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Prototype Modelling or Fun with Trains?

Do I have to model a real railway?

Many published articles encourage highly detailed models of prototype locomotives, rolling stock, buildings and even parts of the railways themselves. Such advice can overwhelm many beginners. We encounter several articles on these subjects because the authors are modellers who enjoy this level of detailing, and they wish to share their ideas. This aspect of the hobby appeals to a growing number of modellers, but it is not the only approach to model railroading.

It is not normally possible to completely reproduce a replica of the real railroads, if for no other reason than lack of space. We can go to the trouble of researching a given town on any given day and try to recreate a model of that time and place. Even so, we would have to compress what we build. If we were to reproduce, in exact HO scale, a division point such as Madawaska, Ontario in 1915, our railway yard alone would take up an area 2-½ ft by 23 ft (3/4 m x 7.5 m). Moreover, such a layout would not include the town, the engine servicing facilities, the station, or the mainline at either end of the yard. In order to model such a location completely, we have to make concessions.

As a compromise, many Prototype Modellers will compress their models, decreasing distances between detailed sites, reducing the sizes of major industries, servicing facilities, stations etc, and still give a good representation of the locations they wish to portray. Even such a compromise, widely known as selective compression, can involve more research than the beginner wishes to do.

What the average modeller should know is how railways function, and why a railway was built where it is or was. Once you have this knowledge, you can use your imagination to build a functional model railway.

Your railway does not have to be based on a ‘real railway company’ like CN, CP or BNSF. It can be based on one of the thousands of branchline railways gobbled up by the big companies. For example the Irondale Bancroft and Ottawa Railway merged with The Prince Edward County Railway to become The Central Ontario Railway. This in turn was taken over by The Canadian Northern Railway, which ended up as part of CN. All the tracks on the original Bancroft &Ottawa are long gone.

Suppose we wished to make a model based on this railway. We could assume that the railway is still running today under its original name hauling tourists and their luggage to resorts along the line. Or we could assume that this line grew to be the biggest railway in Ontario. The company charter allowed it to build from Barrie to Ottawa, with a branch from Bancroft to Sault St Marie. In reality they only established a line from Kinmount to Bancroft.

Railroads also existed that were chartered but never built. An example is the Haliburton, Whitney and Mattawa. They had to survey the line three times, each time because Algonquin Provincial Park was enlarged and they could not build within 5 miles of its boundary. With a little research, you could build this railway as it might have been.

You can even create your own railway name to reflect more of your interests. The Robert Valley Railway, or The Mackintosh Creek Tramway, or The Outback Mining and Lumber Company. Many modellers prefer to create freelance model railways, either based on real railroads or completely make-believe according to their own areas of interest.

On the other hand, you may want to model a real railway but lack a lot of space. In that case, pick one branch line of that railway and model part of it with some staging tracks or perhaps an interchange yard to add some operating interest. If you like modern railways but have limited space available, consider creating a switching layout with an industrial park theme. With a little research, you will likely find a branch line, or a part of a main line, that suits your needs and interests.

The hobby of model railroading should not tie you down. Remember that most important question, “What if?” Let your imagination run wild. After all it is your hobby and you are doing it to have fun (we hope).

A vast selection of books on a variety of railways and how to model them is available at Credit Valley Railway. Our knowledgeable staff is also available to help you get started.