S**t, er, Stuff Happens

Stuff Happens
Stuff Happens

So, that happened.

After posting that photo on the excellent Canadian Railway Modellers Facebook group, I learned that many other people have made the same mistake when installing / changing couplers. Stuff happens.

It’s easy to do, especially when the car might be upside down and you’re trying to jam in the spring, coupler, put the lid on, and maybe put the screw in, all with not enough hands.

At least this was easy to fix. Some things are harder to fix… like when I forgot to install a door in a grain elevator I glued down. That was a bigger fix.

Some mistakes are not fixable at all. I’ve tossed a few pieces of track that I’ve screwed up when I was trying to solder a feeder wire to them and cooked the plastic ties. (aside: I hate soldering)

I don’t have a magic solution. Mistakes are going to happen. The best you can do is to plan as much as you can, and when the s**t hits the fan, take a deep breath, step back, and figure out what you can do to fix things and move on.

Good luck.


The Nova Scotia Eastern Railway, Part 2


I recently took down the web page for my second model railway layout, the Nova Scotia Eastern Railway (NSER), a freelanced shortline railway based on a prototypical railway. I had written the web page as if the NSER was a real railroad.

Welcome to the home page of the Nova Scotia Eastern Railway. We serve the Dartmouth area of Nova Scotia with quality, efficient freight railroad service.

Our track extends from the Eastern Passage through Dartmouth to our interchange with CN at Windsor Junction for a total of 29.6 km (18.5 miles). We serve numerous industries in the area, including the Imperial Oil refinery in Dartmouth, the Autoport in Eastern Passage and industries in the Burnside Industrial Park.

Please contact us for your transportation needs!

I wrote a history of the railway as well. I highly recommend doing this to help flesh out the story of your railway. In the NSER’s case it was presented as a shortline that took over the CN Dartmouth subdivision (which in my world, still ran to Upper Musquodoboit).

The NSER and the other shortlines in Nova Scotia, the CB&CNS and the Windsor and Hantsport, formed an association (Nova Scotia Shortlines) to facilitate cooperation and car exchanges between the shortlines. The CB&CNS and the NSER in particular are very close together (they both terminate in Windsor Junction) and wished to exchange cars without CN’s involvement. After some negotiations and the involvement of the federal Transport Minister, they gained running rights over a short portion of track in Windsor Junction to allow them to interchange traffic.

In 1995 the provincial government was approached by a tourism operator, Scotia Tours, interested in operating excursion trains over the abandoned trackage to Musquodoboit. Some negotiations took place but CN was not interested in providing access to their portion of the Dartmouth Subdivision. Once CanRail took possession of the subdivision, negotiations were reopened. CanRail and the province agreed to allow Scotia Tours to operate a daily excursion train over their trackage, and the province invested approximately half a million dollars to upgrade the line, replace signals and crossings, etc. to permit safe operation on the line. Scotia Tours acquired a steam locomotive, CN 6043 from Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg, and a few former CN passenger cars. It leased a portion of CanRail’s Dartmouth yard to house the engine and cars, and began tours in May 1998.

In 2001 the Campbell Forestry company (owners of forest land, pulp and paper mills in New Brunswick and Maine) decided to make an investment in the Nova Scotia forestry market. They purchased the MacTara lumber mill in Upper Musquodoboit. CanRail approached Campbell Forestry to provide transportation for their wood products from Musquodoboit to Dartmouth, with CN taking the shipment from there to Saint John, NB for shipment to the United States on the NB Southern Railway. CanRail leased the trackage from the province for a period of 20 years, and began operations on the line in late 2001. The majority of the traffic is either cut wood (to the mill) or finished lumber (from the mill), with the occasional boxcar or gondola for other industries in the area.

Traffic on the NSER is typical of many shortlines. The industries located on its line (the Imperial Oil refinery, the autoport, the Campbell mill, and several smaller industries) provide the bulk of traffic that is interchanged with CN at Windsor Junction. Two or three times daily, a unit train runs from Windsor Junction to Burnside under CN control to deliver gypsum to waiting ships. As well, a train is infrequently run from Dartmouth to Windsor Junction to interchange with the Windsor & Hantsport. Scotia Tours’ excursion train provides a glimpse of yesteryear with its imposing steam engine and passenger cars.

I had/have one caboose and one passenger coach decorated for the NSER in white with blue trim.


The model railway was a two-level layout. Here’s the bottom level:

NSER Bottom Level

There was staging on the right, behind a backdrop, leading into Windsor Junction and an interchange with the Windsor & Hantsport Railway. The tracks then went to Halifax staging on the left, with a long and steep climb to the second level.

NSER Top Level
NSER Top Level

Most of the top level was never built. I think it was too ambitious, honestly.

The NSER was a great learning experience.

See these other NSER posts for more:

Track Plan Evolution

Like most people I like to draw up track plans before beginning construction. Now that all the track is laid on my layout, I’d like to show the evolution of the track plan for this layout. Remember that I model in HO scale.

My train room is 20’6″ by about 10′ but is not quite a rectangle. Version 1’s track plan  shows the dimensions plus a very basic idea of how the track would flow.

Version 1

Version 1
Version 1

I was trying to make use of most of the room’s area. A few things to notice:

  • Walkaround plan
  • “Sincere” – no running twice through the same area
  • Continuous running possible
  • Duckunder at the door
  • Not a lot of aisle space

Version 2

I added a lot of detail to show both CN and CP. I was trying to model the area around Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.

Version 2
Version 2

A few more notes:

  • CN and CP run side by side, just like the prototype
  • Some attempt at trackage in Portage (bottom of image) but it’s not a “real” plan as nothing is really connected and it won’t fit
  • Large staging areas for both CN and CP
  • CN Gladstone is intended as a short staging area

Version 3

I made an attempt to detail Portage in a more do-able way, and added some detail to the peninsula.

Version 3
Version 3


  • I really really wanted a wye in Portage
  • That peninsula is a real space eater

Version 4

This was an attempt to make it more like the prototype.

Version 4
Version 4


  • Added a siding at CN Oakville
  • Moved CP Simplot and added CP Burnside, much  like the prototype was a few decades ago
  • CN and CP cross at West Tower, like the prototype

Version 5

This is what was actually built. You’ll notice it is quite different from the plan!

Version 5 - As Built
Version 5 – As Built

Many notes here:

  • I gave up on the wye – there wasn’t enough room
  • CP actually climbs over CN at West Tower, as the CP staging is on top of the CN staging
  • I added the CP Minnedosa subdivision as staging
  • The huge peninsula is now a narrow one
  • CN Gladstone disappeared
  • CN Oakville was removed, as it is behind my computer desk and would not be accessible

So there you have it – the evolution of my layout plan.

Adapting Reality

CP 3120 in Portage la Prairie
CP 3120 in Portage la Prairie

I am modeling a layout loosely based on Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. I call it “adapting reality”. In my world I have renamed it to Georgetown (after my father) and dated it to about 1989.

The real Portage la Prairie of the time featured:

  • CN and CP main lines running parallel to each other
  • A crossing of CN and CP in the town
  • Two branch lines (CN Gladstone and CP Minnedosa)
  • Several grain elevators
  • Two train stations
  • An interchange yard between the two railways

Eric Gagnon wrote a very good series on modeling Portage.

Georgetown features:

  • CN and CP main lines running parallel to each other
  • One branch line (CP Minnedosa)
  • Two grain elevators
  • One train station
  • An interchange track between the two railways

I couldn’t include a crossover of the two railways due to other layout considerations I will go into later.

Here’s the track plans for CN and CP in Georgetown.

CN Georgetown Layout
CN in Georgetown

CN features a passing siding, an elevator track (UGG), an oil unloading track and an interchange track.


CP in Georgetown
CP in Georgetown

CP features a passing siding, an elevator track (Manitoba Pool), a team track, a freight shed, an interchange track, and the CP Minnedosa subdivision, which is single track staging.

I’m very interested in operation and I think this will provide a bit of operational interest in switching, interchanging and a few train meets.

Planning for the New Layout

It’s time to start planning for my next model train layout. Hallelujah!

In my life I have had two serious layouts: the Nova Scotia Eastern and CN in Bathurst, NB (circa 1975). The NSER was torn up in 2004, and the CN layout lasted until 2009. Both were removed prior to moving.

As I write this, workmen are in the basement putting wallboard up. Soon my train room will be boarded, painted, and carpeted, and I’ll be ready to start pounding spikes. Thankfully I am not doing the room preparation this time.

I don’t have a track plan yet, nor even much of an idea where and when the layout will be set. I think my next step will be to update my givens and druthers list.

Here is a diagram of the room and an idea of how the mainline will run. You can see the room is not exactly rectangular. It is a little over 20′ long but only 8′ 6″ wide at the smallest, or 11′ 11″ wide at the widest.

Train room diagram v1

I would like a peninsula to use more of the space in the middle of the room. This track layout gives 80′ 10″ of mainline running.

So… any thoughts on track plans? 🙂

Latest layout plan

Finally we come to the plan I am building to, version 5.

This version features four long tracks of staging each for Miramichi and Campbellton, as well as a single track of staging for each of the Caraquet Subdivision, the Nepisiguit Subdivision, the Irvco spur in Belledune, and the Smurfit-Stone industry in Bathurst. Can you ever have enough staging?

I wanted to model the Smurfit-Stone facility because they had their own switcher, caboose and plow. I thought that would be a nice feature to show them come up to interchange with CN at the junction, just like the prototype did.

There are no provisions for grades in this, which may make it boring from a scenic perspective. Obviously my layout is skewed toward operation, given the number of interchanges and online industries.

I would appreciate any comments, good or bad! 🙂

Track Planning For The New Layout

With my new layout room, I needed a new plan. My initial thought was to continue with the Dartmouth Subdivision idea that the NSER used.

This plan is basically a single-level dogbone with some around-the-wall staging. No doubt you can see a number of problems with the design, including restricted aisle space. On the plus side, I would have had a wye for turning and fairly good switching opportunities.

I decided I wanted to try something fresh. Based on my own railfanning experiences, I settled on a layout loosely based around the Bathurst area in the early 1980s before CN started ripping up the old subdivisions. The layout would go from “Moncton / Miramichi” (staging) through Nepisiguit Junction, Bathurst, and Belledune before “Campbellton” (staging). It would feature run-through trains that just went from one staging yard to another, switching along the way, as well as VIA’s Ocean and local passenger service.

This is a very rough around-the-walls plan just to get an idea of where the stations would fit. I kept the around-the-wall staging and obviously designed for continuous running. Time to flesh it out.

It’s almost the same plan, with more detail. Notice how the staging for both “ends” is in the same place. This is still very rough as the space allocated for switches is not realistic. One must always use real switch dimensions to ensure you don’t get impossible angles.

I had this idea that I could get more track into the same space by doing a twice-around layout, spawning this plan.

This time the staging is on both sides of the room. The twice-through idea does give long main line runs but I decided it would not look realistic.

Next time I’ll show you the “final” version. It does away with the twice-through idea but looks a lot like this one.