Through wind and rain, sleet and snow, I delivered The Guardian every morning to the people along my paper route. At the time Charlottetown had two newspapers and my job was the morning and some other me delivered the evening’s Patriot. Most of my earnings I spent at Leisure World on model trains and the rest was magazine money. Among those titles I loved to buy was Railfan which I bought at Tweel’s, at the corner of University Avenue and Kent Street, in Charlottetown. Just like how Model Railroader was the way to connect with other people like me, other model railroaders, Railfan was a conduit to places that had trains and its stories were told by people who I wanted to be like who knew how to describe their adventures chasing trains in ways people like me would be attracted to. Reading and reading favourite articles became a way of charging a bank of someday I’m going to go to…and see… energy and when that someday first came I knew what to do. Railfan was my invitation to go into the United States and look for things like the Aroostook Valley or CP in Vermont. So great was that feeling of connection, forged in the pages of a story in that magazine I felt I didn’t need a map to find my way there because my heart could find the way.

A couple of months ago the decision to change jobs was a really difficult one, arriving as the latest difficult decision in a year of relentless “on” kind of work. Exhausted, I pushed through last Thursday inspired the promise of travel. Ultimately to spend a weekend in Montréal but, along the way, to meet up with friends and see something I knew only in pictures: I was finally going to detour to Clermont to see the Quebec Railway Corporation’s railway in the Charlevoix. The promise of a pair of sw1200rs’s working along grassy track in Quebec. I can’t even imagine how you could even contemplate asking for more. I mean, what more is there to want?

Pushing through what were probably some of the worst driving conditions I’ve experienced in a very long time I land in Levis and call Matthieu: I’m close now. “Close” becomes famous last words as I discovered a new kind of lost on the way to meet up but the stress of the drive just faded away as I caught up with my first sight of the real thing. There they were! 1323 and 1330 working the interchange with CN just outside Quebec City. Oh my heart. This is real. I’m here. I have arrived. By the time I’m here the train is mostly made up so really the final moves are to hook the power up to the train and head out.

It’s right around here I’m wishing I had actually studied the map more to make better use of this chase. Any anxiety always seems to melt away though when my path does work out the way I dreamed and my VW, tea, and me catch up to the train. They’re approaching the simply massive Ciment St.Laurent facility. Most of that site is off-limits and even though it’s so massive you almost can’t see the sky around it, it’s still too difficult to photograph for someone, like me, to excited to focus my attention let alone my camera.

I didn’t get a chance to see Ciment St.Laurent’s 45 tonner at work but did enjoy watching our train dropping a cut of cars for the plant.

Matthieu and Louis-Marie were wonderful hosts. I’m so grateful for their invitation to be here, now, and do this. Sharing this with friends feels amazing. That nearly overhead shot of the train moving through Wieland is one Louis-Marie suggested and I’m so glad he did. It looks like a model and I can’t help but think how amazing a model railway this all would make.

Today’s train is only working as far as Clermont. When they arrive into that wonderful little three track yard they drop the train itself, and head back to Wieland. Even now, a week later, I still can’t believe I had a chance to see this.

Railroading along the shore of the Saint Lawrence is always an experience in the margins of where water meets the land. As our engines clear that crossing CFC’s hirail is waiting for access to the line for another inspection and the railway’s manager is on site too.

With the CFC engines shut down the invitation to drive over to explore Donohue Paper is irresistible. This block of woodchip hoppers teases that there’s something doing something and it’s not over yet.

Back to the CFC yard at Clermont and I’m barely stopped, let alone parked the car, when the sight of the mill’s switcher lifting its train is “why” we’re leaping out of the car so quickly.

Railfanning is often going somewhere someone else has been. It’s seldom pioneering and more opportunities to connect and seeing familiar compositions, for real, feels like such a satisfying act. You do have to wade out a little to make this work but to “get this shot”? Totally, one hundred percent, worth it.

I already can’t wait to go back.

Thank you both Louis-Marie and Matthieu for making me feel so welcome. I deeply regret not being able to spend more time together. The layout is stunning. I love seeing updates on the blog but, in person, it’s just amazing.

“Want to run a train?” Yes. Very yes!

Categories: How I think, model railway inspiration

Tags: , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. What a great opportunity! Excellent report, photos and just the experience of it all for you, Chris!

    Thanks for taking us along for the ride and for the visits. I’m pleased to host both of you as blog partners on Trackside Treasure and this post shows why. It’s not all about the models. It’s about the ‘railfanning’ whether in prototype or model form, and it’s about experiencing trains, be they scale or prototype.

    The black and white photos were especially evocative.
    Thanks very much for sharing,

  2. It was a pleasure to have you for an afternoon! What an enjoyable way you have found to retell that enthusiastic story of discoveries.

  3. What a great opportunity! I’m glad you were able to see this awesome layout… and relate the experience so well.

    Leisure World… yes, I miss that place. I was buying model trains and ships, not trains, but I spent a fair amount of money there.

  4. Oh, wow! Sometimes the visitor shows off the product better than the owner! I am a huge fan of M. LaChance, but it has been for his theoretical and “engineering” discussions, his willingness to tear out and change, and for his track plan sketches across several websites!

    These photos are amazing. The [presumably] prototypical structures compliment the smooth curves and excellent trackwork and works the way the Allagash mise en scene all works together. Who knew? This railroad ought to be FAMOUS!

    Bonjour! Writing today from Bordeaux, in France, a long way from home in Nantucket, but just as windy.

  5. Thank you all for commenting. Looking at the date I posted this, it’s easy to think: “How was that over a month ago? It feels like it’s just happening.”

    We’ve been going through some big changes, around here, lately. They’re all good but the anticipation of them should have suggested to me that I should plan time to keep in touch, here, and not commit to something I couldn’t attend. I love seeing your replies and comments and am so grateful for the way this connection feels.

    This is part the apology deserved for contact I haven’t made, and part thank you for sharing this path with me. I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you


  6. I love seeing updates on this layout and rereading those previous articles on the railway — thank you Matthieu for continuing to invite us to spend time here, with you.

    It was enough to just see the layout, for the first time, and more than I could imagine to be invited to operate it. Talk about fun! We talk a lot about the experience of operating and this afternoon was an example of sharing in that right amount; a lot of the current trend in choreographing the model railroad operating session is detailing it with actions and vocabulary taken from the real railroad world. Among all that terminology we are dressed in counting off car lengths and brake pressure checks but sometimes miss that, sometimes, we’re just in the cab between moments of “something happens”. In real life, we’d be talking about things, perhaps inspired by this environment. The cadence of the operating session, here, was always attention focussed on the joy of bringing this layout to life by running trains on it but also, time “in the cab” talking about what this is like. I could tell you about how much I like this layout, in quantitative terms, but it’s how it felt that made it feel so right. It doesn’t just look and work “realistic” but it felt realistic.

    That’s so very good.


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