Well over a decade ago I volunteered to do some consulting work for the Elmira Railway Museum. While working with them I acquired a copy of this great little book: “The Old Prince Edward Island Railway by Stanley LeClair”. I’ll admit that at the time I leafed through it and then put it on a shelf. Since then it’s followed the rest of my book collection during a lot of moves but I don’t think I ever picked it up again.
I really don’t know why I picked it up again last night but I sure am glad I did. I took the time to read through the entire book and I was really impressed with just how much information is packed into it. I feel bad for having not taken the time initially to really pay attention to this work when I first received my copy given what I now realise about it.
Mr. LeClair started these sketches during the very earliest period in the life of the PEI railway. He is writing and drawing the railway as it was and he is doing it firsthand. It’s interesting to read his reaction to the railway itself and it appears that we disagree about the first Hunslet tank engines. I’ve always really thought that these were some of the most beautiful steam engines ever, it appears Mr. LeClair did not. Truth is though that I just like the look of them and he has more experience with them firsthand – as an employee of the railway and acquitance of the men who were charged with their operation. As you dig deeper into the book the detail that the artist is trying to capture really starts to emerge. He has recorded consists (including car numbers and types) and some neat anecdotes about how the railway operated. Some neat things started to occur to me as I leafed through the book’s pages:
1) The railway operated a number of single-car trains.
2) Often Mr. LeClair has recorded the consist but his drawings show those trains with what appears to be freight cars in the train too. Perhaps all trains could have been considered to be mixed trains?
3) The narrow gauge railway only had two cabooses. I’ve seen pictures of these cars – they were big (tall) and quite pleasant in design and would make grand subjects for modelling.
Finally, Mr. LeClair often refers to trains as accomodation trains. I have never heard of that term in reference to a train type and I don’t understand what that means. I’ll wager a guess that the “accomodation” term implies that the train could carry passengers if needed. Given that it appears the railway only had two cabooses and more than two trains it would be fair to assume that perhaps most trains ran as mixed trains and that the coaches could act as cabooses if required. This makes a lot of sense to me. I’ve spent a lot of time researching British branchline railways (yup…that too!) and I’m always amazed at how common branchline railway trains were run as mixed trains it makes sense to me that the same practice would cascade to our own little railway too.
If you haven’t had a chance to get a copy of this book yourself I really recommend it – even if you’re not modelling the PEI railway. First-hand insight into how a railway operated can be such an asset to the design and operation of a model railway I think. I’ll admit I getting kind of excited to learn more about the railway during this early period now too.