Why the Canadian National?

Another good question that deserves an answer.

There are two reasons: familiarity with the prototype and equipment availability.


Living in Southern Ontario, the Canadian National Railway is the home team.

It’s not as extensive as it once was – not by a long shot – but one doesn’t have to go very far to find the CNR. From a hobbyist’s perspective, that also means it’s arguably the best-researched prototype for modellers in this area.

Go to a local train show, and the photo vendors will have a good selection of CNR pictures on offer. Local historical societies have information about the railway because, well, it served their town. And southern Ontario railfans and modellers have done a tremendous job of documenting the railway’s various lines, equipment, structures and so on.

I always like to start with books and my Port Rowan project is no exception. There are two that are of immense value for information and inspiration. These are:

  • Steam Echoes of Hamilton by Ian Wilson; and
  • Hamilton’s Other Railway by Charles Cooper.

Beyond books and photo dealers, I have several friends who model the Canadian National in the steam era (in a variety of scales) and they’ve been very generous in sharing what they know. That’s a nice change because frankly, my work on Maine two-foot lines since 2002 often seemed like working in the wilderness. Neither of my two closest friends in the two-foot community lives in Southern Ontario. (One is in Alberta, Canada and the other is in the United Kingdom.)

After almost a decade of self-imposed exile, it’s really nice to be working on something to which my local peers can relate. Already I’m benefitting from the knowledge of those modelling the line south of Hamilton to Port Dover and Port Rowan, as well as the expertise of those modelling the Canadian National in S scale (and in other scales, too).

Which brings me to…


S scale may seem an odd choice for modelling the CNR – except that the railway is surprisingly well served by manufacturers. Off the top of my head, here’s a list of what I need for the Port Rowan project, with notes on who makes it.

Steam engines:

Photos of Port Rowan in the 1950s show CNR 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s. Both have been produced by my friend Simon Parent, with help from Fred Rouse at S Scale Loco and Supply. I picked up a pair of the 10-Wheelers built and finished for me by Simon. We chose CNR 1532 and CNR 1560, since Simon had good photos of both sides of both of these locomotives from which to work.

Simon is a master craftsman and these locomotives are the nicest running steam engines, in any scale, that I have ever owned. Simon has also produced a kit for the CNR’s 2-6-0s (and I would eventually acquire three of these for the layout).

Passenger equipment:

My needs are modest here as Port Rowan was served by a mixed train. In the early 1950s, the passenger equipment on this included a baggage-mail car and a combine. Later photos show the baggage-mail car replaced by a baggage car.

For the combine, my friend Andrew Malette of MLW Services came to the rescue, with a kit that builds into a very nice model. I have two of them – representing cars in the all-green and the green over black schemes.

Meantime, American Models offers a ready-to-run RPO that is a good start for a CNR mail-baggage car in the M-73-B series (CNR 7790-7794 and CNR 7807-7809).

If a proper National Steel Car baggage car becomes available (and it might) I will add one of these to the roster as well.

Freight equipment:

Again, my needs are modest here. There’s not a whole lot of traffic in and out of Port Rowan.

Photographs show hopper cars of coal and stone, boxcars of building supply materials delivered to the team track, or cars for the feed mill located at the end of track. In addition, a train may include a boxcar of LCL or a tank car of fuel oil.

Oliver and David Clubine at Ridgehill Scale Models offered nice resin kits for CNR (and CPR) Fowler Patent boxcars – as well as terrific resin kits for CNR vans (cabooses) in several variations.

To boost Canadian content, MLW Services is in the process of bringing CNR eight-hatch refrigerator cars to market as resin kits. Reading about the branch, several stations on the line shipped apples at one time – and given the relative paucity of Canadian equipment I’ll happily justify using an eight-hatch reefer or two, spotted at the Port Rowan team track or on the St. Williams siding, to represent this traffic. (As an aside, Port Rowan once had a large apple evaporating plant near the station, which supplied dried fruit for soldiers in the Great War).

To fill out the train, a selection of era-appropriate freight cars is available from American Models, S Helper Service (now MTH), S Scale America (offered by Des Plaines Hobbies) and – at one time – Pacific Rail Shops.

American Models, S Helper Service and S Scale America offer ready to run equipment that is very well detailed, although the models may need modification to better represent specific prototypes. Between the three, I’m covered for boxcars, hoppers and tank cars – at least as starting points for any detailing projects I want to undertake.

PRS offered kits for several common boxcars. My friend Andy at MLW Services offered a set of detail parts to upgrade PRS boxcars, while S Scale America (Des Plaines Hobbies) has the very-Canadian eight-run boxcar ladders with integrated stirrup steps. I have a few boxcars and have used these parts to upgrade them to model some Canadian National versions.

Another wordy post but as you can see, I have sources of information and sources of equipment well covered.

I look forward to doing more research as my Port Rowan project progresses.

Published by Trevor

Lifelong model railway enthusiast and retired amateur shepherd who trained a border collie to work sheep. Professional writer and editor, with some podcasting and Internet TV presenting work thrown in for good measure.

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