Much like Elroy, a scant 50 miles from me on the other side of the green mountains, I’m a huge fan of incorporating realistic railroad operations in minimal space with my Lego trains. Our influences are the same, Model Railroader and the old Railroad Model Craftsman magazines, the late Carl Arendt’s micro layouts website, and the Trevor Marshall’s Port Rowan in S Scale blog. I’ve built a number of L-Gauge operating layouts over the years such as my freelanced Port Lego – North Bay, an Inglenook based on the BR Railfreight Distribution of the 80s, and even a tiny switching layout based on modern Claremont and Concord Railway operations in Claremont, NH.
Since I don’t get to do shows with my club as much as I would like, I’ve decided I want to build an operating layout at home where I can run my trains. My criteria for the design were as follows:
Location: My preference is close to home in the northeastern US or southern Quebec. This gives me local access to many resources when researching a prototype such as historical societies or visiting existing tracks and structures that still exist today.
The northeast also offers 4 seasons to model: ski season, mud season, road construction season, and foliage season. While a winter wonderland is somewhat tempting with white backgrounds throwing a stark contrast to black engines, I love the tried and true cliché of a New England layout ablaze in fall colors; an effort made easier by Steve B’s range of leaf parts at AltBricks.
Scale: 8-wide trains in 1:48 scale. This affords me a high level of detail in the models and best proportions regarding things like drivers and minifigs. Additionally, being the same scale as US O-scale and Proto48 there’s a large range of decals for locomotives and rolling stock.
Era: I’m a fan of late steam and transition era where powerful steam locomotives worked side-by-side with early diesels. It gives the widest variety of motive power and rolling stock.
Railroad: two of US Subsidiaries of the Canadian National, the Central Vermont Railway or the Grand Trunk (New England Lines,) or the CN itself. The Canadian National operated steam up to 1959 and the fleet of locomotives had lots of extra details that gave them a certain character apart from other North American Motive power. Most locomotives had an Elesco feedwater heater above the smokebox and their tenders had bunker extensions that gave them a distinct appearance. Up until the early 1950s engines in passenger service had large smokelifters dubbed elephant ears aside the smokeboxes, giving them a European look.
Miscellaneous: I want to model both passenger and freight operations on this layout, which is a very tall order considering my next criteria. I want this to be an Achievable Layout. I want to keep the focus small either on one town or a branchline operating like Port Rowan. I don’t have a ton of time or money to invest in a home layout, so I’d like something I can see results quickly and feel like I’m making progress.
With these in mind I could narrow it down to three possible candidates after some research. The first was the Burlington and Lamoille branch of the Central Vermont, it was a great candidate but ceased operation in 1938, and pre-war information and photos on the CV are hard to come by. The next was the St. Armand Branch of the CV running from Swanton Vermont through Highgate and across the border to the CN mainline. It had a gas electric providing passenger service up until 1952 as well as consolidations pulling local freight. Finally, along the Grand Trunk running from Portland, Maine to Island Pond, Vermont and across the border to Montreal, Quebec was the Lewiston Branch of the grand trunk.
The Lewiston Branch was a 7.5 mile branchline running from Danville, Maine (one town over from where your Poland Springs bottled water comes from,) to an industrial switching yard in Maine’s second largest city of Lewiston. In the late steam era, it ran a single mixed train each day carrying passengers and freight until January of 1956. It even continued several years into the diesel era. The yard featured several industries handling all sorts of rolling stock and the trackage would allow for interesting operations on its own. The branch was also very well documented in drawings and photos.
I was sold. With my branchline in mind, I had to translate 7.5 miles of track and 1000 feet of yard into something I could achieve in a reasonable timeframe (and budget) in my basement.