wasn't part of Quebec City and considered countryside, thus very little precise maps are readily available. I only know there was a small yard located on the right side.

      With all that said, I'll be honest, I know only know two parameters: the space available and the fact I want to run mixed trains during the steam era. But be assured your comments help me define my priorities.

    2. Another option, if keeping the Hereford theme, would be to simply model Beecher Falls, VT. It is a well documented area about 3 miles south Hereford and it was a very compact terminus similar to Connors.

  3. This is really interesting stuff. The simple plan based on Connors, with just 4 turnouts and a turntable is an absolute gem - the position of the turntable saves width, at the expense of some length. It would suit my needs and space resources very nicely.
    But was it a common design feature on branchlines and shortlines?
    (Please excuse my ignorance, but I am UK based and not steeped in North American railroad lore.)

    1. Hi Simon,

      Thanks for commenting! Connors is the epitome of North American railroading. About 95% of stations (on line or terminus) were based on similar track plan with only one siding and a team track. I've looked at hundreds of maps if not thousands since the early 2000s.

      The track plan of Connors wasn't the most usual that could be found back then, but not an oddity. The usual location for a turntable was on a short siding splitting from the passing track. However, while doing some researches in the recent weeks, I found out many small branchline terminals did have the turntable at the end of the line. As you stated, from a real estate standpoint, this is the most logical location. It was much more typical of shortlines and low traffic lines for obvious reasons and mainly a surviving feature of 19th century railway practices.

      Here's a photo of Connors in 1894, the line was only 3 years old at that moment. The large estate with barns, sawmills and a large mansion was Bob Connors' home (the town founders that made made possible for the railway to be built up there). The river is St. John River and is the International boundary between Canada and USA (State of Maine to be exact). If you are aware of Mike Confalone's fictious Allagash Railway in HO scale, the northern terminus of his line is located just in from of Connors. Part of fiction almost came true in the early 1900s until the British bondholders decided against it.

      You can find more infos about Connors here:

      I recently redrawn the track plan to scale without compression. It would take about 13 feet x 13 inches to model the entire station and using PECO #8 turnout (code 83) which would be prototypical. I already started to build the modules. You can see the "correct" track plan here:

      Also, if you want more infos on small branchline operations, I recommend you to take a look at Trevor Marshall's Port Rowan layout based on a small terminus located in Southern Ontario. The turntable isn't at the end of the line, but operations are very similar to Connors.

      The hobby as practiced in UK is really starting to have a serious influence on North American model railroading paradigms. The good thing is that many people are now starting to explore great little prototypes that were deemed too mundane to be worth modelling.

      Don't hesitate if you have other questions!

    2. Simon,

      You'll see some differences between my two Connors track plan. The scale model one is based on late 1940s pictures. At that time, the team track turnout was relocated on the other side. A small siding was built parallel to the turntable lead track (storage and probably to hold a coal hopper for locomotive fueling). Finally, the siding running around the turntable was removed by then. My most recent track plan represents Connors as built in 1891. The advantage of this version is that you can shunt/switch a lot of cars on the team track without having to care about adding a fiddling yard or a cassette (which is always a good thing).

    3. Thank you for replying. It was from Trevor's blog that I found the link to yours. He has a lot to answer for, that man: his blog re-awakened my dormant interest in North American railroading, although what really attracted me was the simplicity of his layout design, and the openness of it.

      Port Rowan is very much the kind of thing I could imagine my friend Barry Norman doing, were he Canadian and possessed of that sort of space. Mind you, you are not far off it yourself.