Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Portage la Prairie Layout Planning

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- Candy-striped 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)

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)
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)
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)
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.)
There are some scenes and vignettes that I just gotta have, assuming I can find the space in the plan:
-CN's team 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. 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 next post, I'll include the completed plan and a novel way to see if it will all fit!

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!


Zartok-35 said...

Yay, lots of Black Widows, and even a "Great canadian brace" at the very top! Your photos are always a treat, Mr. Gagnon.

This is also a nice collection of schematics you have done up, too. Sometimes I toy around in the Atlas 'RightTrack' program; maybe I should try out Portage in there. I've been working on plans for Prince Albert and Drumheller area layouts myself.

Bryan said...

Any chance he turned around and opened fire on that yellow "Follow Me" pickup? :)

Lord Darth McIan said...

Awesome stuff Eric! That sure does get the juices flowing...

I may just have to do a double deck layout with PLaP on the top deck.

Can't wait for part 2, especially with that teaser shot in CanModelTrains!!

train50ca said...

For those of us modelling the prairies, a very inspiring article. Looking forward to seeing how you put this all together in part two.

Eric said...

Elijah, Bryan, Ian and train50ca:

Thanks for your quick and supportive comments. I've been wracking my brain to get something together...Portage is unique due to the interplay of CN and CP, and it's something I want to include in this plan.

It won't be the be-all and end-all, and I know I'll add things later, but I want to get something on paper (and Trackside Treasure) that we can throw darts at and improve.

I'm definitely thinking of an operating layout rather than a 'diorama' concept. We gotta have trains rolling on this layout!

Bryan, that yellow pickup has likely been a target more than once. Another highlight at the Trenton airshow was a HIGH-SPEED pass by a German Air Force Tornado. Definitely a wow factor!


GP9Rm4108 said...

Do you know when the CP line that went south from Portage (off the CN main near the yard) was pulled?

Eric said...

Hi Chris,

Can you clarify which track you're thinking of...CP-CN interchange or the CN-CP connecting track at West Tower, or perhaps another line?


BArailsystem said...

Really looking forward to seeing your interpretation of Portage la Prairie in 1:87. What a perfect time to begin this project with all the model manufacturers turning their focus to Canadian specific prototypes over the last couple years. Keep us posted!


Eric said...

I'm looking forward to it to, Ben. I've put a lot of pressure on myself, eh? No problem, I've been drawing lots of track plans: 3x24, L-shaped 3x24, CN only, CP only etc. If I get really energetic (!) I'd like to mock them up with actual track pieces.

Can you say Rapido G-M-D-1?? Oh yeah!

I'm biased admittedly, but I believe Portage to be the quintessentially Canadian layout location for many reasons!

Thanks for your comments and confidence!


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the Portage layout planning article. We've been really blessed with so many articles lately across the 'net and into print featuring small layout designing that it's nice to follow along with an interpretation of such a large scene.

I agree with your comments on the challenge of representing the vastness of the area and how difficult it might be to do.

I can say GMD1's. Now that the first prototype model photos are starting to appear across the internet the temptation to invest in at least one is becoming almost too great to handle.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Chris. Indeed a track-planning challenge, but I'm designing a couple of railwa-specific smaller layouts beside the mammoth-sized ones.

I can't see why a road switcher couldn't be employed and kept busy on either CN or CP, even if no road trains are passing by...


Anonymous said...

Dear Eric...From the I-Spy world I can report that the 1980s in Portage area are a treat for those of us who were there. The bulk ESSO agri bulk seed and chemical south of the CP was still standing until the mid 1990s. West of that was a CP express concrete dock, removed late 80s. CP 6569 was my favorite goat and with the KIPP hot-start plug in post and stand at the north of the tracks location. Strings of insul boxes and mech reefers for McCain and Campbell Soup made for M-F yard job. With a following for passenger 1st gen and the last of the CP MLWs Portage was a great place. In the eighties CP had Robot and slaves on the Minnedosa Sub with the Robots both exFM and Boxes 1018-2- with CP 5800s for radio set-up. As always Eric, I look forward to more Portage images from you and my collection, shuould you choose.

Eric said...

Thanks for adding those Portage memories, Brian. Amazing how it would take 30 years for our 1980's Portage railfanning to form a nexus.

I share all those memories (save McCain which was just a-building at the time). Watch for the upcoming plans plus another post on structures and operations currently percolating.