Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Manitoba Western Railway Layout, 1984

Let's take a trip back to 1984, to the basement of our family home - the home of the Manitoba Western Railway. Initially designed by my Dad as the Cataraqui Northern Lines (CTQ), I took over the layout and after reading an article by Frank Ellison on the operation of his Delta Lines layout, I decided to run it based on operations. Initially as the CTQ, then as the Manitoba Western Railway (MWR) after our trip to the Western province of the same name. Two-unit freight train No 411 on the MWR Rivers Subdivision  mainline (top photo). The train is at the thinnest part of the dogbone-shaped layout that my Dad initiailly designed.
Using my new 35mm camera and natural afternoon light, I tried to capture a bucolic scene at Newton (above). The basement of our 1960's split-level house was supposed to be a rec room. Instead, it was a catch-all:  storage and minimal living space, an upright piano, TV and recessed glass-shelved cupboard full of scale plastic models, among many other things. Like, you know, a model railway that grew.

My Dad was forever rearranging the constituent elements under and around the layout. My brother had since outlived our shared bedroom upstairs. I then shared that room with my Dad's desk. My brother had also since outlived his basement sleeping quarters here, hence the additions to the layout. He was now happily married and had moved out. I would follow that same process in the next three years!

When that happened, my Dad would enjoy relaying much of the track in his retirement, operating strings of complete Athearn passenger consists he bought at Lloyd Shales Hobby Supplies, a store he'd frequented in its various iterations since his days at Queen's University summer school in the 1950's. He apparently bought and brought the consists into the basement without my Mom being aware of his expenditures. Frankly they were not huge expenditures anyway. At the time, even in 2022 dollars, an entire powered consist could be bought for the price of one piece of Rapido Trains Inc museum-quality rolling stock of today!
Those are some vintage curtains! The rear of the Newton elevators and station (above) on the first 1980 addition to the dogbone. The basement sat up high enough off the bedrock that good-height basement windows let in lots of natural light. The adjacent, somewhat scary crawlspace and furnace area, not so much!
Two slightly-earlier photos taken with my Hawkeye camera and flashcubes. Grain trucks line up at Newton (above). This view (below) shows the town of Oak Bluff inside the left end of the dogbone. A three-track yard and one industry, church, and three houses sit within the upper, Glenboro Subdivision 'embankment' that contained three bridges,grandiosely-named Onderdonk, Moberly and Van Horne -  two of which were made by my Dad from Meccano - and miraculously survived into the otherwise flat era of Manitoba topography! By this time the left dogbone had been widened with the 1980 addition of Newton, and the truncated mainline was now a team track, holding a Railbox:
The town of Oak Bluff had two industries by 1984: a farm implement dealer and Penners Farm Supply. Except for a couple of Matchbox farm toys, most of this equipment was scratchbuilt, including the two combines:
At this point, I'd divided this layout into five subdivisions, using as many Manitoba place names as I could. Junctions between subdivisions were also named: Pacific Junction, Delta Junction, St James Junction, West Tower and Diamond. The five subdivisions - the longest being Rivers at 0.6 miles:
  • Rivers Subdivision - most of the main line and Portage yard inside the right end of the dogbone
  • Glenboro - the three-bridge embankment
  • Carman - inside the left end of the dogbone
  • Gladstone - addition under the beer bottles
  • Winnipeg Terminals -final stub-ended yard addition
You can just see the lighting system my Dad was proud of designing - using discarded Ditto fluid cans from his high school, opened up to hold lightbulbs and suspended well above the layout. Later iterations of lighting used 48-oz. apple juice cans for early pot-light effect! The back wall holds my beer bottle collection. There was a lot going on in here. The ancient table at centre was my workbench and train-order office typewriter. Without a tripod or flash, this overall view shows the original dogbone at left, 1980 prairie addition in foreground, and two subsequent additions at rear and right. 
The other end of the layout, upon entering the 'rec room'. This newest addition held a large coach yard, a Reimer Express and Texaco bulk fuel plant, and station. The coach yard was actually a huge gobbler of space without adding any operations. What would today be called open-staging, or in the good ol' days, a storage yard.   
Canadian Forces equipment on flatcars, express and milk reefers, Athearn rubber-band driven Dayliners and much, much more in the Glen Yard at St James. The industry track in foreground was designated St Boniface:
Another view, showing hand-painted Reimer trailer, plus Reimer depot made of cardboard, though with a nod to more modern construction methods with its styrene roof! At this time, almost every piece of rolling stock, vehicle and structure on the layout was brush-painted and decalled to reflect Canadian prototypes. Long before Canadian prototypes were mass-produced! 
My interest in all things Manitoba led to scratchbuilt Esso fertilizer plant and grain elevator construction, again using styrene. The backdrops are my Dad's originals from at least 30 years ago, or more modern 'English' Peco ones at right. The parts cabinet hangs at centre, with the binder-twine connection to the fusebox power shut-off hanging at left. Again, all these pieces are scratchbuilt, kitbashed, repainted and all by hand. Neepawa is the small yard in foreground, with Gladstone at rear.
You can title this portrait, "Of Flextrack and Plywood" ...or... "The Railway Builder", amid shelves holding my Dad's files and every item that had ever been bought and seemingly never left our house! Sometimes I marvel at the patience an the time I had to work on these modelling tasks, trying to realistically build each item, operate the layout, and document operations in detail. 

Running extra...

VIA's buffer cars continue to roll. Watch for an upcoming post on progress and backed with background. I also continue to update the orifinal buffer car post, this postscript on testing as new observations, information and car movements come to light.

I was fortunate to have some photos of my current layout shared on Global Kingston's Morning Show.  Before I knew it, one of the station's reporters was arriving to profile the layout. Here's the report. Television makes one look 10 pounds heavier and at least three shades grayer! Sorry about the ads if they appear - we gotta monetize the entire internet - well, except this blog.

To quote from 1984, "Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason.” Deep. Oh, and war is peace. We read George Orwell's classic just about in 1984. Fun fact: it was published in 1949.


Eli/Zartok-35 said...

That scratch built New Holland Combine Harvester sure is a beaut!

Eric said...

Thanks, Elijah! The evolution of my HO-scale combine construction was from cardboard (John Deere) to styrene (NH)!

JasonPaulSailer said...

Wow very cool, great memories Eric!

Eric said...

Thanks, Jason. Fun for me to look back on!