When a Plan Comes Together

It has taken a long time to collect all the information we have about CP operations over the Sudbury Division. Most of it has been acquired through dedicated research, photo studies, and conversations with former employees. Even though the WRMRC has been at this for, literally, decades now. there will always be new things to learn. Research and education are lifelong pursuits after all.

A case in point; within our photo archives we have discovered three separate instances of CB&Q 2-bay Center-Flow hoppers travelling over the Sudbury Division. As the WRMRC’s chief operations guru, I’ve developed some plausible waybill information for mid-western US covered hoppers to run over our layout (note – we will be publishing a series of club operations posts in the future). However, finding out the prototype shipping information for why these specific CB&Q railcars were showing up in Sudbury would be our desired goal.

Despite the hardships one should normally expect with prototype research, sometimes good stuff just falls into your hands when you’re not even looking. Recently, Mike Confalone‎ posted a model photo on his Allagash RR Facebook page of Minnesota Dakota & Western (MD&W) boxcars being loaded on his layout. He had seen these being used in Maine in real-life back in the 1980s, and had always wanted models of them for his own layout. The problem was that despite these FMC-built combo-door boxcars being available in HO-scale for years now, they were never offered in this particular ’80s re-paint scheme. So he painted and decalled his own.

mdwboxes

Mike Confalone’s MD&W boxcars on his Allagash RR layout.

Mr. Confalone is an incredibly skilled modeller, as you can see, so it is no surprise his efforts would be top notch. The surprise for us was; why the heck are Minnesota Dakota and Western boxcars being used to load paper in Maine? The answer is forestry giant Boise Cascade (parent company of the tiny MD&W RR) owned a paper mill in Rumford ME. Apparently some of these boxcars even had “Return to Rumford ME” stencilling applied to them.

This one model photo along with the real-world information about Boise Cascade’s Maine paper production helped to resolve a number of CP Sudbury Division puzzles, ones we didn’t quite remember even existed. This explained occurrences of Boise Cascade MDW boxcars on prototype photos of CP train 911, a manifest freight that had rolled daily through Sudbury ON. This train operated from St Luc Yard in Montreal to Sault Ste Marie ON; then continued via CP’s US-affiliate SOO Line to their Schiller Park IL Yard within the greater Chicagoland area. CP #911 carried a lot of New England paper traffic bound for Chicago during our 1970s modelling era, as many shippers were avoiding the transit-time mess created by the Penn Central merger. Service was so good in fact that CP Rail continued to ship a decent amount of New England rail traffic well into the 1980s.

4232 leads train at Sault Ste Marie 09 05 1981

MLW C-424 #4232 leads train 911 at Sault Ste Marie ON on 05 Sept. 1981. Note the four MD&W boxcars behind the CP steel-coil service gondola trailing 911’s locomotives.

Our original assumption was that these MD&W boxcars were lumber empties being returned to the US mid-west, with no idea of their true origins. The truth was they were hauling newsprint bound for the Chicago area, and for all intents and purposes are as New Englandy as any paper-service boxcars painted for the Maine Central or Bangor & Aroostock.

Topping this off, one of our club members had purchased two recently released Athearn HO-scale models of FMC-built combo-door boxcars painted in the 1970s as-delivered MD&W white scheme to operate on the WRMRC layout. Being uninformed at the time, they were placed within our “Pool 733 – US mid-western misc boxcars” category (more information about our pools when we publish operations articles) and tried to stretch excuses for why some lumber might be rolling through Sudbury from International Falls MN (where the actual MD&W RR is located). Knowing the real story about why these boxcars were rolling though Sudbury, they have since been re-classed into our New England newsprint service boxcar pool. In fact our layout could now use a few more models.

MDW_10009

Produced by Athearn, MD&W 10009 wears the as-delivered 1970s white Boise Cascade corporate scheme. This car is now in New England paper-service on the WRMRC layout.

This information comes at a great time, as the Coronavirus break from operating sessions has given our club a chance to update and fix a number of older waybill shipping inaccuracies. But this MD&W boxcar mystery has to be one of the easiest puzzles we’ve had solved. When something just falls together like this, one is reminded of that old catch-phrase that Lt Col Hannibal Smith used to say on the old ’80s television series ‘The A-Team’ – “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Signalling the Sudbury Division

Since our club’s initial decision to model the CP Sudbury Division in the 1970s era, it was understood by the membership that at some point railway signals would need to be installed on the layout. Not only did we want our layout scenes to look close to their real place counterparts despite having to selectively compress them, or operate equipment that appeared just like what really ran through northern Ontario in the ’70s, but we also wished to operate the layout in a realistic manner too.

The CP Cartier Subdivision between North Bay and Cartier was all CTC (Centralized Traffic Control) territory during the 1970s, with the exception of the six mile double-track section between Romford and Sudbury yard which was ABS (Automatic Block Signal System) signalled in one direction for current of traffic. Regardless of the two signalling methods it meant the club’s entire east-west mainline was protected by signals, and therefore we would need to duplicate this if we wished to achieve our goals of both looking right, and running right.

That said, we can report that signalling a model railway is very much more easier said than done. However after 20 years of planning, and of delaying a lot of scenery work from being started due to the wiring and complexity of the project, the 1/87 scale Sudbury Division is seeing its first signals begin to sprout around the layout.

RomfordSignals01

Temporary dual-head and permanent dwarf signals installed at Romford. Once fully programmed they will protect this busy junction just like their real-life counterparts.

Though much of the hobby has progressed quite dramatically over the past 40 years, sadly the process of signalling a layout has lagged behind despite the pioneering efforts of Allen MccLelland’s V&O, or Bruce Chubb’s Sunset Valley back in the 1970s. Yes, there are multiple sources of hardware available, and JMRI (Java Model Railroad Interface) software is free, however none of this is really plug and play. You need to program signal scripts and modify JMRI for any of this to work. Between knowing where the signals need to be installed, planning and wiring the signal blocks accordingly, selecting the detectors, switch and signal controllers and then programming it all to work, there is one other big problem for us. No one out there offers ready-to-run Canadian-style searchlight signals.

Romford, ON in October 6, 1971

From the cab of ‘The Canadian’ at Romford, ON – 06 October 1971. Photo by Roger Puta, from Marty Bernard’s Flickr album.

Though searchlight signal kits do exist in HO scale, they are US-based and need to be disassembled and pretty much scratch-build to have them appear like the real deal did. This and both CP and CN did have some differences in their ladder assemblies. For this reason, the WRMRC has decided to build their own, and to use temporary signals in the meantime. But it sure would be nice if a Canadian model manufacturer considered reproducing them for HO modellers at some point. Hello Rapido; wink, wink, nudge, nudge!

RomfordSignals02

Westbound signals guarding Romford. The mainline is on the right. The wye tracks to the left connect with the Parry Sound Sub to Toronto. The track in the middle is a set-off siding.

There is also the little wrinkle of the dispatcher needing a CTC panel for this all to work. However the good news for the WRMRC is the CP Cartier Sub was signalled in the 1960s, and thus never used one of the ‘classic’ CTC panels that railfans usually imagine. CP had their own hybrid system housed on the second floor of the Sudbury Division HQ building, featuring a large white wall panel with a black trackage schematic, and yellow lights displaying track occupancy. The dispatcher set switches and direction of traffic with a keypad assembly. Frankly, this sounds a lot like something you can duplicate on a computer screen and controlled with a keyboard, and so that’s exactly what we will be doing.

RomfordSignals03

Temporary dual-head signals protect the CP Cartier Sub diamond crossing with the CN Bala Sub at Coniston, Ontario. The diamond, much like our signals, is a work in progress.

Regardless of all these difficulties, the WRMRC has a small team working on the project and they’ve been making great strides recently. As you can tell from the photographs, the layout is already looking dramatically different. We look forward to the day we can ‘un-bag’ these signals for a future operating session, and have our engineers operate their trains as per signal indication. This also means scenery can progress in these areas too. The WRMRC’s goals of ‘looking right’ and ‘running right’ are slowly being achieved.