Saturday, April 29, 2023

Modelling CP in Northern Ontario

Don't worry, my HO-scale Kingston's Hanley Spur is not about to move north! In the past, I've gotten the itch every few years to change my modelled locale. From Winnipeg to Vancouver, to Vermont and ultimately to Kingston. Such a change would not be due to my gnat-like attention span, it's just that there are so many interesting things about Northern Ontario that are just begging to be modelled. Though I'm entitling this post Canadian Pacific, I'll also introduce elements of the Algoma Central, Canadian National and VIA. The AC crosses CP at Franz, CN at Oba, and VIA used to operate on CP though it now crosses Northern Ontario on CN rails.
Having travelled through the region aboard VIA several times (links to trip accounts in this post), I've published other individual posts, like the CP & ACR in Franz. Fellow HO-scale modeller Derek Pittman and I were discussing TVO's recently-aired TRIPPING Train 185 documentary (screen shot of Chapleau yard - above). He'd also travelled the line, most recently last month, and is modelling the Chapleau-Franz segment in HO scale. This discussion got me thinking...
The RDC run starts at Sudbury on the 113-mile CP Cartier Sub, then covers the 136-mile Nemegos Sub through Metagama, Biscotasing and Woman River, with the White River Sub beginning its 129 miles at Chapleau, through Dalton and Franz and finally White River.

Going back through some CP Rail freight schedules, the route through Northern Ontario hosted many road freights. Each one would have its own unique blocking be it piggyback, containers, auto racks, pulp and paper traffic, or just a plethora of interesting through cars heading to East of West Coasts, fill tonnage and Service cars:

  • Winnipeg-Toronto Nos 946 and 954; Toronto-Winnipeg No 963
  • Vancouver-Toronto No 902; Toronto-Vancouver Nos 901 and 965
  • Winnipeg-Montreal Nos 952 and 954
  • Montreal-Calgary No 949
  • Toronto-Calgary No 401
  • Toronto-Vancouver No 403
  • Toronto-Coquitlam No 405 lifted steel at ACR Franz; Coquitlam-Toronto No 404
  • Toronto-Calgary Pacific Auto Train No 415
  • Toronto-Coquitlam overflow No 445; Coquitlam-Toronto overflow No 446
  • Montreal-Winnipeg No 471
  • Montreal-Coquitlam No 481; Coquitlam-Montreal No 482
  • Montreal-Winnipeg overflow No 491; Winnipeg-Montreal overflow No 492
  • Toronto-Thunder Bay No 955 handling cars for Cartier and Chapleau


My background in layout design, building and operation is based on my railfan experience, available prototype information, and 1980's technology. Newer modelling technology has since emerged, like foam (not plaster) for landforms, static grass (not ground foam) for scenery, and DCC (not DC) for control. We had very occasional Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman articles for Canadian prototype inspiration 'back in the day'. I was modelling while still living in that era, not trying to find prototype photos and information from 50 years ago in 2023. I had a dog's-bone layout built by my Dad which was expanded, and which I converted to operations. That layout bridged the train set/club layout to early operations-based layout eras.

Modern modellers have high standards and expectations. Rolling stock is more realistic, locomotives run better and come with sound - literally all the bells and whistles! A panoply of prototype information and modelling inspiration is available online - blogs, websites, social media, Googlemaps and Yotube. Layout design deans like Lance Mindheim bring their perspectives, perhaps setting a trap that layout designers fall in to. One style of layout, for the purposes of design certainly does not fit all! An industrial switching line in Florida does not equate well to the wilds of Northern Ontario with through freights and passenger trains.

Operation can begin even before scenery is complete. Trackplan revisions can be made after operations have begun. I tended to design a rough trackplan, then almost immediately start laying track. Now, modellers often use software to design an exacting trackplan, then move on to track laying and the unpopular wiring and sometimes succumb to analysis paralysis.

Derek Pittman has come up with a trackplan for his 'The Budd Car' layout featuring Chapleau and Franz. It shows just how much can be accomplished in a 15x9-foot space. Derek mentioned to me his experience is that the hobby is difficult and seems to require failure. Even that building a layout is not for the faint of heart! Despite all that is daunting difficulties, Derek wants to create the Chapleau he experienced, and a realistic, even if less operationally-interesting layout. Here's Derek's trackplan, which he has kindly shared, along with its great name The Budd Car:


If, and it's a big if, I were planning operations on a room-size Chapleau-Franz layout, I would have an Algoma Central freight switch the AC-CP interchange and various through CP freights switching Chapleau and Franz. I'm not sure about the operation of  a local CP freight, likely with road power, perhaps spotting nearby pulp and paper mills. CP paper cars, pulpwood cars, woodchip cars and Service cars like boarding cars, tie cars, fuel cars would be prevalent. Characteristic CP power like SD40-2's and Centuries, and vans, including end-cupola steel ones, would inhabit the ready tracks.

Chapleau could have fuel car spotting, car and loco shop moves, Service cars, bad-order setouts and local mill traffic being switched by the yard engine. Franz would host AC-CP interchange tracks and CP Service cars behind the station.

Signature scenes would include the town of Chapleau, mills, lots of spruce trees and granite rock cuts, the Chapleau overpass and Franz junction. Details like sectionmen's Toyota pickups, CP and AC trucks, buildings clad in Insulbrick and passenger flag stops, with trails disappearing into the bush to nearby lakes, camps and docks.

Passenger operations can include AC passenger trains, VIA's Canadian and the RDC's.  I can envision 1970's CP operations, or the 1980's-90's VIA operations. F-units to F40's, with the ever-present RDC's in hockey-stick or yellow noses. Although the VIA-era 30-car behemoths would likely chase their tails on most layouts, imagine a CP Rail-era 6-8 car train gracing the curves!

I can readily imaging many of the prototype operations that I described above being applied to Derek's trackplan. My own inherent bias for a layout I would build and operate is toward lots of industries, spurs and industrial switching. So this wide open mainline would be a departure for me. But I can certainly see the enjoyment of running some road freights around and making the most of online switching!

Since much of the design phase depends on good prototype data and photos. I'm including some links, modellers who model Northern Ontario, and some 1980's photos in this post. But first, an all-important screen-shot of the The Beer Store (previous iteration of signage) as the RDC's on TRIPPING leave Chapleau:


Our school trip west aboard VIA's Canadian in October, 1980 provides some inspiration. These photos between Sudbury and Chapleau were taken October 25. What incredible faith our teachers and school administration had, allowing us to plan a train trip across Canada. Sure, there were educational aspects, including the Boredom Prevention Package booklet our group prepared. Sure, there were goings-on in sleeper cabins and luggage racks. We were high school kids once. And some of us were already railfans! 
Water tower at Metagama (above) for which no amount of photo-editing can retrieve any positive qualities of this early overcast greasy morning vestibule view photography!
Our train on a curve near Woman River at 1140 with vestibule views of the head-end and tail-end. Swampy topography, treelines and lots of water characteristic of the North. Note the aluminum canoe which is present in both photos.

Chapleau yard. Script-lettered CP water tender put out to pasture (above). Car shop and auxiliary train of rebuilt passenger cars 411692 and 411281 and boxcar 412517 in between:
A westbound freight with 5748-5547-4646-4233 pulls in next to us as our cars are watered (below). This freight had scooped us at Sudbury at 0706, but we passed it before it again caught up to us here at 1307.

CPR 5433 preserved - built here in Kingston in 1943, ceremonially donated on August 23, 1964 by Mr and Mrs A.J. Grout to mark the importance of the CPR to Chapleau. Scribbler-mounted composite photo (above). Some of the photos in this post are redneck scans with photo corners visible. Just adds to the old-timeyness and nostalgia-wallowing.

Childhood friend Andrew in vestibule during water stop, likely Dayniter 5731. We were in the vestibule prior to Chapleau, before being "rooted out by the [East Indian] Dayniter attendant". We cheekily opened the Dutch door, running up and down the steps while stopped here. A lumber mill west of Chapleau, of which even a small portion as a backdrop or spur would add prototype interest. We were in the vestibule for a few miles west of Chapleau, and "the PSA didn't seem to mind".

Meeting a freight near Dalton (above) with 4733-4743-4730-5561 at around 1500. We had encountered CP and Algoma Central operations  in just over an hour - mind-blowing! AC 167-101 working the Franz interchange at 1613:
Our suppers cost a princely $5.45, $4.45 and $5.90 on the way west. We met the Speno rail-grinding train led by CP 8735 at Wayland. At Dalton we met a four-unit eastbound hotshot, having taken the siding at 1430. A few miles to the west, we met another eastbound behind three SD's, lugging Datsuns and general freight at 1451. Missanabie at 1513 meant another eastbound freight, this one with two units, and the old steel water tower still standing. At Lochalsh at 1528 another eastbound two-unit freight met us. We played bingo in the diner from 2200-2220. I won a VIA pocket knife (any three numbers) and a lighter (full card)!
Since repainted with questionable font applied to running-boards and tender, here's a cleaned-up image of my composite photo, and note the juxtaposition of the tender with the Chapleau station and the blue & yellow cars of our train. Close-up:
Just over a year later, I was again travelling west aboard VIA in June, 1982 and snapping some CP Nemegos Sub inspiration. We stopped in a sunny siding, likely Drefal at Mi 52 Nemegos Sub for an eastbound CP freight, a work train and another freight:
I leaned my 18 year-old self as far out the open Dutch door of my car, Chateau Salaberry (above). The plume of steam from the head-end is just visible against the ever-present tree-line horizon. On this trip, our Biscotasing stop was scheduled for 1035, but late running got us there at 1115. We made up time, running at 50-55 mph, arriving 11 minutes early into Chapleau. The water tower were still standing at Cartier, but only octagonal bases remained at Ramsey and Musk.
Station stop with the tail-end on the curve at Chapleau (above). The spray-paint was still fresh around the doors of CP woodchip cars 31411-31464 in the yard:

Lots o' links:

You'd think that a Sudbury model railway club, not one in southern Ontario, would host a Sudbury layout. No, it's a club in the Waterloo Region that has done so much research and modelling of CP's Northern Ontario operations and focussing on the Sudbury-Cartier segment.

Having worked and vacationed north of Superior, my brother Dave has a wealth of Northern Ontario CP and AC prototype information on his Rolly Martin Country blog. A must-visit for modellers and railfans alike!

It's not surprising that with the sheer size of northern Ontario, several well-known model railroaders have made it their modelled locale, mixing CN, CP, VIA and AC trains. 

Modellers of Northern Ontario - an informal survey of those of which I'm aware. These layouts are literally located from British Columbia to Newfoundland & Labrador:
  • Nick Acciavatti - AC Hawk to Hearst, Wawa and Michipicoten in two levels
  • Josh Anderchek - CP North Bay and Chalk River Subs, roughly 1985-1992.
  • Jason Baxter - CN Armstrong to Hornepayne
  • Peter Elliott - CP in N including Chapleau and Mattawa
  • Clark Kooning - modified Huron Central Sudbury to the Soo
  • Bob Mitchell - CP and AC 1950s
  • Derek Pittman - CP Chapleau and CP/AC Franz
  • Kev Pla - ONR Cochrane 1980, CN Kap Sub, VIA on ONR and Senneterre runs
  • Blair Smith -  1980 AC in HO with CN and CP interchange.
  • Chris van der Heide - AC in HO
Running extra...
James Corden hosted an amazingly entertaining final week, retiring from his Late, Late Show after eight years and 1,200 episodes at the 0030 timeslot. Carpool Karaoke with Adele, an impromptu wedding reception for two soulmates he brought together - with their first dance by Norah Jones live, 'Crosswalk, the Musical!', getting Tom Cruise with no worries on stage in the Lion King,  and a dream sequence featuring his insomniac peers Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman.

James is going back to England, just in time for the Coronation of King Charles III. Rehearsals are already taking place in the middle of spring nights in London. There will be nothing impromptu about it!


Drew Makepeace said...

Nice to see a photo of me that I had forgotten about completely! I just reviewed my photos of that day and they are nearly identical to yours, same trains & steam locomotive, same canoe, same derelict steam tender. How did that tender survive scrapping, at least until 1980? What was its ultimate fate — do you know?

Eric said...

Hi Drew,

I guess great minds thought alike photographically back then! Since the tender was in script, I don't think that was a good sign. I know some of the tenders were modernized with CP Rail lettering on new black paint. I don't know that particular one's fate.

It was a good trip and we were lucky to get all that way aboard VIA with good ol' Glenn!

Thanks for your comment,

JasonPaulSailer said...

Wow, some great photos there!

CP 411692 is at our Railway Museum at Stirling, AB - it has been "recycled" into a school car/telephone display for visitors.

Eric said...

Oh yes, I have your photo linked in my post on Skiff Alberta's stored cars. Great to see this car entering its (at-least!) third life! CP always was really good at wringing the last dollar out of anything it could, in terms of reusing rolling stock!

Thanks for your comment, Jason.

JasonPaulSailer said...

Thanks for the cross-posting and sharing our story Eric!