Rail Fan and Model Railways

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in transportation, including streetcars (trams), busses but particularly trains.  The family didn’t always have a car, so my first recollection of transportation was the Birney trams in Halifax.. These were bouncy little 4-wheel streetcars which ran in both directions.  Some routes were point to point while others went around the city in a circle, one clockwise, the other counterclockwise. They were the Belt Line Nos. 1 & No. 2.  They all had two coloured lights above the centre front and back windows, so you could tell what route the car was on in the dark.  The run along Quinpool Rd. out to Simpsons’ store in Armdale was not double tracked all the way, so the outbound car had to wait for the inbound car to return to the passing siding before the outbound car could continue.  The systems was owned and operated by the Nova Scotia Light & Power Company (NS L & P).  The picture below is Car No. 168 at the end of its run at Oakland Road. The conductor has just pulled down the pole after putting up the rear one for its return to Buckingham Street. 

To the left is a map of the tram routes on cessation of service on April 30, 1949.  If you look to the left of the Dalhousie University square, you’ll see Oakland Rd. with the track ending there.  That is where the above picture was taken.

The fleet of trams was totally worn out, and too old for spare parts, and was replaced by a fleet of Canadian Car trolley coaches- see picture below.  While they had one display coach operating around the Grand Parade next to City Hall for promotion, I remember my first “official” ride, it was on a Sunday morning to go to church. I remember my older brother saying, “It’s just like sitting in an airplane without wings”!!!!

Also at a young age, I discovered trains, which fascinated me.  A trip to the railway station to meet somebody or see them off meant a vision of far-off places.  My father took me on my first train ride, I believe it was a Jitney, as my dad called it, from Halifax to Kinsac and back.  I’m assuming it was one of the CN gas electrics like the one in the following picture.

As soon as I could ride a bike, I was riding down to the station with the Nova Scotian hotel.  In the late 40s and 50s, trains were frequent in Halifax.  The main line into Halifax is a “cut” blasted through the rock from Armdale right into the Halifax station/Nova Scotian Hotel, known as the Ocean Terminals where it stands today.  It was intended that cleaner electric locomotives would move the trains through this cut in and out of the prestigious south end, but the electric idea never materialized.  The major east/west streets, i.e. Oakland Rd., South St., Jubilee Rd., etc all had bridges over the railway from which you could view train traffic.  Two railways utilized the line, the Canadian National Railway (now CN) and the Dominion Atlantic Railway (DAR) (no longer in existence), the latter being  a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway, today known as CPRail.  The DAR ran from Halifax up through the Annapolis Valley to Digby with a couple of spurs off its main line in earlier years.  The DAR head office and facility was in Kentville. 

Halifax being a terminal station, trains  arrived and departed for Sydney, Montreal and further on to Toronto and Vancouver as well as the DAR.  The larger CN steam locomotives were Northerns with the wheel arrangement of 4-8-4.  When I was a bit older, I used to ride my bike all the way out to the CNR  roundhouse in Fairview to see the operation.  Many times I got escorted to the gate by the security.  Naturally, they didn’t want any kid having an accident.  However, I kept coming back, and instead of coming in the drive, I hid my bicycle in the bushes at the Fairview cemetery (where many of the Titanic graves are) and made my way through the bushes to the roundhouse property.  After several times, they realized I was a keen fan and told me I could stay, provided I stayed off the tracks.  I befriended an engineer. I can remember his last name was Lawson.  He moved the locos in and out of the roundhouse and serviced them with coal and water.  The day he asked me to come up in the cab, I was in heaven.  I found out what days he worked and came out often.  I took some pictures of the facilities as a kid. Unfortunately, I cannot readily find them.  I was also greatly excited when the first diesel came to the facility, just a diesel switcher, but I saw it as a Rolls Royce.  And, I got to ride in it. 

In later years, until railroads began amalgamating and disappearing, and lessening my “romance with trains”, I spent many hours waiting and watching and photographing trains.  When I worked for RCA in downtown Montreal, I lived on 55th Ave. in Lachine and used to enjoy the walk over to 48th Ave. To take the CP commuter train into Montreal West station and from there a short walk to the RCA facility.  Other times, I would take the city bus outside my home.  I joined the Canadian Railway Historical Association while living in Montreal in the 60s & 70s, and they have a nifty railway museum at Delson, Quebec.  Friends and fans went on excursions on trains pulled by old steam locomotives. 

Some time after moving to St. Catharines in 1977, I was one of the first members to join the new Niagara Division of the Canadian Railway Historical Association (CRHA).  A very active group, we did a lot of rail fanning and photographing locally and afar and raised a renewed interest in local railway history such as the Niagara, St. Catharines & Toronto Railway (NS&T).  Below is a picture of the group in 1982 in London, ON, visiting the Essex Terminal Railway. 


Below are some samples of my rail fanning pictures taken  over the years.


Around the time I was “riding the rails at the Fairview CN roundhouse”, I wanted an electric train really badly, and somehow my parents found the money to buy a Lionel set for Christmas.  It was a circle of track around the tree (a tradition I kept for my two sons while they were growing up).  There was no room for a permanent “layout” - our basement was a “cellar” - so the train was basically a Christmas set up, until one of my neighbourhood friends, Bill Montgomery and I decided to combine our pieces (he had twice as much as I did), and we set it up in his basement, a real basement!!!  I have only a few pics of it, here they are.  We spent a lot of time playing with it!!! 


After my mid-teens, I lost interest in the Lionel trains, and moving away from home to Montreal in 1960 negated any thoughts of having a model railroad until after I got married in 1964.  The model and real train interest was still there but pre-empted by other interests.  About 1967, I became acquainted with a few British modelers and this re-kindled the old interest.  While these guys were modeling British rail, a train is a train.  Here is a pic of that British Railway Modelers group circa 1967 in the late John Beacham’s house in Montreal.


The guys are:
Front row-(late) Gordon Bennett, George Rout, (late) John Beacham
Next row back-John Thompson, Hugh Rolland (w/glasses), Simon Bryant (blurred)
Next row back-Arthur Magill (from Ceylon), (late) Ron Bryant, John Roxburgh
Back row-Philip Mason, (late) Austin Cousins, Roger Travis,

My family was renting a house in Lachine (suburb of Montreal) which had a nice basement suitable for a layout.  Once you start with a model railroad, it only gets larger.

Here are a few pics of the model railroad in the Lachine house. 

In 1977, my employer at that time, Montreal Engineering, moved us from Montreal to St. Catharines.  I spent hours ripping the railroad apart and packing it up.  We moved into a townhouse temporarily in St. Catharines for a year before buying the house at 17 Rendale Ave.  This home had a two-level basement. The lower level with the furnace, washer, dryer was excellent for a new railroad. 

While all the model railroads, including this one were always constantly being changed (usually made larger!!!), the following pics give you some idea of the layout. 

You may have read earlier that I had an interest in trams/streetcars.  If you look closely in the back of two of the above pictures, you will see a little grey and red tram.  It actually operated up and down the main street on that section of the layout. 

My layouts were basically Triang and Hornby, which were 00 scale, similar but not quite identical to HO scale  There were only a limited number of  Triang and Hornby items available in rolling stock and, for my large layout, I bought HO rolling stock and replaced the bogies with Triang bogies, which gave me a greater variety of operating rolling stock. 

For those interested in Triang models,click here for a terrific website:

In addition to the many pieces of rolling stock, buildings and all the items to make up the model layout, I acquired (obsessive/compulsive!!!) many model train items unrelated to the layout, such as Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, Fleishman, Trix-Twin, Lone Star Treble-0 and many more.  All these nifty items were displayed on shelves in the model train rooms.

All good times have to come to an end!!!!!  There comes a period when we have to downsize our space and “things”.  Over the past five years, we bought a small home and I have sold all the model train items via online auctions.  After collecting so much fun stuff over many years, I felt sad but at the same time felt good in helping other collectors fill voids in their collections.  Here are pics of some Triang and one Lone Star publications: