Ontarion Northland Boxcars – part 2

In my previous post, I described the upgrades to a pair of True Line Trains 10’0″ Ontario Northland boxcars. Subsequent to that post, a lengthy discussion ensued on the Canadian Railway Modellers Facebook group, in which Jurgen Kleylein and Ken Chrysler contributed photos and ideas so we could sort out a few details.

Here’s a digest of what we figured out. When Ontario Northland car shops crews removed the running boards from their 40′ boxcars, they often left the ladders on full length, all the way up to the roof. On the B-end of the car, workers would need access to the brakewheel, which was also left in its original position, high on the end of the car. In order to facilitate the movement from the side ladder to the end ladder on the B-end of the car, some pieces of flat metal were fitted onto the roof and the corner grab iron was re-installed in its former position, sans running board. On the opposite corner of the car, there was no grab iron, presumably because workers would have no reason to be on the upper part of that ladder.

I decided that one of my ONT boxcars would have short ladders on the A-end and the other would have tall ladders. Both would have tall ladders at the B-end, and therefore, both would have the metal straps and grab iron in that corner of the roof. Here’s what they look like so far, with a quick coat of paint to get the cars ready for weathering.


This photo shows the running boards removed and the metal straps represented by styrene strips. The car closer to the bottom of the photo was the first one I modified. I bent a grab iron to fit and used a lift ring in the corner. The other car was my second run at this. I used the grab iron that was on the model’s stock running board. I shaved it off the discarded part and used CA to reattach it to the styrene strips.

On the actual cars, the side ladders don’t curve up and over the edge of the car like the model. The strips of metal to which the grab iron is attached actually wraps over the edge of the car and is bolted to the side. For the sake of not having too many modifications to the ladders, I simply attached my strips of styrene to the tops of the ladders. It works, and it looks fine. I decided to go this route because there are more compromises with the kit’s ladders that I’m choosing to ignore. I felt that if I started to make changes to the top of the ladder, I should probably fix up the inaccuracies at the bottom as well. I figure this would be better addressed by a complete ladder replacement some day. If I ever choose to make that modification to these cars, I can move the styrene strips on the roof. For now, I’m calling this good enough.

Once I had done the roof modification to both cars, I proceeded to do the patch-outs for the weight data and other outdated information on the side of both cars. Here’s how they look so far:


You can see I’ve also added lube plates and ACI labels. So far, I’ve only patched one side of both ONT cars. Once I get the patches finished and new data onto the car, I’ll weather them to reflect 25 years of service.

Having finished the modifications on my ONT cars, I decided that I should do two 10’0″ cars that have in Canadian National. For the CN cars, I’m going to leave the running boards on the cars, but I’ll add air hoses, cut levers, swap out the couplers for Kadee #158, patch them for weight data, add lube plates and ACI labels.


The last thing I’d like to do is provide some links to sources of information I used so far on this project. Ted Kocyla wrote on the MRH forum about weathering some similar cars for the WRMRC layout. Click here for that article. Chris Vanderheide has written about similar projects on his blog. Click through to see some posts from August 2015, June 2015, and November 2014 that are relevant to this project.

The work being done to the CN cars is the same as what I’ve already done to the ONT cars, so I won’t repeat any of that. I’ll post an update when I have some weathering finished.

Racor Model 20 Ground Throw

Someone needs to produce a scale model of the various ground throws used in yards and on industrial sidings on North American railways. The model doesn’t have to actually operate the points of a turnout. We already have plenty of ways to make the points move thanks to products like the Blue Point and Tortoise. It would be nice if the indicator flags on the scale ground throw rotated, but I would be happy with a static, injection molded detail part. The flag rotation is an easy add-on.

In Canada, CN and CP designed their switch stands, and scale versions of these are available. But The Racor Model 20 is one of the common devices used by railways that didn’t see the need to reinvent what was already being done well. I’ve included photos of one that I found in the former Fisher Yard of the TH&B in Hamilton Ontario.

We have a few different HO products on the market, but no one is to scale. There are plenty of locomotive detail parts on the market that are much smaller than a scale ground throw, so there’s no reason why this can’t be done. It’s long overdue.





Bascule Bridge at North Tonawanda

One of the most interesting and challenging structures that I will have to build for my layout depicting the town of North Tonawanda is the bascule bridge over the barge canal. The bridge was built as part of a track re-alignment project undertaken by NYC between 1917 and 1922. The bridge carried the NYC Niagara Branch, double-track at this point, which was NYC’s direct connection between Niagara Falls NY and Buffalo NY.

An interesting fact about the bridge is that it was only opened once. It seems that a government transportation authority insisted on provisions for the expansion of the barge canal to accommodate higher vessels. In response, NYC built a bascule bridge instead of a fixed structure. I’m told that on the day the bridge was put into service, there were some dignitaries present to witness the opening and closing of the bridge. It was never opened again.

The bridge is oriented north-south. To the south of the bridge, the Lehigh Valley gained access to the NYC Niagara Branch which LV used to access its own yard in Niagara Falls NY. The small NYC yard and connection to the paper plant at North Tonawanda are about a half-mile north of the bridge.

I photographed the bridge in 2013. After studying the bridge, I decided against building a model of it, on the grounds that it would be too difficult. Lately, I’ve been reconsidering my previous position because it is the single most identifiable landmark that establishes the setting of my layout. Without it, visitors might simply have to take it on faith that the layout represents North Tonawanda. With that in mind, I’m gearing up to have a go at it. Having never scratch-built a structure like this, I’m spending some time thinking about how to approach it. So far, my friend Chris Vanderheide is helping me plan the build. I can use all the help I can get.

Here are a few of my photos of the bridge. They provide a general overview of the structure’s layout.


Looking east along the Erie Canal.

In the first photo, above, I can see some basic sub-structures that might simplify construction. The concrete pier in the barge canal is the hinge point of the bridge. The truss on the right is the part that lifts, so it’s rigid. The apex of the triangle to the left of the hinge on the pier provides the fulcrum between the concrete counterweight and the rigid truss that draws upwards.

Taken from the north side of the canal, looking at the west side of the bridge, minus the counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the barge canal, looking at the west side of the bridge, minus the counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the canal, west side of the bridge, looking up at the concrete counterweight.

Taken from the north side of the canal, west side of the bridge, looking up at the concrete counterweight.

At north and south ends of the bridge, there are short deck girder bridges that carry the tracks over roads that parallel the barge canal on both sides. The tracks approach the bridge on large earth fills from the north and south. On the north side of the canal, the North Tonawanda side, the fill provides a convenient grade separation for a couple of residential streets, which I also plan to model.

I have plenty of photos of the general layout of the bridge, but these show the overall structure. I believe what stands ahead of me is an estimation of the overall dimensions of the structure so that I can decide whether to compress it or build it proportionally.

I recognize this as a long-shot, but if anyone has information pertaining to this bridge, I’d love to have access to it. Drawings would, of course, be ideal, but anything else would be helpful and greatly appreciated, including how NYC and Penn Central managed rail traffic in the area around the bridge. I’m also interested in advice on how plan for and undertake this project. I’m looking forward to hear what you have to say.

Shout Out to Larry Broadbent

I learned through the St. Thomas Railway Heritage Facebook group that Larry Broadbent contributed about 1300 photographic slides of railroad equipment and personnel to the public archives of Elgin County.  Larry’s photos were taken in and around St. Thomas Ontario from the 70s onward.

The best part about this is that the images can be viewed online for free by clicking here.  Once you’re there, type “Broadbent” into the collection name field.  You’ll find the collection to be chock full of shots of the CASO, C&O, and N&W (ex-Wabash) trains.

Larry’s donation is a commendable contribution toward the preservation of the history of railroading in southwestern Ontario.  Most notably, these photos capture the unique operations and equipment of three US-based railroad companies in Canada.

CASO and C&O Canadian Division trains rolled through the town I’m modelling in HO, so this collection is an invaluable resource to me.  I hope more people follow Larry’s lead and make their railroad photo collections available to the public.  Thanks very much for doing this Larry.



Cheque-Book Modelling: Rolling Stock Acquisitions

Late May and all of June is always a busy time for me.  As a result, I’ve not spent even a moment working on my layout or at the the club.  I did manage to squeeze in an afternoon of research in North Tonawanda with Doug Kroll last weekend, but that’s been the extent of my engagement with the hobby.

Back in May, I built a couple of turnouts from code 55 rail, and they seem to work fine, though I’m not completely pleased with their geometry.  I’ve put a stop to track laying because I decided to use a Fast Tracks turnout fixture.  It’s been ordered, so I’m hoping it will arrive in the post around the same time that I get some spare time to dedicate to the layout.

In the meantime, I’ve acquired a couple of pieces of rolling stock to populate the layout.  My aerial photos of International Paper from the early 1970s show a number of coal hoppers in the facility and a massive coal stockpile, though I don’t have photos of the types of cars used, nor do I know how or exactly where they unloaded them.  I’m not going to let these details stop me from moving ahead with the paper plant part of the layout.  I’ll proceed to build the layout and refine its fidelity as new information becomes available to me.  In the meantime, it seems reasonable to me that a pair of Reading hoppers can be spotted on a lead that will sit next to a coal pile.

IMG_0272Last month, I added a pair of CN gondolas to the roster.  These were part of a larger order of Rapido Canadian gondolas for the WRMRC.  I’ll use two of these for scrap steel going into the interchange with Tonawanda Iron, once I get that part of the layout constructed.

IMG_0273I’ll be looking for some older 40′ boxcars for woodchips into the paper plant.  My photos show an number of older CN boxcars in the plant, and I have a suspicion that’s what these were for.

When time is at a premium, I can always keep engaged with the hobby by way of my credit card 🙂