This is inspiration

Steve Hunter kindly shared this photo he took it in 1981 at Mount Albion, Prince Edward Island. The subject is my favourite railroad operation and in the frame he found a way to capture why. This scene is central to my own layout’s inspiration. I’ll never have the words to properly thank Steve for sharing his passion for the railroad with me or inviting me into his archive.

There’s just so much to drink in from this photograph and it tells so many stories it’s hard to know where to concentrate one’s attention.

The train is sitting on the main line. We’re facing Hazelbrook and ultimately Charlottetown. When the Murray Harbour sub was first built this line actually continued straight into Charlottetown on a bridge across the Hillsborough River. The bridge ultimately proved too light and by the 1950’s was closed. The subdivision was trimmed back, station by station, to Hazelbrook.

The track. This end of the Murray Harbour subdivision is characterized by 70 and 50 pound rail. This kind of rail is as light as it sounds. Despite the light rail, fresh ballast and ties on the main signify an ironic effort at stabilizing the track itself. I intend to develop the passing loop on my layout to match the condition of this scene as accurately as I can.

On the siding is a pair of 70 ton diesels. These engines were such a feature of Island railroading. By the time this photo was taken the mighty fleet was down to a scarce few.

On the main, out train consists of three of CN’s new insulated box cars. These three boxcars represent the entire traffic on this end of the Murray Harbour subdivision for the year and could be considered to be the finest ever produced to carry the Island’s potato crop. It’s almost an insult to the farmers that they entered service so late. As much as we modellers hanker for the time worn leased reefers that CN relied on for the two decades that preceded the arrival of these cars they were just not what the farmers needed for their crops and, in turn, their livelihoods.

There’s just so much contrast in this photograph. Model railroad magazines paint images of railroads “dying out” as if they die a slow, decaying death. Maybe our’s was different since it died fighting back. It’s this middle ground I’m looking for in my own layout. In so many ways, is this the railroad as the craftsman pledging to do the best it can with the tools, materials, and energy it has? I like to think so.

Thanks again Steve.

Categories: How I think

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4 replies

  1. The track, the locomotive and the rolling stock each tell a story, Chris. Funny how a single photo can portray and encapsulate an entire model/prototype nexus.

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed the photo, Chris.

    Like you, the atmosphere in this photo- in this I don’t mean the fog and soaked ground following two days of rain- is a huge part of why I model the PEIR. The light rail, weeds kept to a certain height by occasional traffic, the struggle to keep the track in decent shape, the small power and light traffic all tell a compelling story.

    This particular chase was very emotional for me- while I had seen plenty of trains along the Mount Herbert Spur as a kid, I had never managed to photograph one until this day, 01 October 1981.

    So many things I loved about the PEIR are in this photo. What it doesn’t show, though, is the welcoming, friendly nature of the railroaders- guys who might think chasing trains was a little nutty, but who were genuinely glad to know people cared enough to do it.

    I felt pretty blue as I took these photos. After a lifetime, I managed to chase a train on the Mt. Herbert Spur, but I was pretty sure I would never have the opportunity again.

    As it happened, I was right. These three cars were the last loads ever pulled from any station on the Mt. Herbert Spur. The potato traffic was rapidly dwindling on PEI, the 70 tonners would be gone in another 19 months, and the entire railway would disappear in eight years.

    I also took colour photos that day, but the black & white images fit the mood far better.


  3. Reblogged this on Andrew's Trains – Formerly and commented:
    One image, can have vast and lasting influence on the viewer. For modellers, as Chris Mears points out in this post, one single image can make the difference between a model that works for you or one that falls short of your expectation. And none of us want something not quite right.
    For Chris this image is iconic and is what he wants out of his model railroad experience. Enjoy reading along.

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