I blame Jack Burgess.
Back in the 80’s, when I was an impressionable teenager, Jack started writing about his Yosemite Valley Railroad. It wasn’t just that he was a prototype railroader who took his modeling to an extreme. More than that, to me, the Yosemite Valley was synonymous with Jack Burgess. It was his railroad.
At the time, I was modeling the contemporary CN. I still love the look of those big diesels with the fetching black and grey stripes and the red cabs. However, the CN was never going to be my railroad, and so, I started casting about for other Canadian roads that could be mine.
I flirted briefly with the Algoma Central, and thought for a spell about the Quebec, North Shore and Labrador. If I’d heard of the Pacific Great Eastern, who knows what might have happened? However, these were the days before email, let alone the Internet, and research on these distant lines was difficult.
At this time Niall MacKay’s book, Over the Hills to Georgian Bay, was a frequent library loan, and I guess I thought of it as inspiration for my contemporary CN modeling. However, I was also hanging out with a bunch of narrow gauge modellers – Dave Steer, Bill Scobie and friends – and those little late 19th Century trains have a lot of narrow gauge charm about them.
The more I learned about the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound and the Canada Atlantic, the more I found it interesting. Certainly, if I took up modeling it, it would be my railroad; to this day, I’ve heard of others freelancing from it, or modeling one of the later eras, but those of us modelling the CAR itself could hold our annual convention in a broom closet.
Now, the CAR was an extremely busy railroad. In 1904 and 1905, it carried more than half the Canadian grain harvest, with trains running every fifteen minutes. Given that there is nothing available for modeling it, everything is scratch built, which means it will take a long time to amass enough equipment to model the mainline.
So, I have chosen to model the branchline to Pembroke. Even this backwater was busier than many contemporary lines. It boasted six scheduled trains per day in 1905, and it’s conceivable that an extra train could have been called occasionally.
The way I’m going, I might never even finish Pembroke. But – as with everything railroad – it’s the journey not the destination that matters.