Yesterday I vistied Groupe TRAQ in Charny, which can be described as the railway historical society for Eastern Québec. Louis-François Garceau kindly offered his help so I could find my way among the incredible archives of Quebec Central Railway going as far as 1870 when the company was founded. It seems the late Jean-Marc Giguère - the last owner of the line before it was officially dissolved - had the hindsight to salvaged every papers he could when he bought the company back from the Canadian Pacific in the late 1990s. He kindly donated the papers to Groupe TRAQ for preservation.
I only saw a very limited amount of QCR archives, but it was nevertheless impressive, including the original comptability books from the 19th century which are almost works of art in themselves.
During my visit, a member was going through all the track blueprints. He's actually trying to make a Quebec Central atlas that could be used for future reference. He was also interested in the Tring Subdivision and we discussed the many quarry sidings that existed near Megantic. Only a handful of plans exists and he's trying to locate more stuff. He also took a lot of picture of the small trestle bridge in Courcelles and we discussed how it was engineered. It was relatively similar to St. Victor bridge and feature extremely nice bridge abutments in local granite. This is definitely worth modelling.
I was extremely lucky to find dozen of track plans for each station on the line. Most covered the 1930s up to the 1970s. The most amazing find was about Tring-Jonction. The place was extremely large in the 1940s. The engine facilities didn't had a turntable as I thought, but were nevertheless extremely interesting. I don't have autorization to share publicly the documents, but I'll try to make a track plan when I'll have time. Two things I protofreelanced on my layout plan ended up being real! The Placo company was exactly rail-served in the same way I draw it on a sharp mainline curve. Also, a team track did exist in front of the station and served also a cattle pen. I also got confirmation the icehouse was indeed transformed into a feedmill. But better, a second adjacent icehouse did exist in the place of the grain elevator. I've got all the scale plans for the buildings! By the way, the Tring-Jonction's Coop name's was "L'Invicible" (The Invincible)! I think they thought highly of themselves!
Other locations were more diversified than I thought too and pictures from the 1970s and 1980s shown that most freight houses survived the great destruction of station in 1968. In fact, they were often leased to particulars or used as sheds for the railway. In St. Évariste, I was able to identify the customers I'd seen on Google Earth: it was a cardboard box manufacturer.
Among the documents were also the plans for power lines crossing the railway right of way in many place. Thus I now have all the information and dimension required to build them which was a modelling aspect I wanted to tackle.
Mr. Garceau also shown me many pictures taken in the area during the 1970s and 1980s. It gave me a good idea of the rolling stock and locomotives used. I'd say C424s, RS-10s and RS-18s were the main power in the area with a few MLW switchers. They came in Multimark and Gray and Maroon paint schemes. However, the most interesting thing was the rolling stock. Even in the 1980s, most cars were 40ft boxcars, most of them in Script Lettering and in 3-step Block Lettering, followed by a few Multimark ones. Most Multimark boxcars were double door boxcars painted in red. A few NSC 50ft green boxcar with QC reporting marks were also common, including CP Rail 50ft gondolas.
Finally, I also had the chance to talk with some old folks knowing well the area. According to them, back then almost every single village had a feedmill on the Quebec Central and no large ones yet existed. Most 40ft boxcars carried grain, bagged goods, lumber and, interestingly, a logs "pitoune" for sawmills and paper mills. Yes, it seems Quebec Central wasn't highly specialized in regard to cars.
They also identified heating oil and other petroleum products as common place. They memories seem to be right since most trains seen on pictures had a least two or three tanks. The blueprints also show a lot of pipelines connecting team tracks to small storage. From what I've seen Imperial Oil (Esso) had virtually a monopoly in most towns along the Tring Subdivision.
I'm glad to have visited Groupe TRAQ since it confirmed the Tring Subdivision was an interesting prototype even if the traffic almost dried up in the 1960s. Some modeller's license could bring back some life to later decade.
From there, I can already say the layout should be centered heavily on grain, cattle, lumber and oil traffic. Rather than having highly diversified locations, I think most town most have similar basic features. Most of them often condensed on a single track and handled by a sole customer (often the farmer's coop). To enhance variety in operation, I'll make sure both towns on the peninsula can't be switched during the same trip. This is also a trick to make the main line looks longer when operating. To this, we can had a few different customers that bring some personality to each location (granite, veneer and cardboard boxes). Freight houses can also be impletemented, here and there, to give the railway some presence on the layout with dedicated albeit dilapidated structures.
I still have a lot of work to do on each town track plan, but I feel it is something that should be decided when building the layout and not before. I'm also starting to be convinced to replace Courcelles with St. Évariste since it had an oil dealer and a cardboard box manufacturer. This way, every modelled town on the layout, excepted Tring-Jonction will bear the name of a saint, which is extremely common in Québec and have a nice and sympathic vibe to my ears.
And now, I can already see that I'll will have to improve many old CP boxcars for future use. By the way, I'm on the hunt for cheap Atlas C424 locomotives in Multimark scheme and maybe Proto 1000 RS-18/RS-10 in Multimark and Gray and Maroon paint scheme. Yes, they have discrepancies, but it far to be as much as big problem most people think, particularly if you don't run them with Atlas locomotives.