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Milepost 24
CPR Galt Subdivision

My Evolution into Model Railway Operation
By Steve Bourdon, CVR Staff Consultant

The interests and hobbies that we develop as adults are often shaped, directly or indirectly, by childhood experiences. Most of us who are now interested in model railways have fond memories of trains from our youth. A railway line running near our home, a relative who was employed by the railway, a circle of track that ran around the Christmas tree or a neighbour’s train layout that we were privileged to visit might have been the catalyst for our lifelong love of those ribbons of steel.

My experience was typical. When I was a youngster, my father often took me on Sunday afternoons to the train yards in Toronto, Ontario. For hours we would watch the steamers and 1st generation diesels come and go. When I was twelve, Dad built an HO scale 4 x 8 layout for my brothers and me. Until the layout was completed, I was unable to sleep at night, imagining the day that the trains would run.

When that day came, I was ecstatic. As I recall, the trains ran well, with few derailments and smooth running engines. I played for hours as the Pacific locomotive pulled a freight train in one direction around the outer circle, while a passenger train clattered around in the opposite direction. Occasionally, the trains would cross over to the other oval to continue their journeys. Sometimes, I parked one of the train sets on one of the spur tracks that jutted into the middle of the layout, but I really enjoyed watching the trains pass one another at speed. By and large, my train layout was every kid’s dream.

Unfortunately, the joy lasted only a short time. After a few months, the trains sat idle and the layout began collecting dust. The only time the models came alive would be on occasions when I was asked to dust off the layout for guests who “just had to see the trains run.” After six months, the layout was moved to the loft in the garage and the trains were packed away. Within a year, the trains and track had been sold.

During the time that my attention on my railway was diminishing, the question I often heard was “Why aren’t you playing with your trains?” The answer, though I didn’t know how to express it back then, was “I don’t know how.” Simply watching them go round and round, stopping occasionally for passengers or locomotive servicing, was not enough to sustain my interest.

However, that somewhat negative experience with my first layout provided me with several lessons that would be useful to me as an adult:

1. Model railroading can be a lot of fun.
2. Simply running trains can be fun for a limited period of time.
3. Running trains by myself can be fun for an even shorter period of time.
4. There has to be a lot more to railway operation, but what?

Over the years when I was studying at university and later building my career, I became an armchair modeller, occasionally building kits, visiting club layouts, and reading everything I could get my hands on about modeling railways. I knew that some day I would build a layout, but I wanted one that would sustain my interest.

In a nutshell, what I learned from the veterans included the following:
1. Invest in a lot of much time designing the layout, while considering the era, geographical locale, and the type of operation being modelled.
2. Model a specific region and era to give the layout some unity---whether freelanced or prototype.
3. Try to get the trains running as soon as possible.
4. Since most layouts do not get beyond the track laying stage, begin adding some scenery as soon as possible, too.
5. Include a staging track or yard for off-line destinations and variety in consists.
6. Include an interchange track or yard to add even more operation variety.
7. Operate the railway in prototypical fashion.
8. Plan to involve friends and/or family in the building and operation of the layout.
9. If you like to acquire lots of equipment, one way to justify it (to senior management) is to “double the main line” for operation. (See # 8 below.)
10. Include a car ferry or barge to transport rolling stock to off-line industries that do not have to be modelled. The car ferry can be a staging yard itself in this respect.

Based on these doctrines, my first layout, the freelanced Ontario Midland Railway (OMR) evolved as follows:
1. I spent about six-eight months designing and redesigning the railway before construction began. “Measure twice, cut once” is the principle here. I must have completed 20-30 plans before I was satisfied.
2. The OMR modeled a freelanced southern Ontario branch line in the late 70’s period. The single-track main line ran from the imaginary town of Trafalgar, down the Niagara Escarpment to Port Clinton (also fictional) on one of the Great Lakes.
3. During the early stages of construction, we had trains running within a short period of time.
4. Scenery under way by the end of the first year.
5. At the east end of the layout, in a small niche, was Trafalgar. This staging yard went beyond the basics of a fiddle yard. It was fully scenicked and incorporated CN and CP interchange tracks, a TH&B yard, locomotive storage facilities, two industries, and MOW tracks. Trafalgar kept two operators quite busy during a session.
6. Usually, five or six individuals operated the layout using the car card and waybill system that has been discussed in several issues of Model Railroader and RMC, as well as Tony Koester’s book Realistic Model Railroad Operation. As new rolling stock was added to the system, each piece was assigned a car card and one or two waybills. It usually took 2-3 hours to prepare for each operating session by developing a sheet of train orders for everyone to follow. Using car cards and waybills can be adapted to most layouts, regardless of their configuration.
7. At the time, our operating group consisted of a yard foreman and a brakeman assigned to the Trafalgar staging area; two engineers, a brakeman and a system dispatcher worked the main part of the layout.
8. The principle of doubling the main line was incorporated into the design of the layout from the beginning. You can apply this principle whether you operate a single track or double track main line. Basically, foreign railroads have running rights over your home road trackage. In the case of the Ontario Midland, CN, CP and TH&B had running rights over the OMR right of way.
All three railways ran “turns” from Trafalgar staging to Port Clinton and back to Trafalgar. All of the rolling stock delivered to Port Clinton yard was handled by Ontario Midland Railway way freights, which traveled over the same track back up the escarpment, serving all of the industries along the way. If necessary, an OMR extra ran a “clean up” through-freight to Trafalgar at the end of an operating session.
9. At the west end of the main line sat Port Clinton, which was deliberately conceived as a port so that a car ferry could be incorporated into operation. Not only a visual point of interest, the scratch-built Beausoleil Belle railcar ferry provided another dimension to operation, serving several off-line industries. It was switched by a GE 44-ton diesel along with some idler flat cars to keep the locomotive off the ferry. As well, rolling stock had to be loaded one or two at a time on each side of the ferry to avoid “capsizing”.

Operating prototypically is much more involved than simply running trains, but it helps sustain interest in the hobby.

The bottom line is that as I evolved as a railway modeller, I learned how to “play with trains,” something that I hadn’t learned as a youngster. After 15 years of building and operating the Ontario Midland, I was able to apply the lessons learned when I moved into a new home and constructed my new layout, the CNR Goderich Subdivision. But that’s another story altogether.

I certainly don’t know everything about railway operation. But that’s a good thing, too. Since running a model railway prototypically continues to be a learning experience, it looks like the fun will continue in the years ahead.


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