Portage la Prairie, Manitoba is one of Canada's best railfan locations. CN, CP and VIA trains funnel through Portage, travelling between Winnipeg and the wider west on parallel lines and diamonds. Portage has it all. And within reach. CN and CP lines are a few hundred feet apart. It's no wonder modellers want to portray it in scale. But how? In this post I'll present some thoughts and planning, accompanied by some classic, captioned Portage photos. Here then, are my eight simple steps to model 8,000 feet. (Top photo - CN 5586-5237-5020 lead a westbound CN freight in June 1980. CN boxcars on CN's team track and ...on CP's North American Can of Canada spur too!)
STEP 1 - IT'S 8,000 FEET LONG.
Portage's rail infrastructure is about 8,000 feet long. West Tower's diamonds to the Tupper Street overpass is 3,500 feet, with another 4,500 feet between the stations and East Tower. That's approximately 90 HO-scale linear feet! Gentlemen, start your helices! No, I don't really believe in the helix. It's overdone, and it often results in phoney multi-levels that are not believable for a prairie setting like Portage. (Above- CP 5708 brings a CP freight east from the Carberry Sub while another (arrow) waits on the Minnedosa Sub, taken from Tupper Street in 1979, as Service cars repose north of the mains and CN is quiet to the left)
STEP 2 - MAINTAIN PROTOTYPE PROPORTION
Long and thin - two parallel lines that are straight, as many flatland prairie lines were constructed. No turn-back loops, bridges, tunnels or other model railroadish devices. Very few curves. I'll try to keep in mind the average space available to most modellers - somewhere between a bedroom and part of a basement. (Below - CP 5750-5503 head eastbound through CP's long, straight trackage in August 1981)
STEP 3- GIVENS AND DRUTHERS
Technical aspects to include: trackwork that can accommodate transcontinental passenger trains on CN (and P before 1978); making the layout fissile - able to be split for the preference of CN or CP fans; keeping CN and CP distinct except where they operationally interact; using mainline switches on crossovers and entrances to lead tracks; including technical requirements that produce good operations. (CP 5936-5740-5511 lead a hotshot out of the baking early-morning sun through CP's main, lead and spur trackage west of Tupper Street)
STEP 4- WHAT TO INCLUDE, WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE
I'll need both mainlines, both stations still in use, enough industries to provide roughly equal switching opportunities for each railway (especially grain elevators), and the CN-CP interchange deep in the yards. It's important to include interesting prototype operational possibilities in model form. (CN 9522-9496 growl west as does a 6-unit CP freight in 1979, showing the proximity of the main lines to each other)
STEP 5 - CHOOSE AN ERA
To reflect my modelling interests, I chose the early 1980's. VIA's Canadian, Churchill trains and at times, the Super Continental were operating. Elevators were still standing, grain boxcars still a-filling and CP's Portage switcher was S-3 6569. (CN 9557-9519-9473 pull 103 cars including some CP insulated boxcars west in June 1980, as CP S-3 6569 drills cars east of CP's station. A bad-order flat car with Manchester Liners container aboard sits on CN's team track.)
STEP 6 - INCLUDE SIGNATURE SCENES
There are some scenes and vignettes that I just gotta have, assuming I can find the space in the plan:
-CN's team track...spot any revenue car or bad-order here
-grain elevator loading including boxcars
-the CN-CP interchange as a traffic generator
-Campbell's Soup...if I can fit it in
-at least two main tracks on CN and CP to allow for multiple trains
-diamonds at West Tower
-spurs or sidings for car storage and MoW cars
(CN 9657-9479-213-1352 plow west, while a CN boxcar of insulation batts sits on the team track in August 1979)
Since there may not be room for a purely linear layout (90 feet!) the benchwork may have to bend. If only one bend is needed, the logical point to do so would be at the Tupper Street overpass. As much as I dislike seeing dismembered, no-approaches overpasses on layouts for view breaks, it might have to happen here. Also a great place to show foamers in action! An L-shaped or even a C-shaped layout would lend itself to visible/open or invisible/covered staging east or west of Portage. Better yet, a continuous run could be added, allowing urban Winnipeg or a branch line with elevators to be modelled down the line. (On June 13, 1982 three westbound CN trains are working Portage. A train of coal etys at centre behind 5268-5264 scoots through while 5223-5233 glide with a grain train, and 5089-5240 switch the CP interchange)
Now it's time to stop typing and start drawing to incorporate all eight 'dreaming' steps in to a 'doing' step. It's getting harder...but closer to the eventual outcome. After this diagram is done, it's benchwork time*. I'll have to incorporate everything above into a plan that will not only be do-able as well as fun to operate, and do justice to the prototype. There will be selective compression, but not too much that will render the prototype unrecognizable and too model railroadish...a caricature of itself. Now...to just do it!
These are the west-end (above) and east-end (below) schematics of Portage's trackage that I used in my planning. One small correction...McCallister Pea & Seed was not located on the tail of the wye, but on a separate spur leading over 4th Ave NE (Thanks, Ian for the additional information). Remember, all this is draped over 8,000 feet through beautiful downtown Portage!
(*since my HO layout depicts an early-1970's Vancouver locale, I'm not actually going to build this layout. But if I was...)
In my previous post, I featured an American A-7 Corsair jet. At least one reader asked about the A-10 Thunderbolt that was part of the same display, and to be responsive to Trackside Treasure readers, I'm pleased to include a few more photos and a surprise:
Myrtle Beach (above) and an airborne growler at the CFB Trenton airshow in 1986 (suivez-moi below):
Oh, and those last two are a 1:72 model!