Achievable layout: the NS&T car barns

What I’d like to see in my layout room – someday…

As reported previously on this site, I’m making excellent progress on building S scale models of the various freight motors used on the Niagara St. Catharines & Toronto Railway. I’m now far enough along that I’m confident I can create the roster required for a layout.

Building the freight motors – an exercise in soldering brass kits – required me to practice and master new skills. A model railway based on the NS&T will require me to learn even more.

The big challenge is overhead wiring. While I’ve poured over magazine articles, books, and videos on how it’s done, I’ve never built any. I do not need it to actually provide power to the equipment – I will wire any layout for two-rail DCC operation – but I do want the wire to look right and for the trolley poles to track properly.

An aerial photo of the NS&T car barn and storage yard that used to occupy a city block on Welland Avenue in St. Catharines.
The area defined in blue is what I think I have room, realistically, to model.

I decided many months ago that the car barns and storage yard that once occupied a city block on Welland Avenue in St. Catharines is the right subject to test my wirework. (All traces of the railway are long gone: The site is now the Midtown Plaza.) Some might suggest a less complex area but I have several good reasons for my choice:

  • Any operating layout will require yard trackage, with wirework spanning several parallel tracks. If I can’t build that, I don’t have a layout: it would be good to know this at the outset, before I’ve committed to a plan.
  • If I find I do not like building overhead or operating trains under wire, the car barn will make an excellent display for my NS&T equipment while I design a layout around another prototype. The yard always hosted a variety of interesting equipment and it was easy to shoot from public property (eg: Welland Avenue) so it was a frequent subject for photographers.
  • If I find I do like building wirework, and that I can make it work reliably, then the car barn will become the heart of any layout I build.

Freight motors would start their day in this yard, then head east on Welland Avenue to their various jobs elsewhere in St. Catharines and in Thorold, Welland, and Port Colborne. When the work was done, they’d tie up here for the night. Based on the many photos of this facility, it appears the shop crews would line up outbound motors on one of the tracks that runs diagonally through the yard, while incoming motors would end up on the spurs outside the shop building itself.

An insurance map of the car barn area from the early 20th century. The track work shown here is not accurate, but surprisingly close as these maps go.

I would orient a model of this yard so that the viewer/operator is standing on Welland Avenue, looking south. While this yard is quite compact, the car barn is quite deep – too deep to model all the tracks if I want to be able to reach into the scene to service track under wire, rewire a trolley pole, etcetera. I would like to keep this distance to well under two feet.

Fortunately in the 1950s era that interests me, the south half of the car barn had been repurposed to service the CNR’s growing fleet of city and interurban buses, so I won’t lose anything if I simply design away that part of the structure. A line of trees between yard and backdrop would not be out of place.

It’s time to break out the layout design tools and see what I can create!

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.

2 thoughts on “Achievable layout: the NS&T car barns

  1. Trevor, I really like your logical approach to test parts before committing the whole project. I am going to try this method on a new project I have in the back of my mind. Good luck with the O/H wiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope you decide to actually put to paper the portion of the car barn and yard discussed in the article. I’m always interested in how folks solve space issues using scenes from prototype railways. On the Framlingham portion of the one I’m working on I had to squeeze fifteen feet of trackwork into eleven feet.

    Liked by 1 person

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