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Conception, execution and rebirth, or;

The story of Colton Junction and it's rebirth as Ontario Street

Overview of the layout

Colton Junction has become a bit of a 'reference standard' for members of the group. It combines many of the most desirable features of a layout and excels at fitting a lot of operational activity into a small space without appearing cluttered.

With several layouts in the process of developing the trackplan and operation into other scenarios and scales, not to mention the layout's re-emergence on the exhibition scene, now seemed like a very good time to highlight the layout's planning and operation.

Dave starts the story of how the layout came about and was developed in its initial, Californian, outline for use with road switchers and steam locos. Chris Marrable is a new contributor to the 'site and also Colton Junction's new owner. He takes up the story of how Colton Junction moved north, changed its name to Ontario Street and is now home to a variety of Canadian-outline models.

Initial Conception and Execution of Colton Junction

This was my first attempt at modelling the American scene and was primarily designed as a shunting layout on two baseboards. The layout was set during the mid 1950s, loosely based on Raymond Chandlers Philip Marlowe novels. This allowed me to run steam locomotives together with the occasional ex-works diesel locomotive. The railroad was the remains of a southern Pacific and Santa Fe branch line with the depot building and water crane being the original features remaining. New industry sprouted during the 1930s which continues to be served by rail. Passenger services are somewhat infrequent if non-existent.

Trackplan development

Following completion of the baseboards I purchased the track and five Peco Electrofrog long radius code 75 points, three right and two left handed. Before the creation of a trackplan that would fit the available space I laid down certain parameters prior to committing the track to baseboard. Namely:

The points were laid on the baseboards and arranged until a suitable track plan evolved. I also used rolling stock to assist with the lengths of the run around loop which ended being long enough to hold two 50’ boxcars. The rolling stock was also moved around to simulate shunting moves and enable amendments to the track plan prior to fixing down. This process also helped locate the uncoupling magnets.

Colton Junction trackplan

The headshunts at either end of the loop were designed to hold one boxcar and one locomotive. This leads to interesting shunting moves to re-spot the rolling stock into new locations and draw rolling stock from the exchange siding along the back of the layout.

Later, an extension was added with an additional siding but after operating this at a few exhibitions it proved to provide no operational benefit and was subsequently scrapped.

Analogue to DCC

Wiring was initially to analogue standards and a hand-held, off-board control box was built to house the controller, section and point control switches. This was linked to the layout via a computer 25 way cable and operated in this fashion at exhibitions for a few years. The photograph below shows the early control box in use.

Analogue control box in use with the layout

After an initial trail by Steph with the Lenz 'Compact' DCC system I purchased one and converted the layout to DCC operation. This involved rewiring and replacing the SEEP point motors with Peco point motors and microswitches for greater reliability. This also served as a one-off exercise for converting layouts from analogue to digital. My subsequent layouts are built for purely DCC operation.


With the initial diesel roster consisting of Southern Pacific and Santa Fe prototypes the locale was immediately dictated as California.

Scenic materials were sourced from several suppliers including Woodland Scenics, Faller, Noch, Anita Decor and Silfor. I shall not offer a description on how these were used since everyone has their own preferred method. The trees were purchased from an architect’s model supply shop. The roads come in for much comment and these were made from polyfiller painted with artists acrylics to simulate concrete. The tar joints were drawn on with a 0.5mm black waterproof felt pen. Initially the layout did not have a backscene but one was added later in its life.  This was created using artists acrylic watercolours on heavyweight wallpaper lining paper.

As alluded to earlier, the buildings were chosen to suit the location and it was made sure that they were whole rather than low relief. In it’s early years the buildings were relatively modern but as the layout was backdated to the 1945 - 1955 period the flour mill and canning factory were replaced with wooden structures. The road vehicles were also replaced to those suitable for the period.

Southern Pacific M4 Station building

Death row

After exhibiting the layout in its immediate post war guise for a few years I placed Colton Junction on 'death row' and there it remained with a long stay of execution due to exhibition bookings! Colton Junction was eventually sold to be reborn as Ontario Street.

Rebirth as Ontario Street

Purchase and reprieve from death row

Having operated with Dave at a number of exhibitions over a few years I had grown to enjoy operating the track plan, it giving many different operational puzzles to work out. No single session gave a similar problem to work around. After a period of much prevarication I finally decided to purchase the layout from Dave in June 2003 before he really did get out the axe. At that point I did not have an operational layout of my own. I had the same travel requirements for the layout; that it would fit across the backseat of my car (VW Golf), so that no additional vehicle requirements would be needed.

The reliability of Dave’s handiwork is such that even today, 10 years after construction, the layout still only takes 20 minutes to get up and running. Much to some Exhibition managers worries when you turn up 30 minutes before opening time. Not that I make a habit of it.

New Birth – Ontario Street

Having got the layout home I shoehorned it into the alcove it now lives in. I waved a magic wand and moved it from California to Canada. Having visited Canada a number of times over the previous years, I had fallen for the colour scheme of CP and the Ontario area. Also the layouts I had seen while visiting exhibitions seemed to be basically the normal USA ones. The novelty to have steam and diesel locomotives operating in Canada made it even more appealing. So I have been slowly changing the odd feature on the layout to bring it into Ontario. The latest feature is a group of hobos sitting around a campfire using an old disused Canadian Pacific box car as shelter.

The layout is set in the Hamilton area of Canada in the mid 1950s to early 60s. This allows me to run steam as well as the new diesels making an appearance as they took over duties from the steam locomotives. The line is an end spur to a larger freight yard, this area has now seen better days after the boom period of the early 1920s. New industries have been growing and the old way of life is changing. It will not be long before this area will be flattened to make way for a large shopping mall. Numerous different railroads now visit this last section of the yard. Canadian Pacific and Canadian National are most prevalent, but the odd Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo and New York Central items appear. Passenger services are now some what infrequent if non-existent, only the odd train to bring staff to work at this end of the yard. Also due to lack of facilities further up the yard this end is used to hold rolling stock while shunting manoeuvres are carried out.

Future Plans

I have recently acquired a group of track workers, which need to be added. I am also looking to get 2 Canadian Mounties with horses to replace the police scene. Weathering of my rolling stock is the newest adventure for me. So far I am pleased with what I have achieved.

Feel free to contact me, Chris Marrable, if you are interested in having the layout at an exhibition.

Origin or real life as it exists / who does what:
This page last updated 21/10/2007. Copyright © Euram Solutions, Chris Marrable and David Illingworth 2007. All Rights Reserved.
David Illingworth and Chris Marrable can be contacted through the contacts page