Ian Wilson's blog

Welcome to the blog of Ian Wilson, author of the award-winning books on 1950s Canadian steam railway operations.

Grand River inspirations

May 04, 2022

There has always been something about the mill towns (Galt, Hespeler, Preston, Paris and others) on the Grand River in southwestern Ontario that has captured my imagination.

When my writing and publishing career was in its infancy in the mid-to-late 1990s, my primary mode of artistic expression in the historic railway field was scale modelling. For four years, beginning in mid-1995, I constructed an HO scale layout at my previous home. On this layout, the principal town was “Grand River”. I created this fictional locale based upon the mill towns along southwestern Ontario’s Grand River.

My layout inspired a magazine article, which became a cover story in Rail Model Journal. I wrote that piece in the same style as my hardcover book narratives. In this case, we followed a daily way freight as it switched cars along its route.

Yesterday (May 3, 2022), Steam Encounters in Ontario vol. 2 went to the printer. In paging through that upcoming issue, and its predecessor Steam Encounters in Ontario vol. 1, I am struck by the parallels between host photographer Jim Guerin’s work and the subjects of my scale modelling inspiration mentioned above.

As my readers know, Guerin’s lifetime home was Kitchener, Ontario (the Grand River passes just to the east of this city). A large proportion of his railway photography was “down by the tracks” in his hometown and the nearby Grand River mill towns. I gravitated to Jim Guerin’s work shortly after publishing Steam at Allandale in August 1998. A number of Guerin’s images first appeared in the colour section of To Stratford Under Steam in February 1999.

You can see the overall ambience around the CNR Kitchener station in this Guerin view from Steam Encounters in Ontario vol. 1 (above). It is that impression of a railway station surrounded by brick mills and factories that I tried to emulate with my scale modelling.

In the same vein, this Guerin image of CNR 5607 at Galt station (on the Fergus Subdivision side of the Grand) from Steam Encounters in Ontario vol. 2 portrays a limestone mill in the background, which implies the industrial landscape of a classic Ontario river town.

The little Ten Wheeler which stars in my depiction of a way freight at my fictional Grand River evokes this image of CNR yard engine 7411 switching cars at Kitchener (from Speed Graphics and Steam 1957!).

My HO scale layout featuring Grand River has been gone since 1999, but it lives forever in photographic images and a story on the printed page. Likewise, the 1950s steam railway operations around the Grand River mill towns.

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