Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Revisiting Abattoir Legrade

Jérôme often tells me he would have loved to include Abattoir Legrade in D'Estimauville. While not feasible on the current layout, it is a very neat prototype I often presented here and it didn't take a long time for me to explore it again when a series of recent email discussions among fellow modellers brought back the topic of “minimal operation”.

Some may remember Lance Mindheim’s interesting one-turnout layout article he wrote back in 2012. Lance was promoting the idea a very simple layout using only one siding could sustain a fair amount of prototypical operation if the industry was carefully selected and attention to details such as realistic railroading practices were implemented. I had my share of doubt back in 2012, but since then experience taught he was right. Not that we should refrain building more complex trackwork arrangements, but that extremely simplistic ones shouldn’t be considered as diminutive or worthless endeavour. Over the recent years, we have to admit many of the most fascinating layouts that had a major influence on the hobby were generally quite streamlined in term of track.

While the discussion was going up, I tried to dig up local prototypes in Quebec that could fit the bill. To my surprise, many model-worthy locations popped up and all of them had a vibe that could certainly inspire people. Among them, Parc industriel Saint-Romuald in Lévis is a chief contender for a small layout oriented toward agro-business. It would make a terrific modern CN-based layout. It even features a short grade yet relatively steep with an important highway grade crossing in the middle. Think of it as Tom Johnson’s INRAIL meets John McNab’s Grimes Line...

Another worthy example that could lend itself very well to design a minimal shelf layout with lots of potential is the old Cascade Paper Mill located in East Angus, Quebec. In the later year, the mill was served by a single siding connect to a small yard by the mainline about 0.75 miles away. The siding dropped several feet down the valley to reach the plant where boxcars and chemical tanks were spotted. Very scenic, the siding ended in a kind of urban canyon nested between a metal-clad warehouse and an early 20th century brick boiler house. This layout could be operated as a late 1980s CP Rail operation or as the much modern Quebec Central reincarnation of the early 2000s. It must be noted Atlas released CP Newsprint boxcars with QC reporting marks. This could make a very neat shelf layout in a small room.

However, this blog is about CN Murray Bay subdivision so why not go back to a suitable local prototypes. Since 2012, I’ve been documenting (well, not that much), a mid-sized meat packing plant located on D’Estimauville Avenue called Abattoir Legrade. I didn’t find any founding date, but abattoir Legrade was in business at least from the 1940s up to the 1970s. A few pictures of the building exist and I had more than an occasion to talk about it here. However, each time I tried to insert this prototype in a larger layout, I failed. The reason was simple, while quite compact, the plant “courtyard” with the siding was quite large and didn’t lend itself well to a shelf layout. However, if one approaches Legrade as a one turnout layout and drop the mainline, things start to get interesting.

Here’s my reasoning about Legrade. I recall the late Jean-Pierre Veilleux once told me Legrade received cattle mainly by road with only a few railcars from time to time. By the 1960s, stock cars were seldom seen there thought it did happen from time to time. As a matter of fact, aerial pictures from 1948 show no stock cars on the cattle pen siding while the warehouse siding is at full capacity (5 cars). One will remark the cattle pen siding is quite long and can handle many cars without having to move any spotted stock car. That’s another interesting feature of this prototype.

To make such a layout feasible in a limited amount of space, one would have to model only a part of the switching job: sorting and spotting cars at the plant. It would mean the entire train isn’t modelled and considered to be staged off layout east of D’Estimauville Avenue. At best, a typical train would handle about 5 cars, mainly reefers, tank cars, boxcars, stock cars and maybe a few coal hoppers from time to time, depending which era is modelled. To add operational interest, it must be noted Legrade was protected by a chain-link fence and a derail.

Abattoir Legrade in 1961 (credit: BANQ)

To make sure this layout would be feasible, I scaled down the insurance map depicted Legrade and superposed an 8’ x 2’ shelf to see if everything would fit. To my surprise, eliminating the main line made it possible to model Legrade’s iconic structures without compressing them. Only small structures had to be moved a little bit to better fit the space. Add a 5 feet long cassette and you are in business!

As for a suitable era, Legrade can be done in the 50s when the structure still had its cheesy billboard plastered over the truck shipping area. Operation could be handled by a CNR small steam locomotive, probably a 0-6-0 or 0-8-0 doing the local switching chores from Limoilou yard or, more interestingly, use QRL&PCo ubiquitous electric steeple car to handle the job. Both options are possible since CNR steam locomotives started to do a lot of jobs on the line by the late 50s after CNR acquired the line.

Another possibility would be to model the plant in the 1960s. The building was modernized at that time but still retained its iconic features. Operation could be handled by GMD1 or RSC24, or even GP9 and RS18 in later times. If you ask me, I guess Legrade is best when it had that special and nostalgic 1940s-1950s vibe. Heck, pictures even show horse carts serving the plant and my father, who grew up in the 1950s has always fondly remembered that era when you could still see many merchants using horse-drawn carriage in Québec City.

Interestingly, behind all that simplicity there is a very mundane lesson to learn. The apparent simplicity of this track plan is an invitation to compress things a lot and to reduce the “useless” length of siding where you can’t spot cars. This is the approach I had every time I tried to create a scale version of Legrade. However, it means a third track had to be added to sort cars – namely – the mainline. On the other hand, if you stay faithful to the real dimensions, something “magical” happens: you get spare room to switch cars. From that point, you start to understand why the cattle pen ramps were located at the end of the siding and not all over the place because it frees some buffer space required to move cars around when switching the meat packing plant.

These considerations may sounds absolutely banal and they are, but when you have little spare room in your hands, compression for the sake of compression isn’t always the right solution. In Legrade case, keeping the sidings exactly as they were on the prototype is the most sensible way to save space and, incidentally, turnouts. It also ensures that the layout can be operated in a much prototypical way than first anticipated. Given Legrade as 9 car spots, it’s possible to say confidently this rail-served plant is quite a sizeable customer.

Another interesting aspect of remaining faithful to the prototype dimension and keeping the track ratio low is that you can truly commit yourself to details, textures and other aspect that turns a generic shelf layout into a stunning piece of work worth you engagement. One could literally spend hours reproducing the semi-paved and muddy courtyard with rail heads buried in dirt and gravel. Also, pictures show Legrade was quite a weathered building with paint peeling, color fading and various other subtle variations.


  1. Matthieu.
    Excellent postings. I would like to see the "Photobucket" image. Could you re-post the image, please?
    I'm very interested in applying your (and L.M.'s) design to my version of Emge Packing - Anderson, Indiana USA, October 1949. Central Indiana Railway. And yes, in S Scale!
    Thank you for the posting

    1. Charles, in S scale it will be a formidable project! I'm a firm believer these prototypes yield a lot of potential. I will update the link later today. Thanks for your interest. I'm always glad to see my rambling can be useful to others!