In 1916 the Prince Edward Island government built a dredge to dig mussel mud from St. Peter’s Bay. It also built a large wharf out into the bay to accept railway cars and by incorporating railroad haulage into the grand scheme more farmers were able to take advantage of this mud for use as a fertilizer. It was a big business with several hundred carloads of the mud hauled annually. Harvest time was during the winter and I can’t imagine how unpleasant this work would have been out on the ice shovelling tons of frozen mud from the bay into and then later out of railroad cars all winter long. What I can imagine is a neat little shelf layout based on this industry. In addition to the wharf, Midgell also had a public siding and a flag station. The station was on the Souris branch of the railway and would have seen a fair amount of traffic on any given day and all that much more during the short period of the harvest.
Above is my little track plan. I started with an actual plan of the area and cut-and-pasted together the idea displayed above. The plan was drawn with TTn3.5 in mind (1/120 scale on 9mm gauge track) and I think it could be trimmed a little more. The actual siding to the wharf was about a half mile in length and the switch was located about that far from the station. In my house I don’t have anywhere to leave a layout permanentally set up, for now, so I need a model railway that can be easily put away after an operating session and it needs to fit on a narrow shelf. While not really cleanly illustrated on this plan I imagine cutting away a section of the baseboard facing the station to allow the wharf section to tuck into this area; the wharf would sit on a hinged section that would swing “out” during an operating session but back into place for storage. The layout should also be designed to have a fiddle yard, likely cassettes, on either end to stage trains on.
During this time period the average train on the PEIR was around five cars in length which is perfect for a model railway in a limited space. While obviously this station would see it’s share of through trains one should also plan for the occasional mixed train that would pick up or drop off cars on the station siding. Since this siding is a “public siding” any type of car could be set out here. The major fun traffic though would be the endless stream of gondolas for the wharf. The prototype had a reasonably steep drop from the mainline down to the wharf and those cars would have been heavy to pull up that grade. I can’t imagine it was easy to work this siding and that should add some operating interest.
It’s not clear how the PEIR moved cars for the wharf. Given that the season for harvesting mussel mud is during the winter when the railroad was at it’s quietest it would make sense to me that a small pool of gondolas would be moved out to the storage sidings at St. Peter’s (east) and Morell (west). These cars could then be cycled back and forth to and from the wharf. I haven’t been able to find any notes on where typical loads from the wharf were destined but assume that they too could travel in either direction. The prototype was never one to run trains in the same rote order that model railroaders so favour: first an engine the the train cars and always a caboose on the end of a train. It’s possible that loads bound for eastern destinations could be pushed east from Midgell but for the sake of a little more operational interest I would take loads into Morell to be reversed eastward.
The rolling stock would be mostly gondolas and these should be easy scratchbuilds. Of course given their commodity on this layout they really beg for some heavy weathering and that should be lots of fun. Any freight car could be left on the public siding. Given that this layout would be set in winter it would also be fun to include a model of the Island’s wedge plows on the occasional plow extra through the station.
The layout goes beyond just a really different commodity and a collection of heavily weathered cars to also include some other features. I think you could build some neat little scenes down around the wharf. Of course I am really drawn to attempting to model this time of year and think the resulting layout would be quite different to display.