There are very few prototype photos of Beatton River siding available. This is largely due to the remoteness of the location which is deep in the northern BC wilderness accessible only by rough oilfield roads.

The best photo that I know of is also the photo that served as the inspiration for the layout. It is a 1978 photo by Ken Perry that features in the J.F. Garden British Columbia Railway book. It shows the southbound Fort Nelson way freight meeting its northbound Chetwynd to Beatton counterpart.

As an aside this book should be considered the definitive reference guide for PGE and BCR modellers. Copies of it can be found online but can be quite expensive.

Another glimpse of Beatton River can be found in YouTube videos released by the Northern BC Archives a couple of years ago. They feature track inspection vehicle footage shot in the early 1970s shortly after the line from Fort St John to Fort Nelson was opened. These screengrabs taken from the video show the division point siding and crew camp at Beatton.

Footage of Beatton River bridge and siding from which these screengrabs were taken starts at the 1:10 mark of the following video:

More contemporary scenes from Beatton River under CN ownership can be found on Matt Watson’s excellent Flickr page. These two images show the very run-down speeder shed at the north end of the siding

CN 478, Beatton River BC
CN 479, Beatton River BC

The William Davies 2001 image below shows a West Coast Railway Association railtour stopping at Beatton River. The photo, taken looking north, shows 3 tracks as well as an additional stub ended siding in the foreground. The speeder shed is visible in the distance.

WCRA - BC Rail tour - Beatton River.

Finally, are the images I took back in 2013 on a hike out to Beatton River bridge with a good friend. While we made it to the bridge and got a series of excellent photographs, time did not permit an additional hike up to the Beatton River siding which is a shame as it was only 1 mile south from where these photos were taken.


Now that the Australia move is finally complete and a spare room is available, it is time to start planning a new layout. In response to some of the frustrations of previous layout attempts (mainly trying to compress large yards into tiny rooms), I have decided to go with a pure railfanning layout with a very simple concept and design.

The subject location is Beatton River on the former PGE/BCR Fort St John (now Fort Nelson) division.

The new layout is a break from past layouts which were all focused on major division points on the north end of the British Columbia Railway system (Two layouts based on Fort St John and one based on Fort Nelson). Beatton River sits roughly halfway between Fort St John and Fort Nelson and was a division point in 1978, but far from being a large sprawling yard with lots of industries it was a remote three track curved siding deep in the woods.

Beatton River is a very remote location and even today it is only accessible by rough oilfield roads. It comprises 3 tracks that curve through the woods and very little else. However in the 1970s it was a very important meeting point when the official station name sign was “Beatton” and trains from Fort Nelson and Chetwynd would meet here and exchange tonnage. At that time everything north of Beatton was the Fort Nelson subdivision and everything south of Beatton to Chetwynd was the Fort St John subdivision (Map 1). Beatton had a small crew camp at this time. After 1984 trains began to run straight through from Fort Nelson to Fort St John and then back with this stretch of track all becoming the Fort Nelson subdivision. At this point it was renamed as “Beatton River” and just became another lonely siding in the woods.

Map 1. Fort St. John Subdivision 1978 (Chetwynd through to Beatton) with Beatton at top-centre of map

Technically, because I am modelling the location as it would have been in 1978, the layout should be called “Beatton”. I feel that “Beatton River” has a nice ring to it though and nicely describes both the siding itself and its general location near the valley of the Beatton River.

Beatton / Beatton River is so remote in fact that prototype photos of it are extremely hard to come by in any era. My primary source of inspiration is a Ken Perry photo in J.F Garden’s British Columbia Railway book which shows a 1978 meet of two trains. The mix of two-tone green MLW locomotives, BCR and PGE rolling stock and the remote backwoods location is very evocative and was the inspiration for the layout. Other than that I have only found about a half dozen images of the siding after extensive searching. I was fortunate enough to photograph the Beatton River bridge in person in 2013. That bridge is a few miles north of the siding (Map 2) but time did not allow a hike into the siding also unfortunately.

Map 2. Beatton siding and vicinity

Historical airphotos of Beatton siding are available however and I have acquired examples from the early to late 1970s (Map 3). These give enough information to determine the general layout of the track and camp and the general distribution and height of vegetation at that period in time.

The key thing I like about Beatton is that the prototype siding is on a continuous curve. Obviously considerable compression will be needed but the curved nature of the prototype suits a L shape layout around two walls much better than a long straight classification yard.

Map 3. Beatton siding in 1978

Further posts on the prototype and the trackplan will follow shortly but here are the key layout statistics.

  • Name: Beatton River
  • Scale: N (1:160)
  • Size: 8ft x 9.25ft L Shape
  • Prototype: British Columbia Railway
  • Location: Beatton (Approximately half way between Fort St John and Fort Nelson, British Columbia
  • Era: 1978
  • Style: ‘Folded Dogbone’, Single deck continuous run
  • Construction: L-Girder
  • Height: 52 inches
  • Minimum Radius: 14 inches
  • Track and Turnouts; Microengineering or Atlas (TBD)
  • Train Length: 20 to 25 cars
  • Backdrop: Hand painted or digital photo composites (TBD)
  • Control: NCE DCC.

Greetings from Brisbane

August 17, 2022

It has been a long time since the last post, but the reason is a move from Auckland to Brisbane that happened in late April, and the ensuing busyness (chaos) that occurs in the first few months after any international move. The good news is that a permanent home has been secured in the form of a nice city centre apartment. This comes with a spare room so there will be another BCR themed N scale layout in my future, once I am fully moved in.

Future train room. Bonus of nice city view.

Currently, the apartment needs a bit of work (paint, flooring, kitchen and bathroom work etc.) At that point, the container of stuff shipped from New Zealand will be able to be delivered (along with all my train stuff) and hopefully some active hobby time will be had over the Australian summer.

The train room is fairly modest with about 10.5 x 9.5 ft of usable space. But this is the general size of room I have been used to working with in both Canada and New Zealand so it is not a major restriction.

I have been moving away from the idea of modelling major yards as primary layout themes and may explore more of a scenic railfanning theme in the new space. Lots of sketching to be done before anything gets built though.

Brisbane has a number of good model railroad and general hobby shops, a very good annual train show and an extensive city rail network offering a variety of narrow (42 inch) gauge electric and standard gauge freight traffic. Lots of locations have dual gauge track which is something you don’t see everyday!

For now it is back to fixing the place up before the lease on the rented place runs out!.

After four years of enjoyable work I have decided to gracefully retire the Fort St John layout. This is largely due to a planned move to Australia but also due to a realization that it has served it purpose, which was largely a test bed for tracklaying, wiring and scenery techniques.

Dismantling a layout is a good time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Carrying these lessons forward to the next layout ensures the next layout will be better.

Lesson 1 – Lack of planning. This was the big lesson learned with this one. There is always a balance between ‘armchair modelling’ where you spend all your time sketching trackplans but never build anything and charging headlong into a project without carefully thinking it through. Fort St John was definitely an example of charging headlong into a project. It was such a novelty to have room for a layout again that I really didn’t take a long hard look at the room and its clear limitations. I sketched the trackplan on Boxing Day and was constructing it the following week!. As a result the layout was cursed by a series of compromises that never really worked

Enthusiastically-sketched trackplan. December 2017

Lesson 2 – Layout height. This was far too low for comfortable viewing or operation (36″ above floor level) but it was built this way so as not to obstruct a window which is the primary source of ventilation. This meant that the top of the backdrop had to be below the bottom of the window and this in turn determined the trackbed height.. The layout was made quite wide (22″) to compensate for its low height but a lot of this width just ended up being open space. The low height made it awkward to operate and it looked at its best from a seated position only.

The height issue could have been addressed by either making a removable backdrop section to cover the window. Alternatively, the entire layout could have been built on very high narrow benchwork with a removable span (including integrated backdrop) to gain window access. All of these would require a bit of careful engineering, but nothing that some alignment dowels, PCB ties across track joins and modular wiring plugs wouldn’t have solved had I thought it out a bit more. Obviously the layout could have been built on the opposite wall that had no obstructions at all, but this wall was only 8.5 feet long.

Benchwork construction in January 2018, Height was set at 36 inches to allow top of backdrop to clear window above it. In retrospect this was a bad idea.

Lesson 3 – Too much selective compression. Trying to fit large yards in small rooms is (for me anyway) an exercise in frustration. You either end up having to compress it so severely that it bares no resemblance to the prototype or you end up having to wrap it around 2 or more walls putting 90 degree bends in classification yards. I have never been able to live with that because, having been to Fort St John (and Chetwynd and Fort Nelson) I know that they all run dead straight for well over a mile. I think a pretty good N scale representation of these can be done if you have a 15 to 20ft wall, but 11 feet is just not long enough for a good representation of an entire yard.

In this case it required far too much compression to the point that train lengths of only 10 to 12 cars could be accommodated due to the double ended classification yard (which in the prototype is switched from both ends). A better approach would have been to use stub ended rather than double ended classification tracks (effectively just modelling half of the yard). While modelling just half of the yard in 11 feet is still a huge compression it would have allowed a lot more breathing room and reduced the number of turnouts needed by half (which leads to Lesson 4)

Perhaps taking the available 11 feet but only modelling the yard from the top of the image down to where the two boxcars are would have been better?

Lesson 4 – Turnouts can be trouble. Although the layout was small it still had well over 20 turnouts and I have come to realize that a strong argument can be made for “the fewer turnouts the better”. Stalling and derailments almost always occur on turnouts so modelling a yard means lots of turnouts and lots of potential trouble. I used Atlas turnouts because they do look good and are widely available but the quality seems inconsistent. Some have been consistently good performers but others have just been problematic from day 1.

I used SPDT slide switches to drive the throwbar and simultaneously change the frog polarity. These generally worked well but, for all time taken to wire and install them, they were only slightly less obtrusive as the often-maligned Caboose Industries turnout throws. Also the connections on these SPDT switches can degrade over time affecting the electrical connection to the frog. Modelling half the yard and making it stub ended would have dramatically reduced the number of turnouts and overall reliability would have been improved by the use of tortoise (or similar) switch machines.

So many turnouts, so many SPDT switch throws, so much wiring. So many turnouts that just never seemed to work smoothly

Lesson 5 – Obsessing over “operations.” What do I really want from “Operations?” Considering how long I have been in the hobby you would think that I would have figured it out by now, especially since I did get to experience “operating sessions” while living in Canada. I have gradually realized that I actually quite like the British approach to operations which is essentially “building a scene and watching trains run through it”. While I have enjoyed building up and breaking down trains in a yard using car cards and way bills and switch lists, it isn’t really what drives me in the hobby as much as scenery, model building and just watching trains go by.

What if “operations” was two long trains (3 units and 20 to 30 cars) meeting in a back woods location to pass and possibly switching out a few gravel hoppers or log bunks to a siding now and then?. The entire session would last about an hour and variety would be provided by mixing up the motive power and rolling stock each session. By definition, the type of layout needed to support this sort of operations would be small, could be sectional and portable, and would have a low number of those troublesome turnouts.

Nice yard, but operations would have been all switching with no opportunity to just run trains

Lesson 6 – Layouts are only part of the hobby. Time, energy and money are generally limited, so building a large complex layout generally becomes the dominant part of the hobby and it is really hard to populate it with a full fleet of highly detailed locomotives and stock in a reasonable timeframe. Now if you are modelling modern Union Pacific this isn’t a huge issue because most everything needed is available ready-to-run and, with a little weathering, can be placed into immediate service.

To model PGE and BCR to a high quality however, you will be building kits; locomotive conversion kits, freight car kits and caboose kits. You might even have a go at scratchbuilding to get that unique prototype item of rolling stock. This could all take a lot of time and if you are also working on a massive layout this will be a big commitment. By dialing back both the complexity of the layout and operations, the focus of the hobby shifts from layout building to model building and from “operations” to running trains through a scene. While not everyone’s cup of tea, this is an approach I am looking to take on the next layout.

Probably the part of the hobby I enjoy most. Kit building locomotives and rolling stock. If you want to model PGE / BCR prototypically it doesn’t matter how small your layout is, you will be doing a lot of this!

Plans are already been drawn up for the layout based on these lessons learned. It will still be a BCR 1970s north end theme, but the emphasis will be very much on long trains running through a scene rather than division point classification yard operations like all my previous layouts. Sectional and portable will be the order of the day and I will be moving away from hollow core door benchwork to something that allows for a more organic curved shape. At time of writing the timing of any move is still uncertain so whether this is will be a New Zealand or Australia based layout remains to be seen.

Mid Winter Update

July 14, 2021

Not too much to report at the moment. It is mid-winter in New Zealand and not much has happened with the layout or model building for a while.

A possible move to Australia within the next 6 months is a distinct possibility but that depends on a few things falling into place first. At the time of writing the pandemic situation in Australia is worsening and travelling between the two countries at the moment comes with a risk of getting stranded and / or being quarantined at either end. This makes it hard to plan anything.

I have been playing around with a free download of AnyRail software recently though and have enjoyed planning hypothetical small layouts. I may do a series of posts on the topic of British Columbia Railway north end themes you could try if you only a small space (and work in N scale). It is likely that any move to Australia would involve apartment living anyway so small space designs are something I am getting more and more used to.

Some offcuts of Erie Lackawanna Microscale decals recently arrived as part of a shipment from overseas so 801 has progressed a bit further.

When I left the project in February I had applied the BCR lettering and had painted remnants of the EL maroon band on the long hood.

Finishing 801 to match prototype photos from 1978 required a delicate process of both applying the EL lettering and lining and then carefully removing bits of it to match the faded paint-peeled effect of the prototype.

The first step was to apply lining and EL lettering to the long hood. I didn’t apply lining the full length of the hood as most of it would be removed later. Ex EL units also had remnant EL markings on the nose and cab battery boxes and the Microscale decal set includes these.

After the decals had thoroughly set I started chipping away the yellow linework and EL lettering on the long hood with a sharp hobby knife. The decals flake off very easily and I also did some additional scraping away of the underlying maroon band. The overall effect is quite pleasing. Using a microbrush I carefully painted over the nose diamond logo with orange paint as this was how most of the BCR units appeared.

While not an exact reproduction of the condition of 801 in 1978 it reproduces the general effect and the distinctive weathering difference between the right and left side of the long hood where the right side had less of the maroon band remaining relative to the left side.

Prototype photos can be seen at links below:

The next step will be weathering which will be a fun process due to the very dirty appearance of the prototype. Unfortunately New Zealand appears to have completely run out of Dullcote, Tamiya Flat Clear (TS80) and all forms of sprayable flat finish so this is hampering a lot of my painting, decalling and weathering projects at the moment.

Just a minor update to the RS-18 build thread to report that the long-awaited PGE map herald decals for 610 recently arrived and were applied this weekend. Thanks go out to Timothy Horton and Phillipe Whyte in Vancouver, Canada for great work on the designing and printing of custom decals such as this for PGE and BCR models. The map herald was applied to the cab sides and is a very distinctive feature of PGE locomotives.

Some light weathering will be applied in and around the new decals to blend them in and then this project can be put aside again.

Both units will need to be updated with more modern mechanisms at some point in the future as the current ones are ancient and really don’t run that well at slow speed. After the arrival of another shipment of Briggs Kits from Canada I now have parts to do a third RS-18 so that will be something to plan for also.

I recently completed several trailer kits which have been a nice diversion from traditional rolling stock. Trailer traffic was a notable feature of the north end of the BCR system during the 1970s. These trailers are built from kits offered by Briggs Models ( The completed set includes two 40′ and two 45′ trailers.

These flat deck trailers will offer numerous opportunities to create interesting loads including pipe, lumber, machinery and road vehicles and can be loaded onto prototypically correct TOFC models also offered by Briggs.

The models are resin kits comprising just a few components. They can be easily assembled over a couple of evenings.

Completed models were given an initial coat of Tamiya fine surface primer before final painting.

Trailers were finished with True Line Trains PGE/BCR light green acrylic paint for the frame and wheel hubs. Tires were painted with Tamiya XF85 rubber black and the deck was finished with thin washes of Tamiya XF63 german grey thinned with alcohol. The wash approach really brings out the fine surface texture on the decks.

These models will be put aside for now while I research some suitable and interesting loads to model.

This weekend saw the completion of PGE 216 and BCOL 2501 and 2502. Custom decal application was finished on PGE 216 and BCOL 2501 was renumbered (as it was previously a duplicate 2502) using some suitable dry rub transfer numbers I found in my decal box.

Ready for ballast service (about 10 more cars needed!)

There are many easy ways to make removable ballast loads (and some commercially available ones also). A balsa wood block is always a good option as a base but I elected to use some HO Scale foam road bed offcuts that I had sitting around. They were cut to the dimensions of the gondola interior space and the ends had to be angle-cut on the underside so that the top side was flush. This is a bit tricky to do because the foam obviously squishes and moves when you try to cut it, but with a good sharp blade and some patience it can be done fairly easily. A coat of PVA glue was then applied to the foam and Woodland Scenics fine ballast sprinked on top. A second coat of thinned PVA with a spot of detergent was then applied to the ballast load to bond everything together. A nice feature of these loads is that they are flexible so you can bend them into a slightly humped shape before placing them in the hopper. A small tooth pick is useful for pushing the ends into place (and for removing the load).

Weathering was done using a series of washes of light grey and earth tones. Generally I use Tamiya military modellers acrylic paints thinned with alcohol for this. Weathering powders were then applied to blend the wash effect together Special attention was paid to the ballast chutes with were weathered with a light sand weathering powder to simulate ballast dust, in addition to the general grime coloured powder used on the underframe and trucks.

The oxide red PGE car looks especially good with the mix of weathering shades on it and I am keen to add a few more of these to the fleet in the future.

The only remaining upgrades to these cars will be the eventual replacement of the wheels with metal ones and possible body mounting of couplers. For now this project is complete. This whole project from start to finish was essentially a handful of work sessions over a one week period. I am increasingly becoming a fan of small projects like this where results can be seen in a few work sessions. Fortunately I have a large stash of ready to run and kit rolling stock that I can work on over the autumn and winter months here.

Good progress on the undecorated ballast car this week with a timesaving step discovered on the way. The undecorated car is now PGE 216 which was determined by the last pair of available numbers on my various offcuts of decal sheets

Originally the plan was to prime the model with grey spray primer and then brush paint the model using Polly Scale Special Oxide Red acrylic (my go-to “boxcar red” colour) but I soon realized that a getting brush in and around the end hand railings and steps would be very frustrating so I decided to look for a suitable spray primer of roughly the right red-brown shade to at least make my job easier. I picked up some Tamiya Oxide Red fine surface primer spray paint and after a few coats it became apparent it was actually a very close match for the prototype colour so I just used it as the final colour (saving the brush painting step entirely)

Decals were from offcuts of a custom sheet designed for this very prototype so I was happy to find it in my decal box. Standard decal technique was used which includes brush coating Humbrol Gloss Cote in areas where decals will go. This helps hide the decal film. Micro Sol and Micro Set were used to help set the lettering.