As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past couple of months contemplating what comes next in my model railway life. And I’ve drawn several sketches using a smaller scale room template to figure out what I can fit in my new layout space.
I have several good contenders, but the one that most excites me right now is the other end of the line from Port Rowan – in Hamilton, Ontario.
As I’ve noted previously, my Port Rowan layout represented the final three miles of a network that connected Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. This involved a journey of more than 60 miles, over the Grimsby, Hagersville, Cayuga, and Simcoe Subdivisions. There was an incredible variety of trains, equipment, and operations to be encountered on this journey – yet almost all of this variety happened “off stage” on my last layout.
However, all of this activity was very much “on stage” in Hamilton, and it all started with a trip down the middle of Ferguson Avenue:
Other than the accident itself, the above photo says a lot about the appeal of Ferguson as a modelling subject.
For starters, the CNR’s main freight yard in Hamilton is along the north edge of the city, on the shore of Lake Ontario’s Burlington Bay. In order to head south, the railway needed to pass through the city itself – and as the photo shows, Ferguson Avenue became its path. Trains travelled nine blocks down Ferguson, from Barton Street to Hunter Street. This is classic street running: or street-crawling, as trains were limited to 10 mph – with bell ringing and flagging of unprotected intersections. This would be an unusual subject for a model railway – and I’ve always been attracted to the unusual in this hobby.
The two locomotives and long string of freight cars in this photo provide another clue to Ferguson Avenue’s appeal. At the south end of the avenue, the CNR encountered the Niagara Escarpment – a 90-metre (295-foot) tall obstacle to surmount. Given that restrictions elsewhere on the Hagersville Subdivision limited steam power to small locomotives, the 2-6-0s that served the line were not up to the task. The mixed train (M233 to Port Rowan) hauled only a couple of passenger cars at this point and could make the grade, but all freight trains headed south from Hamilton received a helper engine to provide extra muscle. These helpers would be cut out at Rymal, Glanford, or sometimes Caledonia, and return tender-first to the north end of Hamilton to await their next assignment. So Ferguson is not only a busy artery – it’s also a helper district.
Then there’s the switch that caused the accident. It’s one of a half-dozen spurs that branched off Ferguson to serve railway customers. These included several examples of the customers you would typically expect in a 1950s-era Canadian city: coal dealers, lumber yards, warehouses, wholesalers, packing plants, and light manufacturing. These were taken care of by switch jobs out of the Stuart Street yard.
But the busiest switching on Ferguson took place a couple of blocks north of this accident, at the CNR’s Hamilton freight shed. This shed – the sixth-largest on the system at the time – handled hundreds of tons of LCL and merchandise each day. The shed tracks and adjacent team yard stretched a full city block along the west side of Ferguson, between Barton and Cannon, and was worked by two shifts per day. In addition to lining up cars against the shed doors, the switch crews would also block cars by destination before they were transferred to Stuart Street to be put on forwarding trains. Ferguson Avenue doubled as the lead for the freight shed tracks, making the street a busy place around the clock.
It will come as no surprise that this accident added fuel to mounting calls for the city to evict the CNR from Ferguson Avenue. The city eventually achieved that goal, but it would take another couple of decades.
The very things that made Ferguson Avenue a problem for the city of Hamilton also make it a terrific opportunity to create in miniature.
For me, it would be a chance to reuse my locomotives and rolling stock from Port Rowan, while also making use of other equipment that I’ve collected over the years that was not appropriate for that final couple of miles of branch line.
For example, I have larger steam locomotives that I could employ as helper engines.
I also have freight car types and non-revenue equipment that would never have appeared in Port Rowan, but that would be right at home on a train heading elsewhere along the way.
Perhaps this equipment is headed to an online customer in Caledonia, Hagersville, Jarvis, or Simcoe. Or maybe it’s going to be forwarded on the CNR Dunnville or Cayuga Subs… or will be interchanged with the Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo in south Hamilton, the Canada Southern/NYC at Hagersville, or the Wabash at Jarvis.
I also enjoy structure and scene modelling, and there are a lot of opportunities to indulge that along Ferguson. (Maybe too many? There are a lot of buildings. I do have a large stash of suitable structure kits to get me started but that’s one of the things I will have to look at, seriously. At this point, that’s probably the biggest issue to resolve.)
Finally, Ferguson Avenue appeals to me from a layout operations perspective because it offers a bit of everything. There’s yard switching. There’s local industry switching. There are through train operations. There’s a helper district. Between those options, there’s plenty of flexibility to tailor an operating session to suit the mood and the number of people available – from solo operations to small groups.
I will not say that I have chosen this as my next modelling subject – not yet. But it sure has a lot of potential. Will it fit in my space? In a future post, I’ll share some ideas about how I might do that in 1:64…