A potential prototype for a Switching Layout

So, in my last post, I tackled the issue of where in our apartment I could fit a layout in, and how much real estate I could find to work with.  This time, it’s the start of the process of looking at where I will set the layout.  There are a number of factors in terms of what type of equipment I like to run, and what I am interested in:

  • Era – 1950’s, even though I’m a much younger vintage than this, for some reason, late steam and early diesel is what captures my modelling interest.
  • Geographic Location – Southern Ontario, it’s home, it’s where I know and live, I have lots of reference materials and sources/archives for more are plentiful and easily accessible.  I really enjoy researching and rooting out information, so choosing a far afield prototype wouldn’t do it for me as doing research could become difficult and frustrating.
  • Setting – Urban, an industrial switching layout.  I like buildings and architecture, and in the 1950’s era, a lot of early 20th century industrial buildings were still in their prime as rail served industries.  Many of them still exist today but are no longer rail served or industrial, but are available to visit and use as references for modelling them.
  • Locomotive Power – Going with the 1950’s, it would mean run down to nearly dead steam locomotives, and new/nearly new diesels.  Ideally, I wouldn’t run any steam bigger than an 0-8-0, mixed with early diesels like GM SW-1200’s or Alco S-2/3’s
  • Rolling Stock – The era means a majority of the cars would still be 40′ long, though 50′ long cars would be starting to be more common.  There would also be a mix of wooden cars hanging on and newer steel cars.  In a perfect world, it would have industries that would generate different car types and not just generic box cars going to docks.  This helps with operations, as you can’t spot a tank car at a dock door, but the tank unloading position can force extra moves to spot or pull a car from behind it.
  • Railroad – Surprisingly, while most of my locomotive models are of Canadian National Railway locomotives, I am not opposed to a Canadian Pacific Railway prototype if that’s what works best for a prototype.  It is a definite that anything I model would be a Canadian setting.

So, with all that said, the first place that caught my eye is somewhere very close to home, that I regularly pass through on my way to and from work everyday…

f1244_it2420.jpgAerial view of Liberty Village in Toronto (dated approximately 1920’s), an industrial area west of downtown that is now a condominium residential neighbourhood. Image via Toronto Archives (Fonds 1244, Item 2420)

Liberty Village, a now mostly former industrial area in the west end of downtown Toronto ticks almost every box I mentioned above, but that’s not to say it isn’t without its challenges or issues.  Being strictly accurate to the tracks and orientations wouldn’t likely generate a layout that was enjoyable to operate or which works in the space available to me.  The plan below is extracted from the Toronto Planning Board Atlas dated May 2, 1958 (also from the Toronto Archives, and available online here):

1958 Toronto Planning Board Map 6AExtract from the 1958 Toronto Planning Board Atlas Map 6A, with the Liberty Village Trackage highlighted blue.

Liberty Street, running east-west through the district was the spine, with the CNR entering from the south along Mowat Avenue, Atlantic Avenue & Hanna Avenue; and, the CPR entering directly onto Liberty Street from the east end.  This lines up nicely with the general space I sketched out with a left and right staging access into a central spine.  Where Liberty Village starts to fall down, is the reason Liberty Village got its name, one of the two prisons that existed there, in this case, the Mercer Reformatory (aka the Women’s prison) between King St and Liberty Street.  It sits on the north side of Liberty Street, which in my space, would mean all the industries are on the operators side of the shelf, and the giant empty space of the prison is where you’d be looking.  Not really conducive to operations or a visually pleasing layout.

BenchworkPlan-3inchgridMy space, basically, its 180 degrees rotated from the map above, CPR would enter on the left of the plan (east in real life), and CNR from the right (west in real life), but allmost all the industry is in the area the operator would be standing in, which is a problem.

On top of this, two of the largest industries that generated rail traffic in Liberty Village, Inglis and Massey Harris/Massey Ferguson were not located in this part of the village.  That has both pros and cons.  The Pro is they probably generated too much traffic for this kind of switching layout, the Con is they both generate a variety of interesting loads in and out other than just box cars.

This is where the concept of a proto-freelance layout could work.  Using real industries, buildings, and load demands, it would be possible to create a layout using Liberty Street as its spine, with sidings and factories being served by both the CNR and CPR.  It would also be possible to use the real industries of the area as the basis for both the architecture of the buildings on the layout, and the sources of traffic for the railroads. Flipping the industries and spurs to what would effectively be layout north along Liberty Street would offer the opportunity to look at creating an interesting track plan.  Operationally, I suspect at least the additional trackage to create a run around loop would be required to let a locomotive get around a train to shunt cars into location.

The next step is to dig deep and find out more about which industries were rail served, and what they shipped and received by rail.  This will give me an idea about what types of cars would be coming in and out, and how much traffic would be expected to be generated.

This certainly isn’t a done deal, as I haven’t even put pen to paper on a first concept of a track plan, and I certainly haven’t generated enough information on the industries and what they shipped to be certain it will work.  This is the first step in my layout planning adventure, research and learning to find something that will work for modelling.  I am still on the lookout for other locations that may work, but this certainly isn’t a bad first option if further research bears it out as somewhere the traffic level would make for interesting operations.

2 thoughts on “A potential prototype for a Switching Layout

  1. Hi Stephen:
    That’s a really interesting prototype and I can see a lot of potential for this as a layout in your space.
    You mention the pros and cons surrounding Inglis and Massey Harris/Massey Ferguson. I wonder if you might want to look at each of those industries as the focus of the layout? If, for example, MF has sufficient traffic and variety of equipment, it might actually be easier to shoehorn a single large industry into your layout space than it would be to do a variety of smaller railroad customers. Just a thought, and we can explore this further next time we get together…
    I look forward to following your thought process on this layout project. Great stuff – keep sharing!
    – Trevor (Achievable Layouts blog)

  2. Thank you Trevor,

    Of the two larger industries, I would think Massey-Harris/Massey Ferguson would be the more visually interesting on it’s own, as you get things like this that popped up in my searching:


    I haven’t gotten far enough yet into research to know what kinds of loads in and out they had (same for Inglis making Boilers and later appliances). Both were also war producers of tanks/guns/vehicles. Logic dictates that they were getting raw metal deliveries by rail and probably parts from other suppliers or sites, and shipping out finished equipment as per the photo. As much as a flatcar of tractors or harvesters makes a cool looking load, it also seems like they probably shipped in large enough quantities to overwhelm a small layout. I’m concerned that a large operation like theirs, the track plan from the City maps and aerials reads like a lot of shunt a string of cars in, and pick them up later when unloaded/loaded as the case may be.

    What I do know about some of the smaller industries that were in operation in the 1950’s (Toronto Carpet, Hinde & Dauch Paper Co, Dempsters Bread by the end of the decade) is that it looks like they would have received small numbers of cars in and out with materials in and product out. I suspect a layout utilizing these smaller industries/buildings would give more operational interest, especially as it looks like some companies were blocked by others, meaning you need to move Car A to get to where B goes, then put A back etc on shared trackage.

    I suspect that whatever i do will be similar to what you designed for the Scarborough Industrial which is an “inspired by” layout, using actual industries and buildings, but massaged into something operational for the space. I like a lot of it at a high level. Its now finding the time to search and the right resources to be looking at to find out if there is a “there there” for a layout to be worthwhile. Won’t happen overnight as you well know, but I like the feeling of fresh motivation this has brought me.


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