Up on Allan Street she sends me

Indeed you could make quite a wonderful layout based around the propane dealer at Allan Street. It’s a pretty obvious track plan. Quickly measuring the length of the space you’d need your scale’s equivalent of 650’ (in HO that’s like an eight foot shelf or maybe two four foot UMG modules?)

Click to view full size 1990 aerial photo

Looking at the 1990 aerial photo (excerpt above) that the PEI Government share on their site it sure looks like two tanks so maybe I’ve always remembered it wrong?

Most PEI based layouts I’d consider are set in a period before I was on the Island. We lived on Young Street and this crossing was really close to my house. I went to school nearby too and I could cut across a field just east of this crossing. Around 1987-1988 all the trains originated in Borden and would run to Charlottetown and back in a day. In the winter they’d arrive in town around noon and be headed back to Borden by one o’clock – that meant I usually missed my first class. This is one layout that strikes me as being really worth building and setting in 1986-1988. Irving, who owned this propane dealer, remained a strong advocate for keeping the railroad and shipped propane into this terminal until the very end.

RSC14 1757, van 76827, flat cars are idlers from the ferry, loaded tank car is trailing the van. Spring 1989

Since hazardous materials couldn’t be handled on the same ferry crossings as people propane travelled during the nighttime. We’d see a block of tank cars arrive and they’d drop them in the Charlottetown yard behind the station. In the above photo the crew landed in town with just 1757 and a train that was only the two idler flats from Borden. They turned the train over on the wye then backed into the yard to tie onto a tank car they’d drop at Allan Street on the way out of town.

That’s an operation you could model on the layout. All trains are always staged in Borden (A). They arrive from Borden and just pass through the scene, blowing for Allan Street and maybe (if I was ever lucky) waving to that kid trying to catch his breath from running to meet them. The train could be just as in the above photo and when it’s turned at the yard (B) it reappears with the tank car in tow. How that outbound train is arranged is up to you. They might have to pick up an empty tank car too or not. Schurmann’s had a lumber yard at the next crossing (Longworth Avenue) so maybe the train has an inbound load for their. Up until the end, the other strong customer was A&S Scrap Metal out in Sherwood so your train could have scrap gondolas for them too.

I’d set the scene in winter or maybe that winter-spring season. I remember seeing trains that came into town to work the propane track that were probably run as plow extras so had a plow and flanger in the consist.

Categories: PEIR Charlottetown, PEIR plans and drawings

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23 replies

  1. “Quickly measuring the length of the space you’d need your scale’s equivalent of 650’ (in HO that’s like an eight foot shelf or maybe two four foot UMG modules?)”

    And on most layouts, it would be represented by eight inches… …and the illusion would be lost.



    • Or have thirty other industries jammed in the space plus a reverse loop.

      If this scene is eight feet then another four feet toward Borden would be terrific so I could model the private crossing that was next.

  2. Well, I never saw an aerial photo I didn’t like, and these are no different. Ditto small/micro layouts, though if I were building this, I would build to be part of one of the larger Trak layouts.

    Was propane used primarily for cooking on PEI in this era? I know it’s mild up there, but propane is not a cheap way to heat here on Nantucket Island several hundred miles south of you. Long before my time, there was a miniature gasification facility down on the coal pocket pier. Coal Gas was piped all over town. We dug up one of the pipes in our garden.

    I saw what I think was a Quonset hut in one of yesterday’s photos. It looked like it might have been a truck shelter rather than an office. Any further information?

    I am modelinibg southern Maine and a bit of New Hampshire where Irving now has a large presence. I would like to have an Irving station on the layout but don’t know when they came South of the Border. Company sites are useless.

    Final random question/thought: when did the now-enormous PEI mussel trade develop? I remember them when I moved to Boston in 1979 (3 lbs for $1 USD, perfect for poor graduate students). Was there a railway role in this trade as there was in potatoes?

    As always, good stuff!

    • Thanks!

      We’re fortunate that so much public data is available on the various PEI Government websites. On the main one for aerial photos they have several eras of photos available. I’d linked to 1990 which was the first summer after operations ended but it’s fun to look at earlier periods-many of which catch trains moving or at least cars stored.

      I’d build this to link to the FREMO style plan we use in Atlantic Canada. It would be such a simple adaptation and, frankly, that’s exactly how it would be operated at home. At home the layout is flanked by stub-ended staging yards that would be replaced by ‘the rest of the FREMO layout’ during show setups.

      Most Islanders heat with oil. Coal never had a big foothold at the residential level. As I’m sure is typical elsewhere the price of heating oil goes up, people look to alternatives, and a few choose propane. The issue with propane isn’t just cost on the Island but supply can be interrupted at times too which is seldom the case for oil where so much is always stored for sale.

      That little quonset building is a combination office and small storage building and workshop. I’ll get better photos next time I’m in town.

      Irving has been a fixture in New England for a while now. I remember buying gas on railfan trips into St.Johnsbury in the 90’s. A look at their corporate history returns: “In 1972 Irving Oil entered the US Northeast with our first marine terminal and retail outlets in the state of Maine.” from: https://www.irvingoil.com/en-CA/discover-irving/history

      Irving is beautifully oriented and I expect that as their share of timberlands increased they’d need that supply chain in place to fuel their fleet.

      The mussel industry has been a part of the Island for a very long time. I’ve posted on it before: https://princestreet.wordpress.com/?s=Mussel

      Check out the posts centred around hauling mussel mud when the PEI Government built a dredge and loading pier to increase how much could be carried by rail.

      I’m interested in railroading on Nantucket. You mentioned a coal pier and I’m very interested in learning more. I don’t believe the Nantucket railroad had coal hoppers but was coal ever carried by rail? I’d love to learn more about this.


      • Thanks for the PEI information, Chris. I will read your posts on the mussel trade with interest. Certainly your mussels are the premium brand in the marketplace, though I have a shellfish license and collect my own mussels and clams here in Nantucket for personal use — when the water isn’t too cold!

        The Nantucket Railroad operated after a fashion from 1881 to 1917. There are good materials on Wikipedia and in Wikipedia Commons.

        It was 3 foot gauge and had a variety of motive power. The most notable were a Forney and “The Bug”, a gasoline powered “locomotive” and open passenger trailer that look to be built on a speeder chassis, or something like that.

        I have seen photographs of two real passenger cars: a combine and a passenger car. With the Forney, we are comfortably in Bachman territory, and Dave Frary
        built an operating representation for the Historical Association.

        The passenger car has been preserved and is the bar at the Club Car restaurant on Lower Main Street

        The railroad never had freight cars, though it no doubt carried LCL for hotels and the Sconset general store (still operating). It died because it served hotels and cottage colonies on the Atlantic shore, and that shoreline constantly shifts and erodes, even today. To maintain summer traffic, the line would have to be dug out of winter sand dunes or shifted where the track had washed away. Not very efficient. It survived as long as it did because automobiles were banned on-island until after WW I.

        Coal came to Nantucket (and most East Coast ports) in schooners from Southern ports like Norfolk and Baltimore.

        On South Wharf, you can still see the building where coal was unloaded, though the gasification plant I mentioned yesterday is long gone.

        But that is more than enough for now.

      • This is excellent. Thank you! I really enjoyed reading your comments and the additional information.

  3. This idea of modelling the penultimate station or location on a branch line has a lot of merit. Where the end of the branch has one train, the middle of the branch has two! You can also elide the turning facilities, and imply the other stub-ended sidings along the branch with back-haul traffic. This is why a portable version of my own layout would focus on the roundhouse, and the depot would be off scene.

    • Agreed. Sorry I did not reply sooner.

      This was my first exercise in planning a one station layout that doesn’t, literally, have a station. I wonder what other kinds of plans could be developed where the modelled layout is just one online industry but the layout us flanked by staging?

      In this example the propane dealer is a trailing siding for outbound trains. Inbound trains have their tank cars so even if it’s just one train moving both ways across this stage there’s the interest in how that consist changed from the last time we saw it.

      I think there’s potential here.

  4. The propane spur was not the only interesting feature of that neighbourhood. There was also a spur to the Matthew-Wells pickle plant which left the line just north of Allen Street, crossed Allen and entered the plant yard parallel to Allen Street. It isn’t there in the 1936 aerials and can be seen as a shadow in the 1958 series. Just to the south of Allen street there was a double siding which served the original gasoline storage tanks.

    • Wow! I wish I’d seen your comment earlier and I genuinely apologize for not replying sooner. I’ve heard of the pickle plant but this is the first confirmation of it connecting to the railway. Was the connection only to deliver produce in or product out too?

      I’m familiar with most of the yard trackage that has existed between Allen and Longworth streets but this is exciting news. I’m certainly interested in learning more. Thank you!

      • I’ve finally been able to find the Matthews-Wells spur on an aerial photo at http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/aerialphotos/aerialphotos1958/16113-44.jpg
        There is a description of the new plant in the Guardian 23 July 1947 at page 5 noting that the CNR had put in a 830 foot spur to the plant flanking 200 vats which ran parallel to Allen Street. It just cuts off the corner of the Experimental farm orchard as it leaves the main line and cuts across the street., According to the article the plant was set up to ship out product in brine cars, to be bottled in Ontario. Would be lovely to have a picture of the plant. Between the Carvel spur, the pickle plant and the Imperial oil siding it might make a nice little industrial cluster.

      • That is a fascinating piece of news and really clarifies how the railway interacted with the pickle plant. I never expected product shipped out in bulk like that. I’d really love to see a photo of the brine cars they were using. I’ve seen photos of several models that have been for sale over the years and they tend to look like a set of three vats tied down on top of a typical railroad flat car.

        In terms of operations I assume a similar harvest-based cycle like grain or potatoes. I wonder how many carloads were shipped from here? Inbound product. As with other industries did CN bring in extra cars and then feed them into the pickle plant as needed.

        You’re absolutely correct that this would be a truly fascinating idea for a model railway featuring just the concentration of industries in this area. Operations in the immediate scene punctuated by the exchange of trains travelling through the scene.

  5. Here’s another Allen Street spur drawing ca. 1947. This time for a siding for Carvell Bros warehouse. What is also interesting is that it clearly shows four (!) sidings for Imperial Oil. However – no drawing for the Matthew Wells spur which must have come later. https://islandimagined.ca/islandora/object/imagined%3A209188/download_clip?clip=rft_id%3Dhttp%253A//islandimagined.ca/islandora/object/imagined%25253A209188/datastream/JP2/view%253Ftoken%253D4cdc7a07555dd75eee6407f9aa16c29754d7aba9140999dd17888f137ff86ba9%26svc.region%3D766%252C6788%252C1203%252C1843

    • Fascinating map! I really like that.

      There was a double-ended yard between Allan and Longworth up to the end so I assume these sidings were part of this. What these yard/storage tracks were for I’m not sure. I recall how propane cars were brought in in groups and stored behind the station in Charlottetown and almost wonder if these tracks might be for tank cars? So much tank car traffic would’ve been part if the railway’s business during this period they’d need somewhere to store them.

      • I think that the Imperial Oil tank farm was at this site from the early 1930s if not before. There were no tanks on the waterfront until later and liquid fuel coming into the province would have been in rail cars so there would have been a lot of traffic at this site. On an aerial view I have which does not seem to be found in the on-line collection there seem to be a mix of boxcars and tankers although some of the liquids could have been shipped in drums.

      • Both Imperial and Shell had sites in this area too (right?). I remember the Imperial one where Kenmac is now and how their office building previously had loading doors on the track side to no doubt load from boxcars. I believed that Shell’s facility was on the opposite side of the tracks?

      • I find it interesting that the plan, which is so detailed as to show even the location of the switches, does not show this yard as double ended.

      • Double-ended is something from my own memory of walking this area constantly in the 1980’s. Our house was on Young Street around this time so I typically connected to the railway at this area. I remember vividly exploring this area between Allan and Longworth streets. The aerial photos show the yard but I’d love to see more detailed drawings.

    • That map is spectacular!

      Have they been adding to islandimagined.ca to add these?

      Last time I had looked most detailed maps of Charlottetown on the site were fire insurance maps from earlier period. I’d love to see more of this image.

      • If you do a search on “railway” on the maps main page it will turn up a number of additional plans, usually of land expropriated for RR uses but not often showing the actual sidings and tracks.

      • I’ll try the search terms again. I was trying “railway” and “Charlottetown” and see the same ones I’m used to. Clearly, even from the link you shared, there’s something I’m doing wrong in my search and I’m excited to see what is in there to uncover. That drawing you shared earlier is beautiful!

      • Here ( https://www.islandimagined.ca/islandora/search/railway?type=dismax ) is the result from the search on “railway.” It turns up a few interesting items such as the site of the original station in Summerside in 1871 and the Surry gravel pit on the Murry Harbour line. Most of the plans are the original appropriations of land for the PEIR in 1871 but also the Cape Traverse line, Vernon Bridge line etc.

      • That’s fantastic. I’m looking forward to exploring those search results. Thank you!

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