CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAYS
COMOX CREEK, GLACIER & GYPROCK DIVISIONS
The History of Billís railway dates back to his childhood when an 0-27 Marx Train was given to him for Christmas. Immediately the first layout was constructed around the Christmas tree and presents became tunnels. Bill continued to add to the empire until he was twelve and then took the whole works down to Dave Evans who had just started the River Heights Hobby Gift Shop on Academy Road. Dave sold the whole works for $50.00 and Bill took the value in HO equipment starting with a Revell train set less transformer and track for $14.00 along with Atlas flex track and Athern car kits. In those days they cost $0.67 each with no tax. Back then $50.00 bought a lot of stuff.
Back home his parents let him use part of his sister's room in the lower level of their bi-level home in Charleswood. His sister had married as the house was being built so never used the room. His dad had made it into a work shop so Bill was invited to make use of the south wall. The two together constructed a 4í by 8í layout and learned about all the ways that one should not build a small layout. Several years later it was abandoned for a more mountainous layout that had a single line running around the entire 12í by 13í foot room including a line over the back of the work bench. Benchwork ideas were continuing to be experimented on. The main part of the layout was again about 4í by 8í but consisted of a single line up and down what was to be a big mountain. During that time Bill met Gord Keeler who lived across Roblin from the Taylor's. He was dismantling his railway and sold Bill his original marshalling yard along with two brass locomotives lettered for the Gyprock Western. In order to get the 13í long yard into the room Bill and Gord took out the west window and slid the whole section in. It was placed on the south wall and connected into the loop around the room. CLICK ON PICTURES TO ENLARGE
|Agassiz Yard looking east with the Comox line high on the mountain. The upper line on the right and the loops to Gyprock on the left. This is after reconstruction of Gord's old yard. Note original Revell caboose from first HO set.||West end of Agassiz Yard with Jasper to the right and the bridge to Comox above.|
Over the next few years Bill continued to build models but not much happened to the big mountain on the opposite wall to Gordís yard. Bill had joined the WMRC with Gordís sponsorship on his 18th birthday. In those days you needed to be at least 18 before the club would take you as a junior member as you had to wait till you were 21 before becoming an adult member. You also needed to be sponsored by an adult member. Men only was also the rule. Times have changed.
During those years Bill started building scratch built cars and models participating in the clubís annual model contest in those days held at a culvert distributor's office on Higgins Street. I think it was Armco Drainage. Bill also attended his first TLR rally in 1965 held in Winnipeg. At that convention he had his hand at judging his first model contest but more importantly got a tour of the Manitoba Live Steamerís Red River Valley Railway on Inkster in Rosser, Manitoba. That was Billís first exposure to large scale railroading and probably planted the seeds for what eventually would become the AVR. Around this time Bill got married and moved for a year to Queen Street in St. James and while there, started to build a model railway but as he was invited to take over the family home back in Charleswood, only the benchwork was started and saved on the move back to Charleswood.
|One project after 1983 was the Abel bridge to add some interest to the high line to Jasper. Peter Abel built the bridge. Bill made up the rock piers and retaining walls and Peter painted them.||A swampy area is being built under the bridge to add interest. A connecting road into Gyprock is underconstruction under the bridge.|
In 1969 Bill attended his first NMRA convention in Minneapolis and went to all the layout tours. Armed with this fresh enthusiasm when returning to Winnipeg he went to the train room and dismantled the entire railway except for Gordís yard that was deemed salvageable. The 12í by 13í room was also felt to be too small so the fruit cellar, closet and laundry hanging room to the east of the train room was acquired and all walls in the space were raised to the ground and a space of some 13í widening to 15í feet wide and 26í long was available with only two main problems. One was the furnace at one end and the hot water tank in front of it.
The yard was relocated on the south wall but the wood work bench was placed under the yard with most of the surface protruding forward so it could be used for model building. This part was pulled forward to allow the dual track long main line of about 70 feet to pass behind the yard and allow two sidings for storage of trains to be accommodated. These lines would not be visible as they would be covered by a mountain and also run behind the furnace. In effect this long 70 foot main line is only visible for about 25 feet of its run. In front of this line and at an upper level was the second double main line that was visible for all of its run except a four foot long tunnel south of Gordís yard. The third set of double lines ran off the front of the yard and around to the inner town of Gyprock were a great deal of switching is possible. This original section made use of the box frame benchwork that was constructed for Queen Street. It had access all along the north side for the 26í length and one large centre pop-up of 15í long. The trackage allows six complete trains to be operated at one time all having their own line.
|The scratch-built trestle at the east end of Gyprock with Mount Inferno in the distance. Guess what Mount Infurno covers.||Taylor flats looking west with more industries to be switched via a switch back.|
At the east end of the room a new yard called Hot Springs yard was constructed with 12 tracks and a ladder off the west end connecting in two places. The back was connected to the outer of the two middle loops and the front was to be connected to the same place via a long trestle. Other than the deck this structure is still under construction. Another line left Hot Springs yard and moved around the west side of the furnace and climbed along the south wall to the south west corner where it was terminated at the Comox Creek Mining Co. Comox being the highest point on the railway and the end of operations. Over the next few years a roundhouse and turntable were located north east of Hot Springs yard over top of the laundry machines.
The railway was to be in a mountainous area with country as rugged as the Thompson Canyon in B.C. so window screen wire was stretched from below the benchwork to the ceiling. Bill did not want to paint clouds and sky and remembering his trips through the Canadian Rockies he knew that when you stand in these canyons you cannot see the sky when you look straight forward. Over this wire screen was placed 2,000 pounds of plaster of Paris in a rough layer and temporarily painted grey to hide the white.
The railway was a point to point using six loops. A train might start at the Comox Mine and wind down the mountain over bridges and through tunnels clinging precariously to the side of the mountain arriving at the back of Hot Springs yard named for, you guessed it, that hot water tank underneath. At the yard the loco would be switched off and sent to the roundhouse and the cars would be switched in the yard and a main line train would be made up to leave Hot Springs for the main line. It would travel to the west and do a loop on the outer upper line and then cross over to the inner line where switching possibilities existed on the east end at Mount Inferno spur and the three spurs servicing the town of Jasper to the west end of the railway. Returning to the outer loop the train would then have to back through a tunnel under Comox Mine and around the west end of the railway to the lower main line where the train could do a couple of laps before crossing over to the inner loop where it could have access at the east end to Gordís old yard that was now named Agassiz Yard. The train would be again switched before leaving this yard for the town of Gyprock were many switching possibilities existed. Up until 1979 that was the extent of the operation.
|Gyprock packing plant with stock yards and the Abel bridge beyond. Lots of switching places.||Jasper on the upper line looking to the south west with Comox in the distance.|
There were a number of problems with some of the interconnections. The most notable was the precariously steep connection between the upper main lines and the lower main lines. The other big problem was the use of a new idea in 1969 of using "Ten-Test" cut into 4 inch splines and fastened together to form roadbed. This system did not stand the test of time for several reasons. The humidity caused it to warp and in many places it started to de-laminate. Staples holding heavy plaster panels would pull out. Today almost 90% of this has been replaced with conventional poplar plywood. The main selling feature of the "Ten-Test" was for built in easements and quiet operation. The de-laminating affected the easements and once you glued down the ballast the sound dampening quality was lost anyway. Bad idea and most has been replaced.
|A pile trestle bridge on the connecting line from upper track to new area. Bill built this from a Campbell kit and scratch built the vehicle bridge in front. The lower track is the return from the new area.||Picture shows the north side of Jasper with a bridge and the lead off to the new area. The line in the foreground is the lower double main line.|
The other problem was the interconnecting line. To solve that problem Bill acquired his old bedroom to the north and with the announcement of the upcoming national convention in Winnipeg in 1983 Bill needed to give the whole railway a face lift. Starting in 1979 a plan of action was drawn up and first order was to make more railway to deal with that interconnecting line. It was decided that the transition from upper to lower line would take place in the new 13í by 12í added space. This section of railway was to use some of the then current construction methods like "L" girder etc. The connection to the original railway was on the west side where a connection off the lower line curved around through a new town of Taylor Flats with switching onto an island mountain visible on all sides except west where it connected with the wall and more rock to the ceiling. This centre mountain is high enough that you can not see over the top so it very nicely divides up the area into various views. This lower line leaves Taylor Flats to the east and after going through a short pair of tunnels emerges into the town of Glacier where more switching is possible and then through the mountain to join up with the main line again at Taylor Flats. This has now created the seventh loop. Back on the lower main line however you had a choice of staying on the main line that now climbs under the mountain over the Glacier line and arrives at the north wall and the town of Agassiz Junction with more switching possibilities. After leaving the Junction to the east the train plunges back into another mountain and enters a helix winding under the stair landing and coming out over the four trestles that Peter Abel built that form our Myra Canyon area.
|Peter built the large trestle from a Campbell kit but scratch-built the centre bridge span. The four bridges are over the hidden helix.||Looking at Myra from the south with the small scratch built trestles. Peter did the rock castings near the bridges but Bill did the mountains and colouring.|
Off this area is a second mining area with switching possibilities. Through a short tunnel and into Hope and then west and south along the back wall and into the centre mountain only to appear on the south side over top of Taylor Flats and over a long high curved steel bridge of two short and two long spans arriving at the town of Abel at the east end of the mountain. The high bridge at Taylor Flats was built by Bill (two long spans) Peter Abel (two short spans) and Jock Oliphant (tall concrete piers).
|At Taylor Flats the two long bridge spans were built using three Atlas bridges kit bashed together to make a bridge that was proportional to its height.||The upper line is heading for Abel on the right and has come from Hope on the left.|
At the town of Abel more switching possibilities exist and to the north another mountain it pierces arriving at a bridge above Glacier. This is both the site of the last spike with suitable cairn and a choice of directions. Continuing over a bridge and through the mountain or heading into the second helix which brings you back to the line to Agassiz Junction and a return on what now becomes the eighth full loop. If however the train continued on the main line it would arrive, after going through the mountain, at a connection to the old upper mainline just north of the town of Jasper. As you can see the only need for that extra 12í by 13í space was to go from upper main line to lower main line. The new area is one of the nicer parts of the whole empire.
|The loading structure at hope with Comox Creek Mining Cars in front. Walthers back drop blends better in real life.||Hope, with the Kettle Valley train on the siding and the west end of Agassiz at the bottom.|
Once committed to being on the 1983 NMRA National tour Billís first task apart from completing the new area was to give the whole railway a scenic upgrade. Bill had attended many Nationals by this time and knew that time spent on scenery was most important for the delegates. Most were not interested in wiring and control systems but rated railways by how finished they looked. With the time available Bill got busy with another 2,000 pounds of plaster along with rubber rock moulds and literally covered every vertical surface of the entire railway with rock castings. These were then coloured with various washes of diluted latex paint and black India ink washes with highlighting colours added where needed. The whole railway was then grassed, rocked or other ground cover was applied. Then almost 2,500 trees were made and planted. Buildings were either fabricated or refurbished and erected where needed and some were borrowed just for the convention principally from Tom Fred. Bridges were built and by opening day of the convention eight trains were run all at the same time. Total hours of operation during the convention and run up local tour was 24 hours. In that time we only had two derailments. The equipment was hand picked and tested to run on its designated piece of track. If a car caused a problem in testing it was placed in a yard or siding. For the National it was made to run as simply as possible. During the 1983 National we had 1,000 visitors in the basement.
|A closer look at the large trestle at Myra. Note a Comox wood car is now growing daisies.||The town of Glacier has been caught by a late snow fall. All rock is finished like other rock and then all horizontal surfaces are covered with snow (dry wall joint compound).|
Once the National was over Bill did not work much on the railway for about one year as so much had been done but soon the urge to get back to modeling was there and inoperable areas were attended to one by one. The job of replacing the old "Ten Test" continued with large areas being replaced. Agassiz Yard, (Gordís old yard needed a total re-build as it did not run well due to all old brass track. Everything was removed from the top and a new plywood top was laid and all new track and switches were laid and wired. The basic design stayed but some changes were made to tracks to better reflect how it was connected to the wider world. The next major area of work was the removal of the old engine facilities over the laundry area. This was made possible as the laundry room was moved to a new room in the new addition to the house. A completely new area was built and the whole Hot Springs Yard was relayed with a lot of help from Peter to make it a double ended yard terminating at the engine facilities. Several smaller projects started for the National were completed. To the casual visitor this railway is 100% complete with scenery covering all visible areas but to the builders many areas still need attention. If something is intended to be built the ground cover is completed anyway and can be changed when the new feature is ready.
|Agassiz Junction Station and shed. Rock castings go some distance below the track line.||Soon to come. A picture of Hot Springs Yard.|
Bill was the principal builder of the railway but not the only builder and credit must go to a number of others who have over the years contributed their talent and time to the railway. Billís father helped him in the very early days prior to the start of the 1969 layout. Gord Keeler for introducing Bill to the wider world of the WMRC and the original builder of Agassiz Yard with some help from Peter Abel. In the early days Bill was a founding member of The United Lines consisting of Peter Abel, Alan Graham, Fred Headon and Lorne Brady. Once every four or five sessions this group would help with different projects on the railway. When the United Lines disbanded Bill gathered a group of modellers together who did not have home layouts to meet weekly and continue projects on the railway. This group still exists but does more outside than inside these days with the last large push being for the Millennium Express TLR Rally in 2000. This group consisted of Peter Abel, Len LaRue, Barrie Atkinson and Brian Crowe. Today this group is still active on the Assiniboine Valley Railway with Peter and Len as vice-presidents of the AVR. Over the years others have contributed to the railway but names have been forgotten but of all those people the one who helped the most is Peter Abel who is responsible for a number of projects that have become focal points on the railway.
Motive power and rolling stock consists of a collection of about 35 brass steam locomotives, 300 or so freight and passenger cars made up of scratch built, craftsman kits and regular kits primarily in CNR colours and lettering. The control system is Onboard by Keller and it works. the AVR has been getting the lionís share of time over the last few years but Bill sees the day when more time can once again be spent in the basement especially in the winter months. After all there are about 100 kits needing to be built and a number of construction projects yet to be completed. In all of this that original Revell train set from Dave still exists. The locomotive sits on display and the cars are still operational.
Page created by Bill Taylor of Winnipeg January 24, 2003 and updated January 25, 2003
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