Franz Section House Scratchbuild

Thanks to a couple of days off this week for American Thanksgiving (while I live and work in Canada, my office does the lion’s share of our business south of the border, so the office is closed these two days) I had a chance to actually spend a good amount of time working on model projects this week. And the main project I’m working on right now is a model of the section house for Franz, where the ACR crossed the Canadian Pacific transcontinental main line.


Being able to just kick back and relax and spend a couple of evenings and pretty much most of my Saturday enjoying my models allowed me to actually make quite a bit more progress than I expected and the main body of the section house is essentially completed:



The body of the structure and the doors and corner trim were constructed in the same manner and using the same approach and techniques as with the tool sheds, just with a slightly different shaped building.

As the windows on the Franz section house were all covered (and a 1981 slide in my collection showing a general view of the structures along Franz siding shows that this was the case then as well, and the newer bunkhouse and maintenance tool/storage shed are also in place then) I did not cut out the window openings to install window castings, but overlaid rectangles of .010″ styrene on the surface of the structure wall to represent the cover over the window opening and scratchbuilt frames with .010x.060″ strip and a .020x.020″ bottom sill.

The roof is .040″ sheet and still needs some fascia trimming to finish up the detailing, and a mount for the chimney in the centre of the roof line.

Next will be a matter of constructing the porch and porch roof and the footings on which the structure sits and is raised off of the ground.

ACR Standard Design Section Houses Part 2

As a follow-up to my previous post on the ACR’s standard design section house, here’s a collection of additional still surviving section houses along the line. Many of these are now private cottages, and a few farther to the north on the railway are simply abandoned.

Northland (Mile 24.7)


Northland section. September 30, 2014. Chris vanderHeide.

Typical design. Now a private cabin. The sign hanging off of the porch roof identifies it as “The Ranch”. Notice that this house has a shallower roof pitch than most of the others, matching a 1/3 roof pitch shown on standard drawings.

Another view of Northland Section in 1988, before the trees screened some of the view, from Ted Ellis’s site.

Achigan (Mile 41.8)

Achigan section, July 28, 2014. Chris vanderHeide.

Achigan section, July 28, 2014. Chris vanderHeide.

Achigan section has received some renovations with a replaced roof, siding and windows. Looks like the kitchen needs a little work yet. This shows a steeper roof pitch than the 1/3 shown in the standard drawing and the Northland section house above.

Achigan in 1974 (Ted Ellis)

Batchewana (Mile 79.8)


Batchewana section. July 28, 2014. Chris vanderHeide.

Batchewana is one of the last places south of Canyon that still have both an active full-length siding and a surviving section house structure. This is another almost original structure, although the owner of the house has enclosed the porch into a sunroom.

Batchewana section in 1970 (Ted Ellis)

Rand (Mile 85)

rand section house nick acciavatti

Rand section. August 2014. Nick Acciavatti.

This was the location of a forestry service fire base, and there are quite a number of other buildings located here pretty much all of which are privately owned cabins today. There was no ACR siding at this location, but the outline of the standard section house is unmistakable, even with new siding and windows.

Rand, 1979 (Ted Ellis)

Hubert (Mile 95. 5)

Hubert section. July 28, 2014. Chris vanderHeide.

Hubert section. July 28, 2014. Chris vanderHeide.


Hubert section. July 28, 2014. Chris vanderHeide.

This is another former section house that has received some extensive renovations in private ownership. It (and its associated sheds) have all received new metal roofing, new siding and upgraded windows. This cottage definitely appears to be in nice shape.

Frater (Mile 102.6)

Frater section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.

Frater section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.

Frater’s section house was located a little farther back from the rails, across the parking area for Frater station, which was formerly located just to the south. (The station was demolished several years ago.) Frater is one of the few places along the line with easy road access, with the nearest proper highway access (other than unimproved logging roads) being 50+ miles to the north or south.

Canyon (Mile 113.8)


Canyon section. June 2000. Chris vanderHeide.


Canyon section. July 28, 2014. Chris vanderHeide.

The former Canyon section house is now used as the Park Ranger’s bunkhouse and first aid station at Agawa Canyon Park.

The rough-edged wood siding, giving this structure a more rustic look, is not original. This structure once had the same sort of milled siding as found on the other typical ACR section houses.

Eton (Mile 120.1)


Eton section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.


Eton section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.

The section house at Eton is now a private rental lodge. It’s seen some alterations with the front porch enclosed making a sun room, an enlarged first floor window on the south side, an extended deck and a large addition on the north side of the structure, but otherwise this structure still exhibits the typical look of ACR section houses. It also appears to have been relocated from an original location lower and closer to the tracks.

Eton is the first siding north of Canyon and still remains in service as an active siding. There is also currently quite an active pulpwood loading spur near the north end of Eton siding.

O’Connor (Mile 125.5)


O’Connor section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.


O’Connor section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.

There is no siding at this location, just this lonely section house, which is now a private cabin. Another typical design, very close to the standard drawing and almost identical to Agawa, Mashkode and Batchewana except for window and door locations on the kitchen annex.

Perry (Mile 149.9)


Perry section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.


Perry section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.

Another section house that is now privately owned. The front porch has been gussied up a bit with a lattice railing, and the stonework chimney on the south side of the structure is an alteration. You can see a cap in the middle of the roof line where the original centrally located brick chimney would have been.

The kitchen extension on this section house is definitely unusual, being full width across the back of the structure and having a peaked gabled roof, instead of a simple slanting lean-to roof that would be common on other section houses.

Perry, 1988 (Ted Ellis)

Franz (Mile 194.9)


Franz section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.

Another fairly typical section house with a large rear annex, although the window locations vary a bit from most other section houses. This building was replaced by a newer one story crew bunkhouse nearby, and is now boarded up and disused. Franz is another example with a shallower roof pitch similar to the drawing in the Sault Public Library Archives.

Oba (Mile 244.7)


Oba section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.


Oba section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide.

This abandoned bunk house at Oba has probably the most unusual siding treatment, being covered in tan asphalt “insul-brick” below the eaves and grey shingles on the gable end. Rolled roofing instead of shingles is also unusual compared to other examples. The chimney also appears to be located to the rear of the main structure instead of the exact centre along the ridge line.

Trees and bushes growing in around the derelict structure make it hard to tell if it even has a rear annex, although this would be particularly unusual for the kitchen annex to not be present.

To finish off, here’s a few more section house locations not covered above from Ted Ellis. If any of these actually still exist today, I was looking out the wrong side of the train when we passed and didn’t see them.

Heyden (Mile 14.1), 1972

Wanda (Mile 188.3), 1983

Horsey (Mile 273.1), 1973

Coppell (Mile 280.9), 1973

And that would seem to be about it for prototype section houses for now. With some various simple sheds tackled, I’m ready to get into building one or two of these bunkhouses, starting with a new model of the Franz section house with proper dimensions.

Stay tuned…

ACR Standard Design Section House

A railroad requires a lot of regular maintenance to keep the operations running smoothly. And in the old days prior to reliable automotive transport and modern track maintenance machines, a small local maintenance crew would have been responsible for inspecting and maintaining a given section of track of a few miles. The section bunkhouse (and related nearby sheds for storing maintenance supplies, tools and other materiel) served as the home for the local “section” foreman. (These track maintenance workers responsible for a section of railway were sometimes called sectionmen.) With the advent of more mechanized forms of track maintenance, fewer workers could maintain much larger stretches of railway, so manpower needs were reduced, and the section houses closed. Most section houses are now long gone from the railways, but several of the old Algoma Central section houses still stand today. Some stand derelict and abandoned but some (particularly the remaining ones closer to the south end of the railway) are now privately owned camps and cabins.

Most railways had standard designs for common structures along the line like section bunkhouses. Here, the Algoma Central was no exception. The ACR’s standard 2 bedroom section house was a 2-story wood-frame structure with the gable ends aligned perpendicular to the tracks, a covered porch at the front and a 1-story kitchen annex at the rear. An original drawing from the Algoma Central’s files of a 1951 version of the standard plan exists in the collection of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library’s archives.

ACR drawing # C-5-4 (Standard Section House). Collection of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library Archives.

Excerpt from ACR drawing # C-5-4 (Standard Section House). Collection of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library Archives.

The drawing shows a main structure with and 18’ x 22’ footprint and a 14’ x 14’ kitchen attached to the rear. The main floor features a living and dining area and the upstairs has two equally sized bedrooms. The section houses built along the line tended to vary slightly from the actual drawing though, and a close look at the drawing shows that it’s been revised a couple times and you can see where pencil marks for locations of doors and windows around the kitchen annex have been shifted around on the drawing.

Main floor plan of standard section house. Excerpt from ACR drawing # C-5-4 (Standard Section House). Collection of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library Archives.

Main floor plan of standard section house.
Excerpt from ACR drawing # C-5-4 (Standard Section House). Collection of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library Archives.

However as mentioned, as new houses were built or rebuilt over the years, the details of each individual section house tended to vary slightly, and I don’t think a single one of the section houses of which I have photographs matches the drawing exactly in every detail. The dimensions of the main part of the structure stayed consistent, but window arrangements could vary slightly from location to location, and sometimes the internal floor plan is mirror imaged from the “standard” plan.

The standard drawings also show a 1/3 roof pitch on the main structure, which some existing houses appear to match (Northland and Franz) but the majority seem to have a much steeper roof pitch, so there’s at least two variations here.

The kitchen annex was where the most variation tended to be; varying in size and particularly in window and door arrangements, much more than the main part of the structure. (It appears that for some older section houses, the annex was actually added later.)


Agawa section. September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide photo.

This abandoned but still-standing section house at Agawa (Mile 130.9) is pretty close to the standard drawing (other than some window locations on the kitchen and steeper roof pitch) and illustrates the typical style and finish quite nicely, with an asphalt shingled roof, wide veranda porch on the front of the structure and milled board siding (what Evergreen would call “novelty siding” in their line of textured styrene sheet products for model scratchbuilding).


Mashkode section. July 28, 2014. Chris vanderHeide photo.

At Mashkode (Mile 56.2), now a privately owned cottage but more or less unaltered from its previous appearance, we can see the bunkhouse in context of the other outbuildings that would typically accompany the sectionhouse: a small storage shed, and an outhouse.

Not visible, but also would have typically been part of the collection of structures for a section would be a track speeder and tool storage shed near the tracks and in some locations, as the main structure was only a 2 bedroom affair, additional small one man bunk cabins.

Main floor plan of Wyborn section house. Excerpt from ACR drawing # E-23-4 (Wyborn Section House). Collection of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library Archives.

Main floor plan of Wyborn section house.
Excerpt from ACR drawing # E-23-4 (Wyborn Section House). Collection of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library Archives.

Often located many dozens of miles from any sort of recognizable community, very few of these section houses were located anywhere near any municipal sources of running water or electricity. Wyborn (Mile 294.1) is a notable exception; the section house here was located within the city of Hearst and an original drawing of this section house also exists in the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library Archives (dated 1937 but with a notation for a 1968 revision), and this drawing shows a full bath with tub and shower on the floor plan, as well as the location of the incoming electrical meter and breaker box (near the left side of the kitchen). This section house is also a little unusual in that instead of a full width veranda porch on the front, there is a simple peaked canopy just over the entry door, and the drawing specifies in this case aluminum siding.

And of course with many of the surviving former section houses on the line now in private ownership as camps and cottages, many of them have been rebuilt to some extent or another, further changing their appearance from the standard plans.

HO scale scratchbuilt model of Franz section house by Chris vanderHeide.

HO scale scratchbuilt model of Franz section house by Chris vanderHeide.

Several years ago, I attempted to build this model of the section house at Franz, scaling it from photos. While the proportions have always felt relatively close, I’ve felt that it ended up being oversize. The dimensions on the original railway drawings confirm that the model is approximately 10% overscale. (I got too-large windows and sort of proportionally scaled things off that comparison.) It’s a pretty good representation, but now that I have access to the proper dimensions in the official drawings, I can do a much better job of constructing a version with much more accurate dimensions.

Oba Lake-Franz Video

Here’s some timely video I came across on YouTube taken in 1994 from the southbound regular passenger train, starting from the longest (middle) of the three trestles at Oba Lake. Video begins with showing the train crossing the wooden trestles on Oba Lake at mile 212.7 and 211.9, then has a fair bit of running between Oba Lake and Franz, with several other small lakes and at least one siding (at Hilda or Scully) seen before arriving at Franz near the end of the video. The southbound approach signal is seen before arriving at the Franz diamond.

In the video, you can see that the long trestle at mile 212.7 was still the original wood trestle in 1994. This bridge was replaced by a trestle with steel pilings sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s.

Here again is the modern trestle and widened approach alignment where you can see the track has been moved to the right:


Notes on an Old Slide Collection

Earlier this summer I acquired a small collection of ACR images from an individual in the states. The slides appear to have been primarily taken on the occasion of a railfan visit to the Algoma Central, and while of varying quality, contain some interesting content. The photographer appears to have gotten a cab ride (in a trailing unit) on both a northbound and southbound freight over the Soo subdivision, a caboose ride on an ore train on the Michipicoten branch and on the Northern sub (at least as far as Franz).

None of the slides were marked for location, date or photographer’s name, making identification a little interesting in some cases. However most of the slides had numbers written on the slide mounts allowing them to be put into proper sequence, at which point a story unfolded and certain views could this be related to each other. My own ride on the Tour of the Line at the beginning of October also helped to familiarize myself with the line and I could thus confirm a few of the location identities.

While the slides are undated, a few items have allowed me to date the images to the winter of 1980-81 with a pretty high degree of certainty. One image in the collection is of baggage car 211, which was renumbered 302 in the spring of 1981 with the arrival of the 200-205 series GP38-2 locomotives. Another image of the ACR’s scale test car clearly shows a 5-80 reweigh date on the car, which pretty nicely brackets the time frame of the images to a specific year.

The background thus identified, here follows a few selections of interest, in no particular order.


Steelton, Winter 1980/81. Photographer unknown, Chris vanderHeide collection.

Scale house at Steelton yard. The ground level window on the rear of the structure seems an odd feature. In the background is the ACR’s sprawling Steelton yard and the Algoma Steel Corporation mill. Several AC freight cars including one of the ACR’s unique 61′ bulkhead gondolas, an even more unique curved side “bathtub” style hopper and a covered gondola for coil steel service are visible.


Frater, Winter 1980/81. Photographer unknown, Chris vanderHeide collection.

Frater station. In deep snow with snowmobile tracks all over. There are other better photos of the station building at Frater available online, but this nicely relates the station to the two small outbuildings behind. The station has long been torn down, but those two small structures still exist today. The grey structure appears to have been converted into a small cabin; note the new “bay window” added to the front of this structure, which appears to be salvaged material from the station.


Frater, Sep 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide photo.



Frater siding, winter 1980/81. Photographer unknown, Chris vanderHeide collection.

The location for the above photo would appear to also be at Frater, just south of the station, showing a northbound freight running along the shore of Frater Lake. Note the long string of CP 40′ boxcars in the train; at least a dozen can be counted before the train curves away. Likely these are empties heading back to Schreiber on the CPR for woodpulp loading. This is an interesting photo for highlighting the volume of this traffic over the ACR.


Franz, winter 1980/81. Photographer unknown, Chris vanderHeide collection.

Crossing the CPR at Franz, riding in the caboose of a northbound freight. More CP 40′ boxcars are spotted in the interchange track; one is painted in green which signified newsprint service. All of the cars seen here are probably 8′ door cars (all the newsprint assigned cars were 8 footers) in service hauling woodpulp from mills along the Lake Superior north shore.

Speaking of Franz, here’s a look southward off the rear of that caboose:


Franz, winter 1980/81. Photographer unknown, Chris vanderHeide collection.

All of the structures visible in the above photo, except for a small white speeder shed roughly in the centre of the photo, still stand today. The station at Franz was closed in 1992 with the end of train order operation on the ACR, and ended up being moved to the community of Dubreuilville.


Perry pit, winter 1980/81. Photographer unknown, Chris vanderHeide collection.

The above photo was tentatively identified as the ballast pit just north of Perry siding, based on the excavated appearance of the embankment in the background and its sequence number and relation to other images/locations. This was able to be conclusively confirmed when I rode the ACR passenger train on the last day of September and easily recognized the location.

The above images makes it a little unclear whether any ballast was still quaried from the gravel pit here during the 1980s, but interestingly there was clearly quite an active pulpwood loadout here during this time frame.

Perry pit today, the rails for the spur are still there, but the main track switch has been removed and the site is abandoned:


Perry pit, September 30, 2013. Chris vanderHeide photo.


Millwood, winter 1980/81. Photographer unknown, Chris vanderHeide collection.

A simple passenger shelter at Millwood (mile 212.9). Simple shelters like this were erected at several flag stop locations along the line.

That’s all for tonight, probably more to come periodically.