Wednesday, August 30, 2017

CFC Timetable and Thoughts About Clermont

A few years ago, Jean-François Dumont – a well-known railfan and photograph in Quebec City area – sent me a scan of a Chemin de fer Charlevoix (CFC) timetable issued in 1994. While it was of little interest to me back then except for the track diagram, I revisited the document during the weekend only to find information of great interest to operate our layout.

CFC Track Diagram (1994), Jean-François Dumont Collection

Sure, all this didn’t start from nowhere. Jérôme and I have been discussing a lot the Charlevoix aspect of the layout. While our Montmorency scene is promising, we must admit it makes very little sense in term of geography. It is also of little interest when operating. Truth to be told, switching cars hidden behind a tall structure isn’t very practical in the long run. May look neat on paper, but the gimmick can get old rather quickly. Also, we can’t overlook the fact Dominion Textile was no longer in business after 1985 and was a smoking pile of burnt rubbles by 1994. How much you can stretch reality until it feels phony? Personally, I’ve never been a fan of such anachronistic collages.

CFC Timetable (1994), Jean-François Dumont Collection

That said, Jérôme asked me if I could evaluate a few ideas about dedicating Montmorency to a 100% Charlevoix narrative or something else. Not easy should I say and not a new idea… As regular readers know, the original concept called for a nice long stretch of tracks along the St. Lawrence River. This would make for a neat scene.

However, the layout has been operated over 2 years now and things start to become clear. Each room of the layout represents a specific scene with specific tasks to perform: Villeneuve and Clermont. They can be operated independently and each location can take up to 60 to 90 minutes, sometimes more. I find this particularly interesting because depending on your mood, you can operate the place you want and it all makes sense.

Unfortunately, as much as I find Villeneuve and Donohue to be coherent scenes, I can’t say the same about Montmorency and Clermont which are, truth to be told, a little bit cramped for our needs. Over the years, I came to the realization I prefer realistic yet focussed scenes rather than a collection of glimpses of the prototype. To each his own, but to me, I’d rather sacrifice a few scenes to be sure the ones I model have enough space to be immersive. In that regard, I’m a fan of long sidings that require slow movements over the scenery.

Now, that brings us to the main topic: the CFC timetable. This interesting piece of railray history tells us about the track diagram, their function but also how the train was handled. While crude, you get a clear picture how a work day was on CFC circa 1994. And since many CFC employees were ex-CN ones working on Murray Bay subdivision, we know things weren’t that much different from the 1980s. The big difference was that CFC locomotives were stored and serviced in Clermont instead of Limoilou.

According to the timetable, the large yard in Clermont was mainly used for and by Donohue to store extra cars and build up consists. I can also recall some cars, mainly from Reynolds (an aluminium cable factory) were stored there. As you know, when designing the area, we merged Wieland and Clermont yard together, making it far smaller than it was on the prototype. And we ended up having some storage issues… Once again, the prototype was right and we were wrong thinking these extra tracks were superfluous. In fact, the CFC timetable gives the role of each track and it makes a lot of sense... As things stand, we only modelled tracks U95 and U96, failing to understand tracks U93 and U94 were the most important ones in handling traffic.

Also, the timetable gives more details about the Wieland area. I cross-referenced this data with pictures of the 1990s and a video from 2001. Things started, once again, to make more sense to me. From 1993 (at least) to 1996, a short siding numbered U82 and served by a muddy road was used to load lumber from trucks. By 1996, the wye tail track lengthened significantly and used as a rail-route lumber transloading facility which was used up to the freight service demise. It is also interesting to note CFC bought a defunct customer warehouse in 1993 and converted it as an office and a shop (track U89) by adding a concrete pad. The three SW1200RS and the ex-CN snow plow used to be stored there.

So now we are back to Jérôme’s question: can we turn Montmorency into Charlevoix without cramming too much tracks yet improving the experience in such a way Clermont will now works like the prototype? Well, the short answer is yes.

I designed two scenarios taking in account the club is serious in setting firmly the layout in the early days of CFC when suitable motive power will be available. That said, we don’t plan altering Clermont until Villeneuve is done, so we have a lot of time ahead to think about it and test the ideas. All concepts are based on one idea: the actual scene we call Clermont becomes Clermont yard and Montmorency is converted as Wieland. Wieland is made of two distinct features: the wye and a small yard (a bunch of sidings really) a few hundred feets away.

The first idea was to cram both part of Wieland on the layout. Not only the number of turnout exploded, but the scene quickly took a Walthers catolog look. Also, in less than 10 feet were 3 grade crossings! I quickly dismissed that idea.

The next one focussed on the wye. The reason behind that is the fact the yard in Wieland lost all its rail-served customers by the mid-80s. It still had a purpose, but not one that couldn’t be handled by other tracks elsewhere. The wye area is of interest because transloading occurred there and a siding served another major customer (Reynolds). Add to that locomotives were stored there and you get almost everything you need. Having Reynolds and the transloading facility is not only a matter of “adding interest” but rather a way to ensure we can replicate realistically a CFC freight manifest with its string of bulkhead flatcars and a few gondolas. Handling all that traffic at Clermont team track was a little bit a stretch.

The second concept is far more interesting than the first one. Less track, only the useful ones and more space between elements are key features. It better captures the backwood feel of the prototype. As for the loss of the river scene, it is indeed sad. I certainly love to shoot picture there, but this scene should be longer (encompassing Montmorency) to truly work. As it is, it’s only a vignette and we must admit it is impressive, but most of the time, railfans were much more accustomed to more mundane scenes like Clermont, Baie-Saint-Paul, Beaupré and Villeneuve. Also, having Clermont and Wieland together adds a layer to operation that could make handling trains less cramped than they are right now. I don’t see it as adding a new scene, but rather as expanding one.

I can’t stop myself to think of this layout as two very large cameo scenes sharing common operations. Could it be that I no longer care about things such as mainline run? Maybe… and this is probably the after effect of designing too many small switching layouts.

In the end, the layout could boil down to two rooms: one dedicated to cement operation in Villeneuve and one to Clermont for wood products. This is the essence of Murray Bay subdivision. In fact, it is Murray Bay subdivision in a nutshell. Will all this thinking spell the end of Montmorency? Maybe not and maybe the result could be very different from this hypothesis. Anyway, I find great satisfaction distillating a project down to its essence rather than trying to add icing, cherries and exotic ingredients to make it look – superficially – more palatable.

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