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 St Jacobs Junction - a tourist layout
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Crew Chief

Posted - 08/02/2010 :  4:14:49 PM  Show Profile  Visit DaVinci1953's Homepage  Reply with Quote
At the request of Mike, Chuck, Greg (Ensign) and others, I am finally posting a proper thread on The St Jacobs layout that Greg and I were involved with. The Layout is on display in an old mill converted to shops in the Southern Ontario tourist town of St Jacobs.
This thread will be rather rambling, but, please bear with me. I hope it will also be interesting.

First, a bit of background:
St Jacobs is village situated in the heart of Mennonite Country in Southern Ontario, Canada.
It was a sleepy town, slowly fading away, until, in the seventies, a local businessman, Milo Shantz, began to buy up properties with the aim of turning it into a tourist destination. One of his first purchases was an old historic mill, which was converted into gift shops and artisan studios. I spent most of the '80s running a shop selling my artwork there.


The St Jacobs layout is located on the top floor of this building (Inside the top two windows visible on the building)

Milo Shantz's dream was more than realized. St Jacobs became one of the premier Ontario tourist destinations during the eighties.

A few years ago, Milo was approached by a friend of his who had a large collection of valuable Lionel Train artifacts. The friend was Jan Gleysteen, from Indiana, a well known Mennonite historian, author and illustrator. Jan's hobby was Lionel trains, and he and Milo were both railfans. They travelled the world extensively together and, over the years rode many famous trains.
Jan was looking for a permanent home for his collection and Milo was thinking of opening a small museum in the mill. Someone decided that a railroad layout would be perfect in there too.
Another friend of Milo, Harvey Snider, a lifelong model railroader, was asked to get a railway up and running. Harvey recruited me - apparently I have a local reputation as one of those "nutty train guys".
I jumped at the chance. I had actually started scratchbuilding some local St Jacobs structures several years earlier (including the mill) but had given up because didn't have enough space. As an artist working in St Jacobs in the eighties, I sold mostly local historic scenes, so I already had a collection of historical reference.
The original plan was just to have a generic railroad, but I convinced them that it had to be a historic depiction of mostly local scenes with a lot of scratchbuilding.
We ultimately decided that we would depict St Jacobs in the mid twentieth century. We didn't want to get too specific. Our purpose was to entertain visitors, most of whom wouldn't be model railroaders. We would do a compressed, but quite accurate version of St Jacobs, but other areas would be fictional, although we wanted them to look real. The layout would be behind glass and open to the public during business hours. My original intention was to have everything digital, complete with appropriate sounds at appropriate times. This goal is yet to be realized. The layout currently runs automatically for ten minutes, when a button is pressed.
We wanted to sneak in some educational stuff...the way a mill works, and various types of farming are depicted accurately, as well as some locally well known structures.

Here are some early pictures:

This is how the layout looked when I first saw it. My first thought was: "Three feet high? That's WAY too low!"... Milo, the experienced tourist operator knew better. If it was higher, kids would need some kind of platform for viewing, and the possibilty of falls and lawsuit dangers are a reality in today's world.
I now know that Milo was absolutely right. It is exactly at kids eye level - and I have seen hundreds of kids' eyes light up when they look into the scenes.

The layout, by the way is about 30 feet long and eight feet deep. All three ovals of track disappear into a crawl space under the eaves for half of their length. This and the multiple twists I designed in, hopefully diguise the "ovalness"
Here are some other views of the beginnings. The first picture is taken inside the crawl space...

The entrance to the crawl space...this will be covered by the layout...a lot of crawling indeed!...

More early pics...

By the way, this first batch of pictures was taken in 2003.

That's it for this afternoon...we get building in my next post!
Lance Russwurm

Country: Canada | Posts: 683


Posted - 08/02/2010 :  7:33:12 PM  Show Profile  Visit railmus's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I have visited the layout several times (once when Lance was there!!) and the forum members have wonderful sight in store!
The scratchbuilding especially is top notch!

Country: Canada | Posts: 1953 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 08/02/2010 :  7:52:02 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Looking forward to more photos!

D&B Lumber Co.
"The Best Wood You Ever Saw!"

Country: USA | Posts: 3894 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 08/02/2010 :  8:13:53 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
lance thanks for taking on this project. You already have provided lots of information.Looking forward to more.

Chuck Faist
Burlington, Ontario
Enjoy yourself it is later than you think!

Country: Canada | Posts: 3489 Go to Top of Page

Engine Wiper

Posted - 08/02/2010 :  8:32:41 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I have seen it once during the Doubleheaders' Layout Tour. My friend and I viewed the layout early in the day (around 10 or 10:30 am) last year. I hadn't seen it before beacuse of St. Jacobs Saturday afternoon reputation for traffic and parking. (LA freeways come to mind)
It is definitely a remarkable layout though with authentic looking scratchbuilt buildings.

Country: Canada | Posts: 464 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Posted - 08/03/2010 :  07:18:42 AM  Show Profile  Visit DaVinci1953's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I promised that we'd "get building" on my next post. The following might seem to be a diversion, but....it'll get us there eventually!

I recruited Greg Shinnie (also known as "Ensign" on these forums) to help out. One of the first things we did, to jump start the layout, was to buy a large (4 feet square) diorama from Greg.
He had built this dio for the centennial of Baden, Ontario, the town where he lives. It depicts some of the main structures near the train station in Baden around 1900. Included is the Queen Ann style house where Greg lives today and a store that Greg was running at the time he built this. The Grand Trunk Station and shed have long since vanished. An interesting feasture of this diorama is that it is exactly to scale - no selective compression. Greg got the dimensions from old insurance maps.
So, here are a bunch of photos that I took almost ten years ago...some of my first digital photos...( I took the liberty of adding Photoshop skies in a few pictures)

Lemp was the name of real well known photographer in the area at the time.

The proverbial bandwagon cuases a stir in Baden

This is the store that Greg owned when he built the diorama - although it doesn't look the same today. At the time, my art studio was upstairs, inside those three windows.

The last picture is an overview of the diorama, taken at a train show.

Next post - The St Jacobs layout story continues...

Lance Russwurm

Country: Canada | Posts: 683 Go to Top of Page

George D

Premium Member

Posted - 08/03/2010 :  09:10:48 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
This is a very interesting topic, Lance. Thatís a beautiful diorama that Greg built. Thanks for posting the pictures.


Country: USA | Posts: 14327 Go to Top of Page

Mike Hamer

Posted - 08/03/2010 :  09:22:58 AM  Show Profile  Visit Mike Hamer's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Lance, Wow! Truly inspirational! Thank you so much for taking the time to explain the story of the layout from its earliest beginnings. Imagine if Milo was not the visionary he was! What luck to ask you and Greg for your assistance in this project and to be able to acquire your scratchbuilt structures from the area and Greg's perfectly scaled modelled sections. I'm impressed with how you were able to use the attic area to help disquise the fact that there are the three ovals running about the layout...brilliant planning!

Lance, I visited the website on St. Jacobs which you posted. A number of my modelling friends have 'better others' who are quilters. I can see a road trip in the future where a number of us would stay at the local B&B's or hotels and take in the sights of this beautiful town!

When I worked on a layout with my school kids that was set up at our local Railfair each October, it was our goal to make it family friendly...so we set up the benchword at a similar height to the St. Jacob's layout, and this proved to be a huge hit with the public!

Thanks, Lance, once again for taking the time out to pull this thread together! I look forward to the next part of the story!

Mike Hamer
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Edited by - Mike Hamer on 08/03/2010 09:24:29 AM

Country: | Posts: 11385 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 08/03/2010 :  11:19:46 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Interesting story Lance.
I'm enjoying reading the history of this layout and how it was built.
Looking forward to future posts by you.

As you think, so will you be.

Country: USA | Posts: 21840 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 08/03/2010 :  11:52:02 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Okay now you really have me interested. Seeing the model of the Baden station has really got my interest as I want to model that station. My future HO layout will be loosely based on the CNR line between Kitchener and Stratford in the transition period.

Chuck Faist
Burlington, Ontario
Enjoy yourself it is later than you think!

Country: Canada | Posts: 3489 Go to Top of Page


Premium Member

Posted - 08/03/2010 :  12:14:29 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I agree that this should be an interesting read for you have 8 years of work to show us.

The first set of completed structures is great so I will be waiting to see more.

John Bagley
Modeling the Alaska Railroad in HO in Wildwood Georgia.

Country: USA | Posts: 13275 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 08/03/2010 :  7:50:13 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hey Lance, glad to see you are finally telling the story of this great layout!
And in your usual story/picture telling style I might add.
I look forward to seeing it, happen all over again!

Greg Shinnie

Country: Canada | Posts: 7623 Go to Top of Page

Oliver W. Jr.
Engine Wiper

Posted - 08/04/2010 :  01:04:52 AM  Show Profile  Visit Oliver W. Jr.'s Homepage  Reply with Quote
I presume the figures are factory-painted Preiser?

I love that 4-4-0, do you know who made it? Is it based on a Grand Trunk prototype?

Country: | Posts: 269 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Posted - 08/04/2010 :  07:15:11 AM  Show Profile  Visit DaVinci1953's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Thanks for the comments everyone!
Greg, answer the man's questions!
My computer is giving me problems - I think it overheated in the ridiculously hot and humid weather we've been having. Seems okay this morning...so far.

Lance Russwurm

Country: Canada | Posts: 683 Go to Top of Page

Tyson Rayles

Premium Member

Posted - 08/04/2010 :  07:30:03 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote


Country: USA | Posts: 12626 Go to Top of Page

Crew Chief

Posted - 08/04/2010 :  07:38:17 AM  Show Profile  Visit DaVinci1953's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Anyway...here are some more pics of progress in the early stages of the layout:

These are some of my partially scratchbuilt structures sitting on the bare plywood. In the foreground is the blacksmith shop. The buildings further back are the ones I had made (partially) for my home layout which I never did.

Another view. You can see that most of my buildings (in this case, anyway) are made from styrene. In the background you can see the PVC pipe used to make the silos for the mill.

This is a picture of Don Stewart working on the enclosure for the layout.(Don hates having his picture taken and doesn't like the limelight - but I shot this anyway!) Don was the house carpenter for the mill. He built the beautiful wood and glass encosures you will see in future posts. When he was asked to assist us on the layout, I'm sure he thought we were all crazy at first. However, he soon got hooked. Turned out that he especially likes doing scenery, especially landscaping and making custom trees. There' ll be lots more to see.

Harvey Snider works on a bridge.

These were a bunch of overviews. Notice Greg's diorama waiting to be set into the layout. The poor thing, I'm afraid, got bashed about a bit before this was done...but...it ultimately did get done - much to Greg's relief!

The last picture shows the future river valley.

I must run, but I'll try to post more later today (if my computer behaves)


Lance Russwurm

Country: Canada | Posts: 683 Go to Top of Page
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