Boots on the ground

“The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson.


Looking east along the Campbellford Sub. right-of-way at Madoc Jct.,  yesterday.

Every Autumn, I visit some part of the Campbellford Sub. between Lindsay and Belleville.  Even though the tracks between Peterborough and a couple of miles north of Belleville were removed in 1988, the right-of-of-way remains almost intact between the two cities, with a small break at Campbellford.   The portion between Anson Jct. and about a mile east of Lindsay is is now part of The Great Trail–formerly the TransCanada Trail.

I find this a good way to both recharge my interest in modelling the line and to photograph what’s left.  While also enjoying a walk in the time of year that I want to model.  With the passage of almost three decades, almost all railway structures are gone.  But most of the line’s bridges remain, used now by users of The Great Trail, snowmobilers, and ATV users.


This beam bridge just east of where the diamond was at Anson Jct. spans a small creek.  I was able to get detail images showing the construction of the steel beams and trestle bents that hold them up. I have obtained CN Bridge and Building department info for basic measurements of this bridge, but it’s easy to get them directly off the structure while this “up close and personal”.

I wear fully-laced-up workboots, jeans, and a denim or cotton duck work jacket while walking the right-of-way.  In rural areas only, I carry bear spray in a belt holster as there have been bear sightings in the area, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources states that most bear attacks happen to people walking alone in rural or wilderness areas.  A pair of work gloves completes my complement of essential items for a stroll down the line.  Those work gloves allow climbing around bridges and the like without getting your hands dirty. It’s also safer to feel free to grab any safely fixed item if necessary to stop or prevent a fall, even if its surface looks a little messy.

Safety glasses are a good item to use too–it’s no fun getting poked in the eye by a tree branch that you didn’t see.

A letter-size note pad, tape measure, and lots of sharp pencils allow me to take notes and record measurements of structures that I encounter.  Pencils don’t freeze in cold weather.

Until about a decade ago, I used a 35mm film SLR, but today’s digital cameras are so good now.  And pixels cost next to nothing compared to film.  I use a pocket digital with 20MB resolution that cost me about $200 and has many more features than that SLR did.  Bring a spare memory card if you feel it necessary, and be sure that you keep the camera battery charged.


What size are the ties?   This image was taken as the track was waiting to be pulled up by the scrappers.

Exploring the line between Lindsay and Belleville every year, I’ve been able to amass a lot of images and info to help me model the line.

And it all starts with your boots on the ground.


Steel through girder bridge over the Indian River at Keene.  It’s been decked over for snowmobiles and ATV’s.





“Some night and weekend work…”


I’ve been a railway modeller since 1972, and a railway employee since 1987.  I currently work as a locomotive engineer on the spare-board.

What does this have to do with my modelling the Midland Railway?

A standing joke amongst railway running trades employees is that the job involves “some night and weekend work.”  More like just about every weekend and a LOT of night work.  One of those nights saw me looking at the above sunrise over the rails.

That “night and weekend work” has paid my bills for almost thirty years.  And a few luxuries as well.

AND it’s taught me a lot about railroading that I would otherwise not be privileged to know.  Everything from hand signals to running a locomotive–while being paid to learn.


What is the purpose of this box alongside the track?  Just one thing that I’ve learnt over the years on the railway.  And I was able to measure up one of these and another larger signal relay box, HO versions of which are now offered by GLX Scale Models–but that’s another story.  Even the concrete post that the box is attached to is a standard design used all over the system–I’ve taken measurements and photos as well for future use.img_2397

I’ve been able to get info on equipment and railway structures not accessible to the public, such as this 1943-built War Emergency tank car.  A few minutes’ wait for my conductor to walk a standing air brake test while picking up some cars enroute with my locomotive being next to this relic yielded a number of useful images for modelling these cars.  I want a few of these on my layout.  Lindsay had seven rail-served fuel oil and gasoline dealers in 1956.

I’ve been very fortunate to do this for a living.  Much of what I have learnt I want to apply both to my modelling and eventually to layout operation. And there is still much to learn.


Now, back to work!  The University of Ottawa water bottle is evidence of where my daughter and some of my money goes to…

Some thoughts on ties


Rail cut tie

Buster Keaton holding an old tie in “The General“, 1927.  Note that the bases of the rails have cut into this tie under heavy traffic, tie plates having not been used.

If rails were laid directly upon the ballast, they would soon sink into it under the weight of traffic.  The contact area of a railway car wheel upon a rail is about the size of a dime. A car weighing 80 tons has eight points of contact on the rails, each point carrying ten tons.  Ties are an integral part of railway track structure to reduce the load of railway equipment upon the rails to a surface pressure that will allow for track to be laid on the earth or ballast.  Otherwise a solid surface would need to be laid such as reinforced concrete to carry the rails and the load transmitted from rail to the ground.

With most cars weighing about 60-75 tons in 1956 on the line that I’m modelling, standard gauge (4′-8 1/2″ or 1435 mm) track in the era that I am modelling used ties eight feet long. Here are some specs from the Canadian Pacific Foundation Library’s Factors in Railway and Steamship Operation from 1937.

Number 1 ties are 7 inches thick.    If flatted, they must have from 7 inches to 12 inches face. If squared, they must be 9 inches wide, with one inch of wane permitted on two corners on one side only.

Number 2 ties are 6 inches thick.  If flatted, they must have from 6 inches to 12 inches face.  If squared, they must be 8 inches wide with one inch of wane permitted on two corners on one side only. 

Number 3 ties, or merchantable culls, are larger or smaller than specified above, which, due to improper manufacture or excessive wane, requires that they be excluded from the number one and number two grades.  In practice, Number 3 ties are accepted when their face measurement is not less than 5 inches.

Number 1 ties are used on main lines and on curves on first class branch lines.

Number 2 ties are used on tangent tracks of main lines, on branch lines, and on sidings.

Number 3 ties are used on sidings and spurs. 

The squared ties referred to were usually sawn on all four sides in a sawmill. “Flatted” ties could either be sawn on two sides in a sawmill or “hewn by skilled woodsmen with axes and saws”.

Ties were commonly of untreated timber, cedar being a favourite for its rot resistance.  As railway equipment got heavier, rails cut into the ties under the added weight, producing the tie wear seen in the above photo. Tie plates spread the increased weight between rail base and tie out over a larger area under the rail and eliminated tie failure due to rail cutting.  Stands of cedar thinned out, and cedar was found not to hold up well under higher railway equipment loads anyway.  Ties installed in track were lasting ten years or less before having to be replaced.

The solution was to treat ties with some kind of preservative.  Several different types and processes were tried from 1906 on CP.  Creosote won out over all others, CP using zinc chloride treatment on its Western Lines’ ties in areas of low rainfall. By 1937, CP estimated an average tie life of 26 to 31 years, untreated ties costing $1.30 per tie installed in track, with treated ties costing $1.90.

Next time, I’ll look at ways to model ties for handlaid track in HO scale.

Lindsay yard and scale track 25-1-12 006

Scale 8″ wide ties in Lindsay’s Durham Street yard. Ties were laid using a piano-key tie spacing jig.