An Amazing Museum Railroad and My Model Railway Beginnings

For the last few years, I have been spending my summer holidays in a small town along Lake Huron. My family and I love the beach, the town, and pretty much everything else. It has always been this way for me ever since my parents brought me to this town each summer when I was little.

The town has grown up a little since the 1980s and now one of the town’s gems is its museum. No, it is not one of those sprawling complexes that you find in large cities. Instead, it is small and mighty and focused on the history of the town and the surrounding county. It is a relatively new building. It certainly didn’t exist when I was little. My first visit was in 2018 and I was amazed at the collection, the artifacts, and the models.

But I did not expect to see a model railroad. That was the most amazing discovery for me. I almost fell on the floor when I saw the incredible recreation of train operations in Bruce County. Because that is exactly what my Dad and I wanted to do years ago.

See, I used to Model Railroad

There was one point in my life when all I thought of was model trains. I loved these things. I built several small layouts on top of splintery old plywood boards. Back then I had my imagination supplying all of the necessary buildings and scenery. Oh sure, my dad taught me how the wiring worked but more often than not I had to learn it the hard way with lots of shorts. Each of these ‘layouts’ was temporary and usually stayed together for a few weeks at a time.

Then one day my dad suggested we build a ‘real’ railroad. He researched several layout design books and ultimately selected one from the classic ‘144 Track Plans’ book. Full disclosure: I might have helped a bit with laying the track and I do remember watching him wire everything. But my father built the bench, got the track together on top of the cork, and wired everything for 2 train operation. He was an engineer with an instinct for these things. I was only an enthusiastic sidekick.

Except when it came to building models. That was all me. I really enjoyed building and painting the railway cars, detailing and painting the locomotives, and making all of the buildings. Not many pictures survive from those days but I do have some of the things I did up as a pre-teen:

As I said, my parents used to take us to that cottage every summer. And being the train-crazy kid that I was, I noticed some strange things around town. There was a restaurant that looked strangely like a train station. There were railway wheel stops at an overgrown railway line a few blocks from the beach and there was this weird pile of rocks and timber on the beach that was extending out into the water. My mother confirmed that the restaurant was the train station and that she remembered taking the train to the town as a young girl. And that pile of rocks? That was a railway dock way back in the day!

I was intrigued. Especially after finding this book at the local library. This was a guidebook of the later train operations in the Bruce. Mostly in the form of pictures and drawings.

We eventually tore down the old railroad and had great plans to build a new one featuring the operations of the Southampton Subdivision but at around that time my interest in models, railroads, and similar pursuits changed considerably. I was out of these hobbies for many years. My dad remained interested in model railroads but he never got around to actually building anything more than a couple of caboose models and acquiring some locomotives.

Imagine My Surprise

I never rekindled my model railroading passion and I forgot all about the idea of re-creating this little lakeshore rail line. It makes sense because I was far more interested in building models than worrying about scenery, wiring, or layout operation.

So, imagine my surprise when years later I stumbled upon seeing this most spectacular, multi-level, and automated model railroad.  An actual scale reproduction of the railway that once terminated in Southampton Ontario. 

An incredible amount of research, planning, and scratch building was done by the Bruce County Museum Railway. Moreover, the display itself is an impressive piece of design and model railroad engineering.  The computer-controlled train passes through several “window boxes” containing a diorama of each town along the route of the Canadian National Railroad’s ‘Southampton Subdivision’. The train uses two helixes on its journey to Southampton and once it reaches the end, a reverse loop is used to journey back again. 

If you’d like to see a short video where I gush over this thing, just click here or below.

Last Thing

Unfortunately, my dad and I never got around to building our Southampton-inspired railroad but whenever I drop by to see this museum masterpiece, I think of the fun times we had building our little railroad empire.

I might have started with making models before taking up model railroading. But model railroading took my model-making to the next level, at least as levels were for a kid. I’d love to know if any of you got your start in HO Scale trains or other hobbies. Did you stick with those other hobbies or did they fall by the wayside? Let me know in the comments.

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