PEI Railway

A REALLY BIG STEP.

I wanted a blog title as big as I felt when Taylor Main stopped by my house last week to show off something so very amazing: the resin castings based on the HO scale MLW sideframes I drew and 3D printed. In short, you take a set of them and just clip them onto a set of Kato trucks and within minutes you are here:

assembled truck

Taylor Main photo and model.

Which is one heck of a big step toward building a model of classic Canadian branchline diesel like RSC14 #1762:

1762

Taylor Main photo.

Of course, with one of those you can just as easily build a second and then…

The castings were created by Barry MacLelland of Railway Recollections (http://www.railway-recollections.com/). I am so very impressed with the quality of every single one of these castings (Taylor ordered a lot). No flash. None. Every casting was as good or better than anything I’ve ever seen from an injection mould. This is work to be very proud of.

I’m so proud of this accomplishment. I started drawing parts to 3D print at Shapeways just to fill a void I felt existed in the model railway market and to return to my own roots as a draftsman. Creating these parts, in the very first place, was so good for my soul and has repaid so many times over just in the simple act of drawing again. I never expected anyone would buy the parts and since then I’ve seen photos of models made using these parts. I’ve seen N scale Tempo diesels and HO scale RSC13’s just to start. Of course, 3D printing is still a premium means of expanding the reach of the workbench. As soon as I saw the first parts I was curious to know if we could use this technology to create masters from which we could make moulds, and ultimately, resin cast models. I’m so excited to feel like that time is here. Stay tuned for the rest of the kit.

It’s a week later and I still smile every time I see these parts. This could not have worked out better. None of this would be possible without:

  • Taylor Main. Thank you for your support and enthusiasm for this project. Furthermore, thank you for heading up the production of the cast parts and coordinating their production;
  • Barry McLelland. You do good work. Very good work. I’ve been looking forward to working with you and grateful that, that time is here;
  • Krista. Nothing good or worthwhile gets done without your gift of being able to inspire good work. Thank you for investing this passion in this project and the ones like it.

I’ve had a lot of chances to speak about 3D printing to fellow modellers and I look forward to having more of these conversations in the future. We get lost in the idea of the models but there’s a much, much bigger story here in the way 3D printing changes the way we relate to manufacturing. Parts like these casting are a showcase of this change. They are great for the way they take the best talent from the best people and harness their passion for just that one part of the production process. Each of us looked at a project like this and thought we had a way to help. This is just one real example of the power of a good group.

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Almost a time machine

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You could not have asked for a nicer Saturday. With some of the regular errands out of the way we headed east to the Elmira Railway Museum. In addition to a great community museum, the site includes the a complete wye just west of the site. Where the museum has seen steady change over the years, the wye remains untouched. What a great resource given my interest in pursuing a model railway set during the spring and also to gather some more data for my track files.

DSC01678Standing here and looking across to the other leg of the wye it’s not that hard to imagine a pair of 70 tonners shoving another half dozen reefers into place. Setting aside some pretend nostalgia, it was great to study the railway in this landscape during this time of year.

DSC01688With camera and notebook in hand it was great to really study the details and record them, as I described earlier in my post about a track database:

  • Elmira’s wye was built adjacent to the main track. It was designed for turning trains and not to join branches so there are two turnouts on the main track and the third leg, is a stub.
  • The two main track turnouts have 1:8 frogs. The third turnout is a wye with a 1:6 frog.
  • I measured rail height in at least two dozen random locations within the station proper and then out on the main. On the main the rail ranged in height between 5 and 5-1/2″ tall from base to the running surface. In the station, one of the sidings was laid with rail that ranged in height from 4 to 4-1/2″.
  • Tie spacing seemed to range between 24″ and 28″. Naturally, with thirty years since the last train ran through this station many of the ties are rotten and have shifted. This measurement is based on those where the ties felt like they were still in their correct location.
  • Tie plates were still present on the main track but not on many of the station sidings and the stub-ended tail track on the wye.

PEIR ties, rail, and observations

Recently I posted an idea for start a wiki, or like repository, to collect information on railway track. I wanted a place to collect details like:

  • Rail. Size in terms of weight (e.g. “25 pound rail”) and also dimensions (e.g. 4″ from base to running surface)
  • Ties. Were they rough-sawn logs? What size and how were they spaced?
  • Roadbed. Was it graded with ditches or was the track just laid on graded ground?
  • Ballast. Dirt, local shale, imported gravel?
  • Track hardware. Did they use tie plates?

I thought I’d start at home with a copy of Allan Graham’s book on railroading in Prince Edward Island. I’ll expand this preliminary set of observations deeper by exploring further into my paper and photo collection on the PEIR but thought even this much might help frame out an example of how I see this repository could look.

I leafed through Allan’s book concentrating only on images depicting the Prince Edward Island Railway during the narrow gauge period. From those photographs that showed track details and from this group I’ll note:

  • Page reference from the book to help remind me where the observation came from
  • Location we might be able to corelate these into greater assumptions covering an entire subdivision or branch, during a particular period.
  • List particular observations or dimensions that I can make out from what I can see in the photo
  • On dimensions, knowing that the track gauge is forty-two inches, I will assume dimensions based on a ratio comparing what I can measure in the photo to the gauge (constant)

So, here’s what I found:

Page Location Year Tie Design Tie Length Tie Spacing Rail Height Tie Plates(Yes or No?) Notes
67 Alberton 1905 Rough sawn logs 8′-0” 20” 5” No
67 Georgetown 1907 Rough sawn logs 70” Can’t discern 5” No
68 Georgetown “Turn of the century” Clean sawn logs 9′-0” Can’t discern 4” No
75 Charlottetown 1907 Square 6′-6” Can’t discern 4” No
96 Coleman 1903 Rough sawn logs 7′-0” Appears closer than 20” 5” No 4x bridal rods on stub turnout
107 Cape Traverse Before 1918 Rough sawn logs Between 5 and 6 feet Appears closer than 20” 4” No Graded land no ditches
123 Lake Verde 1905 Rough sawn logs 7′-4” Appears closer than 20” 4” No Graded land no ditches
127 Murray Harbour 1905 Square 7′-0” 20” 4” No Graded land no ditches
128 Montague 1910 Square 7′-0” 20” 4-1/2” No
139 Hunter River After 1907 Square Can’t discern Can’t discern 5” No
151 Charlottetown After 1907 Square 90” 20” 5” No On dual gauge track
150 Colville Undated Rough sawn logs 7′-4” 20” 5” No On dual gauge track

In the notes in the first chapters of the book, the author quotes on the design of the first track built on the PEIR:

  • 40lbs rail, 24′-0″ lengths
  • 2,200 sleepers per mile
  • 8′-0″ ballasted roadbed

If my calculations are correct, that tie spacing is wider than what I’m seeing in the photos though each case (above) several decades after construction started and it equates to a tie spacing of about 28″ which is wider than what I see in the photos. This spacing certainly speaks to a colonial design for the railway and an influence we’d see in those charming, in appearance but not in suitability, tank engines the railway would open operations with.

So what do I like about this approach?

I like that the photos were all taken around a similar period of time, within a few years of each other. This tight frame of reference feels like assumptions from one photo can be related to others in the set.

I like the variety in terms of location on the railway. Even on a railway as small as the PEIR each branch was different in terms of traffic, both in frequency and train weights, and also age. Given the tight time band it’s interesting to note that in locations along the heavily trafficked western road (see Alberton, Coleman) we see the same rough-sawn logs for ties as we see on the short-lived Cape Traverse line and on the relatively new Murray Harbour branch (see Lake Verde and Murray Harbour).

Tie spacing seems consistent but tie lengths varied wildly. My estimated lengths are only that but comparing relative lengths within the same photo shows inconsistency in the tie lengths. In terms of translating this look onto a model railway, I’d worry that it would just look sloppy. Stephen Hatch has posted a really neat article on modelling this style of track on his website and his work looks terrific, compared to mine concerns so I’m really just worrying for nothing here. Here’s a link out to Stephen’s article:

http://www.railwayeng.com/hatch/oldties/index.htm

I tried estimating the height of rails compared to a measurement of the track gauge. Each time I estimate a rail height between four and five inches. I’m pleased with the consistency in my outcomes compared to the shaky assumptions built into my methodology.

Though not noted in the above table, I wanted to touch on the roadbed and ballast in broader terms and based on what I saw when I concentrated on this detail and not the trains that were the actual subject of the photo. Ditching was not as consistent as I would have assumed. That said, I’m basing this first assumption on photos taken within stations and not on mainline track. Ballast on the PEIR was locally quaried. Though referred to as stone, there is very little actual rock on the Island and most of this would have been sandstone. It must have been lousy in terms of drainage. The ballast in most of these photos is not graded level with the top of the ties and typically reaches up only about half the depth of the tie leaving a pronounced air gap between the base of the rail and the top of the ballast profile.

So with what was little more than clay and dirt ballast, I expected grass but the more I looked into these photos the more I realised this bed of grass was everywhere. I equate a grassy right of way with the neglect that precedes abandonment but in these photos from what was a very busy railroad, there is grass growing everywhere. In that Cape Traverse photo referenced above the grass is nicely cut. I wonder how the railway kept the grass and weeds in check? Teams of section crews with scythes diligently clearing the line?

Finally on track hardware. Plain track was spiked with four spikes, two per rail, directly to the ties. In none of the photos did I see tie plates. Turnouts were granted more hardware. I realise I don’t have as many clear photos showing detail at the turnouts as I’d like. Lots of photos showing the area around the frog but few at the points. I have a few photos of stub turnouts on the Island. I don’t know the correct technical name for the switch stands but they are of a framed, rectangular design and not the “harp” style we typically see associated with nineteen and early twentieth century railroading. Some time ago I posted a drawing and some notes on these stands (see Switch Stand Design)

So this is my start. What do you think?


As for the backdrop I’m writing this against;

My pantry is filled with various glass jars filled with herbs, spices, teas, and coffees. I’m proud of the vista it provides when I look into it. I don’t tend to label anything in there and rely on a pretty strong palate to guide my time in the kitchen. With this introduction, I am assuming that the particular jar of coffee I grabbed this morning contained beans from The Black Duck in Sackville. Regardless, I brewed some really nice espresso from that and am enjoying the last of it now.

I’m streaming music through Youtube in the background while typing this post. I’m picking a pretty self-indulgent list that includes some excerpts from things I like but haven’t remembered in at least a year. So far, there’s been a lot of Radiohead, Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, and right now, Duran Duran. I’m really enjoying the list but must confess that I’m a bit shocked since I had Danko Jones on my mind when I started. [In the hour it took to write this post, I grew exhausted of Youtube’s constant need to interupt videos with advert’s so I went to real albums and finished this post playing Radiohead’s The Bends and remembered why this album is so very much so a part of a collection of five I’d happily live in seclusion with] Why? Several weeks ago, my brother quietly assembled a fantastic evening with all of us Mears boys. It’s been far too long since we last got together. I love those guys. We really never get together often enough. Over a wild variety of favourite beers we excitedly worked through an eclectic stack of favourite albums and I left the evening, very late the next morning, feeling compelled by a sense of needing to get back into full albums more often and actually listening to music again. Thanks Adrian.I thought I had a longer footer for this post but I don’t. Those last words in the previous sentence are where this ended.Thanks Adrian, I love you.

A lake boat of my own

Okay, I don’t actually have a lake boat. I do like them and have many fond memories of watching them at Welland on family vacations when I was a kid. So what do I have beyond a feeble attempt at a witty blog title? I have a really great tool I really should have made before.

DSC01646

Trevor Marshall inspired this tool. Mine took about five minutes with some scrap from the shed to assemble and it’s already earning its keep and proving its worth. Trevor dubbed his The Edmund Fitzsander and you can read more about his here:

The Edmund Fitzsander

I used mine this afternoon to sand the top of some cork roadbed I’d glued down yesterday afternoon. With such a long cutting face it really shines in how clean a cut it makes and how it doesn’t tend to cove the soft cork roadbed I was cleaning up. I used a medium grade (sorry, I’m just too lazy to go out and read the exact grit) sand paper on mine and it was so efficient at removing material that I used it to plane down the height of two of the sidings to better represent track at different heights. I was having so much fun with the thing that I used it to for some ditching along the roadbed. Man, this tool is great!

Trevor’s is a much nicer version of my tool. If you want to make one up yourself, read his notes first then come back to mine. I used scrap I had on hand:

  • The core of mine is some 5/8″ thick oak I had leftover from a house project last fall. The board was left its original width and thickness and cut to length to match the sand paper belt I was using.
  • The sanding surface on mine is a belt for my belt sander. I bought the wrong size and couldn’t use this one anyway. I simply cut it open and attached it to the oak core using staples.
  • I tried using this tool without a handle. It sort of worked but mostly didn’t. I remembered a gate handle I had in my “one of these days I’m gonna need one of these bins” and screwed that in place.

Yup, a truly great tool. Didn’t cost anything to make. Further, having it made it possible to get a couple of projects done this afternoon and I made some really worthwhile progress.

Speaking of progress, I painted the exposed pink foam with some tan craft paint I had. This looks much nicer than bare pink foam and encourages me to fool myself into believing I’ve got more done than I have.

Lake Verde October 1981

Lake Verde, PEI - October 1981

Lake Verde, PEI – October 1981

The above photo is another from a chase Steve Hunter was so lucky to be a part of following a very rare train on the western end of the Murray Harbour subdivision. Earlier, I posted a photo Steve took at Mount Albion and the above is of the train on it’s return to Lake Verde. The engines are sitting on the mainline. To their left is a short, stub-ended, public siding. The track curving away on the right of the picture is the mainline leading to Mount Stewart and ultimately, to Charlottetown. As with the Mount Albion shot, this photo illustrates so well the inspiration I’m fueling the current layout with.

Lake Verde 1974 - red square outlines Steve Hunter's photo and blue line highlights location of storage track. Note that the track is filled with cars waiting to be ordered for local destinations, like Mount Albion.

Lake Verde 1974 – red square outlines Steve Hunter’s photo and blue line highlights location of storage track. Note that the track is filled with cars waiting to be ordered for local destinations, like Mount Albion.

The above aerial photo should be helpful to orient Steve’s photo. I’ve outlined where his photo was taken in a red box. While I had the aerial open anyway, I added in a blue line to draw attention to a string of refrigerator cars that had been placed here at Lake Verde. They aren’t placed to load but are staged for nearby stations so once they are ordered, they can be moved into position more efficiently.DSC01434I’ve wanted a layout focused on Lake Verde for some time. I really want to develop the siding in the foreground of this photo, relying very heavily on what Steve recorded in his picture (for reference, the RS1 and RS11 in the above photo are on the main, the brown boxcar is on the Lake Verde public siding. The engines have just placed cars on the storage track for later distribution). I spent a lot of time frustrated by not having the room to really model, directly, something like the western end of the Murray Harbour subdivision or any of the other myriad of inspiring prototypes that have caught my attention. It’s not hard to see the many ways that what I’m doing is not at all like the way the prototype was laid out, but, many of those car movements that so fascinate me I can replicate very accurately here. The entire scene doesn’t feel busy in any way and I’ve spent enough time squinting down paper templates to know that in a pile of ways, these scenes remind me of the ones that inspired me in the first place. I didn’t start out intending to model this scene but it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore just how well it works if I did.

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.

mountalbion1981blog1
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.

Shades of Orange

I believe this is from a CN timetable but don't know the exact source so can't credit appropriately.

I believe this is from a CN timetable but don’t know the exact source so can’t credit appropriately.

Railroading on Prince Edward Island was characterized by:

  • Only connection to the rest of the world was by ferry
  • Seasonal traffic driven largely by potato traffic
  • Traffic in a single direction drove up costs to provide rail service (CN argued) with loaded cars most often travelling in only one direction

While CN’s own fleet of eight hatch, overhead bunker, reefers could be relied on for a major component of the Island car fleet during harvest season, CN relied on a mixed bag of leased cars such as MDT and NRC, with a very small component of cars from other lessors such as REA or PFE. These leased cars were themselves approaching the end of their useful lives and the quality of these American cars left a lot to be desired by the farmers and were very far from popular. The farmers alleged that CN intentionally wasn’t meeting their needs by making cars hard to order and the ones they did supply were simply not adequate. They argued that the cars were smaller (they were) and their design exposed the crop to damage. These accusations started to surface in the mid-1950’s and would remain until the end of railroading in 1989.

Reids challengeAbove is an excerpt from The Guardian newspaper. This particular issue was printed on Thursday, June 1, 1955. You can read the full article either by clicking on the image or on the link below:

http://islandnewspapers.ca/islandora/object/guardian%3A19550623-013

Once harvesting season was “on” the need for cars peaked quickly. In the period leading up to a harvest CN would start ordering cars well in advance of need and the fleet would slowly make its way toward the Island. Since moving cars off and on to the Island was governed by the ferry boat CN had to be fairly strategic in how it readied itself for this demand.So what we see is really a two-stage, staging plan. When the fleet started to arrive CN had to stage the fleet to make it possible to get the cars to the Island, across the ferry quickly, so we’d see staging on the mainland. Once on the Island, CN was occupied in staging cars on every available siding to hold cars until they were ordered. Naturally, the inverse holds true when the cars are loaded. It’s also reasonable to assume that cars didn’t sit still long in any one location. I’m only looking at reefers supporting the potato harvest. As busy as this makes our railroad sound with hundreds of reefers in flux regular traffic was still flowing on and off the Island. This includes a large volume of tank cars in home heating and similar fuel service.

Cars could be stored in more traditional terminal yards associated with major centers, such as here in Charlottetown but the railway itself was arranged in a star schema based on four major junctions and these junctions really became the core of the staging practices. Each of these junctions was equipped with storage sidings to hold inbound and outbound cars. CN would try to keep these points well supplied with cars that could be drawn upon when a car was ordered for loading. In this way we see something of a cascading effect in the distribution of cars. In terms of operating a train would originate or terminate at a station beyond these yards. Most towns on the Island that were rail served had a team track (Public Siding). Excepting the many fuel and home heating depots scattered around the Island, these Public Sidings represent the typical siding on the Island. Traditional rail-served customers on dedicated sidings were not common. Several years ago I transcribed an inventory of all active siding trackage on the Island based on a CN document I have in my paper collection. Check out those posts, by subdivision, at the link below:

1974 CN sidings list

Though CN maintained a timetable of scheduled trains, much of the above traffic was handled on extras scheduled around regular services. This permitted some flexibility in terms of what could be serviced and when. These extras could and often were a daily occurrence as common as the scheduled trains. Regrettably, moving the bulk of this freight in extras permitted CN to ignore this traffic in its revenue statements making it all that much easier to complain about the operating costs on the railway.

A train traveling from Charlottetown to Murray Harbour might leave Charlottetown as only a light engine and caboose (van). Traveling east about ten miles it would arrive at Royalty Junction. Royalty was our second main junction and connected the mainline from Borden to Charlottetown with the branches that served eastern Prince Edward Island. Given it’s stature it was a major point to store and marshal cars for eastern destinations. On this hypothetical day’s train these sidings at Royalty Junction have refrigerator cars that:

  • are empty and being loaded
  • are empty and are staged for loading elsewhere on the line
  • are loaded and need to be removed

Our train proceeds eastward and at each town either places new cars either for staging or for loading. It pulls loads. After a day’s work, it returns to its origin. In our example, before returning to Charlottetown, the train travels through Royalty. At Royalty, it will leave behind all cars not bound for a Charlottetown destination so most of our potato-laden reefers will be left here. No sense hauling them in both directions.

In the above example, I’ve only used one junction (Royalty). As our train was used to stage cars in the above example it could also be called to stage blocks of cars in these other junctions. For example, we might pull two dozen empty refrigerator cars from Royalty. At Mount Stewart we might leave a few reefers for points Mount Stewart to Souris on the Souris subdivision. Traveling still further east, we arrive at Lake Verde to join the Murray Harbour subdivision. From our remaining deck of cars we might add some to the yard at Lake Verde to top up that supply. From our original roster, we might only place a few at an actual industry for loading. Of course, if the storage tracks are adequately supplied our train might be tasked primarily with moving cars from these staging points to actual customers. In terms of operations, it’s more like a giant yard operation with a light engine crew moving strategically around the Island balancing staged cars. Further to the above options, a siding could be divided in half lengthwise where one end is used for storage and the other for customer use. It was not uncommon that the work at the siding was for the train crew to simply advance a car from the deck from the storage half to the customer half.

I feel like there’s a real story in this operation and some genuine potential for the model railway.

Where in New Brunswick and Maine potatoes were shipped from the farm to a “potato house” located trackside where they would be warehoused until ready to ship, our Island farmers loaded directly onto waiting rail cars at one of the many Public Sidings. It couldn’t be a more simple scene to recreate on a model railway requiring only the siding itself, a dirt parking lot, an old truck backed directly up the door of a waiting refrigerator car and the farmer and his helpers slinging bags of potatoes into that car. It instantly not only places the layout on the map but also introduces exactly what is going on here and the story we’re about to tell.

The primary driver for this equation is the potato harvest itself. A good year increased demand for cars and a bad year was reflected equally in car volumes. In terms of translating this to a model railway, we can allow the shear volume of cars on the railway echo that year. If our sidings are crammed full of cars we could be representing the early part of the harvest. During the mid-1970’s CN pushed a small fleet of former express reefers into this same potato service. A few of these were former Railway Express Agency cars that while remembered as being on the Island may have never actually hauled anything. What a great chance to incorporate cars without using them.

Beyond the literal elements, the scene should be designed to represent the mounting tension between the farmer, the Province, and the railway. The farmers had market for their crop and the railway couldn’t be relied upon to support them with cars. As I mentioned, those cars that eventually appeared were in such terrible condition. Farmers needed alternatives and as we progress through the 1970’s the Province was beginning to provide better roads and farmers were turning to their own trucks as a means of survival. In terms of portraying this, it’s an opportunity to create a model railway were the trains are the backdrop existing only to mark the contrast between the failed relationship and the way forward.

Finally, on such a small Island with such a small population the people who were the employees of the railroad weren’t outside the community where the people they served lived. We were all neighbours. It’s this connection that binds the scene together and the attributes we provide in the trucks on new roads and potatoes in old refrigerator cars illustrate change and a record of time.